There were some things humans couldn't change no matter how hard they tried.
For instance, the passing of the day to welcome the advent of the night.
Kim Hak-Cheol could literally do nothing to stop the night's return to the world.
“Urgh, this moron...! Look how pale he is.” Noh Su-Bong quietly tutted.
“Come on, you dumbass! I'm telling you, it was just a nightmare.”
“...You might be right, sir,” Kim Hak-Cheol powerlessly replied.
“I've heard some people accidentally hold their necks while having a bad dream.
That happens when you experience a night terror.
And yours must've been a pretty serious one, Hak-Cheol.
That's what happened.”
Noh Su-Bong patted Kim Hak-Cheol on the shoulder.
“Besides, we have night watch all over the place, right In that case, how could anyone drag you away without being noticed Without waking you up, no less”
I think the same, sir…” Kim Hak-Cheol quietly muttered in agreement, even as his eyes staring at the setting sun were still dyed in the unmistakable hues of pure terror.
Remember, it'll be one week.
And it's starting...
Kim Hak-Cheol wouldn't be this scared if it weren't for those words.
One week, said the shadow.
In other words, he would show up six more times!
'N-no! Show up again My a*s!'
Kim Hak-Cheol angrily chucked his half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray.
That was just a dream.
A nightmare, nothing more.
It had to be.
After all, calling that situation 'reality' just didn't make any sense.
How could broken bones be 'healed' without leaving behind any evidence However, to say he was merely mistaken, the sensation he felt, all those pain...
They were simply too vivid to be dismissed as an illusion.
Since it was so vivid, maybe it wasn’t a dream
“...F*ck!” Kim Hak-Cheol involuntarily cursed as his confusion grew.
“F*ck Were you talking to me, Hak-Cheol” Noh Su-Bong shot a sharp glare.
I'm not crazy enough to say that to you, sir.”
“...You better watch it, you dumbass.”
“Yes, sir…” Kim Hak-Cheol muttered powerlessly.
After Noh Su-Bong spat on the ground and headed to the living area, Kim Hak-Cheol frowned deeply.
'...Even if what I experienced wasn't real, it's still a problem, isn't it'
Indeed, this experience could indicate that Kim Hak-Cheol was under a serious mental strain, causing him to cook up a powerful nightmare like that.
And only one recent event could have caused such a strain—the matter involving Ju Yeong-Gi.
Kim Hak-Cheol sat down on an unoccupied chair while holding his head.
I wasn't planning to go that far...'
Obviously, he had never planned to kill Ju Yeong-Gi.
Kim Hak-Cheol was just frustrated by Ju Yeong-Gi, and that caused him to start throwing insults around.
However, when insults weren't enough to change Ju Yeong-Gi's frustrating behavior, it escalated into anger.
And then, the inevitable: one moment of losing his cool led to the anger morphing into a beating.
Things had simply devolved further from there.
Guilty conscience Of course, Kim Hak-Cheol felt it.
Now that the victim had ended up that way, Kim Hak-Cheol couldn't help but wonder if his actions had crossed the line.
Honestly speaking, he had never imagined that Ju Yeong-Gi would really attempt to take his own life like that.
If only he knew...
If only he knew, he wouldn't have pushed Ju Yeong-Gi that far.
“...Stupid motherf*cker, why did you have to go and kill yourself”
Of course, Ju Yeong-Gi wasn't dead.
Kim Hak-Cheol angrily threw his head back, then squeezed his eyes shut.
'Yeah, it was only a dream.'
That had to be a dream.
Without that explanation, it was impossible for a person to be enshrouded in darkness like that...
Yes, the boiler room was dark and not well-lit, but how many times had Kim Hak-Cheol been inside already It wasn't as if he didn't know how a person might look in such a low-lit environment, either.
What he saw last night certainly boasted a humanoid figure, but it was still a shadow, seemingly a lump of pitch-black fog.
No way such a thing actually existed in this world, so Kim Hak-Cheol's brain had to have cooked it up during his nightmare.
That was the only logical conclusion available.
“I know that, so why am I still so scared!”
Kim Hak-Cheol thought he was losing his mind.
Even though he knew that shadowy creature wasn’t real! He definitely knew the truth, so why was anxiety still tightly gripping his chest!
'If only it hadn't been that bastard...!'
If only Noh Su-Bong weren't there, cackling insidiously and egging Kim Hak-Cheol on to torment and hurt Ju Yeong-Gi some more...
Maybe, just maybe, this frightening situation could have been avoided.
Quite frankly, Kim Hak-Cheol was a nobody, so how could he even think about bullying Ju Yeong-Gi like that If Noh Su-Bong hadn't ordered him, he would have never even touched Ju Yeong-Gi.
