You’ll always hate how your writing used to sound

I’m having a roaring good time cleaning out a writing folder filled with incomplete, half-assed fiction, themed articles on beauty, tech and health, as well as a bunch of incoherent poems, and God knows what else I might unearth. Painful as it is, the Recycle Bin is where they shall all go.

I thought I might have written some gems, but really, most pieces are utter crap. I hate how I sounded five years ago. It was then that I used to contribute very short articles to a now-defunct e-zine for silver-haired folks, as well as a Japanese health and beauty site that has unfortunately gone the way of the dodo. Writing came to me rather easily then – it kills me that I’ve developed a lethal overthinking habit, and I can’t seem to write as quickly and smoothly now. I’m hoping to regain some writing mojo.

To celebrate the purge of my writing folder, here’s a short one I wrote to supplement a campaign for healthier food choices for the older generation. Mind you this was five years ago.

Join me as I cringe and watch this burn.


A Bitter-Sweet Life

Most of us battle sugar-addiction on a daily basis. When feeling tired, stressed out or just plain hungry, we reach for sugar-laden quickies – chocolates, icecream or a doughnut with our coffee.

Bitter foods may not be appetising, but studies have shown that bitter foods stimulate our taste receptors on the tongue, increasing bile flow and nutrient absorption. Nutritionist dietitician Nicole Dube of Halifax, N.S. encourages consumption of bitter foods and herbs as “help to stimulate digestive juices and support food digestion.” Enhanced digestion of bitter vegetables leaves you feeling full and satisfied for much longer than that tempting bar of chocolates.

Hate bitter foods? Here are some bitters that make excellent addition to soups and salads, and when sprinkled over pastas and pizzas, or stuffed in a breakfast wrap.

KALE

(photo http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4408/Top-10-Health-Benefits-of-Eating-Kale.html)

With over 45 different flavonoids in kale being identified by researchers, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties helps to relieve chronic inflammation and supports our body’s detoxification system.

ENDIVE

(photo http://www.renaissanceherbs.com.au/herbs-a-z/endive)

Chocked full of phytonutrients, endives support the liver by reducing cholesterol, and balancing our hormones.

PUNTARELLE

(photo http://www.123rf.com/photo_12793588_fresh-puntarelle-vegetable-on-white-background.html)

A member of the chicory family, sometimes known as asparagus chicory, the puntarelle is an Italian favorite that is low in calories and extremely high in vitamin C and B9 density.

RADICCHIO

(photo http://www.iknowvegetables.com/radicchio.html)

Fresh radicchio is one of the excellent sources of vitamin K. Increasing intake of vitamin K has an established role in treatment of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, as it limit neurona damage in the brain.
SPINACH

(photo http://food.sulekha.com/dishimages/24940.jpg)

Lutein, the carotenoid found in spinach, prevents eye diseases such as age-related cataracts and macular degeneration.

The next time you’re craving a sugary boost, think of the healthier bitter alternatives that are in fact, sweeter in the long run.

Need further convincing to eat your bitters? Bitter greens like radicchio, endive, and kale contains phytonutrients that support the liver – the vital organ that stabilizes our hormones, purifies the blood and metabolizes fats.


I cringed, so hard.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

A Gentle Rocking Breeze

Out of the blue, she was missing him tonight.

It was almost a year since their last text (12th April, to be very exact). This she affirmed with the texting app, and at that moment she scrolled to his chat, he was ‘Online’. When they say technology was a bane of romance there weren’t a single ounce of lies. If goodbyes were solely based on letters and a huge sigh, she wouldn’t hate herself for not typing ‘Hi’. She wished he were simply gone for good, so she wouldn’t be tempted to check on his life. Instead, he was virtually haunting her mind, living within the very best memories that belonged to another time.

Every single guy she dated since could never match up to his humour, genuine personality and unpretentious charm. Despite lying to her face the very first time they met, he never told her another lie. And despite thinking that she would always be a cold-hearted person, she dearly missed him. She missed his good-mornings and goodnights. She missed knowing he would always have her back. She missed his promise that he would always be her very best friend. She missed typing furiously at her phone and hanging on to every written word from the other side.

She couldn’t watch a funny shihtzu video on YouTube now without tearing up a little because that used to be his pet name. She couldn’t drink another beer with a ridiculous name without recalling he’d bought her a ‘Fucking Hell’ on their very first date. On that same day, they shared a salty 4-cheese pizza and till date, that dish still takes her back to that night (‘so cheesy! How do we finish this?’). As a human GPS, their very first joke was her telling him to turn left instead of right, and perhaps she never wanted to stop being a terrible navigator, so she would always relive that inside joke in her mind.

Night cycling would never be the same for her, if he weren’t riding by her side from dusk to dawn. She would never forget lying with him on the break barriers of the sea just watching the stars and talking about life. She would always recall the salty breeze on her face as she laid so close to the ocean, with her head on his bag, and he would sneak little glances at her as though she wouldn’t realise. Her favourite food never tasted the same since they last shared it on a dirty bench in a deserted park in the middle of the night. She would always remember sitting at the backseat of his car and all he wanted to do was hold her hand. She sorely missed the right fit of his palm to hers, and the painfully shy way he first held it, and told her he was never letting go. Good times were simply endless conversations in every dark, quiet spot they managed to find. And even now she could recall every word of their last heart-to-heart.

People, she realised, could be so vastly different, yet have so much they could build in common. For the very first time, she thought she could be falling in love. She regretted the very first letter she wrote for him – the very act of penning a letter was an important gesture, and she was sharing a significant bit of her core. It was then she discovered her biggest fear was destroying his heart. Perhaps the very thought of their perfect fit scared her too much. She always knew the pen was her most lethal tool, and with another letter she carved out their tangible, irreversible distance.

Even with impossible differences, they thought they could be friends.

She always doubted herself since, thinking that to end it all on her terms was a very selfish move. After all, perhaps this was ‘the right guy’, at the wrong time. So she gave it time.

Promises were as easily broken as they were made. This she knew. She knew a year would make a big difference, let alone 4 years – he wouldn’t possibly remember to come back for her in 4 long years. There would be too much to bridge within that time when they weren’t even bothering to speak, or catch up. No ‘Happy Birthdays’, ‘How are you?’, or simply ‘I hope you’re doing fine.’

She could say ‘Let’s catch up now,’ but some distances were simply too great. So she would resort to re-reading their texts, his letter, and the diaries she wrote when they were more than friends.

 

Tonight she sat at their familiar spot, moon-gazing to a gentle rocking breeze.

Was it a little bit of salt she could taste in the air?

 

—-

 

P.S. There are fine lines between fiction and fact.
You decide what’s real and what’s merely written text.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

 

Book Review: Selling Scarlett

I received this book in exchange for an honest review, and here it is!
sellingscar
Published April 13th 2013 by Barkley’s Books

SYNOPSIS:
Elizabeth DeVille doesn’t belong at a party like this–one where the gowns cost more than her Camry and cigars run higher than her grad school utility bills. Dragged out of seclusion by her best friend Suri, Elizabeth is merely playing dress-up, rubbing elbows with a crowd that banished her troubled family years ago.

Hunter West is tired. Tired of parties, tired of pretending, and tired of trying to right a wrong that haunts him every day. Bourbon heir and professional poker player by day, by night Hunter is gambling with his life in a high-stakes game of crime and blackmail.

When Elizabeth stumbles into Hunter’s den of vices, she’s a light in the darkness, a flame in the void. And, just like everything he touches, Hunter mars her in a record time. To rectify the damage done, Elizabeth needs money she doesn’t have, and she’s come up with a foolproof way to get it.

Follow Elizabeth–code-named Scarlett–to the lush Nevada brothel where she’ll auction her virginity and risk the only thing that’s not for sale: her heart. The highest bidder is a familiar face, with wicked hands and the devil’s mouth. And a secret so dark that it could cost her life.

MY REVIEW:
Ella James’ brilliant stand-alone is just the right kind of provocative. Hunter West charms you off your feet and in many parts leave you swooning. Scarlett, or Elizabeth DeVille, knows fully well how to play her trump card of innocence. Volleying between the point-of-views of the different characters keeps up the fast pace where the plot thickens

“I’d gotten my first glimpse of Elizabeth DeVille. She’d had her hair in a pony-tail that stuck up off the side of her head, and she’d been wearing short red shorts and a light blue tank top with a whale on it. “You like whales?” I’d asked her when I finished with the car. Her face had gone all soft and pretty, making me feel more like one-hundred-and-three than the twenty-three I was, and she’d shrugged. “Yeah, but not a lot more than any other animal. I just like saving things.”

Semi-professional poker player, and full-time playboy, Hunter West doesn’t commit to relationships. At Love Incorporated, the brothel in Vegas owned by his best friend, Marchant Radcliffe, Hunter pays for love as he prefers “no strings attached”.

“I think of him as part tiger. He’s languid to the point of appearing almost lazy, and yellow or green, those eyes are framed by ridiculous lashes, set in a strong face with prominent cheekbones, full lips, and a sensuous smile.”

Elizabeth finds him intriguing despite his reputation and like the preyed in the cat-and-mouse, she can’t stay away. Entangled in the suspenseful web of lies, she is victim to the scandalous politics surrounding the brothel. In Hunter, she begins to find a surprisingly sexy appeal.

“It’s kind of surprising, considering he spends most of his time in Vegas, playing poker (professionally, of all things), man-whoring, and tossing back his family’s infamous Louisiana bourbon.”

Sexual tension, laced with the deceitful plot that kept me at the edge of my seat, makes this novel a winner. Elizabeth’s retention of innocence in the face of a new kind of awakening strikes me as comedic…except the training she receives at Love Incorporated takes her to a whole new level.

“With the exception of Hunter West, who’s been my own personal porn since that fateful night Mom’s Porsche broke down, I don’t find that many men attractive. Maybe I am a lesbian, but I don’t think so.”

Whilst agreeing with many readers that due to the myriad of sub-plots and other characters I found this book confusing, it has nevertheless been an enjoyable read. Definitely looking forward to her sequels in the Love, Inc series!

Writing Prompt: Mint

Describe the taste of mint, without using the words blue, green, cool or fresh.
No, you can’t use “minty” either. — Sarah Selecky

You place it gently at the tip of your tongue, slowly wrapping it in a fold, delivering it into the moist cave between your lips as you clench your teeth shut. You close your eyes to savor the first burst of sharp flavor and here comes your first thought – it tastes like the sea on the cusp of summer’s noon.
Its circular body is flipped through and through, crashing against the banks of your teeth like a pebble in restless tides, chipping away each time it hits the shores. Alongside the summer heat, it glows with a force. It is a piece of invitation – come to the sea where it is cold, and I will melt the heat away.

At its peak, it throbs with torridity, fighting with a fervor to be scorchingly cold.

At the close of the day it is chipped to its core, releasing feeble spurt of tangy tremor as the setting sun retreats.
Its purpose dutifully served, it fades to nothingness.

xoxo viktoriajean

tumblr_m8muquM1zR1rbn12so1_500_large

Book Review: I Heart New York

Whenever I’m done with a grueling day at work, a piece of light, fun chick-lit (or the likes of it) brings back the cheer in me. Lindsey Kelk’s humour is not at Sophie Kinsella’s, but rather, in a homelier manner her characters are likeable, relatable and slapstick funny. I couldn’t help liking Angela Clark. She is neither stupid nor ditzy. And the ballsy take-no-shit in her makes me want to follow the rest of her adventures to Paris and Las Vegas. FYI I’ve also ordered the rest of the I Heart series!
20130928-171450.jpg
Angela Clark finds respite in New York after finding her fiance in the backseat semi-naked with another woman, at her best friend’s wedding. Worst thing is…EVERYONE knows about it but her. She traipses off to a new continent with nothing but 2 pairs of underwear and suitcase full of mismatched clothes. There’s nothing an overhaul can’t do, right?

