I slipped the heart-shaped pendant that I found in the stairwell into my pocket, and stood up, going back down the stairs again to return to the hallway.
As I made my way down, I had no inkling of what was about to happen.
The next thing I heard was the sound of a gunshot in the distance, followed by several screams.
I broke into a run down the stairs, and jumped into the gloomy, spartan hallway. The sight that I beheld there was so shocking that I was instantly rooted to the spot.
I saw my companions lying in a pile on the floor of the hallway. The petite French girl was collapsed on top of Ree as if shielding her. The sturdily-built Italian boy was backed up against the wall, staring dumbly at the blood gushing from his shoulder. The thin, curly-haired American boy was lying face up, moaning. Yang, bleeding from his arm, stood in front of him.
And amidst all the chaos stood a slender boy…
…Huey, who should have been dead.
I inadvertently let out a cry. Huey heard me, and slowly turned in my direction. I gasped. His pallid face was completely expressionless. He looked like some terrifying marionette, moving not by his own will, but more like he was being manipulated by some powerful force.
“I found a hare!” he murmured. Then he suddenly grinned.
Huey casually held a machine gun in his hand as if it came naturally to him. I guessed that he had snatched it off the two boys who drowned.
Which meant… those boys’ last words….
I saw a ghost!
It took our gun, and threw us in here!
That “ghost” must have been Huey, who we thought was dead.
And now my companions lay bleeding on the ground.
The blood rushed to my head. I took out the pistol that was jammed into my pocket, and aimed it at Huey’s chest.
“Put down the gun, Huey!”
“…You first.” He smiled and pulled the trigger.
A hot blast penetrated through my right shoulder. By the time I realized that I had been shot, I was already on my knees. The gun in my hand fell to the floor. Sweat beaded up on my forehead, and chills ran through my body.
Huey slowly walked up to me, his face cheerful. He pointed the gun at my head, and then…
“…Stop!” a boy cried out.
As blood coursed down his arm, Yang jumped up and wedged his body in between me and Huey. In a voice trembling with anger, he shouted, “I don’t understand why you’re doing this…. But you don’t point your gun at girls!”
“That doesn’t matter. In this box, whether you’re a boy or a girl makes no difference at all.” Huey’s voice was also trembling. His eyes anxiously shifted from side to side, seemingly fearful of something. “The only thing that’s important is your nationality, not your sex.”
“…What do you mean?”
“I’m working with them. You’re the hares, and I’m the hound who was released in your midst. I was given orders to hunt you down. This is for the sake of my country. And I’ll carry out my duty to the bitter end!”
Confronted by the piteous look on his face, and the enigmatic words he kept repeating, all I could do was stare up at him in confusion.
Huey lifted his machine gun. “What happens here is the future. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it!”
Yang lunged at Huey.
The muzzle of the gun hit against Yang’s chest. Huey pulled the trigger.
Yang’s slight body was blown across the hallway, splashing my face with a spray of blood. Huey shot him at point-blank range, opening up a large hole in his chest. His light frame hit the floor with an unexpectedly loud thud. Blood streamed from his torso, staining the old, blackened carpet bright red in the blink of an eye. I screamed.
Huey pointed the gun at me. He grinned, then parted his thin lips, and ordered me, “Beg for your life.”
I glared up at him. There was no change in his expression.
The gun came closer. I shut my eyes.
I heard the click of the trigger being pulled.
I opened my eyes.
He was out of bullets. I quickly grabbed my gun off the floor with my left hand.
Huey turned around and took off running.
I aimed at his back and pulled the trigger. Several loud gunshots rang out in the hallway. But I missed every time. I was getting shaky from blood loss.
Suddenly, I realized that I was crying. As I pulled the trigger over and over again, tears clouded my eyesight, and my shoulders shook from the sobs.
I looked at Yang’s corpse, then got up and staggered over to the other children. The American and Italian boys had been shot in their side and shoulder, but their wounds were superficial, and when I called out to them, they were able to stumble to their feet. The French girl had merely fainted from overwhelming terror.
The three of us went over to Ree, who had lost consciousness from blood loss, and propped her up. I still had her pendant in my pocket. I had to give it to her, I thought to myself. We started walking again.
The American boy was swaying unsteadily. The Italian boy began telling him about his hometown, trying to encourage him to keep walking. His words sounded so jarringly out of place.
“I used to live close to the market. I earned some pocket money by helping the sellers set up in the morning. My favorite stalls had vegetables that came in every color. I thought we must have the most beautiful and delicious summer vegetables in the world….”
The American boy smiled feebly in response.
Then the French girl suddenly moaned, “Why…?”
The rest of us turned to her.
She wondered out loud, her voice faltering, “Why was he still alive? That boy … should’ve been dead….”
No one replied.
We didn’t know why.
I went over those memories over and over in my head, like one driven mad. How could Huey still be alive, when I was so sure that he had no pulse….