Chapter 4 - Bait
“They must have caught quite a haul,” I remarked, my tone filled with disgust.
“A good catch?” Youngwon replied nonchalantly, as if discussing a mundane topic. “They caught their meal. Human flesh. Man meat.”
The image of the convenience store flashed in my mind, intensifying my disgust. My stomach churned, and I clenched my teeth as acid rose in my throat.
“They… eat people?” I managed to utter, struggling to comprehend the horrifying reality.
“Do you understand now? There aren’t many living people left here. The dorm manager and everyone else turned. If you zone out when you see a familiar face, they’ll tear you apart limb by limb.”
Silence enveloped us as I tried to process the information.
“Why isn’t anyone coming? Shouldn’t the police or military be dispatched?”
Youngwon chuckled softly, treating my words as a joke. “Who would come? Even if they did, they’re all dead… Well, if you can count those walking corpses as dead.”
“Senior, how much do you know?” I asked, desperately seeking more answers.
“Me?” Youngwon tilted his head slightly, his dark hair falling gracefully over his forehead. His strangely gleaming eyes locked onto mine as he chose his words carefully.
Suddenly, a loud bang reverberated through the door, as if something had slammed into it with great force. Startled, I instinctively took a step back, fearing that the door might collapse.
“Is anyone there? Help me! Save me… hragh!”
A desperate voice reached us from outside, accompanied by growls and gurgles indicating the presence of multiple threats. Without thinking, my body moved, propelled by the urge to assist a fellow survivor in need.
“Hey, Junior, what do you think you’re doing?” Youngwon intercepted me, grabbing my wrist so tightly it felt like it might break. His intense gaze bore into me. “Didn’t I just tell you to stay focused?”
“But there’s someone outside!” I protested, attempting to free my hand from his grip, but it only tightened, causing my bones to crack under the pressure.
“It’s not just one or two. There are hordes of those things out there. What can you possibly do on your own?”
“I can help them hide or escape.”
“Really? Someone like you?”
“You won’t know unless you try.”
“Listen to me carefully. You’re clueless, so stop fooling around.”
Youngwon remained strangely composed, despite the life-and-death struggle happening just beyond the door. Anger surged through me.
“I get it, I’m running around like a headless chicken. But someone out there is dying. They’re begging for help.” My voice grew louder, frustration seeping into my words. “Whether it succeeds or not, you won’t know until you try!”
I cautiously addressed him, fearing the unpredictable upperclassman with a blood-stained ax. Though we had just met, I spoke to him with a familiarity, careful not to provoke him further. But in this situation, I couldn’t afford to be cautious.
Someone’s life hung in the balance. I didn’t know who it was, but that person was likely another university student like me, trapped in the dorms during Christmas. They were someone’s child, sibling, and friend. An innocent individual pleaded desperately for help, and I felt guilty hiding while hearing their cries.
Furious, I shouted at Youngwon, yet apprehension filled me as I considered the consequences. If he lost control, he might hurl that ax at me.
However, Youngwon didn’t erupt in anger or attempt to harm me.
“You’re determined to die, aren’t you?”
His voice grew even quieter, a tremor of anger hiding beneath the surface.
Forcing myself to relax, I took a deep breath. “I won’t put you at risk. I’ll go out alone and bring that person back.”
“You can’t do anything without me. How is that any different from going out to die?”
“Even if I die, it will be by my own choice. Why should my death matter to you?”
Just then, a loud noise interrupted our conversation. The person outside was either fighting or being attacked. A blood-curdling scream reached my ears. Time was running out. Shaking off Youngwon’s grip, I bolted forward.
An arm shot out from behind me, covering my nose and mouth. Darkness enveloped my vision, and when it cleared, I found myself being dragged back, Youngwon’s hand still muffling my cries.
I gasped for air, falling onto the mattress behind me. It made a hollow sound as I bounced on it, and Youngwon towered above me. Black clothes and dark hair filled my vision.
I realized my mistake too late. He called me by my name, his tone sharp and agitated. But I couldn’t recall ever telling him my name. Memories flooded my mind, but none provided an explanation.
