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TOP: The Monster
The smell of burning metal and a big, big mistake permeates through the lonely tower on top of the woods far faster than Jiyong would have liked. He gulps. That’s Hyunsuk’s voice.
“Jiyong! Blast it, you idiot…Jiyong, what’s that smell?”
Quick, hide the evidence.
He dumps his work under a loose wooden plank and heaves the cabinet back over it. Just as he rises and composes himself, Hyunsuk enters demanding, “Jiyong, have you been working on your little experiments again?”
“How many times do I have to tell you?” Hyunsuk exclaims, completely ignoring Jiyong’s little lie, “You are my assistant, here to work for me, in the name of science and exploration! You wish to learn, yes, you may learn all you want once you’ve stopped tinkering with your own little experiments and help me complete my masterpiece! Now taste some humility! Get used to fetching my supplies and mopping my floors!”
Hyunsuk pauses on his tyrant and sniffs the air again. “And get rid of that nasty smell! We begin work again in five.”
Jiyong’s jaw hardens. But he goes with it—hides the years of playing with his metal toys, of marveling over all the intricacies of physics, of breathing life into his sketches and creations, and nods slightly at Hyunsuk’s turned back. “Yes, sir.”
That night, he pouts at the blank, crummy wall by his bed, all curled up and unable to go to sleep. Work, and then you will get what you want. Work, and you will succeed. He groans. Jiyong’d been working since he was twelve and still hasn’t felt like he’s gone anywhere.
Hyunsuk is harsh, but he realizes Jiyong has talent. He is a genius, but he cares not for Jiyong’s mechanical skills. No, his interest lies in work much deeper, much darker, an ambition as old as time, now threatening to reveal itself at the hands of an old scientist and his jumpy assistant.
Jiyong closes his eyes. Work, and then you will get what you want. Work, and you will succeed.
The thunderstorm is tonight.
Jiyong sits at the foot of the monster, exhausted. He has bandaged the last of its body parts, clasped it to the table, readied the great contraption to bring lightning, energy, life to the dead limbs.
He wonders when he became so mad. He wonders when he stopped thinking he was mad. Everything seemed to make sense. Hours of digging graves of anonymous, departed loved ones, sewing parts together, fitting in organs like a puzzle and molding muscle like clay. Hyunsuk wanted more than life, he wanted beautiful life, so they sculpt him like a piece of art. It isn’t madness, it can’t be. It’s too genius.
His toys lie forgotten as he readies the wheel.
“The storm’s coming,” Hyunsuk whispers. His eyes stare to the sky. “Yes, it’s here! Ready Jiyong, at my mark!”
They wait for the roars of the weather to grow louder, and then the first lightning strikes with great ferocity. “NOW! Raise him up! Raise him!”
Jiyong spins furiously. He can feel the buzz of electricity being conducted. Everything rages louder as lightning hits over and over.
“Keep it going!”
Again and again.
“Almost! More! More!”
Over and over and again and a—
As Jiyong lowers the body, he sees the once motionless fingers twitch. “Omo,” He whispers to himself.
The hands reach ominously to tear the bandages of its face. It causes the entire table to creak underneath it from its great strength.
They have created more than a man, they have created a monster, deprived of a natural life and always seeking it, ready to wreak havoc and destruction and destroy those who dare stand in his way, an unnatural beast, a killer of ethics, a—
“Heehee,” it giggles suddenly, looking straight at a shocked Jiyong. “Hi.”
He has hair white as pure shock, perpetually standing straight up from the roots like lightning is its only friend. Mischievous eyebrows and dark eyes. A marvelously clean face and tall body, still clumsily walking along from all the stitches and novelty.
“I can’t figure out why he likes you so much,” Hyunsuk marvels as their creation drums on Jiyong’s arm with a pair of spoons. “Strange that he’s formed such an attachment so quickly.”
Jiyong shrugs off-handedly, though his small smile betrays his efforts at a neutral demeanor. The monster is cute. He’s sucking at the end of his spoon. Awww, now he’s—
“Jiyong, how’d you like to be his caretaker?” Hyunsuk asks suddenly.
“Wha—uh, excuse me?”
“He already trusts you, this’ll work splendidly! Feed him knowledge, how to communicate, how to function like a normal human being, hygienic needs and the like. It will be a scientific miracle, the greatest showcase known to man, artificial life that can function just like you and me…”
Jiyong is only half-listening, and then laughs outright when the monster sticks the spoon up his nose. “Yeah, sure, I’ll do it.”
