We finally have the results out!
To see all the amazing fan arts as well as the answers Koogi wrote to the most commonly asked questions, click here!
“Do you like men?”
The question hung in the air like motes of dust captured in the light streaming from the ceiling of an old attic, swirling lazily, the only thing that moved in the silence.
The faintest taste of sour milk stuck to Seungbae’s tongue from his last sip of coffee. Yoon Bum looked no larger than a doll with the way that he shrunk into himself in his seat. The ice in his untouched drink shifted uneasily.
“No,” Seungbae heard himself answer. He watched as Bum’s eyebrows drew together in bitter disappointment, though there were no tears. He drew a steadying breath through his nose and sighed, defeated.
Weeks and months between them had led up to this moment, both of them piecing their futures together in the wake of the trial that had put Oh Sangwoo behind bars. Seungbae had been settling comfortably into his new place of respect within the police force after he had brought the relentless serial killer to justice. Bum had been hard at work recovering from the trauma he had suffered not only at the hands of Sangwoo but also his uncle, his military cohort, and society. Seungbae had watched him fight tooth and nail for the happiness he deserved, and he couldn’t help the swelling of pride that he felt to see him work through the agony. Perhaps for the first time in his life, Bum had his head above water instead of being battered by the waves.
“…But I do like you,” Seungbae said. Admitting it felt as natural as breathing, though he had to grip the warm ceramic of his cup to keep his fingers from trembling. Bum’s chin jerked up, his black eyes flicking over Seungbae’s face, searching for any sign of cruelty.
“Really?” Bum asked. “You—you know what I’m saying, don’t you? The ‘like’ I’m talking about—”
Seungbae swallowed the feeling of sorrow he felt at the knowledge that Bum was so used to pain that he was suspicious of joy. He nodded his head and took a sip of his coffee to cure his sudden case of dry mouth. Had he ever been this nervous with a woman?
“I know what you meant,” he answered. He set his cup back down in its saucer. “And I feel the same way.” He folded his arms against the edge of the table as if to say, ‘So what are we going to do about it?’
Bum’s cheeks went pink as he allowed himself to smile tentatively, his fingers creeping up against his chin until they had settled over his mouth. Only once his mouth was hidden did he let himself beam, detectable only by the gleeful squint of his eyes.
That had been weeks ago. Their courting was touch-and-go between Seungbae’s duties as a police officer and Bum’s multitude of required evaluations, check-ups, and appointments. It took Seungbae a while to tune in to Bum’s particular frequency and he thanked every deity he knew of that he had taken that psychology course back in university. Meeting Bum’s needs was not an easy task but Bum worked hard, too—under the effects of a cocktail of heavy medication and months of therapy, he had seen great improvement in controlling his impulses and understanding other people’s feelings and expectations. Seungbae had learned how to handle the occasional barrage of texts from Bum asking if Seungbae was mad at him, and Bum had made progress in learning how to cope with long hours of his own company.
“I don’t really know how to do this,” Seungbae admitted from where he knelt between Bum’s spread knees. His fingers stroked along the insides of Bum’s skinny thighs, wondering what he would look like with more meat on him. Was he eating enough? Maybe Seungbae should cook for him more…
“We need lube,” Bum said. His black hair was fanned out on the pillow, an ink stain on white cloth. In the dim light, his eyes looked like pools of dark water, lights from passing cars beneath Seungbae’s bedroom window occasionally gliding across their sleek surfaces. It was the sort of romantic thing that Seungbae tried to put out of his mind for the sake of staying realistic. He tried not to imagine ornamental fish swimming beneath the surface of Yoon Bum’s eyes.
“Uh, right.” When was the last time Seungbae had needed lube? His girlfriends had usually been the ones to have it on-hand. He leaned over the edge of the bed to check his side drawer despite knowing that there was none there. “Sorry. Just a minute.”
Seungbae climbed off the bed and headed for his wardrobe, pulling out one of the little bottom drawers and rifling through the assortment of junk beneath a pile of long-unworn sweaters. The string of tiny lube packets he produced were about two years expired but better than nothing and certainly better than a long walk to the convenience store in the middle of the night.
“Here,” Seungbae said as he turned back to his boyfriend—rarely called as much but definitely true. His breath caught in his throat as he watched Bum’s fingers circled around his own cock, stroking slowly, drawing his foreskin up over the pink tip and down again in one fluid motion. Seungbae inhaled shakily as he approached, the mattress dipping as he drew one knee up onto it. Lube momentarily forgotten, he ducked his head to kiss Yoon Bum’s chapped mouth and was surprised anew by the ferocity with which Bum responded.
A groan rumbled up from Seungbae’s chest as Yoon Bum’s teeth captured his lower lip, sucking until Seungbae could feel the familiar throb of swelling. He drew back, prompting Bum to moan with disappointment and reach for him, blunt nails scraping along his biceps. Seungbae’s lips grazed his forehead in an attempt to placate him as he pushed the chain of lube packets into Bum’s hand.
“Will these work?” he asked. Bum craned his neck back to look at them, squinting through the darkness.
“No, it’s lubricant,” Seungbae said. “They’re in little individual packets…”
Bum held one of the packets between thumb and forefinger and squeezed the bubble of liquid beneath the foil wrapper, considering it. He counted down the strand of six packets and nodded.
“It should be enough,” he said.
“Enough?” Seungbae prompted but Bum was already tearing one of the packets open and spreading it out on his fingers.
