Wolf Cub – Chapter 35

With a loud ‘thud,’ the punching bag swayed wildly and then swung back.

Zhong Qi paused, standing still to catch his breath. He had been hitting the punching bag continuously for over half an hour. At this point, his body’s sweat dripped onto the ground, soaking his workout clothes, and sweat drops fell from his hair, landing on the plastic floor beneath his feet.

He took off his gloves, unwrapping the bandages layer by layer. A muscular man, also clad in workout gear and gloves, walked over. Passing by Zhong Qi, he casually patted his shoulder. “Nice punches.”

The man was Zhong Qi’s mixed martial arts coach, surnamed Feng, who had been training Zhong Qi for three years, treating him like his own child. Coach Feng asked, “How about a little sparring between us?”

Zhong Qi removed the bandages, saying, “Maybe another day. Today, I’ll just train with the punching bag.”

“Getting tired already, huh?”

“I haven’t even touched the pile of homework,” Zhong Qi confessed. “I went out to have fun over the weekend.”

Coach Feng walked with him to the changing room and laughed upon hearing this. “You kid, slacking off with your smarts. You’re in high school now, you better take your studies seriously. Otherwise, if your grades drop, your mom won’t be happy.”

Zhong Qi tossed his gloves and knee pads into his bag, chuckled at the comment, but there wasn’t much amusement on his face.




At home, the children’s biscuits reserved for Lin Wanyue were gone again. His little sister was eating more and more each day, her head growing rounder like a ball. Lin Shiyu was worried she might get cavities from eating too many snacks. He had intended to restrict her snack intake, but under Lin Wanyue’s repeated requests, Lin Shiyu had no choice but to change his shoes and head out to buy her biscuits.

The sky was darkening. The small shop at the entrance of the residential area didn’t have the children’s biscuits Lin Wanyue liked, so Lin Shiyu had to walk another twenty minutes to a large supermarket. The cold December evening wind made his neck shiver, causing him to pull his collar up.

The supermarket wasn’t very crowded. Lin Shiyu quickly grabbed the items he needed and waited in line at the checkout.

Suddenly, there were scattered sounds of boxes falling behind him. Lin Shiyu turned and saw a girl crouching, picking up the fallen boxes and returning them to the shelves. When she raised her head, their eyes met.

Lin Shiyu didn’t expect to encounter Xiao Ran again.

Fifteen minutes later, the two sat in a beverage shop outside the supermarket. There was a milk tea in front of Xiao Ran and a fruit milk in front of Lin Shiyu. Xiao Ran had bought the drinks for Lin Shiyu, who initially wanted to pay for himself, but Xiao Ran insisted on treating him, expressing a small gesture of gratitude. Lin Shiyu, hearing this, reluctantly stopped insisting.

The beverage shop was quiet, with relaxed pop music playing in the background. Both sat face to face, looking very tense.

“Actually, I just wanted to thank you,” Xiao Ran said a bit nervously, fidgeting with her fingers and speaking softly. “I was in such a hurry that day and didn’t get the chance to say anything to you.”

“Contacting me through the phone would have worked,” Lin Shiyu replied.

“It’s better to say it in person.” Xiao Ran’s eyes were lowered. She was still thin, wrapped in heavy sweaters and a coat, her soft hair tucked inside her collar. Her complexion was still not great, but a little better than last time, and she seemed slightly healthier. Pausing for a while, she continued, “After all, you saved my life.”

Lin Shiyu sat up a bit unnaturally, no longer speaking.

“I told you before that I started working after graduating high school, but I lied.” Xiao Ran said. “I dropped out of high school because my family couldn’t afford it and also have enough for my brother’s tuition. Later, I followed people from my village to work in Wuhan, but I was too incompetent. As you saw earlier, I can’t even walk without bumping into things, let alone do a job.”

