EPISODE 4: ANAMNESIS
word count: 4,608
Xiumin is sure it was 1:08 AM when he closed his eyes, head resting on his arms over the table, and now his wristwatch says 1:16.
How did he fall asleep instantly?
And how can he slip to dream state that fast?
He’s aware of the stages of sleep that should be passed through first before the REM- rapid eye movement, the dream stage.
He can’t remember the dream this time or—actually--he can’t remember the images or probably there are no images in the first place just empty canvass. It’s all very confusing. Last times he dreamed about his past and although he doesn’t appreciate a trip down memory lane as Minseok – Minseok the boy waiting to be saved – it’ still better than this. He is dreaming of emotions. When he thinks about it, he’s sure that’s exactly what’s happening.
Emotions that he doesn’t know what to call.
He notices Kyungsoo is now back from the latter’s shift in waiting by the creek, a quick headcount and the obvious absence of an annoying deer, makes him realize it’s Luhan’s shift this time.
“Kyungsoo,” the owner of the name startles on a vacant bean bag beside Jongdae that he’s rearranging to make a decent bed.
“Jesus, don’t come up to me like that. Don’t forget I didn’t get the same training you did—with resisting shock and other impulses and all that shit.”
He apologizes before sitting beside the tech specialist.
“Can’t sleep?” Kyungsoo questioning eyes look like two floating orbs in the darkness.
Right in front of them is a view of Chanyeol sprawled on the couch, snoring lightly, metal puzzle resting unsolved on his chest. Xiumin is only guessing it’s unsolved, otherwise Chanyeol would have whooped in celebration that would wake the whole headquarter up.
“That puzzle,” he jerks his head as an indication, “I solved it without really trying.”
“Yeah I heard. So you came here to gloat?”
“No. I’m saying that I didn’t really solve it. I knew how to all along. My fingers just moved on their own like they’ve done it a hundred times before. I’m sure I have never seen the puzzle in my life but it’s strangely familiar. Maybe I have it when I was a kid?”
He only comes up with that explanation right at this moment and it makes sense, even Kyungsoo agrees.
“But there are also instances that the brain is too fast for us to catch up, like survival’s instinct, adrenaline. It happens. And you have a 220 iq, it’s no wonder you’re brain can do uncommon things, well uncommon based from general iq standards.”
“How do you know that?”
“Which one? Your iq? I also know your height, weight, birthdate, you want me to recite?”
“No thanks but would I want to know why you have my information in your back pocket?”
“I also have the info of other agents memorized, you want to test me?”
Xiumin doesn’t even hide his audible sighing over Kyungsoo’s way of conversation. He’d expected a more intelligent discourse.
Luhan comes sauntering in holding up a red paper and an accomplished smile. “Here you go commander,” he says handing out the paper to Xiumin and laying down on the floor beside him.
Xiumin and Kyungsoo take a quick look at the paper, then Kyungsoo hums and goes to tuck the paper on the blackboard where the conceptual framework of their plan is written.
Xiumin turns to Luhan who’s drifting to sleep, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Huh? Are you talking to me?”
“Shouldn’t you be doing your shift?”
Luhan’s eyes fly open, “Wha—what? But I already got the message.”
“So? Doesn’t mean there won’t be another one.”
“Right after the first. I don’t think so.”
“Is an emergency message improbable, I don’t think so.”
“I don’t care. It’s still your shift.”
Luhan sits up with a sleepy pout and Xiumin puts on a disgusted face to show he won’t relent.
“Fine fine commander,” Luhan says as he pulls himself up and sways on his way out and kick the things on his way, which includes a sleeping Jongdae.
“And Luhan,” Xiumin calls after him, “don’t you dare sleep on your shift. I’ll check up on you.”
“You will?” Luhan’s eyes spark in delight, taking it the other way, and Xiumin shrugs.
For three days, during Luhan’s 2 hour shift twice a day down the creek, Xiumin comes. Xiumin doesn’t partake in the shift division himself since he’s the leader even though Luhan called unfair.
But there he was accompanying Luhan, everytime.
The first time, Luhan was sure he’s going to get an earful since Xiumin did caught him nodding off to sleep but all Xiumin did was tease him of how easy it was to kill him. Xiumin was able to go as near as a foot before Luhan felt him.
“To be fair to me I felt the presence from afar but I sensed it was you so I didn’t jump to action.”
“Hence it’s really easy for me to kill you.”
“But you won’t because I’m awesome.”
Their conversation went like that just like it always did for the past five years but sometimes, Xiumin would sprout bizarre and loaded questions out of nowhere.