“It’s a little… sticky,” Bum mumbled as he pinched his fingertips together. Sticky or not, he brought his slick fingers down between his thighs, slipping one with seemingly little effort into his ass. Seungbae swallowed and settled back on his knees, watching.
“Sorry,” he said.
“We can get some new stuff, later,” Bum murmured. He used his free hand to hold another packet steady as he tried to tear it open with his teeth. Seungbae pushed his hand lightly away to take over, peeling the foil open and squeezing its contents onto Bum’s busy fingers.
“Right,” Seungbae agreed. He sat as a quiet observer as Bum stretched himself open, working quickly through the meager amount of lube. Seungbae tried to imagine what it felt like—despite a lifetime of opportunity, he had never put his fingers up his own ass.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” he asked, his eyes flicking from Bum’s fingers to his eyes. Bum gave him a sweet smile and shook his head a little.
“Not really,” he said. “I’ve, um, done this a lot. It feels good, I— I like doing it.”
Seungbae mouthed a silent “oh” and drew his gaze down to the perky cock standing up between Yoon Bum’s legs. He reached out and wrapped his hand around Bum’s cock, stroking him firmly and steadily, the way he knew he enjoyed. It wasn’t their first clumsy fumble in the dark, though there was still plenty to explore.
“I think I’ll like Seungbae’s cock more,” Bum sighed, a content smile playing on his lips. He laughed lightly as Seungbae squared his shoulders in embarrassment, lifting one of his legs to settle around Seungbae’s hips. Seungbae closed his hand gently around Bum’s ankle, pausing as he heard his breath hitch, before sliding his touch up along the shape of Bum’s calve and thigh, then down again. He could feel lumps of misshapen bone underneath and smothered the spark of rage it ignited in his chest.
“Alright?” he whispered. There had been a few moments in the past that had smoldered just on the boundary of sex but had been quickly cooled by echoes of Bum’s time in captivity. This time Bum nodded and his free hand glided along Seungbae’s shoulder, reaching up to touch his face.
“Yes,” he answered, as soft as the whisper of the sheets rustling beneath them as they moved. His fingers caught the arm of Seungbae’s glasses and began to pull them from his face.
“Hey,” Seungbae protested, “I need those to see you.”
“I think you’ll be okay just… feeling me,” Bum said. He set the glasses down on the bedside table.
Seungbae couldn’t argue with that.
“I’m ready for you now,” Bum said once he had wiped his fingers clean of the excess lube with a handful of tissues. He drew Seungbae closer with his hands on his shoulders, leaning up, lips parted for a kiss. Seungbae happily obliged, kissing him with all of the warmth he needed. He kept himself balanced over top of Bum with one elbow on the mattress while his free hand moved to take hold of himself, pressing the tip to Yoon Bum’s hole. Bum tore free from the kiss with a harsh intake of breath between his teeth; his neck arched back against the pillow and toes curled as Seungbae pressed in, the steady burn of entry drawn out by the slow tilt of Seungbae’s hips.
“Oh,” Seungbae groaned as he settled fully inside him. Yoon Bum was tighter and hotter than any girl he had ever been with. He wasn’t sure how long he would last like this…
Bum’s harsh breathing skimmed his cheek as Seungbae lowered himself down on top of him, his elbows on either side of Bum’s head the only thing keeping him from crushing his frail ribcage. Bum’s hands scrambled for purchase on Seungbae’s shoulders, digging into the space between his shoulder blades. In return, Seungbae nosed against the space beneath one of Bum’s prominent ears and kissed him warmly beneath the jaw.
“Seungbae, I want you to fuck me,” Bum whimpered. His legs wrapped around Seungbae’s hips, holding onto him as if he were afraid that he would lose him if he let go. He rolled his hips slowly, drawing Seungbae’s cock out the slightest bit, then back in again. “Ah—m-move your hips, just like that…”
For once in his life, Seungbae was happy to follow instructions. He drew himself out halfway before thrusting in slowly, relishing in the way that Yoon Bum’s body drew him in each time. Without his glasses, Bum’s face was a monochrome smear on the pillow, eyes no longer made up of standing water but galaxies, and the sheen of passing lights became a billion stars—constellations of black koi swimming through space forever.
Seungbae buried his face in Bum’s bony shoulder and felt his arms close lovingly around his head and thin fingers twine into his short hair. If there was a time for being hopelessly romantic, he thought, it was now.
The sounds of their mingling breaths and their bodies moving together filled the empty spaces life had left in both of them; cotton in bullet holes, but it stopped the bleeding all the same, even if only for the moment.
“You feel so good inside me,” Bum panted as his head lolled on the pillow, eyelids fluttering, kiss-swollen mouth agape. “I wanted this—hah—so much…”
Seungbae pulled away from sucking a neat little mark on Bum’s collar with a wet pop. “I love you,” he said, as calmly and as easily as if he were stating an undeniable fact. In truth, he was.
Bum’s hips jerked, sheathing Seungbae’s cock to the base, and he hissed obscenity as the force of his head being thrown back forced the pillow out from under him. Bum’s hand reached between them for his cock and pumped it rigorously for only a moment, coming between their chests as his body jerked and jumped in pleasure beneath Seungbae’s weight.
“Fuck—are you okay?” Seungbae asked breathlessly, one hand slipping to cup Bum’s cheek. Bum was boneless beneath him, panting as if he had been running from something determined to eat him. He ducked his chin in a wordless nod and tilted his face into Seungbae’s touch.
