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One Step Forward, One Step Back

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He wiped the blood around his lips. Song Minwoo, he really stirred a lot of unpleasant memories, one that he had long locked up in the confines of his mind. The trauma was too deep to erase, the walls already broken, dented, his hands too small, too powerless to fix.

Yet, this time he was able to, very slightly, mend it. Even if it was only one brick at a time. Still, it could be called progress, this confrontation could be called healing. It was refreshing. The feel of his knuckles slamming his jaws, making him spit out mouthfuls of blood, so much more than the other could ever injure him, ever injured him.

It was good to feel strong.

But, it all came crashing down.

[The Exclusive Skill 'Character List' has been activated.]

The Ruler of the Wanderers turned, stopping in their tracks to look back. The eyes, sharp, unfamiliar, so very familiar, glanced at him. The mask covered their entire face, one Kim Dokja only had a faint recollection of now, one he could identify, infact, even with his eyes closed.

[The selected figure's information cannot be viewed by 'Character List']

It can't be-

[This figure has not been registered in the 'Character List']

The realisation came crashing down at him, like being pulled by gravity, out of his hands, his pace forcefully diverted. His heartbeat, spikes jutting out, was all over the place.

The process was too fast, his brick wall falling apart like paper, only for him to realise, he had never healed. He could never heal.

It was too deep, the red soaking his hands felt like his own skin, and his Mother's face stared right into his soul.

The line between fiction and reality blurred beyond recognition.


Red. It was everywhere.

He sat in the weathered leather seat, his legs dangling, a numbing pain ringing through them. His hands felt strained, just like his entire body. He looked down as he raised them.

They were shaking. Or, were it his eyes? It was hard to tell.

His heart kept on hitting his chest unceasingly. Unrelentingly.

He took deep breaths, recalling his mother's words. Surely, she'd not leave him? Everything was a mess, but he knew his mother. A charming lady whose back remained straight, always unrelenting when faced with any adversaries. After all, not anyone could survive that hell and, despite that, stay this strong. He still remembered that back, as the police tugged her roughly, she had walked forward, unbending.

Yes, she'd definitely have a way. It's just a matter of time. Once the police realise how badly they were being treated and how this was just self defence, they'd leave them be and let them go. There was nothing hidden after all, those bruises that marked their bodies, a mix of old and new, felt like an extension of themselves at this point.

Even an idiot could spot it.

He clenched his fists together, to hold in the shakiness. Slowly, he raised them near his head as if in a prayer, or maybe it was the other way around. The shaking then seeped through his skull, only increasing the ceaseless noise filling it.

Loud, so loud that it was eating his mind, gnawing at it. He felt his brows furrow on his skin, a soft, slight sweep, almost unnoticeable. Yet, it prickled, a bit wet with sweat. He moved his hands, in his haste to avoid it, and instinctively brought the tightly held palms down sharply. The sensation of cutting through the air sent a chill through him, his hands feeling heavier, foreign, like they had a mind of their own.

He felt out of control.

He sat up abruptly, sweat flowing down his forehead, his hands separated, yet soaked in moisture, just like how it had been coated before. The feeling left a ghastly reminder, slowly drenching his vision with deep, dark red.

He wiped his hands on his pants, roughly, using all his strength to get rid of the moist feeling. Slowly, his palms turned cold, cooler than before, reminding him of the moment his mother took him to the sink. He remembered vividly, how her thumbs pressed on his palms, adamant on removing the crusty red that latched tightly on his skin.

"It will go away soon Dokja-yah", she had said, her gentle voice contradicting the strength she used. "Bear with it."

Kim Dokja bit his lips.

It felt like his skin would peel off with that.

He remembered how his skin burnt, a red flush hiding the stubborn marks that were left. He remembered his mother saying it'd go away soon. And, he remembered her expression, one that desperately wished for something he had no idea about and was lacking the skill to decipher. Her eyebrows were furrowed, almost touching, her eyes urgent, desperate.

The living room was silent, the sound of water hitting the sink loud, so loud, like a gong ringing of a coming doom, drowning.

Maybe, Dokja had naively thought then, the water would flood and erase everything. Maybe God would flood the rooms like he flooded the earth, washing the revolting colour with the clear liquid.

But God never did. There was no flood, just the viscous crimson latched onto the sink, seeping into the floor, the clothes and their skin.

In the end, the marks were probably too ingrained into their body, almost a part of it now. Maybe, maybe that was it. That was why they took his mother away. They probably couldn't distinguish.

