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Seven Red Palms

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Maybe it’s because Eunsung is, as her parents put it, troubled, or, as her doctor puts it, depressed, but she’s been to some weird places online. Not just the normal weird, but paranormal weird. The kind of weird she has a hard time bringing up to Park Mooyul after it’s all over, but forces herself to anyways, because she’s never been sure just how much she buys into all that supernatural shit but if there’s even a chance…

“We might be able to bring Yoon Su back to life,” she says.

And Park Mooyul listens to her because he always listens to her. Something she hates about him but can’t help but take advantage of.

They present the tutorial videos to the rest of the group together. Youngjae shudders. “That’s—that’s fake, obviously. I mean, that body doesn’t even look dead.”

Yang Kangmo says, “You do hear some strange stories about necromancy, though. When you investigate.”

“And you’ve investigated?”

Kangmo shrugs. “I’ve researched a lot of things, Plague Jo. You wouldn’t want to hear the half of them.”

“Freak.”

“The process looks simple enough,” Choi Chihoon says. He’s been watching the videos closely, mostly ignoring the others’ bickering. “Yoon Su’s only been dead for a week, though the body was embalmed. Hard to say whether that will be good or bad. It prevents rot, but it adds something unnatural to the mix.”

“Choi Chihoon, are you seriously considering necromancy?” Kang Mireu asks.

Choi Chihoon says, “Yes. Are you? All of us would be needed. The process calls for seven people, after all.”

“Yeah, the necromantic ceremony to raise the dead. The process.” Kang Mireu snorts.

Eunsung says, “We’ve already committed murder for Yoon Su. What are you afraid of now—embarrassment? Scandal?”

Youngjae hisses, “Don’t say that so loud.” He looks around to make sure no one heard.

Lee Jaekyu says, “That wasn’t for Yoon Su in the first place. The bastard had it coming.” Eunsung gives him a look. He adds, “Not that I mind giving this a try. It would be better than the memorial ceremony the school had, anyhow.”

They quarrel a while longer. But ultimately they all agree. It will either be a macabre act of insanity, proving to the world that the kids who survived a serial killer have collectively lost it, or it will be a miracle. Either way, they rise or fall together.

 


 

The cemetery where Yoon Su is buried is not actually that far from the school. Yoon Su’s parents chose not to bury him near home, a decision which makes Park Mooyul frown slightly. He and Youngjae and Lee Jaekyu are the ones who have been chosen to actually dig up the body. The reasoning is simple—Chihoon is still weak from breaking his leg and slight hypothermia, and Kangmo and Eunsung don’t have the muscle for digging. And Kang Mireu is needed back at the school for other purposes.

So: Lee Jaekyu, Park Mooyul, and Jo Youngjae are the ones sneaking into the cemetery in the middle of the night. Youngjae breaks the lock on the gate, and Mooyul holds back a comment on how they probably could have scaled the walls. They’d need to open the gate eventually; they won’t be able to climb holding the body. He just doesn’t like thinking about that.

Even though he’s putting his faith in Eunsung’s belief this will work, the whole thing still feels a little ridiculous. Outrageous.

But he wears his best game face, and so do the others. Though Youngjae flinches at noises in the dark, making Jaekyu ask, “What exactly are you scared of? Ghosts?”

“Shut up.”

“We’re murderers and grave robbers, soon to be necromancers. Anything here should be scared of us.”

They killed their last horror, after all.

Youngjae grimaces. “You’re creepier than Kangmo,” he mutters.

It’s dark. They have to use a flashlight as they check the newest headstones. Finally they find Yoon Su’s. The snow is shallow around the new grave, but they still have to dig for a moment just to clear their way to the ground. Then breaking into the frozen earth is not easy work. By the time they hit the wood of the coffin they’re all sweating and have even taken off their jackets. More than an hour has passed. No nightwatchman has come by, at least. Perhaps this cemetery has none. So they all hope.

The coffin is locked. This time Mooyul is the one to break the lock. Another desecration, but this one even graver. They crack open the box.

The mortician did his best with Yoon Su’s face. The bullet hole looks almost neat, and all the blue paint has been cleaned away. The only real mark of death is the sheen of his skin, the lack of breath. Still, Mooyul shudders. Eunsung’s tutorial said wounds would be healed through the ritual, he reminds himself. He reaches into the coffin and grabs Yoon Su’s shoulders, lifting him out. Jaekyu and Youngjae, who have been gaping, quickly move forward and grab the legs.

They dug with gloves on, so they’re leaving the shovels behind. Bringing back evidence to the school with them is really no good.

The car they hotwired, belonging to one of the teachers, is still waiting at the gate. They place Yoon Su in the back, seated upright as if he were merely sleeping. After a brief, tense discussion, they agree that Jaekyu will sit with him. He’s the least unnerved by the company, or so he claims.