“Love you, Seungbae, love you so much,” he cooed, drawing Seungbae’s thumb into his spit-slick mouth, nearly delirious with pleasure. Seungbae shuddered as Bum’s tongue swirled over the pad of his thumb; he knew that mouth and what it could do, he had been there only moments before Bum had suggested that they do what they hadn’t before.
Seungbae’s breath grew more ragged by the moment as he gazed down at his lover, watching as he struggled to reconstruct himself under the force of pleasure, and within moments he felt himself coming. He grunted as his teeth sank into his lower lip, feeling heat flare against his face, and suddenly it was over. He rolled off just in time to avoid squishing Yoon Bum and the pair of them rested on their backs, looking up at the darkened ceiling as they caught their breath.
“You came inside me,” Bum said softly, sounding near sleep.
“Do you want a bath?” Seungbae yawned, already hoisting himself up onto his elbows.
Bum shook his head and rolled onto his favored side, cuddling into Seungbae’s pillows. “No, I’m keeping it.”
“That’s gross,” Seungbae said, though it lacked bite. He rolled to face Bum’s back and reached up to settle his palm along the center of Bum’s jutting spine. He could feel each breath as it rattled through Bum’s lungs, drawing in and pushing out like ocean tides. Steadily the waves slowed, a storm surge turning to calm waters as Yoon Bum slipped into dreams. Seungbae let those waters flow over him until he, too, was asleep.
Disclaimer: This fanfic contains child abuse, neglect, non-explicit sexual abuse, physical abuse, implied incest, brief mentions of rape, physical abuse, and verbal abuse between adults.
Yoon Bum does not remember his parents. In his adult years he thinks of them only when he sees young women bearing the hands of men who look like their fathers around them or teenage girls with sweaters and jackets that are too large for their frame, hiding the shape of their stomach that other men might seek with sweat beading on their foreheads. Bum wonders passively about his mom, the dropout, who left him with her parents for a long-term boyfriend twice her age, knowledge he acquired only by his lifelong propensity to nosiness.
Through the laundry room door, left ajar to keep the stink of mildew out, Bum curled up on his mattress and heard his grandparents speak of reckless impulses, unhealthy dependence, and how irresponsible it was to leave such a young kid behind.
Bum’s grandmother walks him to his first days of primary school in slow, plodding steps. Her back, bowed like a hook, bobs painfully. Bum sees her wince, take back her hand, and wring her palms together to distract herself. Bum, empty-handed, hides his fists in his pockets. His teachers frown at his wrinkled shirt and weathered shoes as he enters the gates. He keeps his mouth sealed, fearing his words will form too much weight and make his grandmother snap in half.
He asked to go to school on his own. The neighborhood wasn’t the safest. Bum faked embarrassment and a newfound desire for independence, then fussed outside when his grandmother hobbled after him.
Luckily he lived next door to a high school boy who passed by Bum’s school during his morning walk to school.
His name was Seung-hyun. He had warm, downturned eyes, thickly framed glasses, hair that was more brown than black, and a smile that made Bum’s heart go alight. He talked to Bum without him having to speak up and wait for his attention. He helped Bum with his homework and reassured him when he waited at the gates smarting over another teacher scolding him for his silence. And he didn’t call him an orphan boy like his classmates.
Seung-hyun sometimes came with friends from school, and Bum marveled at them with hope and jealousy and resentment, but he always walked Bum to his street alone. And he always brought him to his apartment before he went next door, back to his grandparents. Seung-hyun’s parents worked late into the night, so for the first time in his life Bum had someone’s complete, uninterrupted attention in those hazy, slow afternoons.
He was Bum’s first love.
And if Bum had to touch that thing between his legs to keep Seung-hyun from being disappointed – never angry, Seung-hyun never yelled or raised a hand at him, not even once – then it was a part of love. Bum drowned in love, day after day, felt delirious in it, spent long hours in class with his legs pressed together tight remembering the feeling of being swathed in love, cut open and injected with love. Seung-hyun told him that he was all he could think about all day too.
Bum had to stand on stacks of his books to reach the detergent compartment of the laundry machine, but he learned how to use it. His grandpa clapped a hand over his shoulder and said that he was finally making himself useful. Bum’s hands go red and dry when he folds the clothes right out of the dryer, but his grandpa doesn’t slap him as much and his grandma has one less thing to burden her, so he doesn’t mind. When the stains in his underwear wouldn’t get out, he’d hide them under his mattress.
A few years later Seung-hyun told him he was going off to university. Bum cried. Begged him to stay. Pleaded for him to at least come back and visit. Seung-hyun rubbed his back and kindly told him he wished he could because it’s so easy to love Bum as he is now.
It made no sense. Bum watched his car drive off with tears blurring his vision. He didn’t understand. He couldn’t understand.
In the years between high school and university, Bum saw Seung-hyun again. He was on the train and saw a glimpse of warm, downturned eyes and felt his insides go alight. Flashes of the police station and cuffs around his wrists flashed through his head. They were overwhelmed with memories of afternoons giggling on a bed, milk sticking like film on the roof of his mouth, addition and subtraction sheets placed carefully on a side table, and Seung-hyun caging him in with his arms and legs, making a home around Bum’s childish frame.
Bum felt his entire body shiver when he saw him again, but he had to make sure. He looked for him the way he wished he could when he was a child. The adult Seung-hyun had short hair and wire framed glasses. He lived in a small apartment. He walked his dog, an elderly Jindo, before and after his office job and then at night. He didn’t bring people over his place, and Bum didn’t see him with companions after work. He didn’t smile too often either.
