Prompt: Urban Legends – The Greek Soldier
Summary: A body was lying in the concrete road with blood everywhere close to the head. Whoever the body belonged to must have wished for an instant death. Those lips that were smiling now set in a straight line. Cheeks devoid of blood and the once bright eyes were now closed. Forever. Someone who had exuded so much life now breathes no longer.
Warning(s): Mentions of abuse, suicide, character death
Word Count: 14,711
"One more!" Zitao yells to the bartender. He had probably consumed alcohol way beyond his limit but the amount of cares he has is close to none. It had been almost three hours since he walked through the doors of the exclusive club but no person has approached him.
Jongin was right. He needed some fuck. Some good ones.
Zitao is forever sure of his looks but never arrogant. So it comes as a surprise when not one single being has made a move on him. Did he turn invisible? That's a no because the bartender can definitely see and hear him. Though when Zitao looks around, eyes ever alert and fast on his potential preys, no one suits his qualifications. He gulps down the burning alcohol and was about to ask for another when someone bumps into him. It wasn't entirely a hard knock but it got Zitao to turn and look at the culprit.
Dark eyes and bright blond hair are what greets him. The man is tall, taller than him probably but he can’t really tell as those dark eyes hold much of his attention. He has strong features, eyebrows pointed down in the middle, nose in perfect shape, soft lips pressed in a thin line, and sharp jawlines.
“I’m sorry.” Zitao hears a lady say. His eyes travels elsewhere, down the jawlines, to the neck, then to the man’s arm. It’s draped on the apologizing lady.
The lady keeps bowing and giving out small laughs. Zitao is only able to catch a glimpse of her face in between the dark locks. Her eyes are a little unfocused but bright, cheeks stained with rushing of blood, and a small drunken smile. She looks so innocent, so full of life.
Before Zitao knows it, the two strangers are already walking away from him, the man leading the lady.
He is left with a sinking feeling, something akin to loss. But that sounds wrong, because the feeling of loss should come with the feeling of familiarity, and Zitao is sure that neither of the strangers are familiar to him.
Zitao goes home alone and dreams. He dreams of dark eyes so deep it was enough to make him feel caged and suffocated.
He wakes up with disarrayed raven hair, bloodshot eyes, and a worse sinking feeling.
“Wait. Hold up. Go back.”
Zitao is sitting on the edge of a table, mindlessly wondering what he’ll be having for dinner or if he’d skip it entirely when a photo catches his sight. His best friend is beside him, staring too intently on his computer, concentrating on his article.
“Can you get down from my table?” Jongin says without looking up from his work.
“It was fine with you a moment ago.”
“It was never fine with me Tao. I just find it futile ‘cause you’re not listening to me either way.”
Zitao could not help roll his eyes on the remark, but he stands up nonetheless and walks behind his best friend’s seat.
“Better? Now go back.”
Jongin does and the photo comes up.
A body was lying in the concrete road with blood everywhere close to the head. Whoever the body belonged to must have wished for an instant death.
Another photo comes up and it makes Zitao’s hairs stand up.
Those lips that he remembered to be smiling now set in a straight line. Cheeks devoid of blood and eyes once bright were now closed. Forever.
From that one meeting they had, Zitao saw her as someone who exudes life. Now, she breathes no longer.
“I knew her.” Zitao mumbles, too caught up with the beating of his heart and the blood rushing within. He can’t help but wonder why this lady could have probably wanted to commit suicide.
“Oh. I’m sorry.” the journalist turns from his swivel chair to look at his best friend.
“It was just once. But nonetheless…” he explains but could not continue. This prompts Jongin to relay what information he got.
“She was found this morning in front of her apartment complex. The police said she jumped from the terrace, which was 22 floors up.” he turns to his computer again, removing the photo from their view and opens the previous window containing his article. “I got to interview some of her neighbors and friends. She was acting weird for the past few days. Mostly out of herself, she didn’t answer their calls, and they had to actually shake her a bit to get her attention. What’s weirder was the screams her neighbors hear at night.”
Zitao snaps from his thoughts and asks, “Screams? Why?”
“They said she was having nightmares that someone was torturing her and physically beating her.” This piece of information also puzzles the journalist.
“No history of abuse?”
“None. They said that the nightmares just came out of nowhere.”
“What about her boyfriend?”
Jongin shifts from his seat. “Neither her neighbors nor her friends mentioned a boyfriend. Do you know anything Zitao?”
It was just a thought and if what Jongin had gathered was correct, then it’s a confirmation that what he had witnessed that night was a simple case of one night stand. Not that he thinks of it day in and day out.
Zitao shakes his head. "Nothing important. I just saw her in this club some weeks back with a guy. I guess he's not her boyfriend."
The young photographer has not seen the dark eyed stranger for a long time. That is, if you call a month and a half a long time.
Zitao had looked him up in the police database, which is probably illegal to use if you’re not part of that department. This relieved and frustrated him at the same time. Happy as he was that the stranger was not a rapist, he’s also reaching a dead end.
The frustrated young man had not seen him in the same club they had first met. He had to endure long nights dodging and turning down men and women who had tried to take him home. They held no interest for him. When Zitao focuses on his prey, he does not stray from it.
However, this time, the prey catches the predator.
Zitao situates himself on the second floor of the club, overlooking the dancing mass below with the front entrance right across from his sight. A moment passes and his target finally comes in.
