No matter how much time had passed, I still remember that news.
The news reporter talked about a policeman who shot his wife dead in front of his son, shortly after he found out she was cheating. The policeman was mad and lost his mind before getting thrown into a cage like a beast.
Something so cruel was normal. I watched that news without feeling anything, even though I was only in elementary school.
“People are so heartless. Don’t they feel sorry for the boy? He’s only a bit older than you, Ariya. If that boy was Ariya, I would…”
Mother did not finish her sentence, but hugged me tight.
I did not understand a word.
‘Heartless’? What do you mean, mother?
I almost forgot about that until I saw a small column about a jailed policeman who shot himself in front of his son, the day his son told him the good news: he would graduate and follow in his father’s footsteps soon.
That was a few months before the Shadow Vigilante case started.
“Ariya, where are you going so late in the night?”
A voice called from behind while I was heading to the abandoned lab in the west wing. Usually, I might find reasons to get away, but that voice sounded like he was waiting for me.
I turned around and faced the policeman’s son.
“Is something the matter, Jorn?”
A shovel swung into my face, and I fell to the ground, blood in my eyes.
With vision stained red, I saw Lilith unconscious on a cart.
And I understood everything…
The justice I observed had come to bite my back.
Jorn looked at me as if I was a disgusting bug.
“I just came to eliminate some dirty thing that shouldn’t exist.”
The shovel swung down again, and darkness seized me.
Ah…so this is what death feels like.
Death is no different from my rabbit hole.
Even when I open my eyes, darkness surrounded me. I was alone in the suffocating darkness. It was silent, I could hear worms squirming all around.
I realized I was in a buried coffin.
I closed my eyes and slept.
In my coffin…
What is the point in resisting? What is the point in running away? Someday, I will be dragged back here, back to the cold and isolation, back to the fear and darkness. It is inescapable.
That was why I embraced it…
Embraced death, the perfect ending.
I let time pass, waited for death to crawl its way closer, but something changed.
A voice called from far away.
Was that the voice of death?
The voice called over and over, soft and gentle. It was familiar, but I could not remember whose voice it was.
Darkness cracked like a broken egg. A thin thread of light appeared. It was so bright I had to squint.
Someone was amid the radiant light of dawn.
My head was empty. Only my voice rang…
“How can I leave you alone?”
Her small and tender hands reached out to me.
I could only see her hands and the bright light.
Finally, a hand reached out for her.
The clumsy hand missed over and over, but tried its best to grab the light above the pit.
I reached to clasp her hands without knowing.
And I finally felt warmth.
Someone reported hearing a gunshot from the west side. After that, police found Jorn’s corpse, dead from putting a bullet to his own head.
The police concluded that Jorn killed himself because of stress without bothering to investigate further, since the deceased had a serious personality and had no blemish in his records. In the end, the case was closed and nobody suspected a thing.
As for I and Vakin who knew the whole story; we kept quiet and let time pass. A week after, when the Shadow Vigilante ceased to do anything, his presence faded. Everything was said to be done by a trouble-seeking student.
In the end, the ‘Shadow Vigilante’ disappeared from people’s memory as if he never existed. As expected of society, which easily forgets things that are not relevant to them.
And as for the other woman who knows the truth…
“It will not succeed. And I do not want to get dirty again.”
“We need to take risks to get rewards. Don’t act so scared of blood.”
“I told you, I am afraid of getting dirty, not of blood.”
A cat’s meow interrupted I and Vakin’s argument. We turned our heads to the laboratory’s entrance.
“Hey, it’s this stupid furball again?!”
“It’s Paeng-foon, not stupid furball!”
Lilith stood at the entrance, hands on her hips while staring at Vakin with a hint of frustration, but she didn’t enter.
“Are you well enough to come to class?”
After the day Jorn committed suicide, Lilith stopped coming to class. It is strange that she did not talk about Jorn or us to anyone. It seems she understood that we had no connection to the Shadow Vigilante, so I did not tell her that after knowing Jorn’s true face, I selected petitions that suited him on purpose.
“There is no use talking about the bad sides of someone who’s already gone, that’s what I think. Maybe the one who forced Jorn on that path is me…”
“Lilith, it is not your fault.”
It was trauma. Trauma from a bullet a father put through his own head in front of his son, who wished to walk on a path of justice. That was the father’s repentance. So, the son who wished to follow his father’s every footstep remembered that scene.
“Ariya, you said I’m the most suitable person to make this decision, right?”
Lilith was about to cry, but she held her tears in.
“About that, as long as I’m just a person, I cannot decide that. About Jorn, and about you two… So, from today onwards, I will watch you guys and decide if it’s right or wrong.”
“Huh? Not happening. You’re a nuisance. Get out!” Vakin opposed the idea immediately.
“No matter what you say, I don’t care, Vakin.”
Lilith ignored his words and looked up at us with eyes of a person who had made a firm decision. Vakin clicked his tongue in annoyance.
“So, for this duration, you two can’t do anything unethical. Dissecting is okay, but don’t kill anyone. Promise?”
“I do not care about killing people.”
“Why do I even want to kill someone?”
I and Vakin answered at the same time.
I do not know if it was just my imagination, but Lilith had a small smile tugging on her lips. She picked up the tortoiseshell cat and cradled it in her arms.
“Well, then, first class is starting soon. Don’t be late.”
Lilith said and exited the room.
Then, I turned and spoke to Vakin.
“By the way, is it alright not to tell her about that?”
“Why should I? She didn’t ask.” Vakin answered bluntly and opened the lockers. Inside was a black plastic bag used to store corpses.
“And I didn’t kill this guy, I just stole him from the forensics room.”
“That is true.”
Pulling the zip down, Jorn’s pale face emerged.
My rabbit hole is dark and lonely as always.
But, after I knew light and warmth, darkness became harder to bear…
And the light became something that I cannot bear to lose ever again.
What am I doing here?
Where is the place I ‘belong’?
“You’re going to watch us work? Do you have too much free time or what?”
“I do not wish to stop you, but do you acknowledge our experiments?”
“Oh, we’re going to karaoke. Lilith, you don’t like places like that, right? Sorry for not inviting you!”
Will there be a day when I’m included in someone’s ‘our’?
“Hey. If you’re going to sit there and stare into space, help us with our work. Just tear these flowers into small pieces. You can do it, right?”
“Wait, I didn’t agree to help yet!”
“Don’t you complain. If you’re not going to do anything, go somewhere else.”
“Lilith, please put gloves on. The angel’s trumpet latex is poisonous.”
“…? Why…? You guys… Aren’t I annoying?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Hmph, are you realizing that just now? Wow, you’re a slow one.. Moreover, you won’t go anywhere even if we kick you out, right?”
“That is true. Lilith came all the way to our lab. What kind of normal woman does that?”
“Ha ha…you guys see me as a stubborn one, huh?”
“So…do whatever you please.”
“…Does that mean…you guys will let me stay here?”
“Are you still asking that?”
Maybe…I have found a place where I belong.