Bum still ached for him all over again.
He didn’t bother with breaking into his apartment. Seung-hyun knows him, and besides, he loved him—loves him—will love him. Bum took a chance on a spring morning right when Seung-hyun was leaving to go to work, because he was looking at his phone, grinning faintly, and Bum wanted to be looked at like that, wanted to be engulfed in love again.
He looked up, lips parting for a second. Startled? No, surprised. Recognition did not make his eyes go soft for him and Bum’s heart throbbed deep inside his bony chest.
“…It’s Yoon Bum.”
Seung-hyun’s eyes flickered beneath his glasses. He looked Bum up and down and took his glasses off, fetching a handkerchief from his suit pocket. He wiped his glasses. “Bum.” He wiped his forehead. His glasses came back on. “I didn’t recognize you.” He scratched at his temple. Bum remembered sitting on his lap and straining to reach that space beside his forehead. “…You’re all grown up, now.”
He looked at Bum and gave a smile, a tin smile, a hollow smile. His eyes were cold. He had a hand in his pocket, fiddling with the keys he put there after he locked his front door. He didn’t fill the silence between them. Bum stared with sunken eyes, dug hollow without the immediate, undivided love granted to him as a child.
And Bum understood.
He can’t really help but sound bitter when he finishes his story to Sangwoo. His cheeks are flushed. Sangwoo tells him he looks cute when he’s drunk, so Bum never refuses the drinks he offers. He’d say it happens a few times a week, based on the days back when time folded into nights of his lonely rutting into a mattress. He fell asleep when they got home from the afterparty, Sangwoo’s touch halting on his throbbing legs. In the morning Sangwoo tried again, but Bum, head thickly sore, mouth fuzzy, hadn’t yet steeled himself for this inevitable part. His fear won out and he smattered out a plea for Sangwoo to stop and then cried, said he was scared. Sangwoo pulled away from him like his skin burned. He stomped on the floor, eyes feverish, clutched at his hair, and left the room. Bum sat up, holding his breath, and a long moment later Sangwoo barreled back—
He told this story to his university therapist, back when he used to see her. It was nice to talk about it with someone until she started sticking her words and interpretations onto it. He doesn’t know if Seung-hyun ever thinks about him now. What he does know is that Seung-hyun loved him. It was impossible when he left him there on the sidewalk, old and ruined, reeking of his uncle’s touch, but he did love him back when he could.
When Bum was new.
He looks back at Sangwoo. He knows he’s smiling. Maybe he shouldn’t be. But it’s so much easier to be close to Sangwoo when he has alcohol in his system.
Sangwoo is on his side, propped up on one elbow, looking down at his prone form on the blankets expressionlessly. Bum wants to pull his lower lip between his teeth. Bum wants to rip his eyes out under his thumb nails. Sangwoo asked him about his first love in the first place. Bum only told him because Sangwoo questioned his devotion as he started touching him and then called him a slut. Sex is the only time Bum does not expect to be hit or insulted. He feels caged in those moments, owned and secure in a way he’s usually too drunk to feel ashamed about in the moment.
Bum wonders now if he has doomed himself. Perhaps Sangwoo had assumed he was an enthusiastic virgin. He teased Bum about it before.
He’s glad he’s drunk. He keeps his smile but braces so slightly for a blow, like he has learned.
“Does he still live there?”
Bum blinked blearily at Sangwoo, mouth ajar. Sangwoo told him once he’d catch flies like that, but he’s too exhausted to really follow his suggestions, and his mind isn’t really here right now.
“That guy,” Sangwoo says, leaning in, likely mistaking his hesitance for confusion. “You know, I can kill him for you if you’d like.”
The image of Seung-hyun in that basement, bleeding like a goat at the slaughter like that man (husband, father) makes his stomach churn. Bum can’t stop his lips from wobbling. Noting the twitch in Sangwoo’s cheek, he whispers, “…Why?” Sangwoo does not move to answer, and Bum, sweating, continues, “He didn’t do anything. And it was so long ago—”
“He ignored you,” Sangwoo says, slowly, so much like the teachers who thought he ought to be in special education talked to him. His uncle said it plainly once, he’s a freak, not a retard, but it never stopped no matter how old Bum got. “He looked at you and said—”
He doesn’t mean to interrupt. Bum realizes his mistake just when his eyes squeeze shut, pinched and creased like the rest of his face, locked around a short, shaky whine, and he ducks his head to the side, the wall, willing Sangwoo to hit him instead of reminding Bum that he can’t be wanted anymore.
Sangwoo sighs. He lays down on his back and hooks an arm around Bum, handling him so that Bum is on his chest, face nestled fearfully at his collarbone. He strokes his thumb up and down the knots of Bum’s protruding spine, rubbing lightly at the ones along the back of his neck. He’s humming a song Bum has heard the notes of through his blaring headphones but does not know the lyrics or name to.
After a long moment he says, voice low with the tone of his rhetorical, dangerous questions but with more reflection, less venom, “You know…when I was a kid? My mom and I tried not to talk when my dad was home. But when it was just me and my mom?”
He falls to silence. His palm is huge on the outline of Bum’s tailbone. Sangwoo shifts, slotting Bum’s legs around one of his own and easing his head in closer, pressing a warm kiss to Bum’s temple and keeping him there, setting Bum’s heart alight.
“She always told me how much she loved me,” he says, throat rumbling against Bum. “And then,” with a broad, warm, distant smile that brushes Bum’s cheek and makes him shiver, “she would show me.”
