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A Thousand Faces

4

Chapter 4

59

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The first night of the school trip.

After the day’s activities, the teacher was alone in his room.

Suddenly, the door swung open with a loud bang. Someone had kicked it.

The teacher looked up in surprise to find himself face-to-face with a disheveled-looking student.

“What are you doing?”

The boy’s face filled with frustration and weariness. “The others don’t want to share a room with me.”

From this point on, everything that happened had to be pinned on Junwoo. The last thing he wanted was for the school to be blamed for causing a student’s death through negligence.

He didn’t want anyone getting in trouble. It had to be painted as an incident involving a difficult student, completely beyond the school’s control.

Junwoo glanced over his shoulder.

“Maybe I should just burn it all down,” he muttered.

The teacher was speechless. Despite sounding like a childish grumble, there was a hint of genuine resolve in the boy’s face. Like he was seriously contemplating the idea.

Of course, the teacher had no idea that Junwoo had purposely said it just loud enough for him to hear.

“What do you think?” Junwoo said, staring at the teacher as if seeking an answer. A faint smile played on his lips; he was enjoying this.

The teacher instinctively sensed danger.

Junwoo laughed heartily at the teacher’s shocked face. “Relax, it was a joke. Is it okay if I stay here?”

Without bothering to wait for a response, Junwoo slid his hand into his pocket and strode into the room, leaving muddy tracks across the floor.

Sorry. I’ll clean that up later, Junwoo silently apologized.

This wasn’t enough. Time to push further.

The teacher’s face, initially pale with disbelief, now flushed red. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”

“Oh, am I not allowed?”

“Are you kidding me? Who’s your homeroom teacher? Bring them here now.”

“Fine. But that dude has had it out for me ever since I hit him. He won’t come even if I ask.”

It wasn’t entirely untrue, and Junwoo felt a bit embarrassed.

Hit a teacher? It was an unbelievable notion. After all, the kid was just a middle schooler.

“Students can’t just wander in here. I need you to leave.”

“I should get some sleep.”

Ignoring the teacher, Junwoo sprawled out in the middle of the room.

“Didn’t you hear me? I said—”

With his eyes already closed, Junwoo gestured to the teacher. “Excuse me, could you get the light, please?”

“This is not acceptable behavior…!”

No student had ever treated the teacher like this before. He reached out to physically remove Junwoo when his words weren’t enough.

Junwoo smacked the teacher’s hand away, his face hardening. His earlier playful tone turned icy. “Wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

The teacher glanced at Junwoo’s other hand, which was clenched into a fist. It really seemed like this student could lose it at any moment. It would be a first in the teacher’s career—a fist to the face from a student.

If he kicked out such a troublemaker, he could see things spiraling out of control tonight. And quite frankly, he lacked the nerve to kick him out right now. Maybe it was better to let him crash here for the night.

“Could you step out for a bit? I can’t sleep with people around.”

Junwoo, his eyes still closed, spoke toward the ceiling. He had already pulled the teacher’s pillow over as if it were his own home, settling in to sleep.

The teacher couldn’t claim to have a good reputation among the students, but it wasn’t this bad. Still, it was fortunate that he was an adult. Considering all the unruly students he had dealt with before, he decided to show some leniency.

Finally giving in, the teacher left the room.

Junwoo sprang up and locked the door. Then, he began frantically looking for something.

Should be here somewhere.

A large basket in the corner drew his attention. He tore off the cloth that covered it.

Gotcha.

The basket was filled to the brim with alcohol and cigarettes confiscated from the students. It was more than expected, and Junwoo was slightly surprised.

Would you look at that?

There were even bottles of liquor exceeding 40 percent alcohol. Junwoo upended the basket.

Flinging open the window, he began emptying the bottles into the rain. It felt like a waste, but he couldn’t possibly down all of it. If Ilnam could see this now, he would probably drop dead from the shocking wastefulness.

He scattered the empty bottles across the floor, then poured out any remaining alcohol near the door.

Had he gone overboard? Junwoo scratched his chest. For a middle schooler, he’d consumed quite a bit on his own. Well, better safe than sorry.

Something flitted by the window. Junwoo turned his head toward it.

What was that?

Something had slipped past outside. He approached for a closer look but saw nothing. Apart from the trees swaying in the pelting rain, there was no sign of movement.

Must be the wind.

That was likely it. Who would be out in this weather? He had probably just imagined it.

Junwoo picked up one of the discarded bottles. It was one of the more potent ones. There was about half left, sloshing at the bottom.

Before stepping out, Junwoo glanced over the chaos he’d caused. It was a total mess. No doubt it would take hours to clean.

He hadn’t touched the bed and blankets, though. He couldn’t bring himself to go that far. The image of the shocked teacher, seeing the mess created by one troubled student, flashed through his mind.

I kind of feel sorry for him.

Junwoo scratched the back of his head. It couldn’t be helped.

