(i promised that i would love you forever.)
sunggyu/woohyun | pg-13 | part 1 of 2
|sunggyu finds the house by chance, really. he and myungsu are trampling leaves in a forest looking for who knows what, and they stumble across it by accident. white clapboard, yellow trim, paint peeling from the walls. it looks like a set for one of the horror films that dongwoo’s so fond of lately, the ones that give sunggyu nightmares. it’s haunting, like only abandoned buildings can be. sunggyu shivers.|
“did you know this was here?” myungsu asks.
“no,” sunggyu says.
“should we go in?” myungsu likes adventure. usually, sunggyu does too.
“what if it’s haunted?”
“come on, hyung,” myungsu says. he’s already halfway up the walk, head tilted back so he can get a look at the third-floor windows. the glass is broken out. behind the sharp fragments, sunggyu can see curtains. it’s unnerving, how normal it all seems. “you don’t really believe in ghosts, right?”
(incidentally, sunggyu kind of does. has ever since he was a child and he was woken up in the middle of the night to hear his grandmother singing him a lullaby, only to be informed the next morning that his grandmother had passed away during the night).
“do i believe in ghosts.” famous last words, sunggyu thinks, and follows.
the house is locked, but the bolt is rusted and gives easily enough when myungsu leans his shoulder against the frame. “isn’t this breaking and entering?” sunggyu asks, delicately brushing dust off of his sleeve from where he’s made contact with a wall. the dust must be an inch thick. sunggyu tries very studiously not to think about the potential for structural instabilities. “if we get arrested, myungsu-yah, i swear...”
“if you didn’t know this place was here, i don’t think anybody else will, either,” myungsu says. he looks excited. most of the time (now included), sunggyu wishes that this sort of thing wasn’t such a rush for him. “let’s look around, hyung. you go upstairs and i’ll look down here.”
the stairs hold (thank god), but the upstairs is just as empty as the downstairs. sunggyu nudges a couple of doors open, looks at broken mirrors and porcelain fragments from where the toilets were removed. in one room, there’s a small plastic box on the floor, a name written on the top in hangeul so scrawled sunggyu can’t even make it out. the problem, he thinks, with places like these is that they seem like anachronisms. even uninhabited for years, there’s a feeling like they moved out only yesterday.
sunggyu crouches and runs a finger along the lid of the box. it’s probably empty, he thinks. probably something that got left behind when the last inhabitants left, but that’s kind of sad, isn’t it? anything left behind always is. sunggyu thinks about the owner of this box and whether or not they realized it was gone, thinks about how sad they must have been. this house feels sad.
the hair on the back of his neck prickles. from where he’s kneeling on the floor of the room, looking at the box, sunggyu sees someone shift out of the corner of his eye.
“holy fuck,” he swears, and then claps a hand over his mouth. “i mean. myungsu? don’t scare me like that.”
from the hallway: silence. sunggyu’s heart thuds in his ears.
“myungsu?” he says again, straightening up and sticking his head out into the hallway. it’s empty, except for a few dust bunnies and bits of plaster scattered on the floor. remnants. “this isn’t funny anymore, myungsu.”
“hyung?” myungsu’s voice seems very far away. “hyung, are you talking to me?”
“where are you?”
“down here.” myungsu takes a few steps up the stairs, looking through the railing at sunggyu. “did you find anything cool? downstairs is kind of a bust.”
“not really,” sunggyu says. “just some leftover junk from whoever lived here last.”
myungsu looks disappointed. “what a bust, i was really hoping this would be cool. are you gonna come down?”
“sure, i just wanna check one more thing,” sunggyu says, and myungsu nods and disappears back down the stairs. slowly, halfway expecting something awful, sunggyu takes a step or two back into the room he’d left. the box is still there, the room is still empty, but the air is heavy (or maybe that’s just sunggyu’s trepidation). it’s very still. even the dust motes visible in the pale sunlight from the window seem to be moving in slow motion.
