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 | 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

{Prologue} Reina Yamaguchi’s

1999
Nagoya

To most children, the boogeyman and clowns were stuff of nightmares. But she had long associated fear with the sickly sweet scent of candy floss, and vibrant colours.

In the nebula of her subconscious, colours haunted her dreams and taunted her waking hours. When she allowed herself to close her eyes, her memories were a ricochet of psychedelic bullets. She felt each one pierce her skull, as inextricably painfully as a real bullet would. 

She was 6. The arms that had caught her then were strong, muscular, enveloping as they wrapped round her waist like fiercely protective vines. Smiling in expectation of her mother or brother’s comforting features, she turned, only to come face to face with a stranger’s menacing smile.

She hadn’t known fear, thus she couldn’t cry. She hadn’t known danger. Her beam lingered, as did her trace of innocence. Her lithe little body knew nothing of fight nor flight; she was physically, emotionally unguarded.

Naivety was only to be carried away like an object of trade while those who were supposed to be there for her watched from a safe distance, bidding their guiltless goodbyes.

carousel

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

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