There is monster that stalks Seoul
Seducer of women & taker of hearts;
Beautiful & perverse
Hey batter, batter
Whose daddy was a wife beater
Have you seen my daughter?
A question answered with a question:
“Have you seen my son?”
Too, do I hear a mother
Her soul wails for her child
For he is trapped in a dungeon
No one will aid
Or the hunter on the trail
O bespectacled hunter!
Safety to you!
He bound by his own chains of determination
Fuel the lust for vindication!
May glory return to him
Granting karma onto the beast
Will not be easy
But we plead you give
The dead our revenge
I don’t know how long I’ve been with him. It seems like years, but it’s only been a few months, I think. A few months. A few months since I slept in my own bed. A few months since I browsed the internet, or did something as simple as retrieving my own mail. A few months since I went anywhere unsupervised. Back then, I was worried about the bills piling up and the rent going unpaid. Now I would do anything to get back there. But I know that even if I managed to escape, Sangwoo would know where to find me. I can never go back, not really.
We drive around aimlessly. Sangwoo doesn’t tell me where we are going. Maybe he doesn’t know. I spend most of the drive staring at my lap or at my shoes. After a while, I look up and suddenly recognize something. The street is familiar; I know these houses.
Sangwoo notices me staring out the window. “What?” he says. I shake my head. No, I don’t know where we are. My mind is playing tricks on me. But that’s when I see it. Another place I called home. My breath catches in my throat. He knows something is wrong, and slowly stops the car. I look straight ahead, but my eyes wander to the upstairs windows. The lights are on. A figure steps in front of the bedroom window. I hold my breath, unable to take my eyes off of him. He stays there for a moment, and then lowers the blinds. I exhale shakily and turn my head to find Sangwoo staring at me.
“You know this place,” he says, his eyebrows swiveling up in concern. “Don’t you?” I vehemently shake my head no. He eyes me, cocking his head. “Keep lying if you want to piss me off.” He leans forward. “I’m gonna ask you again: Bum, what is this place?”
“I lived here for a while.” I stare down at my lap, gripping my pantlegs. He’s waiting for me to go on. “My uncle lives there.”
“The one who…?” I nod and he nods back. He knows my situation, though we never really spoke about it. “You know what you need to do?” he asks, smiling warmly. I look up at him expectantly. “You need to confront him. Get everyone’s feelings out in the open, y’know?”
“Sangwoo, let’s just go home,” I say, grasping his coat. “I don’t want to be here. Let’s go home.”
“C’mon, don’t be such a pussy. It’ll be…what’s that word? Oh, yeah, cathartic. It’ll be a real cathartic experience. I think for everyone.” He grins, then puts the car back into gear.
We’re leaving. I smile, relieved. “We’re going home, then?”
“No,” he says. My face falls. “Let’s get something to eat and find a place to wait.”
“What?” I’m confused. “Why?”
“We need to wait until he’s sleeping.” He says it like it’s obvious. Then he glances at me. “Don’t get it?” He pats my head. “He’ll be easier to reason with if he’s sleepy.” Reason? I am afraid of what Sangwoo means by that.
We find a restaurant that’s open all night, and eat. I don’t have much of an appetite, but he forces me, even feeding me bites from his own utensils. People stare at us. I feel embarrassed and I try not to look at them. But even when I can’t see them, I can feel their eyes on me. I wonder if Sangwoo notices. If he does, then it only seems to make him more affectionate. He puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me closer until we connect. Sometimes he is like this when we go out…as if he’s protecting me or something. As it gets later and later, we are left alone. It’s nearly one o’clock in the morning before we leave. When we arrive at the house, Sangwoo parks the car and turns off the engine. I flinch as he reaches across me. But he is only going for the glove compartment. He pulls a large knife out and as it passes in front of me, I see my own reflection.
“You might need this,” he says. I hold it, my eyes wide. What would I need this for? “For protection,” he continues with a nod.
We exit the car and walk to the front door. The door is unlocked. I remember that my uncle often forgot to lock up, especially when he came home drunk. Suddenly I can’t move. Sangwoo gives me a push, but I grip the door frame, digging my fingernails in. I drop the knife. I hear Sangwoo sigh as he bends to pick it up. “I’ll hold onto it.” He reaches into his back pocket. “But take this. It’s more your size anyway.” I take the paring knife and carefully place it in my coat pocket. I tell myself I won’t need it.
The whole world is quiet. All I can hear is the throbbing of my own heart, pounding in my ears. My hands are covered in blood. One of them holds a knife. An ordinary kitchen knife. What have I done?
“So, how was it?” Sangwoo says. “Your first kill?” But this isn’t the first time. The man with the wife and daughter—that was my first kill. Sangwoo says that didn’t count. I wasn’t holding the knife, I wasn’t in control. But this time…
I’m shaking. I don’t answer. All I can do is stare at the heap of flesh and fabric on the floor. What have I done? Sangwoo uses his foot to turn the body onto its back. The head lolls to the side and two eyes stare at me, wide open, lifeless. “What have I done?” This time I say it out loud.
Sanwoo leans over my should and his lips brush against my ear as he says, “You just killed your uncle.”
Did I? I remember entering the house. It hasn’t changed much. My uncle keeps the house clean. I remember walking to the bedroom. Up the stairs, to the left. Sangwoo follows me. I don’t say anything, he doesn’t either. It’s very late now, the middle of the night. I stop at the bedroom door and my hand trembles as I reach for the knob. What did we come here to do? To talk? To give me closure to a part of my life I wish I could forget? Or something else? I feel the knife, burning white hot in my pocket.
