Chapter 191: Chapter 191
I turned to look at my side. Eun Jiho couldn’t come from catching a severe cold, and Yoo Chun Young was… ‘The person you are trying to reach is not accepting calls at this time. Please leave a message after the tone.’ It was about to connect to Yoo Chun Young’s voice mailbox. I lifted my hand to scratch the back of my head.
Yoo Chun Young usually ran late, but he wasn’t disrespectful or ill-mannered to be late for a meeting with strangers. When he missed a promise, it was only when he had some unavoidable situation.
He said that lately, there weren’t many shooting schedules though, but why is he not here yet?
The number of people left was, eventually, five from our class, 1-8, Kwon Eun Hyung and Woo Jooin from the Four Heavenly Kings, and only Ban Yeo Ryung.
When I threw a glance far away, there I found Eun Hyung and Ban Yeo Ryung, facing each other with white clothes pulled over their heads and exchanging looks of excitement.
I never knew Eun Hyung would enjoy such a thing like this. What a surprise! He usually made proposals, that were sometimes against common sense, nonchalantly or casually, so his joyful moments right now looked new and familiar at the same time.
‘How interesting are humans as we’re mostly born with those contrasting sides,’ as I had that thought in mind, someone suddenly stretched his hand and snatched my fishing pole.
When I looked aside, there was Jooin smiling at me as usual. Oh, geez… I turned my head to avoid his gaze in perplexity. I thought Jooin was feeling awkward to be left alone with me, and so was I.
I already knew about his story, and I didn’t know what to say. It might look strange to act innocent about what he had gone through; however, on the other hand, I couldn’t bring out such words hastily. My mind still needed time to order my thoughts inside.
While rambling those things in my head, Jooin, who put the fishing rod on his shoulder, flung a question to the kids.
“Where should I go for this?”
“Huh? Oh…!!” replied Kim Hye Hill, raising her head.
“Just go upstairs to a random classroom and shake it outside the window, but don’t sit on the window still. There can be some pieces of glass on it. Oh, and try to move together. It’s scary upstairs. There’s also a rumor that ghosts appear sometimes anyway.”
“Well, those rumors exist everywhere in shut-down schools.”
Unlike his cute face, Jooin acted boldly somehow in this kind of situation. Under the darkness, his face, strangely, hinted a smile.
As he replied with a cheerful tone, Jooin stared at me. He then suddenly removed all the looks he had on his face.
I didn’t know what to respond to Jooin, who had no pleasure in his gaze. All that I could do was just stretching out my hand. Taking a step closer to his side, I dropped a remark.
“Let’s go, Jooin.”
He, at last, grinned. Casting down his lashes, he gave a little laugh.
With that said, he grabbed my arm fragilely, and at the same time, entreatingly like a child holding a rescue rope.
I looked down at Yoo Chun Young’s message on my phone then bent my steps.
* * *
Within a few minutes after we walked side by side, an awkward silence hung between us. Moving my steps, I glanced at Jooin walking beside me. As soon as I directed my eyes on him, Jooin also cast a glance at me then avoided my stare.
I scratched the back of my head, and so did Jooin, following the same action. Usually, he was fluent in almost everything as if this was his second life; however, in such a time like this, I thought I could read his mind.
‘I don’t want to bring up the story to make both of us uncomfortable, but there is no way to handle this situation without talking about it.’
We would probably have the same thought simultaneously. I heaved a sigh shortly at last. Suddenly, I stumbled upon something and looked ahead.
There I saw a shadowy metal stairway leading upstairs. The moonlight pouring through the window fell to the staircase windingly.
Inside the wall shelf with glass doors, student trophies and awards were on display. Those mementos flashed in the dim light as if they were against the flow of time. It looked, somehow, quite bizarre that I had goosebumps.
‘But,’ I murmured inside my mouth, ‘it’d be okay since I have Jooin next to me.’ Having that thought, I turned to look at Jooin. It was too scary to remain silent, so I decided to say something to him. As soon as I thought that way, Jooin also turned aside to look at me. He spoke with an awkward grin.
“Mama, I know a funny story.”
“What is it?”
The way that he talked sounded as usual, which relieved me. ‘Cool, this would be a good topic to talk further,’ with that thought, I kept my gaze on him. His face still displayed a narrow smile.
With a swiveling, soft grin, he pointed his finger up the stairs.
“They say there’s a way to move into another universe through the stairs.”
‘It doesn’t sound that funny though,’ I mumbled. Suddenly, a feeling of anxiety rose inside me as if my chest turned leaden. I tried to smile at Jooin while turning myself away from the disturbing state of mind.
‘But, I can’t disrupt him when he finally tries to put some words out…’
I flung a question with a grin, “Um… how does it work?”
“So, climb up the stairs, count the numbers; come down, count the numbers again. When you find a step missing, that’s when you moved into a different universe.”
As he spoke those words, Jooin’s voice also lowered down.
“Oh, I see…” I replied quietly too.
“Um… should we try to t…est out?”
With that said, I held out my hand awkwardly, and at the same time, I looked up in his eyes.
We are, anyway, breaking the ice, so once we return to our comfortable vibe just like now, Jooin would definitely talk about his mother in a relaxed atmosphere.
Staring at my extended hand, something like a light hung inside Jooin’s eyes. He then grabbed my hand with a smile.
“Cool, mama. Should we then see what happens?”
Dropping that word, I set my foot on the first step. Jooin then moved his feet and murmured inside his mouth.
Six, seven, eight… Jooin then put his feet on the last step to make a pause and said, ‘thirteen.’ After that word, he looked down at the stairway that he climbed up so far. Swallowing my saliva, I dropped my gaze at the steps at the same time.
Except for the spot that we were standing right now, nothing came into our sight as the light unreached the stairs. Other kids would soon arrive. Knitting my brows, I pulled Jooin’s arm.
“Jooin, perhaps it’s just a superstition, huh?”
“Oh, yeah, of course, mama.”
Jooin replied with his unique, self-assured smile. Phew, yes, yes, yes… I fetched a sigh of relief.
It was just that I came up with some weird thoughts while looking down at the stairs. With a lightened heart, I asked him again.
“Fine, then let’s count the numbers again and come back upstairs!”
Shouting a reply, Jooin also took a step down cheerfully. This time, our pace down the stairs was incomparably faster than before. One, two, three… and as soon as we went down the last step, we yelled the same word simultaneously.
Our shouting spread all over the dark hallway. We smiled at each other for a second but soon found out that both faces were turning pale. Oh, lord, hold on… I touched my face with stiffening hands.
‘Twelve??? It was thirteen when we went upstairs?!’ I mumbled quietly.
My mind fell into confusion. When I looked aside, Jooin was staring at me yet with a pale face. When our eyes met, he put a forced smile.
“Mama, maybe we counted wrong!” said Jooin.
“Uh… y…eah! We must have miscounted the numbers earlier or now. Let’s try it again.”
Jooin and I then carefully climbed up step by step, holding our hands.