Sure, he had ended up tormenting Ju Yeong-Gi on his own as time as he had gotten used to it, but...
But wasn't that just the natural progression of things
“...Eiiii, f*ck!” Kim Hak-Cheol shook his head hard, then got up to his feet.
He decided to head back inside, but the doorway opened first before he could start walking toward it.
Kang Jin-Ho and his expressionless face walked outside.
The two men's eyes met mid-air.
“...Hey, Kang Jin-Ho.” Kim Hak-Cheol quietly called out.
“Corporal Kang Jin-Ho, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho saluted briefly.
“Mm What can I do for you”
“...You know, when you burned that exercise book” Kim Hak-Cheol cautiously asked.
“Sir, I don't think I follow.
What do you mean” Kang Jin-Ho furrowed his brow slightly as if he didn't understand.
Kim Hak-Cheol shot a glare before a lengthy groan escaped from his mouth.
He turned his head away.
Forget about it.”
Kim Hak-Cheol's steps taking him inside the living area were moody, to say the least.
Kang Jin-Ho remained behind, and his cold, expressionless face quietly watched the back of Kim Hak-Cheol disappearing through the doorway.
'I know I need to sleep, but...'
Sleep didn't want to come to Kim Hak-Cheol.
If he was being honest, though...
He was scared of falling asleep.
He was fearful.
What if he closed his eyes and fell into a deep slumber only to dream the same nightmare as the night before He used to mock people for getting scared of their nightmares, but after experiencing it himself, he would never mock those people again.
After all, he had finally discovered how terrifying a simple dream could be.
Unfortunately, his body gradually rebelled against his will.
His eyes he had kept open through sheer desperation slowly closed shut.
And just like that...
How many times did he repeat falling into a shallow sleep, only to startle himself and wake up Eventually, the fatigue got the better of him, and he fell into a deep sleep.
...Without realizing that a being—a creature—was looking down at him from near his head.
When did he fall asleep
Kim Hak-Cheol sobered up instantly at the pitch-black darkness blanketing his view and raised his head.
No, he tried to.
However, his head didn't budge an inch as if it had been bolted on tightly by steel nails.
It was the same story with his body, too.
A mixture of humid air and heat combined into a stifling wind blowing across his skin.
As for the floor, it was damp.
Those factors quickly reminded him of where this place was.
Kim Hak-Cheol desperately contorted his body.
‘This is not a dream!’
‘It's definitely not a dream!’
Kim Hak-Cheol screamed and thrashed about like a madman.
However, his body could only quiver a little.
So far, nothing had happened to him.
It hadn't started yet.
However, Kim Hak-Cheol knew oh-so-well what was about to happen, and that knowledge drove him to the edge of pure madness.
Tears suddenly trickled down his cheeks, accompanied by streams of drool down his chin.
Kim Hak-Cheol's eyes slowly shifted to the side.
He had no desire to see 'it.’ He knew that squeezing his eyes shut would be several times better for himself.
However, he simply had to see it with his own eyes.
Humans were certainly capable of overcoming their fears, but curiosity rendered them helpless.
Just like how some people would cover their faces as a horror movie played on the screen, but they would still peek through the gaps of their fingers to see what was happening.
Kim Hak-Cheol's eyes slowly, oh-so-agonizingly slowly, turned to his side.
The direction he was looking at happened to be the same as the night before—the darkest corner of the boiler room.
The spot where the devil had revealed himself.
Kim Hak-Cheol didn't want to look at that corner ever again, but he had no choice.
His eyes betrayed his will and zeroed in on the dark corner of the boiler room—only to find nothing there.
'He's not there!'
That shadowy creature was not there.
He wasn’t here tonight In that case, maybe tonight could be different from...
“Is that what you think”
That was when a cold, ominous voice echoed in Kim Hak-Cheol's ears.
Kim Hak-Cheol began shivering like crazy.
The voice of the devil...
It was coming from right behind him! And it was so close!
“Euuuuhph!” Kim Hak-Cheol struggled like a madman, with enough force to shred his own muscles, but...
But his body didn't move even an inch.
This was a dream Really
If his lips could move, truly melancholic laughter would have escaped his mouth.
This couldn't be a dream.
How could it
“Euuuuuhuph!” Kim Hak-Cheol's scream leaked out of his throat as a quiet little whimper.
The presence behind him was scary enough for his hair to lose color and become gray.
“Today is the second day.
Have you given any thought to how our wager might unfold”
Kim Hak-Cheol obviously couldn't reply verbally.
“Looks like you haven't.
Unfortunately for you, you'll have to think about it from this moment on.
Now, remember it well.
Six days to go,” the shadowy devil whispered in a playful voice.
being playful Was he actually thinking that torturing another person to this state and messing around like this was fun! Only a devil would do this.
