Grabbing Tightly (4)
The Charlie artillery company's atmosphere resembled that of a household in mourning.
The Battery Commander acted as if his soul had abandoned him, and he didn't really bother to issue fresh orders to his officers.
Meanwhile, the officers themselves were left confused and uncertain by the two incidents breaking out one after the other.
In a span of one month, the base was rocked by two separate attempted suicides.
At this rate, it wouldn’t be unusual to see the entire base get demolished literally overnight.
As Kim Hak-Cheol's incident was still only a few hours old, the HQ hadn't issued any formal statement or response just yet.
However, everyone could already guess what was in store come tomorrow.
No wonder the entire base was blanketed in eerie silence like some kind of a haunted cemetery.
It was the same story for every barrack, but the one occupied by the 1st Squad was especially quiet—it was so quiet that even the sound of a pin dropping could be heard.
Inside such a quiet environment, Noh Su-Bong was sitting in a corner, deeply stewing in his own thoughts.
'Did Kim Hak-Cheol really go insane Is it that simple'
His mind was filled to the brim with a single suspicion.
Could Kim Hak-Cheol's mental illness not be as simple as it looked If Kim Hak-Cheol had displayed any prior signs of mental instability, then maybe Noh Su-Bong would have been more accepting of the current situation.
However, Kim Hak-Cheol was a hundred percent sane and normal only a week ago.
In that case, the only logical conclusion would be that Kim Hak-Cheol had buckled under the weight of his guilty conscience, but...
'...But, he's not that type of a guy, now is he'
If Kim Hak-Cheol had been so feeble-minded that he would feel guilty about bullying someone, he wouldn't have pushed Ju Yeong-Gi to that state in the first place.
'...Does that mean there's really something else going on here'
Noh Su-Bong tightly clenched his fists.
In that case...
'I wasn’t just hearing things, then'
Just the mere act of recalling those words sent chills down Noh Su-Bong's spine.
“Y-yeah” Noh Su-Bong raised his head when Lee Sang-Yeop called out to him.
“Sir, it's almost time for the evening roll call.”
“...It's already that late” Noh Su-Bong glanced outside the window and noticed that the darkness of the night had already overtaken the world.
Unlike that darkness, however, his complexion was pale-white.
“...Get the cleaning routine started.
And we ain't gonna do anything special later, so everyone's allowed to hit the sack after the roll call.”
Did you hear any news about Hak-Cheol”
Nothing yet,” said Lee Sang-Yeop.
“I think we would have heard something by now if Corporal Kim's condition is really bad, sir.”
“...That means he's at least alive, then.
Got it.” Noh Su-Bong grabbed his packet of cigarettes and walked outside the living area.
Once outside, he felt his anxiety calm down a little from the cool night air.
He mouthed the cigarette and tried to organize his thoughts.
“Nothing will change even if I rack my brain here.”
If Kim Hak-Cheol's experiences were real, and Noh Su-Bong hadn't hallucinated, then...
Something should happen tonight.
He was convinced of that now.
Noh Su-Bong quietly gritted his teeth.
“It'll be a grave mistake if you think I'm as easy as Kim Hak-Cheol...!”
He bit down on his lip before heading back inside.
Sleep didn't want to come.
Actually, it would be weirder to fall asleep in the current situation.
In the end, Noh Su-Bong remained wide awake as the dawn settled in.
Nothing had happened so far.
Instead of feeling relieved, though, Noh Su-Bong's anxiety only ballooned bigger with every passing second.
He was so anxious that a part of him even wished for something to happen as soon as possible.
The sickening lump of anxiety began to take over his mind and tormented him even more as the hours rolled by.
'Should I go outside and have a smoke or something'
Noh Su-Bong groaned and decided to get up, only to notice that something was strange.
'It's totally dark'
Even after the lights were turned off, some night lamps were supposed to be left on.
However, he couldn't sense any hints of light through his closed eyelids.
Noh Su-Bong slowly opened his eyes.
He detected a blurry humanoid figure standing near his head.
