Dead End Chapter 78

Dead End

Chapter 78

“Senior, maybe this person led us here.”

Han Su-jin bit her lower lip and held back her emotions. She felt that if she broke down now, they would all end up hugging each other and bursting into tears.

Shepherd pinched the corners of his eyes with his index finger and thumb before reading the will again. Perhaps the will contained hints about what would happen in the future.

“If you’ve made it this far and are reading this letter, you must either be a rescue squad or survivors who managed to stay alive somewhere. Anyway, I’m relieved that a living being is reading this. Firstly, that you are alive is a miracle, and I hope luck will continue to be on your side for your survival.”

The person who had committed suicide was, absurdly, wishing luck for the reader.

“I am dying having lost hope, but whatever your purpose, however you’ve made it here to Nelson Island, keep hope alive. And do not lose that hope. Hope is like a flame; as long as it’s not extinguished, it can be revived.”

The person continued to tell the survivors not to lose hope. Shepherd just reading that, shook his head and passed the letter to Son Tae-hwan.

“Damn it, I’m not up for this kind of thing.”

“…Neither am I.”

The letter naturally passed to the hand of the chaplain, who nodded and read the letter written in English.

“The outside world is filled with despair. Everything seems to be boiling with pain. I communicated with Punta Arenas on XX month XX day, but I know no rescue squad will come to Nelson Island. The messages I’ve heard were desperate.”

Son Tae-hwan recalled the strange radio transmission he heard from the Chilean base the day before. Anxiety grew in him like a snowball, and his heart pounded. While he did not yet fully understand why this person took their own life, Son Tae-hwan had a bad feeling.

“The food supply is dwindling and outside, my former colleagues are reaching out to me. I see their expressions. I try to listen to their stories, but….”

The letter continued with more hopeless words. Ironically, the AC-130 had destroyed the food storage, and this person had survived alone on Nelson Island for a week.

The specifics of the food shortage and the power cut were detailed in the will. The document seemed to have been written by the fireplace because there were holes burnt into the paper in several places.

“Through the window, my old friends stagger through the snowfield murmuring something, looking at me with familiar faces. Yes, I couldn’t bear it.”

The chaplain wiped away tears as he read this part of the letter.

He had survived alone as a human while watching his colleagues transform into zombies. Perhaps if even one person had survived, if he could have had someone to talk to, then he might not have taken his life.

Son Tae-hwan snatched the will from the chaplain, counting the dates.

“This…”

“Senior, what’s wrong?”

“If we count the dates… this person, they committed suicide this morning.”

“Oh…”

Han Su-jin also looked at the date written on the will and let out a sigh. This person had hung themselves just a few hours before Son Tae-hwan and his group arrived. He had still been alive that morning when Son Tae-hwan’s group was engaged in fierce combat.

“Su-jin, life can be so cruel. If only we had arrived just a bit earlier, this person could have…”

“That’s true…”

While they knew that baseless assumptions were of no help, the four of them looked at the person with a bitter expression.

Then Shepherd picked up the will again and his expression brightened as he continued to read.

“Lieutenant, look here! A boat!”

The will marked the location of a boat for any possible survivors.

“But why didn’t this person escape on that boat?”

“He was alone. He saw death pouring down from the sky above. Su-jin, could you take a boat alone to Antarctica or anywhere else?”

Han Su-jin also thought about it for a moment and then shook her head no.

Son Tae-hwan felt the same. He couldn’t comprehend the person’s deep despair, as from the start of the disaster, he had been with Han Su-jin and later with others. There was nothing more terrifying than the loneliness of being alone.

Now Han Su-jin took the will and read the final part in a calm voice.

The lonely castaway had systematically categorized everything he had besides food and heating supplies, making a chart of it.

The spirit of not giving up that initially greeted the rescuers, along with that chart, struck a deep chord. Moreover, the supplies were a godsend to Son Tae-hwan’s group who had lost most of their materials in a fight with killer whales.

Rubber boats, winter expedition tents, emergency flares, insulation gear such as blankets, spare cold-weather clothing, and more.

And, reading the last section, Han Su-jin finally let the tears she had been holding back fall. “To my beloved Kasha and my daughter Anya. May you two survive in this harsh world. I will pray for the safety of my daughter and wife from this Antarctica.”

The man who had committed suicide must have been a very caring father. At the very end was a photograph and their address in somewhere in the Czech Republic.

Son Tae-hwan glanced at the distant address, shaking his head. It had to be the Czech Republic. None of the food they had come across on their trek bore any relevance to the Czech Republic or Eastern Europe, meaning the survivors had no connection to Eastern Europe. There was no way to deliver the letter.

“Senior… give it to me.”

“Why?”

“We have to send it to his family.”

Son Tae-hwan was about to say nothing about the outside world but swallowed his words. He did not know exactly what had become of the world beyond Antarctica.

“If, just if. What if the outside is… in ruins?”

“…Someone will have survived. Like us.”

Han Su-jin purposely said those words in English. The chaplain and Shepherd finally understood what the two were talking about.

He realized it.

“If we survive in this place, we will eventually meet someone. Then, you just give them the letter, and they will carry it toward that direction.”

The young lady was plainly speaking under the assumption that they would survive in Antarctica. Her eyes shone with hope, and there was not the slightest quiver of uncertainty.

