Chapter 4: Ah, is that so? (1)

“I’m going to quit.”

The life of an office worker – of sorts – being an effed-up slog was the truth shared by pretty much every office worker around the world. Whether one was a low-ranked office gopher, or someone in a senior managerial position, they all had their own trials and tribulations to suffer through.

So, who would not ever fantasize about walking out of their jobs? Well, many would dream of this several times a day, but they endured simply because they had to think about their cutie-pie offsprings and beastly significant others waiting back home.

“I will definitely quit.”

But now, the situation was just too dang terrible to endure no longer.

The organization this guy worked for – it looked oh-so glittering and shiny on the outside, but inwardly, it was rotten to the core.

From the perspective of outsiders, he was a government employee with a pretty sweet numeration package – a dream job, indeed. But the reality was… his working hours seesawed like the swinging moods of a woman going through menopause, the pressure from his work reminded him of eternal hell, and the level of stress he suffered due to the inter-office politics was so high that his own shrink recommended he find another line of work, lest he lose the last vestige of his sanity.

Today was the same.

Seriously, he was only able to go home at 5 in the morning, so how could being told to get back to work at 11 make any sense?

No, he understood. He could very much understand why.

He could understand, since the work was demanding and constant.

But still. Ordering a man, who was finally freed from the hellish job and went home 5 in the morning after two straight days at work, to return at 11 as if that was a benevolent gesture – how the hell could that even make sense?

“Today, I’ll use this resignation letter. I swear.”

Mister Choi Jung-Hoon reached inside his jacket and fingered the resignation letter. It had been already one full year since he began carrying around this letter.

Only a week ago, he changed the envelope that had become stained with dirt and grime from his fingertips to a brand new one.

Today, he would definitely shove this letter in the face of his damnable team leader, his boss.

As he walked to his office on the empty streets, what with everyone else having gone to work already, he kind of felt low spirited, but at the same time, not that bad at all.

Just how could a street this wide have no other souls on it?

Oh well.

Those with jobs would’ve made it to their respective place of employment by now; students would’ve started their lessons in schools a long time ago, and as for the rest, either housewives coming out to do their daily grocery shopping after earning some spare time by sending their kids to school, or the unemployed. Maybe even….

It was at this moment Choi Jung-Hoon’s sights landed on a man.

With a tattered cape no one could tell where it fell from draped all over his body, this guy was on all fours, busy touching and rubbing the ground.

‘Ah, I forgot about the homeless, too.’

Obviously, the homeless with nothing better to do would be seen loitering around this time, as well. However, the things this particular one was doing seemed a bit queer. The tips of the man’s fingers busy touching the ground spasmed every now and then; then all of a sudden, his entire body began to tremble noticeably.

‘A seizure?!’

Choi Jung-Hoon quickly pulled out his mobile phone.

If that man was ill, then he had to call for an ambulance, since, regrettably, he didn’t have any emergency first aid knowledge in a situation such as this one. Also, didn’t 119 service exist precisely for a moment like this? (TL: the Korean emergency number is 119.)

However, a somewhat strange moaning could be heard from the man.

“Ah…. ah, ah….”

“Hmm…”

While still holding the phone in the open, Choi Jung-Hoon continued to observe the actions of this strangely dressed man.

Although it did sound like a moaning, the voice itself sounded rather young. Of course, even young people could suffer from seizures, but Choi Jung-Hoon figured that it would be prudent to watch for a bit longer.

‘Doesn’t look like he’s a homeless.’

Now that he took a closer look, that cape thing had this unmistakable whiff of made-at-home smell to it. It was kinda obvious, really, since no one would sell a cape like that anyway, so if someone wanted to wear one, then he would have to make it by himself.

This man was young.

His fashion sense was obviously peculiar.

And his clothes were all seemingly hand-made, the more Choi Jung-Hoon looked.

He didn’t look ill, either.

Adding all these together, Choi Jung-Hoon could roughly guess the identity of the weird man right in front of his eyes.

This man… was a cosplayer.

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Not only that, a cosplayer who had gone as far as a cosplayer could possibly go – a man who puts on a costume not for the sake of others, but to satisfy his own deluded ‘settings’.

