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Chapter 9

Hiding a House in the Apocalypse

02/10/2024

 

Translator/Editor: TranslatingNovice

Discord: https://dsc.gg/wetried

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Chapter 9: Neighbor 

 

Bang!

In the late afternoon, as I sit idly on a folding chair, staring at the sky, I occasionally hear gunshots coming from the south.

The dull, yet widespread pattern of gunshots.

It's from the sniper living in the southeast.

There used to be a small town there.

The distance is about 5.5 kilometers in a straight line.

There used to be a church, a mart, a town bank, a community center, and an elementary school – a somewhat busy area.

However, while the war turned the area into ruins, a few steel and concrete buildings remained, looking akin to eerie skeletons.

In this place lives one of my few neighbors, the crazy sniper.

The adjective 'crazy' is used because this sniper shoots at everything that passes by.

Her behavior of trying to kill anyone who approaches her territory reminds me of the human hunter in our community, but if you delve deeper, there’s a world of difference between the two.

The human hunter kills people to hide and not expose his territory.

In contrast, the crazy sniper just shoots first.

There’s no other option.

Perched in a high-rise building that allows surveillance in all directions, she peers through the scope, attempting to kill anything that comes within her effective range.

Of course, this sniper is also human.

She has the warm heart of a homeothermic animal and knows how to love people.

Just as I know about the sniper, she knows about me.

The story goes back to three months after the war broke out.



It was during the year-end holiday season.

Crowded streets, twinkling trees, children throwing tantrums in department stores, snow blanketing the streets, and the somewhat creepy figure of Santa Claus – all of which are now faded memories, unattainable post-war.

At that time, I was busy assessing the condition of weapons taken from the U.S. military base.

The guns and ammunition were safely stored in a well-built bunker, free from direct damage or radioactive fallout, but I was concerned about radiation contamination since they were in the direct blast zone of the nuclear explosion.

Fortunately, the inspection concluded that both the guns and ammunition were usable, and they were stored in my armory.

Regrettably, there were no weapons bigger than rifles.

No hunter gear, not even grenades.

It's presumptuous for a non-military person to say, but the base seemed pretty empty before the nuclear strike.

The hastily abandoned materials, documents torn and scattered, and coffee mugs left untouched on desks hinted at that.

The situation in the U.S. wasn't entirely rosy either.

The nuclear strike on Korea was just the tip of the iceberg.

Hundreds of missiles fell over there.

The U.S. military, aptly named the Space Force, managed to intercept most of them.

But even the U.S. military has its bad days.

Monsters.

Monsters are beings from another dimension, made of different principles and logic than humans. They possess both biological and non-biological characteristics, with powers and miracles unknown to humans, aiming to annihilate humanity – humanity’s natural predator.

They appear through fissures called 'rifts' – dimensional cracks with two characteristics.

One is uniform distribution.

Each rift opens at regular intervals.

There are four in Korea, but the lethal one is the Paju rift.

It's lethal because rifts have another characteristic called 'intensity'.

The intensity of a rift is proportional to the number of humans residing nearby.

The Paju rift, covering the metropolitan area, is of the highest grade, while the Jeju rift is the lowest.

Having a large population and territory has traditionally distinguished powerful from weak nations, but now it's a criterion for how quickly a nation falls.

The rapid downfall of India and China, with their large populations and dense territories, was inevitable, not coincidental.

The U.S., with a smaller population than the two, was relatively better off, but it’s not a completely safe zone either.

The territory is too vast, and the population is not small.

In fact, before the war, there was a movement to repatriate U.S. troops deployed in major countries back to their homeland.

There were frequent rumors that not a single U.S. soldier remained in Korea before the outbreak of war.

Out of nowhere, the supposedly extinct U.S. military invaded my territory.

Driving a hefty Humvee with a 12.7mm machine gun mounted on top.

As the Humvee brazenly crossed the golf course into my territory, I recalled the old saying that in this world, luck is everything, and everything else is nothing.

Why here, of all places?

What have I done to deserve this?

Is it a crime to pick up abandoned weapons?

As various thoughts crossed my mind, the Humvee stopped in front of Bunker 11 in my territory.

The person who got out of the car was a young blonde woman.

Though a woman, she was as big as me, wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest, armed with various weapons, her armaments far surpassing mine.

