moonlight making crosses
“I am a good man.
The amount of fear
I am ok with
is insane. ”
--Molly Brodak (Untitled) by Molly Brodak.
His teaching assistant begins the day by arriving an hour early, hands full of paper-burgeoned binders with cracked plastic on their spines, and greeting him with, “Laoshi, my psychology class ended early today, but I didn’t really want it to, you know?”
Song Liwei does not turn from where he’s seated at his desk. He circles another error in muted, inky red on the assignment he’s grading. Judging by the handwriting, it’s the student who sits near the window—Chang Yan’s—exam. Marking off a point for failing to recognize ideal gas laws and the equations, he is more sure of this; confirming his thoughts as he checks the name scrawled at the top of the paper, he writes the final score. Chang Yan had struggled with the topic during the lecture. He makes a mental note to make a review powerpoint for him before the final exam.
“Please keep your outside classes’ matters within their own lecture rooms,” Song Liwei says.
Sun Xinyi, as usual, heeds him no mind, and continues to talk. He sets his backpack down with a clunk. “It was about stages of morality. Lots of development throughout age and stuff. Mega complex! Some of the examples were pretty sick.”
Xinyi usually takes this time to eat. Song Liwei turns to his TA to ask if he needs change to buy himself something, but Xinyi waves him off, predicting this question, and holds up a bag of dried plums in answer.
“It was kinda flawed and inaccurate, though? I mean, the stages made sense, but some holes were pretty easily poked into them. Preconventional morality seemed too simple for what’s displayed by like, easily observable toddlers. Or Clifford the red dog, even.”
“Do not eat in my class,” Song Liwei says. “There are students with allergies.”
“Oh, shoot, right. Putting these bad boys away.” Song Liwei turns back to his papers in response. “Are you grading, laoshi? Seems boring. Well, turns out the info was inaccurate because the guy researching only sampled males, ha.”
“Lawrence Kohlberg,” Song Liwei answers. “I am familar.”
“Oh, nice! Yeah, not cool of that guy. Or maybe girls just didn’t like being tested back then?” Xinyi pauses, laying himself back on a table lazily with a sigh. He stretches out his limbs like a particularly overexcited dog anxious to go on a run. “What do you think makes a good person, laoshi?”
Song Liwei pauses, pen stilling in his hand above the next paper.
“I think a lot of good people don’t know that they are,” Sun Xinyi continues, yawning. “They get so caught up about it, probably. That’s what I think, anyways.”
Song Liwei gently plucks a splinter of wood out of one of the student desks. They had to be refurbished, he thought. Splinters weren’t serious hazards, but they were reason for discomfort enough.
“I disagree,” Song Liwei responds. “Humans tend to know themselves the best. The ... good ... know themselves for what they are. I believe the same for the contrary.”
Xinyi hums thoughtfully. Then, laughing nonchalantly, he teases, “If it’s anything, I think you’re pretty good, laoshi.”
“It is kind of you to think so,” Song Liwei says.
“I love many people
who don’t love me.
I don’t actually know
if that is true.”
After class ends, he holds office hours late into the evening, as long as he is allowed until the lecture halls close for the night. Final exams are approaching. There is no need to leave early when resources need to be as accessible as possible in such a time.
The telltale drone of the aircon powering down, as well as the fluoroescent lights in the hallway flickering off signal to him with a peek out of his office that campus doors are going to be locked soon, though. Gathering his laptop, he prepares to head out for the night.
Song Liwei pauses once he spots a book that’s fallen off its shelf in another classroom. He steps inside to pick it up.
“—Professor Song did a good job at explaining it during review, I thought?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, still gonna totally bomb these exams, anyways.”
“Ha! Felt that, girl. One-hundred-percent. Ugh, I am so gonna get wasted once these are over.”
Crouched down to pick up the book, he pauses again at the two familiar voices. They were two of his more quiet students. If they were in the hallways this late, perhaps they’d just missed his office hours? Song Liwei turns around, hand on the doorknob, halfway turning it and thinking to ask them if they needed anything.
“I mean, he’s alright, I guess. But Professor Song’s kinda ... you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s like. Nice and all, right?”
Song Liwei’s hand stills.
“Well ... ”
“Okay, nice is a bit of a hyperbole. No, he’s polite. He says good morning and all that. But it’s all so ... robotic? Emotionless? False? I don’t know.”
The other student laughs, almost startled. “Oh my God.”
“No, seriously, you know I’m right! Like, yeah he’s a great teacher and all, but he kinda gives me, like, sociopath vibes. Like he doesn’t feel anything beyond reciting chemistry equations. Isn’t that a thing?”