Before he could open his mouth, though, his consciousness suddenly sank deep into the darkness.
The vibrations of a large machine managed to drag his sunken consciousness out from the depths of the darkness.
Noh Su-Bong slowly opened his eyes again and looked around.
It was dark.
The first thing he encountered after barely escaping from the abyss of his own unconsciousness was darkness.
However, this location was undoubtedly familiar.
Noh Su-Bong even had a feeling he would end up here as well.
Indeed, he was inside the boiler room.
As soon as he realized this, Noh Su-Bong felt a sharp tremor run throughout his body, starting from his toes all the way to the tips of his hair.
All the crazy things Kim Hak-Cheol had been muttering were true.
He hadn't said those things because of his failing mental health, after all!
And according to Kim Hak-Cheol's testimony, someone should appear pretty soon.
Noh Su-Bong's heart rate climbed higher.
He told himself to remain calm, but his heart was already racing away, utterly ignoring his brain's orders as it madly pounded away.
His body didn't want to move.
With that, Noh Su-Bong knew.
Kim Hak-Cheol hadn't spouted a single lie.
Everything so far was exactly the same as what he had said.
Noh Su-Bong opened his eyes wide and searched, waiting for that someone to appear.
Kim Hak-Cheol called that person the 'shadow'.
And that shadow should soon appear before Noh Su-Bong, too!
'...Why hasn't he appeared yet'
Strangely enough, the shadow hadn't manifested himself yet.
The only thing Noh Su-Bong could see was the boiler room's darkness, while he could hear nothing but the boiler's rumbling and the occasional water drops hitting the floor.
The coldness rising from the floor was fighting against the heatwave from the boiler hitting him in the face.
Noh Su-Bong could only moan weakly at this strange sensation.
Being abandoned and alone in this bizarre space only heightened his anxiety level, and he began thinking that it would be so much better for someone, anyone, to show themselves.
That was when it began…
“You seem familiar with this.”
A voice suddenly registered in Noh Su-Bong's hearing.
A voice that was low, heavy, and...
something he had heard earlier in the day.
So, he hadn't been hallucinating, then.
And this voice should belong to the one Kim Hak-Cheol had mentioned in his crazed rambling.
Noh Su-Bong's body began trembling all on its own.
Was it because of terror Horror, maybe No, it was neither of those.
Noh Su-Bong knew.
He definitely knew, even if Kim Hak-Cheol had no idea.
Kim Hak-Cheol couldn't have known since he had never enjoyed a chance to stand in that position, but Noh Su-Bong was different.
“Huff, huff!” Noh Su-Bong's breathing became sharper, harsher.
The voice rang in his hearing again.
“Am I wrong”
Noh Su-Bong's trembling worsened at that question.
This voice, it...
Noh Su-Bong was now certain that he had heard of it several times before.
The voice contained a hint of languor and even some playfulness.
And it was undoubtedly the mocking voice of a predator holding a toy he could play with as much as he wanted!
Noh Su-Bong should know since he had also spoken in such a voice not too long ago...
right inside this boiler room after forcing Ju Yeong-Gi to kneel before him!
'...Does that mean I'm the prey now'
Like a rat before a cat An insect wiggling inside a child's grip
Noh Su-Bong's eyes powerfully quaked.
He couldn't let that happen.
Not once during his life did he become prey.
His defiant streak instinctively reared its head, his expression hardening in determination.
Along with an unnatural sound, a large shadowy figure materialized in Noh Su-Bong's view.
Finally, he understood why Kim Hak-Cheol kept calling this 'person' a shadow.
How could he not This bizarre thing seemed to be constructed solely by lumping black fog together.
Huh” Noh Su-Bong gasped in surprise.
His lips trembled.
His entire body was paralyzed, not even budging an inch, yet his mouth was free to move.
Such a thing was logically impossible, but it seemed that logic had abandoned this place a long time ago, anyway.
He briefly fell asleep only to wake up in this place, so looking for logic now would be a fool's errand.
In any case, he realized he had to say something.
Since his mouth was free, it could mean the shadowy bastard before his eyes were telling him to say his piece.
