Chapter 3 - Youngwon
The man abruptly swung the ax with formidable strength, causing me to freeze in place. My muscles tensed, rendering me motionless. The blade of the ax sliced through the air, narrowly missing me. But I remained rooted to the spot, unable to react.
A viscous, sticky substance splattered onto my feet. After a moment, I realized that it was putrid blood.
Numbly, I stared at the floor. The figure before me—the once-manager, now transformed into a grotesque being—had an ax deeply embedded in its clavicle. It convulsed, its neck and shoulders partially severed.
With a slight tilt of his head, the man calmly wiped off a few specks of blood from his exposed neck using the back of his hand. A prominent scar ran horizontally across his neck, beyond his shirt collar.
“Oh… it didn’t die.”
Those were his first words. He glanced down, furrowed his brow slightly, and then extracted the ax with a sickening crunch. In my peripheral vision, I saw a chunk of the head roll away from the lifeless body. I shut my eyes tightly. Despite the monstrosity it had become, that creature was once a human being—a person I had conversed with in the past. Nausea churned in my stomach.
“Hi, Junior. You’re here,” the man greeted me casually, his voice oddly familiar.
I opened my eyes, meeting his gaze. He lowered his black mask, offering a faint smile. With his jet-black hair, dark eyes, and ear piercings, he exuded an air that was far from amiable.
“Sorry?” I replied, perplexed.
I had no recollection of knowing this person. No matter how hard I searched my memories, his face remained a blank slate.
“You managed to survive. Why are you still alive?” he asked nonchalantly.
Something felt off. I took a step back, and the man, filled with confusion, followed suit, closing the gap between us. The tip of his ax scraped along the floor.
“What are you saying? Who are you?”
“What the… Why are you suddenly pretending you don’t know me? Don’t you want me to acknowledge you at all now? Oh, have you forgotten my name? Is that why?” He grinned, his expression clashing with his delinquent and dangerous appearance. “I’m Youngwon, remember? Youngwon Ki.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know you. Are you mistaking me for someone else?”
I blurted out whatever came to mind, inching backward to create some distance. I knew in an instant that the man before me was far from normal. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have impaled another person’s neck with an ax or pretended to know me while questioning why I was still alive.
“But, you know… Why do you keep running away?” he asked calmly, his bloody ax adding to his menacing aura.
Was he serious? I was running away because I believed it was the right thing to do! I had plenty of thoughts I wanted to voice, but I possessed enough sense not to utter them aloud.
I sealed my lips and surveyed my surroundings, searching for the opportune moment to turn and sprint. Finally, I found it and bolted. That man was as dangerous—if not more dangerous—than all the abominations I had encountered thus far.
He pursued me relentlessly. The sounds of ominous clattering and banging accompanied his chase. The ax carelessly struck the walls, its echoes reminiscent of the grotesque sounds the creatures produced as they dragged their limp limbs.
“I asked you why you’re running away. Do you despise me that much? Or are you afraid? Do you believe I’ll kill you or something?”
“Stop—” I huffed, struggling to speak—”stop chasing—”
“No, why would I kill you? I wouldn’t. Not for forgetting my name or making a fool out of me. That’s fine. It happens. I won’t kill you—no, I can’t.”
The empty hallway whizzed by. The fear I experienced now differed from when the dorm manager pursued me. It felt like I was being hunted by a psychopathic serial killer.
“You’re quite skilled at running,” he commented. “You were so intent on dying—do you now desire to live?”
The hallway came to an end, and I hurriedly descended the stairs. The man’s legs were as lengthy as his height, allowing him to leap down, skipping two or three steps each time, closely tailing me.
“You’re doing this again. You’re always so indecisive. I always end up looking like a fool.”
I had no opportunity to respond to his ludicrous ramblings. The moment I opened my mouth, the blade of his ax would cleave my skull in two.
“You truly… are cruel,” he muttered quietly to himself. Then, he was right behind me, his lack of exhaustion evident. It dawned on me that I could never outrun him.
I halted and shut my eyes tightly.
“Yo… Senior Youngwon. Youngwon!” I cried out in desperation.
He chased me because I ran away and feigned ignorance of his existence. Therefore, if I pretended to know him and ceased my escape, he might spare my life. If I were to die anyway, I wanted to exhaust all possible options before meeting my demise.
“I’m sorry! How could I have failed to recognize you?! I… I had a momentary lapse of memory—or rather, I was confused.”
I must have sounded pitiful and obsequious, but my bluff appeared to have succeeded. The man stood motionless, rooted to the spot. Swallowing hard, I opened my eyes, cautiously turning around. Yet, all I saw was him swinging the ax once more, devoid of any expression.
I screamed involuntarily for obvious reasons. The world had transformed overnight, vile creatures chased after me, and the only person I encountered was wielding a bloodstained ax. In this situation, remaining calm would have been peculiar.