This was an easy book to read. At the heart of the novel, a girl just needs time off to discover what she really wants in life. I would have totally done the same thing, to leave everything behind and start afresh in a new place. She makes a new best friend from the hotel concierge desk – Jenny – who takes her on a whirlwind ride in the new city, and as she takes on a bright revamped outlook on life, she draws people with her new vibrant personality, and men flock to her side. What a laugh, when she has to keep a blog detailing all the juicy secrets of her life and both her dates find out about it.

Getting to know the cast in I Heart is much like meeting a new set of friends whose lives appear totally typical but whom are in fact as screwed up as the rest of us. Reading I Heart New York was like cruising down the Big Apple for the first time: walking down Saks at Fifth Avenue, ogling at Macy’s and Bloomingdales, fighting vertigo on the Empire State Building. New York’s magic comes alive amidst frenzied dates to band gigs, late nights in Manhattan and detours to Boston. I must say, I’m definitely awaiting the arrival of the rest of the installments in the series!

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release: September 7th 2010
Genre: Chick-Lit, Fiction, Popular Culture, Romance, Big Apple
My Rating: 6 / 10
Recommended for: Travelers, summer reads, light reads

If I HEART was ever to be made a movie, I would cast:
ANGELA CLARK: Alicia Silverstone
as

ALEX REID (the rockstar): Nicholas Hoult
Nicholas-Hoult001

TYLER (the perfectly dreamy handsome & rich businessman): Kevin Zegers
kevin zegers

JENNY LOPEZ (the best friend!): Cheryl Cole
Cheryl-Cole-HD-Wallpaper-1024x768

SYNOPSIS:

Angela Clark is in love—with the most fabulous city in the world!

When Angela catches her boyfriend with another woman at her best friend’s wedding, she’s heartbroken and desperate to run away. With little more than a crumpled bridesmaid dress, a pair of Louboutins, and her passport in hand, Angela decides to jump on a plane for . . . NYC!

Settling into a cute hotel and quickly bonding with benevolent concierge Jenny—a chatterbox Oprah wannabe with room for a new best friend—Angela heads out for a New York makeover, some serious retail therapy, and a whirlwind tour of the city. Before she knows it, she’s dating two sexy guys and blogging about her Big Apple escapades for a real fashion magazine. But while it’s one thing telling readers about your romantic dilemmas, it’s another working them out for yourself. Angela has fallen head over heels for the city that never sleeps, but does she heart New York more than home?

(Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella, get ready for the summer debut of the year…
When you’re running away from a broken heart, there’s only one place to go…
Adjusting tiaras at the foot of the aisle, Angela and her best friend prepare for the wedding of the year. But events don’t go as planned. And when a girl is in possession of a crumpled bridesmaid dress – and can’t go home – New York (for the very first time) seems like an excellent idea.
Angela’s new friend Jenny Lopez gives Angela a whirlwind tour of the city that never sleeps, and a makeover. Who hasn’t dreamed of starting afresh with a sassy New York wardrobe, a new haircut and a trip to the make-up counter?
Before she knows it, the new Angela is getting over her broken heart by having dinner with two different boys. And, best of all, she gets to write about it in her fabulous new blog. But it’s one thing telling readers all about your romantic dilemmas. It’s another trying to figure them out for yourself!
Warm, funny and unputdownable, I Heart New York is an unforgettable debut)

Book Review: You Don’t Have to say You Love Me

Neve Slater’s self-esteem is buried somewhere underneath her size 32 waist-line. She battles to fit herself into a size 10 in order to finally attract the attention of her love interest William, and decides to enter a ‘pancake relationship’ with the sex-god celebrity journalist Max.

Max’s social reputation as a full-time jerk with the ability to charm the knickers off any woman was Neve’s sure-fire guarantee that she would never fall in love with him. So to gear up for WIlliam’s return to the country and back into her life, Max offers to be her ‘pancake boyfriend’ —- the first pancake relationship in her life which is bound to be imperfect and not made to last.

‘We both got so obsessed about that first pancake being thrown away that we forgot something really important,’ Max explained. ‘That first pancake tastes just as good as all the other ones. It’s not its fault that it was first in line and the pan wasn’t hot enough so it got a bit lumpy and misshapen.’
‘And when you’re really famished that first pancake tastes better than all the ones that come after it,’ 

Here we have a pair of perfectly compatible man and woman too busy coming up with excuses for how they should not be together, that they fail to see how right they are for each other. Happens a lot, no?

20130811-233638.jpg

“That was the worst thing about having a relationship with someone, even a pretend relationship. You opened up, let someone in, and when it was over, they had all the ammunition they needed to completely destroy you.” 

You don’t have to be a snarky bitch to love their verbal sparring and offhand flirtations. Manning’s fabulous plot is moulded by her wonderfully written prose with comedic interjections that made this novel so enjoyable. The shallow man-whore becomes the tamed romantic. The nerdette with oversized hips gains confidence through her unlikely pancake soulmate, and when WIlliam inevitably returns to the country, Max has to let go of Neve, to whom he eventually confesses that

“We don’t stop, not even when we reach the finish line. It’s a journey for life, Neve.”

I fell in love with the book cover (with the lips) the moment I’d laid eyes on it, and I’ve never even heard of Sarra Manning until I bought the book on impulse. I fell in love with it further when I found out that the male character Max has the typical outlook of a bad-boy I personally would love, with a secret mellow side he only shows to a selected few. Personally, I felt that Manning’s novel gives off a more realistic vibe in comparison to the plethora of chick-lit on popular best-selling shelves. I fell deeply in love with the book somewhere past the middle point with the ferocity with which Max was delivering the duties of being Neve’s trial lover. His conviction was the reason this make-believe relationship stood apart from commercialized versions of love. It was literally as if he was telling Neve: You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.

“She was so fed up with unrequited love and platonic love and all the other kinds of love that weren’t passionate, romantic, can’t-live-without-you, I-have-to-have-you-right-now, the-beat-of-your-heart-matches-the-beat-of-mine love.” 

This book is about finding your way around unfamiliar grounds and learning to push past perceived boundaries that any physical characteristics has limited you to.

Author: Sarra Manning
Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Corgi (February 3rd, 2011)
Rating: 8.5 / 10

If this were to be made into a movie…

NEVE SLATER – bookish, good-natured fat girl: Scarlett Johansson
scarlett-johansson-natural-golden-brown-beach-wave-hairstyle-mtv-movie-awards

MAX – celebrity journalist, smooth-talking ladies’ man: Justin Timberlake
justin-timberlake-the-2020-experience-photo-shoot-tom-munro-main

CELIA SLATER – the bubbly, devious younger sister: Karlie Kloss – always encouraging, fun, and effortlessly perfect
kloss

WILLIAM – the long-time friend who is unattainably perfect: Matthew Lewis
matt-lewis-500

SYNOPSIS:
Sweet, bookish Neve Slater always plays by the rules. And the number one rule is that good-natured fat girls like her don’t get guys like gorgeous, handsome William, heir to Neve’s heart since university. But William’s been in LA for three years, and Neve’s been slimming down and re-inventing herself so that when he returns, he’ll fall head over heels in love with the new, improved her.

So she’s not that interested in other men. Until her sister Celia points out that if Neve wants William to think she’s an experienced love-goddess and not the fumbling, awkward girl he left behind, then she’d better get some, well, experience.

What Neve needs is someone to show her the ropes, someone like Celia’s colleague Max. Wicked, shallow, sexy Max. And since he’s such a man-slut, and so not Neve’s type, she certainly won’t fall for him. Because William is the man for her… right?

Somewhere between losing weight and losing her inhibitions, Neve’s lost her heart – but to who?

oo4 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

The kids today are gone away petitioning the dust
Just misfit melancholy dregs gone lost in the mall
Wanderers to nowhere at all

It was never in Max’s honest intentions to fall asleep with his head in Devynn’s lap. It was never in his expectations that she would stay to watch him fall asleep.

She knew not to probe, and merely studied the way his eyebrows knit into a frown that deepened in his troubled slumber. Her thumb traced the anxiety written all over his forehead, finally applying a little more pressure to ease the creases between frowning brows. That appeared to help, as Max was evidently falling into a more peaceful sleep, marked by a tiny snore…

Lithely, Devynn slipped out from under his weight, replacing herself with a soft pillow. When she had smoothed out Max’s dark brown hair, she pulled the duvet blankets over his sleeping frame. Quietly, she left him to his dreams.

******************************************

“Don’t leave me!”

Max awoke in distress, gripping the blankets so hard his knuckles turned white. It took a full minute for him to remember where he was. The bedroom was dark but not pitch-black, and it was Devynn and not the servant-boy who had stayed by his side.

She too was gone, and he was tucked comfortably in bed. Max ran his fingers across his shoulders, feeling a phantom warmth that still lingered from Devynn’s presence.

Suddenly, a fear struck Max. His friends always vanished or were taken away, simply because they had been in touch with Max. He was afraid this fate awaited Devynn and his new friends. That Devynn would abruptly vanish like a servant-boy whose companionship had kept him sane during those long nights. His only friend had departed one day like a burst bubble, whose disappearance he missed from blinking his eyes.

He did not wish the same fate upon Devynn, or Sora, or Thierry.

He looked around for his room-mates but they had not returned.

Something else caught his attention.

The dining table was adorned with colourful plates, all laden with a selection of Korean cuisine – rolls and rolls of fat kimbap, beef stew, cold noodles, bean paste noodles, and kimchi pancakes, inducing an audible growl from the pits of his stomach. A note to him was written in a beautiful cursive hand.

You must be hungry after your sleep. Don’t skip any meals. I am known for my excellent culinary skills, so…count yourself lucky! – Devynn

It was like he had been dead to the world when she had prepared all these food. No clanging pots and pans were heard. After all, despite a brief nightmare, he just had one of the best sleeps in a long time.

His mouth watered as he sat down to savour the sumptuous spread. He made a mental note to ask for a recipe for her salmon sushi rolls. A trace of a smile tugged at Max’s lips when an image of Devynn arranging the sushi rolls on a plate popped into his mind.

The buzzer to the apartment door sounded.

“Package for Mr Max? Please sign over here.”

The bulk was loaded into the living quarters, a red ‘FRAGILE’ label intact on the rock-hard casing. Finally! — his beloved guitar was here, shipped from Korea on request. It was not smashed, after all.

Hastily shutting the door, he threw open the casing, and ran his fingers over the familiar rosewood and strings – the familiar scent soothed his anxieties.

******************************************

 

Their den swarmed with movement, speech and activities. All of their members were in attendance. A heavy cloud of smoke hung in the air, filling every nook and cranny with the odor of filthy tobacco. Above them, busy streets of Tokyo were bustling with cars and traffic.

The clubhouse was their second home, where everyone gathered when nobody desired to go home. That happened often.

Hazily lit by a flickering lamp was a round table where they gambled. Each filled their usual spot, puffing away on weed and cheap cigarettes.

“That new guy– what’s his name again?—was such a dick. Did you see how the girls were all over him? Is that why you’ve been brooding the whole damn day?” Shiwon asked, giving Justin a light push on his shoulder.

“Shut the hell up, Shiwon.” Justin sat down on a chair and slunk further in his seat.

“Do you want us to teach him a lesson? Just say it.” Dong Hae cracked his knuckles and smirked.

“The girls were all ‘oh look at that hunk’. Bleargh. He looks a bit like Taguchi, don’t you think?” Shiwon laughed.

“Shut your mouth.” Taguchi banged a fist on the table. “Justin, just holler if you need back up.”

“Honestly, do you guys like violence that much?” Akanishi asked with a frown. He looked at Dong Hae, then at Shiwon and Taguchi.

“What’s the matter with you, Akanishi?” Shiwon challenged, his fists balled up in a combat stance.

“Enough.” Justin’s word brought silence.