Only a real devil!
That was when the devil's eyes suddenly appeared right before Kim Hak-Cheol's nose.
“Huuuph!” Kim Hak-Cheol felt a deathly chill run down his skin after staring into those crimson eyes, and he began to convulse in fear.
“Do you resent me”
Something about the shadow was different today.
Yesterday, he was 'merely' terrifying.
But today, he—this monstrous, demonic shadow was emitting a thick veil of intense anger.
“Why are you angry” the shadowy creature asked as if he was taken aback.
“Isn't what I'm doing a copy of what you did”
“...!” Kim Hak-Cheol's irises gradually quaked harder.
What I did This
That was when a name suddenly popped up in Kim Hak-Cheol's mind: Ju Yeong-Gi.
‘...Are you saying I've been doing something like this to Ju Yeong-Gi!’
The shadow's lips quivered.
The darkness made it hard to see properly, but the emotion conveyed by the movement of his lips was easy enough to catch.
It was a sneer—ridicule.
The shadow was sneering at Kim Hak-Cheol.
“Are you regretting your actions now”
Kim Hak-Cheol urgently tried to nod, but his head still didn't follow his will and remained unmoving.
However, what a pity.” The shadow's cackles registered in Kim Hak-Cheol's ears.
“Too bad, I don't care whether you're sorry or not.”
“Kkuuuuuuhuph!” Kim Hak-Cheol's fingers were crushed by the shadow, their bones shattering into million pieces.
This pain was totally different from yesterday's pain.
This time, bones making up a sensitive part of human anatomy were shattered.
The pain from this injury was truly indescribable.
The flood of tears intensified so much that Kim Hak-Cheol's eyes became swollen, distorting his vision.
“Calm down…” the shadowy devil whispered ever so softly.
At the same time, some things were steadily lengthening from the devil's fingertips.
Those couldn't be fingernails.
No way in hell would human fingernails grow to resemble an ice pick in how lengthy and pointy they were!
However, none of those things mattered right now.
What was important was...!
Those ice-pick-like growths were slowly closing in on Kim Hak-Cheol's broken fingers—that was what mattered right now.
Sometimes, knowing made things even more terrifying and unbearable.
Being ignorant could make you oblivious and fearless, but knowing that something excruciating was about to happen could instill heart-stopping fear in a person, which would endlessly torment them even before the actual pain arrived.
It seemed the shadowy devil also knew this.
That was because he stopped the 'ice picks' mere inches away from Kim Hak-Cheol's fingers, then whispered mockingly into his victim's ear, “Remember it.”
What did this shadowy devil want him to remember
Yes, today's fun; remember it.
I shall return.
Six days remain…”
The shadowy devil's ice picks began to slowly dig under Kim Hak-Cheol's fingernails.
“Uwaaaaaaaaaaahk!” Kim Hak-Cheol jumped up from his bedding and screamed at the top of his lungs.
“What the hell! ...F*ck! You again!” Noh Su-Bong angrily threw his pillow at Kim Hak-Cheol.
“What is the matter with you! Goddamn it! What is it this time!”
However, Kim Hak-Cheol didn't even pay Noh Su-Bong any heed as he jumped off the raised wooden sleeping floor barefoot, then sprinted out of the living area in one breath.
“...What the hell Did that bastard really go insane” Noh Su-Bong muttered in a daze while getting up.
He quickly put on his shoes and followed Kim Hak-Cheol outside.
“Huff, huff! Huff!” Kim Hak-Cheol ran with all of his strength.
His destination was the boiler room.
While panting laboriously, he glared at the firmly-shut steel door.
His shaking hand reached out and slowly pushed it open.
Warm, humid air rushed outside, revealing the dim interior of the boiler room.
“Hey, Hak-Cheol! Have you gone insane, man!” Noh Su-Bong belatedly arrived at the scene and shouted at his junior soldier, but Kim Hak-Cheol didn't even respond to him.
“What the hell Hey, man!” Noh Su-Bong stood in front of Kim Hak-Cheol and tried to shake the latter around, only to realize that his junior soldier was staring at something.
He followed that stare and turned his head.
“What are you looking at, Hak-Cheol”
Noh Su-Bong's gaze scanned a spot on the floor where Kim Hak-Cheol's bulging eyes were fixed on.
He discovered a drop of dried blood on the concrete floor that was vividly visible even under the dim light.
Just as those words left Noh Su-Bong's lips, Kim Hak-Cheol suddenly broke into a violent fit of convulsion.
“W-what the heck Hak-Cheol! Stop! What's the matter with you!”
Kim Hak-Cheol's scream bursting out from deep within his torn soul echoed loudly within the boiler room.