Ridiculous, the little child thought, remembering the term he read in a book. It felt fitting to use it in this situation, the word ringing through his mind. Yet, he still felt the need to solidify it, to voice it out loud, letting the words seep into reality.

"So ridiculous."


Cold.

That sensation enveloped him every time he went there.

It was a small white room; old, worn out, brownish at places. It was divided into two, with the separation, showing the other side, making the remaining space feel cramped, congested with the idea of what it might've been.

The separation was designed into a window, the whole upper half of it holding a big glass into place with grills positioned like a grid. A mode of interaction while divided. To see, hear, and talk, but never to touch. Never to cross the line.

A small wooden chair was placed near that place, facing the sheet of glass, the thin grills, and the one behind it. Two guards accompanied both sides, one to each.

Their presence alone weighed thousands of pounds on his back, almost crushing him in. The only way to look was forward, into her eyes, that was so much like his own. Not that he ever looked at his own properly. He stopped it after that day.

His eyes only left a reminder of death. His reflection in the mirror, tired and lifeless, never saw a single twinkle in those irises, so unlike his mother's that shone brightly- like stars in the night sky.

Nothing like the pitch darkness that his held.

Lee Sookyung was always there, right across that separation, but he could never cross it. All he could do was to clench his fists, grabbing at his pants, twisting it as he opened his mouth.

Or, well, tried to.

Words had failed him. They had failed him long ago. They left him grappling at them, always somehow unreachable. Scattered.

His voice had failed him too.

His scream had already locked itself in some corner of his vocal cord, only a clogged up sound left to escape the confines, rarely. Now even his pleads didn't want to leave. After all, what was the point?

Hiding is better than drowning into oblivion, better than fading away, scattering before they could reach someone, lost forever. And with that, his will cracked too. Every lost word fracturing it.

His mother's will was strong, so much so that her eyes reflected it, glittering with some determination strong enough to still let her hold her head high. Even though her cheeks had sunken in, and her skin had lost its slight flush, as if her life was sucked out of her.

In that aspect, Kim Dokja reflected her. He was just as gaunt as her, if not more. His hands felt too thin, like twigs asking to be broken, while his size remained on the smaller side, malnourishment already seeped into the bones.

He knew that she must've realised it too. If not, then that broken willpower of his would probably completely shatter.

But, she never said anything.

Quiet. Always staring. Only ever responding if he babbled a few insignificant questions, under the pressure of the stare, scrutinizing gazes that made the walls rush in to crush him to bits.

Yet, to think he still held on to something as intangible and fleeting as hope. Hoping that someday, his mother would properly talk to him, ask about him. Make him not feel so alone.


Dokja was assured that he got the most fitting name.

As he made his way through the corridor, it turned into conviction. Though that was nothing new, just a repeated discovery he always liked to note while walking this path.

No one noticed him. He was such an existence after all. Alone, walking along as others interacted around him, an invisible path opened up, just for him.

Loneliness was ever-present, always following him, wrapping around him like sludge. Constantly drowning him.

Yet he trudged along, because it was the only way forward.

Living with his relatives was alright, not as bad as where he lived before. He got three meals a day and he went to school. He should be thankful for it.

School was no different. He never stood out, and that never changed later either. Nor did the occasional bullying he came across, but he had a perfect place to avoid it. A place that let his imagination dive into countless worlds, away from his reality.

He opened the gate, slowly taking in the myriad of books waiting on the shelves.

The library.

Books were probably the only thing that he could look forward to. It was the only time his eyes sparkled, a galaxy of stars shimmering in anticipation, looking forward to reading the story enclosed inside those binds. The black, printed words were always there, forever etched into those pages. Unmoving.

They were caged existences, locked up into the confines of reality for entertaining others, churned out, then repeated. Stacked up to make up a narrative. Easily forgettable, unless they were read.

They reminded him of himself.

Lonely, confined and waiting. Hanging there for someone to give them a glance of reassurance, even a split second of recognition of their existence.

Yet, he could never think of such a consequence.

The world truly has cruel ways of granting wishes. The recognition came, for both the words and him, but in the most gruelling and debased way possible.

Reality turned into fiction.


It is so easy for a combination of words to represent something.

It did good, that book. It was a bestseller. Into the mind of a killer, why would a housewife kill? What led to such a drastic decision?

Domestic violence was addressed. It was brought to light. It probably helped a lot of people. It might've managed to change a few laws too.