“The feeling that I want to scream but I can’t, I shouldn’t because there’s no point, it won’t solve anything, what do you call that?”
Luhan stopped on his tracks, he was on the other side of the creek because he used a bamboo pole to launch himself like a game of pole vault and dared Xiumin to do the same. Xiumin just rolled his eyes and lay down on the cool morning grass.
Xiumin was looking up the sky so Luhan can’t decide if Xiumin is being serious about the question or trying to fish something out of him.
“Frustration,” Luhan answered.
“Why? Who are you getting frustrated at?”
“I don’t know, probably myself.”
“I don’t know.”
Come to think of it, he never heard Xiumin scream in frustration. He’d like to witness that, he thought.
The second time Xiumin asked a question they were on night shift and Luhan was frantically warding off mosquitoes.
“Burden, how does that feel like?”
Luhan briefly wonders if Xiumin is wearing some sort of mosquito repellent or he’s mosquito immune.
“Why are we burdening you?” he asked just as he lit another cigarette to drive off the pests more than to satiate the habit. Xiumin doesn’t respond, he also grabbed a cigarette from their supply, probably not resistant to mosquito attack after all. He put the cigarette between his teeth and motioned for Luhan to pass the zippo.
“Here,” Luhan said, but instead of the zippo, he leaned in to light Xiumin’s cigarette with his own. Xiumin was close enough for Luhan to see a faint scar in his right cheek made more obvious by the shadows from the moonlight and the burn of their own cigarettes.
Smoke explodes between them, then Xiumin pulled back, cigarette lighted.
“So?” he asked after a drag.
Oh right, the question.
“Burden like the kind of carrying the world in your shoulders burden? I really cannot describe that based from first-hand experience cause I have none. I guess if you think like you can do anything, everything, you won’t fell that. What others would consider burden would just be another responsibility to you or you won’t even call it responsibility but just something you’re supposed to do.”
“That’s funny,” Xiumin commented although there were no traces of humour in his voice.
“You just admitted you’re selfless. And that is very funny.”
“I did? I didn’t. Don’t twist my words Xiumin. I never said that.”
“To feel burdened isn’t selfishness required? And you were saying burden is something you’ve never felt before.”
“Ah no no no. That’s not what I meant, I was just saying I am very self-assured. For me, what is burden? what is problem? what is trouble? I’m perfect like that.”
“Something you’re supposed to do,” Xiumin said mimicking his voice. “You know what you sounded like? Like a superhero,” this time there was really a hint of humour in his voice and tugging at the corner of his lips.
“Hey what the fuck is up with you? Are you high?” Luhan asked going for offended but he was really zeroing in on the almost smile on Xiumin’s face.
Xiumin asked more about sympathy, compassion, guilt, regret and envy, that by the third day Luhan finally asked why he’s asking all this bizarre questions.
“Nothing, I was curious,” Xiumin shrugged, seating under a canopy and leaning back on a tree. The day was bright and Luhan can clearly see the exhaustion bruising Xiumin’s pale face. He’s now running on a full week without sleep. Luhan can’t believe how he manages that, he tried to sneak up to him and tackle him earlier but the top agent’s reflex was as sharp as ever and Luhan found himself with a mouthful of grass.
Maybe the lack of sleep can be accounted for Xiumin’s weird questions. Even Kyungsoo agreed, he said lack of sleep can cause decrease of oxygen supply to the brain that can cause the crankiness. But no one can convince him to sleep, the fact that he’s still able to pin Luhan down, was a very good point of argument that he didn’t needed it.
“How about fear?” Xiumin asked and Luhan was made aware that he’s been staring. “How’d it feel like?”
“Well don’t ask me. I wouldn’t know because I’m fearless.”
“How would you even know the feeling of absence of fear if you don’t know fear itself? How would you know I’m not in the room if you don’t know of my existence?”
“Opposites, parallels, yin and yang. It takes one to know the other-----to complete the other.”
“God it’s too early to be profound,” Luhan groaned. “There are just feeling that you feel and you know, no explanations required or in depth-analysis or what. You just feel it okay? That’s it! Kaboom kaboom kaboom. No secret from the universe, no cosmic revelation, no mathematical solution. No chemical formula. Another kaboom for that. Get it now? Feelings that you don’t think you’re feeling, but feelings that you feel. Do you say, I think I’m happy? No! You say I’m happy then maybe clap your hands and that’s it. End of the sentence. Period or any other punctuation mark preferably exclamation point.”
