花樣年華 - The Most Beautiful Moment in Life - The Notes 2

Bangtan Universe

How could I discern what was real
and what was a dream?

About The Notes

BTS introduced the idea of the Bangtan Universe with the release of the I Need U MV, the first single from their album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life (HYYH) Part 1.

Together with several other MVs, the Webtoon Save Me, various Tweets and blog posts, plus The Notes – short stories released with the HYYH Art Toy, Wings photo book, Love Yourself albums, and MOTS albums – the universe tells the story of what might have happened to the seven members if the band had never been formed.

The concept is that the seven members met in school when they were all assigned to clean out an old storage room as punishment for lateness or not meeting uniform guidelines. There, they quickly bonded and formed a secret club where they'd meet, make music, talk and laugh together - and put away their troubles, as each one was hiding a rather tragic and awful home life that the others didn't know about.

In this universe, the boys eventually drift apart due to pressure from their varied back stories, and each one falls deeper into their own problems. This eventually leads to some of them reaching a crisis point - death, jail, or commitment to a hospital - and it's all bad. Luckily (or possibly not?), a magical cycle begins where Jin cycles through time, constantly jumping back over the same three-month period over and over again (beginning on April 11), attempting to solve the boys' problems and lead them all to a happy ending.

The story is still unfinished, although in 2024 it will be made into a Kdrama called "Youth" that may complete the story.

This volume gathers together The Notes as released on in the Map of the Soul albums. The "Year" of each note refers to Jin's age at that time.

Bangtan Universe MVs

I Need U MV
I Need U MV – original version
HYYH Onstage Concert Prologue
Run MV
I Need U Japanese MV
Run Japanese MV
Young Forever MV
Begin - Wings Short Film #1
Lie - Wings Short Film #2
Stigma - Wings Short Film #3
First Love - Wings Short Film #4
Reflection - Wings Short Film #5
MAMA - Wings Short Film #6
Awake - Wings Short Film #7
Blood Sweat & Tears MV
Blood Sweat & Tears Japanese MV
Love Yourself Highlight Reel: The Beginning
Love Yourself Highlight Reel Short #1
Love Yourself Highlight Reel Short #2
Love Yourself Highlight Reel
Euphoria Theme of Love Yourself
Fake Love teaser 1
Fake Love teaser 2
Fake Love MV
Fake Love Extended Version
Epiphany MV
BTS Universe story (trailer for the video game)

The Notes 2 - Contents

Prologue: The Endless Journey
I Will Not Give Up
The Most Beautiful Day of Our Lives
Finding My Own Place, Keeping the Places for Each Other
For Us
The Surface of Reality and the Other Side of the Dream
What Nobody Saw
We Can Laugh When We're Together
The Reason Why Fireworks Are Beautiful
Epilogue: The World Turned Upside Down

Prologue: The Endless Journey

SeokJin

30 September Year 22

The container was ablaze. I covered my mouth and nose with my sleeve and looked around. I had to find NamJoon, but with the smoke rising in front of me, I couldn't see a thing. People with black masks and hats suddenly appeared in the smoke. Their metal pipes rent the smoky air. Someone collapsed grabbing his bleeding head. Drum cans on fire rolled between those people. The place seemed like hell on earth with the smell of iron and plastic burning, flames rising, and people wailing. In the midst of it all, one boy was running with tears streaming down his face.

I followed the boy with my eyes. He ran to where NamJoon's container house was. When I jumped into the smoke, I couldn't stop coughing. My eyes stung. Still, I ran. When I saw the mark on the black hats, I stopped. I had seen that mark at a redevelopment meeting. I remembered each face I had seen there, including my dad's.

The demolition date. When it was on paper, it seemed dry and formal. The matter-of-fact expressions, smiles, and chatting of the people in the meeting had not foretold what was happening now. This place where the people were being forced to move out of their container houses was nothing short of hell.

I saw the container on fire not too far away. The people in front of it were trying to move a heavy iron plate that fell in front of its door. Someone yelled, "Someone is still inside!" It was NamJoon's container. I pushed through the people and got to the door. The plate was blocking the door. When I grabbed the plate, my hand burned from the heat. "One, two, three." Someone counted, and on three, we pushed away the plate.

With the plate away, the half torn-down door opened with a bang. The poisonous gas gushed out, and inside someone was on the floor. I pushed away the hands that held me back and ran inside. When I dragged NamJoon out, someone said, "He looks dead. He must be really dead."

"Kim NamJoon! Wake up!" I shook his shoulders and brought my ear close to his chest. I screamed at him and slapped his cheek. But he didn't open his eyes. "Kim NamJoon!" I punched the ground and screamed his name. At that very moment, everything became faint - the fire, heat, screams, and explosions. My body felt as heavy as lead.

And I heard a window being shattered at a faraway distance.

I Will Not Give Up

SeokJin

11 April Year 22

I opened my eyes again amid the pouring sunlight. The vision of a blazing container and dying Namjoon was still vivid before my eyes. I failed again. I covered my eyes With my arms and thought, "What could I have done to save him?" In my head, I rewound everything that had happened on September 30. I had no emotions about it, and I didn't feel afraid or impatient.

Ever since the fire broke out at the container village, I had gone through countless time loops. But I still didn't know why the loop began from that moment or how to end it. More importantly, I still had no clues about the map of the soul which could end this time loop.

The map of the soul. The first time I heard it was after failing the loop several times.

"Find the map of the soul. Then all this can end."

"The map of the soul? What is that?"

I pressed for an answer. But all I got were a few words. "I gave you a clue, so you should pay the price for it."

The gas station where NamJoon worked began to come into sight far away. I slowly pushed the turn signal down and changed lanes. I thought about one thing only: "I have to prevent the accident on September 30 and end the time loop. That is the only goal I have. If something happens, someone gets hurt or left behind, there is nothing I can do. If I worry or fret about that, I won't realize my goal. What is more important than saving everyone is that at least I have to come out of this alive." This was the lesson I learned from the endless time loop.

TaeHyung

11 April Year 22

"NamJoon, was it our choice to have become what we are now or..."

NamJoon and I were standing in a narrow alley somewhere in Songju. The streetlights flickered on and off ominously over the wall painted with my graffiti. SeokJin's face, I'd drawn on the wall in the morning - his slender face, silent lips, hair ready to crumble into dust, and empty eyes.

I had a nightmare last night. My high school friends were in it, and terrible and vicious things happened. And SeokJin was watching everything, stone-faced. I drew that grim face because otherwise I couldn't shake away the fear that filled my heart.

When I went to see NamJoon, he said something unexpected. "SeokJin is back." I swung around and looked at NamJoon. Was it a coincidence? The last time I saw SeokJin was two years ago. I heard he went to the United States, and that was it. "SeokJin seems to have changed so much. I mean, his appearance is just the same, but something is odd. I can't really put it into words, but he seems as if something in him has become undone and vanished." Hearing that from NamJoon, I grabbed his arm and ran to this alley.

NamJoon stayed quiet in front of my graffiti. He didn't really listen to my questions and didn't ask me why I didn't draw the pupils in SeokJin's eyes. Maybe because the face that NamJoon had seen on SeokJin looked like the face I'd drawn.

I said, "I was too scared to draw the pupils." I could clearly see SeokJin's face in my mind, including his pupils which were impossible to forget. But I didn't know how to draw them. His cold and indifferent eyes from which feelings like sadness or joy were completely evaporated. His eyes that seemed of so many different colors, or all the colors meshed into one, or that seemed to have so many stories to tell but were unable to tell any. I grabbed a spray can again and again, but I couldn't draw his eyes.

"Do you know SeokJin's number?" NamJoon turned around and asked me why. "To ask him something."

"About what?"

"I don't know what, but I want to see him and maybe ask him."

Suddenly, NamJoon's phone rang. "Why aren't you here yet?" It was HoSeok. He said YoonGi and JungKook were waiting for us at the container. We left the alley as if we were running away.

NamJoon

11 April Year 22

At a distance, I saw the lights from the container. I walked in silence and so did TaeHyung who was walking behind me. Nobody told us to, but we both walked slowly. As if we were going in the wrong direction, we kept looking behind us. We slowed down more as the lights got closer.

"Are you going to tell them about Seokjin?" When TaeHyung asked, I hesitated.

"Just that he came back from America."

I remembered how SeokJin had looked when he showed up at the gas station all of sudden. His face that looked empty and his dry voice. And I remembered what TaeHyung had said: "Was it our choice to have become what we are now, or..." TaeHyung didn't finish his question. He was probably going to say destiny. Did I believe in destiny?

Destiny. I had never really thought about it. I thought destiny was either the environment one's born into or the personality one has. But when TaeHyung asked me that question, I didn't want destiny to exist. I didn't want anything to have been decided. I wanted everything to be possible or to be decided by one's choice.

We opened the container door and saw YoonGi, HoSeok, and JungKook. It had been two years.

HoSeok

20 April Year 22

Two Star Burger became jam-packed with people in a flash. The people who jumped into the burger joint to avoid the sudden shower looked lost as they all stared out the dark window. The rain that had started from the clear blue sky soon turned into a downpour. It became dark outside the window, like night with the lightning cutting across the black clouds. The air became heavy and wet with the moisture from the rain and from the people inside the burger joint.

There was a sharp sound of alert. At first, it sounded like something falling from the opposite side of the joint. And something rolled around on the floor with the people apologizing and sidestepping. A similar sound came from the other side. Then came "beep," "beep-beep," a shrill metal sound. Unnerved, the people turned around, with the beep still ringing here and there. My phone inside my pocket vibrated. It was an alert text.

And suddenly I saw JiMin across the room. Or a student who looked like JiMin. "Park JiMin!" I yelled his name, but he must not have heard me because he simply disappeared behind a pillar. I jumped over the counter and followed after him.

One week ago, I had met up with my high school friends. Seeing them again was as unexpected as the time we had gone our separate ways. I was happy to see them, but that wasn't all. Someone asked, "Have you been in contact with JiMin?" The last time I had seen JiMin Was when he had a fit and got carried away to the hospital.

The boy turned around. He was a young student in a school uniform. I looked out the window and saw my own reflection. I was standing in the pouring rain. I was in the crowd of people, but I was alone at the same time. Everyone looked scared with the dark and heavy air hanging over us.

TaeHyung

21 April Year 22

SeokJin did not pick up again. Ever since I heard he came back, I had called him every day. I looked down at my phone. Kim SeokJin. His name looked oddly unfamiliar. What should I do? I gave it a thought and just started walking. My nightmare kept coming back after that day, and I woke up soaking wet. I felt I could ease my anxiety if I could talk to him.

It had become dark by the time I passed Joongang Park and got to the place across from the Songju Cultural Center. A ritzy area which I usually had no reason to be in. I stopped in front of SeokJin's front gate. I was there, but I had no plan whatsoever. Cars with headlights on whizzed by me.

I headed to the alley next to the gate. It was a bit uphill, where I could look down on the garden of SeokJin's house. The garden looked lush with green grass and leafy trees. I don't know how long I stood there. I saw the light being turned on in a room on the second floor of the house. And someone walking behind the white curtain. It was SeokJin.

I took out my phone. I waited to be connected. But SeokJin stayed motionless, looking at the wall across from the window. I heard the automatic voice message, and SeokJin walked away and disappeared from my sight. As he stepped aside, I could see the wall that had been hidden by him.

I was too far away to see it clearly, but there was a map on the wall. A map of Songju with my neighborhood, Joongang-dong and Yeongsan-dong. The map had several post-its on it and some areas highlighted with a marker. I craned my neck to see it better. When I realized what I was looking at, I was able to see it better - the school, Gyeongil Hospital on the righthand side, and Munhyeon Apartments where I lived.

SeokJin came back to the map and marked a place on it. I thought about where he had marked. The righthand side of the Songju police station. The area planned for demolition. Why was he marking the place? I thought about calling him again but decided not to. I didn't know what he was up to, but whatever it was, I was certain he didn't want to tell me about it.

JungKook

25 April Year 22

I looked up when someone put his arm around my shoulder. "Do you go up to the high places these days?" TaeHyung asked. Startled, I looked around. I was always alone after school, and as always, I was walking with my head down.

"What do you mean?"

He pointed to the construction site and said, "Don't go to a place like that there. Especially at night. Got it?" I stayed quiet and walked in the middle of the street crowded with students. TaeHyung threw sidelong glances and said, "This place sure has changed a lot. But that's still here."

I glanced at him. High places? Why had he asked me that? Had he heard it from someone? I hadn't told anyone, but I had been going to high places. I rode down by the Yangji Stream as fast as I could on a bicycle, or sometimes I started a fight with thugs on the street for no reason and got beat up. There were dangerous moments. I could've fallen down or, worse, fallen into the stream. But I couldn't stop doing it.

When I met the guys again, they all seemed changed. The only one still in school uniform was me. They must've thought of me as a kid still. So when I was around them, I just listened. Which I was fine with and was irritated by at the same time. I felt out of place and happy too.

"Where you headed?" TaeHyung asked.

"YoonGi's workroom."

Hearing my answer, he looked at me as if it was unexpected. "Really? Aren't you scared of YoonGi? He is quiet, and when you ask him to do stuff, he says he doesn't want to bother and just goes off."

TaeHyung suddenly remembered something and pulled me aside and asked, "Does he still click his lighter?"

JiMin

26 April Year 22

When I came out of a group therapy session, the sun was setting. I wondered what time it was, but I wasn't really keen on finding out. No one looked at time here. Date or day was meaningless. It wasn't important whether Tuesday came after Monday or Friday, or Sunday came after Wednesday. It seemed as if it was only yesterday that I had been admitted to the psychiatric ward - either yesterday, or several years ago.

Passing by the lounge, I heard a loud noise. "This is insane. Nobody is in their right mind. How many times do I have to tell you? I'm not crazy!" I walked to my room, finally realizing it must be Friday today.

"I'm not crazy." This is what everyone says when they get here. After some time, we all accept the fact that we are. The only ones who insist otherwise are new patients. The only exception was that man who was yelling in the lounge now. That tall man with a blank expression who looked crazier than the rest of us. He mumbled constantly that he wasn't crazy and that he had come here of his own volition. It was a stupid thing to do. I could say he wasn't crazy, but that would not change anything. We were all trapped here.

Friday was the day when he had a session in the outpatient ward. On that day, he screamed louder, as if feeling more unhinged, and ended up making everyone nettled or pissed off or doubtful - doubting their sanity and wondering how crazy they were and why they had become crazy.

Hearing his screams, I turned the corner only to bump into someone hard. I tried to cushion my fall to the ground with my hand, which sent a throbbing pain up to my shoulder. As I grabbed my wrist in pain with my other hand, someone uttered my name in anger. I looked up, and it was the idiot. "It got all messed up because of you." Outraged, the idiot pointed to the door of the off-limits ward. The iron door was being closed with a clank.

