The Mystery of Peonhan@Sesang*



Last week I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to the most terrifying, bloodcurdling scream I’ve ever heard in real life. It lasted a good while because initially it seemed to be part of my dream and when jolted from sleep, I thought maybe I’d screamed myself awake. But then, somewhere down the hall from me, a woman continued to scream and shriek while pounding with both fists on door after door of the first floor of my tiny, echoey building.

Then there were a bunch of voices and she was silenced. Within about five minutes all the commotion had ended. I lay awake in the dark, my heart racing, paralyzed and bewildered by what I’d just heard, and thinking that I should probably be hearing police sirens any minute now.

I mean, have y’all ever heard someone scream like they are about to be chopped to pieces with an axe? Not in a dumb movie or on tv. I mean in reality, in the middle of the night in a foreign country where you don’t even know how you would call the police without checking on the internet first? Dudes, it is upsetting let me just say.

Anyway, so I got over it. I told my coteacher about it a couple of days later over lunch and she was appropriately baffled and concerned, but obviously there was nothing to “do” about it. It would remain a mystery. A creepy ass Korean mystery.

Until this weekend, when at approximately 4:00 in the morning, I was ripped out of another pleasant, benadryl-induced sleep by another horrendous, bone-chilling scream coming from no more than 100 feet away from me. This time, I wasn’t as shocked by it as the first and so I had more wits about me to try to listen to WHATEVER THE FUCK was going on in my hallway AGAIN.

The scream and the shrieking was shorter this time around. There was no pounding, and immediately there were other voices there to comfort the owner of the scream. I could also hear shuffling and doors opening on the second floor, my floor, so like a good neighbor, I got up to take a look out the peep hole and see what answers I could find. This time I was certain there would be police.


The only person visible was the ancient, hunchbacked ajumma that lives at the other end of the corridor, the one who, during my first five minutes in my new place, let herself in, had a look at the room, a look at me, and then hobbled off. Nowadays I see her pacing the halls for exercises multiple times a day and, I imagine, collecting every tiny last details about the people living in this building. I suspect she could answer quite a few of my questions about this entire episode, if only I could magically speak Korean.

Anyway, the person was crying very loudly now and sobbing “Mommy” in Korean. For the first time, it occurred to me that perhaps this was a child that was having night terrors or some other god-awful sleep problem. I took comfort in this because if it was not a child, then it was an adult woman screaming like that. And the reasons for an adult woman to scream like that are likely to be worse than a child’s nightmare (I’m thinking domestic abuse, rape, or something else equally repulsive). So I kept listening because this time it wasn’t stopping. The crying went on for a good ten minutes and I could hear men talking and another female voice trying to soothe crier.

Soon the conflict had moved from its original spot somewhere in the hallway, to somewhere else that I could hear extremely well from the direction of my bathroom. This confounded me because it suggested that these people were either in the bathroom of the apartment above me (it didn’t sound like they were originally on the third floor), or below the bathroom window, outside, where it was only about 20 degrees.

Then the crying got angrier. Like, really pissed off. And the word “Mommy” disappeared and a lot of curse-sounding angry-lady Korean took its place. It no longer seemed to be a child. It had been a good 15 minutes from the original scream at this point I was starting to get irritated. I’d ridden the roller coaster from startled to scared to concerned to curious to confused to annoyed and I’d finally reached pissed off.

Another few minutes of angry wailing passed and curiousity go the best of me. I wasn’t going to be able to fall back asleep until the crying went away, so I decided to investigate where the source actually was.

This meant maneuvering my big kitchen chair into my bathroom between the sink and the wall, where I could stand on it and see out the bathroom window (I guess that’s how it feels to be as short as Erin). Seeing out the bathroom window also required opening the bathroom window, and the moment I did, the crying stopped.


Why would you cry here?

I peered out into the super darkness and huddled in the corner, next to the plants at the back of the carport area were two figures. I could see their breath, but it was too dark to determine their size, age or gender. They whispered to each other as a I peeked out for a few seconds. I gave up pretty quickly because it was just too dark. But it seems that at the sound of my window opening and closing, they became aware that they were disturbing the entire goddamn neighborhood and were quiet after that.

In addition to the annoying fact that I will never know what in the crazy hell was going on, is the fact that all of this was happening a so freakin close to me and so loudly that if it had been in English, I would’ve had absolutely no trouble deciphering everything. It will all remain a mystery and there’s nothing I can do about it. Until it happens again in a few days I suppose.

* Yes there’s an @ ‘at sign’ in the name of my building. Weird huh?

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