Mu-ryeong’s Spirit - Chapter 20
EP.20 A Day Even The Ghosts Don’t Know (1)
A time before the sun had even risen. The early morning streets were quiet, still carrying the remnants of the previous night. Dimly lit alleys, trees damp with mysterious dew. Occasionally, several cars passed by on the wide main road.
‘Where am I?’
Ye-bin stood in front of the crosswalk, looking around with a bewildered gaze. She was dressed in a jacket that was too large, a buttoned-up shirt, and a neatly tied necktie. The knee-length pleated skirt and pristine white sneakers revealed that she was wearing a school uniform for the first time.
On her back, completely clean, was a backpack that, despite being slightly oversized for her petite frame, didn’t feel heavy, perhaps because there were no books inside. Yebin clenched the backpack straps tightly with both hands, nervously biting her lip.
‘The school should be this way…’
Today was Ye-bin’s first day of high school, as she turned 17. In middle school, she always rode in her dad’s car, but from today on, it was decided that she would commute by foot. Despite her own claims of being all grown up, she felt an odd sensation wandering around in a place that seemed unfamiliar.
‘Should I cross here?’
Ye-bin’s eyes caught sight of a four-lane intersection. The traffic lights kept changing, but Ye-bin couldn’t bring herself to take a single step. Every time she attempted to lift her foot, an inexplicable fear kept rising within her.
‘If I keep hesitating like this, I’ll be late…’
Is there another way? With that thought in mind, she wandered around, exploring her surroundings. She followed the sidewalk, turned into an alley, only to realise it was the wrong way, then went back out again. She blankly stared at a passing stray cat, lost in her thoughts.
‘Why am I here?’
Then, as she snapped back to reality, a terrifying intersection unfolded before her eyes once again. Blinking traffic lights, auditory signals for the visually impaired, bright white arrows painted on the asphalt, and cars passing by.
‘The school is…’
The view in front of her repeatedly blurred and then cleared up again. Sometimes her strength drained away, and other times her thoughts came to a sudden halt. She couldn’t help but feel confused about why she was standing there, what lay beyond that intersection, and where exactly she needed to go.
Ye-bin closed her eyes, tilting her head down in confusion. Her short hair gently flowed down, grazing her chin. Through her partially lifted eyelids, the grey school uniform skirt and the tip of her shoes came into view.
She had to go to school. She didn’t know why, but she had spent all this time standing here for that purpose. She had to cross the crosswalk, pass through the alleyway, and make her way to the school she would attend for the next three years.
Ye-bin stared blankly into the void, her thoughts sounding as if they were submerged in water. Her feet, standing on the pavement, seemed to sink endlessly.
It feels like someone is talking to me. That’s what she thought, but this time too, the thought didn’t last long. School, crosswalk, once again school, and crosswalk.
“Are you okay?”
Suddenly, something appeared before her eyes. Ye-bin blinked in surprise, her eyes widening. The first thing she noticed was the distinct and vivid chestnut-coloured iris.
“Can you see me?”
His round eyes lowered gently at the corners. Whenever he closed and opened his eyes, the crease of his eyelids blurred and disappeared. The person who had been staring at Ye-bin from a short distance smiled warmly as their eyes met.
“Oh, thank goodness.”
Dimples appeared on his fair cheeks. It was only then that Ye-bin realised he was wearing a uniform similar to hers. While she was wearing a skirt, he was wearing pants, but they both wore the same uniform.
“It’s dangerous to stand here like this.”
He spoke softly in a slightly nasal tone. Despite his immaturity, his tone wasn’t irritating compared to its higher pitch. In fact, it seemed to match his appearance quite well.
“Why were you standing like that?”
Ye-bin tightened her grip on the bag straps and took a discreet step back. The student had a pleasant scent about him, but an unknown fear slowly crawled up from her toes. The sudden interruption made her wonder if he was a strange person.
“I… have to go to school.”
She didn’t even think that her voice sounded strange. She couldn’t feel the vibration in her throat, but nevertheless, she moved her lips hesitantly. Fortunately, the student seemed to understand as he furrowed his brow and nodded.
There was a brief silence. Ye-bin didn’t say anything, and the student followed suit. He narrowed his eyes as if trying to gauge something, and he stared silently at the traffic light.
The student, after humming silently, soon put on a smile. It was a smile that melted away all fears. He reached out his left hand to Ye-bin, who had hunched her shoulders.