“Y-you, you're the one Kim Hak-Cheol has been talking about, am I right”
The shadow's head slowly tilted to one side.
So many things were conveyed in that simple movement.
One of those things Noh Su-Bong felt without a doubt was a sneer.
“What if I'm not” the shadow replied, his voice filled with hints of laughter.
What a stupid question that was.
Even Noh Su-Bong himself knew it.
If it wasn't this shadow, who else could it be Noh Su-Bong wouldn't have spouted a stupid question like that in 'normal' circumstances.
Even though he was acting all calm and calculating, Noh Su-Bong's mouth had still unleashed a dumb-sounding question as if to declare to the whole world that his mind had already been pushed to its limits.
However, a venomous drive quickly filled Noh Su-Bong's mind.
I admit I'm scared!'
But, so what Who wouldn't be scared by this situation No matter how gutsy one was, they would still wet their pants after finding themselves stuck in the same crisis as Noh Su-Bong.
If something was scary, one had to be honest with themselves and admit that they were scared.
Noh Su-Bong's expression softened a tad.
He sucked in several deep breaths to calm his pounding heart before raising his voice.
“What's your reason for doing this”
“That's right! You must have a reason for doing this crap!” Noh Su-Bong yelled in anger.
“W-what is that you want! Money I can give you plenty of money! If you want something else, I can also make it happen!”
The shadow wordlessly stared at Noh Su-Bong.
“I'm asking you! What the hell do you want!” Noh Su-Bong's yell sounded almost fitful and explosive.
The shadow finally broke his silence.
“What did you want”
Noh Su-Bong's eyes began quaking from that question.
What was that even supposed to mean Just before he could ask back, though, a thought quickly brushed past his mind.
Wasn't it obvious now that he thought about it some more This whole crisis began right after Ju Yeong-Gi had tried to kill himself.
Everything in this world operated under the rule of causality, after all.
Finally, it had become crystal clear why this shadow targeted Kim Hak-Cheol and Noh Su-Bong.
Noh Su-Bong's gears quickly began to grind away.
It was difficult to deal with an opponent who had no goal.
However, the exact opposite was also true.
“L-Let's make a deal, you and I!”
The shadow tilted his head.
“A deal, is it”
Noh Su-Bong urgently nodded.
This bizarre creature was capable of turning Kim Hak-Cheol into an invalid in one week.
Obviously, Noh Su-Bong wasn’t the same as Kim Hak-Cheol, but that didn't mean he would like to experience what his underling had experienced.
“Yes, a deal!”
Noh Su-Bong sucked in a deep breath.
“Y-you're doing this because of Ju Yeong-Gi, right I honestly didn't anticipate that things would end this way.
And I accept that I hold ethical responsibility in this situation.
That is why I promise to financially provide for Ju Yeong-Gi's medical fees and his family members!” He stopped there to suck in another deep breath before desperately pleading his case.
“That's why, let me go.
I swear to you, I will do everything in my power if you back away now.
Not just for Ju Yeong-Gi, but for you, too, as long as you want something! I can really make it happen.
I hold enough power for that.
Noh Su-Bong's expression hardened, and he glared.
“If you wish to drag this till the end, you better give up on any thoughts of getting away scot-free.
Do you really think you'll be fine after harming even a hair on me If you know who I am, you can never touch me.
Not only you but even your family will be sent to hell with you! You better engrave my warning to your soul and wise up!”
Noh Su-Bong's voice became more and more manic toward the end.
However, his eyes remained resolute and unshakeable as he glared at the shadow.
Noh Su-Bong cunningly threw in appeasement and threat in equal measure.
With this, most people would have no choice but to accept his proposal.
Unfortunately, Noh Su-Bong didn't know—he had no idea who he was dealing with.
Low, creepy laughter leaked out of the shadow.
And when that mind-numbing cackle entered Noh Su-Bong's brain, his face turned deathly white in the blink of an eye.
“Have you ever seen hell before” The shadow creepily grinned as his hand slowly reached out toward Noh Su-Bong's face.