Grabbing Tightly (2)
“K-K-Kang Jin-Ho!” Kim Hak-Cheol's eyes opened so wide they almost fell out.
Kang Jin-Ho What was he doing here
Kang Jin-Ho, freed from the veil of the shadows, stared silently at Kim Hak-Cheol for some time before tilting his head slightly.
“Is it so surprising to see me here”
“I'm not sure what you wish to ask me, but..” Kang Jin-Ho suddenly smiled.
“If you want to know the reason, isn't it obvious Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
That's what Yeong-Gi had written down, you know”
“K-Kang Jin-Ho! Wait, Kang Jin-Ho!” Kim Hak-Cheol urgently cried out.
He still couldn't make heads or tails of this situation.
Why was Kang Jin-Ho in this place Never once did Kim Hak-Cheol think his tormentor could be a fellow human being.
No, he was dead certain that it had to be a specter or a devil.
He had even wondered plenty of times if Ju Yeong-Gi's spirit had possessed him.
Unless it was something as supernatural as that, the bizarre shadowy creature couldn't be explained.
Kang Jin-Ho had revealed himself to be the 'culprit'
Still, the gears in Kim Hak-Cheol's brain never stopped churning super-fast.
Did it matter whether the Kang Jin-Ho standing before him was human or a ghost No, it didn't.
What did matter, though, was that Kang Jin-Ho was currently holding Kim Hak-Cheol's lifeline in his firm grip.
Why are you doing this, Jin-Ho I-Is it because of Yeong-Gi I swear, I'll turn myself in.
Y-yeah, I'll confess to everything! B-But, I won't say anything about you! H-how about that”
Kang Jin-Ho had reverted to his usual expressionless face by then.
That emotionless face leaned in closer, sending skin-crawling chills down Kim Hak-Cheol's back.
“It seems you still haven't understood anything, Corporal Kim.
Do you know why I burned that diary”
Kang Jin-Ho shoved his face very close to Kim Hak-Cheol's and whispered, “It's simple.
I didn't want you in jail, that's why.”
Kim Hak-Cheol's body began to quake powerfully.
That whisper was deathly cold and creepy beyond comprehension.
The voice of the shadowy creature had come out of Kang Jin-Ho!
The 'Kang Jin-Ho' before Kim Hak-Cheol looked the same, yet he couldn't tell if this was really the 'Kang Jin-Ho' everybody knew.
Because this thing couldn't be a human being.
Yes, it had to be some other monstrosity wearing human skin!
However, the cruelty wasn't the only reason for this conclusion.
Despite the human exterior, Kang Jin-Ho emitted this inhumane atmosphere.
Something unmistakably different.
The air Kang Jin-Ho was giving off was like a cold hand digging into Kim Hak-Cheol's chest to grab his heart tightly before squeezing it to death!
“Smile.” Kang Jin-Ho grinned.
Not a conventional grin, but a mocking sneer with only one corner of his lips curling up.
You should smile, Corporal.
Isn't this fun You had so much fun while toying with Yeong-Gi, didn't you So, why aren't you smiling now when you're the toy It's so much fun for me, after all.”
This bastard was clearly insane! Kim Hak-Cheol witnessed pure madness dyeing Kang Jin-Ho's facial expression and sensed that very madness was gradually infecting him as well.
They were both...
“You want to turn yourself in” Kang Jin-Ho cackled.
His laughter, the whirring and rumbling of the vibrating boiler, and the sounds of water dripping on the cold floor...
To Kim Hak-Cheol's ears, they were instruments of the netherworld's orchestra.
"Don't worry about that, Corporal.
If you seek punishment, I shall grant it to you.
Today is the sixth day.
Endure today and tomorrow, and you shall be granted 'freedom.’ That's why..." Kang Jin-Ho grinned and grabbed Kim Hak-Cheol's hand.
“You see! You dumbass! Look, nothing happened, right I was right all along!” Noh Su-Bong triumphantly shouted.
As for Kim Hak-Cheol, he was staring at the living area's ceiling in a daze.
He 'woke' up at the sound of the morning bugle call and discovered the grinning mug of Noh Su-Bong not too far from his own.
Kim Hak-Cheol slowly sat up, his expression that of a man in a trance.
His blank stare scanned his surroundings for a bit.
Noh Su-Bong chuckled at the silent Kim Hak-Cheol.
“I knew it.
You dumbass, I told you it would be fine, didn't I So How was it Looks like you didn't have any nightmares last night, too.
I mean, you would have screamed and woken up if that was the case, right”
Kim Hak-Cheol didn't respond to that and quietly got up.
He didn't bother to tidy up his bedding and just trudged outside the living area, still seemingly stuck in a weird trance.
“...Huh What's wrong with that moron now” Noh Su-Bong tilted his head in confusion and hurriedly followed Kim Hak-Cheol.