Probably, the current setting must be that he was being contacted by the magical energy from the depths of Hades or some such.

There had been an increase of many somewhat ‘insane’ fools with the similar sort of ‘settings’ after the world went to hell in a handbasket several years ago. They all wanted to possess amazing powers, but since they didn’t, the only place they could were within their own delusions.

As the guy kept on saying “ah, ah, ah”, was he trying to shout out “Asmodeus”? Or “Astaroth”?

Not as common as “Diablo” or “Beelzebub” but still appropriate enough.

It seemed that this young man had come up with a pretty unique ‘setting’ for himself.

Which was unfortunate, because Choi Jung-Hoon’s expectations were completely off the mark.

“Ah… Ah, ah!! Asphalttttttttt!!!!”

The strange young man rubbed the ground nonstop, and then, proceeded to plant his face on the ground and began rubbing it passionately.

“Asphalt!! It’s asphalt!! It’s so hard!! Hard!! Euhahahahat!!!!!”

Choi Jung-Hoon watched the youth throw a seizure-like fit and smiled to himself rather warmly.

It seemed that, regrettably, he was wrong.

He then unlocked the phone and dialled the emergency number.

“Hello? 119? There is a person in the middle of a street and his condition does not look so good. I think it could be a psychological issue. Please hurry to this place and take him away. Excuse me? I should call the cops? No, wait, he hasn’t committed a crime, and simply a disabled or has gone insane instead by the look of things. Yes? The police? Wait a minute, are you refusing to dispatch someone? No? It’s not?”

Completely disregarding whether Choi Jung-Hoon was on the phone talking or not, the youth rolled on the ground – before he suddenly shot back up and started searching around frantically. It was this moment when Choi Jung-Hoon realised just how dangerous his current situation was.

It seemed that the crazy man was busy looking for something, a target of some sort, and on top of this wide but empty street, it was only him and the madman.

“Ah, I think I might be in some kind of danger here. Call the police for me as well in the meantime. And please dispatch someone at the same time – I might not be in one piece by the time you guys get here.”

Thankfully, it seemed the youth didn’t put Choi Jung-Hoon in his eyes. Instead, the direction where his pointed gaze landed at was one of the modern world’s convenient inventions, a box-shaped metal object standing next to a wall.

“A v, vending machine!!!!!”

The strange youth crawled towards the vending machine on all fours, and as if to reenact the scene of Gollum longingly gazing at the One Ring, he reached out and tried to rub the cold drinks behind the glass display.

“A v, vending machine!! It’s Cola!! Sprite!! A vending machine!!!!!”

This looked to be a serious illness. What if this youth went on a rampage before the emergency services arrived…?

It was then. The mad youth turned his head around and his eyes fixed on Choi Jung-Hoon.

Shudder.

Choi Jung-Hoon imperceptibly shrank back in fright. The bloodshot eyes of the mad youth glaring at him seemed so bizarre and eerie. It was like looking at a wild, untamed beast.

Choi Jung-Hoon had seen his fair share of madmen at his job. Some of them were even murderers, and some of them were even ‘beyond’ that.

But the light radiating from the eyes of this youth was on a completely different level altogether. Hard to tell what was so different this time, but the ripples coming from the powerful emotions in his eyes made Choi Jung-Hoon to backtrack automatically.

The face underneath the dirty hood was no more than twenty, at most. However, his eyes that completely did not match his young face made it impossible to estimate his true age.

The mad youth studied the top of Choi Jung-Hoon’s head all the way down to his feet while slowly approaching ever closer.

The way he walked was almost exactly like a predator slowly cutting off the paths of retreat of its newly cornered prey.

Gulp.

Choi Jung-Hoon took a big gulp unconsciously.

There was a voice desperately calling out to him coming from his phone, but Choi Jung-Hoon’s mouth didn’t want to move.

His head felt like it was getting all messed up.

He knew he had to come up with some kind of something, but he couldn’t form one coherent thought at all.

The mad youth finally stood right before him, then revealed a row of surprisingly white teeth as he grinned.

“Ahjussi.”

“…….”

“Ahjussi!!”

“Mmph? Mm?”

A sudden bout of silence.