Hee Chul, who had been curled up in his mid-afternoon nap, was awokened. Annoyed, he sat up and flipped his long hair. Running his tongue over his dry lips, Hee Chul said, “Simmer, Justin. You ruined my beauty sleep.” Hee Chul unfolded his legs, got up and sashayed towards Justin who was still in his seat, looking away from the group. Running his perfectly manicured fingers across Justin’s chest, Hee Chul gave a seductive moan and stared into Justin’s eyes. “Who angered my dear Justin?”

Justin pushed Hee Chul’s hands away. Hee Chul gave a seductive laugh. He cocked his head and looked at Justin. “You are one stubborn bitch, and I love you anyway.” Looking around the room, Hee Chul asked, “Since Justin won’t tell me, would any of me kindly give me an update?”

“It’s the new guy.” Dong Hae explained. “Someone’s been frowning the whole day and he won’t admit that the new douchebag is the real reason.”

“Lies. Why would a new guy get on his nerves? No one can out-fight our Justin.”

“This one can,” Justin mumbled.

“What did you say?” Akanishi leaned in to hear Justin, but caught nothing else.

Just then, Dong Hae’s cell phone rang. “Hello….speaking…….WHAT? Holy shit. Right now?” He hang up abruptly.

“Guys, it’s Daiisun. The previous dealer. Our loot was seized. The people from Che-mun Corporation is on their way.”

Everyone stood up, vulgarities flying in all directions.

“Listen up! We have to leave right now.” Justin was in control.

“Where to?”

“Get to Daiisun. We have to keep to our promise.”

And they were off.

******************************************

It was 6 months ago. The deal was made within the hour.

The 7 boys -Justin, Taguchi, Akanishi, Dong Hae, Chris, Shiwon and Hee Chul – accepted Daiisun’s offer to be runners. They would have to back Daiisun in every deal. They knew the market like the back of their hands, and Daiisun could use a whole bunch of street-smart high-school thugs.

On paper, Daiisun was an international trade union, working under pseudo licenses from the local government. In truth, they were an underground organisation amassing cash from trafficking humans and transacting drugs and all other types of illegal or fake goods. Their activities centered around South Korea and Japan as well as the rest of Asia.

The terms of the contract were listed when Daiisun bought their loyalties for 10 million dollars.

1. They were to abide by the leader and Daiisun’s words under all circumstances.
2. Betrayal would result in immediate death.

They became slaves to money in the underworld.

Daiisun’s biggest rival was Che-mun Corporation, which dealt in Korea, Japan and China, and whose leader led with an iron fist.  Often, both sides have come to blows over clashes in trade.

With the boys’ help, Daiisun had come to an agreement with Che-mun over the use of trade space in the local region. Daiisun would have clients that will not overlap with Che-mun’s clients, such that both corporations would work hand in hand in the market and no boundaries were crossed.

6 months later, all these right would come crashing down.
***

In a dark alley linking Daiisun’s warehouse to the Daiisun main building, tall men in trenchcoats and dark glasses lined the place. Tension hung in the air.

Daiisun’s head honcho stood face to face with Che-mun’s. Both were tall enough to see eye-to-eye, unwavering in their poised stance.Unspoken fury threatened to boil over.

“It seems like your men stepped out of line first, secretly made deals with our biggest client, having sold 200 pounds.” Daiisun spoke.

“My men did nothing of the sort. In fact, your men killed mine in order to get a deal that was rightfully ours. Your men are at my mercy.”

“Let them go this instant. My men would never jeopardise this agreement. You are using this excuse to break off our agreement, so you can raid our warehouse.”

Anger flashed in Che-mun’s eyes. He took a step closer to Daiisun.

Instantly, Daiisun was backed up by his members straightening up in their bearings, as if to warn Che-mun against any rash actions.

“Why don’t you get those boys who initiated this deal to get here right now?” Che-mun challenged. “Those boys presumably made a promise to safeguard this promise.”

“We did.” Justin announced as he stepped into the alley amidst the heightened tension.

Behind him, the other 6 boys assembled.

“You hired…kids? Boys, go home to your mummies. Curfew’s over,” he chuckled, looking over his shoulders at Justin.

Several men sniggered as they watched the young boys doubtfully.

“What are you laughing at?” Dong Hae grimaced and stepped forward brazenly.

Justin placed a hand on Dong Hae’s arm.

Looking straight at Daiisun, then at Che-mun, he said, “We’ve kept our promise. We hurt no men, nor did we break any agreement.”

“Then where are the goods? Did they fall into the sea? You boys were last seen trading.” Daiisun boomed.

“We did as told. Che-mun himself was present, we saw you getting into the limo outside the ferry terminal. It was a tri-party trade. The other party acknowledged the loot.” Justin rocked back on his heels in disbelief. The tension in the air was rising rapidly. He heard a few knuckles cracking. It was a multi-million dollar deal. Tempers were bound to be a lot more short-fused.

Che-mun laughed and turned to face Justin. “Is this all you can do? Daiisun was too stupid to trust you boys, but I am not. Perhaps you looted them all to make a bit more…extra cash. Who else is in this game? Who else bought you?” These further insinuations seemed to produce a veil of doubt on Daiisun’s already cynical expression.

He sniggered, turned back to look at Daiisun. “The deal…is off.”

Instantly, an uproar rose in the dark alley. It was of bodies slamming into walls, fists smashing and breaking jaws, and screams of fury and agony blended into one. Daiisun and Che-mun were each surrounded by bodyguards.

“Che-mun, I’m going to kill him!” Dong Hae exclaimed. With clenched fists, Dong Hae charged forward angrily.

“Wait no! You will be killed, Dong Hae!” Akanishi exclaimed and reached out to grab him, but only grabbed at air. Justin followed after Dong Hae who had managed to snag a knife from a dead Daiisun member.

Hee Chul was calmly tying his hair with a rubber band, while the rest of the boys, too, charged forward to help their leader.

A man in black threw a punch in Justin’s face. He dodged, grabbed the man’s arm, and swiftly threw him over his shoulders in a perfect karate move. Another attempted to stab Justin’s back, but Dong Hae saw it and crashed into the man with all his might before he could reach Justin.

Behind them, Akanishi and Taguchi were fighting off Che-mun’s men.

Justin reached the human barricade around Che-mun faster than any of his friends. With two flying kicks, he threw off 2 bodyguards in his path, but they were quickly replaced by more. There were so many, all armed, with pistols gleaming in their gloved hands. Any bullets fired from these weapons could not be traced back to any sources. Che-mun was watching all these in amusement, thinking he was safe and sound within his human barricade.

All 7 boys were now charging towards Che-mun, breaking down the barricade as swiftly as they could. Groans of agony and exertion could be heard all around.

Shiwon fell to the floor as a hard punch threw him off balance.

“You alright?” Taguchi reached for Shiwon’s arms and got him back to his feet.

“Never felt better.” A thin stream of blood was running down his chin. Shiwon swiped his bleeding lips with his bare hands.

The men in black were falling in large numbers, as some were running away from the scene, and others fell defeated. The human barricade was thinning. However, the boys were utterly drained, tired out from fighting.

Swaying, Akanishi threw a punch in a man’s direction but missed. Someone from the back kicked him and he fell to the floor, twisting his ankle. He let out a loud cry.

“Akanishi!” Chris lost focus as he saw his comrade fall. He did not notice that there was someone in black behind them. A sharp blow slammed into the base of his neck.

It was now 5 against God knows how many more.

A gleam of sharp and shiny knife flashed somewhere in the tangle of flaying arms and legs. Hee Chul saw it first. Then Shiwon noticed it too.

Hee Chul whipped out his handy hair brush from his pockets and charged for the man. Leaping into the air, Hee Chl landed on the man’s back and began to ravage the man’s face with his hairbrush.

“You wanna play with weapons, two can play the game!”

Hee Chul whipped out a hairbrush, brandishing it as his weapon. Justin had to control his laughter, when suddenly, he felt a sharp stab on his left side. Pain shot through his insides and rapidly spread to his entire body. He doubled over in pain.

“Justin!” Shiwon was being pressed down by another man, but he had seen the whole thing. The guy with the knife who was being attacked by Hee Chul had slid the knife over to another man. His movements were too quick for Shiwon to give any warnings.

With fury, Hee Chul grabbed the man’s hair and smashed his face against the concrete floor. Blood spurted from a deep gash in his forehead, and pooled around his now-limp body.

The knife protruded from Justin’s left side as he struggled to stay up. Blood was gushing from the gaping wound with every small move he made, and Justin could feel his skin go cold.

Taguchi had just flung a man against a wall and rushed over to Justin. “Let us do the job!” But Justin knew that they needed him. Waving his hands in dismissal, Justin stood up tall and bit his lips. He was strong, and stubborn, he would not back down while he was still able to fight.

Shiwon was getting on his feet. He limped towards Justin.

“We…we must not stop.” Despite his quivering thighs and greying lips, Justin gave a weak smile and encouraged his friends.

Just then, the barricade fell open with Hee Chul’s flying kick, taking down 3 men effortlessly.

Seeing that he was the nearest to Che-mun, Justin clenched his fists and charged, his knuckles connecting with the crook of the corporation leader’s nose with such blinding force.

Che-mun crashed to the floor.

And so was Justin, as he fell atop Che-mun, and rolled onto the floor, unconscious.

One by one Che-mun’s men fled, not only because their leader was down, but also they had heard the siren of police cars in the distant.

It was only when every one of the men in black was gone that the boys realised the siren came from Hee Chul’s mobile phone. But no one wasted any time complimenting his wit, as they rushed to Justin. By then, Chris was conscious again and Akanishi was hopping on one leg.

“Justin!” Loud cries rang through the dark alley. Not even Hee Chul’s slap could get their leader to open his eyes.

 

******************************************

 

That face. Justin thought in that split second when he had knocked the dark glasses off Che-mun’s face. Where have I seen him before?

It was only when Justin fell to the floor that the memories that had long pervaded him returned.

 

******************************************

 

Max was fidgety and uncomfortable as he fingered his red star pendant. Something in his heart told him that things were not right. Something was happening right at this moment.

As Max stood up from the table, he knocked over a glass of water. The glass cup rolled off the table and fell to the floor with a loud smashing crash.

Max stared at the fragments that now lay on the floor and thought to himself: Now they can never be patched up again. No matter what I do, these will always remain as broken pieces.

He sat back down, staring limply into blank space.

~*~*~*~

 

max4

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

oo3 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

In so many ways we live to follow the sun
In so many ways we exalt and fail as one
In so many ways we want so bad to be done

“Now be a good boy, Max, hold on to this white bag. Wait at that junction for a man in a black trenchcoat. You must see a scar on his chin before you pass this to him, are you clear?”

Only one end-goal persisted in 6-year-old Max’s mind: Father promised to take him to the amusement park if he obeyed and played by the rules. As if his life depended on it, he hugged the heavy package as tightly as he could.

“This is an important task. Daddy is counting on you. Don’t let me down, you hear?”

“Yes, Daddy.” Max grinned.

“Atta boy. “ Father ruffled his hair.

Evening descended, and after they had made their seventh round on the outskirts of the public garden, an image of the junction had been etched in his mind.

“Now. Get out there, Max.”

Father’s assistant unlocked the door, and Max was nudged from his seat. He forced his jittery body to obey, even as his little palms started to sweat.

“Go. Do what you’ve been told. Man in black trenchcoat. Chin scar. Remember.”

Still holding on to the bag, Max walked to an inconspicuous spot at the junction, hidden by towering trees and unkempt bushes, and waited.

An hour passed. The heavy bag kept slipping through his tired arms but Max held on.

Another hour passed. His arms shivered from the strain, and he was both hot and cold all over from nerves and the summer heat. Father’s car was no longer in sight as the sky was dark by now, but occasionally, he knew that Father’s assistant would flash the headlights to signal that they were there. Street lamps were of little help. He narrowed his eyes in scrutiny of every single passing person. Finally, when he could no longer feel his arms, he bent down and let the package slip out of his hands.

Just then, the supposed man in the long black trenchcoat appeared. He was crossing the junction when he saw Max, then proceeded to walk in Max’s direction. Max squatted over the package, watched as the man hesitated, then opened up his strides towards Max.