That response was certainly different from when Kim Hak-Cheol was suffering from nightmares, but...
The current 'Kim Hak-Cheol' didn't seem right, either.
'What the hell'
Noh Su-Bong watched as Kim Hak-Cheol staggered into the bathroom.
Then, he took out a mop being dried overnight by the corner of the bathroom.
He proceeded to carefully separate the mophead and the lengthy wooden handle.
Noh Su-Bong quietly asked, sensing that something was about to go down.
What are you doing”
Kim Hak-Cheol turned his head, and his unfocused, glassy eyes stared at Noh Su-Bong.
Eventually, a weak-sounding, labored voice leaked out of his mouth.
The silence that ensued probably didn't even last that long.
However, Noh Su-Bong still felt that it was as long as eternity itself.
“...Please be careful.”
Noh Su-Bong tilted his head slightly.
Before he could respond, Kim Hak-Cheol gripped the mop's handle and madly sprinted outside the bathroom.
“W-what the hell! That moron!” Noh Su-Bong cried out in shock.
His gut was strongly advising him that that insane man was about to do something bad.
“Uwaaaaaah!” Kim Hak-Cheol roared loud enough for his voice to echo in the corridors.
He kicked the door down to the 3rd Squad's living area and charged straight inside.
“W-what the hell!”
“Who the f*ck is this punk!”
Shocked voices exploded out of the living area.
Then, a chorus of stunned cries soon followed them outside.
“Corporal Kang, you okay, sir!”
“W-what are you doing, sir! Corporal Kim! Stop!”
“Grab him! I said, grab him, now! Stop that bastard!”
The loud yells exploded out of the 3rd Squad's living area.
Noh Su-Bong sprinting there could only swear under his breath.
What the hell did that insane bastard do now!
Noh Su-Bong contorted his body around the entrance of the 3rd Squad's living area to slow down and make the turn, but then he almost tumbled inside.
However, the situation had been taken care of by then.
People inside the living area were split into two camps.
One group was protectively surrounding Kang Jin-Ho holding his head, while the other one was suppressing Kim Hak-Cheol struggling and shouting like a madman on the floor.
“Uwaaaah! Let me go! Let go! Nooooow! I gotta kill him! Before he kills me, I gotta kill him first! Uwaaaaaah! Let me gooooo!” Kim Hak-Cheol's shout sounded less like a crazed yell and more like a desperate plea.
The desperation and the unmistakable fear in his voice sent chills down the spine of every listener present.
“Kang Jin-Hoooooo! Kang Jin-Hooooo!” Kim Hak-Cheol screamed out Kang Jin-Ho's name several times, mixing it up with incomprehensible curses.
Eventually, though, his yells turned into pitiful sobs.
“...Please, let me go.
Let me go, please...
I, I was wrong... Hik...
Noh Su-Bong just stood there; he could neither chuckle, get irritated, nor even lose himself to anger.
Even his habitual colorful language had left him.
He could only stand there with a pale look as he stared at Kim Hak-Cheol.
A part of him was shouting at him to do something—to get on top of this situation.
But what was he supposed to do here What could he possibly do to get a grip on this situation
Suddenly, Kang Jin-Ho stopped shielding his head and got up.
Noh Su-Bong sobered up quickly.
“Yes, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho coolly nodded as if it was nothing.
“...I'm really sorry about this, Jin-Ho.
Let me apologize on that idiot's behalf.
I mean, you can tell he's not right in his mind, can't you This was...
I know this will become a problem, but no high-ranking officers witnessed this scene, so...
Can you, like...
Just this once”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled at that.
“Don't worry, sir.
I'll keep my mouth shut.”
“...Will you do that Thanks.
Let me apologize again.”
“Besides that, sir...”
“M-mm” Noh Su-Bong was taken aback.
That smile etched on Kang Jin-Ho's lips came across as very...
Even though it was a bland smile, it...
It was weirdly ominous.
“Sir, Corporal Kim's health seems to have declined significantly.
You should tell him to take care of himself better, sir.
After all, there's still one more day to go.”
“...Eh” Noh Su-Bong was puzzled by what Kang Jin-Ho had said, but he still nodded in agreement for the time being.
Kim Hak-Cheol could easily spend the day in a cell for this crap.
No, never mind that; he could even be formally charged with assault if things didn't go in his favor.
However, Kang Jin-Ho had promised to let it go, so Noh Su-Bong could only be thankful for now.
Just as Noh Su-Bong finished nodding, the members of the 1st Squad rushed inside the living area.
Noh Su-Bong quickly instructed them.
“Hey, you lot! Take that moron away!”
Kim Hak-Cheol continued to mutter incomprehensible gibberish amidst intense sobbing as his squad mates picked him up and carried him away.