He can't explain it but tonight every emotion Zitao has is intensified. The past weeks, he was just curious, wanting to know if he'd ever see the stranger again. Tonight, there's a need in him. He can't entirely pinpoint or explain it, but he feels like he needs to see the stranger again.
He needs to meet him.
As fast as the dark eyed stranger entered was he out of Zitao's sight. He tried so hard to look for him in the sea of people dancing and swaying on the dance floor, in the bottom floor counter, and at the sides. But it was all in vain as he could see the tall blonde no longer.
Frustrated, he hits the railings he had been clutching on to.
Then the hairs on his forearms started to stand up. He wonders if there's a sudden decrease in temperature. But his heart started to react as well, beating a little too fast.
He feels him before he hears him.
"Stop looking for me."
He turns and the dark eyes he had been dreaming of is finally out of his dreams and in front of him.
Stunned, Zitao is unable to stop the retreating man once again. He does the next best thing.
Zitao follows him.
They weave through the crowd of dancing bodies, gyrating and obscenely feeling any one they come in contact with but Zitao can avoid them as the stranger is able to create a space to walk amongst the swarm of people.
The outside air is nothing better than the stench of sweat in the dance floor, with cigarette smoke and some mixture of vomited alcohol, but at least it is cold. Left and right Zitao looks, desperate to keep track. He locates him soon enough. But before Zitao could take a calming breath, his mood crashes.
A long well defined arm was around a lady's shoulder. Long black hair and a slight figure, though Zitao couldn't quite see her face, he has a feeling that this particular lady has a resemblance to the one Zitao had seen before.
The stranger looks back and a quirk of his lips sends warning signals to Zitao. Pricks of cold air start to bite and they leave Zitao in shivers. He was about to take a step but right at that very moment, a cab stops in front of the blond stranger and his companion.
Before another breath, he's gone. Again.
The red haired male pulls his coat a little tighter to his body. He opted to walk rather than take the cab home, the club wasn't far from his apartment anyway. No harm could fall on him at this place since he knew it just as well even without any lights. He needs the open space to think, to breathe. His mind was suddenly suffocating, whirring in different directions and stopping all at the same time.
The relief of seeing him again, the way he was able to sense him before he spoke, his voice, up until the appearance of the new companion. Zitao replays it all in his head. How could this beautiful stranger influence him this much?
They haven't spoken for more than a minute. The command of keeping away, though Zitao heard, he chose to disregard. He had done the opposite and where did it get him?
Alone. Walking on this dark road back to his silent home.
He looks back over his shoulder. He doesn’t know what prompted the action but he just does. He sees no one, the direction vacant of any human beings but stray trash and the cold air. He starts on his direction again, this time in a quicker pace.
It makes his heart beating faster, trying to supply the much needed oxygen for his muscle to work right on the sudden strain of activity. The cold doesn't only touch his face but also started to permeate through the skin-covered coat. He feels the strands of hair on his arms start to stand and he tries to rub them over the coat to send some heat.
He thinks he's being watched. Zitao strains his ears, waiting and observing for any sound that may indicate that he is not alone in this walk. However, not a sound reaches his ear. The nagging feeling of having a stalker behind his back wouldn't leave him.
Zitao abruptly stops walking mid-way. He can sense the fear creeping up inside his stomach. The red haired male takes one deep breath to prepare himself with whatever battle he might face. Then, he turns around.
Nothing. He is still faced with an empty road. Zitao took tentative steps back before going on a full blown sprint. Not a minute passes and he's forcing his keys to open the door to his apartment.
Gunshots echo in his ears, a command to bomb the swarm managed to reach his almost deafened ears. Click and there goes the bomb sending their opponents flying straight to their death.
He looks back over his shoulder, changes gears and took out a sniper. Looking through the telescope resulted to nothing as no one was behind them.
"What are you doing?!! Cover me!"
Another swarm is approaching them faster than the previous. He switches his sniper for a rifle and fires a continuous string of shots. Sandbags scattered around them becomes their own saviors but it was not enough. Another round of deafening crisscross of shots and they're dead.
Big bold words of Game Over flashes oh the sixty four inch LCD television and the silence is what deafens them next.
“What the hell was that Tao?” an obviously pissed Jongin asks. “We were on the last swarm and we were about to beat our final score. You could have terminated that soldier but we died. Explain yourself!” Jongin throws his hands up in a gesture of exasperation. Zitao could take Jongin’s drama with his games, he can even smile at moments like this, but he doesn’t.
There was a reason why he was not able to pull the trigger to defeat the last swarm, and that very reason confuses him. The feeling of being watched was once again nagging him and it was stupid to think that his character in the game is included. He could swear that there was someone by his character's back. That was why, instead of pulling the trigger, he made his character turn around and point the gun at the opposite direction. But all his eyes met was only a deserted road of sand and heat. Zitao didn’t have the time to recover and continue the onslaught as the Game Over flashes through his screen.
The red haired male stands up and throws the console on the couch. He moves towards the adjacent kitchen and tries to hunt for whatever food he may be able to present to Jongin. He rummages through the cupboards finding snacks he forgot had ever bought, then grabs the largest one and moves to go back to his best friend, all done in silence.
When Zitao comes back to standing on their shared couch, Jongin has both his eyes trained on him. They have a stare down for seconds and Zitao could see that Jongin wanted to ask something. The earlier drama has been out of his eyes and there was something else in them. They are softer now and Zitao could sense that whatever Jongin wanted to ask, it would be a genuine question of concern. Zitao wants to skip it so he averts his gaze from the stare and flops down on the comfortable couch instead.