TaeHyung

30 April Year 22

YoonGi did not come back to his workroom that day. JungKook and I couldn't find out why he was so pissed off. We were rowdy, but we hadn't crossed the line. Not to mention, YoonGi would never have let us cross the line in the first place.

I left home with a heavy heart, thinking I should have a word with him. I walked kicking the paving bricks that stuck out. I tried clicking the lighter that I had picked up in his workroom. In the light, I saw YoonGi's face from my dream. His twisted face in flame waiting for death.

YoonGi's workroom was in the area that had been cleared of people and scheduled for demolition. As I was turning the corner, I saw him coming out of his workroom. I yelled his name, but he must not have heard me, for he disappeared around the street corner. I called his name and ran, but he wasn't anywhere.

Where did he go? I looked around only to see SeokJin sitting in his car at a distance. I became frozen on the spot. The world suddenly became insufferably quiet. Everything came to a grinding halt. Except for the loud beating of my heart. It was the face I had seen in my dream. And I remembered. The map on SeokJin's wall. The righthand side of the Songju police station toward Songju Station. The place he marked on the map. It was here.

I walked toward his car. SeokJin was talking on the phone. "Detective, I'm Kim SeokJin. We met last time." I heard him say from the open car window. "Yes, Kim TaeHyung, I think you know him. If he gets into trouble again, please contact Jung HoSeok. Yes, Jung HoSeok. His contact number is..."

I opened the car door. "What are you saying?" SeokJin looked at me, surprised. He mumbled something, and looked down at his watch and at me. I became nonplussed too and let go of the car door. SeokJin had no expression, as if someone had erased it off his face. And I felt a sudden chill. I felt so cold that my teeth chattered. It was spring. There was no wind, but it felt freezing cold.

"What do you mean?" SeokJin said as he got out of the car.

"You said my name on the phone just now. And why are you here?"

SeokJin started walking and said, "Come with me." I followed him into the alley. In the alley with no sunlight coming in, SeokJin stared at me cloaked with the shadow of the building.

I said, "Give it to me straight. I saw you marking this place on your map. Why are you here?" He grimaced. He looked behind me and looked down at his watch again. I said, "Do you see the same stuff as I do in your dreams? JungKook falling and NamJoon..."

SeokJin ran his hands down his face as if tired. "Kim TaeHyung, you don't know anything." It was then that I heard the sound of scampering feet behind me. SeokJin looked in that direction and ran out of the alley, glowering.

"Where are you going?" As I yelled, I saw the smoke rising up. In that instant, I was reminded of what I had seen in my dream: YoonGi dying surrounded by smoke and flame, and the scene outside the window of YoonGi's place. That place was here. The smoke became thicker. I looked around and started running. YoonGi might be in there.

When I came out of the alley, I saw JungKook running to the place. JungKook must also be here looking for YoonGi. "Jeon JungKook!" I fell down while calling out for him and sprained my ankle. My elbows hit hard on the ground. When I tried to stand up, my ankle gave out. I couldn't run. The smoke became thicker, and I saw the blaze rising up through the window. I clenched my teeth and walked on, dragging the sore ankle. But someone pulled my arm and pushed me into a car. It was SeokJin. "What are you doing? YoonGi is in there!" I tried to push him away, but SeokJin wouldn't budge.

"Wait. The ambulance will be here soon."

"JungKook! Jeon JungKook!" I screamed, but he didn't hear me. After a while, JungKook turned around as if he'd remembered something. He came back and picked up what looked like a scrap of paper up from the ground at a front door of the motel. "JungKook! YoonGi is in there!" I screamed again. JungKook lifted his head and looked in my direction. And he ran into the motel.

I turned at the sound of SeokJin's breathing. Only then I realized that he was still holding my arm tight. He was clutching it so hard that it hurt. I pulled myself out of his grip and got out of the car. This time he let me go without a fight. I heard the siren coming this way. JungKook dashed out of the motel with YoonGi on his back, with a fire engine and ambulance arriving soon thereafter.

YoonGi

2 May Year 22

"It's going to hurt a bit." When the doctor started to dress my left arm, blood spurted out from the burn. He said the scar would start to fade away six months later. I looked at the blackish red wound. The burnt skin around it seemed like a lick of fire.

The doctor said, "The fact that you're bleeding is a good sign. It means that the skin underneath is alive." I nodded slowly. The blood was seeping through the dressing, followed by a burning sensation in my arm.

The pain brought a dream back about my childhood. In the dream, I am running, sweating buckets under the scorching sun. I feel dizzy and thirsty. I feel a burning and poking sensation everywhere in my body. When I was little, I was a sickly boy and my dad did not like that at all. So he made me run every morning, rain or shine. I had to run in the scorching heat or freezing cold. In the dream, I can hardly breathe and think dying would be better than this.

HoSeok

11 May Year 22

I woke up to the sound of a text on my phone. Where am I? I bolted up only to realize I was in Gyeongil Hospital, and I lay down again. The morning sun was coming in through the window. The text message was from my "Aunt" from the orphanage.

Yesterday I had a call from one of the brothers from Yangji Children's Home. He told me she had a serious illness. Among so many orphanage volunteers, my aunt was a particularly special person to me. I can't remember how I got to her place. The only thing I remember is seeing her house and seeing her through the open window.

She was talking with someone and burst out laughing. The fact that she was sick, that she had to have a surgery, and that the chance of her survival was slim all seemed like a lie. She almost saw me before I stooped down. If I saw her, I was afraid I would burst into tears. I might blurt out in resentment whether she was going to abandon me as well. I started walking away. It seemed like someone was calling my name, but I didn't look back.

The last thing I remembered was looking up at the sky from the bridge. I felt dizzy and my vision suddenly became blurry. My knees buckled and my ears rang with the loud honking of the cars passing by on the bridge. The narcolepsy struck me again.

HoSeok, are you okay? I'm so sorry. It was a text from my aunt. I've always liked people - my brothers and sisters at the orphanage, the aunts who took care of us, my school friends and teachers, and the customers and the people I worked with at the burger joint. I wasn't liked by everyone, and sometimes kindness was not returned with kindness, and more often than not, attention and love were returned with hurt and pain. But I was able to hang in there because of the people who were important to me.

Would my aunt leave me like my mom? Would I lose someone important to me again? I felt like tearing up. "Who is worried about who here? If you are really worried about me and feel sorry for me, please just stay alive," I muttered.

I opened the curtain around the bed and my eyes met those of someone standing outside. "Park JiMin." Looking pale and startled, JiMin took a step back.

SeokJin

12 May Year 22

As I walked into Gyeongil Hospital, I looked up at the window HoSeok and JiMin must be there somewhere. It really was a strange coincidence. HoSeok had fainted from sleep attacks from time to time, but he didn't get hospitalized every time. He had this time and ended up in the bed next to JiMin who had been transferred to the outpatient ward. If that had not happened, I could not have saved HoSeok from the accident or found out that JiMin was in the hospital.

I checked the time on my phone in front of the emergency door on the second floor. It was 14:15:45. Looking at the time, a smirk appeared on my lips. Because of what had happened to YoonGi and the fire, I must've been too tensed up. Because TaeHyung showed up that day, things hadn't gone as expected. JungKook went into the motel a bit late. and because of that, YoonGi was more seriously hurt.

But that didn't matter. Something that trivial would not put the time loop in motion again. I had become careless; I should be more mindful.

I looked in the direction of the elevator. I waited 15 seconds and called JiMin's name. JiMin, who was near the elevator, looked around. He couldn't see me from where he was standing. Behind me was a huge window at the end of the hallway and the afternoon sunlight was pouring through it. JiMin took a step toward me. With my head down, I opened the emergency door. I ran up the stairs three steps at a time.

A woman with a hat on was coming down the stairs, holding hands with a child. I ran closer to the wall so as not to bump into them. The woman looked too young for HoSeok to think that she was his mother. Before HoSeok could see me, I opened the emergency door on the third floor and went into the hallway.

I left the emergency door open to see what would happen. I heard HoSeok running down from the fourth floor and through the emergency door on the third floor, followed by JiMin opening the emergency door on the second floor. "Mom!" HoSeok yelled after the woman. Four or five seconds passed, and there was nothing, no screams, but the sound of someone panting.

YoonGi

12 May Year 22

When I opened the door to my workroom, I saw JungKook squatting down in one corner. When he heard the door being opened, he sprang up. He asked me if I was okay and took hesitant steps backward.

I put my bag down and looked around. It was my first time coming back to the place after being discharged from the hospital. The music scores and cups were in their places. Maybe JungKook had been here every day. I realized it was my first time seeing him since that day. He had saved my life. I should thank him and also say I was sorry.

Instead of those words, I took out a soju bottle and gave it to him. JungKook took it and looked at me as if to ask what he should be doing with it. "Aren't you not supposed to drink?" He pointed to my left arm with the dressing on.

"It can't kill me. It would be nice if it could."

JungKook alternated between looking at me and at the soju bottle, and then said something unexpected. "You're right. It would be nicer if it could kill people." With that, JungKook started guzzling from the bottle.

I thought to myself, "Do you want to die, too?" Everyone must have their reason for wanting to be dead. And for wanting to be alive. Why did JungKook want to die? And what did he live for? When I first met him, he was in middle school. He looked browbeaten, a loner. Instead of getting along with kids his age, he got swept away with us. Everyone had their reason. I thought it was best not to pry into his life. I grabbed the soju bottle and gulped it down, but JungKook took it away from me. Time passed. We uncorked a new bottle and another.

"Why do you live that way?" I asked as if it were the booze speaking.

"Live what way? What's wrong with the way I live?" JungKook asked, his words sounding slurred. He slouched and looked limp in the face.

"Never mind. Drink."

After taking another sip from the bottle, JungKook asked, "Do you know that I'm still underage? I'm a high schooler. Who encourages a high schooler to drink?" With that, he lay flat down on the floor. "You think I follow you around because I like you? I'm not worried at all about you. What is there to worry about you? I'm the one who should be worried. But do you know why I come to see you?" He mumbled on about things which were all incomprehensible.

"It's because I like your music. When I listen to you playing the piano, I get all teared up. Me, I get all teary. I feel like dying about a dozen times a day. But when I listen to your music, I want to live. That's why. That's why, I said. What I'm saying is your music is like what's in my heart."

JungKook kept talking, but he started to pipe down and finally fell asleep. I sat against the wall and took a sip from the soju bottle and looked up at the piano.

NamJoon

14 May Year 22

I came back from work and lay down on the cot. I looked up at the moon through the window. I felt tired but couldn't go to sleep. I covered my eyes with my arm and tried to fall asleep.

Thump. Thump. I heard something rolling on the ground. When I opened my eyes, I saw a ten-year-old boy kicking a soccer ball. I had seen him a couple of times in the neighborhood.

Without anyone to play with, he went around kicking the ball in the dark. The only place he could play was the narrow space between the containers. It took a while for him to come back after he left to find his ball in the dark.

HoSeok got us together as soon as he came out of the hospital. He said, "Let's get JiMin out of there. He has been trapped there for two years, and we can't pretend as if we didn't know."

"But we don't know what illness got him there."

"Think about the time back in school. Did he look sick to you?"

We were talking about that when SeokJin called. He didn't sound as adamant as HoSeok, but he said it rather decisively. "Of course, we should get JiMin out of there."

I remembered seeing him at the gas station a month ago. I tried to remember vaguely what JiMin looked like in school. We decided to meet at the parking lot of Gyongil Hospital at 8 o'clock in the evening. We had no plans, though. In sleep, I heard the soccer ball being kicked around. I wondered what time it was and why the boy was playing soccer by himself so late at night.

JiMin

15 May Year 22

The hallway looked the same as yesterday as it stretched out in front of me. And I saw the boundary that I had drawn in my head. My friends came running behind me, but my legs felt heavy as I got closer to the boundary. I felt like I'd fall soon, and the boundary was right in front of my eyes. My legs faltered.

"It's okay, Park JiMin! Just run!" HoSeok yelled behind me. I closed my eyes and took the next step. I didn't have to see it to know; I was over the line. I pushed the door open. The outside air flooded in, and something in my heart started beating really loud.

SeokJin

15 May Year 22

As soon as I walked into the container, I gasped. I grimaced and grabbed my neck. What was going into my lungs didn't feel like air; it was poisonous gas that I was sucking into my lungs. I couldn't breathe, and my body felt as if it was shriveling up.

Out of the blue, something flashed in my head and disappeared. Like a shard or a flash of light, something flared and disappeared before I could grasp or make sense of it. And it was followed by a massive headache.

Enduring the migraine, I kept my mind's eye fixed. Fixed on a small shred of memory. We were inside NamJoon's dirty container, laughing about something and having fun. I was also there. Seeing that, I felt oddly sad. My heart ached with feelings of desperation and helplessness.

When I tried to remember why, the headache became so much worse. As if my temples were being poked with something sharp, or something was about to explode in my head. I couldn't stand it, so I came out of the container. I thought someone called my name, but I had no strength to look back. I left as fast as I could. The more distant I was from the container, the better I felt.

When I finally looked back, I was pretty far away. I had had headaches before, but nothing like that. I didn't think it was from stress or tension. It made no sense, but maybe the container was the trigger. Something inside it was attacking me.

HoSeok

20 May Year 22

I stood in front of a mirror. I lowered the lights and looked at myself. Without the music on, I did a turn in the dance room one Saturday afternoon with no one around. The room was flooded with noise from inside and outside the building. I repeated the turn with my eyes fixed on myself in the mirror. I didn't want to think about anything. I concentrated on my fingertips, the degrees of my feet and knees, and the speed of the turn. I felt hot and sweaty, and my tensed-up muscles soon became relaxed.

My ankle gave out and I was thrown off as I was coming down from a high jump. The hand that pushed against the floor to ease the fall felt numb. My T-shirt was soaked, and I felt a chill from the floor climbing up my back. The sound of my panting was all I could hear.

I liked looking at myself dancing. When I danced, I soared without my feet touching the ground, freed from people's eyes and judgment. Nothing mattered except moving my body with the music and expressing what was in my heart with my body. Sometimes I was able to jump unrealistically high, and become my true self.

But the person I saw in the mirror every time I turned was me, me in reality. The one who collapsed on the bridge after hearing that his dear aunt got a serious illness, the one who almost tumbled down on the stairs trying to chase after his mom, and the one who was helpless in front of TaeHyung as he raged and despaired against his father. Even in that state, I forced myself to smile, saying it would be okay. When I tried not to see that side of me, I lost my balance and fell to the ground.

I remembered the day of the unexpected shower. The people rushing into our joint to avoid the shower. The hysterical ringing of the phones that day. The shower ended as suddenly as it had started, and the people went their ways as if nothing had happened, but the chaos and fear that had ensued stayed with me and terrified me for a long time. I felt the same as I had done that day. The same sense of helplessness.