When he was close enough, Max caught a flash of his face. Indeed, a prominent white scar covered a large part of his chin.

Convinced that this was the man Father had instructed him to pass the package to, Max stood up and pointed to the white package. He looked at Max, then to the package, and nodded. Picking up the package, he turned to leave.

 

Satisfied, Max ran back to the black sedan and climbed back onto the comfortable leather seats.

Immediately after he closed the doors of the car, Max was knocked over by a force so large and brutal that he was slammed headfirst against the car door and out of his seat, finally settling into a heap onto the carpeted floors of the vehicle.

“Why did you put the damn thing down?” Father’s voice boomed.

Max let out a strangled cry as pain shot through his whole body. His mouth was beginning to fill with blood from the impact of the slap. His cheeks were stinging with acute pain. He thought his arm might be twisted.

“ANSWER ME!”

“I…I…I am sorry father. It was so heavy…”

“I did not ask you to put that damn thing down. What if someone else had taken it away from you? How are you going to answer to me?”

“I am sorry, it was really heavy…”

“I don’t give a damn whether it is heavy or not!” Father grabbed Max by his collar and pulled him back up onto the seat. “We’re going home now. And you, young man, are going to spend the night in the closet room.”

“I’m sorry! Please, not there!” Fear overwhelmed the young boy. He almost choked on his own tears which now ran freely down his swollen cheeks.

“Yes the dark and damp closet room. And no dinner. For heaven’s sake stop crying! Start the car, Jung.”

“Master, should we get some medicine for Young Master? He is bleeding badly.”

“JUST START THE DAMN CAR, JUNG!”

The engine roared to life, and navigated its way through the alley, and onto the winding roads of Seoul.

Wet from blood and tears, Max continued sobbing uncontrollably, his dreams of a happy outing with Father and Mother dashed, replaced by the nightmarish thoughts of sleeping in the dark closet that night.

Back home, Father grabbed Max, pulled him out of the car and dragged him down to the servant’s quarters. The servants’ quarters were rooms that housed the maids, chaffeurs and housekeepers. Dark, filthy, small rooms with a musky smell mixed with the stench of human blood and sweat.

 

A closet sat on the far end of the corridor. With a heave, he was thrown into the closet. By then, Max was too tired to struggle anymore. He listened as the door closed and the lock fastened, meaning that he would have to spend the night alone in this dark closet room with only a thin stream of light entering through a gap in the latch of the door. Curling up his small battered body, Max hugged his knees to himself, sobbing. His only companion was the dark that surrounded him. His stomach growled with hunger, and he shook with fatigue, but was unable to fall asleep. He could hear the bustle of activity outside the closet, where the servant’s families were getting ready for bed.

Just then, through a gap in the latch, something fell into his lap. It was a torch light, and a note attached.

‘Don’t be afraid. I am here for you. Let my light shine in the darkest corners.’

Something else fell in. It was a tiny cupcake which Max immediately devoured hungrily. To express his gratitude, Max knocked on the door twice. In return, he got two knocks back.

Another littl cupcake was passed through the gap.

Suddenly, there was total darkness as the servants turned off the lights for bedtime. Max screamed and began to cry once again.

“Hush! Do not cry. Turn on the torchlight I passed to you!” A little boy’s voice instructed him from outside of the closet.

Light instantly filled up the closet.

“Do not be afraid, I will stay with you tonight.” Max heard a soft click, and he knew that the other boy on the other side of the door had his own torchlight too.

“Are you afraid of the dark too?” Max asked.

“Not really. The dark is my best friend. Do you have any friends?”

“From elementary school. Yes. I like my friends. Do you have friends other than the dark?”

“No. I don’t go to school.”

“What do you do then?”

“I help out here. I stay in the basement. I do things like peeling potatoes and weeding the garden. Hauling the woodstock to keep the fireplace lit You live upstairs don’t you? The family that is taken care of by the families that live in the basement.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw you getting thrown in by your father, our employer. It wasn’t a pretty sight.”

“I know. I am Max, what is your name?”

“You can call me ‘hyung’ since I am older than you.”

“What is your real name? Can you tell me? Because you are a very marvellous friend.”

“I don’t have a name.”

“My name was given to me by my parents. Where are your parents, hyung?”

“I live with my mother. I don’t have a father. Do you want more cupcakes?”

“Yes please! Where is your father? Everyone should have a father by default.”

“I guess he is dead. My mother does not like me to speak of him.” The little boy handed another piece of his cupcakes to Max through the gap.

“Thank you. What time is it, hyung?”

“It is 11 in the night. I can hear your father brewing his decaf in the kitchen above us. He usually does this before he sleeps, while reading the papers.”

“You sure do know my father better than I do!”

“My mother always tells me about Master. Sometimes, she would bring me to the window where we can see Master’s bedroom.” The boy fell silent for a long time. Panic rose up like bile in Max’s throat.

 

“Please keep talking! It’s too quiet in here.”

 

“It’s always too quiet here,” the boy replied, but complied, “because the parties, dinners and summer galas are always held upstairs isn’t it? Mother tells me everything about the world upstairs – the silk shirt that Master wore for Charity Ball and Portugese egg tarts that he ate for brunch yesterday. She knows the room so well, I guess it’s because it’s her responsibility to tidy up. Our Master would be undressing while pulling the curtains shut, and Mother would gaze until the curtains are fully drawn. And sometimes, when Master’s main servant girl is sick, Mother always volunteers to clear up Master’s room and she would take me along. She touches everything on Master’s drawers and sheets. I wonder why.”

 

Max nodded, though he couldn’t understand why this was being told to him. He took it lightly, like a bedtime story, so he curled up even tighter into a ball.

“Is your mother beautiful?” He asked.

“She’s gorgeous. Like a blossoming flower on a winter night.”

“Wow, that’s a beautiful way of describing her.”

“Is your mother beautiful as well?”

“Her beauty is indescribable. Except it is masked behind a constant fear of my father.” A fear that Max knew like the back of his hand.

The sky was dotted with pretty stars and cottoncandy clouds carely covered them like a thin veil. Soon, both young boys fell asleep in the dark, each with a smile on his face.


***

When Max awoke the nest morning to the sound of the lock unfastening, he scrambled to his feet. The torchlight was still clenched in his hands, as he burst through the door, looking left and right for his lovely friend.

But he could not be found. The caretaker picked Max up.

“Where is the boy sleeping outside last night?”

“What boy?”

“The boy? Cupcakes? Something about his mom…” a nagging thought at the back of Max’s head told him that it was best not to mention the conversation that had gone on late into the night.

Servants do not and must not make friends with their masters.

changmin

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

oo2 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

Don’t you think you’ve had enough
Do their claws make sores
Take my hand and come away

“We have with us a fresh face from Seoul, where many of you were from. Make him feel welcome. Please come in, Max.”

Stoicly, Max stepped in. He scanned the classroom, his gaze never faltering when his eyes met several unwelcoming faces. There were hurried whispers amongst females of the cohort who wore admiring gazes.

Mr Joo cleared his throat to be heard. “Max is a year younger than most as he is a transfer student. But he’s deemed suitable for our level. In other words, he’s brilliant. Let’s welcome him with a round of applause shall we?”

Several girls erupted.

“Oh my god. That’s him! He’s in our class!”

“He is even more good-looking up close!”

“Sit next to me, Max!”

“No, me!” A plump arm waved excitedly.

Who the hell are these girls? He had overheard outside the gates of school and now seated right up front in the first row. A few stood up, flung their backpacks onto the floor, thus freeing the next seat.

“He can sit next to me.”

Max sighed at having to put up with more girly nonsense.

Behind this row of adoring girl, students in thick black glasses rolled their eyes, clicked their pens against note-filled binders. Class was due to start so could The Girls just shut up and sit down? Max felt more at ease looking into their indifferent faces.

Two distinct groups occupied the last rows of seats, as if a physical gulf separated them. In the left, punks in leather jackets had ditched the mandatory school blazer. A handful left bike helmets lying around while others simply had their feet on the table, or were sleeping in plain sight. Not a single book nor pen was spotted.

More tough looking guys occupied the other side of the divided classroom. Girls too, as Max observed further, though one of them had their hair cropped and shaven. Another had all her hair tucked into a cap. Amongst them, Max found familiar looking faces belonging to his roommates Sora and Thierry. Both grinned at him.

“Max, would you like to say something to everyone?” Mr. Joo asked.

Max raised his chin, hooked both thumbs into his pants, then shook his head coolly.

“Alright how about you introduce yourself to everyone?”

He shook his head again.

“Anything to say at all?”

Max turned to Mr Joo, and scowled.

“Oh alright then, welcome to 6A. I am your form teacher and you can call me Mr. Joo. We are a very … hardworking class. Now let’s get you a seat…”

Before he could even look around for empty seats, a commotion in the back caught everyone’s attention.

Suddenly, a girl stood up, her chair mercilessly scraping the floor with a sharp screech. With her left hand, she shoved someone next to her off his seat. His chair tumbled as well.

“Here, Max. Sit over here.” She gestured towards the now empty chair. A smile tugged at one corner of her mouth.

Mr Joo jumped at the sudden gesture, then patted his own chest as if in relief. Everyone glared in shock. The Ice Princess Devynn hardly ever welcomed any new students.

Wary of every breathing soul, she only trusted a handful. Something tells me he will be one of us, Devynn thought.

She treated her friends well, demonstrating her tough love at times by pushing them off their seats (she would tell Thierry that his butt will sting painfully for a couple of weeks but this only makes him stronger). Their friendships were hardened by adversities shared in junior high. Devynn was someone who never bailed on her friends.

Somehow, she just wanted to know Max.

She sat back down and looked around her friends. “Get a grip, guys. I like his face, alright?” Devynn’s gang hooted with laughter, and a couple of guys stood to arrange the fallen chair and table. Though puzzled and surprised, they trusted Devynn’s judgement enough, and were fiercely loyal.

“Well, that is very…nice of you Devynn. Thierry, get up and find another chair,” Mr. Joo patted Max’s back and nudged him towards the seat, “Go ahead. Take a seat and we’ll begin with calculus.”

There was a general groan of protest. Thierry stood up, rubbing his ass and moaned with displeasure. Sora disappeared to the next classroom and dragged a chair for Thierry.

Max hesitated, gazing at Devynn.

What a gorgeous girl, all fair white skin and black silky hair. But why, if her friends looked ready to stab a fork in my face, did she do this for me? 

Devynn kept her gaze fixed on Max.

He is hesitant.

All eyes were on Max as he walked towards his new seat. As he sat down, Devynn lifted a side of her lips, breaking her image of aloofness.

What made Devynn instantly warm up towards the younger boy?

Class went on, and halfway, Max felt a sharp glare bore into his face like a dagger. He found the source, and was instantly eye to eye with a pair of dark, piercing eyes.

They held their stares, each unwilling to look away in defeat. Max was confused by the obvious hatred in his eyes. Could it be possible that he knew that guy?

Finally, Max looked away, convinced it was impossible that they knew each other.

He felt a breath of warm air beside his ear. “That’s Justin Jung, bad boy number one in the streets. He has back up, all of them in that corner and even more out there. Don’t mess.” Devynn whispered in his ear, before she sat back to pay attention to class.

Max turned to inspect Justin, who now had a deck of playing cards in front of him. They were gambling right out in the open.

It was none of his business anyway. Max settled back down in his seat and was grateful for a few minutes of uninterrupted peace.

***

Lunchtime soon came. The class broke into their various cliques. The Girls whipped out bentos wrapped in colourful cloths and presented them to the guys and girls they admired. Many bento boxes were thrust in Devynn’s direction. She accepted them all out of courtesy. A few were given to Max.

They headed out into the courtyard to enjoy their meals. The rowdy boys pushed and shoved at one another, competing for attention from the neighbouring all-girls’ college.

Thierry jostled Max. “One day, I’m bringing you into Koizumi. It’s the college dormitory next to our campus. You’re gonna get an eye-feast.”