Here, Xiao Ran gave a self-deprecating smile. She adjusted the strands of her loose hair and continued. “No factory wanted me, and the people who brought me here didn’t care about me anymore. I was on my own in Wuhan for a while, and that was when I met Zhao Bin. He brought me to work at a photography studio, teaching me to do people’s makeup. At first, he treated me very well.”

Perhaps it had been too long since she had spoken to someone, or perhaps because Lin Shiyu had so recklessly barged into that room and draped his clothes over her, Xiao Ran began telling him everything about Zhao Bin in the beverage shop. About how, during the two years Zhao Bin had been working at Studio 26, under the pretext of shooting commercial advertisements, he had tricked many children. For older children, he would coax them into the studio to sign contracts for photoshoots, and once they were familiar, he would slowly persuade them to come to his house to take more revealing photos, convincing them that it was just for a better shot. For younger children, he usually chatted with them online and invited them to his home to play, then tricked them into taking some strange photos.

Finally, he would use these photos to threaten them, saying that if they didn’t listen to him, he would send the photos to their parents, classmates, friends, and teachers.

If any child tried to escape, Zhao Bin would initially coax them kindly, asking them to stay a few more days. Later, he would let them go. Some children would stay with him willingly, thinking Zhao Bin had given up on taking more photos to threaten them, but in reality, he only used the opportunity to take more photos as leverage, making it difficult for those who wanted to escape to do so. Afterwards, they had to endure Zhao Bin’s torment.

Xiao Ran was well aware of everything Zhao Bin had done, as she had been by his side from the beginning.

She was Zhao Bin’s very first “prey.” He used the same deceptive method; from trust to suspicion, to being restricted in freedom, wanting to escape, compromising, until there was no hope of escape left. After experiencing all of this firsthand, she continuously watched people, some as young or even younger than her, fall into the same trap. She could just cry and struggle, unable to break free.

Sometimes, after being abused, she would be left aside, watching another person being led in, bound or trampled, forced to perform any actions as demanded by the viewers on the other side of the phone.

At that time, Zhao Bin wasn’t a person to Xiao Ran, and she wasn’t a person either. No one who entered that room was themselves anymore. At that moment, they were all like livestock, regardless of being used as a tool for gratifying private desires, like her, or turning her into a tool, like Zhao Bin did.

“Once, I sought help from another photographer in the studio,” Xiao Ran said. “Later, that photographer also entered the room and took a lot of videos of me, sending them to others to watch. That’s when I discovered everyone in the studio knew what Zhao Bin was doing, and many people went to see the videos Zhao Bin sent or played with him.”

“After that incident, I knew I couldn’t escape,” Xiao Ran said absentmindedly as she held her milk tea cup. “Sometimes, I thought of finding a place to die, as I am alone, and no one takes care of me. But sometimes I’m afraid of dying…”

Lin Shiyu listened silently, his fingers clenched into a fist.

Then Xiao Ran smiled faintly. “But I don’t think that way now. Recently, Uncle Shen… the police officer, has been with me, talking to me, helping me find a new place to stay, and even got me a job at the supermarket. He told me that I need to restart my life, and I think Uncle Shen is right.

“Though I really hate him,” Xiao Ran said softly, “Uncle Shen told me that Zhao Bin will get what he deserves. He can’t start over in his life, but I still have a chance.”

That familiar sense of déjà vu appeared in Lin Shiyu’s mind again. Fragile body, fragile spirit, yet trying to return to the right track after enduring immense torture, clinging to a faint hope for the future. Even in the face of such a cruel and unpredictable life, and even when drifting alone like a floating leaf. In some ways, Xiao Ran was really like his mother. That’s why Lin Shiyu subconsciously wanted to protect her, as they were both similarly independent and resilient.

Lin Shiyu really wanted to say something comforting or encouraging to Xiao Ran, but he wasn’t good at saying pleasant things. After struggling for a while, all he could manage to say was, “You’ll have a chance.”

After leaving the beverage shop, Lin Shiyu escorted Xiao Ran back to her rented house. The rental was in an old-style neighborhood, with few people and dim lights at night. Observing the environment, Lin Shiyu couldn’t help but ask, “Do you live alone in a place like this?”

