Run | 3 |
“Who are you?”
The boy smirked. “Now isn’t that the million-dollar question.”
Placing the lollipop in between his teeth he looked away from Areum and offered me a hand. I stared.
He tilted his head. “Aren’t you going to take it?”
His eyes are so striking.
When I didn’t respond, those same beautiful irises rolled and he grabbed me by the arm, pulling me up. I cringed as a bolt of fire pierced my wrist, and pulled back instinctively. His eyes narrowed.
Did they just change color –
His right arm swung up and there was a loud crashing sound. The entire hallway jumped and I clapped my hands over my ears. The lollipop had fallen out of his mouth and to the ground, where it now laid shattered in crystal pieces. Without warning Areum found herself backed up against the lockers, an angry fist embedding itself into the metal just beside her head. Already there was a dent.
His eyes were near scarlet. Lowering his mouth next to Areum’s ear he snarled in a voice low enough that only the three of us could hear.
“If the damage to her wrist can’t be fixed, I’ll fix you.” His words were laced with pure venom.
Areum let out something resembling a squeak.
The boy stood back up and turned to me. His whole being was so arresting, and my breath hitched in my throat as the corners of his mouth hinted at a devil’s smile. He walked over and I couldn’t move.
The students whispered as he slid an arm around my waist and pulled me close. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost. I was dazed. I was stunned.
I hiccupped. He chuckled.
Leaning down just like how he had done to Areum, he murmured in my ear. “Let’s go, love.”
And we walked away from the dumbstruck crowd.
⚜️ × ⚜️ ×
“Kim . . . Taehyung?”
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” he sang.
I watched him test his weight on the bottom railing of the school fence. We were on the other side of the school compound, near the soccer field.
“W – what are you doing?”
He looked back. “What does it look like? I’m taking you out of this hellhole. And you can say your thanks over a bowl of japchae.”
He grabbed the upper part of the gate, muscles in his arm tensing. I took a step back, incredulous.
“Are you kidding me? I – I’m not playing truant!”
“Oh come on. We’ll be back before your teacher even notices.”
“Get down from there!” I hissed. “Someone is going to see you!”
“Don’t be a party pooper, Miss Silver Rain.” His breathing wasn’t even the slightest bit affected as he climbed.
Panic seeped in as my eyes darted around. If a teacher caught us . . . “I’m not doing this with you! I can’t! I – I don’t know how!”
He stopped moving. Turning back to look at me I could see disbelief clouding his eyes. Black eyes.
“You don’t know how to play truant?”
“I’ve . . . I’ve never had the occasion to try. But that doesn’t mean I want an occasion!” I hastily added on.
His landing was light as he jumped off from the fence. Walking towards me, he looked almost like an angel with the afternoon light swathing over his back. An angel with really purple hair.
“Today’s the occasion then. Besides, I’m sure you have questions.”
Aren’t I right, love?
I jumped. I wasn’t used to that yet.
I stuttered as he drew near. “Can’t I ask you questions here? I mean . . . our canteen has some really good seaweed noodles. If you closed your eyes and tried hard I’m sure they’ll taste just like japchae.”
“Get over here.”
“I don’t even know you! You’re a stranger!” I almost shrieked, jumpy as he continued to close the distance.
He stopped directly in front of me. “All the more reason for us to go out then.”
I swallowed. This boy dented metal with his fist and could speak right in my head. So it was with much trepidation that I blurted out a “No.”
Instead of turning angry he actually looked amused. “No?”
“No,” I repeated.
“You sure? I’d much rather prefer that you go willingly.”
What was he implying? That he would use force? I looked him over. He had an athlete’s figure that was for sure, but he was also not that much taller than me – 2 inches max. We were almost on the same eye level. He couldn’t force me to do anything physically. I would scream. I would kick up a fuss. And I wasn’t model-thin and easy to toss around.
I breathed deeply, squeezing out every last drop of courage I had. “You can’t make me do anything I don’t want to do.”
His eyes glittered. “I can speak in your head, love. I think I can make a decent attempt.”
I let out a strangled eep! His eyes softened just a little.
“Why do you want to stay? You don’t even like it here. So why not leave?”
Why? Why indeed? “Because – “ I stopped.
Why? Why? Why –
“Because . . . I have nowhere else to go,” I finished.
His hand came up, palm open.
“Well now you do.”
⚜️ × ⚜️ ×
I was starving.
He chuckled. “Slow down,” he said as I practically inhaled the bowl of japchae.
The glass noodles burned my tongue and I gasped, flapping a hand against my mouth. Taehyung slid a glass of water in front of me and I gulped it down.
“You don’t listen well, do you?”
I mumbled something incoherent and swallowed. We were in an unassuming open-air café, where the people were few and the food delicious. Antique fans twirled overhead as we sat on rickety wooden chairs and ate off cracked wooden tables. Old photos in antediluvian frames hung on the faded walls. I didn’t quite understand how this place was still standing; from what I saw customers were rare and far in between, and the owner either had no budget to spruce up his business or simply didn’t care.
Taehyung ate a lot.
I’d watched open-mouthed as he rattled off dishes without even looking at the menu. There was nearly no space for elbows. In front of me was the scallion-infused pajeon, and the cute little rolled kimbap near his left shoulder, dipped in soy sauce; on my right was steamed mandu packed to the brim with ground meat and vegetables, and of course there was the japchae . . . plus a platter of tteokbokki and sweet red bean cakes, warm and custardy.
His eyes were lighter now, almost brown. They fascinated me the most, his eyes. More than his purple hair. More than why he was here and how he could do all the things he just did.
Not even looking up from his last piece of mandu he said, “I could snap a selfie if you want. Make it easier it for you to look at when I’m not around.”