They both laugh in earnest, now. “Jesus Christ. I totally see it, holy—okay, I feel so bad for saying this, but he does seem like the type to live alone in some creepy little hideout.”
“I mean, yeah? No way he’s dating anyone. I doubt there’d be a person alive who would willingly want to be around him all the time. He’s always the one putting the distance out, anyways, you feel me?”
Song Liwei lets go of the doorknob. Quietly, the footsteps in the hallway fade away as they get further out. He crouches back down to the fallen book, and carefully places it back onto its shelf.
When the footsteps are gone, he makes his way out, a bit late for his train’s departure time.
Song Liwei checks his emails. There is one unread one from Rui Nuanhai about the next faculty event. At first, she had insisted on them exchanging numbers for quick messages about work related matters, but he’d declined. She’d come to agree with the sentiment eventually: his career at university as a professor was marred with rumors that Song Liwei had only secured his position at his age by having inappropriate relations with its head of school.
Unbidden, he looks over the dozens of unsent emails in his drafts.
Dear Liu Junjie, I am not sure if this is how to best correspond with you, but it is a possibility that this email I found on LinkedIn is yours, and I ...
Dear Liu Junjie, I am aware that I am the last person you would wish to hear from but ...
Dear Liu Junjie, do you need anything, where you are? Wherever you are? I could help, though I know you would not want it from me, but anything you need, I would ...
Dear Liu Junjie, we need not converse. If you are safe, please let me know.
Dear Liu Junjie, I am willing to sacrifice anything of my possessions if it meant your wellbeing. It is only my job as ...
Dear Liu Junjie, I am sorry. I am ...
At the volunteer club he sponsors, Song Liwei writes an advertisement for new members on a flimsy, styrofoam board. It smells rancid.
The head student of the club calls out to him. “So what’d you do this weekend, laoshi?”
“I appreciate the concern, but it would be unprofessional to discuss outside matters with a student. However, I hope yours was spent appropriately restful.”
Song Liwei hears a muffled “I told you so, dude,” and out of the corner of his eye, spots one of them handing a five dollar bill to the other, as if received in a bet. An equivalent exchange.
In his nightmares, he is fifteen again.
She traces her fingers, adorned in a pristine, painted red manicure, over the skin of his chin again. Then at his forearms. The smell of night-blooming pollia is overpowering in the shrouded room, threatening to choke him as it creeps into his nostrils, down his throat, the phantom blooms of a mocking blossom thinking it so better as to snuff him out in its embrace—mercy kill. Mercy kill, they call it.
“I’m the only one who will ever want you, hm?” He is fifteen, still. “No one else. Not after they know.”
He does not wake up violently. Instead, he slowly blinks himself out of the scene imposed on him by sleep, and stares at his blank, lifeless ceiling for several minutes while his heartbeat threatens to shatter him into pieces by mere force alone.
Song Liwei flips on the light switch to his bathroom, and hurls into the toilet.
The tiles beneath his knees are cold and unforgiving. He stays there for the night.
Xinyi greets him cheerily, this time with sticky food crumbs clinging to his chin already. “Did you have a good sleep, laoshi? I had the most awesome dream, so I woke up super pumped.”
“Yes,” Song Liwei says, already having grown softened enough with Xinyi to at least speak of such. “If you wish, you may tell me about it.”
“I can’t really remember, actually!” Xinyi laughs, hopping over the table. “Just that it was good. Prof, let me tell you about this kid I met, he seems like a foreign exchange student, honestly, but his Chinese is perfect—so it’s more like he just seems like he’s been away for a while ... ”
“This is love.
It is a mass of ice
melting, I can’t hold
it and I have nowhere
to put it down.”
you ain’t even half, man
You’ve known him for ... about a decade by now?
And you don’t know where he lives?
Sun Min I am frankly unimpressed with your stalking skills
LOL okay listen jie
he’s a lot more chill with letting me know things now that i’ma TA
and not a high school kid in some mentorship program
so ye of so little faith. i will soon return with song-laoshi info >:))
You called him “dummy thicc” during your senior year
I could probably find the convo again
and you know what. i stand by it
but it’s so weird if you talk about him like that
i just got chills
Chill out lol I’m not making googoo eyes at your professor
I’ll leave that to u didi <3
I HATE YOU
you are the wrsot most anoying
ur breath stinks and u have acne and idk how u convinced someone 2 date u
Ma wants to know if he’s any different than he was now that he’s finished his PhD program
no he’s exactly the same ngl
very responsible adult
i feel like there’s a word for it
He does not seem like a dilf
okay ofc he doesn’t have kids
that i know of
but the energy is very parentlike
he’s an older dude that gives me good life advice
So any older male that tells you good life habits is a father figure to you?