“You haven’t forgotten what he did to you. Was it here? This room?”
I squeeze my eyes shut for a few seconds as my memories flood my mind. Dirty sheets, cheap condoms, the smell of lube and cigarette smoke. I swallow and turn the doorknob. The door swings open slowly. My uncle is asleep in the bed. I clutch the knife in my sweaty hand. Just in case. Sangwoo urges me, but my feet won’t move. I don’t want to move. He pushes me forward, and I stumble towards the bed. I’m standing over him now, knife in hand. Just in case. My heart is racing now. I hesitate, and turn to glance back at Sangwoo, who simply nods, smiling. When I turn back, my uncle’s eyes are open.
“Bum?” He is surprised, but his surprise quickly turns to rage. “What the fuck are you doing here?! You skip out on the rent for months and now you have the balls to show up in the middle of the night?!” He’s out of the bed now, looming over me. I remember him hitting me and forcing himself on me, even when I said no.
He is shouting at me. I don’t even hear him. All I hear is my heart pounding in my ears as I back away. He sees the knife. He challenges me, grabbing my coat and shoving me. I flinch as his hand connects with my face, but I don’t feel anything because I’m too afraid. He hits me again and again, and the knife slips out of my fingers as I fall to the floor. I’m panicking. Where is Sangwoo? He was here! Has he abandoned me?!
I scramble to get to my feet. What am I doing? Why am I here? Something else, I remember. Something else. I push myself up and manage to grab the knife. My uncle reaches down and pulls me up by my shirt. I can smell alcohol on his breath. He forces his arm against my throat, but it’s too late. The blade is inside him now. In his gut, just like the man with the wife and daughter. I pull the blade out and stab him again, and again, pushing it in as far as I can. He holds onto me as blood starts to spill to the floor. He grips my arms and my shirt until he can’t anymore. With a final cough, he slides to the floor, hitting his head with a sickening thud.
My face is splattered with blood and it drips down my cheeks like tears. I stand there, gaping at him for a long time, and then I feel something wet on my hands.
“Did I?” I breathe, responding to Sangwoo. He runs his fingers over the nape of my neck, making me shiver. But I am still horrified.
Sangwoo stares at my uncle too, with a bemused expression on his face. “So, this is the guy that fucked you up, huh?” I look away. I don’t want to talk about this—I don’t want to talk about anything.
I’m terrified. I’m…a murderer. I killed my uncle in cold blood. I look down at my trembling hands. The blood is beginning to dry now.
Sangwoo steps beside me and gently pries the knife out of my hands. “You won’t need this anymore.” He stands over my uncle, cocking his head. “All right,” he says, squatting next to the body. “Let’s get rid of this fucker. We can’t let the blood stain the floor.” He turns to me. “I know you’re a weakling, but let’s see if you can help me get him to the bathtub.” I bite my lip. I don’t know what to do. He sighs. “You get his feet.”
We heave him off the ground. Sangwoo does most of the work and he curses a lot. I struggle to hold up my end of the body and, by the time we reach the bathroom, I’m sweating. We deposit him in the bathtub. Then Sangwoo makes me help undress him. The clothes will just get in the way.
Sangwoo looks at me, frowning. “We should clean you up. There’s still some blood on your face.” I touch my brow and feel something sticky. I had forgotten. He gently wipes my face clean with a damp washcloth. His touch is comforting. “There.” He smirks at me. “Good as new.” Then he turns back to the body, furrowing his brow. “Is this why you’re skin and bones?” He looks back and forth between me and my uncle. “Didn’t this asshole ever feed you?”
“I…didn’t spend a lot of time with him,” I say hesitantly, wringing my hands. There is still blood on them. It bothers me.
“Right,” Sangwoo says, tilting his head to look at me. “Just nights. And even then he was just in and out.” His eyes bore into mine. He knows what my uncle has done. Why does he keep bringing it up? Just to hurt me? I look away, ashamed, feeling violated all over again.
“Well, he won’t be sticking his dick inside anyone else,” Sangwoo says, smiling. “You just did his next victim a favor, Bum.” I turn back to him; my lip is quivering a little. “So don’t look so sad. I hate to see you sad.” Sangwoo is so kind, and his smile is so warm that I almost feel okay. But the feeling only lasts a moment. He pulls the larger knife out of his back pocket. “I prefer to do this at home,” he says casually. “Then I have all my tools. But this was a kind of spur of the moment thing,” he says with a grin.
I watch him as he presses the knife into the body. Blood flows into the tub, thick and red, circling the drain. I start to back away, but he reaches back and grabs my arm, yanking me back. “You need to see this.”
“No,” I say, trying to pull my arm free. “Let me go, please!”
Sangwoo stands, still holding onto my wrist, the knife in his other hand. I flinch, afraid he will turn it on me next. Blood has already soaked his sleeves and splattered his front. “I should make you do this,” he says coldly.
I shake my head. “Oh, no, please—S-Sangwoo, please don’t make me! I’ll do anything, but this—this is too much!” I clutch at his shirt. I beg him and plead with him. Finally his face softens. He touches my face with his bloodstained hands and wipes the tears from my cheek.
“Okay, Bum,” he says. “You clean up the mess in the other room.”
I fall to my knees, relieved. “Thank you, Sangwoo,” I say, hugging his legs. He puts up with it for a little while, but eventually he starts kicking his feet, and I let go.