“LUHAN YOU’RE GOING TO MISS THE FUCKING BOAT!!”
Luhan turned to find the red paper boat sailing past them and ran after it.
Kai informed them of extension from the escape that was supposed to be tomorrow for reasons he can’t write down in a boat that could easily go astray. Everyone was already going impatient, reduced to smuggling into the prison the items that Kai needed and waiting and waiting to get into action, even Xiumin was.
But not Luhan though, sitting by the creek with a certain someone was kind of nice.
The others maximize the time when Xiumin is down the creek to plot a conspiracy. Jongdae was making coffee while Kyungsoo was grinding sleeping pills on the table. They all agreed they needed Xiumin in his full self when they become Soto’s avant-guard from prison.
That’s how Luhan found himself watching Xiumin warily under his lashes, as the latter took a drink from the thermos Jongdae brought. He’s pride was at stake. He had an inner bet with himself that Xiumin trusted him enough for this to be easy. But why was he even worried, he chastised himself.
He pulled Xiumin back on their earlier conversation about fear.
“What do you fear the most?” he asked Xiumin who was now lying down the grass and blinking at the stars.
“I’m still searching for it,” came the soft reply.
“You do? Then I guess it would be fair to call you fearless.”
“Don’t you?” Xiumin peeled his eyes away from the stars and turned to him.
And from that gesture Luhan said, “I am more beautiful than the stars.”
“What?” Xiumin was looking at him as if trying to decide if he was a figment of an imagination, if he was a dream.
“It’s true, I am. Don’t you think so?” Luhan got strange courage from the sleep that was pulling Xiumin away, to say the things that Xiumin probably won’t remember.
“Yeah I do. Sometimes.” Xiumin already had his eyes closed and appear to have been talking to himself.
A fire was cackling nearby, a fire that was more smoke than heat – a desperate attempt to drive off mosquitoes.
“Do you want to know what I fear the most?” Luhan asked from the other side of Xiumin’s closed eyelids.
Xiumin, he called out to him in the silence of his mind and then Xiumin as if his brain was answering his question. He looked like at the precipice of life and dreams and Luhan wanted to give him his fears so that he would take it away with him, to wherever he goes when asleep.
“I fear.....nirvana. Heaven and peace, satisfaction, contentment, the absence of suffering and pain, freedom from the sense of self. I fear all of them. I hate all of them. I hate calm. I hate quiet. I hate clean. I hate you..... You are everything I fight not to become and I hate it that I lose myself in you sometimes. I forget. Who I am and what I want. I want....passion, and pleasure and sparks, and I want them to burn. I want them to hurt me and remind me I’m alive. It scares me...you...I’m sacred I’m falling for you, I’m falling into oblivion and it will suck me into something tranquil, and floating, and cold. I lied, I’m not fearless. Unlike you, I don’t go searching for my fears because I know when I find them, it’s going to be the end. You are going to be the end of me.”
By the time he finished, he’s sure that Minseok was asleep, the shadow of the fire dancing on his face.
Xiumin was looking at himself, or so he assumed the child he’s looking at is his 5-year old version. Minseok. He’s bent over a small table coloring a drawing, stick figures of a man, a woman and a child, there’s a drawing of what could only be a bicycle beside them, but on further inspection can also be a dog, or a huge cat. Minseok smiled, delighted at his accomplishment and Xiumin felt weird watching himself like that, as if hearing yourself speak a language you didn’t know you can speak.
Minseok looked up and Xiumin stepped back, for a second afraid of being seen. But little Minseok was looking past him, straining his ears and Xiumin heard it too, noise of argument coming from downstairs.
He followed Minseok padding downstairs with his drawing clasp in his little fist. The house didn’t look familiar but felt familiar. Minseok peeked at the living room where four people are seated
A woman saw Minseok and immediately her eyes were worried, “Minseokki come back upstairs. Mom will come up later.”
Xiumin stared, for the woman could only refer to herself as the mom. His mom. But then an old man stood up and Xiumin almost gasp in recognition. It was President Jung albeit decades younger.
“There my little boy, how would you like to spend Christmas with grandpa?” he asked while scooping Minseok in his arms.
“Will there be Christmas presents?” Minseok asked excited.
“Of course of course. Lots of them.”
“Dad please,” the woman stood held back by who could only be, her husband. “Dad,” she repeated, pleading and desperate.
It was too much. Too much and all at once. Xiumin looked around hoping the house would turn out to be a stage set, a curtain will fall to signal the end of the show.
