Deep Sea Embers
Chapter 1: A Thick Fog That Day”

The boundless fog rolled thickly outside the window to the point where the outside world seemed to disappear from the other side, leaving only the chaotic, unclear light that somehow managed to penetrate into this house. It’s through this dimness that light got maintained in this eerie silence.

In the slightly messy single apartment, Zhou Ming was lying at his desk with a long pile of debris sprawled across the surface. His condition could only be described as haggard while he wrote in his diary book:

“Nothing’s changed on the seventh day, and a thick fog had enveloped the outside. I do not know how, but an unknown force locked the window and deprived me of prying it open. The whole room seemed to have been ‘cast’ into an isolated space by something….”

“I can’t contact the outside world either. The electricity got cut off since the beginning, along with the water tap that didn’t flow. Strangely, the lights worked, and the computer kept running – I ripped the cord out of the wall to see….”

As if a slight breeze suddenly blew in from the window, Zhou Ming jerked up from his act of burying into the diary and looked up with those haggard eyes. Unfortunately, the noise was nothing more than his own illusion. There was no change, only the never-ending movement of the lingering fog outside the window and the eerie silence of his isolated dwelling in the apartment.

Then his sight fell upon the windowsill where he had left the wrenches and hammers – there are still traces of his attempts in the last seven days to pry open the glass. But now, these tools are nothing more than mocking evidence of failure.

After a few seconds, Zhou Ming’s expression became calm again—with this unusual calmness, he lowered his head again and returned to his writing:

“I am trapped with no clue how to escape. I even thought of tearing apart the roof and walls in the past few days. But after expending all my strength and ideas, I couldn’t make so much as a dent in these walls. It’s as if the walls were a box, and I’m the mouse trapped inside this box with no way out….”

“The exception being that door.”

“But the situation outside that door… it’s even more wrong.”

Zhou Ming stopped again, slowly examining the handwriting he had left behind on the page before flipping back to the content he had written days ago. These were heavy and suppressed words, meaningless thoughts, irritable graffiti, and awkward jokes written when he forcibly relaxed his mind to avoid going insane.

He didn’t know the point of writing down these thoughts. In fact, he’s never been a habitual diary keeper – as a middle school teacher, he’s limited in leisure time, so he would rather spend his energy elsewhere when possible.

But now, whether he liked it or not, he had a lot of leisure time after finding himself trapped inside the apartment room.

It was like an absurd nightmare. Everything in the dream was operating against the laws of nature. Still, one thing’s certain after Zhou Ming exhausted all his means: these were no hallucinations nor dreams, but a world that’s no longer normal with him being the only normal thing here.

After taking a deep breath, his eyes finally landed on the only door at the end of the room.

Made of a ordinary cheap softwood coated with a thin layer of white pain, the door handles were polished from years of use and slightly crooked from age. This was the only thing that could be opened, the only way out of here.

If this enclosed alienated room was like a cage, then the most vicious thing about this cage was that it retained a door that could be pushed open at any time, luring the prisoner towards a particular predetermined path. But this “outside” wasn’t somewhere Zhou Ming wanted to be.

There are no old but intimate corridors, no sunny streets and vibrant crowds, and nothing familiar to oneself. Instead, there’s only a strange and disturbing exotic land mixed in with an inescapable dilemma awaiting him “over there.”

But Zhou Ming knew that time was running out for himself, and the so-called “choice” never existed from the very beginning.

Simply said, he’s running out of food rations with the last of the bottled water mostly drained. If he doesn’t head over to the other side of that “door,” then even the last glimmer of hope would be gone.

Perhaps it’s not so bad. The answer to this supernatural phenomenon might be over there as well if he looked hard enough.

Zhou Ming took a light breath before lowering his head again to write the last few paragraphs in the diary:

“… But regardless, the only option now is to go across the door. At least there is some food to eat on that weird ship, and my exploration and preparations in the last few days are enough to let me survive on that ship…. Though limited, it’s still better than nothing.”

“Finally, to the latecomers, if I don’t come back, and someone like a rescue worker in the future really opens this room and sees this diary, please don’t take all that I have written here as an absurd story—it really happened. Although it sounds all too spooky and surreal, there really was a man named Zhou Ming that got trapped inside this crazy and isolated space in time.”

“I did my best in this diary to describe the anomalies I saw, and I recorded all the efforts I made to get out of here. If there are any ‘latecomers’, please at least remember my name, at least remember all this that has happened.”

Zhou Ming closed the diary, threw away the pen into the holder, and slowly stood up from the messy desk.

It’s time to leave, before he falls into utter desperation and passivity.

But after a short thought, instead of going straight to the only door that led to the “outside world,” he went straight to his bed.

Confronting that strange world behind the door required the best of him – and the current mental state he was in was in no way good enough.

Zhou Ming didn’t know if he could fall asleep, but even if he forced himself to lie in bed and emptied his brain, it was better than going to the “opposite side” in a state of mental exhaustion.

Eight hours later, Zhou Ming opened his eyes again.

Outside the window, there was still that chaotic fog, and the day and night skylight carried a spooky air of oppressiveness.

Zhou Ming directly ignored the situation outside the window. Taking out the last of his remaining rations, he ate everything within eight minutes and then came before a dressing mirror in the corner of the room.

The man in the mirror still had messy hair, a haggard face, and no temperament to speak of. Nevertheless, Zhou Ming didn’t look away because he wanted to imprint this image into his own head.

After a long and eternal few minutes, he murmurs to the self-reflection: “Your name is Zhou Ming, at least on this ‘side,’ your name is Zhou Ming. Always keep this in mind and never forget this.”

After that, he turned and left.

Coming to the door that was all too familiar, Zhou Ming took in a deep breath and placed his hand on the door handle.

He didn’t carry anything extra on him, neither food nor self-defense gear aside from the experience he gained from the previous “explorations” — the reason being he couldn’t bring anything even if he wanted to. The door wouldn’t allow it.

With a twist and audible click, he pushed open the door and revealed the black squirming mist behind the wooden barrier. It’s a curtain of blackish-gray, contracting and retracting like a living creature. Regardless of how he thought of the fog, battering waves could already be heard in his ears, followed closely by the salty scent of the ocean as he walked past the safety threshold of his room.

Whatever brief momentary dizziness he had dissipated under the shaking from his feet. He’s currently standing on an expansive wooden deck devoid of company and a towering sailing mast looming under those dark stormy clouds. It’s the open ocean, but the water was dark and undulating with no end in sight.

Looking down to examine his new body on this “side,” Zhou Ming found it to be buffer than what he last recalled. Though bony like a skeleton, it’s a suitable match for the exquisite captain’s uniform that he had on, as well as the black flintlock pistol of classical design hanging from his waist. But what he wore didn’t matter, the main concern was himself. Was this really the “him” that he knew?

Chapter 1: A Thick Fog That Day”
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