“hey,” sunggyu says. “sorry about, you know, coming into your territory. we were just curious.”
nothing responds. of course nothing responds, sunggyu thinks. he shakes his head at himself and takes the stairs two at a time to meet myungsu at the door.
but three days later he’s back.
it’s strange, but sunggyu hasn’t stopped thinking about the house, about the box, about that feeling of stillness and silence that had been soaked into the very molecules of the air inside. he’d even gone to the library and asked about historical records. “that house out in the woods near namgo-san,” he explained, leaning his elbows on the counter and trying not to seem to interested. “i want to know who lived there last.”
there hadn’t been much, just a few articles about planned demolition and repurposing of the space. sunggyu was disappointed, though he wasn’t quite sure why.
the second time around, the house is still in disrepair, and sunggyu is still nervous. but at least this time he knows what he’s doing, sort of. he takes the stairs two at a time, up, and stops in front of the partially-closed door to the room he’d seen last time. when he and myungsu left, he’d left the door open. sunggyu wonders how many other people know about this place.
he toes the door open, but the box isn’t there, and the air is much clearer than it had been before.
“did someone take it?” he wonders aloud to himself, walking a slow circle around the room to look in each corner, just in case he’d missed it. the sound of his voice is too loud in the stillness of the house, but it unsettles him, this absence. it weighs on him. “that must be why the door was closed.”
a floorboard creaks under sunggyu’s pacing feet and he nearly jumps out of his skin. “kim sunggyu,” he scolds himself, when his heart rate has calmed a little. “don’t be ridiculous.”
he turns around and almost jumps out of his skin again when he sees the box sitting not two feet away.
“oh, man,” he says, taking one, then two cautious steps forward. “this is getting a little sixth sense.”
the box isn’t anything special, just a plastic container wrapped in a rubber band. sunggyu doesn’t know why he thinks it’s important. up close, the hangeul on the top of the lid is a little bit more legible, but not enough to read what it says; all sunggyu can make out is two nieun bracketing the word. “n-something-something-n,” he says. “great. that gives me a lot to go on.”
inside the box isn’t anything special, either. there are a couple of origami folded cranes and a pressed flower—sunggyu isn’t sure what type, he didn’t pay attention in elementary school when they talked about local flowers. some sheet music, and underneath everything, a journal. oh, sunggyu thinks. that’s why.
the journal doesn’t look very old, so sunggyu thinks it can’t have been there long. it must have belonged to whoever lived here before. the thought makes his skin crawl a little, the hair on the backs of his arms raising as goosebumps. “yeah, seriously sixth sense,” he agrees with himself, turning the journal over in his hands.
suddenly: a sharp sensation on the back of his neck, very much like being watched from across a room.
sunggyu stands up so fast he’s sure he pulled something and spins around to fix his gaze on an empty room. “stop it,” he says, unsure who he’s talking to. “this is getting creepy, and i don’t like creepy.”
the stillness of the room seems to echo with sunggyu’s voice, too loud again.
“i’m talking to an empty house,” sunggyu mutters, shoving the journal in his pocket. “it’s official, dongwoo is rubbing off on me.”
even so, from a couple of meters outside the house sunggyu turns around to look up at the second-story windows. the house is very still, the curtains still too, but somehow that doesn’t comfort sunggyu very much at all.
the inscription page of the journal bears the name nam woohyun, much more legibly than had been written on the top of the box. it doesn’t sound familiar to sunggyu, but then again he’s no historian. this is how he finds himself at the library for the second time in a week, searching the databases for the name.
there’s not much on him, either. his family did live in the house sunggyu and myungsu had discovered; they had moved out winter of 2009, two years ago. sunggyu thinks that doesn’t make sense. two years doesn’t seem long enough for the house to be the way it is.
“sungyeol-ah,” sunggyu says on the phone that night. “you’re good at the internet, right?”
“i guess so,” sungyeol says. “hyung, anyone is good at the internet compared to you.”
“i’ll pretend you didn’t say that. can you do me a favor?”
“see what you can find about a kid named nam woohyun. he lived near namgo-san, maybe two or three years ago.”
“namgo-san?” the words are muffled. sunggyu imagines sungyeol talking through a mouthful of whatever he’s eating and winces a little. “is this about that house that you and myungsu went into?”
“he told you about that?” sungyeol’s silence says, duh. “yeah, it’s about that. i think his family were the last people who lived there, but i read at the library that they only moved out two years ago.”
sungyeol clicks his tongue. “i saw the pictures myungsu took. there’s no way that’s only two years of decay.”