“Our dear Hohyun. Are you so determined to die? Should I just kill you myself?” Youngwon snarled, his teeth clenched. He continued to press his hand against my mouth, his breath ragged. I tried to shake my head, but his grip was unyielding. My bones cracked, and pain surged through me.
Silence hung heavily, the trapped and stagnant air in my trachea causing me agony. His eyes met mine, filled with tears. We were so close that our noses almost touched. His eyes, a flawless black, reflected my pale and fear-stricken face, bloodshot and teary from the lack of oxygen.
“You hate me anyway. Killing you once won’t make a difference,” Youngwon muttered, his voice low and trembling with rage.
Forcing my body to relax, I took a deep breath, gasping for air as I coughed and hacked.
Youngwon released his grip and moved away, his weight lifting off me. As he turned his back, he picked up the ax that leaned against the wall.
“Let’s go now.”
Painfully, I got up, bewildered by the sudden turn of events.
“You said we shouldn’t leave just moments ago. You threatened me with death!”
“That was then. This is different now.”
“Why are you changing your stance so quickly?”
Youngwon sighed, shaking his head. “Hah… Hohyun, don’t dwell on the past. Live in the present.”
An inexplicable agitation and anger swelled within me. “Excuse me, Youngwon, if we were planning to hide here and ignore what’s happening outside, wouldn’t it be better for us to stay? We have a bed, electricity, heating, and water.”
“Excuse me, Hohyun, don’t you have an excellent GPA?” He turned to face me, a mix of pity and disdain in his eyes. “Can’t you use your head? Or is it because you locked yourself in your room all day, studying? How about using that brain of yours to think for once, instead of solving problems and writing reports?”
With that, Youngwon kicked the door open. Two forceful kicks rendered it useless. Though we had locked it when we entered, it now hung precariously from its hinges, the lock already damaged from the outside, further ruined by Youngwon’s merciless assault.
“Do you really want to stay in such a shoddy hiding spot? Did you want to invite all those monsters for a pajama party? Since the door is now useless, entry would be free for all those bastards.”
“No, I’m sorry. It was my mistake. I… I spoke too soon,” I muttered, conceding defeat to avoid his mockery.
Youngwon ignored me, stepping outside and surveying the surroundings before motioning for me to follow.
Outside, an eerie quietness settled. Not much seemed to have changed since we entered the room. The door creaked as it dangled haphazardly, and I glanced back. Streaks of blood stained its surface, and a sinking feeling washed over me.
“Don’t look,” he warned, shaking his head. “Those creatures have moved on. They won’t come this way for a while. They lack intelligence, so once they have their meal, they won’t pay attention to anything else.”
Dread consumed me.
“So when you told me not to go out and ignore it…”
“That person was drawing their attention away from us. No need to go out.”
“You should be grateful. Their screams drowned out your foolishness about leaving,” he remarked casually. “Their distraction worked wonders. I wonder if that person was a vocal music major?”
I scoffed, unable to believe Youngwon’s casual admission of using someone’s life as bait. Would he act the same way if we were faced with a natural disaster like a fire or an earthquake? Would he sacrifice others, ignoring their pleas for life, just to save himself?
“What are you doing? Let’s go. We can’t waste any more time.”
Youngwon grabbed my hand, his grip unbearably tight.
We rushed down the hallway, a faint smell of blood lingering in the air. Throughout the journey, Youngwon remained silent, his eyes calm and composed above the mask that covered most of his face.
“You know, Youngwon…”
“What is it, Hohyun?” He finally turned to me, his response laced with a playful tone.
My burning question slipped from my lips. “Why are you taking me along? I’m ignorant and burdensome. How does it benefit you to bring someone like me? I don’t understand. Won’t I become bait too?”
Youngwon fell silent, his eyes fixed on me with an intensity that sent shivers down my spine.
“Hohyun, why are you asking such an obvious question?” He sighed and shrugged, judging me for my lack of insight. “You can’t die. Even if everyone else here perishes, you must survive.”
The enigma deepened, and I found myself at a loss for further inquiries.
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