Kim Dokja didn't care though.

Facing the countless cameras flashing in front of his eyes, he felt too tired to even blink. His lifeless irises absorbed all the blinding white, sucked into nothingness.

Words had never felt so distant, so detached from his being, clamouring inside his head to form an illegible mess. His mouth felt glued, clamped shut to not let anything out, words, whimper or scream.

Betrayal- he never felt those words sink so deep into his skin before, drilling into his bones. A red so dark that it looked black, like ink, as it dripped, down his elbows, knees and eyes. His nose felt sore, his breath scratching his walls; harsh, choked.

He felt disgusted. The eyes all over him bored holes, tearing through his entire existence. Shards fell, of his fragile wall, of glass, shattered.

The film broke, and reality drowned him in, and itself, as it joined hands with fiction. A merger that destroyed his remaining silver lining, his inky blood smearing on it. Drops, sticky and disgusting, fell on top of that fine narrow line, erasing it out of existence. As if it was never there.

Fiction broke his reality.

Yet, he still, like the stubborn fool he was, sat in front of her, waiting. Waiting for a single word, even a single letter to make its way out of those chapped sealed lips.

His wait, already spanning years, never saw the end of the tunnel. All he ever looked at was darkness.

Not a single ripple was made. He realised he was talking to a still lake, one that had a pleasant breeze, surrounding itself with life and hope, but what turned out to be a mirage. A false hope.

He realised, he was looking at a memory. A hollow shell.

His mother's eyes remained the same, a glitter of determination, so familiar yet jarringly unfamiliar, bored down on him. It shrinked him, making him smaller the more he stayed in its presence, the sparkle contrasting his lifeless soul.

He wanted to rip those stars out.

Shredding it.

To see that determination die.

But, the distance between them, and his thirst for validation, for support from his only family, always let him see that mirage. The apple always hung in front of him, twisting his stomach.

It was killing him.


Read it again.

The curse echoed, his mind ringing with that constant reminder as he picked it up.

He wanted to see just what it was that his mother left for him. Did she leave it for him?

Did she even think of him?

The book leaked, black suppressing the red with each character. His hands were slowly painted, the ink erasing everything as he read it again, and again, and again, and again.

And, countless times more.

His mother's story jammed the library, the books piling on top of his memories, the thin childish letters being overpowered by adult words. Big, giant, slamming, down on his chest, closing his eyes.

The only thing that remained was the curse, ringing with the image of his mother; dark, vague, chilling.

The words repeated. His actions did too.

He read, and read and read and read, till he couldn't care anymore.

Was it for him? Or for the world? He didn't find any answers, just a declaration.

To the world,-

He was the son of a murderer.

He was Kim Dokja.

He really didn't want to be.

The flashes of blinding white had printed themselves on his retina, harsh, jarring as it made his eyes moist, a searing pain shooting to his brain. Voices jostled him to look up, to speak, to let words roll down his lips, splitting his throat apart.

He shut his mouth.

They had enough, he wouldn't grace them with a single letter more.

The wind whipped his hair into a mess, a tangle, as he stared down.

He was being a coward, still stalling, as he looked out towards the sunset. It was sinking without a single worry, at its own pace.

Down.

Gone.

So easily.

Slowly, steadily.

But he didn't have that luxury.

He never had that luxury.

Though, it was better.

Swift, without giving his thoughts a room.

Everything would come to a stop.

A full stop.

So he trusted the Earth, for the last time, opening his arms as he set himself free.


It was a comma, his luck was never that great anyway.

His breath hurt, chest rising and falling with difficulty, his ribs felt like it was punching a hole into his lungs. Joints creaked, bones shattered too much to move it at all.

He was held together like a mangled doll. Though he thinks that the doll would be in a better condition than him.

The day he opened his eyes, he had almost cursed, after the basic disorientation. He could've forgotten it all, he hurt his head after all, he had heard that he bled a lot. Seriously, a little psychological memory loss wouldn't have hurt anyone.

But here he was, listening to his relatives blaming him. The newspaper, that was held in his neighbour's hand, was printed with his withered face inside a small box.

He really had terrible luck.

Or, so he believed.

Till, he was allowed to walk.

He didn't think he would hold onto such a stupid thing ever again, but maybe it was the last bit of it, a final bout of struggle before he drowned completely.

