Dead End Chapter 14

Dead End Chapter 14

Chapter 014

As the sugar and waste oil clung to the zombies’ flesh and clothing, they were quickly enveloped in flames. The zombies, enwrapped in the raging red fire, could do nothing but thrash helplessly.

The two onlookers did not cheer or take pleasure in the sight of the burning zombies below them. What was burning looked too human. Watching people burn alive, their flesh melting and withering away, was not a scene one could casually take delight in, even as a joke.

What made the spectacle even more bizarre was the thick black smoke emanating from their wounds, adding to the fire. The black flames, alongside the red ones, were so eerie that they could make one’s hair stand on end. Amidst it all, the zombies continued to bang on the door rhythmically as if nothing was amiss.

Son Taehwan confirmed another important fact while observing this scene.

“They really don’t feel any pain.”

“They’re corpses. Walking corpses…”

Han Sujin also responded dismissively, though her tone betrayed her disgust. Both of them understood what the absence of pain implied for the zombies.

Ordinary humans, even without fatal wounds, might be incapacitated by pain or rendered combat ineffective with an injured leg. But these walking corpses were entirely different ‘beings,’ similar to the gorilla zombie that had sustained a knife wound to the neck yet remained unaffected.

“We’ll have no answer unless we strike them in the head or neck in one blow.”

“Right. They aren’t human. Don’t think about wounding them; we need to find a way to kill them for sure.”

The pair watched the burning zombies for a while longer. They expected that at least the arms and legs would be incinerated by the fire, but instead, the burning parts seemed to evaporate, causing the red flames to shrink. The external black blood and fatal wounds seemed to have evaporative properties that acted not only as a digestive but, in this case, an oxidizing agent, accelerating the burning process.

“Do you have a Plan B, senior? This seems to have failed.”

“Not sure yet. Let’s wait a bit longer.”

Son Taehwan keenly observed the zombies, whose bodies now resembled an oil painting of mixed black and vermilion from the smoke and fire. The flames were intense enough to melt skin. Picking up a chunk of ice, he threw it towards the zombies. Despite a human-head-sized piece of ice crashing down beside them, the zombies kept mechanically pounding on the entrance.

“Still, it’s not a complete failure.”

“What? Why?”

“Noise and smell. The blizzard might have rendered sound meaningless anyway, but zombies engulfed in flames can’t hear. Their skin has melted over their ear canals, or their eardrums have burned away. Also, they were sensitive to the smell of blood, but now there’s no blood flow, and the smell of burning waste oil prevails.”

Son Taehwan was surprisingly calm, even to his own realization. He was different now than earlier when he had stumbled and fallen on his own. Clearly, Han Sujin’s presence was the reason. As she gaped open-mouthed downwards, Son Taehwan gently lifted her chin with two fingers.

“What’s with the childish behavior for a grown woman?”

“I nearly bit my tongue.”

“Aren’t you too old for that? Why stick out your tongue? Anyway, now we can at least attempt it. We should be able to move without being noticed.”

Han Sujin also looked down at the zombies before nodding in realization. It was uncertain whether they possessed a third method of detection, but now they had no choice but to rely on sight alone to find their prey.

Only one problem remained: the zombies continued to pound on the door of the machinery hall. With the burning zombies occupying the space in front of the door, there was no way out.

Son Taehwan glanced towards the snowmobile he had arrived on. The snow heap that concealed the snowmobile was conveniently about one meter away from where the zombies were standing. He was still unsure of what to prioritize. Should he risk retrieving the snowmobile’s battery first, or would it be better to collect wood to hold out against the undead?

The former was risky, and the latter presented the weakness of possibly not bringing back enough timber in one trip.

“Damn… choices upon choices.”

Checking the remaining Molotov cocktail and the ice spear, Son Taehwan handed them back to her.

“You stay here.”

“Huh? Wait, are you saying you’re going out on your own? And the entrance is blocked, isn’t it?”

He pointed out the stairway door on the second floor that Han Sujin had previously sealed off. When Son Taehwan and other engineers had needed to commute to the machinery hall, they used the main entrance on the first floor, while the stairway door on the second floor that led directly outside was always locked. It was originally installed for the convenience of personnel who worked only on the second floor, but due to heating inefficiency, it had been locked for quite some time. The reason Han Sujin had closed off the doorway was to prevent zombies from breaking in.

“I’m going to use that door.”

“But it’s locked, isn’t it? Even if we remove the bar…”

“Miss, have you forgotten who I am? I used to work here, remember?”

Son Taehwan showed her the set of keys and ignition keys that he always carried around his neck. Of course, the real problem might be determining how much snow and ice had accumulated outside, but unlocking the door was not an issue.

“Then I’ll come with you. If we need to dig through the snow to find the battery or carry timber, even a cat’s paw would be helpful, right?”

“Just stay. Someone has to stay here. And…”

And if I don’t make it back, you should at least survive on your own. He left the rest unsaid, but it was an implication that didn’t need to be spelled out.

Son Taehwan turned and gripped the monkey wrench tightly. Though short, it seemed like it might serve him better than the ice spear, seeing as the latter had proven ineffective earlier.