Trying to distract his best friend, Zitao opens up a topic he knows Jongin would love to talk about, “So how’s you and…” But he doesn’t get to finish as his best friend visibly shakes his head.
“Oh don’t even try Zitao. I know what you’re doing. And I also know that you won’t succeed because I won’t let you.” Jongin shifts from his position, now fully faces Zitao with both his legs crossed in front of him. “Tell me what’s happening and what’s bothering you.” Jongin demands with a serious tone.
Zitao just shrugs it off. He busies himself with opening the snack instead until it pops open. “Chips?” He offers to Jongin but the other is just staring at him. “No? More for me then!” He shrugs again and tries to look his best enjoying the food. He keeps the facade for about three seconds until finally gives up and heaves a long sigh before answering Jongin’s question. Kind of. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Jongin.”
Jongin suddenly reaches out and snatches the snack from Zitao. He shoves a handful and puts it in his mouth, all the while lecturing the red-head, “Don’t even try. You’re not yourself these past few days. You don’t talk as much, and we both know you talk with every chance you got. You look troubled, as if something’s about to go wrong any moment.” Jongin looks like a kid, too engrossed in eating and talking at the same time, but it’s familiar and Zitao keeps the moment.
The Chinese boy takes another long breath to steady his own heartbeat. The thought of talking about what was happening to him to anyone, even his best friend, was something he has taken into consideration before. But the whole story sounded paranoid even to him, especially when everything was just based on his instincts without any proofs. But Jongin asked and Zitao could no longer hold it in. He needed someone to remind him that everything’s okay. “Have you ever felt like someone’s looking at you?”
“Of course. I’m Kim Jongin. Who wouldn’t look at me?” Who could rely on Jongin to hold a serious conversation?
“Not like that stupid. Like someone’s constantly staring at you. I always sense someone looking at me, but not following me.”
“It sounds like stalking to me Tao. So do you have a guess on who this person is?”
This question had been the same one Zitao asks himself ever since this started. If this was really a case of stalking, Zitao could not think of anyone that he could have crossed paths with and got their attention so much for them to stalk him.
“No one. There is no one.” There’s hesitation in his voice but he doesn’t explain further. Jongin shifts from his position and comes closer to the troubled man. “Hey.” Jongin bumps shoulders with Zitao. “You know that I’m here right?” Then Jongin gives a one arm hug to his best friend. “I know you can whoop asses with your wushu skills, but in case you need some badass back up…” Jongin wiggles his eyebrows up and down, then smiles so wide Zitao can only see most of his teeth.
“You mean I have to call that Park Chanyeol from the security department to have some badass back up?” a hint of teasing is in his voice and Zitao is thankful for the lift of mood. A punch to his shoulder comes as a reply. He holds his attacked side, more from surprise than actual hurt. Jongin was about to launch again but Zitao was able to put both of his hands up to shield himself from further hits by the other. Both guys now have small smiles on their faces, trying to hold themselves back from frenzy laughs about to come.
“The badass back up is me, you little ingrate!” Jongin does not retaliate further but chose throwing pillow as his last weapon and launches the thing to Zitao. He scoffs and smirks when it smacks right in the middle of Zitao’s head. Then a thought suddenly pops up in his head, “Are you sure this is not just you projecting your creepy stalker tendencies towards that tall blonde guy you were talking about?” The pillow he threw is suddenly at his face in a gust. His hair’s blown back and there’s a sting in his nose where the pillow’s force had been centered. Jongin could only cradle his poor nose and double over in pain.
Zitao have thrown it with a greater force than intended due to his surprise at the mention of his “latest obsession”, as Jongin would name it. Up to this day, Zitao would still deny that he stalks the blond stranger. Stalking means secretly finding and following the person for a stretch of time. Zitao isn’t a stalker because how would he even find this particular person if he had no idea where to start? Not to mention following him.
Thinking back, the feeling of being watched seems to have started since the second night he saw him. Somewhere at the back of Zitao’s cluttered mind, he wished that the one who’s looking at him was really this handsome stranger. But how could that be possible if the only two times they’ve met, he was pushed away and left in haste. If it truly was the stranger who was looking at him, he wouldn’t have to stalk him at all since Zitao has made it clear that he wanted to get to know the stranger.
“Stupid! I don’t stalk him. I haven’t even seen him again.”
It had been hours since Jongin left Zitao’s apartment. It looked like his nose wasn’t broken so they were able to continue with another round (or maybe even more) of their own war game and devour most of Zitao’s stock. They were only made aware of the time when Jongin’s phone rang with a ringtone that had Zitao screaming like a girl who saw a flying cockroach. In Zitao’s defense, the “stupid ringtone” was something so much scarier than a cockroach.
“Why would anybody in the world set their boss’ voice as their ringtone, Kim Jongin!” In contrast to Zitao who’s meters away from the phone thanks to the jump he made, Jongin still sits comfortably with his phone in his hand, a vomit-inducing smile plastered on his face. He puts a finger on his lips, as if telling Zitao to shut up. The other can only glare at him through squinted eyes.
Zitao sits down on the carpeted floor closer to the television. He reaches for the snacks instead of the console and continues eating until Jongin finishes his call. All throughout the call, Jongin had this wide face-breaking smile on. Zitao is happy to see this kind of positivity radiating out from his best friend, but he couldn’t help but also cringe from the expression that Jongin makes.