TaeHyung

21 May Year 22

I got to the closed-down swimming pool earlier than the promised time. I lay down on the mattress in the middle of the pool. Dust rose up, but I didn't care. I lay there facing the sun beating down on me. It felt like I was floating on the empty ocean. I blocked the sunlight with my hand. I slowly turned my hand around. It felt as if the blood was still seeping from yesterday's injury.

It'd been only a day. I had opened the door and seen something expected but horrific. For a moment, I had gone blank. When I came to, my palm was bleeding. My sister was crying in one corner, and HoSeok was telling me to snap out of it and shaking me like crazy.

With SeokJin watching me as I killed my father - that was how the nightmare always ended. The nightmare and reality became all jumbled up and avoided colliding with each other by a hair's breadth. When I asked HoSeok how he knew, he said "SeokJin called me. SeokJin told me to go and see you. To ask you if you would like to go to see the sea."

I still had in me that unbearable rage and sorrow as I had lunged at my dad. I didn't know what to do about this raging heart. When I slowly came to, I remembered scene after scene: SeokJin deep in thought in front of the map of Songju, SeokJin showing up at YoonGi's accident, the phone call SeokJin made... If Kim TaeHyung gets into trouble again, please contact Jung HoSeok...

Were they just all coincidences? In the dream, SeokJin simply watched everything, detached. But in reality, he always interfered when we were in trouble. How could I discern what was real and what was a dream? I couldn't forget SeokJin's face that I had seen in the dream. Was he helping us or was he pushing us into a certain future

The Most Beautiful Day of Our Lives

YoonGi

22 May Year 22

Finally we saw the shore outside the window. We all stared at it, but no one spoke. The sky was clear. As if they should be, the sky was blue and the clouds white.

Because we were in a fast-moving car, the outside scenery looked still, but not lifeless. Being in that space where the sky, the ocean, and the shore all came together, my heart fluttered with excitement. No matter how long I stared at it, I couldn't get used to its force of life and vitality. It showed us clearly how gigantic the world was and conversely, how insignificant we were.

The fastest speed we could generate was probably one tiny movement in this world. And suddenly I had a question: why had we come all the way to the beach?

SeokJin

22 May Year 22

I don't know why but I stopped. Soon, JungKook would say he'd like to take a picture. "In front of SeokJin's car." JungKook would point to my car, and JiMin would climb up on the hood followed by TaeHyung, HoSeok, JungKook, and YoonGi. When NamJoon would shake his head as if to say no one could stop these guys, I'd set the camera timer and walk in front of it.<

Out of the blue, so many moments swirl around in my head: the pouring sunlight, happy faces, laughter, the fishy smell of the ocean, the camera shutter, "SeokJin, hurry up," the voice calling me. All of it popped up and disappeared before I could hold on to it.

Going through countless time loops, I came here again and again to take a picture, but I had forgotten about it. I grabbed my head and turned around. It felt as if a sandstorm was blowing through my head. Every moment at the beach was bright, painful, and aching. I couldn't bear the torment and sorrow. I didn't know why.

Next came the physical pain. The similar emotion and the similar pain that I had felt at NamJoon's container. But it was much worse and vicious compared to the last time.

"There will be a price." Is this the price that the voice meant? The unexpected headache I have to endure? I didn't mind it if I could find a clue to end this cycle. Even if I had known that I'd be subject to godawful headaches, I would've chosen to find a clue and pay the price.

I had to be cool-headed. More rational. So that I could save myself from the never-ending cycle of time.

TaeHyung

22 May Year 22

"Let's take a picture here!" JungKook said to SeokJin. Without waiting for his answer, he pointed to SeokJin's car. JiMin climbed up on the back hood followed by YoonGi and HoSeok.

SeokJin stayed where he was, frowning. He still took out his camera and set it up in front of us. HoSeok gestured for him to join us, but SeokJin shook his head, looking stoic. After pressing the camera shutter, he peeled his eyes off the camera.

I walked toward SeokJin. Not because I was particularly concerned with how he was. As the sun set behind him, I saw his face. In the pained look on his face, so many other expressions also surfaced. And in one moment, our eyes met, but lost in a thought, he didn't even realize that.

"Are you okay?" I went closer to SeokJin. He was himself, the SeokJin that I'd known. That was the only way I could describe him. He was the SeokJin that I'd met two years ago, the real SeokJin, the one who smiled awkwardly when teased by his friends who were younger than him, the one who seriously listened to his friends' troubles, and the one who always hesitated and thought about what would be a better choice for us.

Soon afterwards, I was faced with a different SeokJin. The one with the same expression as when he had been caught by NamJoon while talking to the principal in the classroom. I remembered his eyes from back then. His eyes that said, "I don't know how it happened. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how to get out of this. Help me."

He pulled out the Polaroid picture and turned around. The others were still joking around on the rear hood. Before I could say anything, he'd turned around. With his head in his hands, it was obvious he had a headache, and he crumpled up the picture and threw it on the ground. And he started walking towards the lookout tower.

I picked up the picture and smoothed it out. I didn't want the time we'd spent together to be ruined. With the picture in my pocket, I followed him.

SeokJin

22 May Year 22

"I don't need anyone's help and I don't help anyone," I told TaeHyung. I had come to the lookout tower countless times, but this was the first time that TaeHyung had followed me here. Each time loop was inevitably different, but this time, it irked me that TaeHyung was doing different things.

TaeHyung said, "Do you remember the time we came here as high schoolers? We looked for the boulder that was said to grant us our wish, and we walked all the way here, sweating, only to find out it'd been shattered to pieces? Did you make a wish then?"

Instead of answering him, all I said was, "Let's go down. I'm going to go down too." I tried not to sound too cold. If TaeHyung had jumped off from the lookout tower, everything would have been in vain.

"Remember how you and I went around looking for YoonGi back in those days? We were afraid that he would get kicked out of school because he had been cutting classes, so we went around the whole city looking for him," TaeHyung continued. "And NamJoon got sick, so we tried to cover for him at the gas station, and his boss gave us hell."

"Why would I remember that stuff?" I couldn't keep my cool and ended up blurting it out.

TaeHyung looked up at me and continued. "Do you remember the first day we met? We were late, and had to clean up the classroom as punishment. And the time you bought me and JiMin jajangmyeon on the first day of school?" TaeHyung spoke in a shrill voice as if he were demanding an answer.

I told him again, "Why would I remember that stuff?"

TaeHyung lunged at me and grabbed my shoulder. Caught off-guard, I staggered. For one moment, I almost lost my balance and came close to falling off the lookout tower. Because TaeHyung pulled me, I fell forward on the ground.

TaeHyung almost screamed. "Are you going to forget me soon? JiMin too? And JungKook? And NamJoon? Do you know who you are?" Tears were about to trickle down from his bewildered eyes.

He looked straight into my eyes and said, "I know you're helping us. I don't know how. I can't explain it." TaeHyung stammered and seemed as if he didn't know what he was saying, but he still continued. "What I mean is you were there for YoonGi. You called and you went to the hospital. I mean the emergency door on the second floor. What I mean is, what is wrong with you? Why have you changed so much? What is the problem? You have to tell us so that we can help you."

I didn't look away and listened until TaeHyung finished. I was sad and angry at the same time. TaeHyung said I helped them, but that was not true. I did what I had to do to break away from the time loop. They want to help me? It almost made me smirk.<

TaeHyung must have thought I had a problem. I did have an important task. Finding the map of the soul. Preventing the accident on September 30. But they couldn't help me with it. I shoved him away and said, "I don't need anyone's help and I don't help anyone."

HoSeok

22 May Year 22

Blocking the sunlight with my hand, I looked up at the lookout tower. SeokJin climbed up first and TaeHyung followed him. And I suddenly had deja vu that this had happened before. Not only me but everyone was looking up at the lookout tower. JiMin said, "Do you remember the beach we went to before? With the boulder that granted your wish. Is this the same place?"

The next moment, TaeHyung and SeokJin reeled as if they were about to fall from the lookout, and the sandstorm began to blow. I covered my face with my arms and closed my eyes. I wanted to see what was going on at the lookout tower, but I couldn't open my eyes in the whirl of sand. I heard the whirling sound of wind and felt the coarse sand on my skin for a while.

It took a couple of minutes for the wind to subside. When I finally opened my eyes, SeokJin was coming down and TaeHyung was still standing on the lookout tower, looking down on SeokJin.

JiMin

22 May Year 22

Everything happened all at once. SeokJin came down and left just like that. HoSeok asked TaeHyung what had happened, but he wouldn't say a word. We couldn't stay at the reserved lodge by the beach because the reservation was under SeokJin's name. But that wasn't important. We would have decided to go back even if that hadn't happened.

No one said it, but we all started heading back to the station. I was walking behind everyone. It had been only a couple of days since I ran away from the hospital. I felt awkward around everyone except for HoSeok. I looked at TaeHyung, who was walking next to me. I called his name, but he didn't hear me. "Are you okay?" I asked him again. TaeHyung looked up and started walking faster. I didn't know what else to do but to walk with him.

TaeHyung called NamJoon. "I have a favor to ask."

NamJoon stopped and said, "What?" His face looked strangely distorted. TaeHyung went closer to him.

But NamJoon suddenly turned around and started walking in big strides. Obviously, he hadn't heard TaeHyung or he didn't want to hear what he had to say. It was a flat refusal. TaeHyung just stood there watching him. And slowly he lowered his head.

SeokJin

22 May Year 22

When I couldn't see the beach anymore, I took my foot off the accelerator. The sun had set long ago. The road was empty and dark.

The headache would not go away. Neither would the sense of disquietude. It wasn't like me to get all worked up like this. And I didn't know how to calm down.

I looked in the rearview mirror and was reminded of TaeHyung's face. "Are you going to forget me soon? JiMin too? And JungKook? And NamJoon?"

JungKook's voice was also ringing in my head. "Let's take a picture here." The countless pictures I'd taken there by the beach flipped through my head, which felt as if it would explode.

I opened my eyes at the loud honking sound and saw the headlights right in front of me. As a reflex, I turned the wheel. The tires skidded against the asphalt and shook the whole car. I stepped on the brake, but it took a while for the car to halt. The car crashed into the opposite guardrail and finally stopped. I heard a scraping sound, but I didn't think it was a serious accident. I opened the car door and stepped out.

I felt the cold breeze. Either from the tension or the headache, my neck was all sweaty. The road was empty of cars. The car that was flashing its lights was also gone. I felt frustrated. Why did I say yes to that contract in the first place? Why did I have to go through the same thing again and again? How could I save NamJoon? And where was the map of the soul?

Finding My Own Place, Keeping the Places for Each Other

NamJoon

12 June Year 22

After our trip to the beach, we didn't call each other. I knew what everyone would be up to. YoonGi was probably cooped up in his workroom and HoSeok was going back and forth between Two Star Burger and the dance room. JungKook was waiting for school vacation to start, and JiMin had probably left HoSeok's rooftop room and returned home.

I was also trying to maintain my daily routine by working hard at the gas station. We all had our own life to live, and things that were urgent or important to us. As if nothing had happened, we were returning to our places.

From time to time, I remembered what TaeHyung had said at the beach. To be truthful, I was often reminded of his words and tormented by them. His words also brought back the memories of the village in the countryside that I thought I'd forgotten. On that stormy winter day, what had TaeHyung... no... what had JongHun wanted to tell me? If I had listened, would things have changed?

What did TaeHyung want to ask me that day at the beach? TaeHyung didn't seem like his usual self, looking serious and desperate. As if there was something he must do.

I didn't stay to listen simply because I got scared, not because I was reminded of JongHun. I kept my distance because I didn't want to hear his desperate request and be put in the situation of having to choose either refusing or ignoring the request. The way I had always done.

I felt pathetic. With my head hanging low, I left work. Before I left the countryside village that winter, I went to JongHun's house. I had nothing to say, no apologies to offer, no truth to convey.

I just felt that I should. Maybe I wanted to tell them it wasn't his fault. To offer my condolences and share their grief. I didn't think it would comfort them in anyway. Maybe I just wanted to feel more at ease about it.

When I looked up, I saw TaeHyung's graffiti by the bus stop. TaeHyung had been arrested once for painting there. Even at the police station, TaeHyung kept smiling and responding with guff, and got reprimanded by the police more because of it.

I asked him when we got out of the station, "What are you so happy about?"

TaeHyung said, "There is no reason not to be happy. The weather is great, the graffiti turned out awesome, I ran like hell with you, and we got arrested together and got out together."

I laughed in disbelief, and seeing that, TaeHyung laughed himself silly. I added then, "When something worries you, don't keep it to yourself. I probably cannot take care of it, but I can be a good listener."

And l meant it. For someone like TaeHyung who was kind and down on his luck, he needed someone to lean on even if that someone was a nobody like me. When I said it, I really meant it, but it ended up being a lie.

I took out my phone. I looked for TaeHyung's number. "You busy? There is a place we should go together."

The village in the countryside in broad daylight looked exactly the same. The old road signs, the empty road and the stream flowing to the river. Only the season had changed. TaeHyung got out of the bus and stretched. The bus left, kicking up dust. A scooter sputtered on its way to the part of the village with the rest area.

During the bus ride, I had told TaeHyung about what happened. The delivery competition I was in to make a living, the accident on the day of the snowstorm, and how JongHan was killed and how the village people had reacted to his death. Some things I couldn't tell him - how I ran away leaving my family behind and the last words of JongHan.

Did I regret what had happened? No. There wasn't anything I could do. I didn't come back to apologize for the past. I came back to see for myself what it meant to have survived, the only thing that was on my mind when I'd left this place.

I headed to the slope to get to the rest area. "It's too hot for June," TaeHyung said.

"It's going to get hotter." We chatted about unimportant things on our way up the slope. I pushed TaeHyung to continue when he gave up, and leaning against me, he bent his head backward. The sun was so bright that we couldn't keep our eyes open.

I stopped at where TaeHyung... no... where JongHun had died. "This must be the place." The mark on the side of the road was long gone. I lay down on the spot where JongHun had been killed. With my eyes closed, I tried to picture his last moments.

When did his scooter skid? It had been a while since the snow storm started, so the empty road must've been covered with heavy snow. When the scooter skidded, JongHun must've grabbed tight onto it. The scooter wheels slid on the calcium chloride and he lost contro

As the scooter fell and his body was thrown into air, what did he see? When he crashed onto the frozen road without a helmet, what did he think? With his dying breaths, what was the last thing he saw? With his quivering lips and white puffs from his sighs, what did he want to say? As his body became frozen stiff, the blood from his head must've been

warm.

Enveloped in the chill from that day, my body contracted. The black space in front of my eyes scattered into whiteness. TaeHyung muttered something, but I couldn't hear it. I felt cold and heavy as lead. My mind grew distant as if I had been buried under snow.