He typed the keywords, hoping for words to save him, words by some random character living their life in a world away from his. Words, to help him survive. Any form of clumped up sentences to save him, from drowning in the black sludge, the deep dark red that was erasing his existence.

And, to his surprise, he saw a straw, holding onto the log as he clicked onto the title, one chapter in, of a story of a regressor-

Three Ways to Survive in a Ruined World.

He found his salvation.


Yoo Joonghyuk was strong, carrying a wall around himself, a divide so apparent that it could be felt in the air surrounding him, the words carrying it.

A wall no one could cross, no one could go beyond.

No one could break.

He was a sturdy wall.

Kim Dokja wished for that wall.

He wanted to own such a wall, brittle, unbreakable, unshakeable. So, slowly, very slowly, yet securely, he added the bricks. Stacking it up. Constructing it with his small hands; bruised, cut, fractured.

A wall. Don't people like to make those? To define a territory, to protect what's inside, to hide from what's outside or to keep the dangers locked.

He didn't know the purpose of his wall though. Was it to keep in his shattered will, or to protect it? He didn't want to figure it out. As long as the wall existed, there was no need for anything else.

Inside that wall, he'd have his library, a protected safe where he'd exist with his Ways of Survival. It would go on and on and on till there would be no end in view, stacked with stories of his hero. Of Yoo Joonghyuk, his saviour.

And, after a long while, as the library got filled with Yoo Joonghyuk, maybe he'd be like him too. Like the Yoo Joonghyuk who stands his ground when faced with a foe, who fights constellations so much more powerful than him, as he vows to trample them under his feet one day while they watch him. Who stands back after falling.

Who still opens his eyes after regressing, facing the same damned world that abandoned him-- that was abandoned by him.

Someday, maybe he'd be like him, his walls sturdy enough that he wouldn't need to hide behind his mantra anymore, as his body got jostled and kicked all over.

But, he doesn't know when that day would arrive.

All he is capable of doing at the moment, is to stand behind him, his first wall--

I am Yoo Joonghyuk.


He doesn't remember how, why, his feet took him to that place. Yet, again, he sat on the cold seat. The place was renovated, a lot changed from the last time he visited.

That known face stared back at him, again, somehow more wrinkled, aged, faster than he expected. There was a worn out tug to her smile. Was it a smile though? He had forgotten how she looked with one.

Did she ever smile?

All his memory of her centered around that one moment, in high-glitching-definition, as she had cast the curse. One that bound him, blinding.

He realised he had become taller, her eyes not boring down on him like they used to. Maybe that made him notice so many subtleties on her face.

Her eyes never changed though, as she looked at him. The same determination, but stronger than before. Something crossed those eyes, a sudden shimmer, of an emotion that Dokja pointed out but couldn't name.

It must've been a trick of the lights. They made the walls appear sickeningly white.

The renovation was a bad move, clearly.

She had started talking to him, little responses indicating that she was listening. Yoo Joonghyuk made it possible. She responded to Ways of Survival, she read his impression of it.

It was better, way better than his story after all. Way stronger. Yoo Joonghyuk did what Kim Dokja could never do, what he tried countless times only to fail.

The bricks stacked on top of the other, the library filled with the volumes of Ways of Survival, read ten, twenty, countless times, surpassing the measly stack of books that lay dusty, tucked in some corner of some shelf deep, deep inside. Buried under all of Yoo Joonghyuk's regressions was Kim Dokja's little insignificant life, a stack that never saw the light of day after that one reluctant read.

It was never visited, not by him, nor her.

The pattern never changed. There were never questions, nor answers, just responses. Responses, like she was indulging his childishness. He felt like laughing at his foolishness, at giving her another chance to finally answer him, at even hoping for one.

He never got an answer, like talking to a still lake, drying, only causing inconsequential, insignificant ripples when a stone was thrown. So, he stopped looking. He stopped visiting.

It felt superficial, everything.


Fiction integrated with reality, painting his dreamscape on top of the mundane canvas. Blue, red, and ghastly pale. Colours, morbid in their saturation, soaked the sky of Seoul.

There was blood on his reflection, or was it his cheek, he could never be sure, as he lifted his hand to wipe it.

He had never been more thankful for the presence of a wall, a tangible metaphor wrapping around his mind, making its presence known through annoyed little sparks, securing. It made him distinguish, a clear line between his consciousness and his body. A rather welcome separation.

He felt grounded.

And, then-

He met his first Wall, that lonely back, so broad yet so empty, black. He walked in front of him, his dream taking shape more vividly than he could imagine.