“i don’t know,” sunggyu says. “just look it up, okay?”
the first entry in the journal is dated 2007. it’s not very interesting. sunggyu reads through the first few entries in a blaze, mostly because they’re not dense. just the ramblings of a teenage boy, a high schooler, it seems, who plays soccer and likes pretty girls and doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life. sunggyu knows the feeling. it’s not unique.
in autumn of 2008, though, sunggyu slows down. the boy—woohyun, that’s his name, isn’t it?—woohyun starts to write about other things, sadder, more solemn things. things like his parents fighting. his older brother being disowned and sent packing because he dared to drop out from university. “it’s really exhausting, this tension,”, woohyun writes. “mom and dad won’t stop yelling, but i learned a while ago that it’s better not to get involved.” sunggyu knows it makes him sad. it’s a quiet sadness but it pervades every entry, even the happy ones, so much so that sunggyu feels uncomfortable reading.
the last entry is july 23, 2009. it’s short. woohyun wonders if he’ll be able to escape. if he’ll be able to go to college. he wants to, more than anything, but he’s afraid that without him, his family will fall apart.
the amount of sympathy sunggyu feels is startling. the entire experience is a little voyeuristic, he thinks. some of the entries had been startlingly intimate, honest, brutally so. like the one from early 2008 in which nam woohyun talked about kissing a boy in the locker room after practice. well. kissing. other things, too. (that one had made sunggyu put the journal down and go make himself ramyeon for dinner.) or the one from winter of that year when the school jjangs had cornered him behind the science building and beaten him up. they had aimed their punches for his torso, their kicks for his thighs and groin, injuries that he could hide. small kindnesses, woohyun calls them. with the bruises hidden under his clothes, no one would know anything was different.
small kindnesses. sunggyu's word choice is different.
he calls sungyeol again. “did you find anything?”
“some.” sungyeol sounds a little more interested now. it makes sunggyu nervous. “the nam family moved into that house in 2005, or early 2006, somewhere in there. then they moved out again in 2009 after the kid died.”
oh. “which kid?”
“nam woohyun. i don’t know what happened, there’s no records or anything. he just died and then the family moved out a month later.”
sunggyu looks at the table where the journal is sitting. reading someone’s journal is one thing. reading a dead kid’s journal is something else altogether. sunggyu swallows hard. “okay,” he says, wishing his voice didn’t give him away so much. “thanks.”
“hyung, are you okay?” sungyeol asks.
“i’m okay. i just. found his journal, and read it. i thought he was still, you know. alive.”
“that’s creepy, hyung.”
“that he’s dead or that i read it?”
sunggyu puts the journal and the box down in the center of the room and puts himself down after it. he’s unprepared for a seance, not that he wants to have one. “is this some kind of cry for help thing?” he asks the empty air. there’s no response, of course, and sunggyu feels a little foolish. “am i supposed to have a ouija board or something? will that help?”
“i’m sorry i read your journal,” sunggyu says, a little more quietly. maybe he’s foolish for talking to an empty room, but it never hurts to cover your bases.
someone clears his throat. “it’s okay. i wanted you to.”
sunggyu jumps about six thousand miles in the air and chokes back a frightened and terribly un-manly sound. between one blink and the next, a boy has materialized against the far wall. he’s smiling, but he looks a little worried. probably fair; most people who see ghosts don’t react very well. “hi,” he says, sitting very still.
when he remembers how to breathe, sunggyu says, “hi.” his fingers are clenched into very tight fists at his sides; it hurts, but there’s too much adrenaline in his veins for him to do anything about it. “you must be woohyun.”
“i must be,” the boy—wooohyun—replies. “sorry i scared you.”
sunggyu becomes suddenly aware that he’s actually talking to a ghost. or possibly he’s fallen down the rickety stairs in the house and he’s hit his head and he’s having a wizard of oz-style dream. the latter seems, somehow, more probable. woohyun doesn’t look very dead, after all. “it’s okay,” he replies. his voice is very calm, considering how hard his heart is pounding. “not to ask the obvious question but am i dead? or dreaming? or both?”
woohyun smiles a little more. “i don’t think so. you don’t seem very dead to me.”
