Two Way Trip 08 Missing Mountain Qiong was located southwest of Hong Jing. With an alt.i.tude of nearly one kilometer, it was surrounded by clouds and fog all year round.
The scenery was best when the rainy season approached. Water vapor condensed on the rocky wall, brushing aside green moss and converging into a stream from the fine seams.
A campsite resided by a creek in the valley, near the Qiong Mountain. The s.p.a.ce was colorful, easily noticed, even from the distance. Numerous tents were arranged on the grounds, with people popping more up as the hours ticked by.
More importantly, several children were among them.
Cao Qian Zhi was a primary school teacher at Feng Jing School. Today was a spring outing for the first graders, at Mountain Qiong, southwest of Hong Jing.
He stood at the edge of the camp area and watched as the staff, posing as mountain people, brought out a goat for the children to see. Never having seen a live goat before, the children surrounded it, pointing and poking, excited to the point of shrieking.
His gaze wandered from the goat to the water, watching the children fishing by the stream. They huddled together, discussing techniques. The stream was very shallow, so he didn't stop them. It was an artificial landscape built solely for the scenic area, after all. He doubted they'd want to get their shoes wet in the cold spring weather, anyway.
The scene was peaceful and harmonious.
But the uneasiness in Cao Qian Zhi's heart only grew.
A series of urgent footsteps echoed in the distance. Cao Qian Zhi hurried over to them.
The dean and another teacher who led the group were running towards him. Seriousness coating both of their faces, they solemnly shook their heads.
"You couldn't reach them?" Though he already knew the answer, he still asked.
"Yeah," the dean said, his voice low, "We can't get through to Mr. Xu's phone, and Teacher An's phone was turned off. The car should have arrived half an hour ago!"
Cao Qian Zhi looked at his watch. It was long past the agreed time.
The school rented six buses for the day's spring outing to Mountain Qiong. They gathered at the school gate early that morning and took three hours to get from the school to the mountain. On their way there, they spent most of that time stuck in a traffic jam. And because of the jam, several of the buses were delayed from the rest by ten minutes when they arrived at the mountain.
If that was the case, it was simply a matter of delaying their schedule. But after 5 of the buses arrived, one of the busses still didn't show. It was Cla.s.s 3's bus, with 26 students and two teachers.
They thought the bus was still stuck in the traffic jam. They tried to contact the driver and two teachers, but their phones couldn't be reached.
At first, they a.s.sumed it was because of poor signal. But just now, the dean and the other teacher went to the scenic area's management center to try and contact them again. The one answering the call was a mechanical female voice. It was then that they realized that the people might be in trouble.
"Even if they had an accident, their phones wouldn't be turned off!" the female teacher said.
"Did you call the highway management?" Cao Qian Zhi continued to ask.
"Yes, they said they're checking it. They haven't found them yet."
After a long silence, Cao Qian Zhi finally said, "Let's call the police."
In the Hong Jing Expressway chairman's office, three telephones rang almost simultaneously.
Xing Cong Lian stepped back from the desk and took out his cell phone. The chairman let out a sigh of relief before picking up his own while Liu Hang left to pick up the one at his own office.
Moments later, Xing Cong Lian looked at Lin Chen. The chairman turned stiff as Liu Hang rushed back into the room.
At the other end of the call was the worst news.
"The munic.i.p.al bureau just received a report from Feng Jing School that a tourist bus they rented disappeared on the highway," Xing Cong Lian reported to Lin Chen, covering the receiver on the handset.
"How can it disappear? The highway exits are monitored!" Before Lin Chen could open his mouth, Yang Dian Feng already.
Lin Chen's thin lips pursed. He sat up straighter and said nothing.
Xing Cong Lian was still on the phone, having no time to answer Yang Dian Feng's question. After a while, he suddenly looked up, and while holding the phone in one hand, he pointed at the mobile phone and gestured at w.a.n.g Chao.
w.a.n.g Chao responded quickly. He took out his mobile phone from his pocket and handed it over to Xing Cong Lian. Xing Cong Lian then gestured to give the phone to Lin Chen.
"The school's teacher will call soon, and you will answer it," he said, before rattling off a series of numbers to the caller at the other end.
Soon, w.a.n.g Chao's phone rang.
Mountain Qiong scenic area, campsite.
Cao Qian Zhi's palms were sweating, and the female teacher was crying. All kinds of horrible pictures filled his mind, making him even more agitated.
When the call was connected, he couldn't stop himself from shouting, "You haven't found the bus yet? Did something happen? What do we do now?!"
The other end of the line was silent for about three seconds before someone spoke.
The male voice was quiet and peaceful, like the flowing water in a spring or the breeze in the mountain, slowly pouring into his ears.
"h.e.l.lo, sir. I understand you're anxious, but right now, the most important thing to do is to be calm. Take a deep breath with me then answer the following questions."
Cao Qian Zhi knew how to take a deep breath, but things are urgent. There was no time for that! Even as his thought so, his body involuntarily followed the instructions. He began to inhale deeply, then exhale.
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"At what time did the bus leave the school?"
Following the soft voice, Cao Qian Zhi felt like he returned to the noisy bus. Looking out the window, he saw a bus pa.s.sing by.
"I remember!" His voice turned loud, "I remember the bus, but I don't know the time!"
"Please try to remember if there were any landmarks or signs. They are by the side of the road, very noticeable…"
"No, nothing. It was only reeds all around." Cao Qian Zhi frowned, trying to grasp a fleeting image in his mind. "Wait a minute, I remember! A child told me they wanted to go to the toilet, and the driver said he would drive to the Mei Cun R&R station!" Cao Qian Zhi instantly opened his eyes.
Lin Chen quickly returned to the desk, took up a pen, and wrote "Mei Cun" on the paper.
"Do you or any other teachers remember the time you go to the Mei Cun station?"
"Wait, I'll ask."
w.a.n.g Chao had already pulled up the map of Hong Jing highway. While looking at the map, he calculated, "The Mei Cun R&R station is about 130 km from Mountain Qiong. The traffic jam happened after 7:00. If they leave at 6:30, they should arrive at the station around 8:30, considering the variable."
w.a.n.g Chao dropped the pen, and an urgent male voice was heard from the phone, "Our dean said it should be 8:30 when we arrived at Mei Cun! I really can't remember anything else!"
The teacher's voice was full of remorse.
"This is already great. Thank you very much for your help."
Seeing Lin Chen hanging up the phone, w.a.n.g Chao let out a sigh of relief. But he felt it was strange, "How did you know that the third bus is different!"
"I didn't." Lin Chen picked up the paper the technician used to do his calculation and said, "But we could only hope for luck."
"What if your luck is bad?"
"If you're not lucky, then keep trying."
TL Checker(s): Velvet
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