It was quite delightful to find a layer of something, a weird mask, fallen off from Jooin’s face directing at me. My heart was tingling with joy. ‘I wish he doesn’t feel guilty anymore…’ I thought while smiling at him.
The sound of our footsteps resonated around the hallway.
While we opened the lights in Class 1-4, 1-3, 1-2, and 1-1 one after another, the faceless man didn’t appear. On the other hand, none of the class was out of electricity too.
Jooin looked across the hallway that we just walked along in perplexity; I tapped my phone with a furrow, but the device seemed to be completely dead.
Seeing the clock moving, time was obviously flowing; however, no one answered the phone.
‘What the heck is going on?’ with that thought in mind, I raised my head to speak to Jooin.
“Jooin, are we supposed to go to the second floor and keep doing this thing?”
With that said, Jooin looked upward, frowning his brows. As the distant staircase leading up to us came into my sight, I, at last, seemed to understand how anxious he was right now.
Before we fell into this weird universe, Jooin detected a strange shadow at the stairway and ran at full speed while holding my hand to escape from that place. As the faceless man came across my head, I trembled for a moment.
The man seemed to come down from the second floor. I clearly heard his bizarre footsteps, which bounced like a weightless ball, heading upstairs. Then, maybe…
Jooin heaved a sigh and stretched his gaze over my back. I also turned my head to see the thing behind me. When I looked back, I finally saw what it was and blinked. ‘Oh…’
I heard Jooin’s sighing voice coming over my shoulders.
“It should end up here by all means.”
There was a pile of dust sitting on the nameplate with a man and a woman standing side by side on an arched door. In front of the bathroom was a large rubber basin that would have been used only for cleaning. When Jooin and I stepped into the entrance of the bathroom, we found ourselves scarily etched over the dusty mirror.
The girl inside the mirror, looking at me with frightened eyes, didn’t seem to be me.
As I glanced over the mop leaning against the wall tidily, the red rusty faucet, and the deep utility sink, a voice came over from a distance, which surprised me.
“Mama, I’ll check here! I don’t know where the switch is.”
Jooin seemed to be already inside the men’s bathroom. Fetching a short sigh, I scratched the back of my head and took a step forward to the women’s bathroom.
The square beige tiled floor was so spotless as if someone had cleaned it. It was hardly believable for a place inside a shut-down school. Moving my steps, I walked pass by a clean mirror and a couple of sinks one after another.
‘Where’s the switch?’ I thought, patted my chin. My eyes then reached a small window through four partitions and a narrowly open door. ‘Oh, there it is.’ I strode ahead.
‘Let’s find it ASAP. Wherever this world is, I’m scared to death right now. Not sure what will pop out again,’ with that thought in mind, I stretched out my hand to press the switch.
The light, however, wouldn’t turn on.
I switched on and off for a moment of confusion. Still, there wasn’t any sign of lights on at all. I blinked my eyes.
A school, shut down for at least three years, would be out of electricity; therefore, it was normal that the light didn’t come on when pressing the switch. I was, however, puzzled for a while since the lights were opened so obviously so far. Suddenly, Jooin’s hypothesis came across my head.
Yeah, he said that the electricity could be the criteria to distinguish the original world and the different universe!
The light wouldn’t turn on because this place was the passage between the original world and the different universe. So to speak, Jooin and I could go back to where we actually belong… Thinking further, I dashed out of the women’s bathroom.
As I stood in front of the men’s bathroom, right beside where I was just now, I shouted out loud.
“Jooin! I think I found it… that passage thing! Jooin!!”
However, there was, bafflingly, no response. As I stared into the dark, I became a little nervous, so I left the bathroom doorway and took a step back.
After swallowing my breath and watching the darkness without a blink of an eye, I ran outside quickly as I realized that I couldn’t find any human shadows inside at all.
I hurriedly put my hand into my pocket and took out my phone. ‘Now that Jooin isn’t here for me, what if this place is still a different universe…’ I hastily pressed the call button on Eun Hyung’s number. Having my phone on my ear, I moved quickly to the nearest classroom.
If I were back in the world where I originally belonged, then the kids would definitely gather in the classroom and tell scary stories around the candles.
‘Please, somebody be here!’ with that thought in mind, I slid open the backdoor as forcefully as I could. Suddenly, I remembered that the door wasn’t locked when I was here with Jooin earlier. That was when I had those thoughts inside my head.
Through the open door, an explosive orange light seemed to permeate on top of my lashes. It was so dazzling that I closed my eyes narrowly and opened back for a second.
‘Weird… there wouldn’t be anything glowing brightly like this inside the classroom…’ It was then when I finally opened my eyes as much as I could.
A scenery completely different from what I anticipated flew into my sight. For a while, I couldn’t say anything with one hand holding the classroom door and the other holding the cell phone.
It wasn’t the classroom messed up with randomly placed desks and chairs. The blackboard was cleanly green as if it was just wiped and washed; the chalks and the blackboard eraser were neatly placed on the frame. The scribble-less, brown podium was tinged with scarlet in the light of the sunset.
‘The sunset…’ I murmured while twisting my head stiffly like a robot to look outside the window. ‘The sunset? No way…!”
“Yeah, it doesn’t make sense…”
Mumbling those words, I suddenly became speechless when the low purple cloud over my sight and the dark golden pillars of light pouring down to it came into view.
All the windows were open. The white shadows of the window frames drew square patterns on the yellow floor; the pure white window shades swayed through the breeze. Suddenly, some words welled up from the depths within me.
– I know this classroom.
That was what I tried to say. At that very moment, if I didn’t find someone resting his chin on his palm while sitting alone near the window, I would’ve said that out loud.
As soon as I found the familiar appearance from behind, I bent my steps involuntarily. Then I opened my mouth.
“Yoo Chun Young?”
Somehow the feeling of my footsteps was quite recognizable. I suddenly looked down and saw myself wearing my middle school uniform.
It seems like yesterday when I was surprised to find this uniform hanging in my closet a long time ago, but now that I look at it, I’m more than happy to see it again. ‘Is this a dream?’ I thought, staring at the lights of sunset inside my two palms in the air.
Yes, this should be a dream or else there was no reason for me to wear my middle school uniform. So was Yoo Chun Young sitting in the classroom alone after school. Unless there was a reason, I, who was wandering around the shut-down school with Jooin just now, wouldn’t be standing in the classroom full of evening sunlight out of the blue.
Yoo Chun Young didn’t respond to my call. I approached him closely. ‘Is he dozing off as usual? Is that why he can’t hear my voice?’ Soon after, when I quietly bent my waist near him, I smiled as to see him wearing his white earphone on his ears which he always did.
‘Will he get mad? No, he won’t since he always shared the other side of his earphone with me.’
I pulled the chair out and sat next to him. Then I stretched out my hand to take one side of his earphone out.