Author's Note: Wow, it's been a while. ^_^; "After-Hours: A Ghost Story" is pretty much that: a simple little traditional-in-a-contemporary-way story. It takes place in a Korean school, where the students sometimes take turns staying after to help clean up; they're their own janitors. And if you've ever been in a Korean school, you might understand what an unfavorable position that could be: Korean schools are scary after-hours.
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Tok, tok, tok, tok: the sound of brand-new shoes against the hardwood floor. Sang-Mi looked to the door that led out to the hall, her arm frozen in mid-motion. Dirty water ran down the board in uneven rivulets to form murky, oblong puddles on the chalk tray. Tok, tok, tok, tok. A shadow moved past the rippled glass of the window set beside the door. Sang-Mi dropped the water-laden rag to the floor with a wet splatt, wiping her hand dry on her skirt, and walked to the doorway to peer outside.
No one else should have been in this wing. The students in charge of emptying the waste paper bins had already gone home, and Eun-Sook and Ju-Hyung should still be on the other side of school, scrubbing the empty pool clean before they filled it next week. It was Sang-Mi's turn today to stay after school to clean the chalkboards; her assigned partner had bailed out on her as soon as their teacher had left, but she didn't mind. She wasn't afraid of being alone in the empty building the way some students were.
Tok, tok, tok, tok. Sang-Mi opened the door and poked her head into the corridor. Only a few lights had been left on, darkness spreading like ink between the few golden circles that lit the floor. Outside, the sun was just starting to set, the birds beginning to quiet. Sang-Mi could hear sirens somewhere up the street, faint in the distance, and small dogs yapping from the houses near the school. A taller girl, maybe a year or two ahead of Sang-Mi, was walking away from her down the hall, a tiny pink cell phone dangling by its strap from her wrist. Her hair ran down her back in one of those simple, elegant ponytails that the older girls liked to wear.
"Excuse me," Sang-Mi said, but the girl didn't stop. She coughed and tried again, louder: "Excuse me!"
The girl turned around, looking surprised to see Sang-Mi there. "Oh, hello."
"I don't think you're supposed to be here." The light flickered above her. For a moment it seemed there was something wrong with the girl's face... blood was smeared across the entire left side of it. Then the light snapped back on and there was no trace of the blood Sang-Mi thought she'd seen, leaving the skin smooth and unmarred. Sang-Mi blinked, shook her head, and continued, "School closed an hour ago; I'm just here with the clean-up crew."
"I know, I'm sorry," the girl said, looking embarrassed. "But I forgot my books. I came back to get them... the door was unlocked." Sang-Mi raised an eyebrow. Again the flicker, again a change, but this time it was her arm, hanging at an awkward angle at her elbow, crimson blossoming on her sleeve, her school uniform shredded down the left side. And back again.
"That's strange." The sirens had grown louder. "I thought I'd locked it." Lights flashed--red-blue-red-blue--in the corner of Sang-Mi's eye. She was surprised when they didn't speed past the way she'd expected them too, but stopped suddenly, the sirens cut short. She crossed the hall to look out the open window.
A small ambulance was stalling in the street just outside the school's parking lot, on the opposite side of the road from a white Hyundae with its driver's-side door left open. Sang-Mi recognized her history teacher sitting on the curb, his fingers woven through his hair, staring blankly out into space. He glanced up at the ambulance's arrival and stood quickly, hurrying toward the paramedics that had jumped out. Then he stopped in his tracks and looked down at something on the street.
Sang-Mi followed his gaze to the crumpled form lying on its side a few feet from the front of the car. It was a girl wearing a long ponytail and her school's uniform. A dark stain had formed on the asphalt around her. In the dying light of the setting sun and the revolving flashes of red and blue, Sang-Mi could just barely make out a gleam of pink plastic on the ground beside the dead girl's hand.
Then a voice spoke into her ear, angry and hurt and confused. "I was talking to my boyfriend. I didn't even hear the car. It isn't fair!" Sang-Mi jumped and whirled around, but found herself alone in the empty hallway.
Tok, tok, tok, tok; the sound of brand-new shoes against the hardwood floor continued moving down the hall, a broken sob rising from the shadows.
Sang-Mi walked slowly back into the classroom, picked her cleaning rag up from the floor, and wiped off the rest of the chalkboard with smooth, steady sweeps of her arm. It had to be clean for the after-school class. She finished quickly and draped the rag on the rim of her water bucket, picked up the bucket by its handle, and turned to leave.
"Hold on, Sang-Mi," Mrs. Kim said from the corner of the room, her cracked spectacles flashing in the darkness. She turned to face the rest of the room, something thicker than blood oozing down the side of her face from the caved-in part at the top of her head. "I think Sang-Mi deserves some congratulations for her careful work and dedication to her duties. I've never seen a cleaner chalkboard! Class, what do you think?"
There was a smattering of applause from the occupied seats. Kwang-Su, whose arm had been ripped from his body in machine shop a decade past, pounded his fist against his desk instead, and Ji-Young stuck her pinkies in her mouth to whistle piercingly, her grin almost as wide as the slashmark a hard-clay knife had made across her throat six years ago.
Sang-Mi smiled and bowed to the class. "Thank you. I try very hard to help keep our school looking its best. I have good news for you all: you will be receiving a new student. She just died tonight. I'm sure she'll be here very soon; she just had to go get her books."
"You need chaos within, to give birth to a dancing star."
-- Friedrich Nietsche