“Yeah, it’s actually quite nice here. The neighbors are mostly older folks, and it’s lively during the day, but not so much at night. I don’t work night shifts, so I’ll be back home before it gets dark.”

Lin Shiyu nodded and saw Xiao Ran to the entrance of her rented place.

“If you need help with anything, or if you run into trouble,” Lin Shiyu spoke awkwardly but earnestly, “you can call me.”

Xiao Ran gave a simple “okay,” bid him farewell, and went upstairs.

Lin Shiyu checked the time, quickening his pace toward home. When he reached the square in front of the supermarket near the residential area, it was crowded with several groups dancing to music being broadcast. Lin Shiyu walked through the crowd to the roadside, and after just a few steps, he heard the sound of bicycle wheels slowing down.

He inexplicably found the sound of those wheels slowing from speed to a stop familiar and turned around, indeed spotting Zhong Qi riding a bike, appearing beside him.

The early winter night was quite cold, yet Zhong Qi was only wearing a black sweatshirt and sports pants, carrying a sports bag, and seemed to have appeared just after exercise and a shower—very refreshed but also looking a bit cold.

“”You’re wandering around so late at night?”

Zhong Qi came forward with this line, sounding like an older brother catching his little brother making mischief outside. Lin Shiyu, taken as a kid by someone his age, felt quite upset and retorted, “What are you wandering around so late at night for?”


Lin Shiyu thought it was childish, too childish. This person usually looked very unapproachable; it must be all just an act.

He glanced at the sports bag on Zhong Qi’s back. “You were at the gym?”

“Sort of,” Zhong Qi rode alongside him, sliding slowly in sync with Lin Shiyu’s pace, appearing very relaxed.

After some thought, Lin Shiyu asked quite seriously, “Does working out help in growing taller?”

Zhong Qi turned to him, looked from his face to his legs, then back up, turned away and cleared his throat.

“Are you laughing?” Lin Shiyu got instantly annoyed. “What’s so funny?”

Zhong Qi regained his composure. “I wasn’t laughing.”

“I saw you!”

“You saw it wrong.”

Zhong Qi held back Lin Shiyu, who was about to hit him, saying, “While height is partly determined by genetics, sports with strong jumping, like basketball, indeed aid in height growth.”

Lin Shiyu grumpily pushed away his hand without saying anything.

“If you really want to grow taller, you can play basketball with Mao Silu in the future.”

Lin Shiyu responded with a noncommittal, “Mm.”

Every time Mao Silu invited Lin Shiyu to play basketball and was refused, Zhong Qi thought it was because Lin Shiyu preferred to be alone and didn’t like group activities. However, since Lin Shiyu yelled at Ruan Zhikai outside the internet cafe a few days ago, Zhong Qi felt that this person might not be as averse to groups as outsiders thought.

He was more sensitive to goodwill and malicious intent than many others. Yet, even though he knew Mao Silu’s intentions were good, why did Lin Shiyu keep refusing?

As they returned to the entrance of the residential area, Zhong Qi came up with a slightly crude yet definitely effective question, calling out to Lin Shiyu.

“Do you dislike us?” Zhong Qi asked.

“What?” This question was indeed very effective, nearly startling Lin Shiyu. He frowned and replied, “I don’t dislike you. Why would you ask that out of the blue?”

“Then why don’t you want to play basketball together?”

Lin Shiyu stayed quiet, his expression bearing an aspect of embarrassment.

To Zhong Qi’s surprise, Lin Shiyu’s expression seemed reluctant to confess.

Finally, Lin Shiyu seemed to give up on evading and confessed, “I can’t.”

Zhong Qi stood on his bike, gazing at Lin Shiyu for a while. “What?”

“I said, I can’t!” Lin Shiyu raised his voice, his expression both embarrassed and angry. “I can’t play basketball! Got it?”

Finishing his outburst, he turned and ran downhill.


Edited by: Jaisland



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