But all that happened next were gunshots and little Minseok screaming. Xiumin can’t watch. The last thing in his line of vision was the drawing that landed on the floor. A drawing of a family.
Xiumin turned to the feeling of grass against his face, he looked up and the first image to register was Luhan’s face then the color of sunrise lining the sky.
“Are you okay? You were-“ Luhan was kneeling in front of him and he helped Xiumin to sit up.
“What did you put in my drink?” was the first thing that came out of his mouth, voice stronger and angrier than what could possibly come out of his exhausted body.
“I-sorry—we—“ Luhan looked worried and Xiumin didn’t wait for him to complete his thought. He stood up and retched all the contents of his stomach under the nearby tree.
He felt Luhan approaching behind him.
“Xiumin,” he said tentatively, hesitant fingers ghosting on Xiumin’s back.
“Don’t fucking touch me Luhan,” he coughed, hand braced against the tree trunk. It felt like all the sweat from his body came out with the vomit and when the morning air hit his face, it was too cold but welcome.
“Xiumin,” Luhan repeated and when met with no protest added, “We just wanted you to have some sleep, some rest before tonight.”
Xiumin sniffed the cold air into his lungs and didn’t turn to Luhan before he left him standing there. He saw the bonfire from last night that is now diminished to ashes. He tried not to think of how Luhan extended his shift because of him.
Shit shit shit.
Kai is in the prison infirmary for his daily insulin shot and he’s greeted by two fixers changing the infirmary’s doorknob. Kai spent a day stealing the key from the resident doctor, having it copied then returned without the doctor knowing. The infirmary is supposed to be their exit point. All that day work was put to waste and worse, the doctor seems to suspect him.
Kai was sure he had charmed the middle-aged doctor, having her look at him like a son after only 3 visits but now he is being looked at warily.
Doctor Moi is flipping through her clipboard when she says, “15 milligrams.”
“Your blood glucose is at 15 milligrams per deciliter. That's hypoglycemic. Your body's reacting to the insulin like you're not a diabetic. No, you are not diabetic. Why are you lying? And the day my key went missing? It was you.”
“What are you planning Seiichi?”
The mention of the name of his fake identity stirred him into an alternate scenario where he is really Seiichi a troubled youngster and looking for a sense of purpose and freedom. Seiichi, after all he’s not that far away from him.
“I’m planning to get away from this place doctor,” he says wistfully.
“Are you crazy? Do you know how many guards are on the exits? You are going to get killed.”
“Not if I don’t pass through the exit.”
“Seiichi,” the doctor begins and Kai can feel her switching into mother mode, “your sentence stands at five years, maximum. Time flies here inside, before you know it, you’re a free man. Use your time in here to repent, to rethink of your life choices. You had freedom before and look where it led you? Maybe this is what you needed.”
“Limits, boundaries, control. You are so young you might think that you own the world so you get lost in it. Learn to set goals, follow the rules and then you’ll find yourself in the right direction.”
“Is that what you did doctor? And are you where you always wanted to be?”
Kai is aware that Doctor Moi was assigned here in the penitentiary after she had a run in with the law and performing operation while under the influence. He knows this place, is also the doctor’s cage.
“I am where I am meant to be,” the doctor says with forced conviction.
“Then I’m glad for you doctor but me, I believe I should be somewhere else. I could be. You know it too, you said so yourself during my first day that a pretty young boy like me has no space in a place like this. I implore you doctor. I can make it out here and go on my own direction, all I ask of you is to leave the door of the infirmary open tonight. That’s all and you’ll be free to imagine that somewhere out there a certain Seiichi is free.”
The doctor looks away before saying, “Well I don’t see the point of you staying, you obviously doesn’t need an insulin shot. You can go now Seiichi.”
“Thank you doctor,” Kai says before exiting and hoping that he’s right on the double meaning that he detected from the doctor’s last words.
Water, water, is running through Xiumin’s mind when he runs back to the headquarters. Everyone else is already up but no one dares to look at him as he walks pass them to grab a bottled water from their supply. His head is still spinning, all the weight gathering at the front of his skull that makes it painful to keep his eyes open. And he doesn’t dare close them because the images from his dream comes flashing back beneath his lids.
While he’s chugging down water, his eyes catch the red papers lining the blackboard. He’s sure before Luhan’s shift last night, there were only seven but now there are eight. He steps forward and leans down to read the latest at the bottom.
A drawing of the moon and a check.
It is a confirmation of the escape scheduled for tonight but below it is something else, actual written words.
Fate loves the fearless.