Sora overheard the conversation, whipped her head around and linked arms with a blonde boy with big eyes.

“Bomi gave bentos to Max today, and not me!” Sora complained.

“Figured.” The blonde, known as Sungmin, chuckled, and shrugged. They arrived at an open courtyard that Kikokushijo shared with nearby colleges, and they sat down on concrete steps leading up to the dean’s offices.

“Dig in.” Devynn said as she passed round the gifted bentos. As she picked up a set of cutlery, she removed her trucker cap, revealing a rough tumble of jet-black locks that fell in pretty waves around her shoulders. The cap had masculinized her, giving her a boyish look accentuated by an oversized school blazer and boy trousers instead of the school skirt. Her entire look softened. There was a gentler aura of femininity around her, accompanied by the scent of jasmine that caught the breeze as it weaved into her hair.

The rest of the boys ate in silence for a while, sneaking looks at the untouchable goddess. Thierry and Sora was inhaling the array of food that the girls had prepared, digging in most happily.

“I think we should all introduce ourselves to Max now that he is one of us,” one of them said. “I am Jjong. And as you already know, she is Devynn.”

Jjong had milky chocolate dark skin, as if he had spent all of his free time working up a sweat at an outdoor gym, or a pool, or basically any form of sports, for he had the built of an athlete.

Max nodded, glancing over at Devynn who was watching all of them, while eating in silence.

“I am Sora! Remember me? Your roomie! So is Thierry, whose chair you took. But he isn’t unhappy, aren’t you Thierry?”

Thierry mocked a sulk, then laughed. “Of course not. Anything for Devynn. She welcomed you and so we welcome you as well.”

One by one they introduced themselves. Devynn, Sora, Thierry, Jjong, Sungmin.

“Max. From now on we are friends alright? You can be comfortable around us and no matter what we will always stand by you. That’s what buddies are for.” The one called Jjong with the amiable smile said, clapping a hand on Max’s biceps. The latter merely smiled, nodded and ate a forkful of mooshu pork.

“Yup, come on Max! You’ve been so quiet all day since you’ve stepped into our class. We are your friends now. Tell us about yourself!” Sungmin probed.

“If you are not comfortable then it’s alright…” Jjong said.

“Of course he is comfortable, right Max? Come on tell us about yourself! Why are you here in Japan? Where are your family members? Why do you live in the hostel like Sora and Thierry?” Sungmin probed further.

Sensing Max’s discomfort, Devynn looked up at Sungmin. “Shut your trap. Why do you always have so much to say?”

“I’ll help.” Sora pushed a huge roll of sushi into Sungmin’s open mouth and laughed at his surprised expression. Half the length still dangled out from his lips. A tiny drip of sauce trickled past his chin, and Sora dabbed at it with a napkin.

The rest laughed, except for Thierry, who was a little sullen at the attention Sora was paying to Sungmin.

Max looked to Devynn with gratitude.

In that instant, she felt protective of him.

Poor kid acts so tough but he has that wall around him, even he himself can no longer get past. But this isn’t an insurmountable wall.

They resumed lunch, dwelling into light-hearted topics like class, girls, booze and after-school hangouts.

***

A bell signaled the end of the school day. Max turned down their invitation for karaoke at a nearby lounge.

“You sure you don’t want to come, Max?” Sora asked, putting a hand on Max’s arm.

“He doesn’t. Now come on Sora, catch up with the rest.” Thierry grabbed Sora’s hands and led her away. “See you later, Max! Call us if you have any problems, remember.”

“Goodbye!” Sora shouted over her shoulders as she was being led away.

Devynn glanced in his direction before she too turned to leave with the rest.

Max held up a hand to signal goodbye. He watched his new friends leave before turning to walk in the other direction. And then there he was, Justin Jung, alone and leaning against a pillar ahead. With folded arms, he was watching the younger boy. Undeterred, Max proceeded in Justin’s direction.

Before Max could past, Justin shot out an arm, blocking his path.

“You’ve got guts.”

Max was forced to stop in his tracks.

“You’ve got guts.” Justin repeated. “Do you have any idea who I am?”

Sensing trouble, several students picked up their pace as they walked past, and made no attempt to acknowledge that the pair were now standing eye to eye, fists clenched, locked in battle stances.

“Nobody warned you about me?”

“It was so insignificant a conversation, I must have forgotten.” Those were the first words Max had spoken all day.

“And I thought you were mute. Nice force, but don’t force me to take it away. Listen up, I have my eyes on you. I don’t know what you’re up to coming into this school and befriending Devynn.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

Justin laughed. “Jeju Island in Korea is a lovely place isn’t it? Beautiful, beautiful Jeju. We both have lovely hometowns don’t we?”

Max’s eyes widened, and Justin followed with maniacal laughter.

“Just watch out, Max Shim”

With that, Justin lowered his arm and walked away. Max stood rooted to the ground, confused by Justin’s words.

There’s something I did not notice in his words, something I should have noticed but did not. What is it? What does he mean by ‘I have my eyes on you’?

It struck him then, that unless Justin had known him before, there was no way he could have known Max’s family name.

“Just watch out, Max Shim.”
***

“Devynn, what do you want to sing today?” Sungmin asked, thrusting a microphone in her direction.

“I am not in the mood.”

“Aww come on! You have the best voice!” Sungmin whined. “Of course Sora has a great voice too. But yours is that of an angel!”

“You guys go ahead, I’ll head home.” Devynn got up from her chair. Sungmin stood up, surprised, and was about to stop Devynn when Thierry pulled him back.

“Alright, take care. Call us if you need us.” Thierry said.

Devynn trudged out silently.

“What’s the matter with her today? She is especially icy.” Sungmin complained.

“She was alright when Max was around.” Thierry lifted an eyebrow conspiratorially.

“She must have her own reasons. She is entitled to privacy alright? Let’s not let that interrupt our session. Take it away, Sungmin!” The mike was given to the next singer.

Sungmin happily accepted and proceeded to choose the song he wanted to sing. Everyone cheered when the tunes of “No Pain No Gain” filled the room.
***

Devynn wanted to be alone so that she could organise her thoughts.

It was on impulse and instinct that made her want to know Max, but no doubt there was something more.

The image of Max as he first entered the room occupied her thoughts. Instinctively, Devynn identified with the kid with an exceptionally tough exterior. Devynn desired to understand all of him, under his wall of aloofness. Despite being spoken to all day, with much attention showered upon him, Max had done nothing but planted sharper spikes on his invisible armour, and withheld his speech. All Devynn wanted to do was hug and ease away the pain that was killing him inside.

Without realising so, Devynn had walked into the student hostel where Max now lived. Recalling that he was Sora and Thierry’s roommate, she swiftly climbed the stairs to their room. Seeing that their room was unlocked, she walked in.

Max was on his bed with a stack of photographs scattered before him.

“Hi.”

Startled, he slammed a pillow on his photos and hopped off the bed.

“Devynn.”

Devynn smiled. “You have a lovely voice. I’m sorry for not knocking, I didn’t know anyone would be here. When I visit Sora and Thierry, I don’t knock either. I hope you didn’t mind.”

“It’s okay.”

Devynn sat on Sora’s bed and looked across the room at Max.

“No one’s giving you trouble, I hope?”

Max looked into her eyes, and almost wanted to ask about Justin but stopped himself before he could speak.

Devynn frowned. “Is that a yes?”

Max shook his head.

“No, really, just tell me anything. I am your friend Max.”

“Were you always so nice to people?”

“Do you always reject kindness out of suspicion?”

“Why are you so good to me? You don’t know me at all yet you’re like an old friend. It’s a feeling I get though we’ve only just met. You gave me rights to a tight knit group of friends who clearly will take a longer while to warm up to me. Why?” Max asked.

Devynn was silent for a moment.

“Everyone looked at you when you walked in, and thought ‘he’s freaking sexy’. But when I looked at you, I saw despair. Deep inside you are so, so afraid and I wanted to know why. How can I help?”

Max was speechless. Someone was offering him security and friendship with no strings attached. Someone trusted him, not knowing who he was. Someone found his heart lying cold in the winter night, and draped a warm blanket over it.

He felt hot suddenly. Heat was coursing through his veins.

Perhaps for the first time, he was genuinely touched.

Max smiled, a glint of tears showed in his eyes.

Devynn felt a pang in her heart.

“Don’t cry.” She moved to gather the younger boy in her arms. Max’s hands were cold. Devynn had her arms around Max in a strong embrace, as if protecting him from all the elements of harm and danger.

***

He knew he could have made a wrong choice trusting Devynn and baring his weakness.

But it did not matter anymore.

For Devynn, he was willing.

max2

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

oo1 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

The night is long – shadows grow on my wall
I’m calling out but no one’s home;
Cause paranoia is the only friend I know

Street lamps dimmed promptly at midnight, signalling the witching hours. A rented motorbike cruised along the Kan-Etsu expressway at a speed enough to give the common man a heart attack. Constant roars of the engine were probably the only sounds in this prefecture of rampant crimes and felonies. The Harley-Davidson travelled another mile before skidding to a stop at the gates of a hostel. The rider swung a lean leg to hop out, ran a hand through his hair – damp from ravages of the evening wind.

With a loaded haversack slung across his back, he walked, fists clenched, towards a relatively modern-looking building situated at the far end of the parking lot. He approached the porch entrance. Kikokushijo Student Hostel – the sign formally printed in katakana. He was in the midst of brushing up on his Japanese, though admittedly he was a better composer when his works were Korean.

A chair was propped up against the entrance gate.

“Max?”

A petite elderly lady gently beckoned. She must be Kawa-san, the caretaker whom everyone dubbed the ‘Halmeoni’. A Korean immigrant herself, she adored her hometown lodgers and never failed to welcome them with open arms.

Max shuffled his weight from one feet to another, hesitant.

Kawa-san cupped her thin, callused palms lightly over Max’s, extending her warmth to the tips of his icy cold fingers.

“Please call me Halmeoni, like everyone else. It’s great to finally meet you,  Max. Come over where there’s light.”

Such benevolence in a smile could only beget genuine humanity. Max nodded and attempted a smile which didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Come,” she repeated, undeterred by his silence, “I’ll show you to your room. Let’s get you comfortable. School begins tomorrow. A good night’s rest will do you some good.” Kawa-san then led the way to the co-ed dormitory that Max was to share with two other fellow students. Max was thankful that she comprehended how he did not wish to speak.

The room was dark. Closing the door behind him softly, Max approached the only empty bed by the window, which faced the dimly-lit streets. He could sense the gentle rise and fall of his room-mate’s chests as they slept on soundly, but quietly so he would not wake them, Max unzipped his jacket and draped it across neatly-folded sheets.

For a long while after, he was lost in thoughts as he stared out of the window. His mind had a life of its own, swirling with memories long buried and better off forgotten.

Here at last, Max was finally physically safe enough to revisit his past. Though blurred and fuzzy at the edges from prolonged suppression, recollections were raw all the same. He fingered the red star that hung from a thin silver chain, warm from the heat of his chest, as he was laid in bed thinking.

That night, Max was sleepless.
***

“Hey handsome! G’morning.”

A chirpy girl greeted Max with a wide smile.

Max didn’t mean to stare. She was dressed in a beach-ready bikini, and as she stood up, he was hit with the fact that his room-mate was drop-dead gorgeous. Max stopped himself from scanning her from top to toe, and focused on her mega-watt smile.

Noticing Max’s creeping blush, she let out a loud laugh.

“Hah! Forgot my manners. Forgive me. I’ve been here for 3 years and this is nothing new. You are Max right? Halmeoni told us you would be staying with us. I’m Sora. Kim Sora from Seoul, Korea, like you!”

She sure talks a lot. Max thought as he shifted his gaze onto the body on the adjacent bed.

“Oh that one is Thierry. He is so lazy even though we need to wake up at this time every morning, and now the time is….OH NO. OH MY GOODNESS. THIERRY! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!”