“how can you tell?”
sunggyu’s not actually sure he wants an answer to that question, but woohyun gives it anyway: “the living have... an aura to them. aura isn’t the right word. it’s just a feeling, like aliveness. the dead don’t have that.”
okay. less scary than he was expecting. “and you’re dead,” he says. “just to clarify.”
“i was the last time i checked.”
“last time i checked, too,” sunggyu says. this is ridiculous. “i’m kim sunggyu.”
“i know.” woohyun straightens his legs out in front of him. “this isn’t the first time you’ve been to my house, remember? i heard your friend say your name. the loud one.”
“myungsu,” sunggyu says. woohyun shrugs. “so—why, though?” this is perhaps a meaningless question, but sunggyu has never really thought of himself as the type to see dead people. sunggyu doesn’t like death. he killed a fish when he was six, trying to give it a vacation on land, and hasn’t allowed himself to have a pet since. he refuses to go into hospitals unless it’s absolutely necessary. he can’t even watch war movies with myungsu because that much death bothers him.
something in woohyun’s eyes flickers. can ghosts get upset? do ghosts even have emotions, or are they just shadows? sunggyu has never paid much attention to horror films. he doesn’t like those either, actually. “i don’t know,” woohyun says. “something about you, i guess.”
“you don’t get to choose who you let read your diary?” sunggyu asks. “is there a mandate about that? some kind of superior ghostly overlord?”
it isn’t the question sunggyu asked, but it is the meaning behind it. “i guess,” sunggyu says with a shrug.
woohyun laughs. the sound is amused, but there’s only hollowness behind it. sunggyu shivers. “there’s no ghostly overlord,” he says. “at least not one i’ve met yet. but obviously i’m doing something wrong, because i’m still here.”
“sorry,” sunggyu apologizes reflexively, “that was insensitive.”
he’s sitting on the floor of a room in an abandoned house having a conversation either with a figment of his imagination or a ghostly occupant, and he’s apologizing for being insensitive. sunggyu thinks his life probably couldn’t get any weirder. he wants to ask how woohyun died, but that would probably be weird immediately after he apologizes for being insensitive, and he figures he’ll find out eventually if woohyun wants him to know.
“don’t worry about it,” woohyun says, smiling again and waving a hand dismissively. “i almost made you pee yourself before, so we can call it even.”
sunggyu looks down, fidgets with the edge of his shirt. “so...” he begins. “what do you want?”
woohyun raises an eyebrow.
“from me, i mean. you let me read your diary, right, and you’re here—or, showing yourself to me, or whatever, you’re doing that for a reason, right? but why? what do you want? i’m really hoping you don’t want to kill me for vengeance or something because that would really not be the right end to my summer—”
woohyun starts laughing again. the sound is fuller this time, less morose. “i’m not the killing type,” he says. “it’s just—” he pauses, thinks. “people come here sometimes, but they usually only look downstairs, and—it’s lonely. it’s really lonely here.”
sunggyu imagines life as a ghost, trapped in a place you can’t escape. he thinks about the nam woohyun he discovered page by page in the diary, the one who liked sports, kissed boys fiercely behind school buildings, who sang in the shower and died too young. he imagines that woohyun living alone in this house, watching it fall apart. thinks about how solitary that life must be. it makes his heart hurt, a little.
“yeah,” he says. “i bet.”
woohyun is looking at him very carefully, like he’s hoping to read something in sunggyu’s face. whatever it is, he must find it. “i just wanted someone to know,” he says. “that’s all. i felt like if someone knew i was here, that it would be less awful.”
“so you just wanted a friend.”
woohyun cracks a smile. “something like that.”
the problem is that sunggyu’s not sure he can do that. “and you picked me because—i was convenient?” he asks. “i came up here when nobody else did?”
“just something about you,” woohyun repeats. “it’s not forever. i just want someone to talk to.”
“just stay for a little while,” woohyun says. his eyes are very dark. sunggyu is still a little scared, and he isn’t really equipped to be a counselor for a ghost boy. the back of his neck prickles with adrenaline or something else. but woohyun’s eyes are dark and very pleading. saying no would be like kicking a puppy.
so against his better judgment, sunggyu says, “okay.”
(part 1) (part 2)