“Yes sir!” It’s the only thing that Zitao hears from Jongin and it seems like that is also the end of their phone call.
“His voice is sweet.” Jongin answers the previous question. He moves to stand up and dust off the stray crumbs of snack from his clothes.
“How is ‘Yah pabo! Submit your article now or I will fire your ass this instant!’ sweet?!!”
Jongin makes a light laugh, like a chuckle, but softer, and Zitao swears he would gag if he doesn’t consider the food he eats. “Because I’m the only one he calls ‘pabo’. It’s like his exclusive name for me. And,” Jongin looks at his wrist watch. “Oops, time to go! Let’s discuss that later!”
“You are so head over heels, and I am so not going to save your ass because I am so judging you.”
“No need to save it, it’s reserved for Do Kyungsoo.” and Jongin even has the nerve to send Zitao a wink before he’s out the door.
Zitao was cleaning and rearranging the furniture that they have moved with the amount of movement they usually do each time they play games when he felt his stomach protest in hunger. The red headed realizes that he hadn’t had a proper meal since the instant noodles that they had for lunch. He sets the vacuum cleaner aside in the living room and makes his way to the kitchen, then scrubs his hands clean before opening cupboards and the refrigerator for a decent meal.
His attempts were fruitless. Zitao only found more packs of instant noodles, junk food, an energy drink, a stray chocolate, and water, none of which would suffice his appetite. The Chinese male makes a mental note to restock with healthier food choices if he still wants to live a longer life. He takes the unfinished chocolate before leaving his apartment to eat outside.
He waits for the elevator to reach his floor. It happens to be almost deserted except for only one other passenger. Zitao has his cap on, V-neck shirt, tight fitting ripped jeans, and his trusty converse. He planned on having a silent ride but then the other passenger caught his attention, long silky black hair and that beautiful face. It’s the same lady he had seen weeks before.
She doesn’t look like she’s about to acknowledge his presence anytime soon, facing forward with head holding in a stiff manner. From Zitao’s point of view, the lady looks fraught and on the edge. He’s about to reach out but the elevator rings and as soon as the doors open, the lady is out of there. A pull coming from nowhere makes Zitao run after her. She’s walking really quickly towards the traffic and it’s a good thing that the pedestrians are signaled green. This relief is short-lived as Zitao looked up to the stoplight meant for the vehicles and the countdown timer is close to zero before the green light goes for them, and the lady still shows no sign of slowing down.
He runs faster, just in time to catch the lady’s wrist before she cross the intersection when the vehicles start going. All kind of noises from busy streets, cars zooming, people walking, and advertisements above made no effect to the lady but the contact on her wrists made her pull back as if electrocuted.
“Who are you? Why are you following me?” she says in a frantic voice. It was supposed to sound like a shout but her voice was weak, too weak. Although she was uptight in the elevator, the lady is agitated now - she couldn’t even look straight at Zitao. She keeps on looking over her shoulder as if waiting for someone to tap on them, as if there was someone behind her.
Zitao worries over the lady and the good in him wants to help her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. My name is Zitao and we live in the same building. I saw you walking straight to the intersection and I just thought you needed to stop so I stopped you. Again, I’m sorry.” A couple of people looked over their direction when the sudden movement from the lady alarmed them, but Zitao doesn’t care. “Let me treat you this dinner?” It was a pure innocent question with hints of concern.
She takes a deep breath and seems to have calmed down for a little. “I’m sorry. I’m Kihwae. And no thanks, i think I’ll just go back inside. Going out seems to be a bad idea as well.” She doesn’t lift her head but only look straight at Zitao’s chest with a small polite smile.
“I insist, please. I promise to save you from more incoming cars. You were going towards the restaurants right? So I bet you’re hungry and I am as well. So why don’t we just go and eat?”
For awhile Zitao thought that she would refuse. The black haired woman looked like she was thinking hard, tilting her head, still not looking up, but then she slowly turns to look over her shoulder. After that, the polite little smile she had stretched a little further and it almost looked like a normal smile.
They ate in silence. Zitao observes Kihwae and she seems to relax little by little by the minute. She was able to finish her food and drink and Zitao believes this is a good sign that she’s okay. He still asks after they have eaten, “Are you okay? You looked a little pale awhile ago.”
Kihwae’s eyes, now more visible to Zitao, widened and the other thought that it may be a bad idea to bring up her situation. Kihwae shook her head a little, “You’d think there’s something wrong with me if I tell you.”
“Everyone has something wrong going with them Kihwae. I would have thought there’s something wrong with you if you tell me that you’re perfectly fine instead.”
She heaves a breath and starts with a soft voice. “Fine. But don’t tell me I didn’t warn you okay? It’s not something you want to experience yourself." Zitao nods in reply. “Have you… Have you ever felt like there are eyes solely set on you?” Kihwae looks on the tabletop, drawing circles with her finger. “Like there’s a camera following you, making you feel like you’re living on a reality TV show and someone’s watching your every moves.” She stops drawing circles and covers her face with both hands, elbows resting on the table.
Zitao wants to answer her but he feels that there’s something more to what she’s about to say. Was it just mere coincidence that they experience the same thing?
She drags her hand down her face until they settle down on the table. “And then I have these nightmares. Really bad ones. They are nightmares in every sense of the word.” A visible shudder runs through her body and Zitao suddenly feels troubled.