I thought once: I am like a dead person. The night when I was walking home after the trip to the beach. When I ignored TaeHyung saying he had a favor to ask.

What did it mean to survive? Being alive? Having a place to sleep and food to eat? Waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night? Spending each day like that? Not getting involved in the fear that I wouldn't be able to handle the responsibility? Turning a blind eye, afraid of regretting it later? Not doing a thing in order not to die? Not doing a thing, being trapped inside myself? Not doing a thing and not doing a thing, and continuing not to do a thing... how is that different from being dead? I must've died a long time ago.

The scooter sputtering in the snowstorm, the road covered with dead leaves and calcium chloride, and the drops of sweat in the winter wind. The scenes that day on the road unfolded like a film, and as if I had been suspended in midair, I looked down on it.

My body evaporated and only my consciousness remained. It was a hot summer day, but I trembled from cold. It felt as if it was snowing. I felt the pang in my thigh from the scooter accident. JongHun was not the only who died on that winter day. I ran away, but I also died that day. To survive, I had to kill myself.

"NamJoon!" I heard TaeHyung's voice and someone shaking my shoulder. Hearing his voice, I finally snapped out of it. The chill I had been feeling vanished, and I felt the heat from the asphalt. I opened my eyes to see TaeHyung looking down on me. "You seemed dead."

I grabbed his hand and stood up. I took out the piece of the scooter headlight from my pocket and placed it on the road. I had picked it up when I came here that winter. I said goodbye in my head. Suddenly, TaeHyung put his hand down on the road where I had been lying and said, "We shouldn't die."

On the way down to the village by the river, we stopped at the entrance. The place was high enough that we could see the whole village. TaeHyung picked up a stone and threw it into the river. The stone flew in an arc and plopped into the water.

For a while, we stood there looking at the ripples where the stone had disappeared. "What's on your mind?" TaeHyung asked. Without a word, I pointed to the house near a zelkova tree. TaeHyung didn't ask whose house it was.

Someone opened the door and came out of the house. "My mom." My mom with a towel around her head placed some stuff into a straw basket and disappeared into the house. I had known TaeHyung for a long time, but I had never invited him home. Not just TaeHyung. I never brought anyone home because of my sick dad but also because I didn't want anyone to know how I lived. Maybe because I didn't want to admit it even to myself. The state I was in.

"Aren't you going to go?" Hearing TaeHyung's question, I shook my head. Shaking his head, TaeHyung said, "Man, that's harsh. If it was me... since I was here and all... but it's like you. Mean and cruel Mr. Know-it-all, who never listens to others, never shares his worries, tries to solve things all by himself, makes sacrifices all by himself, acts like a grown-up by taking all the burden, and can't even tell other people about it..."

TaeHyung stood up still needling me, and pretending as if nothing I did would stop him, I followed him. We ran down the slope. Unlike when we were walking up to the place, the sun didn't feel too hot. With the wind blowing behind us, going down was much easier. The sun was setting on the day in early summer.

After we passed by an orchard on the outskirts of the village, I stared at the house with a blue gate. It was JongHun's house. No one lived there now. The last time I came to see my mom, she told me that they ran away from the place. The small village also wanted to forget JongHun's death. Something felt boiling up inside me. I pulled my shirt tighter although I had no means to button it.

"Are you okay?" TaeHyung asked.

Instead of an answer, I said, "You said you had a favor to ask when we were at the beach last time. Tell me now. Let's see if we can handle it together."

I saw the bus coming our way. At that moment, TaeHyung took out his phone and with a startled look on his face, he said, "JungKook..."

SeokJin

13 June Year 22

I walked past the front door and saw a couple of shoes. I asked the housekeeper, and she said they were from the scholarship foundation. I looked in my dad's den. I knew what they must be talking about. I knew what the people from the foundation, including my dad, were up to. Funny how I knew their future, which they themselves didn't. The redevelopment plan which they were having such a heated discussion about would start on the twentieth, and the demolition of the containers would begin on September 30.

When I went closer to the den, I saw Uncle JunHo eavesdropping by the door. I heard a voice from inside saying that the plan should be implemented faster. He was the president of Youngjin Engineering and Construction. The redevelopment plan was led by the foundation members. The foundation pursued academic progress and equal opportunities, but in reality, their goal was to realize profit using their power and money.

In the process, they kept things out of sight, giving illegal favoritism to some. By manipulating the votes, they won the right to a construction job, changed the building plan, and signed a contract under-the-table. Needless to say, my dad was in the middle of it all. Uncle JunHo was his right-hand man who made the deals and handled all the details.

I called him uncle, but he was not related. He was my dad's junior in college, and I grew up with him because he started working for my dad when he jumped into politics. Uncle JunHo was my dad's aide, but he gained our trust by handling not only my dad's work but things around the house as well.

Hearing my dry cough, Uncle JunHo stepped away from the door, surprised. To hide his embarrassment, he asked me when I'd gotten home. He wasn't ambitious or had a great dream. He just needed money. In one of the time loops, he got into trouble and got arrested because of money. He probably knew everything already of the things he was listening to by the door. He was eavesdropping because they were deciding on something which was important to him.

I saw HoSeok's text when I turned around from Uncle JunHo and headed to my room. I closed the text. HoSeok had found out about JungKook's accident just then. It wasn't important. I'd tried to prevent the accident from happening, and also fretted over when and how the accident took place.

But I realized JungKook's accident had nothing to do with the loop. It was just one of those accidents that could happen to anyone. When you leave a wound alone, it heals by itself and things go back to the way they were. You get scars or disability, but that is your problem to deal with.

Even if you get killed in an accident, there is nothing one can do about it.

JungKook

13 June Year 22

When I opened my eyes, I saw HoSeok's and JiMin's faces. Every time I blinked, their faces kept appearing and disappearing again. "Are you OK? Are you in pain?" JiMin asked.

"You should've called us. Don't we mean anything to you?" HoSeok sounded upset.

I had woken up in the hospital two weeks ago. They said then that it had been ten days since the accident. I came to, but with pain. Because of the sedative, I felt numb all day and couldn't remember things even from moments ago. I couldn't tell what was real, what was dream, what was memory, and what was illusion. Everything seemed faint.

And I would have dreams. I am floating in midair, and when I look down on the hospital bed, I see another me. The me on the bed is asleep. He must be dreaming because his eyes move under the eyelids, and out of the blue, he opens his eyes. And our eyes meet.

In the next moment, I am lying on the bed, dreaming about the night of the accident. The headlights become the moon and change into marble-like green and blue lights. When I open my eyes, I see another me floating up in the air. And our eyes meet. We exchange glances, and our consciousnesses switch. I become the one in the air and the one on the bed. The switches happen faster, and I become dizzy and nauseous.

And I would wake up, panting, sweating, and feeling nauseous. And I remembered something I had forgotten: a voice saying, "It'll be more painful to live than to die."

"Are you okay?" Mom called the doctor to ask about me. The doctor said I was recovering and there was nothing to worry about. I had fractures and contusions, but did not suffer from any bleeding. I was lucky considering it was a car accident.

"Who hit me, though?" I asked.

The police officer answered that question a couple of days later. He showed me the surveillance camera of the accident. In it, I was thrown into the air after being hit by the car, and then I dropped to the ground. The car disappeared from the screen, and I couldn't tell whether it stopped or not with its red taillights barely visible. A couple of seconds later, those lights disappeared as well.

The officer said the car rammed the guardrail after hitting me. And he asked if I remembered anything. At that very moment, the voice struck my mind. "It'll be more painful to live than to die."

The night of the accident replayed in my head. The headlights zooming down in my direction, the car that I saw as I was thrown up in the air, the shock of crashing down onto the asphalt road, and the taillights growing faint. The officer asked, "Are you feeling okay? Did you remember anything?"

I looked at him. I realized it was SeokJin's car.

The officer said, "Even if it's a small thing..."

I shook my head and said, "No, I just have a headache."

YoonGi

13 June Year 22

I went to see JungKook in the hospital but couldn't walk into his room. From the hospital door, he looked dead. I turned around. I couldn't bear to look at him.

Ever since we came back from the trip to the beach, JungKook stopped showing up at my workroom. I tried to remember the last time I saw JungKook. The last time was when we were coming back from the trip. I was talking to HoSeok about music. Without a word to us, JungKook ran ahead. I thought he had something to do and would show up later. But he got into an accident.

So many things reeled in front of my eyes. The fire crackling in an empty drum can at the construction site, my mom's room always with no lights on, the piano sound coming from the flames, JungKook clumsily playing the piano at a music store, JungKook fallen on the empty road, and the fear and pain he must have felt as he slowly lost consciousness. JungKook was lying in there. Looking like a dead person. I staggered out of the hospital.

I drank. I had to be liquored up to forget this fear. I got kicked out of the bar and roamed the streets. And I fell down somewhere on the street and slept.

When I woke up, I was running. No, I was having that dream of running. But I wasn't a kid. I was a high schooler. And I was running in the dark streets, and it was urgent. I didn't look around. My feet were running to take me to the destination. Where was I going? What was the urgency? It felt like this had happened before, but I couldn't remember. And I lost my balance and sprained my ankle.

When I was thrown off balance and fell headlong in the dream, I woke up, kicking my feet. It was night. Because of the booze, my heart was pounding, and things were spinning around me. When I tried to stand up from the crumpled position I had been in, my joints screamed. Holding onto the wall for support, I managed to walk.

I had no destination. I didn't care where I was going. The passersby frowned and avoided me. I was always like this. I had no destination and no purpose, and there was no way I would run now just because someone told me to run. And the people around me found me upsetting or scary.

Staggering around, I suddenly looked around. I was on that road where I had run out of breath in my dream. Where was I going in such a hurry? What was I looking for? No one told me to do it, and no one was chasing me, but why was I running like that?

I saw the green light across the crosswalk. In the dream, I crossed the road although the signal had turned red. Cars honked and some came to a screeching halt. I ignored all that and ran with my eyes fixed in front of me. Like in the dream, I started to pick up speed. I felt nauseous, but I took deep breaths. I crossed the road.

For no reason, I felt panicked and started to run. It was nothing like the speed I had in the dream, but I still ran. And I saw before me the same scene from my dream. I ran past the elementary school and the police station, and I crossed the road. And what I was seeing now overlapped with the scene in my dream.

I arrived at the front gate of Songju Jeil High School. The place I ran to in my dream was my school, the place I hadn't set my foot in after I got expelled. I couldn't believe it. I looked up at the classrooms. The lights were on in every classroom. Brightly lit classrooms were not a part of my high school memories. In the dream, I ran past the dark playground and to the classroom-turned-storage room in the old building.

When I opened the door, it smelled dusty and smoky. The desks were thrown down on the floor everywhere, and a pile of boxes was in one corner. I stood by the door and looked inside. It had been two years since I had spent most of my days here. Was I a different person from back then? Or was I still the same? Was I the one who came running and panting here in the dream or the me from back then?

I saw the piano in the opposite corner. There was a thin layer of dust settled on the piano, which had not been touched for a long time. I brushed off the dust with my hand. When I opened the top, the white keys shone faintly in the dark. I brought my phone and used it as a flashlight. I pressed down on a key. The key made an odd sound, a note that was between notes. It was the same with every key. The untuned piano had lost its voice and became out of order.

I plopped on the floor. My arm with the burn wound that had not healed yet chafed against the piano, sending a twinging sensation. I remembered JungKook in his hospital bed. And the house burning down in the fire. And I heard a piano melody over those images. What was I running away from? From a person? From an attachment? Memories? Music? Myself?

In retrospect, I realized I had had happy moments because of JungKook, TaeHyung, and the other friends, moments I didn't think I could have. And this classroom­ turned-storage room was a part of it. Had I ever laughed from my heart since then? Had I wanted to stay alive since then? I touched a piano leg. The old and rustic piano wood felt rough to my hand. When I tried to stand up, I suddenly remembered. There must be music scores here somewhere.

I bent over the piano and rummaged through what was under the piano frame with my hands. The scores were buried in the corner. I'd forgotten. I'd put them there. I couldn't throw them away or keep them - music, the scores, the piano, and myself.

I remembered that night. The day I came running to this place, the day when my expulsion was decided. The day when I was given the verdict that I was no longer allowed into this classroom. I got drunk, and was feeling desperate. I came running here. I didn't know why I felt so desperate then. It was fear; without this place, I would never do or play music again. I was desperate to find out that that would not be the case. So I'd come running and panting to open this classroom door.

I stood in front of the piano. I gingerly pressed the keys. And some more keys. The odd melody spilled into the dark room. My heart was still pounding hard. Sweat trickled down my temple and fell onto a key. What should I play? What was the next note? My heart faltered. Should the next note be sharp or flat? Or a variation of the melody?

Feeling as if someone was judging my music, I swung around. I played a couple more notes, but I couldn't focus. What was I feeling? I couldn't figure out what was making me so muddled. I was afraid of pressing down on a key, and it seemed impossible to play. The piano was pushing me away.

I pressed down on the keys harder. Meaningless notes echoed in what used to be our lair. I got mad and started to press any key and screamed, "That's not the emotion!"

Suddenly, I stopped. My mom had said that. The words I hated to hear most. I tried playing the note that had disappeared in my life. I couldn't move my fingers. It was the note that was everywhere in my music scores, the note that I didn't even think about when I played the piano with my friends, and the note that I couldn't play anymore after being made to dread it.

I couldn't remember what I felt that night. I could've felt hopeless or felt like giving up. I returned to my place and threw away my mom's piano keyboard that I had salvaged from the burned down house. And I decided I would never play the piano again.

In hindsight, it was a stupid thing to do. Nothing changed just because I had thrown away my mom's piano key. I couldn't stop playing the piano or give up music. But since that day, I hadn't played that note. The note was nowhere in the music I wrote.<

I realized why I had been so mean to JungKook when he came to see me in my workroom; he kept playing that note. Why did he do that? Without knowing anything.

I looked down on the scores under the piano frame. I played a melody that was on the scores. It sounded strange from the out-of-tune piano. The strange sound became a strange melody and strange music.

Memories of my high school days trickled out with the melody. HoSeok was playing around, hugging me from behind as I was playing the piano. He said, "You should play the piano properly. With your hair parted right in the middle and an expensive suit on!"

To that, JungKook said, "I'll buy you a bowtie on your birthday." When I told them to piss off, JungKook and HoSeok pretended as if they were scared of me and ran.

NamJoon, who was reading a book by the window, said, "Hey, slow down. YoonGi is a super slow runner."

SeokJin chuckled at what NamJoon had said, and took out his camera from his bag. JiMin smiled as made a pose for the camera on the piano stool. "Together with the future music maestro!"