They name him Seunghyun, after a friend Jiyong used to have back home. The monster resembles him…sort of.
It takes a while to get him to bed and even longer to communicate the concept of sleep. Finally, long after curfew when the entire tower is pitch black, Jiyong sneaks back to his toys.
“Damn it,” He mutters when he realizes his favorite project has pieces missing, “the f*** is that forged eye bolt…” crawling around at candlelight at two in the morning, a favorite pastime, “no…no…where is it…”
The more he searches, the less he is aware of his surroundings. Upon hearing a little grunt at the doorway, Jiyong nearly hollers and jumps out of his skin.
“You scared me!” He snaps angrily.
Seunghyun pouts and hangs his head, looking sad. He doesn’t like getting yelled at.
“It’s alright,” Jiyong says hastily, “but next time say Seunghyun here or something, wave your arms around, I don’t know, stomp a little harder to let me know you’re coming.”
He’s not sure if Seunghyun can understand him. The thought is confirmed when Seunghyun stares, blinks, then wordlessly goes to sit with him.
It unnerves him at first, how silent and motionless Seunghyun is as he watches Jiyong work. At any other time he’d be making a cacophony of odd noises, like a symphony of beats hanging on the tip of his untrained tongue, or just fiddling a little with his hands and feet. But somehow it’s nice to have a companion in the dark. Jiyong finds what he’s looking for and works to fix his contraption. He doesn’t know how, but the longer the night drags on with Jiyong’s tinkering and muttering, the more fascinated Seunghyun is.
When Jiyong finally finishes, Seunghyun makes his first noise. It’s a triumphant humming noise, and he’s pointing straight at Jiyong.
“You like it?” Jiyong asks, holding the toy out. “It’s got four levers. Each lever you press does something different. It transforms the entire structure, and then goes back again to the original form, so you can go back to choosing the four levers. It took a while to work, but…” Jiyong sets it on the ground. “Here, I’ll show you.”
He presses the smallest lever to induce the most elaborate sequence. But instead of watching his machine flip on itself, fold out, every wacky thing he could think of, Jiyong stares at the enraptured look in Seunghyun’s eyes. As long as he could remember, nobody’s ever gazed at his inventions so intently, so awestruck by each shaky step Jiyong mustered to create.
After the entire sequence is complete, Jiyong takes the toy and hands it to Seunghyun. “Here, this is for you,” he smiles.
The monster likes toys.
Being Seunghyun’s mentor turns into a full-time job. Jiyong wonders what kind of defect they’ve instilled in him, for the monster never seems to sleep. He sits at Jiyong’s bedside at the earliest of mornings and waits for him to wake up so they can brush their teeth together and change clothes. He stays with him at the dead of the night, wide-eyed and alert even when Jiyong is about to pass out standing on his own two feet. He enjoys learning nearly everything, especially when Jiyong unintentionally foregoes lectures about greetings and table manners and spends all his time instructing him on mechanics instead.
Before long, Jiyong can call out whatever nut, bolt, or screw he wishes and Seunghyun has it within the second. As if he shares Jiyong’s talent as a natural extension of himself. His knowledge of parts is early and rustic, but Jiyong can see it’s there and it excites him. Now he’s the one with the assistant!
As they work together, Jiyong notices something. Seunghyun is tall, a good two inches over Jiyong, and needs clothes that fit just a tad better than Jiyong’s flimsy tunics and working pants. That’s how Hyunsuk finds Jiyong in his library one day, balancing on two chairs and reaching up to the top shelf.
“Got it!” He cries triumphantly. “I didn’t know you had a book of clothing patterns.”
Hyunsuk snorts, slightly bemused, but adds on his way out, “My sister’s old sewing machine’s in the cellar. Knock yourself out.”
He has a black jacket and a pair of pants down before the week’s end, not too badly crafted and not too many cuts on his fingers. Jiyong adds a band of small, metal containers as great knapsack of sorts, for keeping all of his parts together.
“Here, try it on,” Jiyong says, holding up the gifts for display, “I hope it fi—” and he’s stopped short by a bone-crushing hug, with Seunghyun’s arms squeezing him so tight he wonders if he’ll make it out alive.
“Aw,” He smiles breathlessly, “you’re welcome, buddy.”