Sora was born a multitasker. Max watched her tug the blankets off of Thierry, and slapped him in so many areas that could wake the dead, and all the while, managed to powder her nose and put on mascara. Her lungs were a separate entity – they screamed at a hundred decibels for Thierry to get the hell out of bed.

Thierry, however, was dead to the world.

Sora launched her last resort.

“Max. Give me a hand will ya? Press Thierry down.”

Curious, Max did as told.

Sora stood a few feet away, poised to charge at the bed. Max stood rooted as Sora flung her entire bodyweight, and more, at her sleeping victim.

“YARRGHHH!” Sora roared as she slammed onto Thierry. Her fingers latched onto him and began aggressive tickling.

“What in the WORLD!!” Thierry sprang up. He tried to lift his body but Max was holding on. Max was not just ordinarily strong – he was chocked full of biceps.

Thierry growled and howled like a tortured maniac. “SORA…STOP!”

“Get up lazy ass. Get dressed!”

Sora then grabbed Thierry by the cheeks, and kneaded his face like it was a lump of mould. Thierry’s cheeks – already scarlet from laughter and pain from Sora’s abuse – turned pinker.

“KIM SORA I’M GONNA GET YA FOR THIS!”

Easing his weight off Thierry, Max took a step back and watched as Thierry sprang up to a sitting position. Grabbing Sora’s waist, he flipped her over effortlessly. The two rolled off the bed onto the Gabbeh carpets, with Sora on top. Laughing, both pursued unrelentingly with their brutal tickle assaults. Both looked so engrossed in their own little world, forming such a sweet picture of bliss.

Not wanting to intrude further, Max turned away. Quietly, he picked up his duffel and closed the door to the dormitory behind him.
***

Kikokushijo Academy was almost a mile away from the student hostel. Seeing as it was early, Max arrived at school on foot, taking in the fabulous scenery surrounding the campus. Cherry blossoms lined both sides of the walkway, and pretty auburn leaves were snow flakes in the wind. The branches crackled when the winds struck.

Around Max, high schoolers moved in big crowds, lively with chatter and gossips. They must have been friends for a really long time as Kikokushijo was an affiliate of their namesake elementary and middle schools.

“Look. He is the new guy I overheard Sensei talking about!”

“I heard he is from Seoul! Lives in that Kikokushijo hostel.”

“Does he share a dorm with anybody? We have an empty bed in ours!”

“He is tall!”

“What’s his name?”

“He looks hot.”

Max straightened his back and trudged on, his duffel slung high across his back. He was wary of this fresh environment although he was certain nobody knew, that he came from a place where his story was fodder for gossip, people were willing to pay to know his whereabouts.

He refused to slouch away or hide his lanky frame, which had become subject of all conversations. Max ran his fingers through his tousled dark brown hair and picked up his pace.

“Look! He is shy isn’t he?”

“He was flirting!”

“No look! He is blushing!”

“Are all Korean guys as hot?”

Girly chatters could be heard all over as they gushed. They were now discussing his muscular frame and that he must be a really good fighter.

Teeth grit, Max thought: You could do much worst in Korea, in that house. Accept this life. Japan is your safe haven now.

Friends were a luxury. Anybody could betray him. He had to stay low, and all these attention was not doing him any good.

He bowed his head as he crossed the gates into Kikokushijo.

~*~*~

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

———

A/N: Reposting a novella written 6 years ago by the old me. Here it is, fresh again after some edits.

To be honest, the protagonist, Max was inspired by a favourite Korean boyband then.
Hence pardon the amateurity, immaturity and bouts of girlish-ness.

max1

To be updated…

♛ Scarlet Carousel | oo2

{Installation} – [oo2]

Noemie Matsumoto is accustomed to getting what she wants. A girl with a purpose.

February 2017
South Korea

“Noemie is late! I tried dialling her cellphone but it’s been going straight to voicemail.”

“I wouldn’t be too worried. Knowing Noemie, she’s possibly hooked up with some fella on her way to Miller’s.”

Reina rolls her eyes, sighs. Eiji was right. Her other best friend undoubtedly had the knack for lapsing into temporary non-existence. Especially when a decent-looking man was within twenty-feet radius.

“Even if that’s so, Miller’s is just down the corner, she should have brought whomever down to meet us! We’ve agreed on a celebratory toast to the end of finals and summer term.” Reina grumbled.

“So much for bros before hoes,” Eiji gives an empathetic nod, but is unable to hide a grin, “well in any case that leaves you and me Reina. Let’s head in while we wait for her.”

Eiji drapes a casual arm around Reina’s slim shoulders and steers her away from the sidewalk, and into Miller’s Pub.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Noemie Matsumoto is accustomed to getting what she wants. A girl with a purpose, she picks her outfit with calculated deliberation. A semi-formal navy blue blazer over an off-the-cuff white sundress that skimmed her mid-thighs – she would bite her own tongue if this is not a sure-fire way to turn heads on a casual Friday pub-crawl with her best mates.

She had let slip, in a conversation earlier, to the attractive new Professor of European Literary Classics that she would be spending Friday evening at Miller’s Pub with Reina and Eiji. That she was somewhat uncomfortable playing gooseberry to her two closest classmates, watching the lovebirds bicker and persist in absolute denial of obvious mutual attraction. The Professor was new to the faculty — so naïve was he as he shook his head, insisting on having thesis papers to grade. A slight tilt of her chin to accentuate her slim jawline and a slow flutter of her long dark Asian lashes were all it takes. Noemie had noticed the immediate shift in Professor Rousset’s stance.

He agreed to vet through Noemie’s draft essay on Henry David Thoreau. Of course, not a word of which had even been written. Noemie told him she needed loads of help, as English was merely her second language. A corner of his lips had lifted and his eyes narrowed into crescent moons. If that wasn’t a loaded smile, Noemie didn’t know what else it was.

Well, a girl with her charismata have got nothing to lose.

Standing with her feet crossed at the ankles to accentuate her long ivory-white legs, she blows a fringe out of her face. Even the ordinary stance she took while waiting for her two best buddies resembled a model posing for a photoshoot. From where she was standing, men had been giving her appreciative looks and extensive once-overs all night. Well, almost every man. That one earlier had looked at her as if she was a pest, a nuisance. Or worst, a prostitute. Oh please, I’m not one of them.

Men never looked at her without a second glance. Men certainly did not display such obvious disinterest and disgust. Indignant, her ego was admittedly bruised, which fuelled her urge to pursue the strange man in a bid to expose his inner lust. After all, all men were the same.

Forget Professor Rousset. He would be putty in her hands.

Noemie totters gracefully in her stilettos, yet hurries to catch the fast receding shadow of the tall, dark stranger. The alley, lined with two rows of rear kitchens, is rancid with a stench of rotting meat, vomit and expired liquor. A trio of women stays squat by the curb, puffing on rolled cigarettes while a bald heavy-set man appears to be handing out a stack of cash.

“Make good with the crowd tonight. All businessmen with spending power.” The bald man chortles, stuffing the rest of the large wad of money into his back pocket.

Here lies the reality behind glamourous nightclubs and pubs: they ran on filthy money. Noemie totters close enough to glimpse the rolled cigarettes in their hands.  Upkeep of pretty, and desperate, hostesses involved feeding them with cocaine and amphetamine and weed. In return there was a business quota each night that they had to meet – a minimum number of men that they had to lure into their chambers of secrecy. Spiralling further into the depths of drug addiction, what other choices do they have but to return every night for doses of sustenance? It was their choice of livelihood.

Here, women used their charms in an entirely different manner from the way Noemie normally does. Noemie was clever enough never to throw herself at men’s feet. It was always quite the opposite.

Past the trio of women, she almost stumbles over a foot of a drunkard, sprawled like a starfish, facedown in a pile of trash. His friends, equally drunk but conscious, wolf-whistles in her direction. They smell sour, a mix of body odour and putrid vomit.

“Hey sexy lady!”

“You’re so fine, you blow my miiiinddd.”

Oh God, the things drunken people say.

One of them, who’s obviously been having one drink too many with his belly the size of a football, staggers to his feet, lunges at her.

Noemie steps aside, sticks out a foot, and rolls her eyes amusedly as the man stumbles. Not giving up, he swivels around and grabs her blazer by the edge, tugs her so close that she could smell the rancid liquor on his breath.

“Get the hell off me!” She screams and smashes a fist into his face. Blood pours from his nose. He growls like an animal and from behind her, his friends roar with laughter.

Another hairy arm wraps around her waist and turns her around. “Feisty, I like this one.”

Without thinking, she stamps her stiletto heels into his loafers, grinds down with satisfaction as she realizes she had hit a toe. The man howls with pain and falls to the ground, clutches his bloodied feet. She spins on her heels, makes a dash for it, leaving the intoxicated mob howling in pain and booming with drunken laughter.

Men, a bunch of idiots.

She clutches her cellphone, switched to silent, in her clammy palms. The atmosphere in the alley felt infinitely foreign, so much so that she breaks into a run further down the path where the man had supposedly gone. Noemie knows that it is far too late to turn back, but she could no longer see any sign of the tall, dark man.

The smell worsens as the streets became narrower and less familiar to Noemie. She hardly dares to breathe audibly for now, the only sounds that filled the passageway were distant soft footsteps, and that of her own heart beating. Before her, she notices a stranger slip to the left of a T-shaped junction and she quickly follows suit. But as she rounds the corner, the figure of the handsome man was there no longer. Not even a shadow of the man remains.

Then there was a gunshot. Unmistakably, someone had opened fire.

Noemie looks all around her in sheer panic. She doubles back a couple of steps, unsure of where to go from here. The odor of gunpowder residue wafts into her nose. Then she hears a scuffle. She knows she must leave the alley, but which way to go?

What was it? Who was hit? Where —

“Urmph!” Her breath catches in her throat as she is flung aside, and pinned against a wall by very strong arms. Her cellphone tumbles to the ground with a clang, the glossy red cover falls apart.

Thrashing her arms, she struggles to free herself. Single-handedly, her assailant grasps both her wrists in a vice-like grip behind her back, another hand clasps tight over her mouth. Hardly a sound could escape, much less her muffled sttempts at screaming.

“Who are you? Did you come alone?” He fires his questions emotionlessly.

Unable to move her upper half, Noemie knees him hard in the groin.

“What the f—

Doubling over slightly in pain, his right leg immediately hitches up, pinning the hem of her swishy dress to the wall, just enough to reveal a sharp glint of an object that resembles a gun, nestled in the side of a thin leather belt.

Blood drains from her head. He fired the gun. He had shot somebody. He had possibly killed somebody. Noemie shakes her head to show that she means no harm, but the man slams her against the moth-eaten timber wall. Pain shot through her spine. Noemie gives a soft whimper as tears runs down her cheeks, and onto the man’s fingers.

“Look, I’m not going to hurt you. But if you struggle, or make any noise, I’m throwing your dead body into the boot of my car, you hear me?”

Knowing she could very well be shot dead in an instant, she drops her tensed shoulders and bows her head slightly, surrendering to her assailant.

Sensing her relax, he loosens his grip, and slowly drops his hand from her mouth. Noemie looks up and recognizes the man she had followed into the alley. She searches the face of the tall dark stranger that was hidden by shadows cast in moonlight, and catches the dark trickle of blood running down his temples.

“Hey…you’re bleeding! Let me see to that, I’ve got a handkerchief somewhere in my purs–

He holds a finger to her lips, shushing her. Then takes astep back from her. Women, they talk too much. They annoy the shit out of him. He readjusts the clip on his belt that, by now she realised, strapped the gun to his waist.

“Why were you following me?”

His ice-cold mannerism seems more appealing by the second. At a loss of words, Noemie opens her mouth with uncertainty. “I…” What is she going to say? No explanation could express her whys. What could this man do to her? Kill her? Not with her charms. So she plays it such that the ball stays in her court.