He seemed to hesitate slightly, before a somewhat gloomy voice leaked out from his mouth. The youth’s unhurried and slowly spoken words landed squarely in Choi Jung-Hoon’s ear canals.

“Can you borrow me 1,300 Won so I can buy a Coke?”

“…….”

“Well?”

Choi Jung-Hoon ended the call.

 

*

 

*SFX for a soda can opening*

The sound of a Cola can opening was as refreshing as always.

Choi Jung-Hoon took a light sip of his Cola and then cast his gaze at the youth next to him who was busy gulping it down.

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This strange youth, impossible to figure out just where he managed to appear from, had forcibly appropriated Choi Jung-Hoon’s money, and then, shoved that money into the vending machine and got himself a can of Cola.

As if one can was not enough, he got three in a row and emptied them in one go. And now, he was leaning back against the vending machine like a smiling cat with a warm back and a full stomach, while letting out a loud burp!!

‘God, my hard earned money…’

Although it was only 5,000 Won, precious things would always be precious regardless. If Choi Jung-Hoon was donating to a charity, fine, he’d not feel this bad. But, this youth was less of a neighbour in need, and more of an unfortunate encounter, instead. (TL: there’s joke here using wordplay in Korean, but when TLed into English, this is the result…)

‘And he looks more or less okay, too…’

If one were to scrutinise the youth properly, he wasn’t a bad looking guy. He wasn’t what some might consider handsome, but on the flip side, he wasn’t an eyesore by any measure. The slightly raised eyebrows made him look a bit short tempered and a bit mean spirited, but even with that, he had fine enough facial features.

But then, why would a guy like him…

“Why are you walking around wearing that?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“I’m not wearing this get-up because I wanted to, you know?”

“What, you being bullied at school or something? Some sort of a childish game of dare? Wear that outfit, grab a nearby person and get a can of Coke, is that it?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“It’s nothing like that. Well, let’s just say things somehow turned out this way.”

A clear sign of irritation was all over the strange youth’s face. It was like, Stop bothering me with these pointless questions as I’m full and got a warm back right now. What an ungrateful b*stard he was.

“People will scoff at you. You should get some proper clothing.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Yes, yes. That is my plan.”

Suddenly, Choi Jung-Hoon felt wronged. He was worried for this bizarre youth, yet this crazy, ungrateful a*swipe still displayed his annoyance and on top of that, by using his frowning eyes and sullen expression, he was proclaiming these words: “now you’re done giving me stuff, better be on your way now; there ain’t a thing I am giving you, so why are you still here?”

“What are you doing at this time of the day? Why aren’t you at school?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Why aren’t you at work?”

Seeing the youth not answer his senior first and instead retort back, it was now clear this man was hopelessly lacking in social etiquette.

“I was on my way.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Well, then you should hurry. There’s no one else on the road, so doesn’t that mean you’re really late for work? But wait, now this is really weird. Why isn’t there anyone else on this wide street, I wonder?”

“Well, the time being what it is, so…” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

Choi Jung-Hoon spoke out, before abruptly closing his mouth shut.

For real now, this was indeed way too strange – why hadn’t anyone pass by on this street until now? Besides, his call to 119 just now got cut off suddenly too, so why hadn’t an ambulance or some such show up yet?

“Huh?”

Choi Jung-Hoon had a sudden and inexplicably bad premonition.

He quickly surveyed his surroundings. If his thoughts were correct, then this could be the absolute worst of all bad situations.

And Choi Jung-Hoon’s gaze stopped at one particular place.

At the distant end of the road, he saw a blurry shape. And that shape was rapidly growing larger. More correctly, the shape was approaching him and the mad youth so fast that his perception got fooled into thinking the shape was growing larger.

“We’re finished.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

Choi Jung-Hoon finally understood the situation he was in. He also understood that there was no way he could run away from this place as well. The worst situation possible had happened at the worst possible timing.

‘I should have quit my job yesterday…’

…If he knew he was going to die like this today.

Choi Jung-Hoon sighed deeply, and then, looked at the strange youth next to him with a pair of compassionate eyes.

‘By the way… what is he doing here, of all places?’

 

< 4. Ah, Is That So? – 1 > Fin.

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