His present felt like a dream too. A familiar turf, as he took in each sensation, dulled like they should be, but not. It was real. A real, tangible mirage.

Yet he still clung to it.

He talked even, so much more than before, and so much more freely. Did it always feel like that when he spoke before? Without strain, like his words didn't mind flowing?

He knew what he was doing. He knew how this story flowed.

There was nothing to fear, nothing to cower from.

He had an audience to entertain, similar to the blurred domino of people who used to surround him, but one he could finally see himself defeating instead. Unlike the blinding bursts of white, it was a mild blue. And–

[The Exclusive Skill 'Fourth Wall–]

He had a barrier, a shield that protected him in this godforsaken world.

Until, it touched his reality.

[The Exclusive Skill 'Fourth Wall' is shaking!]


Halfway.

Half baked.

He kept meeting her.

Running into her in stifling meetings, surrounded by onlookers, colleagues, and companions. Unable to run away, to ignore the calmness present in those eyes, still shining.

He couldn't understand, just what did it hold? Why now of all times.

It's too late.

But it was selling well, his story. People do love drama after all. What better than to see a long estranged mother and son, with a past smeared with an unpleasant dark red, almost black, as it formed sentences. To be read, discussed, dissected.

Words were exchanged. Stiff, unfamiliar. Did he ever interact with her? He couldn't remember.

All that remained in his memory was that still lake, the water, a shining blue, giving the illusion of transparency. Yet when he stared at it, all he saw was a ghastly self, of his own reflection. Of an unsightly hope that still surfaced in those lifeless eyes.

He was tired of looking at himself. At his incompetent, insignificant existence. Especially through her.

Mirrors never suited him, not when it reflected him, in full display, hiding nothing.

He doesn't think he can trust her love anymore.

And he was right.

She killed him.


She had a terrible hobby.

"I would rather remain dead."

As he approached, towards his mother sitting on that familiar sofa, a red room overlayed on top of the interior, merging with the nostalgic space, too similar to what he remembered. It was like walking towards his nighmare.

It almost brought bile up his throat.

Trivial words flowed out of her mouth, so trivial, something he probably wished for, a thing he really didn't need right now. Was there some weight to them? He couldn't care less.

His death was trivial too, apparently.

"The prophecy came true thanks to me, isn't that right?"

"Huh?", his thoughts formed into reality.

It was unbelievable, was she someone like that? His mind became complicated. Her implication produced a ripple, one he was too far to hear, yet too near to feel.

"The prophecy said 'the person you love most'. Thus, I killed you."

It felt ridiculous, to hear her say that, for her to follow it with such conviction. Did she really think he loved her? Did he?

He thought- he was sure he hated her. His life was in shambles because of her. His wall shook, it probably crumbled a little too. He felt conflicted, brows furrowed as pain shot up his temple. There was probably a gap, a ripple, but it was too insignificant.

Words had hurt him. So he hurt her with them too.

"You have completely failed", he said.

They came from inside, somewhere, some dormant part of him, small and childlike, screamed it out. Or was it a whisper?

It cut the air like a knife, sharp and searing. It probably cut into her heart too, he felt. Or, maybe it was just something he wanted her to feel. He couldn't be so sure anymore.

"At the very least, you aren't the person I love most."

She had lost that place long ago. He couldn't recall when, but he remembered when it had solidified. He remembered how words stacked on top of the other, deep dark black formed a solid back in front of him, replacing the void she had left.

And, he read those words.


"I love you", she had said.

He seriously couldn't understand her.

Was it not too late already?

He couldn't understand himself either, as he banged on the white expanse of wall like his life depended on it.

All he was sure of was that he felt it. She was trying to take a step towards him, no matter how late. No matter how small. It was there, resounding, in her own roundabout way.

Her desperation was still etched in his mind, those determined eyes shaking when he had moved towards her.

He couldn't remember when he had felt like that, helpless, lost, as he punched, begging for the wall to give way. His wall, when had it become so sturdy?

He looked at the unblemished white, like a blank canvas, or an empty page, waiting, ever stretching. He then glanced at his fist. It was like a child's.

He recalled the time when he sat on the cold seat, waiting for his mother to give him answers. He had waited and waited and waited.

He was probably scared.

It hadn't changed. Still, he felt he was ready. He was ready for the answers only his mother could give, his eyes coated in a sparkle so much like his mother as he formed a fist.

That was when–

The wall wrote back.