Noh Su-Bong supervised them, then left behind some words of gratitude and apology before quickly leaving the 3rd Squad's living area.
'...One day to go What does that mean'
One day! ...Just one more day...
One! One day! Just one more! One…” Kim Hak-Cheol kept mumbling like a lunatic.
He no longer resembled a human being.
Drool dribbled down the corner of his chin as he mouthed 'one day' repeatedly.
Looking into his hollow, sunken eyes no longer evoked sympathetic feelings in the bystanders as the scene gave them the creeps instead.
Noh Su-Bong glanced at one of his junior soldiers.
“When are they gonna take him to a hospital”
The ambulance is scheduled to show up tomorrow.”
“F*ck...” Noh Su-Bong angrily shook his head.
“Damn it, why the f*ck do all transportation have to be restricted right now”
The Battery Commander unhesitantly ordered Kim Hak-Cheol's hospitalization after discovering the latter's terrible state, but the inclement weather had thrown a wrench into that plan.
After snow began to incessantly fall early morning, vehicle entry and exit were restricted.
Thanks to this development, Noh Su-Bong had to watch Kim Hak-Cheol's descent into madness for one more day.
“By the way, what is that moron mumbling about” Noh Su-Bong frowned deeply.
“Sir I think Corporal Kim has been saying something about enduring one more day.”
“...One more day You sure”
He has been repeating the same thing over and over.
That he needs to endure one more day.”
“...One day, is it”
“That's what Corporal Kim said, sir.”
Noh Su-Bong rubbed his chin.
Didn't Kang Jin-Ho say something earlier about one more day to go And Kim Hak-Cheol was repeating that for some reason “...Hey.
Do you know exactly what happened when this moron charged into living area no.5 in the morning Was he hitting whoever he could see or targeting Kang Jin-Ho specifically”
I'm sure you also saw Corporal Kim losing his sh*t while shouting 'Kang Jin-Ho, Kang Jin-Ho!' back then, sir.”
Noh Su-Bong's brow creased deeply.
“...That is definitely suspicious.”
Kim Hak-Cheol's eyes were scarily bloodshot.
He had to endure tonight.
As long as he endured it...! The pain from his nails and teeth being pulled out were horrifying enough to rob him of his consciousness, but as long as he could endure tonight and survive! Then...!
Tonight was the promised seventh night.
Kang Jin-Ho smiled brightly at Kim Hak-Cheol's determined face.
“I'm honestly impressed.
Your mind is tougher than I thought.”
Impressed Did he really say he was impressed after driving a person to this wretched state
“Huhuhu...” Kim Hak-Cheol cackled powerlessly.
As for the tears streaming down his face, he couldn't tell if the pain was making him cry or if it was the joy of knowing he would no longer go through this torture from tomorrow onward.
“I, I'm sorry...”
“It was my fault.
I am guilty.
If I knew being tormented was like this, I...
I would have never done it.
I… I swear I'll never do it ever again...”
“Oh, I see.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
“It's fine either way.
Whether you repent or not, it doesn't matter.”
“I… I'm definitely repenting! I'm even crying tears of blood, y-you know! I'm telling you the truth! Please believe me.
Please, please!” Kim Hak-Cheol broke down and cried again.
‘Please, no more.
No more! I can't endure this anymore.
Please, please stop this…’
Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
“Well, a promise is a promise.
So, I shall give you freedom as promised.”
Kim Hak-Cheol's jaw fell slightly, and drool trickled down the corner of his mouth.
His expression was a mess of delight and despair.
As he coughed viciously, his body was shaking and convulsing.
Finally! Finally, it's over!
Finally, he had...
“Until tomorrow night, that is.”
“...” Kim Hak-Cheol doubted his hearing just then, wondering what he heard just now.
Kang Jin-Ho replied in a creepy voice, “I shall give you your freedom.
Until tomorrow night.”
Kim Hak-Cheol raised his head to stare at Kang Jin-Ho in a daze, and there he saw a strange grin.
It was more cruel and devilish than any smile he had ever seen.
“Isn't it strange Why do people think repenting makes their sins go away Whether you repent or not, your crimes will still be there, after all.
Don't you agree” Kang Jin-Ho muttered while reaching out.
Kim Hak-Cheol freaked out and convulsed violently when Kang Jin-Ho's hand reached him.
His face was already a mess of all sorts of liquids, making it unsightly.
Kang Jin-Ho flashed a toothy grin.
I am simply venting my anger.
Good or evil...
Such lowly sentiments have no place here.
So, take a good rest until tomorrow.
We still have so much to talk about, after all.”
The dim boiler room was rocked by the echoes of Kim Hak-Cheol's wretched scream and Kang Jin-Ho's maddened cackle.
A living hell...
had descended to this place.