Is Mr Clean a dilf to you Sun Min?
He gives me more milf vibes
Like he’d play mahjong with ayi
don’t CALL MY TEACHER A MILF
okay bye gotta text this new kid
Go eat something if you haven’t already
yea yea you too
i’m kinda obligated as ur shadow to ask how ur doing
Yeah I’m doing good thanks
lol ok good
ur very good looking btw
not in a weird way
just look out for the girls that work the register at the campus cafe
they’ll def try to snatch you
okay it’s been a while since you responded so i assume ur physically error.exe again
Thanks for the advice
yeahh np don’t mention it
do you know song-laoshi from anywhere?
Why do you ask
see u tomorrow for ur very own SUN XINYI approved tour?
than serve in Heaven
“I am surprised that an important young man such as yourself would be assigned to such menial tasks,” the restaurant owner says. There is a brief pause, and then he chuckles, nervous, as if unsure of if what he’s said is correct or not. He returns to shifting nervously in his spot.
Tu Jiyu hums pleasantly in response.
“Do not sell yourself short,” the young man answers, looking boredly over the room’s tacky decorations. He nudges a stone xiezhi statue with his foot, tilting his head as it topples to the floor. Tu Jiyu looks back at the older man with a languid smile. "Your catering service is important for the banquet, and my sect naturally sought the finest establishment. I came by to check on your progress. There is no room for inadequacy, I’m sure you know, xiansheng."
“Of course—of course not," the older man stammers, eyes downcast in hesitance. He is scared of Tu Jiyu. He has good instincts. Most people are, naturally, which has never failed to please him. It is advantageous to be the predator rather than the prey, as much as it is thrilling.
"However," Tu Jiyu continues, idly tapping the wood of the chair he stands behind, "there was one thing I requested specially. Yes?"
He gestures towards the table in front of him invitingly.
The restaurant owner swallows thickly. Reluctant, the man makes his way to the other chair across from him. Sits with a delicacy that shows he knows what he is. A hare with its neck stretched between the jaws of a wolf.
Tu Jiyu takes a seat before him. He rests his elbow on the table. "The sedative I asked to be delivered to this table. I trust that you've planned for it well. You would not disappoint me."
The man fidgets. Tu Jiyu tilts his head. Waiting.
"No," the man finally answers, stumbling over the syllables. "No, no, it’s—it’s—"
Tu Jiyu sits back languidly. "It’s?"
"It’s—illegal, Tu-gongzi, immoral and unlawful, I’m sorry, I cannot—do what you’ve asked of me, I—"
Tu Jiyu drives the knife from his sleeve's pocket through the man’s palm. The blade pierces all the way through the flesh, pinning his hand to the table.
"We agreed on it prior," Tu Jiyu says, cutting through the sound of his screams. "Do you not remember? Or were you just intending on making a fool of me?"
"Please," the man sobs. "I—I have a, a daughter—"
Tu Jiyu sighs. Humans were so pathetic. He digs the knife further in, the sadistic itch in his chest only deepened by the man’s screams and thrashing.
"You disappoint me," he snarls, suddenly incredibly irritated. "Incompetent, useless wretch. It is a non-lethal substance, I ask so little of you, and even still you are worthless. Would you agree? Answer."
The man whimpers, nodding frantically.
"And yet you still intended on following through with this heroic, moral plan of yours," Tu Jiyu huffs out a laugh, mirthful and incensed. He twists the knife further, enjoying the jolt and squeak that comes after. "No, shut up and listen. Good. You remind me of someone, you know.
"Imagine a man like a god. Lightning lapping at his heels, night brightening where he goes. Always doing what his oh-so righteous self believes is best for others. But I’ll tell you a secret, xiansheng. He’s a dirty, wicked liar. And he’s a deceitful god."
Tu Jiyu pulls the knife out. The man lets out a small cry.
"Perhaps I’ll let you live. I have some fond memories of that man. Resemblance and sentiment are not lost on me."
The man bursts into tears. He starts begging for his life or whatever in a litany of pathetic please please thank you never again forgive this lowly one.
Tu Jiyu meets it with disgust. The god he remembers would never abandon his inhuman image to beg. Not even after he had abandoned Tu Jiyu as a young boy did he shed a tear. Show any trace of remorse or guilt.
Well, Tu Jiyu thinks. What do you do when a god scorns you? That was simple.
You become the devil.
"On second thought," Tu Jiyu says, prowling forward, blood singing with the promise of violence. "I’m in a rather poor mood today."