I flushed, ducking my head.
Plate empty saved for some crumbs, he sipped from his glass. “So. What do you want to know?”
It was probably a stupid question, but I asked it anyway. “Who are you?”
“I told you. Kim Taehyung. Or you can call me V.”
“I don’t mean your name. You – you do things that aren’t right.”
“You mean skipping school?” His eyes twinkled with mischief.
“I don’t – ” I was flustered. “You know that’s not what I mean! You . . . how did you do that” – I emphasized the word with my index finger – “and why did you help me?”
“Isn’t it normal to help someone who’s in trouble? And I have no idea what that ” – he imitated my gesture mockingly – “means.”
“You know perfectly well what I mean!”
He shook his head cheerily, popping the ‘p’. “Nope. Pray tell.”
What was I doing? How many times had my mother told me never to get into a stranger’s car, or take the offer of unknown candy? And though we might have arrived here in a bus and what he had given was japchae, it was undoubtedly the same thing.
The chair pushed backward with a loud screech against the hardwood floor. My fingers clenched the hem of my school skirt until the knuckles were white.
“I – I need to go. It’s been half an hour and Mr Jackson would have noticed by now.”
Taehyung stood up, slow. He looked a little thrown by my abruptness. “Don’t you want to ask more?”
My breathing was ragged like I’d run a hundred miles. “Yes. Yes I do.” I swallowed.
“Can you leave me alone?”
And with that I turned around and fled.
I was off the pavement and in the middle of road before the café door had even closed fully. What was I thinking? Why the hell would I want to know more? He could be a murderer. A kidnapper. A criminal. And I had followed him out of school. I had broken my perfect attendance record just because of his pretty eyes and his well-timed intervention. Besides, wasn’t he the whole reason why I knocked into Areum in the first place?
I ran and ran, thinking only of the bus stop. I ran, and it was if his eyes bored into my back; they were probably scarlet now. I ran, and it was as if I could hear him breathing behind me. I ran, and suddenly found myself in a dingy alley. I ran and was halfway down it before realizing it probably wasn’t a good idea.
My steps slowed. All around me were cracked window panes, crumpled beer cans and torn cardboard boxes. There was no one in sight but I could hear the whispers, and feel both the looks and the malice contained within.
“Now what on earth is a pretty miss like you doing here?”
I whirled around, wishing I had my bag or something to defend myself with. I hadn’t even taken my purse when I left school. For a moment my feelings flickered to guilt as I thought of Taehyung having to pay for the food himself. But then again he had been the one who ordered everything.
The man who spoke was short and stumpy, the beginnings of a paunch showing over his faded leather belt. He struck a cigarette and I coughed as the smell of smoke drifted near. He raised an eye.
“Privileged kid, huh? Delicate nose unaccustomed to the sweet bitterness of smoke.”
“It’s not healthy,” I heard myself saying.
“Well you can help with that. Give me some money and perhaps I’ll go out and buy myself one of them organic health products.”
I shrank a little at the sneer in his tone. Around me there was the shuffling of footsteps, and I saw wide starving eyes peeking out of thin curtains. The homeless and the poor hung near the doorways, looking between me and the man, their voices faint croaks.
“Give us some money, miss.”
“Yes please. My poor baby hasn’t eaten in three days, and I five.”
“Help us, miss!”
“Some alms for the poor, please!”
They converged around me like ants drawn to sugar.
“I – I would love to, but I don’t have any money on me . . .” I stumbled backwards.
“Give us something at least! Anything!”
The man hadn’t moved at all. He took a second puff. Lazily he drawled, “Take her school uniform. We can sell that.”
My eyes widened as grubby hands reached out. There was no point even trying to tell them “no”, hunger had blinded them and driven them half insane. I ran in the opposite direction, only to find out that the alley ended in a wall. Fear engulfed me as I watched them advanced, an army of living zombies.
I screamed, the sound bouncing off the brick walls. I screamed and screamed for someone to help but they were upon me now, skeleton fingers frantic and desperate. I lashed out with all my strength, legs kicking and hands pushing, the first of many many tears rolling down my cheeks. There was a distinct sound of my left sleeve ripping. I was trapped. I was terrified. I panicked.
“1000 won!” someone howled.
The world froze as all eyes whipped around to look at the woman. She held the money in her hands, the paper trembling under her ravenous gaze. But I swore, I hadn’t brought any along –
Something blue landed on the hair of the homeless man before me. Then its twin fluttered down my nose. For a second I thought it was drizzling, but this rain was pale blue and . . . rectangular?
“Money! It’s raining money!”
The crowd sank to their knees as 1000 won bills poured from the sky, slowly at first, and then in a deluge. I scrambled up as I watched them screech and fight among themselves, knees scraping the ground as they picked up the blue-coloured currency. Hands slapped others away, voices raised into cacophony, and the alley dissolved into chaos. The man with the cigarette watched stupefied, before he too began shoving his way through. I heard his loud voice bellowing for order even as he himself greedily took everything he could.
Now would be a good time to run.
I felt my heart rise and drop in my chest all at the same time. Again he had rescued me and again I was in his debt, but though I was grateful this meant that he had found me, and I didn’t want –
But this wasn’t Taehyung.
Run, little girl.
No. This wasn’t Taehyung.
I have no wish to see you naked. The voice grew more persistent. Run.
My head whipped around, looking. And I saw him, the guy on the roof. Looking down on the alleyway and its money-strewn floor, looking down at me. With the sun in the sky and behind his back all I could see was his dark silhouette.
I jumped as the voice filled the entirety of my head, booming and resonating. Senses knocked back into place, I tore my gaze away from my saviour.
And I ran.
© Emrys Parker