Ye-bin’s eyes widened in surprise. The sudden outstretched hand caught her off guard. It was a hand larger than hers, even though it was on the smaller side for a man. As she looked at him with an uncertain gaze, he kindly spoke.
“Let’s cross together.”
It was a smile that eased her guard. Her hardened heart swayed gently. As if enchanted, Ye-bin extended her right hand while looking at him.
It was a strange sensation. The moment their hands touched, her mind felt refreshed. The intrusive thoughts that had been pestering her melted away, and the thoughts she had momentarily forgotten began to fill her mind, one by one.
The student held Ye-bin’s hand very carefully. He slowly nodded as if urging her to keep speaking. Ye-bin fidgeted with her hand and cast her eyes down with a melancholic expression.
“I have to go to school, but I’m scared of the crosswalk.”
It had been like that since earlier. No, it had been like that for an immeasurable amount of time. While others crossed the crosswalk with ease, Ye-bin couldn’t take a single step away from this place.
“And it’s too dark around here.”
If only it had been brighter and the sun had risen, it would have been fine. No, at least if she had ridden in her dad’s car, it would have been fine. The problem was that she had left home too early due to the unfamiliar route, fearing she might be late for school.
“Are you scared because it’s dark?”
As Ye-bin didn’t respond, he fell silent. Then he looked around and lowered his head towards Ye-bin. Ye-bin was so small that even this boy, who was small for a man, had to stoop down.
“This is our little secret.”
As he said that, the crosswalk’s light turned green. The student tightly held Ye-bin’s hand and extended his other hand into the air. And with a swift motion, he blew a whistle.
Whoosh! Flames sprang up. Sparkling flames floated in front of the two of them. The flames, which had multiplied from one to two, rose up like streetlights, illuminating the surroundings.
“It’s a bit brighter now.”
The student chuckled and took a step down onto the road. Ye-bin, too, followed him slowly with her steps: one step and then another. With each step they took forward, the flames moved along with them.
Ye-bin was so captivated by the flames that she didn’t even realise they had already crossed about halfway through the road. She didn’t realise that the crosswalk, which had seemed far away, wasn’t actually that far, or that the student was vigilantly scanning the surroundings, or that the dark sky was gradually giving way to the rising sun.
“We need to hurry…”
Murmuring those words, the student tightened his grip on Ye-bin’s hand.
As they stepped onto the sidewalk blocks leading to the school, he lightly asked Ye-bin.
“You’re going to school, right?”
There was no need for an answer. Even though they had crossed the crosswalk, the student didn’t let go of Ye-bin’s hand. Instead, he held it even tighter and simply said,
“Let’s go; I’ll take you.”
On the way to school, they exchanged various stories. Ye-bin talked about her weak health, how she barely attended middle school, and how she had been in the hospital for major surgery right after graduation. And that she was finally cured and able to attend high school.
“I wanted to go to a different school than my brother, but my mom and dad kept being against that, so I ended up coming here.”
Ye-bin, who attended an all-girls middle school, found it surprisingly easy to interact with the student next to her, despite him being a boy. The awkward conversation they had at the beginning had turned casual. It could be because he didn’t exhibit much masculinity yet, or maybe it was because he always smiled kindly, no matter what they talked about. She couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason.
“By the way, how old are you?”
When they were almost near the school, Ye-bin asked the student. He rolled his eyes and answered in a somewhat awkward tone.
“Oh, what? You’re older than me then, oppa.”
Eighteen years old. He was a year ahead of Ye-bin, who was a freshman. It was something she realised a bit late, but even the name tag pinned on his chest was a different colour from hers. Yet he had been treating her kindly all this time, despite her treating him so casually.
“Your name is… Kim Mu-ryeong?”
The student didn’t answer but instead smiled at Ye-bin. He halted his steps and looked at the still-closed school gate. Ye-bin naturally let go of his hand and walked towards the main gate.
“It seems like we came too early.”
With those words, Ye-bin turned back to look at the student. There seemed to be a lingering warmth in the hand she had been holding. It was the first time Ye-bin had smiled comfortably since leaving home.
“Thank you for bringing me here.”
There was no reply. He helped her, so she should at least let him know her name, she thought as she spoke.
Her voice suddenly cut off. “I’m Yoon Ye-bin.” The rest of her words dissipated into the cold dawn air. Seeing that, the student, Mu-ryeong, let out a faint sigh.
Mu-ryeong slowly closed his eyes and opened them again. His eyes were particularly melancholy. They stood in front of the still-closed gate. Only a faint aura and Mu-ryeong, dressed in a school uniform, remained there.