Everyone's laughter filled our lair, and SeokJin captured it all with his camera. I also recorded that day in my own way. The day when we'd all laughed together, the happiest day of our lives, and the time we spent together. It was in my music.

And after playing a note, I stepped back from the piano feeling as if electrocuted or my fingertips were on fire. For a moment, I was cut off from all my memories with my hands frozen in midair. Chills went down my back. It was that note - the one that I'd thrown away from my mom's keyboard and made disappear from my life.

I rummaged through the scores. The note was everywhere. Back then, I had no qualms about writing that note down. Back then, I used that note without giving it a thought, the note I thought had disappeared from my life.

I remembered what JungKook said: "It's because I like your music. When I listen to your music, I want to live. What I'm saying is your music is like what's in my heart."

I saw a flashlight outside the classroom. I ducked under the piano top. A security guard said, "Who's there?" He came in and looked around. "A ghost was playing the piano or what?" I sneaked out while he went to look at the other side of the classroom.

I ran to the hospital and walked into JungKook's room. NamJoon and TaeHyung turned and said, "Are you drunk?"

JiMin

14 June Year 22

"How do you like being back home?" HoSeok asked as he showed up at the Just Dance practice room. He sounded indifferent but looked worried. Ever since he paid a visit to JungKook in the hospital, he had been down. Behind him, I saw cars whizzing by with their headlights on.

If the seven of us could really become one family, HoSeok would be like our guardian, always taking care of us. But he wasn't really as carefree or outgoing on the inside as he seemed on the outside. He acted that way because he thought that's how he should or ought to be, more or less. He responded more sensitively to the pain and hurt of the people around him, and he suffered because of it. And he tried to liven up the mood more because of it.

"Do you remember when I went back home?" When I said that, HoSeok turned around.

"You said I wasn't honest about my narcolepsy, and I felt ashamed. But I felt encouraged at the same time." HoSeok smiled.

"You smiled!" Hearing that, he waved his hand and adamantly denied he'd done such a thing.<

I left him and got on the bus. I saw him growing smaller in the distance and thought about what he'd said. What I had said to him was half true and half not. He seemed pretty cool as he came clean about having told lies, but that didn't help me muster up courage.

It had been a month since I ran away from the hospital. I went back home, signed up at a hagwon for the high school certificate program, and became a member of Just Dance. While I struggled to adapt to the world, time flew by. I hadn't had a fit, but on days that looked rainy I became terrified.

"Am I really okay?" I thought looking at the night streets of Songju. I had been locked up in the hospital for two years because people had decided that I was sick. And that decision was still valid. After I ran away from the hospital, my parents officially had me discharged, but that did not mean I had been cured. The symptoms were simply lurking inside me like a monster catching his breath in some alleyway. When I got off the bus and walked into my apartment complex, the air felt moist. I rubbed my arms and walked on.

Am I okay? Am I really okay now?

NamJoon

15 June Year 22

When I got to the containers, I saw a small shadow crouched next to one. It was a little past 11 at night.

There were a range of people living in the containers. Some were alone like me, and a single mother was raising her baby. I heard one man had a gambling debt and was hiding from loan sharks. Not conducive to creating a good environment. The area was littered with booze bottles and cigarette butts, and it sank into darkness as soon as the sun set. Not the best conditions for children to be growing up in.

On the way back from the trip to the countryside, TaeHyung told me about a nightmare with us in it. And how it almost became a reality. SeokJin, cold and impassive, was helping us. But he seemed to have forgotten about us, too. And TaeHyung added in the end, "You don't believe me, do you? I was the same way."

No one knew what SeokJin had been up to ever since we came back from the trip to the beach. I remembered how he showed up at my gas station all of sudden after two years. If what TaeHyung said was true, it wasn't a coincidence that he simply showed up that day. He had come to help me then. And TaeHyung's dream ended here. With me getting killed in the container fire.

I walked over to the child crouching by the container. "Your grandma is not back yet?" He shook his head. "Then let's go to my place and have instant noodles."

The boy gobbled down the hot noodles. "Your name is WooChang, right? Song WooChang?"

The boy nodded and asked, "What's your name?"

"Kim NamJoon."

"Do you gamble too?"

"Me? No."

"An alcoholic?"

I couldn't believe what he had just said and with a sigh, I said, "There are a lot of people here who make an honest living, you know."

HoSeok

16 June Year 22

"This is not what I ordered." When I looked up, I saw a customer with a hamburger on a tray, looking irritated.

Embarrassed, I checked the order slip, but a part-timer placed a different burger on the tray and said, "I'm so sorry, ma'am."

Hearing that, I also bowed in apology. The part-timer threw a glance at me. "Is something going on with you?" This had happened so many times lately, making me embarrassed in front of the part-timers.<

I left the counter, and from the window, I watched students in school uniform passing by. I remembered JungKook in the hospital bed all bandaged up. I had yelled at him for not letting us know, but I didn't mean it. In my mind, I kept seeing the orphanage aunt whose surgery was coming up soon. I looked around the burger joint. It was crowded with people enjoying their burgers, chatting and laughing. But I felt frustrated and helpless.

JiMin

17 June Year 22

I crashed onto the ground after colliding with someone. I had just come out of the hagwon to study for the high school certification. Startled and scared, a boy looked at me and burst into tears. I helped him stand up and said, "It's okay. It's okay." I noticed his knees were scraped and bleeding. Seeing drops of blood, I compulsively turned my head.

Memories that I didn't want to be reminded of occupied my head. I bolted up and turned around. Someone asked if we were okay. I couldn't tell if he was asking about me or the boy. I gulped and focused hard. I felt a seizure coming on. No, I was looking for signs to tell me I was about to have a fit. I was flooded with fear that I might have to go back the way things were.

I started to walk fast and then to run. I rushed to escape from the place. I stopped, out of breath. I found myself in an alley I'd never been in. I swung around to find no one there.

NamJoon

18 June Year 22

When I asked him if we could meet, SeokJin took his time but said yes. We met at a street pub near Songju Station. It was the end of a weekend, and the people at the street pub had no intention of going home.

From the pub, I could see an old, decrepit commercial building waiting for redevelopment. A few places like that were left in Songju. A couple of middle-aged men came out of the street pub across the road, and walked away, singing. We gulped down our first drinks even before they brought us the side dishes we'd ordered.

"How are you doing?" SeokJin answered without any emotion whatsoever. He didn't tell me anything of himself, and didn't ask about me or the other friends. The pub owner brought us the side dishes, but we didn't touch them. When TaeHyung had told me those strange stories, I couldn't believe them and felt a sense of foreboding. I'd known SeokJin, and I was close to him. But who was this person in front of me now?

"When was the first time you drank?" I asked him with the cup in my hand. SeokJin just looked at me. I began telling him my story.

"When I turned the corner to my house, I saw our furniture and kitchen things piled up on the ground. I was carrying my dad on my back from the hospital when I saw our stuff dragged out of the house. 'NamJoon... what should we do?' My mom said desperately. Apparently, my brother got into a fight with the landowner's son when they showed up for the overdue rent."

"Fortunately, the supermarket owner let us stay in a storage room next to the market. I lay my father inside and carried our stuff to the room. When we were done, it was night. My mom placed chopsticks in my hand and told me to eat something, but I couldn't swallow a thing. Seeing all our stuff stacked up in one corner of that storage place, I just wanted to drop dead."

"I walked out and sat on a bench outside the supermarket. When my mom asked me where NamHyeon was, I yelled at her. How should I know? NamJoon. NamJoon... NamJoon. I was sick and tired of everything. I regretted telling my brother he should always hold his head high. We could get by a couple of days in the storage room, but I didn't know what to do after that. I was blank. Then the supermarket owner handed me a can of beer. That was the first time I tasted booze. I was sixteen, I think."

SeokJin listened, emotionless. "Isn't that funny?" I asked again, "When was the first time you drank?"

"I don't know," he answered, not wanting to be bothered.

I said, "When you came to see me at the gas station for the first tine, why did you ask me to look into JungKook?"

SeokJin frowned a little. As if asking what was the point of all this. Turning his head around, he spat out, "Just because I thought it would be nice to see everyone." He was lying. That night when we had all decided to get together at the container, he refused.

Our conversation came to a stop. When I brought up our days in high school, he would change the topic or react with irritation. He was not the person I used to know. He wasn't interested in us and was impassive to our memories together.

"Have you heard of the map of the soul?" he suddenly asked. It was the first time ever for him to ask me something at that street pub.

"What is that? Is it a map of some place?"

"Something I have to find. Something that can end all this...." He didn't finish. And he shook his head as if he shouldn't have said it.

When we came out of the pub, it was close to midnight. He turned around after a short goodbye, and I said to his back, "I thought you were like me." He looked back very briefly and walked on. And I watched him as he walked away.

I knew the first time SeokJin had drunk. It was in my second year of high school. We'd skipped classes and snuck out of school only to get ourselves into a scuffle with thugs. There were four of us: SeokJin, JiMin, TaeHyung, and me. The end of the scuffle was obvious. None of us knew how to fight. We got our asses kicked, and when the thugs left, we were panting under the bridge by the Yangji Stream.

JiMin went and bought cans of beer. Or was it TaeHyung? SeokJin opened one clumsily. We cheered half in anger and half in frustration at having our asses kicked, and guzzled down the whole can. We ended up spending the rest of the day drunk and flushed, talking gibberish, falling asleep, and waking up again only to talk gibberish again.

"This is my first time tasting booze," SeokJin said like a confession.

Someone asked him, "Is there anything else you haven't tried yet? You can do it all today."

SeokJin had thrown a punch and drunken booze for the first time. But he didn't remember that day at all.

SeokJin

18 June Year 22

A time loop is funny. NamJoon and I had had a drink in one of the time loops at the street pub where we were drinking now. This kind of thing happened often in time loops. When I turned a corner, I always met the same person, and when I woke up one day, it was always raining. Things that were fated to happen did happen. Sometimes everything got tangled up from one tiny mistake. It made me think that maybe we were... no... everything in this world was bound with a sturdy rope, supporting everything else.

It was impossible for one person to figure out how that rope was tied. I didn't want to know it in the first place. All I wanted was to avoid making errors and mistakes and escape from the time loop.

As I'd expected, NamJoon talked about some useless stuff. Maybe that was what TaeHyung had told him to do. "I thought you were like me." The last thing NamJoon had said. My head ached again.

I remembered what NamJoon had said here in one of the loops: "Now I know everything about you, but don't you think your friends are still waiting for you, without understanding what had happened back then?" What he meant by "back then" was back in the high school days when I had to spy for the principal. I couldn't believe stuff like that was still important. Two years had passed since then, and I had experienced countless time loops. "Back then" had happened ages ago, and it meant nothing now.

JungKook

20 June Year 22

A witness had stepped forward. The detective came to see me again a couple of days ago. He asked for my guardian, but my mom didn't come to see me that day. He had no choice but to tell me that the witness had come forward but had not provided much information except that the car was imported, and the driver was a young man in his early or mid-twenties. The detective asked me again if I remembered anything. I said nothing. It was a lie.

"What are you thinking about?" HoSeok said, standing next to my bed. He'd stopped by on his way to the practice room. "How are you feeling? Feeling better?" He had the worried look which he always had.

I nodded and said, "They say I can walk around with crutches tomorrow."

HoSeok smiled and took out a burger meal. "A special burger made for you. It's called Tyrannosaurus Burger. You know you've got hardy bones like a tyrannosaurus."

And our conversation turned to life in the hospital and school things. He said NamJoon routinely stopped by a library on his way to the gas station, but he didn't know why TaeHyung was busy.<

"How about SeokJin?" I waited for the right timing and asked. "SeokJin?" HoSeok hadn't changed since high school. He was not good at hiding his feelings. "Something is up with him, isn't it?"

HoSeok flushed, looked somewhere else, and said, "No... No."

I thought he knew something. And that SeokJin was somehow involved with my car accident. I remembered the first time they came to see me in the hospital. Even then, I felt they knew something.

"You feel hurt? Should I call the nurse?" HoSeok said in a worried voice. I didn't know it, but I was holding my head.

JiMin

23 June Year 22

I kept my eyes fastened on my name as it appeared on the screen in the waiting room. With the scent of rain, I couldn't calm myself down.

Afraid of bumping into someone I knew, I had my head down. My vision was filled with an endless line of shoes: someone barefooted with slippers and a patient gown, someone with wet shoes, and someone trudging along with an IV.

Only when I had run down the stairs did I take a long breath and sigh. I stood in front of the emergency door for a while. Maybe I wasn't ready. When I got to the first-floor lobby, I saw rain falling down outside and remembered that I'd left my umbrella by a bench in the waiting room. As I turned around, I saw a familiar face in the distance. It was SeokJin.

I wondered why he was there. I remembered how he'd scowled and rubbed his forehead the whole time on the way to the beach. Even after hearing about JungKook's accident, he didn't go see him in the hospital. Was he too sick to pay him a visit? When I was about to say hi, he greeted someone, a doctor in a white gown. I was close enough to overhear their conversation.

"If your headache is too serious, you should get an MRI exam," the doctor said.

SeokJin nodded and said, "Doc, have you heard of the map of the soul?"

"I'm not sure. Is it a psychological term?" The doctor apologized for not giving him a definite answer, and SeokJin said it was all right. And the two disappeared around the corner.

The map of the soul? I'd heard it before. But where? When? I couldn't remember.

HoSeok

23 June Year 22

Contrary to the forecast that there wouldn't be much rain, it had been raining for days. It was on a day before final exam week, the slowest time at Two Star Burger. With the main store in Munhyeon, Two Star Burger was branching out nation-wide with a plan to open a couple of stores in nearby cities. "Would you be interested in working at a new store as the manager?" It was a tempting offer. They said by working at the company-operated store I'd have a chance for promotion as well as educational opportunities.

I saw a text from JiMin while I was thinking about the offer and watching the rain out the window.

JiMin
Do you know what the map of the soul is?

Me
A map of what? What's that?

JiMin
I don't know. But I've heard of it somewhere. Have you?

Because I'd been thinking about working at the company-operated store, I couldn't make heads or tails out of what JiMin was saying.

JiMin
I saw SeokJin by chance. He was asking a doctor about the map of the soul. I've heard of it before, but I can't remember for sure. Would TaeHyung know? And how about the others?

JiMin invited TaeHyung, NamJoon, and YoonGi into the chatroom.

TaeHyung
The map of the soul? What is that?

JiMin explained again about what he'd heard at the hospital.

NamJoon
SeokJin asked me about that a couple of days ago. He said he had to find it in order to end everything.

TaeHyung
Then it must be something awfully important to him. But end what, though?

After TaeHyung's text, everyone was quiet until YoonGi wrote.

YoonGi
Why bother talking about it by ourselves when we should just ask SeokJin?