He hoped the blame wouldn’t fall on the teacher once everything settled. Sneaking into the room, stirring up trouble, breaking the rules, slipping away from the accommodation—every bit of it was Junwoo’s doing.

A real troublemaker.

That’s what he had been aiming for. Yet, as he thought it over, a bitter taste settled in.

It was inevitable. He had chosen this path because it seemed easier despite the consequences.

***

Dressed in a raincoat, Junwoo peered over the cliff.

It’s higher than I thought.

The water churned violently below. A fall from here would be certain death. Junwoo secured the rope to a protruding rock below the cliff, hidden from sight.

The wind intensified, and Junwoo furrowed his brow. Unpredictable weather had been his biggest concern, but this was worse than expected. He yanked the rope tightly. He wasn’t sure if it would hold up.

Guess I’ll have to leave it to chance.

At that moment, a distinct crunching sound reached his ears. Bad news. Someone was approaching, dressed in a black raincoat, holding something bulky that looked dangerous in the dim light.

Junwoo couldn’t tell what it was through the rain. He hastily pulled his hood low.

What now? Yet, there was something familiar about the figure’s walk. He was about to retreat when the stranger called out.

“Junwoo. It’s Dad.”

That sounded like Ilnam.

Shocked, Junwoo’s eyes went wide. “Dad?”

“Did you enjoy the trip?”

“How did you get here?”

It seemed impossible. Catching a plane or boat while being chased couldn’t have been easy.

Ilnam chuckled. “You underestimate your old man. You think I wouldn’t be here on my son’s last day?”

Junwoo couldn’t help but laugh. It was all so absurd.

For some time now, he’d had a nagging feeling that he was being watched. How long had Ilnam been there?

“What about the fathers?”

“Don’t worry. I’ve got it covered. But—you think that will hold up?” Ilnam walked past Junwoo toward the edge of the cliff. He examined the secured rope and licked his lips. “See? You get reckless sometimes. Can’t expect me to just sit at home and leave you to it, can ya?”

In his hand, Ilnam held a mooring rope, complete with a handle at the end to prevent slippage—a tool for securing boats. Where the heck had he got that from?

Ilnam replaced Junwoo’s rope with it as he talked. “The fog’s thicker now. Or did you somehow figure out how to control the weather? They do say parents are the last to know.”

“Of course not.”

Ilnam laughed. “Hmm. It’s a shame to waste such talent. I didn’t want to say this, but you really are something at fooling—”

“Dad.”

“I’m joking,” Ilnam said, laughing again. “Still, there’s nothing like getting drunk in the rain.”

“I didn’t drink.”

“You don’t fool me. Even if you have others. You think I don’t know the difference between real and fake drunkenness? But I’ll let it slide, just this once.”

Junwoo had been too lost in his act. He hadn’t realized Ilnam had been watching this whole time.

Ilnam clasped Junwoo’s cheeks in both hands as if to snap him out of his thoughts.

Silently, Junwoo looked behind him. It had already been over two hours since his “disappearance.” Spotting a moving flashlight in the distance, he slowly took off his raincoat.

“You need to leave now. Thank you, Dad.”

“Alright, son. Any last words?”

“Ugh, stop it.”

Always the jokester till the end.

But Junwoo knew the truth; his dad was just trying to ease his own nerves.

No matter how much he trusted his son, in Ilnam’s eyes, Junwoo was only fifteen. Even though he didn’t show it, beneath his playful expression was worry.

For Ilnam’s sake, Junwoo had to end things nicely.

***

The flashlight beam danced around until it settled on one spot.

“Over there! I found him!” shouted a teacher.

Junwoo stood at the cliff’s edge, drenched to the bone and shivering against the cold. Even from a distance, it was clear that he could barely keep his balance.

“Junwoo Han, you little rascal!” the teacher bellowed. “Get back here!”

Junwoo, soaked and shivering, turned slightly. His face was the picture of exhaustion, mouth parted and eyes half open. To anyone watching, the boy seemed unaware of his surroundings.

“That’s enough! Take a step more and you’ll—”

The rainstorm raged fiercely, blurring the edge of the cliff in the darkness. It was a risky situation. No one dared to approach in case they tipped things over the edge.

Ten steps.

Counting the distance, Junwoo inched forward.

A crowd gathered, drawn to the thrilling spectacle. Even those who were in the accommodation couldn’t peel their eyes away from the scene, their faces pressed against the windows.

Turning his head, Junwoo scanned the onlookers.

Nearly thirty. Just a bit more.

The rain drummed a relentless beat around him. His foot paused right on the cliff’s edge.

This was it. The moment to end everything, to break free not just from his fathers but also the weight of his criminal past. He had expected a sense of liberation, but as he neared the edge, it felt oddly unsettling.

He drew a deep breath.

The bottle slipped from his hand with a dull thud. Feigning dizziness, Junwoo let his body go limp.

One leg flew through the air.

Distant screams and shouts echoed faintly.

It’s done.

In the blink of an eye, Junwoo vanished.

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