"You don't have to continue if it scares you this much." Zitao makes a move to reach out to her but then the personal boundaries and the amount of time they have acknowledged each other restricts him.
"No. I feel like I'd explode if I don't talk about it." She looks upwards a little bit to give Zitao a small smile. "Besides, I already warned you about it. You can't back out now."
Zitao doesn’t even think of backing out from hearing Kihwae's story. He tries hard to recall whatever connection it is from his mind. He feels like this story has been told before.
"Every time I sleep, I dream of getting hurt physically. There's someone that inflicts them but I couldn't see who. And I couldn't fight back." Kihwae's voice shakes and her voice slowly sink down till it’s only merely a whisper, tears threatening to fall evident on her eyes, but she continues. "Then I wake up feeling them, as if every hit really did settled onto my body. But there were no bruises, no blood, not even a scratch." A lone tear escapes from her eye and Zitao marks it as the end of her story.
He reaches out and hands his handkerchief. She takes it with mumbles of thanks and apologies.
"May I ask when it all started?"
“About a month ago I guess?”
Zitao searches his timeline and one particular event clicks. “Since you were with that guy? The tall blonde from the club.”
Kihwae straightens from her hunched position and eyes the other. “Are you sure you’re not following me?” Kihwae didn’t really need an answer for that question but Zitao feels like he needed to reassure the lady that’s she’s safe with him.
“No, I’m really not following you.” He takes a sip of water and continues, “I think it was just coincidence that I was in that club the same night you were.” This, however, Zitao did not fully believe in. The question still lingers within him if everything is really just a coincidence.
“No, it did not start when I met Kris. Come to think of it, I guess it started when we stopped seeing each other.” her eyebrows come to knit. With her nonchalant voice when talking about the blond male, Zitao could tell that what they had didn’t have the chance to deepen before the handsome stranger disappeared from Kihwae’s life.
It turns out that Kihwae didn’t know why Kris left, where he had gone off to, or any other detail about him. What they had was shallow and Kihwae wouldn’t even call it a relationship.
“He’s looking for something else. Rather, he’s looking for someone else.”
They walk towards their apartment and Zitao gets off the elevator first as his room is on the lower floor than Kihwae’s. He bids her good night and the elevator door closes to her livelier face.
The weight of his day comes to him the moment Zitao enters his own room. It was a good thing he cleaned the mess he and Jongin made, there’s nothing better than walking into a clean home, especially when he’s really tired. He steps into the bathtub and immerse himself in the warm water, washing away the tension of his shoulders. He goes back to the conversation he had with Jongin.
His present problem coming up only to hear the same problem later the same day, but from an entirely different person. It’s still hard for him to accept that everything was just a coincidence. He may be paranoid of someone looking at him but Kihwae has made the same description of what he’s going through. He hadn’t had the chance to tell Jongin of his nightmares though. Although that is partly because he didn’t consider them as nightmares. They were vague and there’s nothing to tell.
When sleep comes to him, it has been peaceful but as his sleep progresses, he also slips deeper into his dreams. For the first few days, Zitao dreamt of darkness. He thought he woke up to a blackout but it turned out that he was trapped inside a dark dream. He tried to squint his eyes then opened them big but his efforts were wasted as there was no sign of no matter how weak a light. A shiver runs through his spine even though no wind passed and there was no chill in the air. He knew that running is useless with this darkness. It might do him worse rather than help in his case. Thoughts of being trapped here without anyone knowing started to get to him. He thought of screaming but he was afraid this will only bring enemies, not to mention help. His chest constricts with fast shallow breaths he takes. Panic draws nearer, crawling up through the edges of Zitao’s figure, threatening to fill his airways and bloodstream.
The silence is pierced by a scream of anguish and pain. The deep cry comes from everywhere, it echoes around and inside of Zitao.
Then Zitao wakes up, he can even feel his actions before his eyes open. He was thrashing and screaming, sweat marking his face and his back. For the first few days, Zitao would cry and shake for hours he couldn’t count.
He should be used to it by now but just as he expects the nightmare to end, a new scene comes up and haunts him for some more nights.
Zitao steps out of the tub and dries himself. Sleeping is an activity he's not looking forward to but it is imminent. His body needed rest. The red haired pulls a wife beater over his head and puts on a pajama. He takes the cover off his bed and positions himself wishing that tonight will be peaceful for him.
Sleep has come and Zitao is deep in it.
Darkness has enveloped the wide city outside the windows and also Zitao's dreams.
Spinning around, Zitao concludes that this black pit is endless. He takes a tentative step, trying to explore if what he's standing on is endless as well, and a solid ground welcomes his foot. He takes the information in and tries to explore more. He sharpens his other senses, concentrating and trying to rely on them rather than his sight.
Listening is the same with seeing as he is deafened by silence. Not one sound is detected, no clue as to whether he is outside or inside closed doors. But maybe he is inside, each sound blocked by thick walls. Maybe.
He tries to pick up any kind of scent. The first thing that he sensed was the dry warm scent of earth combined with something wet, a little close to the smell of petrichor but not quite. He struggles to pinpoint what the smell is, metallic and rancid, it must be something very unpleasant. Realization hits him and he wishes he couldn’t smell in the first place. It comes even stronger now that he noticed it. Blood and the smell of death, just like darkness and silence, surrounding him from every directions, making his stomach churn and his knees weak. He covers his nose but he can’t stop the image of the lifeless and the putrefaction constantly forming in his head.