YoonGi

23 June Year 22

I closed the chatroom and looked up at the ceiling. The map of the soul, SeokJin, memories, help... I had said why bother talking about it by ourselves when we should just ask SeokJin, but not because I didn't know the answer to my own question.

We had realized it at different times, but we all noticed it: something was wrong with SeokJin. We'd hung around together since high school, but I didn't really have many memories of him. After I got expelled, I'd not seen him or thought of him often. But he was on my mind. As if we'd spent many hours together or gone though many hardships together. Not only with SeokJin, but I felt this way with every one of them.

With the rain and high temperature, it felt wet and stuffy. When I stood up to adjust the speed on the fan in the workroom, my whole body ached.

I left home a couple of days ago. I didn't do it on a whim. But that was how it had to start. Freeing myself from my dad's judging eyes and from my mom's spirit. I wanted to see myself with my own eyes. I saw Dad as I was walking out of the house with a bag packed with my stuff. I told him I no longer needed financial support because I was officially going to live independently. Dad was quiet for a while and said, "Text me from time to time and let me know you're doing well."

After unpacking my bag at the workroom, I thought about what to do now. I had to make money. I decided to get manual work, and I chose the most physically demanding job on purpose. I went to work at a construction site. I decided to push myself to the limit. I couldn't trust myself yet. I thought I'd work during the day and write music at night, but it didn't go the way I'd planned. When I came back after work, I usually crashed.

The map of the soul... If there were a map of my soul, what would it look like? The road I'd travelled must've begun with my parents, meandered through adolescence with music and running, and got marked with an inflection point at the fire and my mother's death. After that, it was the booze and smoking, feeling lost and having a death wish and... come to think of it, my friends. How would the small things we'd done together show up on the map of my soul?

Maybe now was another point of inflection. And the future map of my soul would draw my life from here on, the decisions and choices I'd make. Lying on the sofa, I closed my eyes. I hadn't even touched my music yet when I was overcome with sleep.

SeokJin

27 June Year 22

I was about to leave school when it started to rain. The semester was over but I had to deliver my dad's documents to my professor, the documents concerning the redevelopment. Everyone in Songju City who had any power all had their hand in the plan. The professor thanked me and asked about my dad.

What'd started out as a sprinkle soon turned into a downpour. The radio said the rainy season would last longer. The wipers pushed the raindrops to the edge.

When I got to Songju City, I saw the intersection. On the right-hand corner, I saw a familiar building, the one that was still under construction. Two months from now, a flower shop would open in that building. They'd sell rare flowers called Smeraldo, the flower I learned about only because of her. When I thought of her, countless memories flooded in. The first moment I saw her with a gust of wind blowing from a passing train, the time we'd spent together, and the moment of her death under the fireworks.

That night, I left home looking exactly like the description in her diary which I could've recited with my eyes closed. The accident of the truck delivering Smeraldo was an impossible coincidence. If I hadn't ordered Smeraldo, if she hadn't crossed the road after seeing me, if the flower shop owner hadn't forgotten the message card I asked for, if I hadn't called the shop owner, or if he hadn't made a U-turn, that accident wouldn't have happened.

She was hit in front of my eyes. She was bleeding. The tires skidding on the asphalt continued like a scream. The Smeraldo was trampled under my feet. And a time loop began again.

When I opened my eyes, it was April 11 again. For a while I couldn't figure out what was going on. I'd thought that loop ended at the beach on May 22. What that strange cat said was right; I had saved everyone. Then why was I in another time loop? At least it was fortunate. I didn't know why the time loop had begun again, but it did, and I hadn't met her yet. She was still alive, and I could save her.

It was not difficult to save her. I didn't have to make someone do something nor did it require precise timing. All I had to do was make one small change among so many coincidences. Still, I took extra precautions. I controlled everything and eliminated all variables. And I saved her.

It would've been so convenient if that had taken care of everything. The problem came a month later. The night when the containers were forced out, NamJoon was killed, and the loop started again.

I still couldn't figure out why the loop began again, nor why I couldn't save Namjoon. Every time he was killed, the loop began, and my relationship with her deteriorated for some strange reason. I always did what her diary said - we went to have the ice cream she liked, and went for a drive to the lake, a place she had wanted to go. But with each loop, she grew more distant.

Odd things happened too. One day she and I were sitting by the Yangji Stream and looking at the sunset. I was about to suggest volunteering at an animal shelter. "We should stop seeing each other. I think we should," she said without even looking at me.

"How about we go for a drive?" I said as if I hadn't heard her. I grabbed her arm and helped her stand up.

"Let's break up," she said, pushing away my hand.

"What is the problem?" I asked. Sitting by the stream, watching the sunset, and volunteering at an animal shelter. They were all in her diary, things she liked, and I did whatever she liked to do. But it always ended like this.

In every loop, it ended this way. And she said the same things: "I don't know who you are anymore," and "You are not the person I fell for." She grew more distant. I was getting sick of it. After all the things I'd done, I couldn't figure out what I should do more.

She stood up. I grabbed her arm. "You're hurting me. Let go of me!" Without meaning to, I put force in my grip. While trying to free herself from my grip, she lost her balance and sprained her ankle. I finally snapped out of it and let go of my grip. Grasping her ankle, she plopped down on the ground and said, "You know what? You're becoming strange. I don't know you anymore."

HoSeok

4 July Year 22

I was standing by the rail on the rooftop and looking down on Songju City. I liked Songju. I didn't know where I had been born, but I grew up in Songju. The weedy area by the Yangji Stream wasn't there anymore, but I used to play hide­and-seek there when I was little, and I spent my school days in the classroom-turned-storage room instead of attending classes.

From time to time, I did wonder what the world outside Songju would be like. A vast city with endless skyscrapers like in some movies, a huge plaza crowded with people, the continents with nothing but ice and snow in perpetual winter, or people dancing on some fancy stage...

Trains sparked my imagination the most. When I looked down from the bridge over the Yangji stream, Songju Station seemed like a launch site ready to shoot out a train. When people got on those small rockets, the station launched them. Where were those rockets headed? Where would they pass through and where would they arrive? On the bridge, my mind would wonder and imagine these things.

Did I want to leave Songju? No. I would like to say this again: I like Songju. But watching the trains, I would imagine a world. So many things had happened in such a short time. I met my friends again, JungKook got into an accident, and the orphanage aunt became sick. When I was in the middle of it all, I hadn't realized it, but now that I was alone, looking down on the lights of Songju City, I felt helpless. I should be proud of the five-year-old boy who, with nothing but the clothes on his back and a bar of chocolate, had grown up to become this man. But it wasn't a big deal at the same time.

If Jung HoSeok had lived not in Songju but somewhere else, would it have been different? Would every Jung HoSeok in this world be so helpless and meaningless? "HoSeok, how would you like working at a different store as the manager?" I kept mulling over that offer. Then I looked up and saw the lights from the Yangji Children's Home in the distance.

I told JiMin once that when a person is looking at a map or climbing up a high place, they always look for their house. How fortunate it was that my home was there. That there were lights I could look out for when I felt as if I meant nothing.

Good night, Songju. Good night, friends. I bid good night to all who couldn't hear me and turned around.

For Us

TaeHyung

10 July Year 22

I woke up, startled, because NamJoon was shaking my shoulder. "Are you okay?" I saw the worried look on his face, but I couldn't open my mouth to answer him. I had had countless nightmares, but this was the first time I'd felt fear like that. Empty and blank, I looked down at a towel he handed me.

When I gradually stopped sweating, I recalled where I was and how I got here. Last evening, I came to NamJoon's container to avoid my dad's drunken rage. I became afraid of falling asleep. It began when I realized my godawful nightmares weren't just nightmares but somehow linked to reality.

Every dream was mindboggling, especially the ones about SeokJin. The dreams seemed to be demanding some kind of answer from me. As if they were telling me that there was a problem and I had to fix it. But I couldn't do a thing on my own.

In the dream, I jumped into a blazing fire. I saw NamJoon's container. Hired goons came brandishing iron pipes, and the people that lived in the containers ran away or were down on the ground. Among them, I saw NamJoon with a black mask on. He ran into a container, and then a boy was literally thrown out of it. The next moment, someone screamed, and the fire soared up from the inside of the container.

"NamJoon is not out yet. He's still in there!" I let out a scream, but there were no sounds, no words. I wanted to run to him, but my feet were kicking in midair. Everything slowed down, and I couldn't breathe. And someone was down on the ground. The people whispered. "Is he dead? Really dead?"

The scene in the dream changed to SeokJin. He was sitting in the middle of a meeting room. From the window, he was gazing down at the night scene. Sitting on the sofa, he fixed his eyes on the window. His face was terrifyingly cold and his soulless eyes were not really looking at anything.

Yangji Stream was among the things he was looking at. Across the stream were apartment buildings in Munhyeon City. Right below him was a line of brightly lit buildings. I saw a billboard for a canned coffee brand on one of building rooftops, and behind it was a commercial building with a four-leaf-clover logo displayed on the second floor. The window rattled from a gust of wind outside. The old moon looking like an upside-down crescent moon hung in the sky. It looked as small as a clipped-off nail.

SeokJin phoned someone, said a word or two, and hung up. A moment later, the light was turned off in every building. The world outside the window became pitch black in an instant. It was a fearful darkness not because the world outside had become invisible, but because it seemed as if the whole world had perished, not just the buildings or the city. SeokJin smiled finding it satisfactory. And he stood up and walked over to the door.

That was when our eyes met. No, I thought they had. But he passed me and walked out. Unable to move a muscle, I simply watched him walking away.

"Can you find that place?" NamJoon asked, rubbing his chin. I shook my head. I saw Yangji Stream in the dream, but you could see that stream from any part of Songju. "Think about it carefully. What floor do you think you were on? Anything eye-catching in the scenes outside that window? Or did you hear anything?"

"Why though?"

To that, NamJoon said, "To go and find the place."

I stared at him. "The place? Why?"

"Because..." He didn't finish but said, "TaeHyung, do you think that will really happen? Things you saw happen in your dream. SeokJin makes a phone call and Songju becomes buried in darkness... no, disappears?" I couldn't answer him right away. When I thought about what had happened so far, my nightmares did become reality. But I couldn't be sure it would be the same again.

NamJoon said, "You're not sure, are you? So let's go and see. If there is really that place. If it were to really happen, we need to find out what we should do."

I nodded. "There were lots of buildings. They looked like offices, not restaurants. I could look down on a four or five-story high building, so the building I was in must've been at least seven stories high. I saw a billboard for a canned coffee and a four-leaf clover-logo."

NamJoon said, "Four-leaf clover? That's a mart logo near HoSeok's orphanage."

"No, that's a three-leaf clover."

"Really? I think I saw something like that somewhere." NamJoon said with a puzzled look.

He suggested looking for the billboard. "The area with lots of offices is near City Hall or the downtown area near Gooan-dong. We can start by looking for a seven-story building there. Let's go now since we have to cover a lot of areas."

When we walked out of the container, the night wind felt cool. We got on the bus to City Hall first. "How many buildings in Songju are seven stories high, do you think?"

"I don't know. A lot, I guess?"

"A lot? Not just a lot. A lot, a lot. How can you say it just like that?"

To that, NamJoon smiled and said, "I know. But how else can you say it then?"

I doubted whether NamJoon really believed what I'd told him. Whether he was just going along with me without believing a word I said. Maybe that was why he could talk about it so casually. The bus went along the railway. The old town quickly grew distant, and soon we were in the area densely packed with buildings.

We got off downtown near City Hall. From the bus stop, we took a sweeping look around. There were many tall buildings on both sides of the road. And more buildings in the next block as well. And countless billboards. I didn't know where to begin.

NamJoon said, "Let's go over there. You take that side. I'll take this side." We combed through both sides of the street. There were billboards for energy drinks, cookies, and insurance, and even a big screen with the news on it. I did see a billboard for a canned coffee, but not the same one in my dream.

NamJoon asked, "You said you saw Yangji stream? Maybe it was a different stream? In a faraway city somewhere?" I shook my head. It wasn't a different city. It was just a conviction I had.

NamJoon

11 July Year 22

We went up and down the different buildings all night. Could we really find the place? Zonked out in the plaza in front of City Hall, we looked up at the night sky. We could see only the right half of the moon.

I remembered TaeHyung mentioning the moon in his dream. The old moon, he said. There would be the old moon twenty days from now. And a month after that, and another month after that, and a year after that, and ten years after that. It was impossible to figure out the timing of it just with the shape of the moon.

I finished my drink, and after crumpling up the can, I said, "There is one last place we should go and check."

The last building wasn't it either. When we walked up to the rooftop, we couldn't see either a billboard for canned coffee or the four-leaf-clover logo. "I didn't know Songju was this big," I said as I crisscrossed the rooftop.

"Me either. With way too many buildings. I wouldn't wish for anything else if I owned one floor of any building out there," TaeHyung grumbled as he stood next to me. We stood side by side with our arms dangling over the rooftop rail.

"Do you really believe what I told you?" He asked me.

Over in the distance, red light glimmered as the sun was rising. It became bright all around, and it'd be stifling hot in no time. Because we'd been running around the whole time, sweating, I felt wet around my neck. Wiping away the sweat with my palm, I said, "When you believe something which you find hard to believe, that's really believing it."

Not understanding what I'd said, TaeHyung exclaimed in disbelief, "If you believe something, you believe it. If you can't believe something, you don't. What do you mean by believing something which you find hard to believe?"

He looked down on Songju. "I know. I don't know what I'm saying either. Anyway, let's go down." We walked across the rooftop and took the elevator to the ground. It was the start of a new day.

SeokJin

11 July Year 22

I looked around. My dad, the mayor of Songju, the people from the scholarship foundation, and the president of the construction company. They were all familiar faces. I sat in an empty seat next to Uncle JunHo. The meeting got underway. I took out my notebook but didn't jot anything down. I wasn't interested, nor was the meeting important.

They talked about starting the redevelopment earlier. "With area three pretty much cleared out, shouldn't we tear down the place now?" And the topic changed to the containers. Someone handed my dad a list of the container residents, but as he put it down, disinterested, he shot a glance at me.

I'd seen the list in one of the time loops. It was on my dad's desk in the den. NamJoon's name on the list was circled in red. I knew then that my dad already knew NamJoon was one of the target residents to be cleared out on September 30. I'd begged him, "Please stop this. Stop the demolition." All he did was look at me once without even a refusal. I stammered out a couple of words, but after simply standing there for a while, I left without getting anything out of it.

The meeting was scheduled to end before lunch. I was able to peel away from them by walking to the parking lot. I got to my car and received a phone call. The call was from the police department. I'd learned to track each day by the phone calls. I knew what was going on.

The police officer said they'd received a call about a hit-and-run, and wanted the black box video of my car from May 22. May 22 was the day I had had a small accident on the way back from the beach. The officer said it was a hit-and-run, so it might be JungKook's case. I couldn't believe it, but I had nothing to hide. I told him I'd do it.