She lets more tears run down her cheeks as she sinks slowly to the floor, and in doing so, her dress rips at the seams as the hem catches a splinter in the wall.

“I’m lost and I can’t find my way out. I thought if I followed you, I could find a way.…I…then heard a gunshot.”

He squats down, looks frostily at her tear-stained face with no sign of empathy, and says, “Don’t pretend to be a helpless female. All you whores use the same tactics.”

Coolly, he picks up his cellphone which had slipped from his coat-pocket, dusts them off with the back of his hand, and gets back on his feet. As he turns to walk away, he says over his shoulder, “If anyone asks, you heard nothing. You’ve never seen me.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Professor Rousset!”

Reina spots him, waves him over and gestures toward an empty bar stool right beside her. The lean French lecturer looks around, as if searching for somebody, before accepting the invitation.

“Looking for anyone?” Reina hands the Professor a pint of lager, and smiles at the attractive academic tutor. Rousset shakes his head, accepts the beer and pushes a couple of dollars toward the bartender, who pushes it back at him.

“Hey, on the house ma brudder,” the bartender strokes his handlebar moustache, “it’s Free-Flow Friday. To celebrate the last day of Ms. Yamaguchi’s exams.” He gives Reina a conspiratorial wink, and whizzes away with twenty champagne glasses in his hands.

“You’re a celebrity around here huh?” The professor chuckles deeply and leans close to Reina, clicking his jug of lager with hers. Eiji clears his throat from across the table, and leans over in a territorial stance as he grabs hold of Reina’s beer jug and pulls it toward himself.

“Her dad owns the place. Everyone at Miller’s knows her.” To Reina, he knits his brows together and warns, “ Don’t drink too much.”

“You’re sooooo naggy.” Reina snatches back her jug of lager and defiantly downs it all. As she clangs her now-empty jug onto the table, she gives Eiji a look that says so-there.

“Ah… Princess Yamaguchi,” Professor Rousset nods knowingly.

Reina shook her head. “That’s too much a title for me to bear. Besides, I’m just a geek who loves the literary arts.” She orders another jug of beer for herself, and Eiji who declines and looks on at his marginally drunk best friend with concern.

Barely a month into his teaching career at Seoul National University, he was well aware of the Yamaguchi’s contributions to the academic institution. From the Deans’ conference hall, to the performing arts theatre and the college central library, the family had a large share in infrastructure – so much so that the theatre and its surrounding hallways were named Yamaguchi Hall of Artistry. And as Reina was an undergraduate in the Faculty of Literature and Humanities, Mr Yamaguchi had built a separate building for research in the literary classics. Indisputably, Mr Yamaguchi was an associate on the Board of Faculty Directors.

“I don’t want to be a princess. I’m a Queen. Princesses are as weak as useless Barbies, always primping at mirrors…demanding this and that. Never working hard for anything they truly want. I’m no princess.” Reina shakes her head. “But since my dad owns Miller’s, feel free to drink up, Professor. On me!” Reina smiles, swaying as she stands, slightly tipsy from having knocked back two glasses of Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio, two tequila shots and 2 jugs of lager.

“Woah, steady there.” Professor Rousset holds Reina by her waist as she stumbles forward, giggling.

Eiji springs up, quickly shoves the professor’s hand aside, takes hold of Reina and allows her lean her entire weight against him.

Reina struggles out of his grasp. “Eiji!” She walks ahead a few steps, shaky but more steady. “I’m fine. Go back to your seat, I need the bathroom.”

“You sure?” Eiji looks ready to lunge forward to catch Reina if she should stumble and fall again.

“Naughty, naughty. Trying to get into the ladies’ bathroom on account of taking care of me? Tsk, Eiji Saito you pervert.” She slurs her last words and disappears round the bar corner into the washroom.

Reina grips the edge of the washbasin, and takes a good look at her face. She whips out her mauve lipstick and gives her lips a smacking fresh coat of colour, while remembering that her other best friend was still M.I.A.

“Let me give Noemie another call. She’s missing out on the hot Professor Rousset.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pierre swipes the sticky blood from his face with the back of his hands. The wound had clotted, and he could feel a throbbing headache arising from within his skull. He had dodged, a swift decisive move that saved his brains from being blasted to bits. The bullet scraped the right side of his head and probably he would find a clump of dark brown hair missing from his scalp. But that was all the damage done.

Nagasaki’s message had been intercepted. The original messenger undoubtedly dead. The women who had attempted to kill him was now lying gagged, bound and unconscious in a pile of trash, accompanied by a band of noisy drunkards. He would never physically injure a woman, even if they had tried to blast a hole in his chest.

And who the hell was the girl who had followed him?

He had to make a quick call to Las Vegas.

As he held up his cellphone a connecting call flashed in the screen.

From << REINA YAMA ❤ >>

What. The. Hell?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Her cellphone rang.

Sitting upright from her slouched position by the dirty alley wall, Noemie flipped aside her long black hair to answer the call.

“Hello, Noemie speaking.”

“Noemie? Who the hell is Noemie?”

She quickly checks her cellphone screen. Caller Unknown.

“I am Noemie Matsumoto. And since you’re calling me, you should know who I am.”

There was silence on other end.

“Hello?” Noemie repeats.

“What did you say your name was?”

“Funny that you’re asking me. Noemie Matsumoto. Who are you?”

The man sniggers. “New, aren’t you? Noemie, Noemie, Noemie…” the man rolls her names several times around his tongue, “Noemie Matsumoto? I see they’re hiring young girls now.”

“Young girls…?” She lets her thoughts run for a moment, anger rising up from the pits of her stomach.

“Now Noemie, did you complete what you were supposed to do?”

“What job?”

The man remained silent.

“What job?” She repeats, anger boiling over the edge at having been provoked so many times on the same night.

“Hey listen up, I’m not a goddamn prostitute if that’s what you’re implying!” Noemie bursts, filled with annoyance accumulated from her earlier encounters. “You’re the second person today who thinks I’m a whore and it’s getting on my nerves! Go to hell, asshole!”

The man on the other end chuckles once before the line went dead.

Noemie feels the sudden urge to fling her phone across the alley. She shuts the call, clicks on ‘Contacts’ to search for Reina’s number, but to her surprise, all the names on her contact lists were so foreign they could be from another planet.

“Wha…oh shit.”

She remembers that moment when her phone had fallen from her grip, and that the man had picked up a cellphone of an identical model after labelling her a whore.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

5 in the morning. Reina staggers weakly up the stairs leading to the shared apartment. Noemie had rejected all her calls and she should probably be home asleep by now. She herself could hardly feel her brain functioning any longer. Sleep beckons.

Eiji had walked her home. To be more exact, he had lifted her onto his back, made her straddle him in a limp piggyback for most of the journey home. She had been too drunk to grip onto his neck. When they had passed by a convenience store, Eiji forced an entire bottle of mineral water into her. That had sobered her up a great deal.

She wrinkles her nose as she reaches her floor, as a peculiar stench pervades the hallway leading towards the apartment.

Strange, Noemie had forgotten to lock the front door.

As she steps in, Reina gasps, her back stiffens. Shards of broken glass from a fallen artpiece stuck out from their Persian rug. Noemie’s favourite orchid vase was now in smithereens. Their linen cosy pink couch had been overturned, with cushions slashed open and their feathers strewn all over the living room. She scans the damage, thoughts running wildly through her head.

Her drunken stupor clears the very instance she spots Noemie, her back against the kitchen table, slumped in a pool of what appears to be blood.

She falls backwards, and lets out a piercing scream.

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Scarlet Carousel ©
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

SCARLET CAROUSEL

♛ Scarlet Carousel | oo1

{Installation} – [oo1]

…he rolls the strange word around his tongue, “Home.”
To a vagabond, the concept of belonging constantly emerges as an entirely new sensation.

January 2017
South Korea

Jae cruises down Myeongdong alley, slows down only to briefly admire a pair of attractive well-heeled legs that were thinly veiled by sheer hosiery, elegantly crossed at the ankles. She was nonetheless not enough of a looker for Jae to lower his sunglasses; fashion can only get a girl this far along the attraction spectrum. His engine revved with increased volume as he sped, this time undisturbed, toward his studio.

Nested in downtown Myeongdong, inconspicuously hidden by retail giants fifteen times the height of his apartment, Jae’s minimalist studio was home to unrestrained creativity, an outlet for the restlessness in his soul. Soft red velvet cushions and satin blinds in the same scarlet red stood out against the dark monochrome grey leather couch lined by black carpeted floor. Colour never did provided him any comfort, apart from his strange love for deep pulsating shades of scarlet. Perhaps to enhance a sense of privacy, he had chosen cautiously dimmed lighting with the exception of his sketching desk – so brightly lit one had to squint to avoid the sheer impact of such luminescence. Prince Jae generally liked his interiors dark.

His brisk walk to his apartment while rummaging through a black bag pack for his keys is interrupted by a slight scuffle of a shoe, detectable only amidst sheer silence. Raising an eyebrow, Jae slows to a cautious tiptoe. He briefly checks his cellphone but none of his clients had made appointments.

Nobody else ever made it up here to this apartment’s equivalent of an attic, albeit luxury-sized, as Jae had made the owner put a danger barricade beyond which all other occupants had zero access to.  Unless…

He makes no sudden movement, but a hand slips stealthily into his left breast pocket, feeling for the cool metal of his .38 Smith & Wesson. He continues to tread calmly across his studio hallway.

“Jae,” says a raspy tone, “still living large I see.”

The aforementioned releases a chuckle and lets down his guard. Jae’s deep voice suddenly voids itself of bass as he embraces his old friend. “You nearly startled me.”

“Here I thought nothing scared you.”

“Vigilance is my middle name.” And he unlocks his apartment to Pierre, a rare remnant from a lost childhood.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Reina ducks as a shower of hardcover textbooks whacks her out of her mid-afternoon reverie.

“Sorry! Bookshelf getting old,” Eiji, part-time book-store manager and full time jerk, calls out jokingly from the attic. Reina rolls her eyes at Eiji’s armful of textbooks – more ammo to be fired at his best friend trying to cram for a finals paper in 12 hours.

“Eiji! I’m trying to study.”

Eiji flashes a cheeky, charming grin. “You know, this could be a good way of getting knowledge into your brain, in case last-ditch cramming doesn’t work.”

“Damn you Eiji.” Pulling on a pair of old headphones, she tries to mask the hustle-bustle of Myeongdong in the late afternoon, as well as Eiji’s teasing and awful singing.

He swings from the high bookshelf ladder and lands perfectly beside Reina – a move perfected over their tumultuous years of best-friendship. “Come on Rei, lighten up! It’s your last paper. Let’s catch a midnight movie tomorrow alright?”

She slams her book shut in annoyance. “Can’t you let me have 2seconds of peace, Eiji?”

“Nope. Perks of being your bestie. First dips at driving you insane.” Leaning over, he tickles her relentlessly until the pair rolls from couch to floor in fits of laughter, with Eiji on top. Reina shrieks, twists away in attempt to escape but fails even after several tries, knocking over her pile of notes in the process. Her reading material scatters and carpets the cherry wood floor in a ink-scribbled white paper. Abruptly, as if remembering that there were people around, she stops squirming away.

A moment of awkward silence later, Reina untangles her hand from Eiji’s hair to sit up. Eiji watches her loosened hand intently, determined not to look anywhere else – especially not at her blouse which was now carelessly unbuttoned to reveal bright pink inners…and he shyly rubs the back of his neck.

“Sorry.”

“Me too,” Reina bites her top lip and looks at the opened books lying all around them, ” we made a mess! Gosh…let me arrange that.”

Eiji pulls Reina to her feet before she could argue, and pushes her back on the couch. “You sit, let me. The mess is all mine.” He opens her textbook to the exact page she was on earlier before the interruption.

“And please Rei, button that top. I can’t take it anymore.”

Reina slowly fumbles with her buttons, staring at Eiji’s back as he busies with the rosewood shelves. As she resumes focus on her study, Eiji’s steady hands were all she could think about.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“What brought you home, Crusoe?”