And then the silence was gone, the long deep screams fill his ears. The anguish in it seeps through Zitao, making him want to scream back, voice out his own pain and fear but he is weakened. He could do nothing for the one who screams, for himself, but to think over and over again, stop stop please just stop.
And everything does stop. He awakens to the tangle of sheets and his sweat-filled body. Looking directly to his right where the sliding glass door towards his balcony is situated, he notices how it’s slowly ajar. He didn’t know he left it open last night. The early morning air seeps in his room, he leaves the unmade made and walks towards it. Zitao welcomes this different kind of chill, inhaling the clean air that hopefully blows away the scent of death, letting the cold air touch his skin and dry his sweat.
The sun isn’t up yet but the warmth of its rays and the cool air brings much more relaxation than any sleep he had for the past month.
The fresh morning air encouraged the active nature in Zitao.
He decided to go with his natural hair color when he noticed that the roots started growing longer now. His black hair had always made him look brighter and younger, but also sharper and more handsome. Then he goes out and takes his trusty camera. Walking out of the apartment, he takes a shot of the street and the opposite building. He smiles to the blending of colors, the muted grey-to-black of the road, the bright brick red with hints of vibrant green plants on different windows of the building.
He looks back and angles his camera up his own apartment building until the clouds are visible through the edges of the rooftop. The peaceful blue and white is now stored in his camera.
He almost forgot this, how it feels to capture the most beautiful moments and store them. There’s this certain joy in knowing the story behind every still picture and sometimes, when Zitao fails to remember, he makes up stories behind them. He gathers every little one, from different times and different places, then builds a storyline of his own. Maybe today he can do it again.
He takes pictures of people walking on the sidewalk, crossing the pedestrian, or those just sitting on a bench. Different shades from different clothes, black, orange, and brown to name some, brings life back to his camera. Zitao decides to go to the central park where he can relax and capture more moments.
Spending time outside makes him happier. There are a few times when he looks over his shoulder, or stares off to a direction but the dark haired male shrugs it as a habit from the past month or so. The sun is on its way to setting now and Zitao stays for some last shots. The photographer looks through the viewfinder, places his fourth finger on the shutter, and then steadies his posture.
He takes in the same scenery, people walking, a child playing with a white ball, a man in brown standing by a tree, a group sitting on the grass, everything’s the same but not quite. A turn to his left and he presses the shutter. A man walking the pathway, tall and… blonde.
Zitao’s heart stutters to the thought of Kris approaching him. After a month of absence, the dark haired male didn’t expect Kris to have this same effect on him. But he remembers Kihwae and what happened to her after meeting him. He also remembers those few words the blonde has spoken to him.
“Stop looking for me.”
The warning rings even clearer now than before because no matter how Kihwae thinks that this guy is good, Zitao is not convinced. He should go, before the tall stranger notices him. He really should.
But he couldn’t.
Whatever this guy is, a certain pull always makes Zitao see him, notice him, find him. And when the moment comes that they are face to face, it keeps the dark haired male in place, unmoving and helpless. Perhaps this is the reason he couldn’t go, he wanted to know what it is with the stranger that makes him keep coming back, makes him stay in place, unmindful of the danger he’s warned for.
The stranger sees him then and for the first of all the times they have met, he steps towards Zitao, not away from him. Zitao could only take in Kris’ appearance as he’s glued to his spot, no thought of moving now.
He’s still handsome, much more with the natural light of the fading sun than the neon lights of dark clubs. Zitao was right when thinking that this man is taller than him, probably just a little, but taller still. He has a simple white shirt tucked in brown pants with black leather boots. The blonde hair looks brighter, softly settling like a crown on his lofty head. The dog tag hanging from his neck reflects the light from the sun and the entranced man squints to shield his eyes from the glare.
“I thought I told you to stay away.” If Zitao thought that Park Chanyeol from the security department has an annoying deep voice, this man has a different type of deep voice that sent electricity through his nerves, making them feel like live wires sparked with new power, but then instantly calms him. It makes him weak, as if any command that comes with this voice, he will willingly execute.
He clears his head, a task that was nowhere near easy for him at this very moment. “Let us not forget that you, sir, are the one who approached me.” slowly and carefully, Zitao was able to finish his sentence.
Kris steps a little closer, close to almost trespassing his personal space but the taller was able to stop without stepping in. It is clearer to the photographer the difference in their height when he had to angle his head a little more upwards in order to keep their eye contact. The high tech camera did no justice in capturing this kind of beauty up close. Zitao couldn’t think of any reason that may make him look away from this face.
“I thought you needed a reminder.”
“If you don’t want me around you, why do you follow me then?”
Both held the eye contact. Zitao’s small ones are accusing and hurt while the taller’s are curious and hard.
“What? I do not follow you. I have not even seen you since that night in the club, sir.”
Zitao wouldn’t be swayed and he stands his ground. He will make this guy confess to stalking him no matter what. “Yeah you do! I can feel you looking at me from a distance but when I look over my shoulder, you’re not there.”
There’s a shift in the man’s eyes, a hint of realization and then alarm. He replies almost in a whisper. “That was not me young man.”
He scoffs, “Right. That was someone you hired to follow me. Of course that was not you.” Irritation clouds Zitao's voice. "And stop calling me names as if we’re in some old movie. I have a name, it’s Tao. Why don't you just admit that it was you who was following me?" A grip is suddenly on his arms. It is not too hard as to leave bruises but it is tight enough for Zitao not to escape.