That night after the accident, I had had the tires and engine checked at a nearby car center. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, but the center owner asked me a question in passing. "What happened?" And he took darting glances at me and the car. I said nothing, but there was unwarranted discontent and greed in his eyes.

"Did you call the police?" When I asked on the phone, the center owner realized who I was and coughed. "I told you that I skidded against the guardrail. By giving false information to the police, you've damaged my reputation and hampered police business. Have you thought about that?"

He was quiet. I could picture him realizing how he was in a pickle. I had gone overboard by mentioning reputation and hampering police business, but putting him in hot water wasn't so bad. Being strong and pretending to be strong are different. And people should know their place.

"And you haven't even apologized." Only after hearing that did he say he must've made a mistake and apologized. "You think an apology will solve this?" I hung up without hearing an answer.

NamJoon

13 July Year 22

I'd roamed the city for three days but had nothing to show for it. "Why do you switch your work shift so often these days?" When my boss at the gas station asked, I hung my head low. I yawned and looked around the office. Eying him, I cleaned the office with a rag. Morning came early when we were out wandering the city at night. Some buildings turned off the lights at night, so we had to pay extra attention not to miss anything.

I turned around, hearing someone snoring, and it was my boss in the massage chair. I was trying to leave the office quietly when I saw a logo next to the headrest - a four-leaf clover.

TaeHyung, is this what you saw?

He texted me right away. That's right. Where did you find it?

The massage chair company had five marketing offices in Songju. They sold the chairs by letting people try them. One of the offices was inside a huge retail store, and one was located on a lower floor. I eliminated the office located in the building where you couldn't see the stream.

That left two - one downtown in Gooan-dong and the other near City Hall.

TaeHyung

17 July Year 22

The typhoon arrived in the afternoon on the 14th. Before it did, we took a look at the two massage chair offices, one near City Hall and one in Gooan-dong. We couldn't find a canned coffee billboard, but we climbed up every nearby seven-story-high building from where we could see a four­leaf clover logo and Yangji Stream.

On the morning news that day, they said Typhoon Plāthxng was approaching the southern coast. Plāthxng meant goldfish in Thai. The typhoon was named Plāthxng with the hope that it would pass quietly like a goldfish; like its namesake, its size was small but not the amount of rain. What had started as a drizzle soon turned into big sheets of raindrops.

We visited different buildings with umbrellas, but soon we went around without them and ended up getting into brawls. The downtown in Gooan-dong area was lined with bars and clubs where people got drunk, and out of drunkenness or anger, they got themselves into brawls. Seeing us soaking wet as we tried to walk up to the rooftop, they thought we were some juvies looking for trouble and kicked us out. The doors to the rooftops were often locked and it was impossible to check the view from the staircase windows.

The convenience store we went in to get instant cup noodles had their AC turned on too strong. The wet clothes clung to our skin and our teeth chattered from the cold. Without a word, NamJoon and I stared at the rain outside the window. Neither of us mentioned quitting.

Things got worse the next day. Because of the stormy wind, the windows had X marks taped on them, and there were small and big accidents caused by wind-blown signposts and newspaper stands. The news reported submerged areas, and road signs came loose and damaged some cars. NamJoon and I couldn't do a thing except stare at the rainy sky.

NamJoon opened the online map on his phone. Looking at the road view, he checked the places we'd been to and hadn't been to. He said, "We combed through the downtown and City Hall area near the four-leaf logo. We should search on the Internet if there is any other massage chair office."

While NamJoon was checking, I looked up at the night sky. Rain was pouring down from the black sky. "Maybe it was just a silly dream."

NamJoon didn't even look up as he said, "That'd be great. But what if it wasn't?"

"But what if it wasn't." I repeated it in my head. I recalled how the lights of Songju vanished altogether in one instant. I wished I could remember more about the dream, but I couldn't. I squatted down next to NamJoon.

"TaeHyung, show me the pics that you took in front of the convenience store by City Hall." Sitting next to him I took out my phone. As we roamed the city, we took pictures of places. When I got home, I went through the pictures to see if I had missed anything.

"No, not that one, but the one you took from the convenience store next to the movie theater." NamJoon pointed to a place in the road view on the online map. "Look. The pictures we took are different from the road view billboards."

"So? Our pictures are different because this roadview was taken early this year."

"That's what I mean. If there were a canned coffee billboard instead of this energy drink one, wouldn't this look like the scene you saw in your dream?"

I looked at the phone picture and back at the road view. If there was a canned coffee billboard there, then... "But there wasn't a building near this place that was seven stories high."

NamJoon nodded. "I don't remember seeing one, and there wasn't one in the road view either. But this one comes closest to what you saw in your dream. There isn't another place. Let's try here when the rain stops."

I looked at him, feeling a bit odd. There were differences between the picture and the road view, and there was no seven-story building. More importantly, there was an energy drink billboard not a canned coffee one. How could he explain these differences?

NamJoon gazed at me, as if to ask what was up. He said, "You said what you saw in your dream was the future. You said so yourself."

"Right... that's right. But it's still..."

What I'd seen in my dreams did happen in reality. I'd said that to him because I experienced what I'd seen in my other dreams. But this dream hadn't happened yet. Because of that I couldn't believe a canned coffee billboard would replace the energy drink ad. "Do you really think it will happen?"

NamJoon nodded and said, "I do. If I didn't, and something were to happen, then I would..." He stopped there.

JiMin

18 July Year 22

It was 9:45 at night. I had to wait 15 more minutes for TaeHyung to get off work. I walked around outside the convenience store to kill time. Behind Songju Jeil Middle School. We used to climb this side of the school wall to skip classes or to wait for the others in the small park across from the store.

I looked around the area. I hadn't been here for a while, but it hadn't changed much. I remembered YoonGi's and JungKook's houses were nearby. In the righthand side alley, I saw graffiti on the wall. TaeHyung must've painted it. I went closer.

I stopped in front of the painting. It was a rough sketch of a cold, emotionless face done with black paint. And I knew whose face it was, who was the owner of the face.

I recalled seeing SeokJin at the hospital a couple of days ago. The map of the soul, SeokJin had said. But the voice I heard wasn't SeokJin's. I heard someone else saying it, but I couldn't remember who. I felt nauseated. Who was it? I saw a face in midst of the black clouds, the one that resembled the face in the graffiti.

Right... The television man in the psychiatric ward. He'd said, "The map of the soul." I remembered now.

"The map of the soul. That was it." Sitting in front of the TV in the psychiatric ward lounge, he would say it again and again, devoid of any human warmth on his face. When someone asked him a question, he would have the same answer: "I don't remember." He didn't look anything like SeokJin, but for a moment, his face overlapped with SeokJin's. They had the same eyes the soulless eyes.

I went back to the convenience store. When I opened the door and ran in, the cashier stared at me. "Isn't Kim TaeHyung working today?"

The cashier said, "He changed to the morning shift, saying he had some important thing to do. Is something wrong?"

It was my fault for not having called TaeHyung. Was something wrong with him? I sat on a park bench across from the store and opened the chatroom. I left a message: I found a clue to the map of the soul.

NamJoon

18 July Year 22

If I didn't believe in TaeHyung's dream and something did happen, I probably would not be able to forgive myself.

TaeHyung called early in the afternoon. The rain that had slashed down for five days straight had softened to a drizzle. "You're going to do it today, right?"

I met him at the Songju Station bus stop a little after seven. The rain finally stopped, and just then the wind blew. It pushed away the black clouds, revealing the dark blue sky. At the bus stop, we ate the sandwich and gimbap TaeHyung had brought. Their expirations were up or close to it. The train that had departed from Songju Station picked up speed and was gone out of our sight.

We passed City Hall and got off at the bus stop next to the movie theater. The convenience store we'd talked about was about 100 meters away from the intersection. Strange senses of expectation and fear crisscrossed. TaeHyung said he saw the future in his dreams. I said believing something which you find hard to believe, that's really believing it, but I was a realistic person. At different moments, I was overcome with seething doubt and disbelief. Then I asked myself: Do I believe TaeHyung? And the answer was always the same.

"Look!" TaeHyung stopped and tugged my sleeve. I stopped too. TaeHyung was pointing to the four-leaf-clover logo. Beyond that people were replacing a billboard, The energy drink was coming down, and a new billboard was going up. A canned coffee ad.

We didn't know who began to run first. It was only about 40 or 50 meters away, and it wouldn't have made any difference if we got there faster. The canned coffee billboard or the building across from it would not disappear, but we were in a hurry to get there. We got to the building with the billboard, panting, and took a sweeping look of the place. It was late, but there were many passersby.

I said, "Let's go up. We can't see from here." We went into the building, got in the elevator, and headed to the rooftop. We'd been here before, but back then, the metal door to the rooftop was locked, and all we could do was crane our necks out of the staircase window to get a look. But today, as they were replacing the billboard, the rooftop door was open.

When we walked past the door, there was a loud, metal clanking sound. Startled, we glanced at each other. The workmen were fixing the billboard. We saw the building across from us - City Hall on the left-hand side and the railways across Songju City on the right. Behind us were a shopping mall, the county welfare center, and some commercial buildings. Nothing seemed taller than seven stories. "It must be one of them there. We scrutinized each building.

"You there! What are you doing there?" The building security guard approached us. "Are you here for the billboard?"

Right as I was about to say something, TaeHyung pulled me to his side. "There! Look over there!"

I looked where TaeHyung was pointing - a building in the distance between the shopping mall and the parking garage. We couldn't be sure but it looked about five stories high. I looked at TaeHyung, and we started running down from the rooftop.

We took the elevator down and ran across the road. We got to the street between the shopping mall and the parking garage. It was uphill. It was a summer night. The typhoon had passed, leaving behind moisture in the air. We sweated and our hearts pounded.

Only when we got to the building did we turn around. We looked down on the four-leaf clover and the canned coffee billboard. It was only a five-story building, but we climbed uphill. The building was located on the top of the slope. If we were to go inside, we should be able to look down on the whole city.

We looked up at the building. Some offices had lights on inside. Because it was close to City Hall, there were several CPA or law offices. The lights were on in the office on the very top fifth floor. And there was a familiar name hung out of the office window. The Office of National Assemblyman Kim ChangJun.

"Who is that?," TaeHyung asked.

You don't know?" I looked at him. TaeHyung looked at me with innocent, credulous eyes.

From time to time, I could be simply baffled by TaeHyung. He would be so nonchalant about things he didn't know, things I couldn't believe he didn't know. Kim TaeHyung had no qualms about looking at things which I would find too scary even to go close to. When no one would give you a helping hand, Kim TaeHyung wouldn't think twice before offering his help.

I answered, "He's SeokJin's dad."

We walked up the emergency staircase to the fifth floor. We glanced down the hallway after coming out of the door. It wasn't a big building. Light was coming in through the glass door on one side of the hallway.

A huge picture was hung on the left side of the glass door, a picture of Kim ChangJun smiling and shaking hands with his voters. A sentence was printed above his head: When you go alone, you can go fast; when you go together, you can go further.

On the right side of the door was the bulletin board for civil petitions. The petitions were taped under the National Future Party's logo with A politician who listens written next to it. Making Songju a city of innovation! For the Successful Building of the Technology Belt. I was reading the other stuff when I heard a sound inside the office. Startled, TaeHyung and I hid ourselves.

Two men in white dress shirts came out, taking out cigarettes. They must have worked at the office. One of them opened the door wide. "We shouldn't be caught smoking by Mr. Song."

"The aide is not going to be here at this time of the day. We can smoke and come back in a jiffy."

When the men went down the elevator, we scampered into the office. There was a reception desk and a round table behind that. A door behind the desks to the left had "Conference Room" written on it. When we opened that door, would it really be the place TaeHyung had seen in his dream? I turned around and looked at TaeHyung.

TaeHyung

18 July Year 22

We opened the door with "Conference Room" written on it. There was a big, round table with chairs around it, and from the window we could see the whole city, including the four-leaf-clover logo, the canned coffee billboard, and the Yangji stream.

NamJoon stood next to me and said, "Wow, this must be the place. But what should we do now? TaeHyung, does this make you remember anything else?" He walked around the office, looking at this and that.

I felt numb as I looked out the window. I heard NamJoon's voice as if it were coming from far away. As if we were under seawater, things seemed surreal and they swayed. My breathing slowed down, and things looked hazy. As if I was dreaming. My body floated up and slowly spun.

SeokJin was sitting in a chair. Talking on the phone. He smiled faintly and stood up. In front of him was a folder. Songju City Redevelopment. The moment he picked it up, all the lights in the city vanished.

"Kim TaeHyung!" Hearing my name, I snapped out of it. NamJoon's voice was low but urgent. We heard sounds coming from outside the office "Yes, Mr. Song. The printer in the conference room? Yes, we'll put the document inside the cabinet and lock it. No, don't worry."

"Hide!" NamJoon lay low behind the sofa. I rolled to hide behind the cabinet. The two men came back and turned the lights on. I closed my eyes and made myself smaller. When I opened my eyes, I saw printed pages below the printer. On the bottom read Songju City Redevelopment Plan page 3.

I crawled out from behind the cabinet. My eyes met NamJoon's. He gestured as if to ask what the hell I was up to and to go back. The men were still standing by the door, looking inside the room. I extended my arm and grabbed the pile of papers from the printer.

NamJoon

18 July Year 22

"What paper did he mean?" The man who'd turned on the lights looked around the room.

"It's a top-secret document about the redevelopment plan, but he had a problem with the printer. It hasn't been printed yet?"

"I hope we'll be done with that redevelopment soon. Too many things are so complicated. If one thing gets leaked, everyone'll be headed to the big house. It's so risky. Maybe I should call Mr. Song, again."

After the men turned off the light and left, TaeHyung slowly crawled out from behind the cabinet. TaeHyung was holding the papers in his hand. I gestured to him to leave the papers. Pointing to the papers, TaeHyung mouthed the words, "You mean this?"

I nodded, but the idiot rolled up the papers and stuck them under his belt. "Idiot! Put them down!" I mouthed the words as big as I could, but TaeHyung's face showed he couldn't understand what I was telling him. TaeHyung gestured for me to leave, and we headed for the door.

TaeHyung

18 July Year 22

The men were talking on the phone by the desk. NamJoon and I stayed close to the floor and tiptoed quietly toward the door. Fortunately, the door was still wide open. We passed the hallway and headed to the stairs. We ran down the five flights of stairs like hell.

Even when we got outside, we still ran. We ran through narrow alleys and repeatedly made left turns and then right turns. It'd become easy for us to get away. "How many times did we get chased by the police?" When I said that, NamJoon pretended to throw a punch at me.

I fumbled under my shirt and brought out the papers. NamJoon said we should throw them away now. "But why? They might be related to SeokJin."