At that time, the closed-circuit cameras and listening devices had not been restored.

The existing ones had burned black along with Old Man Kim's house during the nuclear strike.

To make matters worse, the periscope I installed for such occasions was not moving.

It seemed jammed by debris from the massive backdraft of the nuclear explosion, and trying to move it would only signal my presence.

So, I had to rely only on the scant information coming through a tiny observation window.

Soon she moved out of sight.

I stayed put.

I hadn't yet determined the number of U.S. soldiers who invaded my territory.

There could be as few as one or as many as three or more lurking inside that steel beast.

Fighting well-trained and armed U.S. soldiers was not what I wanted, but if they targeted my territory, I’d have no other choice.

I will kill them all.

After a long watch, there was no movement inside the Humvee.

Rustle

There was a sound from the side of the main bunker.

It was that woman.

What to do?

I could quickly overpower the woman.

That option was easier.

But I thought of another plan.

If this woman was a scout, then the soldiers inside the vehicle might not be on guard.

If I could decimate the main force with a single surprise attack, this difficult battle could end in perfect victory.

I immediately went into action.

Predicting the path based on the soldier's footsteps, I silently exited through the dummy bunker's exit and, hiding, moved towards the Humvee.

I remembered one door being open.

It had been open all along, and when I got the Humvee back in sight, it was still open.

No reaction from inside the vehicle.

I switched the firearm to automatic and approached.

Just before entering, I sensed a presence behind me.

For a moment, I was startled.

"?!"

The sound came from an unexpected area.

Still, I calmly entered the Humvee and aimed my gun.

The vehicle was empty.

In the rear seat, where people should have been, there was a jumble of weapons, ammunition, and combat rations.

Gulp

I involuntarily swallowed my spit.

What enormous resources.

Even I, Park Gyu, who tries to adhere to human decency, could have turned into a looter at the sight of such resources.

Is it one person?

Or two?

My mind was spinning faster than usual.

Uncertain, but at least two.

The female soldier, unaware of my greed, was whistling, unknowingly revealing her position.

Subduing her was not a difficult task.

I tripped her from behind, stepped on her back, and aimed the cold muzzle of a gun at her neck.

Just as I was about to pull the trigger and prepare for the next battle,

Another soldier appeared from the side.

The second soldier was enough to cast a pebble of doubt into my murderous heart.

A girl.

Maybe about ten years old?

In a golf course turned to ashes, amidst the apocalyptic ruins, an innocent child, who had no place there, stared at me, about to commit murder.

Suddenly, I noticed the child and the woman had similar hair colors and features.

The child tilted her head and called out, "Mommy."

"......"

I hesitated for a moment.

Should I kill them and take everything?

Or should I risk letting them go?

It's not an easy decision.

It goes without saying that the former is vastly more advantageous.

Anyone who hasn't been shot in the head would choose the former.

"......sigh."

I took a deep breath.

Despite many thoughts entangling my consciousness, my eventual choice was not the wisest.

I stepped off the woman's back, kicked away her gun, and backed off.

The soldier screamed and quickly got up, rushed to the girl, embraced her, and glared at me.

I quietly observed my reflection in her blue, trembling eyes.

In the center of her bloodshot eyes, there I stood, cloaked in a somber robe of fear and contempt.

At that moment, I felt I understood how this foreign soldier perceived me.

She saw me as an entirely different entity.

Incomprehensible and unnecessary to understand.

She was like the only civilized person thrown into a jungle, surrounded by its inhabitants.

Why bother understanding each other in such extreme circumstances?

The result would have been similar if the roles were reversed.

"This is my land."

I pointed to my territory and spoke, not using their language despite knowing it.

"My home."

This is Korea, after all.

Korea may not be Rome, but in its current crumbling state, it's as historic as Rome.

"?"

"Leave. Now."

"......"

"If you don't, bang! Understand?"

The woman hesitated, then quickly drew her pistol and aimed it at me.

I was quicker, kicking the pistol away and aiming my gun at her temple.

The child screamed briefly, but I winked at the child and then addressed the woman.

"Do it in moderation, you bitch." (Pronounced ‘Innyeon’, which sounds similar to ‘two years’ in Korean.)

"Bitch?!" (she says in Korean)

They say you learn swear words first when you go abroad.