“Taking a breather. I have left the streets,” Pierre pauses to swirl the ice-cubes around his chilled Americano, watching the little squares clink on the sides of his glass, as though expecting something more extraordinary to happen.

“How long is it gonna be this time, Pierre?”

“Long enough, as long as I stay undiscovered.” He knocks back a long shot of coffee.

Jae resisted the urge to catechize: what was it this time? Had he killed a man, robbed a bank, or cleaned out an entire estate? As Jae observes, a thin veil of moist from the glass’s rim glistens at the scar that ran parallel to Pierre’s lips, morphing smiles into a semi grimace, Jae feels a familiar tug at his heart strings – a deep stab of pain he once knew like the back of his hand.

Knowingly, Pierre swipes the scar with the back of his hand, shrugs and smiles comfortingly. “Been too long and the scar has numbed itself, healed. Time to move on yourself, pal.”

But he can never move on without the knowledge of what had transpired. Pierre’s code of honor to Jae’s dead father is something above and beyond the courage that exists within the young lad holding on to a promise never to reveal the enemy, lest Jae should take the fatal path of hatred and revenge.

“I wake up every morning with the resolution of moving on, only to realize that at the end of the day, nothing has changed. Not me, not the world,” Jae shakes his head resolutely, continues, “The world is a cosmogony, and even so I’m on the outside looking in, plotting an entrance. My curiosity brands me just like your scar.” He grips his glass so tight, his knuckles turn white.

“That world you generalize is not everything. You don’t have to be in it. They are not to be messed with, Jae. You told me to stay out of the streets yourself! Its ridiculous if I’m out of it and you’re bidding your time to go in.”

“And when I do, it will be the first and the last time I’m associating myself with that world.”

“You’ve always associated yourself with that world. You’ve kept yourself so secluded, full of rage, just like your dad! One day you’ll set yourself ablaze. You don’t even know who and what you’re fighting against! There is no cause for your resistance. Why don’t you take it from me, and learn to live for something real. ” Pierre’s volume increases with his laden warning. In his own head, he sees faces of the dead – friends, passer-bys, allies, enemies, and people he had loved and lost.

Jae visibly stiffens. A moment of tension passes between the grown men, whose pride and stubborn hotheadness are very much the same as before.

“If you spent every bloody waking hour obsessing over righting a wrong, over seeking closure and vengeance if that’s what it takes, then like me, you would know.”

Jae’s deepset fury was masked, but Pierre has always known that for a fact. His ensuing silence posits empathy, and he forsakes the stab at discouraging Jae’s lifelong preoccupation with finding out who were his father’s traitors.

“Enough about me, Pierre,” a moment later Jae waves a hand dismissively,  “So tell me, why are you back?”

“Just making my rounds, routine home-coming.”

“Home-coming? Not like you, Pierre, not at all.“

Pierre traces a finger along the spines of a stack of books lining Jae’s bookshelf. “You’re right. I’m not sure I’m even me anymore,” he pauses to inspect a book, and then replaces it. He looks Jae in the eye. “That’s what life does to people.”

Both takes a moment to brood on this thought as they revive past habits of working their jaws on crushed ice.

“In any case…. I’m glad you’re home.” Jae breaks the moment with heart-felt sincerity.

“Me too.” Pierre smiles genuinely and rolls the strange word around his tongue, “Home.” To a vagabond like him, the concept of belonging constantly emerges as an entirely new sensation.

“Now, who wants more brandy?”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Looking like the archetype of discretion – a low-slung haversack thrown over a casual black suit – Pierre walks inconspicuously downtown, keeping his senses on high alert for a messenger of sorts.

He had received an anonymous text from Nagasaki, instructing him to locate a messenger, newly deported from Las Vegas, who holds the crucial link to a large investment sum. In this case, money would save hundreds of lives.

Navy office suit, expensive earrings and a grey briefcase – that was his clue. Accustomed to ambiguity, Pierre’s vagrant instincts serve him well. Nevertheless to isolate one woman amongst the throngs of prostitues in this district was tougher than manually separating sugar from salt.

Once or twice he spots the cues, but those women lacked one thing or another. He walks with increasing speed, avoiding all female-like creatures in varying states of semi-nakedness flinging their desperate bodies into his zone.

He spots a young lady in a navy blue blazer at the entrance of Millers’ Pub, whose short skirt swishes to reveal a considerable length of porcelain white skin – an unintentional attraction that catches his eye. For a split second he wonders if she could be the messenger. Then his expert eye zooms in on her pale face, all wide-eyed suppleness, strikingly exposed like hooked liver on dangled bait. She wasn’t the messenger he’s looking for, but she’s definitely here for another reason.

Their eyes met. Pierre feels a tug in his chest. Eyes narrowed, he grimaced in her direction, walks past without a second glance, and then turns into the next alley.

Upon losing sight of the bustling main street, he exhales deeply and takes great comfort in the gloom of the avenue. The streetlamps were extinguished – some cracked and others smashed – thus his senses sharpens to hawklike vision, and his ears picks up timid footsteps from the rear, probably harmless. And there she is – flanked by scarlet red lips a cigar dangles from between her perfect teeth and as she steps closer she reveals a grey briefcase from beneath a suit of navy-blue, unclasps the lock and swings out a revolver, aims it straight into Pierre’s unguarded chest.

There are women who could physically subdue a man, who could make a man do her bidding. Then there are women who could unknowingly touch the careless depths within a man, and those were the most dangerous of all.

—–

Scarlet Carousel ©
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

SCARLET CAROUSEL

♛ Scarlet Carousel | Prologue V

{Prologue} Noemie Matsumoto’s

2017,
South Korea

When Noemie first laid eyes upon his handsomely flawed face, her heart squeezed with unexplained intrigue.

Everything about him screamed perfection, right down to his seeming lack of passion for love, lust and women, which was totally atypical considering his type. Usually, a once-over was Noemie required to have men stripped down to the bone. These creatures ran on instincts, and above all, physical needs. A rare and very fine specimen was this man.

Considering, also, the fact that he was marching down a street full of scantily clad prostitutes throwing themselves at his feet and he shrugged them all off without sparing a glance.

He was headed in her direction, his strut purposeful and quickening with the pace of her heart. Her breath caught when he was barely a foot away…

The look of menace he conjured when she attempted to catch his eye manifested as a grimace that was not unlike interminable pain. She then thought, even the silhouette of his back casted a spell of mystery on those who had the luxury of perceiving.

Just one look from him and she lost all sense of self-control.
He had a mask of a devil, albeit a painfully handsome one.

Fascination gave rise to curiosity. She tiptoed down the alley, retracing the tall, dark and charming stranger’s footsteps.

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Scarlet Carousel
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

♛ Scarlet Carousel | Prologue IV

{Prologue} Eiji Saito’s

1999
Fukushima

Sunshine boy! 

Back home in Fukushima, the old lady with the limp at the convenience store welcomed her favourite elementary school boy with a daily tube of chocolate mint candies. Before her passing, Eiji crossed the street twice a day just to say hello and accepted her gifts with great appreciation. Despite being only 6, his ready smile and charming boyish disposition won hearts whereever he went. 

Sunshine Eiji!

Ever since mother-and-child fleed Japan, days thereafter had been colourless, stormy and dreary. Witness Protection Programme, or so the state of law claimed, for the Saito’s continued existence in Japan threatened all their relatives and friends. South Korea however provided little salvation, for they found neither peace nor stability. Eiji could never recover his prior glow of happiness.

Until, following years of misery, he chanced upon one true reason for belonging.

“You would stay with me?” He had sputtered, all bloodied lips and swollen cheeks from being at the receiving end of his drunken boss’s anger.

She had gently wrapped an unworn gym teeshirt around his split knuckles and applied pressure to the deep cut. “Yes.” He had turned away with disbelief. Why would a total stranger show him such kindness?

“If I didn’t, you would do nothing about these, right?” She wet her fingers and gently dabbed at his bruised undereye. It felt cool, comforting. 

“No. There would be questions. I could be arrested for underaged employment if I went to the hospital. My boss would be even more furious.”

“Then I will stay here with you.” Her gentle voice seemed to reach a deeper part of him, re-ignited a spark of warmth and happiness. That night, they went from unacquainted schoolmates to fast friends as they talked of the uncertainties that plagued their lives. She hadn’t lied about wanting to stay.

Eiji Saito was subsequently nothing without Reina Yamaguchi.

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Scarlet Carousel
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

♛ Scarlet Carousel | Prologue III

{Prologue} Jae (Song Jae Won)’s

1999
South Korea

They wouldn’t let me out. When I finally shoved past the barricade of arms, and barreled out of the bedroom into Dad’s chamber where the loud noises echoed, I had to cough hard to clear my lungs. Clouds of smoke in the air were far too viscous to be that of Dad’s cigars, so what were they?  

Suited men were towing a limp body, until the procession receded from my fogged field of vision. My eyes glazed over, barely recognising… Dad?

A hysterical cry died in my throat. A fresh trail of scarlet red led away from his mahogany desk, staining the light beige carpets. There was now only one other person in the study chamber.

Pierre was sprawled facedown, jerking and spasming as he choked in his pool of blood. He had been left to die; a curved blade plunged deep into the carpeted floorboards by his side.  Outside, above the ruckus of the raging storm, sirens were wailing in increasing amplitude.

Hurried footsteps led to all other places in the exterior hallways. I crawled silently to Pierre, helplessly covered his shivering, twitching body with my shirt, defenselessly terrified to leave his side. I crouched beside him and hugged my knees in numbed shock, watching the shadows linger outside the chamber.

Frantic voices compounded the resounding chaos. A shrill siren approached, raising its distant wail to a howl…

There was a single gunshot. 

When I close my eyes, I could still hear its reverberating echoes.

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Scarlet Carousel
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

♛ Scarlet Carousel | Prologue II

{Prologue} Pierre, Kim Sarkozy’s

1999
South Korea

His last words were: “Do not speak a word of what you saw.” I closed my eyes, unable to shut out the splatter of blood across the chamber; a scarlet sea of power and savagery.

No, I couldn’t stay hidden and let this happen.

I rose from my hideout, ran forth to grab hold of the assailant’s arms, but in the deep recesses of my sane consciousness I had recognized the cold-blooded murderer. Disillusionment struck a deep resounding chord in my soul. 

I screamed so loud till my voice was hoarse. “Stop, stop! Stop –

Where the curved blade had struck my face, a torrent of blood gushed forth. Yet the pain was diminished by what I felt deep in my chest – an unspeakable pain with no visible wound. I was to seal my mouth from ever speaking of this because Jae must never ever know.

Could I ever face my friend again, knowing the truth?

Something slammed against the base of my skull and all was black. 

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Scarlet Carousel
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

this post is written by a very happy person

Exciting collaboration with onekindofkrispy my dear fellow Scorpio dancer cum partner-in-crime!!
Really happy to be dancing because while the music is playing
suddenly we’re without a care in the world.
If we manage to make you say “you girls dance like sluts”
we take it as a compliment and thank you in advance 🙂 teehee.

dance

I’m back from Auckland, and really glad for a longer break this time.
Exhausting this may be, I’m looking forward to June
and working hard in improving my finesse, or…just becoming more familiar with my duties.

Also, I dug up a whole pile of short stories from land-before-time aka my junior college drawer,
stories which I never managed to complete!!
I still think my mind was way more creative before I got into dancing,
because all that hair-eography and head tossing must have killed about a billion brain cells.
Nevertheless I’m sure my neurons died happy 🙂

SOOOO!!! I’m going to alter those fictional by-products of my brain
and hopefully give them their rightful conclusion.
I hope my writing skills have not rusted.
Well, perhaps the cabin pressure in the aircraft killed another army of neuron soldiers.
“HERE LIES THE CREATIVE BRAIN CELLS OF ____
THEY BRAVED MANY A TOUGH BATTLES.
Rest in peace.”

xoxo
I-need-a-new-name