Suddenly, Han Sujin grabbed his collar. Her pretty eyebrows furrowed in anger.

“What are you doing?”

“Do you see me as just dead weight?”

“No. I need your help, too. Alone, I wouldn’t survive.”

“Then why?”

“Think about it. We’re upstairs. Instead of both crawling and sacrificing our field of vision, it’s better to have one person up here providing cover.”

“Ah…”

“Keep quiet. You’ll get dust in your mouth.”

It wasn’t just an excuse. Son Taehwan had piled up ice chunks, snow lumps, and icicles in front of the door. They had considerable weight and height, making them practically suited as siege weapons.

“And doctor, how fast can you run a hundred meters?”

“That’s…”

“In a proper state, I can do it in thirteen seconds. With my winter gear, I’d say about sixteen, seventeen seconds. So, it makes sense for me to go and you to provide cover from here. This is not about gender roles; it’s a functional distinction. A strategy for both of us to make it through.”

After saying this, Son Taehwan laughed awkwardly, seeming amused by his own serious tone. It didn’t quite fit his usual demeanor, which made the situation feel slightly awkward. Han Sujin, realizing the same thing, also let out a chuckle.

“Phew. Alright. You could give a lecture on gender equality, couldn’t you?”

“Quit it. Anyway, let’s call it even with the drink you covered for me last time and the money you lent me. Consider it payment for me going down.”

“Wow, no way. I lent you two hundred dollars, remember? Wow, you’re actually trying to get away without paying me back?”

“Did you catch on?”

“I caught on, yes.”

Son Taehwan exchanged banter with Han Sujin and then suddenly thought of his ex-girlfriend, Minsu. Whenever they joked like this, she would playfully pinch his cheek, finding him annoying.

“Damn, what am I even thinking about? Get it together, Son Taehwan. This isn’t the time for such thoughts here.”

Shaking off the distractions, he braced himself against the cold blizzard outside. Minsu was a staggering 17,244 kilometers away.

But once arisen, longing and resentment weren’t easily quelled. She had been devoted, always on his side, but ultimately his life had turned sour because of her. He had been a promising trainee pilot who had to give up his specialty due to stress and resigned from long-term military service, all because he couldn’t withstand her requests to quit his dangerous job for her promise to take care of him.

Her ‘way’ of taking care of him was the problem, though. In the end, Son Taehwan chose to break up with her and cut off contact a mere month after his discharge.

Son Taehwan removed his glove and slapped his own cheek until it tingled. Now was not the time to dwell on Minsu but to focus on the timber in the woodshed. He slapped his face, eliciting a thwack that drew Han Sujin’s concerned gaze.

“It’s nothing. Gotta summon some courage, even if it’s just pretense.”

“Senior…”

He absent-mindedly stroked her hair. They’d grown quite close, so such contact was comfortable for them. Yet, he felt an odd sense of duty.

“Anyway, if things get dicey, throw ice chunks at them to support me. Distract them or even kill them if you can.”

“Understood, senior. I’ll take care of it.”

“I’ll be back. I’ll at least bring some fuelwood.”

“Take care.”

“Hey. Don’t act like that. Quit the act.”

“Huh? What now?”

Blinking cutely, Han Sujin looked at him, and Son Taehwan sighed, flicking her forehead. As he turned to leave, he felt a chill, as if his heart had frozen. Faced with going out into the blistering storm and confronting the walking corpses, the bravado felt thin. The thought of being alone filled him with fear.

“Damn, I should just stop pretending…”

Son Taehwan steadied his shaking hands and headed for the second-floor stairway door. Inside the chilly machinery hall, the environment was Eden-like compared to what awaited him outside. He unlocked the door, stepped out, and looked over the snowdrifts.

The battery was in the snowmobile. However, with the zombies in close proximity, if the burning zombies suddenly charged at him, it would be the end.

“Wasn’t that quack’s snowmobile in the living quarters hall?”

The blizzard obscured the living quarters hall only a few meters away, but the close proximity of the zombies, wrapped in smoldering crimson flames, was unmistakable, like candles on a white cream cake against the dark night.

“At least I have a beacon to return to.”

The fire, transferred from the waste oil, was stubborn, but the zombies’ nature posed a problem. With the burnt wounds evaporating whole, the fire was losing surface area to consume. Although there was a beacon, he couldn’t afford to waste time.

Eventually, Son Taehwan resolved to undertake a risky venture. With the zombies clustered together, he could count on Han Sujin’s snowmobile at the living quarters hall. Judging by the number of zombies gathered around the snowmobile he arrived in and those pounding on the machinery hall door, there were likely few elsewhere. Even if it was a longer route, reaching the snowmobile wouldn’t take long, and in an emergency, he could use it to ram through the undead.

He climbed the stairs again and looked at Han Sujin, who peeked her face out, emanating a charm that almost made him sigh.

“Don’t open the door unless I shout.”

“Got it. Just to be safe.”

“And if they move… do whatever it takes to tie them down. I’m counting on you alone.”

“Sure. Whatever it takes. Don’t worry.”

Son Taehwan nodded, pulled up his neck warmer, and prepared to set out again. It was time to fight for survival.



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