Xiumin’s mind goes blank for a second then vague memories of last night comes back where he and Luhan was talking about fear. He untucks the paper and holds it between his fingers. The words are definitely Kai’s handwriting. As if by fate, they were all thinking about the same thing.
The words are shaking, no, it is the paper, no, it is his hands. With shaking fingers, he folds the paper and tucks it inside his pocket.
The sun is setting low on the horizon and Luhan chooses to cover Krystal’s shift because he’d rather sit around than help them wipe the headquarters clean of their traces. Though he highly doubt there’d be a message at this point, so he busies himself in carving on the nearby tree. He carves the symbol of yin and yang with his swiss knife. Quite tricky for the curves and balance.
He feels him approaching but he continues carving and makes no indication that he notices.
“I’m sorry,” Xiumin says and it’s almost a question as if Xiumin can’t believe he’s apologizing.
“What for?” Luhan mutters to the almost finished symbol.
“I don’t even know. I just felt like I’m sorry so...here I am.”
“See? This is what I’m saying about not thinking about it, just letting yourself feel.”
“And then act on it?”
“Well not always act on it,” Luhan says defensively as if felling guilty of something. He gives up on the slight oval yin and yang before turning to face Xiumin. “Sometimes it’s enough to just fell it. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah I think I actually do. Hey listen, if I feel a painful desire to destroy somebody, tear the person from limb to limb, maybe light them on fire and watch them burn, what do you call that?”
It doesn’t feel like Xiumin is really asking for the answer but merely trying to express a feeling so Luhan, who is not used to any ounce of awkward air, chose to dissipate it by joking around. “I don’t know man, I think you’re just horny—and kinky by the sound of it.”
Xiumin scowls and crinkles his nose and he’s almost pouting. Luhan tries not to choke on his spit.
“That’s your definition of horny? Well, I should never try and turn you on.”
That electrifies Luhan’s blood stream. He knows flirting when he sees it and one is definitely staring him in the eyes right now. But then Xiumin’s look turns into something innocent, oblivious and just when Luhan is sure he imagined things, Xiumin moves forward and traps Luhan against the tree. In one crazed millisecond he thinks of yin and yang and then Xiumin is kissing him, hard, consuming. Luhan’s mind can’t keep up and he grabs, and holds, and clings into the reality in Xiumin’s skin. He’s not sure if his feet really leave the ground or it was just a feeling. He might have tugged a little too hard on Xiumin’s hair for an anchor because Xiumin hisses and bites on his lower lip, so hard that Luhan is sure he’s going to be devoured out of primal desire and Luhan might just let himself be consumed. But when Luhan moans into his mouth, part out of pain part from pleasure, Xiumin lets go and swipes his tongue where his teeth had been. Just as Luhan is thinking he could do this all day, Xiumin pulls away.
They are both breathless, Luhan worse. He’s still chasing the breath that Xiumin sucked out of his lungs when Xiumin says, “I’m sorry.”
“What?” he wheezes. “Why ar—“
Then just like that Xiumin turns and walk away.
It takes Luhan a couple of seconds to sort out and tame the circuit of electricity running through him before he goes after him, inwardly cursing at his knees that feels like jelly.
He catches him by the elbow and spins him around.
“You--what--what was that?”
Xiumin looks as if he’s searching the answer in Luhan’s eyes and when it becomes apparent that he isn’t replying, Luhan presses on, “Why did you kiss me?”
And then apologize? He continues in his mind but more important matter first.
“Nothing. I was...I was curious.”
“Wha-“ it seems pointless to ask the reason for apology now. Luhan tries to change his stance from defensive to demanding, “And how did I do in satisfying your curiosity?”
Xiumin’s mouth crack open for immediate retaliation but he closes it and takes a breath before answering, “I think we should never do that again, nor talk about it.”
“Wow, wow wow wow,” Luhan chants while his mind says no no no no. Not when he rejoices the fact the Xiumin kissed him first and not when he finally wants to admit he wants to kiss him more.
Maybe it’s time to face his fear.
“What if I tell you I don’t agree?”
“This is not a matter where I need you agreement,” Xiumin says coldly, prying his arm from Luhan’s grip and walking away.
Luhan is shocked into silence and rooted into the grass. Xiumin is able to go a couple of steps away before Luhan snaps out of it and before he knows it, he’s screaming at the top of his lungs.
“You! Son of a gun you! I fucking hate you! Who do you think you are?! I’m going to fucking destroy you! Tear you in million pieces! Then light you on fire! And watch you burn you fuck!"
Its echo bounces and fills the wide stretch of barren land.
[Part 5 coming soon]