“Because it was not me Tao. Don’t you see? This is why I told you to stay away from me.”
His voice shouldn’t have sounded different. Zitao shouldn’t have liked how this tall liar pronounced his name when the same thing has been spoken by so many people. He should’ve been accustomed to hearing it all those years.
But it shook Zitao’s resolve. “What?”
“Just stay away from me, Tao.” A lingering stare then he was walking away from him again. Zitao though he heard a whisper, just when the tall man passed by him, but he must have heard it wrong.
I don’t want you hurt.
“Kris!” It was the first time in their conversation that Zitao was able to call Kris by his name. The blonde man didn’t offer it but Zitao didn’t care as he knew it already. “Wait!” But Kris didn’t.
Meeting Kris brought a new wave of horror in his nightmares.
The darkness, the stench, and the silence followed by the piercing scream are still there. Then Zitao decided to move from his spot. He counted his steps.
Then he hears the sound of metal clanging and scraping on each other. He takes one more step. Then he stops.
He couldn’t step any longer. Zitao lifts his right foot and extends it. Immediately it is restrained from moving further. He tried kicking and kicking but he made no movement to distance himself but the clanging of metal getting louder.
The dark haired male had a hunch and he acted on it. He extends his right arm and followed by his left. He was right. Both his arm are bound as well.
He kicks and thrashes and downright fights the restraints. When panic and fear subsided, Zitao realizes all he did was futile and it just made him tired. He sinks to the ground, gathers his knees and wraps his arms around them.
Being in the dark and restrained brings him too much fear.
But this is all happening in his head. He couldn’t be hurt here.
The photographer took his camera again. Marked lines are seen in his eyes and stress could be detected if one pays enough attention. Having a bad look is definitely a no no for Zitao, he then looks for a way to address this. He thought of the day he met and talked to Kris, remembering how peaceful that day was.
He goes to a different location this time. It was the local library that he’d always went to. The silence in there is welcoming just like the hubbub of the central park. There were no sounds of the wind, no children playing and laughing, no scent of different dishes blending into aroma.
But in here lies the beautiful lull of the pages turned, people from all ages reading books with different genres, and the distinct smell of old books lingers in the air.
Zitao took shots of people reading, those who had fallen asleep, those who had an array of books in front of them, a group of students (maybe) that had set aside their studying for awhile to talk in hushed tones. He immerses himself in the joy of capturing the secret moments. Just like how he was able to capture a lone man, sitting in one of the secluded seats of the library, nothing but pen and paper in front, who had his head turned to one side with a hand under his chin.
The young photographer thought that this man had fallen asleep but his opened eyes shows that he was wrong. Curious, Zitao follows his gaze and it ends up on the head librarian. It was not his intention to eavesdrop and he leaves the man alone taking his last shot. It was of the man still staring with one side of his lips upturned, a distance filled with muted color of brown table and a brown clothed man in between, and the head librarian with his back turned to the camera but looking at the direction of the lone man now.
Satisfied, Zitao goes back home with a smile. The feeling of someone looking at him is still there but he chooses to shrug it off. If whoever that was following and looking at him was dangerous, this person had had all the chance in the world to bring harm to Zitao, but the young man is still alive. No harm has come his way… at least for now.
He approaches his apartment building and stops in front of the door to the lobby. He angles his camera once again to the top of the building to capture the afternoon sky. From the sides of the viewfinder, he spots a figure. Looking closer to make out a shape of a person, Zitao zooms in and somehow the shape becomes clearer.
Adrenaline rushes through him as the thought burns like wild fire in him, no no no -
It couldn’t be happening again.
The elevators proved useless with its sluggish descent. The young man rushes to the stairs, taking two to three steps at once if he can. He bursts through the rooftop’s door and makes a full circle to locate Kihwae. He sprints and catches her wrist once again where he was perched on top of the ledge.
“Kihwae stop!” he shouts and tugs on both their extended arms. But Kihwae makes no move. “Kihwae come down. It’s me, Zitao!” He didn’t know what good it will do if Kihwae knows that it is him but he needs to do everything to stop this.
Then Kihwae makes a move. From looking straight, she turns her head on the left and then down to where Zitao is. Her cold eyes waver and she’s suddenly weak on the knees. The dark haired male catches her and carries her off the ledge. Upon touching the floor, the lady breaks down with so much tears in her eyes.
Zitao was able to bring Kihwae inside her apartment. Her living room was pristine but the state of her bedroom mirrored her state. The young male wonders if he leaves his bed like this after he wakes from a horrific nightmare.
The bed is unmade, pillows thrown everywhere, the comforter lies on the bedside floor where Zitao thinks that Kihwae stays and continues her sleep once she has calmed down.
He brings her to the bed and supports her into a sitting position. He then moves towards the door but Kihwae is fast to stop him.
“Wait! Don’t leave me…” There’s a plea in her voice that Zitao couldn’t ignore but he also knows that Kihwae needs some time to herself. “It’s okay Kihwae. I’ll just be outside your door. I’ll go get you something to drink while you change clothes okay?”
Kihwae nods a little and Zitao goes out of the bedroom.
To say that the young male was scared is an understatement. Zitao is terrified. If this continues, he doesn’t know what Kihwae will do. Besides that, everything that Kihwae has gone through, Zitao experiences; that feeling of someone looking at him and the nightmares. He’s still confused as to why they experience this but he has a gut feeling that everything leads back to Kris.
