“Why is that idiot spouting nonsense and spazzing out again, dammit! If you’re going to keep ruining the mood like this, you might as well stay in your room.”
Cursing under his breath, Top Dog brushed past them without a second thought.
While the guards were trying to grab the seizing man and calm him down, a medic who had been monitoring the station on CCTV appeared with a gurney. The man was loaded onto it and rushed away.
“That man has tics and schizophrenia, so sometimes he has seizures like that,” Ju-hee muttered, attempting to comfort Won. Won tightly clutched her empty paper cup.
‘Was it just a coincidence that the man had seen Top Dog right before his seizure? Or did Top Dog cause the seizure?’
There was too little information for Won to determine what was true.
“Ju-hee, did you see Top-… Uh, I mean, are you afraid of the man named Rock?”
“Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t afraid of him. The nurses were saying he was a gangster outside this place and he would just put people in those construction barrels and pour cement on them.”
Won’s insight from years of experience helped discern important pieces of information.
“I was wondering if he had a seizure because he saw that guy, Rock.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. If he was like that every time he saw him, how would he eat? Especially since we all eat together in the dining room.”
Ju-hee did have a great point. If the man had a seizure every time he saw Top Dog, there would be measures to avoid it given how a closed ward works.
‘Maybe he just fell as the crow flies1 she’s saying its basically just a coincidence .’
Won looked around in disbelief. The atmosphere in the main hall was calm, even as a man was being carried away. Everyone was acting as if nothing had happened. Outside, if someone suddenly collapsed like that, there would be an uproar and chatter, but here, this is just another day. Won realized exactly where she was and a chill ran down her spine.
Meanwhile, Ju-hee was making small talk with another patient.
“Oh, my unnie asked me. Do you know anything else?”
Ju-hee motioned for Won to come over toward her.
“This is my unnie, Won, who was admitted yesterday. Unnie, this is Mrs. Sook.”
Mrs. Sook was a woman in her sixties, with a few gray hairs mixed in among her jet-black hair.
“Nice to meet you.”
“You two seemed to be enjoying your conversation, so I was curious and asked what you were talking about. Were you talking about snakes?”
“Yes, I was told to be careful of snakes. I thought it was something serious, but it turns out it’s just a myth.”
“Are you sure it’s just a myth?”
Won couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something off about the woman, even though her question was ordinary.
Mrs. Sook wryly smiled. The wrinkles at the corners of her eyes dug deeper, following the movement of her muscles. The curve it created seemed cruel.
“I don’t know if there is actually a snake, but sometimes, at night, it sounds like something is crawling in the hallways of the ward. It goes ‘hiss, hiss’ and it sounds like a snake flicking its tongue.”
Won stood still, attentively listening. Mrs. Sook continued her tale.
“I was too scared to open the door, but a curious young man said that the next time he heard such a sound, he would open it. He was a young bachelor, probably in his twenties or thirties. Everyone in the ward waited excitedly to hear the sound again because, for us, such an event is almost like a festival.”
“Well, that makes sense. We don’t have smartphones, we don’t have computers, and we don’t have anything to do. Events like this are our only entertainment, and the most fun is when someone tries to escape. So what happened?”
Mrs. Sook waved off Ju-hee’s commentary and looked toward Won.
“That was a little less than a month ago. I think it was about two or three weeks later, and I was lying in bed when I heard something scurrying down the hallway. I went to the door and strained my ears because I didn’t have the courage to go out, but I was curious to know if the young man who had promised as much earlier was really going to open his door. I’m sure everyone else wanted to know, too. So, I heard the door open with uncanny clarity, maybe it was because it was night.”
Ju-hee was completely engrossed in the story, even holding her breath, as if this was the first time she heard about the story. It probably happened before she was hospitalized.
“But the weird thing is, I didn’t hear anything after that, and I don’t know what else, but I should have heard him go back to his room… I was like ‘What’s going on,’ but I couldn’t wait forever, so I just went back to bed and slept, thinking he must have gone quietly back to his room. The next morning, I woke up and did some exercises, but I didn’t see him. I thought he didn’t come out because he must have used up all his energy the night before.”
Won thought about the exercise classes that she and other patients had gathered to do in the morning.