Jaekyu feels responsible for Yoon Su’s death, for all that happened over break. They all know that. It’s not right, of course, but it’s not something that can be settled tonight. They have a ritual to attend.

 


 

Back at the school, Kang Mireu is sitting in the hallway of the boys’ dorm. The hall monitor comes by once every half hour, and Kang Mireu grins and says he’s doing his homework. Actually he has the camera system up and he’s keeping an eye out, making sure no one notices all those students missing from their beds. Some of them off campus entirely. Enough to cause a scandal at Susin.

The fifth time the hall monitor passes, he shuts his computer and puts it in his backpack.

“Where are you going?”

“I need air. Essays getting to me,” he says. With a cheerful wave, he passes by. If there’s something manic about his smile, it’s not like anyone at this damn school is going to mention it.

Actually, he’s received a text.

Eunsung and Chihoon and Kangmo are waiting in a corner of the gym locker rooms. This is where they’ve drawn the symbols the ritual will need. Chihoon has a mathematician’s eye for angles and circles, Kangmo something of an artist’s touch, though he’s more of a photographer than a sketch artist. And Eunsung is the only one who’s watched the videos enough to eyeball it and say whether it looks more or less right.

She’s also the one who left for a while to fetch a couple other ingredients. Candles, mostly. And a knife from the kitchen.

Kang Mireu compliments everyone’s work and sits down, back against a bunch of lockers. Chihoon is looking very businesslike, as unstressed as usual. Kangmo at least seems a little nervous, though he’s already set up a video camera—to post this on the same websites Eunsung found if it works, maybe? And Eunsung looks solemn, but she’s always solemn.

It could almost be a normal day. Even a normal day from before break.

Until the others show up with the body.

“Who knew he’d be so fucking heavy,” Youngjae complains. In the end he’s taken the body to carry by himself, leaving Jaekyu and Mooyul trailing behind him. He practically flings it into the center of the designs made by Kangmo and Chihoon. “Skinny bastard—do you think it’s the formaldehyde?”

“Dead bodies aren’t actually heavier than live ones,” Chihoon remarks. “It’s just because there’s no muscle tension that you think so.” Carefully, he rearranges Yoon Su’s limbs to be a bit neater. “Good job getting him. Shall we start?”

It seems like there should be a little more, well, ceremony to the ceremony, but they could be caught at any minute, and it’s not like there’s some sort of speech for them to give. Eunsung has printed out copies of what one is supposed to say in rituals like these. They light the candles, and each say their own part.

Then the last step. They each slit their palm with the knife fetched by Eunsung, and one by one place their hands on Yoon Su’s body. Blood drips onto pasty skin and formal black clothing.

There is a long moment of silence.

And then Yoon Su sits up with a jolt and a scream.

 


 

It’s kind of messed up, but they have to actually cover Yoon Su’s mouth and force him to be quiet. Using force against the boy they just resurrected—it should feel wrong, but it’s instinctive; if they get caught like this there’s too much to explain. Yoon Su is hyperventilating, though, and who could blame him? The last thing he remembers is shooting himself in the head and now he’s surrounded by his classmates in a circle of eerie candles, and the air smells of blood and smoke.

(They would have set off the fire alarm by now, but Kang Mireu disabled it beforehand.)

“Breathe,” Park Mooyul says. He’s rubbing Yoon Su’s back. “Breathe in on a count of six: One, two, three, four…”

Slowly, slowly, Yoon Su calms down. It might help that Kangmo has taken the opportunity to blow out the candles, though not before giving the camera a last slightly shaken salute.

“Where am I? I should be dead.” Yoon Su stares at them. “Are you guys dead too? Are we all dead? Did the doctor kill us? No—you—I killed myself. Oh my god, he killed all of you.”

He almost starts crying, but Eunsung says, “We’re not dead. You aren’t either.”

“But I shot myself. I…” Yoon Su feels his forehead. The hole is gone, leaving behind a small bump. The tiniest white scar. He’ll inspect it in the mirror later, and his lips will twitch into an uncertain smile. Right now he’s just too shocked to think anything except that surely a gun should do more than that.

“We brought you back to life,” Chihoon says bluntly. “We used necromancy.”

This seems like the sort of thing other people should be convincing Yoon Su not to believe in, rather than the other way around. But none of the others contradict Chihoon. So unless this is some kind of cruel joke, which it very well may be…

They fill him in on the past week in bare bones details. Kim Yohan tried to kill the others one last time, but he ended up falling off a roof. They all survived except Yoon Su. Then they had this idea. The idea to bring him back to life. After all, in a way they were all responsible. (What for, they don’t sufficiently explain.)

…they’d prefer him not to tell anyone it was them who brought him back, though.

“You can pretend you don’t remember how it happened,” Kang Mireu says. “Just bring yourself to a teacher or something and act like you crawled out of the grave. Otherwise we’re probably all going to get arrested. Not that you wouldn’t like to get me kicked out, but at least think of the others.”