Then, I heard the sound of the ax penetrating flesh and shattering bone. Just a step behind me, another creature that had been approaching collapsed to the ground. I couldn’t discern its face, but it appeared to be a student from our school. Blood seeped through the fabric of its varsity jacket, pooling into a repugnant, burgundy puddle.
“Ngh, hngh…” I collapsed onto the ground, my trembling knees giving way.
My self-proclaimed upperclassman stared blankly at the pitiful mass that was once a fellow student. Then, he turned his gaze towards me. He observed me intently for an uncomfortably long duration before letting out a slow sigh and retrieving the ax.
“Junior, keep your composure,” he said, neither scolding me for my ignorance nor for any other arbitrary reason. He didn’t immediately attempt to kill me. Though I couldn’t be certain, it seemed as if he had been entranced by something until not long ago and had just snapped out of it.
He pulled his mask back on, leaving only his unnaturally cold eyes exposed.
“Just stay close to me. If you get distracted for even a moment, I’ll sever your head before those bastards devour you.”
I contemplated which fate would be preferable: being torn apart by creatures or having my head severed by an ax. Both options were equally dreadful.
“Follow me and make no loud noises.”
“Don’t ask me the same question repeatedly. Having to repeat myself makes me feel miserable.”
I didn’t recall asking him the same question more than once, but I sealed my lips nonetheless. My life held value.
Youngwon proceeded forward, his grip on the ax handle relaxed, strolling with a jaded gait. Yet, his footsteps remained silent. I stole anxious glances at him before eventually mustering the courage to follow.
What was transpiring here, and what were the creatures we encountered? Why did that man treat me as if we shared a long history? I had a multitude of questions, but no opportunity to ask them.
* * *
As I trailed behind my upperclassman, I couldn’t ease my apprehension. Though the dormitory appeared quiet and deserted on the surface, treacherous entities lurked in every corner. What were once humans had transformed into monstrous beings, inflicting harm upon others.
How had they undergone such a transformation? What was happening with my family? How many other survivors remained? Horrific murders had unfolded on campus, yet there were no police cars or ambulances rushing to our aid.
Unanswered questions continued to accumulate. It felt as if I were wandering through an unending series of nightmares. Among them all, the most pressing query was: who was this man?
Everything about him was peculiar. Horrifying events were transpiring, yet he maintained an eerie calmness. He conversed with me casually, dispatching the corpses of former human beings with an air of familiarity. He addressed me with a familiar tone, as though we shared a deep familiarity, and readily unveiled his identity.
However, was that name genuine or fabricated? Was he truly a student at this university? Whenever I posed important questions, he either diverted the topic in irritation or disregarded me, as though he hadn’t heard a word. The grotesque creatures were terrifying, but to me, this man seemed equally dangerous.
An impulse surged within me: should I attempt to flee once more? If I wanted to escape, now was the moment. Youngwon’s attention wasn’t directed my way, and we had ample distance between us. If I ran now, I wouldn’t be caught as easily as before.
Suddenly, he turned around, his eyes narrowing beneath long, dark lashes. I flinched—it was as though he had read my thoughts.
“Come here.” He extended his free hand, as if beckoning a pet dog. I was taken aback. “I said come here. Hold my hand.”
“So I can’t escape?”
“Why do you play hard to get in our relationship? Don’t be like that, just hold on. We don’t have time.”
What relationship? Forget that.
“What are you—”
Before I could finish, I heard dull thuds emanating from a distance. It sounded as if something was rolling and hard objects were colliding with walls. However, the source was far enough that I couldn’t discern the sounds clearly. Startled, I abruptly silenced myself.
Youngwon sighed from behind his mask. “Hurry.”
He urged me closer, and reluctantly, I placed my hand in his. His grip was strong, almost painfully so.
His hand was at least an inch larger than mine. The first sensation was its dryness and chill. Secondly, I noted its hardness, calloused throughout. These were not the hands of an average university student who spent their days studying.
Then, the crashing sounds resounded once more, louder this time. Something was transpiring, and it wasn’t far from our location. As soon as my hand was secured in his grip, he began to run. I followed, partly being dragged along. My vision jolted incessantly.
“Wait. I can run on my own,” I insisted. “Wait!”
“How could I do that? If I tell you to follow me and go ahead alone, you’ll fall behind and struggle. You’ll likely trip over something and burst into tears.”
“I’m not that inept.”
“That’s what you think.”
I was left speechless. While my life hung in the balance, feeling annoyance seemed wholly inappropriate, yet I couldn’t help but feel irritated.
Youngwon sprinted down the hallway, our hands firmly clasped, before abruptly halting in front of a slightly ajar door. He burst inside, shoving me in with him.
It was an unyielding push. I narrowly avoided landing face-first on the floor, managing to maintain my balance. He locked the door behind us. We panted heavily, leaning against it. I had no time to observe the abandoned dorm room we now occupied; my attention was fixated solely on the events unfolding beyond the door.
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