404 The Taste of Soil

    15th of March was a Friday. After the last class ended, Gao Ji High School's students started their weekend holiday. However, Lee Yuhan did not return home. Instead he told his parents that he and a few friends would spend the night at Wang Jia Er's house. They were going to have a party. Wang Jia Er came from a rich background and his family owned a bungalow. His parents were often absent on business trip and today was one of those days where Wang Jia Er had full access to the house. They had many similar parties in the past. Therefore, Lee Yuhan's parents did not question him, neither did Sun Haoran, Huang Yiyang, He Xinyi, Tang Yi and Zheng Meihan's parents. Technically they were not lying, there was indeed a party scheduled.

    "There's news online that Ma Er Wan is being evacuated!"


    "They say that it's because a heavy sandstorm is heading that way."

    "Does a sandstorm warrant an evacuation?"

    At Wang Jia Er's home, inside the dining room, the high school students of 4 boys and 3 girls sat around the pretty marble table. The chandelier lit up their faces that appeared nervous and cautious. The girls scrolled through their phones. Ma Er Wan was north of their city and it was quite a distance away so the evacuation did not really affect them that much.

    "Stop idling," Lee Yihan summoned everyone. "It's time to feast. You can bow out if you're afraid." The seven students silently removed the stainless covers before them. Underneath them sat 7 pretty China and each plate was served with a ball of brown soil. The sound of stomach rumbling rang out. With the way the youngsters viewed the soil, you'd think there was a lobster dinner placed before them. But these were just normal soil, one they had just dug up from the bungalow's back garden. They put down their phones. They were silent. Struggle was clear on their faces...

    "This... is highly abnormal, right?" Zheng Meihan pointed out.

    "Haven't we done the research? We're suffering from allotriophagia." Huang Yiyang grumbled.

    "If my parents find out, they will probably send me to Prof Yang for electric shock treatment," Wang Jia Er sighed.

    "Allotriophagia... Actually quite a lot of people suffer from it..." Tang Yi argued.

    Lee Yuhan was silent. This whole situation started on Arbor Day, which happened 3 days ago, when he silently stole a ball of soil from the desert home. Lee Yuhan was unable to sleep that night at the student hostel. In the end, he failed to resist the urge within him and took a munch of the soil.

    After that, he went online to do research. He self-diagnosed himself as suffering from allotriophagia, a morbid impulse to eat unnatural foodstuffs like dirt, paper, hair and so on. The pathological origin of allotriophagia might be due to malfunction of the body metabolism, abnormality in the sense of taste, or psychological trauma. However, there was no clear treatment for it.

    Lee Yuhan had no idea why this sudden impulse took over him. He traced it back to the moment he laid his eyes on the locust eggs. After taking a munch of the soil, Lee Yuhan was not only saved from the hellish agony, he was also rewarded with a heavenly satisfaction. He had never enjoyed such satisfaction from food before. Homecooked meal, restaurant-grade dinners, none gave him such orgasmic experience. From then on, Lee Yuhan knew that he would be unable to remove the soil from his daily diet.

    It was also that same night when his roommate Wang Jia Er walked into his strange behavior of his. Just as Lee Yuhan tried to come up with an explanation, Wang Jia Er said he too wanted to take a bite. He revealed that he also was suffering from that stomach-churning torment. Sun Haoran, Huang Yiyang were their best friends; He Xinyi was Wang Jia Er's girlfriend and Tang Yi and Zheng Meihan were He Xinyi's best friends, so over the past few years, the seven of them shared the ball of soil. All 7 of them participated in the Arbor Day activity. Obviously, that was a cause and effect relation here. Their dietary demands had been permanently modified on that day.

    This group of teens was anxious and frightened by their own behavior. They were afraid that their stomachs would be ruined. They wanted to confide in their parents or even call the Phecda hotline but they were afraid of being exposed as monsters... In any case, whenever they gathered the courage to seek help, there would be a voice inside their head, telling them, 'Do not tell anyone, now is still not the time.'

    So that was how things reached this state. This issue remained a secret within the 7 of them. They observed that other than the allotriophagia, they did not suffer from any other mental or physical problem.

    However, the issue was, after much sharing, the ball of soil brought back by Lee Yuhan had finally been fully consumed. Not a dust remained. They even fought over the paper that was used to wrap the soil. Once detached, they realized they were acting like addicts. If they did not get their dietary demands fulfilled, they could not function normally.

    "Then, I'll start first." Lee Yuhan could not resist anymore. He used his hands to shovel the brown dirt into his mouth. However, he soon frowned. He practically spat out the wet soil. He choked out in panic and shock, "What am I doing? This is not right! No, wait! It's the taste that's not right!"

    "What?" Wang Jia Er grabbed a small piece of soil and threw it into his mouth. He reacted the same way. His face was red.

    "No way!" He Xinyi and the rest panicked but after the five tasted their own plate of soil, they were distressed. "It's over, it's over for us now." "What to do? How are we going to survive the day?" "Lee Yuhan, do you still have that kind of soil on you?" This kind of normal soil won't do. The taste is world's away.

    "You people have ingested all that I had..." Lee Yuhan grumbled with annoyance but then his eyes lit up. "But, wait, we can just go to the source! There is plenty of soil in the desert we visited during Arbor Day. The place is practically a wasteland, there is no fence and guard. Why haven't we considered that?!"

    The rest of the group agreed immediately as they saw the ray of hope. They could not resist the urge anymore. There was a glutinous desire that lit a fire through them. They had to consume those soil or they would die, yes, they would die...

    The seven teens moved immediately. They had a choice of vehicle in the family garage. The silver MPV was large enough to accommodate seven people. However, none of them were old enough to apply for a driving license. Thankfully, Wang Jia Er knew how to drive, he learned it on his own. They crawled into the MPV and departed immediately. They prayed that they wouldn't run into any roadblock.

    Mo Bei City was a small city. They purposely went along the less travelled path. Thankfully, they did not run into any trouble on the way to the desert at the northern side of the city. When they arrived, night had fallen. There was no guard or housing in the vicinity. There was not even the sound of bugs. After the car was parked, the teens rushed out from the car and raced towards the land where some small trees were planted.

    "This way, this way!" Lee Yuhan recognized the route. He rushed towards the spot where he dug out the eggs.

    "Didn't Captain Luo from the Forestry Department say they would send people over to spray the area with pesticide? Will that affect us?"

    "Don't eat if you're that afraid!"

    "I'm not afraid of the pesticide, I'm more afraid of dying from starvation..."

    "Listen to me, I'm just saying the pesticide might alter the taste of the soil here as well!"

    They argued agitatedly. However, they suddenly stopped both their arguments and footsteps. They looked confusedly down a spot 10 metres away, a spot right next to a small tree. With the weak moonlight, they saw a person kneeling on the ground. His back was towards them. The man's hands dug at the soil hungrily. They shoved them continuously into the mouth. The man made a strange guttural voice. There was a small hole next to the man. The disappeared soil should be inside the man's stomach by now. The man looked familiar to the students...

    "That appears to be..." He Xinyi's eyes widened. Disbelief was clear on the faces of her friends. However, their throats shivered. The man's sound of mastication and ingestion lit up their appetite. At the same time, the man heard their movement and turned around in shock. The normally peaceful and kind middle-aged face was now covered in a complicated expression. The slightly open mouth was covered in soil. His cheeks and chin were smudged with dirt.

    He must have been feasting madly on the soil before they arrived.

    The teens recognized this man, it was their respected headmaster, Headmaster Chui.
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