“How naive. What if that person also has nothing to do with Čechy (Czech)?”

“Then that person, once they survive, will pass it on to another.”

“That person, too… Sigh, let it be.”

Rather than being incredulous, Sohn Tae-hwan lost his words upon seeing the determination in her eyes.

Would this letter ever truly reach Anya and Kasha? Perhaps, in an anticlimactic twist, it might simply be stamped with the Korean Post EMS mark and flown off to Čechy (Czech Republic) on an airplane. Or…

Sohn Tae-hwan banished that ominous thought and reflected on the long ‘link’. The lengthy human chain of delivery, whether through postal carriers or couriers, was a simple yet steadfast belief that someone would deliver the message.

“Mungchung-ah, do you really believe in that?”

“Yes, I believe that someone will pass on my story. If I don’t believe that… like this person who might commit suicide, I believe someone will remember someone else’s survival and notify of their death. If not, this world would be too sad, wouldn’t it?”

“…”

Sohn Tae-hwan gently stroked her hair while gazing at her intently.

“You’re not dog-like, are you?”

“What? Are you cursing at me?”

“No. Looking at your hair and face, you kinda remind me of a retriever.”

Shepherd, hearing the word ‘retriever’, burst into laughter. Her round eyes and pointed nose did bear a resemblance to a retriever. They shared a slight chuckle and then looked at the dying embers of the stove.

There was no food or electricity, but they had plenty of fuel. Shepherd sighed as she added wood, which seemed to come from the debris of the neighboring building, to the stove.

“So, Lieutenant, what should we do?”

“What now?”

“About that corpse.”

“Ah… I see. An Alpha Zombie.”

This place was strangely filled with Alpha Zombies. All the zombies they had killed were Alphas.

Was it a coincidence?

Before that, if they did not deal with this corpse, it could revive as a zombie again.

“I, I can’t do it! I can’t!”

The pastor, already frightened, stumbled backward and fell over. Sohn Tae-hwan glanced at him and sighed.

“Sigh. I wasn’t going to ask you. You had a rough day yesterday.”

“Then, what…”

“It’s my turn this time. From now on, we’ll take turns handling difficult situations.”

Sohn Tae-hwan established the most important rule. Exempting someone just because she was a woman would be greatly disadvantageous to survival. They looked at each other and silently nodded, a tacit agreement.

“While I hold the ‘funeral’, you, Su-jin, prepare the meal, and you, Shepherd, search the buildings further. Pastor, come with me, and we’ll bring more wood from the building next door to stoke up the fire.”

Sohn Tae-hwan deliberately used the word ‘funeral’ to assign tasks to everyone.

Shepherd began to search other rooms with her gun ready, and Han Su-jin started preparing a meal with an MRE pack. As Sohn Tae-hwan dragged the corpse with his gun strapped on, the pastor hesitantly followed him.

Sohn Tae-hwan brought the Czech’s body to a snowfield near the Echo Nelson Base and silently started digging in the snow. The pastor watched him intently.

“Pastor, can you preside over a funeral service or a mass?”

“Ah? Oh! Certainly.”

“It’s better for this man. I’ll continue to dig. Please hold that service.”

That was why Sohn Tae-hwan had lured him out using the excuse of needing wood. The pastor, with a blank look, nodded.

“Are you also a believer?”

“No, I’m an atheist. But when I die, you’re welcome to hold a funeral like this for me.”

“Understood.”

The pastor hastily pulled out a small Bible from his pocket. As Sohn Tae-hwan continued to dig in the snow, he listened to the pastor’s hymn and prayers. The pastor sang a verse of Amazing Grace.

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares… I have already come~ ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far~ and grace will lead me home~”

The pastor finished the hymn with a sorrowful voice, then laid his hand on the Czech’s head to pray.

“I’ve seen many deaths today. There are also many dead here. I intend not just to hold this man’s funeral, but those of many people. Please forgive the sins of the many who have died here… their sins…”

The pastor covered the Czech’s head with his hand and broke into tears.

Sohn Tae-hwan also roughly wiped his eyes at the mention of funerals for the many people who had died in Antarctica. He was reminded of Park Dong-hyuk’s last words.

Eventually, turning around, he saw Shepherd and Han Su-jin, who had returned from searching the buildings, standing there.

“Senior, you could have just told us if you were going to do this.”

“That’s right, Lieutenant.”

Shepherd held his beret to his chest, and Han Su-jin mourned the dead in her own way. Sohn Tae-hwan dragged the Czech beneath the snow again as Pastor’s strained rendition of Amazing Grace continued to leak out.

“Where we shall be forever in the Lord’s grace~ as bright as the sun~ living to praise Him~”

The first time was hard, but the second wasn’t. He plunged his knife into the Czech’s neck and severed it. He didn’t fully understand the principle, but zombies seemed to die when their heads were destroyed.

Sohn Tae-hwan separated the severed head and covered it with snow. The makeshift funeral was over, and the four of them looked at each other in silence. Then they returned to the safe building and had their meal. This meal was not much different from a funeral’s traditional spicy beef soup.

They shared biscuits and even split the coffee contained in the MRE.

‘It’s curious. Is this why we hold funerals?’

Sohn Tae-hwan felt his grief slightly dissipate, like a scab beginning to form over a wound, somewhat numbing the pain.



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