I smile and cry again because I am go grateful. I know where to go. There is a small linen closet in the hallway. I pull out some towels and carry them to the bedroom. The chemicals are in the bathroom; I retrieve those next. There is a large bloodstain near the bed, but that is the only evidence of the crime. We were careful. I kneel on the floor and begin. We are both quiet as we work. Occasionally I hear a thud or splash from the bathroom. I try not to think about what is going on, about what has happened. Focusing on cleaning helps. Scrubbing back and forth, back and forth. The rhythm is hypnotic. My mind cannot wander, because if it does, I will lose control. Cleaning. I’m just cleaning up someone else’s mess.
That is what I keep telling myself. I say it over and over, like a mantra. Someone else’s mess. Not mine. The more I repeat it, the more real it seems. I believe it. The mess is nearly cleaned up now. I use more chemicals. I scrub harder. The blood is disappearing. It’s gone. I sigh, relieved.
“See? Wasn’t that cathartic?”
(Takes place after Bum tried to poison Sangwoo)
He traced a single finger along the edge of the kitchen sink. Cool and smooth.
That same sneaking pain had returned. A pressured ache, centred on Bum’s forehead. He wasn’t annoyed, though. In fact he sympathised with the pain. It was the way it pressed insistently against the inside of his skull; they both wanted to get out.
A tightness pulled at his chest. Did he want out?
Days came and went without regard. Time blurred on forever. However it had not gone unnoticed that as time progressed, Bum’s desperation to escape had burnt out, reduced to a dull flame. Now it was a distant whimsical fantasy, rather than an active goal.
Bum was aware of his changing mindset, and equally as aware that it should be of concern. But it was so much easier to instead let the numbing contentment bring comfort.
That song came on the radio. Again. And in doing so it represented how this day was going to be like every other spent in this house.
‘Strumming my pain with his fingers. Singing my life with his words.’
Bum reached for the last plate that needed washing. Then paused.
He cautiously glanced behind himself, looking down the empty hallway leading to the front door; the single exit. Aside from the radio, all was silent.
Bum felt saliva begin to build at the back of his throat, followed instantly by a feeling of intense nausea.
Turning back to the sink, he interrupted the quiet room in the most vulgar of ways. He didn’t have a whole lot of stomach content to sacrifice, but nonetheless was left panting and hunched over as clear liquid dribbled from his slack mouth.
A hot flush conquered his face, sprouting beads of sweat, and the song continued to play in the background.
The second time he vomited was more violent, shaking his small frame. His stomach muscles ached from the abrupt clenching.
He slumped down heavily, allowing the edge of the sink to support him.
Outside, the world continued on without him. There was only a single person who knew Bum was trapped in this house, and that was the same person responsible for this imprisonment.
“Is Sangwoo still in the basement…?” Bum mumbled weakly to himself, a habit he had formed after hours spent on his own. “I should be able to get out now…” he continued as he again glanced back toward the door.
His breathing worsened. He was all too aware of how clammy his body had become, slick with sweat. Was this the consequence of the rat poison? Or had his constant state of fear finally reached breaking point? Probably a combination of both.
Next the strength drained from his body, leaving his arms unresponsive and trembling. He wobbled uneasily on his chair as panic pricked at his mind.
‘If…I take this chance…’ he thought to himself. A bead of sweat rolled down his cheek and dripped from his chin. His train of thought was lost, as he stared with wide eyes of dismay at the door. The door was tilting, and the room spun around him, circling its prey.
His head fell back at an extreme angle. It strained his throat and made it increasingly difficult to breath.
On the outside he appeared perfectly motionless as he slouched in his assigned seat. However on the inside, his heart thumped away like it would explode, wreaking havoc against his ribs.
The two perfect black moons that were his eyes stared up at the ceiling, unseeing.
Without resistance, he let the panic wash over him. Each wave was more intense than the last. His body went so limp that the pain didn’t even register when he smacked against the floor.
Bum wasn’t positive if he had lost consciousness or not, but certain he had taken a break from piloting his body.
He didn’t recall crying, however his cheek was damp where is rested against the floor. He didn’t have the energy to bring his eyes back into focus.
‘Killing me softly with his song. Killing me softly–’
That song. He could still hear it playing, but not on the radio. This time it was playing distantly in his mind. He moved his lips along silently with the music.
He entered a state of trance. His placement on the floor was the only evidence there had been any panic.
“I give you a chair. Yet you prefer the ground. Like a piece of trash.”
Bum’s mind snapped to attention. His eyes darted to the source of that familiar voice, but made no move to sit up. Sangwoo. His words were harsh but his voice remained unsettlingly calm.
“What were you thinking about just now?” Sangwoo asked with an expression Bum couldn’t place, making too much eye contact like he always did.
“I…” he started, feeling dizzy from the way Sangwoo was watching him with undivided attention. Bum’s gaze moved to Sangwoo’s lips, and his mind was flooded with the memories of their kiss. Could that…maybe…happen again, if he spoke the same words as last time?
“I…feel good.” An unnatural yet unforced smile pulled slightly at the corner of Bum’s mouth.
“You are so fucking weird.”
In an instant the hope left Bum’s face, and was replaced by the disappointment of rejection.
Sangwoo moved away, and Bum subconsciously moved with him, unwisely wanting to maintain the closeness. This didn’t go unnoticed by Sangwoo, who smiled in judgement.
“It goes without saying that you’re a perverted freak, but just to what degree, I wonder?” Sangwoo grabbed one of Bum’s scrawny scarred wrists in a death grip. “I’m curious,” he continued as he abruptly yanked Bum from the floor, “are you crazy enough for some action that you would stand on your own two feet for it?”
