It should have been obvious. The moment Taemin had handed Jinki that roll of won, it should have been obvious. Taemin had never really adhered to society. And neither did Jinki, which is why they got along at all. Nevermind Taemin was a little creepy. It didn't bother Jinki much.
Even so, Jinki should have sniffed out the lie in Taemin's words when he'd said 'mom's cooking' as his explanation. Mrs Lee didn't cook.
It was a wonder that he never made the connection, even after learning that Taemin would be in charge of this year's Haunted House party on Halloween. He even helped Taemin set up, putting up streamers made of plastic pumpkins and black balloons with skulls on them, lining the edges of the ceiling. Sheets with eye holes cut with safety scissors as makeshift ghosts hung up on tack-fastened hooks.
During this, and every other spell of time where Taemin and Jinki were alone together, he would complain about how the adults were all full of bullshit, lying to the kids faces about Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. That they didn't have no morals, teaching the kids that lying wasn't a problem. Their hearts black as shit from being broken by one generation before. About how every kid was going to grow up gullible and plain stupid, just like their god forsaken parents.
He said if you threw any one of those kids out in the woods, they'd pull out a tooth and sleep on it, hoping to get a pay off from the Tooth Fairy to catch a cab back home.
"Then they'd get eaten by wolves," he said. Jinki never thought it was very funny, but he laughed in an offhanded sort of way, pretending it was a joke as much as he knew it wasn't.
Taemin didn't mean it as a joke, even if the adults played it off as one. A disgusting sixteen year old prank for which Jinki had been an accomplice. Taemin's explanation for it had been 'I just wanted to give the kids something real', and they didn't have anything to say to that. In a way, they all knew he was right. They were all liars.
Jinki had heard about how these Haunted Houses went. He figured they chose Taemin to man the last station because he was the closest thing you could come to the boogieman. Taemin was supposed to blind fold the children and then dip their hands in jello. Say it was brains. Give them a couple of stuffed green olives in a thickened corn starch mixture and say it was eyeballs. Real eyeballs plucked straight out of a head. Most of the kids believed him, squishing the olives till they busted open and making ew-faces under their blind folds.
When Choi Minhee came out screaming her little lungs out, no one, not even her brother Minho, gave her a second glance. Her mummy bandages came loose at the feet, her soles exposed and treading slippery onto the grass. Behind her was a trail of red. Food colouring, from the corn starch mixture. Bright, candy red.
She cried, and Jinki felt bad. He gave her head a little squeeze and asked what was wrong. Minho looked on, not quite bothered enough to get up and console his distraught sister. That was the problem with this town. Half the people here didn't give a shit.
"L-Lee Taemin. He put a real, live h-heart on my hands," she sobbed, arms stained red up to her mummy elbows. She scrubbed her eye, smearing the red all over her partially wrapped face. It was then, when the thick, vile smell of rotting offal reached Jinki's nose from under little Minhee's fingernails that he realised. He looked at the corn starch carefully for the first time and saw that most of it was so old it was almost black. Real, caked up old blood from a cow or a goat, all over Minhee's face.
He figured he should've gone with his instincts. Bought himself something nice with the money instead of listen to Taemin and buy that pound of cow guts from the butcher. He could have saved them all a lot of mess.
Jinki rushed into the tentage, pitch dark and reeking of rotting meat, the floor of it slippery with blood and ooze, squinting just enough to see Taemin plunge a kids arm elbow-deep into a bowl full of brains the colour of pulpy cardboard. Taemin had this face on, like he was bringing these kids a real childhood. No regret. None whatsoever.
Beside Jinki's feet was the big cows heart, Minhee's small hand print still impressed into the muscle.