Yoon Su huffs.

What the fuck.

Solidly, what the fuck.

In the end, though, he does exactly as they say.

 


 

Yoon Su doesn’t come back to Susin. He goes to a local school in his hometown for the remainder of high school. He sort of pretends Susin was a bad dream, most of the time. He sort of pretends he never believed in the boy in the corner. That Kim Yohan never existed either. That he never shot himself. That he never woke up in a circle of grim-faced teens who brought him life but acted more like grim reapers.

It would be easier to pretend all these things if his family and everyone in town wasn’t spooked whenever they see him, but whatever. He’s going to college soon, and no one will give a shit about his reputation there. At least, that’s what Kang Mireu says in the letters he writes him. Park Mooyul writes that he should take care of his health and only take pills prescribed by his therapist. Choi Chihoon writes that he should probably just listen to Kang Mireu and Park Mooyul, as Choi Chihoon himself is hardly a counselor. Yoon Eunsung and Yang Kangmo and Jo Youngjae don’t write, which is probably for the best. Receiving letters from Susin makes him feel weird, even when they have good sentiments.

Lee Jaekyu’s letters are strange. They’re peppered with apologies, but also with bitter accusations towards Susin. Jaekyu is angry on Yoon Su’s behalf for some reason, even though Yoon Su never asked anyone to be angry for him, just like he never asked anyone to bring him back to life.

It’s a gift he accepts anyways.

He can’t pretend Susin didn’t exist when he reads the letters, but they’re nice letters, so he still reads them. Then he sits in his room and plays the guitar as loud as he can for as long as he can get away with it, which is pretty long some days, his parents beind afraid to approach him. Sometimes, if this isn’t enough to get out of his head, he goes walking in the local cemetery. It’s not the one where he was buried, but it still feels rather domestic. He lies down next to graves and feels both sleepy and alive.

Sometimes he is glad he is alive.

He’s glad to be out of Susin, anyway. Like a bad dream. Maybe the dream was real, but now he’s woken up, and it is all only memory.

 


 

“I know we said we’d never talk about it again,” Kangmo begins.

“Please don’t talk about it, then,” Youngjae groans. He doesn’t even ask which of the list of things they don’t talk about it is. They have accumulated a number.

They’re all at lunch together, an odd habit they’ve acquired. Not that they sit together every day. Just sometimes. When they want to torment themselves with the things they don’t talk about, or when they somehow are drawn together by coincidence or magnetism or the fact that, oddly, they’ve sort of become friends. Sort of.

“…but,” Kangmo continues, “we’re still getting really good views on that video. Actually, there was a bump recently—the site started promoting us as one of the better videos on it. Pretty cool, right?”

“You said you’d take that down,” Mooyul says with a frown. A frown directed at Kang Mireu, actually, who had said that if Kangmo failed to take it down, he’d personally hack the site.

Mireu shrugs.

“Really, really good views,” Kangmo says. “Apparently the video’s of better resolution than most of the others on the site. Also, the supplementary notes Chihoon gave on the design process. People are leaving all kinds of comments. They really appreciate the guidance.”

“Supplementary notes?” Mooyul’s disapproval has a new target.

Chihoon also shrugs.

Eunsung says, “The site helped us. We should help others do the same thing.”

“We can’t help people raise the dead indiscriminately.”

“What was so discriminate about us doing it?”

“I still haven’t watched the video,” Jaekyu says. “Will you send me a link later?”

“Sure.”

“No,” Mooyul says, “you have to take it down. We can’t just leave up a video with our faces in it of us doing an incriminating act…”

“It’s the dark web, everything’s incriminating. Chill.” Kangmo raises his eyebrows.

Chihoon squeezes Mooyul’s shoulder calmingly. “We can discuss it later. But no one seems to suspect us, anyway. We haven’t even been questioned, and it’s been months. So there’s no need to worry.”

Mooyul sighs, but he does calm down. Though he eats his bagel huffily.

Jaekyu really will get that link later. It’s been months, and he still hasn’t seen it. Well, at first he didn’t really want to, but now he kind of does. He wants to see the evidence of what they did—the resurrection. He hopes someday he’ll dream of it rather than of murder. Maybe if he can remember that they can save as well as kill, he’ll feel clean again. Not that that was what it was about. But. It would be nice.

Anyways he should at least get to appreciate the footage, given that he ruined a good shirt with bloodstains from his own dripping palm. Given that he now has a scar on his palm, too, along with the couple scars he acquired over break. Mooyul’s really being a curmudgeon.

Jaekyu will definitely get that link.

Mireu says, “We’ll take it down when we have to, okay? It’ll be fine.” He’s lying and they all know it. But he’s smiling. Jaekyu smiles too.

The bell has rung before Mooyul can convince any of them to do anything. They all hurry off to their separate classes, seven parts of a sort of a cult or a coven or whatever the fuck they are, split apart again until some other cause should call them together.