Did she understand what I'm saying?

"Two years?" (She says in English)

"Get lost."

Finally, the woman realized I meant her no harm.

But that didn’t dilute the difference between us.

Still showing a hint of wariness, she spoke in broken Korean.

"Medicine." (she says in Korean)

"Medicine?"

"Medicine. You have?" (She says medicine in English)

"What kind?"

She pointed towards the child.

"Wait here."

I handed over fever reducers, cold medicine, antibiotics, and a can of skim milk powder.

She seemed surprised by my generosity, especially at the sight of the skim milk powder.

"Don't come back."

The mother and daughter left without a word of thanks.

Along with the treasures that nearly made me a looter.

It wasn't long after that I gained a neighbor to the southeast.

She is still in the jungle, fighting against the ghost of prejudice to protect the child who had also been thrown into this jungle.

There has been one exchange since then.

On a dark night, the little girl came alone to my bunker.

She had grown significantly taller, perhaps nourished by the formula I provided, and she wandered around the bunker with a tearful face, looking for me.

When I appeared, the child spoke.

"Mommy, hurts."

The child seemed to have adapted better to the jungle called Korea than her mother.

Like Mowgli from The Jungle Book or Tarzan in a commercial sense.

I drove a dust-covered vehicle into the village where gunshots could be heard.

The woman was exhausted and ill. To me, she appeared not as a civilized urban dweller, but rather a wild animal of the jungle, ensnared and groaning.

I prescribed the appropriate medication, left the medicine, and turned away.

There was no need for words, nor were any exchanged.

As I was about to leave, the child suddenly grabbed my wrist.

"Name."

She was asking for my name.

"Park Gyu."

"F*ck you?"

Seeing the child's puzzled face as she raised her middle finger, I smirked and gave her my nickname instead.

"......Skeleton."

The child repeated the name, pondering it, then burst out laughing, echoing it.

"Skeleton!"

Time has passed since then, and soon it’s Christmas Eve.

In the community, a content trend emerged when game developer Anonymous118 converted a pre-war Christmas tree decoration game into a virtual format.

It isn't anything grand - a Christmas tree drawn with a single sprite, with ten empty spaces, each to be filled by other users choosing one of nine decorations, accompanied by a message of support.

SKELTON: (Request for Skeleton) Please decorate my tree too~

I’m still unpopular, without close acquaintances, so my Christmas tree remained empty, but sometimes an empty space can be more fulfilling than a full one.

IamJesus: Which bastard is it?!

The tree of a self-proclaimed Jesus Christ, a madman I had once blocked, is filled with anonymous congratulatory messages.

<Leukemia, Liver Cancer, Rheumatism, ALS, Myocardial Infarction, Stroke, Pulmonary Embolism, Asthma, Tuberculosis, Paralysis, Trigeminal Neuralgia>

The human hunter received no less number of messages.

While I’m enjoying the view, smiling,

Ding~

Something arrived.

[ An anonymous user has sent a message to SKELTON~ ]

I checked it out.

One decoration filled a spot on the empty tree.

<John Nenon>

"Huh?"

John Nenon?

What is this?

What does it mean?

My questions were temporarily pushed aside by the static noise from the K-walkie-talkie.

-Chririk... Shhczhh!

11 PM.

I don't recall ever hearing a public frequency at this time, in this remote place.

Soon, I learned the identity of the person.

"Merry Christmas~."

The youthful voice of a little girl echoed from the speaker.

"Skeleton!"

No doubt about it.

It’s my neighbor.

I hesitated about whether to respond, but my decision was made as a smile spread across my lips.

"Merry Christmas."

I should have asked her name.

Though the interaction was brief, that day I delved into a deep afterthought, deeper than any Christmas tree message, and indulged in a whiskey I normally wouldn't have taken out.

"Sigh."

Opening the door, the cold air sweeps away the warmth I painstakingly heated, but it made my heart feel clearer.

I look up at the sky.

A winter night sky, pitch black, scattered with countless stars.

I hadn't prayed since realizing I wasn't chosen by God.

But today, I clasp my hands and pray towards the night sky.

Hoping to hear the sounds of gunfire from this mother and daughter for a long time.

 

Chapter 9

Hiding a House in the Apocalypse

02/10/2024

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