Will he fall to his death as the first girl he had seen with Kris? Will someone save him the way he just saved Kihwae?
Kihwae steps out of her room in a clean shirt and loose pants. Zitao is happy to see that she was able to wash the tears away as well. Though her face is still a little swollen from fear and crying, there’s an almost glow back in there just like when he had first seen her. Her silky black hair is tied neatly to a bun.
It turns out that the young male was unable to get the drink he promised her because he was afraid to invade her personal things, and he didn’t want to open every cabinet to look for the things he needed. Kihwae got them instead. She extends a glass of water to Zitao and she pours some water into her own.
“It’s always the same dream.” Kihwae has always had a lightness associated to Zitao, she had no problems talking and opening up to him. “I dream of a dark chamber and I’m trapped, chained, in it. At first I was just alone and nothing was happening. Then I was hit on the back with something hard… like a wood.” Her hands start to shake a little so she puts the glass down. “It hurt a lot and I think my bones broke. But then the hits didn’t stop on my back, sides, and thighs. No part of me was left unmarred. I kept screaming and crying but I couldn’t hear myself I could only hear the laughter of the one who was hitting me.”
“I only see glimpses of him. He kicks my face with his boot. He wears a brown uniform with a black hat. It looked like a uniform from an old military. There’s always so much red in my feet, I only recognized that it was blood when I collapsed on top of it. And I just keep thinking for it to stop. And then finally it does. But not before I hear him whisper for me to kill myself. That it would be easier that way.”
Zitao then gathers her in an embrace. Kihwae cries hard and the young male apologizes for making her remember the terrible nightmares.
“I’ll help you. I’ll make this stop.”
The sobbing lady didn’t know why but she felt that what Zitao said is genuine and that he will be able to solve this.
That night, Kihwae slept in peaceful silence.
In Zitao’s room, he thrashes and wakes with gasps of breath.
Zitao waits for Kris in the park, hoping that they will cross paths once again. He could only connect everything back to Kris. It has to be Kris. No other thing connects Zitao, Kihwae and the other girl, only Kris.
But the sun has set and the moon has long taken its place and no Kris came to the park.
The feeling of someone looking at him didn’t go away until he was on his way home.
He passed by the photo shop to transfer his shot and have them printed. He decided to get it tomorrow morning because the store was about to close and the night is getting deeper. As soon as he stepped out of the store, he felt eyes trained on him. Thinking that it was the same as before, he gives no mind. But with a little more to go to his apartment, he sees a shadow following him.
Running would only tire him and this person would have the advantage on that. Screaming would also be unsuccessful when no one is close and who would get themselves in trouble right? Zitao could only make one decision.
He slows with his steps and pretends to get something of his bag. Good thing he had his tripod and this is a good weapon already. He holds it hard and steady waiting for this person, ready to swing anytime. Before the stranger could take two steps more towards Zitao, he thrusts the tripod hard to the man’s stomach who doubles over from the impact. The dark haired male was about to hit his back again but the man was able to block it with his arm. The stranger pushes Zitao and he stumbles.
The man stooped down to grab something by his boots. A glint of light flashes on it and Zitao sees that it’s a knife. Where Zitao has a painful weapon, his enemy has a killing one. But he still puts on his brave face. The man charges on while Zitao plans his defense. Using his wrist to deflect the man’s hand that was holding the knife, the first blow was unsuccessful.
Zitao had a longer reach due to the added length brought by the tripod. He uses it to swing at the man. It doesn’t connect as the man grabs it and uses it to pull Zitao towards him. With everything that is happening, Zitao could only see the incoming knife directed at his head. Instinct kicks in and he uses a hand to grab its sharp edges.
He feels white hot pain travel through him, weakening him for a moment, but he must recover. When he opens his eyes, ready to punch and strike, he witnesses the demise of his attacker.
Something that looks like a halo of light is throwing punches on Zitao’s attacker until the man runs away and the halo is walking towards him.
He’s suddenly dizzy and closes his eyes. What he feels next is a hand on his shoulder, and someone trying to pry his hold from his injured hand. He didn’t realize he was holding his hand too tight until that moment. Still lightheaded, the injured male could not focus on what is happening. A white handkerchief is being wrapped on his injured hand with such gentleness that Zitao couldn’t almost feel the feather light touches.
“I’ll take you to the hospital.”
He knows that voice.
“Come on. Let’s go.” His arm is being led into wrapping around the blonde’s neck but Zitao pulls back.
“Why are you here?”
“This is no time for that Tao. Come on.”
And just like the other times, this hypnotical voice makes him obey to a certain extent. “My apartment is nearer. And I hate hospitals.”
They went to Zitao’s apartment where Kris insisted on helping the dark haired male. He did not ask how Zitao knew his name. He did not asked any question at all. When Zitao asked how old he was, he got a curt answer.
This made Zitao think that he was younger than Kris. His touches were still light but Zitao focused on each of them until it was over. Kris had done a beautiful job that made Zitao wondered, how many people he had done this for. Soon enough he was pushed to sleeping. It was not hard to fall into it as the events of his day drained him.
The last things he had of that day was the sight of Kris in front of him. He fights the closing of his eyes, his sight becoming blurry as the halo of light comes closer to him. He stops fighting the closing of his eyes when warmth touched his forehead. He succumbs to the comfort of his bed and the presence of the other.
“Sleep now Zitao.”
And before his consciousness was fully take from him, he hears a soft voice.
Because I felt you needed me.
PART 1 | PART 2