He held the smaller male at a height which forced him to stand, but made it so that he was supporting his own weight.
Bum inhaled sharply from the shock of the pain. He felt his bandaged ankles throb so hard it was as though they had their own heartbeat.
Bum gritted his teeth in agony as tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. “It hurts!” he whimpered out, ashamed of how pathetic his own voice sounded.
Sangwoo smirked cruelly as he released Bum’s wrist from his hold, enjoying the thud that sounded when he connected with the floor. The wounded noise it earnt from Bum was a bonus.
“Well I suppose if you feel good then its fine for you to go back to the basement now, right?” Sangwoo smiled with false warmth, sending a cold shiver down Bum’s spine.
Bum knew this wasn’t to be mistaken for an actual question. He knew all too well his answer wouldn’t be valued or considered. So he frowned but otherwise kept quiet as he was lifted and cradled in strong arms.
A new sense of despair and sadness twisted in his gut as he was carried down the stairs, and chained to the pole which confined him to the darkness.
He was so tired of feeling scared and helpless. He lived constantly on edge, just waiting to make his next mistake.
He was left in the basement now to his own company. He spent his time staring aimlessly at the all-consuming blackness. He didn’t blink. Didn’t reason.
Some time passed.
And then he found himself smiling.
He had always imagined that when someone slips into insanity, it is a gradual process that can be felt. But now here he was, unfortunate enough to experience the truth of that false reality. It was much more sudden, like the flick of a switch.
His smiled pulled back into a sinister grin, and he was torn between the need to laugh or sob.
It felt good. He welcomed this new perception, because with this detachment from reality came an abundance of reckless confidence. He recognised this as the opportunity that it was; he could make something new of himself…he take a new approach.
And this time it would be so much more than mere acting to survive.
The single factor that made Sangwoo so terrifying was his unpredictability. Bum knew this. But two could play at that game. Begging and obeying had gotten him nowhere, so if he couldn’t beat Sangwoo, he may as well join him, so the saying goes.
All of the new possible scenarios began playing in his mind like films. With the feeling of anticipation rather than fear he salivated behind chattering teeth. Maybe one day he won’t want to leave at all.
He could see the images so vividly. Sangwoo would come to him with a thirst for blood, but this time would be different. This time Bum would insist that he wanted to do it himself. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d cut himself after all. Sangwoo would probably insist on giving instructions, but that would be fine.
He imagined the words he would use, muttering them to himself in his delusional practice- “Give me the knife…I want to do it this time…” and then when Sangwoo would demand to know why, he would answer “Because…there is a difference between you punishing me and punishing myself.”
In all honesty, Bum didn’t even know what was implied by that response, but thought it sounded good anyway. It didn’t have to make sense. That’s what would make the game so fun.
Next he envisioned how he would slice open his leg. Unflinching. In a curved line, so that he could peel back the skin and be fascinated by what he saw beneath. It would bleed and ooze, staining everything it touched. The lifted skin would flap uselessly. The smell of blood and sinew would taint the damp air.
But it wouldn’t hurt. No. Because he would be too busy relishing the experience to feel pain.
And the look on Sangwoo’s face. Yes. A little drool escaped the corner of Bum’s lip at the thought.
“I win. I win…” he muttered repeatedly, growing breathless.
And then he heard the basement door open.
It wasn’t in his mind, either. This was it.
He focused on the base on the stairs, his system overcome with excitement. This was it. He could hear footsteps. This was it!
His eyes turned feral and his sneer promised something dark. Sangwoo didn’t realise it yet, but from now, the two of them were equals in this twisted and nameless game.
But Sangwoo never reached the base of the stairs.
There was a distant scream.
Bum frantically searched for the source of the sound, his confusion escalating.
With the second shriek for help Bum woke with a start.
He panted and sweated like a hunted animal, and within seconds he recognised that he was no longer in the darkness of the basement. He was in Sangwoo’s bed. There was a little green bucket placed beside him.
The desperate scream was heard once more before it was muffled into silence. Bum shivered with the realisation it had come from the basement. Panic swelled in his core, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last time.
‘All of that…was just…a dream…?’
He almost refused to believe it. His sense of reality had become so warped. For a long moment he forgot how to breathe.
He wanted to cry. He wanted to curl up and not exist. Because he knew he wasn’t that person who his distorted mind had conjured up. He wasn’t now, and never would be. He was mourning the loss of something that was never even his.
The immense disappointment and despair drained him of anything worth living for. He wouldn’t do those things…wouldn’t act that way…he couldn’t. The harsh reality was that he was weak.
However his time for self-pity was scarce, because right now Sangwoo was standing over him.
Sangwoo looked more ominous than ever, but his words betrayed his appearance.
“So you’re awake…Do you feel better now?”
“Yes…” Bum answered timidly, still shaken from his dream, and unable to determine the current atmosphere. He had no way to predict the things that would follow this conversation, and the uncertainty was physically agonizing.
Bum moved to sit up in testament to his answer.
“No, no. Stay there. You’re still sick,” Sangwoo insisted. A gentle hand on Bum’s chest urged him to continue resting.
Blood dripped down onto Bum’s striped top. And at that moment he wished more than anything he was the fearless persona from his nightmare. But he wasn’t. So he held his breath and prayed Sangwoo was in a generous mood.
Bum didn’t know it yet, but was coming next would be the highlight of his captivity so far.