…in the doorframe, his wife and daughter gaunt, thin, dead in their chairs, legs brittle after months of sitting. He stood there, staring into their glazed over eyes. He stood there, barrel in his mouth, and ate the bullet.
“Jin Woo! You’re never at home! Why is it always work work and more work every single day! Get out! I’m sick of feeling like a single mother!”
At 3 AM in the morning, while Jennifer was asleep, Sujin had screamed at him. Those words, spoken in Korean so that their ten year old daughter would not understand, reverberated through Jin Woo’s aching head. Sitting begrudgingly on a damp concrete staircase, he looked up at the cloudy nighttime sky. A light breeze brushed against his face as a man walked past him, giving him no second glance. “What happened to us?” He asked the darkness. In his pursuit to provide for his family, to make sure they never went hungry, he had forgotten the reason he married Sujin in the first place. The reason they had a child together. Even though he couldn’t afford much more than a mediocre apartment, they were supposed to be happy, supposed to stick together despite it all. He grabbed onto the wet railing, pulling himself to his feet.
“Sujin?” He called into the apartment. He hadn’t taken his keys with him, so she must’ve left the door open, expecting his return. His heart throbbed in pain—he needed to make up with her. He took a cautious step inside, followed by another, and another, until he made it to the bedroom. “Sujin, honey,” he began, slowly opening the door. “I’m really—” She was dead. Both of them. His wife and his daughter. They were gone.
No no no no. His knees screamed in agony, but it didn’t dull the pain that was gripping his chest. That wasn’t supposed to happen. They weren’t supposed to die. They weren’t allowed to die, because he wasn’t ready. He hadn’t been forgiven yet. They hadn’t gone on a single vacation together. He went into the gun safe. Yum.
Jin Woo opened his eyes, finding himself right in front of the serene, sleeping face of his wife. He tried to focus his eyes in the dark, rubbing them as if he had just woken up. “Is this the afterlife?” He wondered aloud. No, no it isn’t. For she stirred, more life in her frowning eyebrows than he had seen since their daughter was born— or maybe he had never paid attention. His short laugh of astonishment woke Sujin up; she grumbled, turned over, and fell back asleep. How is this possible?
It didn’t matter how, but what he would do with the chance he was given. He went to work the same as always, but this time, bore with the snickers, the side comments, the condescension as he asked to get off early. The subtle threat of demotion. Even a blizzard couldn’t stop him from saving his family.
This time, when the man showed up to the apartment steps, Jin Woo already had the gun with him. This time, instead of his wife and daughter getting stabbed to death in a failed robbery, it was him with blood on his hands. This time— a scream sounded in the air. His apartment was on fire. It was their time to die.
The same pattern repeated over and over and over. He wakes up in bed. He finds a new way to reject human mortality. His family finds a new way to die.
The tenth time, it was a car accident. After that, he stopped them from going out. How long are you planning on continuing this? “Until my family lives.”
The twentieth time, it was poison. After that, he stopped them from eating. They’re meant to die, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent that. Jin Woo chuckled. He chuckled each time. “We’ll see about that.”
The fifty-first time, it was suicide. After that, he boarded up the windows. Isn’t it about time you gave this up?
“Giving up means I lose,” Jin Woo grinned hysterically. Are you— Are you enjoying this? “Hey, it’s a fun challenge,” he said, turning around, fingers spread out wide in front of him. He stared the shadows dead in the eyes, and although they had no eyes, he stared nonetheless. Yum!
Jin Woo, it’s not happening. Let life take its course! How can you face your family like this? The shadows spoke, and he responded. “My family better be grateful they’re even alive.”
The rope burned Jin Woo’s hands as he wrapped it several times around. Then several times more. And again. And again. His palms were broken and bloody. He had found out how to game the system— he could kill himself repeatedly to go back that many more days. This was preparation.
“H-Honey… Don’t… At least not Jennifer…” Sujin pleaded, her blindfold soaked in tears. Their daughter had already passed out cold from the shock, and the scent of ammonia was suffocating. This is the solution you came up with?
“Hah, yeah, and this time, it’s going to work,” Jin Woo shot over his shoulder. His wife grimaced, and knew there was no saving him. When he turned back to face her, she flinched. “Don’t worry, honey. I’m doing this for you! For us. We’ll be a happy family!” He beamed, wrapping his arms around her bound torso, squeezing so tight she wheezed. “I love you! I love our daughter. I love life!” He kissed her on the cheek. Laughing elatedly, he shoved a cloth into Sujin’s mouth, gagged his fainted daughter, and walked out the door, locking it behind him.
Where are you going now? The shadows asked, but outside, the sun shone bright. It’s not even time for their death. Jin Woo shook his head and scoffed, rolling his eyes with levity. “Gotta be certain.”
Following three months of murder, Jin Woo was finally satisfied enough to return to his apartment. He skipped and twirled and took his time, because he had eliminated any threat that could possibly come to his wife and daughter. He even gave the shadows a tour of the neighborhood. It was 3 AM when he opened the door to his apartment, and he stood there…