Chapter 16: The Early Dawn (5)
Hyung-geun jumped in surprise at the boy’s scream and fell flat on his butt as he turned around to see what had happened, and what he saw made him forget the pain entirely. Myeong-su, who had slipped on some wet leaves, was now rolling down a hill. Hyung-geun’s mind went blank, and so did Cheol-yong’s.
When the boy felt that Myeong-su had slipped and begun to roll, he instinctively reached out with his hand. He had tried to get a hold of him, but he had missed by a hair’s breadth. He ran after Myeong-su and quickly jumped ahead of him. He planted his feet firmly on the ground to stop himself from slipping and grabbed Myeong-su as he rolled down towards his feet.
Still, his foothold wasn’t enough to offset the momentum of a rolling child, and the boy ended up collapsing, entangled with his friend. Even then, he didn’t give up. He quickly turned his body to face a small pine tree and let out a pained gasp as he hit the tree trunk.
“Myeong-su! Plaster face!”
Hyung-geun and Cheol-yong approached the two boys, careful with their steps. The frightened Myeong-su couldn’t even bring himself to cry, rather letting out small coughs as tears streamed down his face. On the other hand, the boy had been hit with Myeong-su’s entire body weight, and he was still collapsed on the ground, unmoving.
“Myeong-su, are you alright? Did you get hurt?”
Myeong-su only shook his head, so Hyung-geun left him to check on the boy.
“Hey! Wake up! Hello?!”
Even at Hyung-geun’s incessant shaking, the boy didn’t move at all. The older boys grew pale, and Myeong-su asked shakily: “is he dead?”
Cheol-yong was afraid, then. Very afraid. He took a step back, but his legs gave out, and he plopped on the ground. Hyung-geun’s eyes grew even wider and, though he knew that there was just no way, laid the boy’s body down on the ground. On the outside, the boy showed no sign of injury. The rain was light now, almost misty, but there was no visible blood anywhere. No blood, no big injury. That was Hyung-geun’s train of thought, and he decided to be brave. He placed a hand over the boy’s chest, and the other two boys watched, speechless. However, Myeong-su couldn’t hold back his curiosity, and asked again: “is he dead?”
Hyung-geun shook his head, his voice thick with the tears he was struggling to hold back. “I don’t know,” he answered. He decided to press his ear against the boy’s chest, to be sure. Myeong-su opened his mouth again, but this time, Cheol-yong stopped him, shushing him with a finger to his lips. Moments passed, and at the boys’ questioning looks, Hyung-geun spoke slowly. “I think he’s alive. His chest is moving.” “Yes!!” “Cheol-yong, I’ll carry Plaster face. You take care of Myeong-su. Myeong-su, can you walk?”
As Hyung-geun’s leadership skills bloomed during this time of need, the misty rain slowly, but surely, let up. The ground was still very slippery, but the boys carefully made their way back to institute. Thankfully, the accident had happened not too far from the institute itself, so it wasn’t long until they reached the back of the building.
Four messy, drenched, miserable looking children, back at the institute. All the other children of the institute, all witnesses to their return. Screams for teachers, and Ms. Park running out to them, shaking violently as if electrocuted. This was the view of the mess of a weekend afternoon at the Anes Institute.
“How is he?” The chairman asked, a stern look on his face as he took a long swig of his cigarette before releasing the smoke everywhere. Unable to plug her nose to shield herself from the nauseating smell, Ms. Park looked utterly apologetic as she answered. “For now, we’re letting him rest in his bed—”
“I asked “how”!!”
Ms. Park’s shoulders narrowed even more, startled by the sudden shout. The chairman took another swig of his cigarette, and spoke slowly, his voice low. “I didn’t…I didn’t ask where the child was, Ms. Park. I asked how! His condition!” A long sigh, and then, “… I’m asking how he is doing.”
“Oh, yes, sir… Um… He… He hasn’t yet…”
“Sir! He hasn’t woken up ye—”
“What do you mean?! He’s! Unconscious!! And you’re not doing anything!! Are you a newbie?! Huh?? Are you?!”
Even at the chairman’s angry tirade, the teacher couldn’t say much of anything, and simply kept repeating “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“What were you doing while the children were coming back injured?! Who even gave you permission to send them up the mountain unsupervised?? Huh?! And if they didn’t get back by the time it started raining, it’s common sense to file a report! Report things to me!! You thought you’d get off easy just by writing up an oversight report? You… You!! You could face jailtime for this! How do you not know that?? Or what, were you planning on holding me responsible? You want to see me gone, is that it?! If anything happens to that child, it’s your life on the line. Mark my words. Your life!”
Plugging an electric guitar to an amplifier and strumming it after turning the volume up to the max could maybe yield a similar volume to the chairman’s voice in this instant. The teacher heard only fragments of what the chairman was saying (rather, screaming), but she still understood everything he meant to say. But to understand was different from being able to speak her mind, and all she could do was glance around, her lips trembling uncontrollably.
She looked much like a participant in one of those mud festivals, all tattered and dirtied as she was. The executive secretary couldn’t help but pity her. Though he had been standing in the corner, quite still in fear of getting involved in the mess, he decided to stop the red-faced chairman. “Mr. Chairman, sir. Please, do regain some composure. Think of your blood pressure…”
The chairman, who had been glaring daggers at the teacher, tossed the butt of his cigarette into the ashtray and took out a new cigarette from its packet. The teacher was kneeling, her head bent down, and the chairman’s anger was more than threatening. The scene was reminiscent of a grizzly bear staring down at its prey. The executive secretary swallowed back his fear as the chairman spoke again.
His tone was low, impossibly so, almost like scratching the walls of an incomprehensibly deep cave, and the teacher raised her eyes to look at him.
“Have you made the call?”
“The… The call, sir?”
“I mean, did you call 911?”
“Oh! No, sir, I… I will call them right awa—”
“No, you won’t.”
The teacher raised her head to fully look at the chairman, surprised by his instruction, but dropped her head again just as quickly. Silence reigned in the office as the chairman’s cigarette burned on with the faintest of a crackling.
“If this goes public, it’ll only make things more difficult, so don’t call. Understood?”
There was clear confusion in her voice, and the chairman gritted his teeth as he glared at her again.
Having escaped the jaws of the grizzly, the teacher let out a groan as she stood up, her knees aching in protest, and limped her way out of the office. The grizzly finished his cigarette, and his office became cloudy from all the smoke.
The boy was asleep, and he was aware that he was asleep. He tried to wake up, but he realized that he couldn’t. He had never experienced anything like this before, so he wasn’t sure what to do.
The boy could look around. He was asleep, but he could look around, and that surprised him. But all around him was darkness, and no matter where he looked, there was nothing for him to see.
Then he heard something. Something like a song, or perhaps someone reciting a poem.
Those who believe in superstitions
End up losing their self.
Those who waste their lives on delusions
Lose their way in the forest of pride.
You, who tries to escape the labyrinth,
You have left a trail of injuries,
Inflicted upon you by none other than yourself.
Oh god above,
you have let chaos reign free,
return now and free us
from these self-indulgents.
Oh god above,
Living at the edge of the darkest nights,
Open the light and defeat the darkness.
Through your victory,
Set forth the era of the early dawn,
And the will of the clearest sky.
When the poem ended, the boy awoke.