It has been changing nationally for a while now, but surprisingly, the asylum still does it the old-school way. Although the classes aren’t mandatory, the participation rate is high. All the patients are expected to participate once they wake up.
“When I didn’t see him at mealtime, I got a little worried, but until that point, I just thought he wasn’t feeling well. You know how it is, you’re stiff and then when you relax, the guilt comes back. I just thought he was really scared, especially since he acted so brave, but then he didn’t show up for dinner that night. We all realized that something was wrong and asked one of the nurses.”
“What did they say?”
“They said he was discharged, something about his guardian picking him up early in the morning, but I never saw that before. They have set visiting hours, and visitors can’t show up unannounced. They never gave any indication he was going to be discharged. Plus, when they do give the indication, patients are always excited and bragging about it.”
“Oh my, so he went out for the night and got eaten by a snake?”
Ju-hee covered her mouth with both hands and looked horrified. Mrs. Sook slowly shook her head.
“We don’t know that. All we know is that the young man opened the door, and the next day he disappeared from the hospital. What do you think, new girl? Was it helpful?”
“Yes, thank you,” Won politely replied. She wasn’t one to believe in ghost stories, though.
‘A snake big enough to swallow a man roaming a locked ward at night?’
Won would rather believe a psychopath who enjoys striking fear into the hearts of others by crawling through the halls in the guise of a snake. Surprisingly, there are human beings in this world who are more malicious than can be imagined. They are a hundred times more gruesome and terrifying than any giant snake.
‘Even if a snake was here, it could be killed, but humans can’t.’
If there was one thing that bothered Won, it was the number of patients hearing the hissing sound.
‘A group hallucination? Is it possible for a group of people to hear the same thing?’
In theory, yes. In extreme situations, such as war, there have been cases where groups of people have heard enemy tanks charging at them.
It could be argued that a locked ward is a place where freedom doesn’t exist, where humanity is dehumanized, and therefore, patients are in extreme situations where they may experience group hallucinations, like auditory hallucinations.
Coming to that conclusion, Won decided to stop looking into the “snake to watch out for” – that is until she heard the words from Target.
“We need to get out of here! There are snakes, so many snakes in this ward.”
Won sighed as she looked at Target, clutching his head with both hands, looking terrified. Even though she was a non-smoker and a non-drinker, she thought she might need either cigarettes or alcohol now.
“Uh, look, you need to calm down. You’re talking too fast, so just take a deep brea-”
“If we stay here, we’ll get eaten by a snake. We need to get out of here fast.”
The awkward advice was no help to calm down Target.
Won had never been good at calming people down. Some are better at it than others. Won was better with her body than her tongue.
“We need to get away. How should we do it…”
Won rubbed the back of her neck as she listened to Target’s obsessive mutterings.
‘I might be too late.’
The prince trapped in the tower, who she was supposed to save, the heir of K Group, has no sanity left.
Won took a moment to reflect on what had led up to this point.
“I understand that this isn’t an ordinary asylum, but why are you asking me? A male agent would be better.”
“Ah, men are more physically capable, so we considered them first, but men will be more vigilant…”
“That’s not what I meant. I was trying to say that I think the hospital would want to separate male and female patients in order to prevent any accidents, so a male would have more access to him.”
“Well, the male ward is full and they said they can’t take patients for a while, so we would have to wait… And in these wards, people mix regardless of gender, so the kind of problems you’re worried about won’t happen/ anyways, there are CCTVs everywhere…”
“Okay, let me ask you something else then. If the target is insane, what happens to this mission?”
“That won’t happen. The young master has a very strong mind.”
After that brief exchange, Won accepted the assignment and traveled all this way, only to find out he was indeed insane.
‘Did he sell his mental strength? I hope it was for a good price, at least.’
Won stopped asking questions because they were so confident, but she regretted that now. She was stuck thinking about what her next steps would be.
‘Let’s just check how far his mind has gone.’
If it’s 170 degrees, Won will continue, but if it’s 1802 this just means that as long as he has even a hint of sanity left, she’ll continue with her mission degrees, she’ll quit.
Support my Kofi so I can buy my cat a cowboy hat!
- 1she’s saying its basically just a coincidence
- 2this just means that as long as he has even a hint of sanity left, she’ll continue with her mission