To that, he said, "Didn't you hear those men? It's top secret. We shouldn't get involved in something complicated."

It was then that the police showed up around the corner. After scrutinizing us up and down, the officer reported on his radio: "Two men, in the late teens or early twenties. Match the descriptions. Will take them to the station asap."

HoSeok

19 July Year 22

TaeHyung and NamJoon were sitting on the steps in front of the police station. Seeing me limp, TaeHyung bolted up and came running. "What's wrong with your leg?"

"It's no big deal. I sprained my ankle when I had to carry someone."

NamJoon scratched his head and said, "If I'd known, I wouldn't have called you. I'm sorry." I shrugged and raised my hands.

TaeHyung asked, "You came empty-handed?"

"What do you mean? You called in the middle of the night to pick you up, and now that I'm here, you complain about me being empty-handed?"

NamJoon said, "He means you don't have tofu with you."

"What?" I looked at TaeHyung in utter disbelief. "It's not like you got dragged to the police station for the first time. You want tofu now?"

Making it obvious that he was disappointed, TaeHyung said, "I keep coming back to this place because I haven't had tofu. How many times do I have to tell you?"

NamJoon tapped my shoulder and said, "Let's go."

We went to the 24-hour gimbap place in front of the station and sat together at a table. "So what happened? Why were you in this neighborhood, and why did you get dragged to the police station?" NamJoon had called me a little after five in the morning. He apologized for waking me up but asked me to come down to the Songju police station.

With his mouth full of gimbap, TaeHyung was about to explain, but NamJoon covered TaeHyung's mouth with his band and told me what had happened. "So? Did they catch you?"

In response to my question, NamJoon said, "No. We managed to get out of the place, but what happened next came out of nowhere. A building security guard near the place reported to the police that two strange men were seen going in and out of buildings. True, we had made a spectacle of ourselves as we went around the place. We walked into every building and opened every door we could. It would've been odd if no one had suspected us."

TaeHyung said, "We lied and said we were looking for a place to spend the night, and that wasn't a capital crime. While acting like we really were delinquents."

I asked, "And what did you do with the papers?"

TaeHyung glanced in NamJoon's direction and with a downcast look, he said, "NamJoon threw them away." After they'd arrived at the police station, NamJoon had dumped them inside an open door while the officers were not looking.

"What kind of papers were they?" I asked.

"I don't know. Something about the redevelopment plan."

"Why did you steal them in the first place?" TaeHyung looked at NamJoon.

NamJoon sighed and said, "HoSeok, this might be hard to believe but..."

NamJoon

20 July Year 22

TaeHyung had stolen the redevelopment papers for no particular reason. No, TaeHyung might have had a desperate reason, but all he could say was he felt as if he had to. He felt that SeokJin was becoming strange because of it. HoSeok looked at me as if to say he didn't understand what the hell we were talking about.

Two days passed after that. The typhoon was gone, and there was no reason for us to roam the city. I went back to my routine - going to the library in the morning and working at the gas station in the afternoon. TaeHyung texted me about this and that, but he wasn't able to find any new leads. He was coming up with far-fetched ideas like his usual self.

Only when I went to work did I realize what we'd done. The news was on TV in the gas station office. The scandal involving the Songju City redevelopment plan. They had discovered a document disclosing an agreement that the police would not interfere even if violence were committed by hired service men.

The reporter said someone had left the concerning document in the reporters' lounge inside the police station. The police station, the reporters' lounge, and the redevelopment plan... I'd dumped that document into the reporter's hands.

The redevelopment plan had already been made public. They planned to clear out the containers and illegal shanties by the railways to build apartments. It wasn't the first time hearing about such a plan, but it'd been all talk with no action. The people living in the area trusted it would stay that way. Or they just didn't have an alternative or an answer to the problem.

When my boss came into the office, a man with slightly gray hair started a press conference on TV. His name was provided over his chest on the screen: National Assembly Member Kim ChangJun. SeokJin's dad. He was the man in the picture hanging outside that office. And a blueprint of the development was on TV followed by an explanation that the redevelopment of area four would soon be under way.

"To solve housing problems for the people of Songju and to accommodate an influx of people for the technology belt in area two, the redevelopment must be underway. I would appreciate your cooperation and continued interest."

"Go ahead, just bulldoze everything in your way. Well, they're going to bury that document about permitting violence after this interview. There are more than just one or two people waiting for the redevelopment to start." My boss clicked his tongue at the TV. "Still... how could they force those people out of their homes? Kim ChangJun wasn't like that before. Scary how power changes people..."

HoSeok

20 July Year 22

After my evening shift, I stopped by the Yangji Children's Home. I brought an armful of cookies and let the children in the living room share them, and then I headed to the director's office. The air in the office was completely different from the living room. The news was on TV about the Songju City redevelopment. I saw Kim ChangJun's face briefly on TV.

The director turned off the TV in a hurry and asked me if I would like something to drink. "How is our aunt doing?" I changed the topic on purpose.

"After she recovers from the surgery, we're going to do everything we can for her. HoSeok, she said she'd do her best to get better, and we should all cheer up and hope for the best."

A loud noise came from the living room. The children were fighting over the cookies. One boy banged open the director's office door and barged in. HanGyeol, the oldest boy, pointed to the living room TV and said, "Area four is where our orphanage is. But why is it that they haven't even mentioned us? They don't have a place for our orphanage on the new map."

A couple more boys ran in and one of them said, "We're moving?" Another boy said, "Are we moving to a bigger place?"

The director answered them. "You don't have to worry about anything. The aunts and I will take care of everything. Kids, I have things to talk about with HoSeok, so why don't you go outside and play soccer?" After sending the kids out, she plopped on a chair opposite me.

"What's going to happen to us?" I asked with my eyes on her.

"Nothing has been decided yet. They might build a new orphanage in area one. It might take some time, though."

"How long? In the meantime, they'll have us scattered to different places."

"But Mr. Kim ChangJun, the assemblyman, said..."

"I know. He promised us to build a new orphanage in area four so that we can stay together."

Downcast, the director said, "We have to see how things develop."

JungKook

20 July Year 22

I limped around the hospital hallway. I'd be discharged in a couple of days from now. I couldn't go to sleep. The surveillance video the police had shown me, the witness who had disappeared, and my friends who wouldn't tell me things straight. I walked to tire myself out so that I could shake off these thoughts. Suddenly, I saw an iron door in front of me. I didn't know I'd walked up to the top of the emergency stairway. I opened the door to the rooftop.

Sitting on the railing, I looked up at the night sky and slowly stood up. I took one step and another on the railing. I walked dragging my left foot in a cast. Feeling unbalanced, my body kept swaying sideways. I looked down. The cars in the parking lot looked like small toys, and the people looked so small and vulnerable that I could squash them with my finger. I felt a sudden spasm in my knees and lurched from side to side. I extended both of my arms to regain my balance.

I came down from the railing, sweating. I couldn't understand why I'd gone up there in the first place. What if I'd fallen off? I turned and saw the night view of Songju over the railing. "I wouldn't die even if it were to make someone happy!" I spat out the words to the lights.

Even if someone had to die, I had no intention of being that someone. I grabbed my crutches and headed back to the iron door. As I walked down the stairs, the sensor lights turned on.

HoSeok

21 July Year 22

The director and I spent the whole morning in front of City Hall but to no avail. The City Hall people kept telling us nothing had been decided so we should wait. We asked to talk with the mayor, but it was obvious that was not going to happen. But we couldn't go back empty-handed. We sat on the stairs to City Hall with the sun beating down on us until the former brothers from the orphanage showed up. They said they'd stay in place of the director, but she just shook her head.

The mayor showed up past three, but he just walked right past us as if our wait had been for nothing. We wanted to follow him in, but security and his aides stopped us. "Mr. Mayor! Please wait! Our orphanage! Yangji Children's Home is our home. You're taking away our home," we screamed, but he didn't pay attention.

As I was coming down the stairs, JiMin called again. I'd forgotten to call him back. I didn't have the presence of mind to call or talk to anyone.

"Are you busy?" Hearing JiMin's voice, I realized how peaceful my world had been just a couple of days ago. We'd had misunderstandings and squabbles, but nothing this desperate.

"I'm a bit preoccupied because of the orphanage. What's up?" After some hesitation, JiMin said, "Nothing much. I couldn't get hold of you... You know what SeokJin said..."

"JiMin, I'm a bit busy right now..."

At that moment, someone came down the stairs and said, "We should go to that assemblyman. He's the one who made the announcement for the plan."

That assemblyman... I realized then that the assemblyman, Kim ChangJun, was SeokJin's father.

The Surface of Reality and the Other Side of the Dream

JiMin

21 July Year 22

NamJoon and HoSeok were caught up in the whirlwind brought on by the redevelopment news. We tiptoed around each other, unable to say a word about it. In reality, the map of the soul sounded more preposterous. But I kept thinking about it and wanted to find out more about it.

When I left the practice room, I saw the road sign for the Gyeongil Hospital. It was ten minutes walking distance. With my hands in my pockets, I walked looking down. Not on purpose. But I looked up and saw my reflection in a shop window; I looked like a boy walking with stooped shoulders or an old man without a hope or will to live.

The man's name was Woo HyunSung. He must've been my dad's age, but I couldn't be sure. He kept saying, "The map of my soul was ruined."

Hearing that, I used to wonder if the map of my soul was also ruined. Were the people locked up in the ward because the map of their soul was ruined and they no longer knew which direction they should be headed or what choice they should make?

YoonGi

21 July Year 22

I saw JiMin walking by himself during a break at the construction site. Surprised by how I looked, JiMin asked me, "What are you doing here?"

"Making a living." Looking all dusty and sweaty in my work clothes must've seemed as unfamiliar to JiMin as it did to me.

"Are you okay? Is something up with you?" JiMin asked cautiously.

"Do I look okay to you? It hurts everywhere."

"Then why are you..." JiMin didn't finish.

"What can I say... Would you understand if I said this is something I have to go through?"

Glancing back and forth between me and the building in the middle of the construction site, JiMin simply looked baffled.

"You're going to go by yourself?" I asked when JiMin said he was on his way to the hospital. "We can go together tomorrow."

"He has outpatient sessions only on Fridays. Today is Friday, so I have to go now."

"You sure you'll be okay? Call me when you're done. I'll be waiting for your call."

I watched as JiMin headed to the hospital. Because he knew I was watching him, he held his head up and shoulders straight, and strutted on purpose. I wondered if he'd be okay. He had been locked up there for a long time. Be pretended as if it didn't bother him, but I knew it was not an easy decision to make.

JiMin

21 July Year 22

Woo HyunSung still had not shown up when the waiting room monitor announced the end of sessions for the day. The outpatient waiting room became empty in no time. Had he gotten better, so that he didn't need to see a doctor anymore? What should I do then? There was no alternative. I headed to the front door, and as I turned, I saw the side hallway. The hallway I'd run down to escape from this hospital. I slowly walked toward it.

I saw the kitchenette and the emergency staircase; in three more steps would be the end of the hallway. The imaginary line I'd drawn was gone. There were only the plain tiles you saw every day. I'd pushed opened the door and gone out. There was an alternative. The path to an alternative was there.

I walked back into the hospital and headed to the off-limits ward. I took deep breaths. When the elevator was going up to the eighth floor, I tensed up and couldn't breathe well. Was I really okay? I hadn't had a fit yet, but it'd been only two months. The hospital was still a place of fear, not to mention the off-limits ward. The elevator stopped at the eighth floor.

There was no one at the entrance to the ward. To get inside, I had to pass through three iron doors. Without a permit, they didn't let anyone in. I had to wait for someone I knew to come out or go in. Since I knew all the nurses and employees at the ward, I didn't think it would take too long. Taking a deep breath, I leaned against a chair. This isn't bad. I can do this, I thought to myself. And time simply passed.

"Hey, escapee!" An employee I knew came out holding a tray. I'd known him during my days in the ward. "What brings you back here?" he teased me.

I stood up and said hi. "I didn't get to say goodbye to the nurses." I tried to look as innocent and guileless as I could. But my heart was pounding with my lips parched dry. "I was going to wait here. Can you tell them I'm here?"

He opened the iron door with his card key and said, "Wait in the lounge. I'll go tell them." I thanked him and followed him in. A couple of people were leaving after their visitation, all looking gloomy.

None of the people who came here were happy or cheerful. It was the same for the people who were locked up here and the people who had them locked up. It was the same with my parents. When they came to see me, they sat with their faces full of worry. Until I became a good boy who did what he was told to do, I cried and screamed every time my parents left. I would thrash about, kicking and screaming.

"Mom, take me with you!" I heard it as soon as I walked into the lounge. Unconsciously, I walked back to the hallway, but I bumped into someone hard and was thrown down on the floor. I banged my head on the wall, and for a moment, the world became pitch black and white again. I felt a buzz in my head and heard the ringing in my ears. I tried to open my eyes but couldn't.

When I finally opened my eyes, I saw a boy with tears streaming down his face. He was thrown down on the floor like me. "Mom, I'm so sorry! Please take me with you. Mom!" He tried to stand up but slipped again. And a nurse came to get him. He was kicking and screaming, and he held onto my arm not to be dragged back. He kept calling out to his mom, but there was no one by the door.

A couple more nurses came, and one of them gave him a shot in his arm. The boy gazed at me and said, "Can you please call my mom? Tell her to take me with her." His face was wet with tears. His body slowed down and soon became motionless. And the hand that was grabbing my arm fell limp on the floor.

"You shouldn't have seen this. I'm so sorry." One of the nurses said to me as they sat with me in the lounge. I told her I was fine, but I wasn't. I held my hands tight, but I was still shaking. I felt as if I was filled with something hot and mushy up to my throat. Unable to swallow it or spit out, I felt I would suffocate on it.

The nurse told me, "JiMin, it is normal not to be okay. It was heartbreaking for everyone. If this doesn't faze someone, then there is something wrong with that person."

I nodded. I gritted my teeth. And I mentioned Mr. Woo HyunSung. I tried to make it sound as casual as I could, but not sure I pulled it off. The nurses didn't seem to notice anything peculiar and told me how he was.

"His session got rescheduled to Saturday. Nowadays, he suffers an attack every time he watches TV, so his appointment got scheduled to the last session on Saturday."

I took the elevator down to the first floor. I was walking with my eyes fixed on the floor and holding the ends of my backpack when someone rapped my head. He rapped hard enough for me to see stars in front of my eyes. I lifted my head up and saw YoonGi standing there. "I told you to call me, but you didn't and you didn't even answer my calls!" He looked mad. I tried to smile.

"Park JiMin!" He said my name. He was worried about me.

"I'm okay."

"What do you mean, you're okay, when you look miserable, as if you've been starving for three days and got soaking wet in the rain. What happened?"

"Nothing. And I'm okay." When I was spilling out those words, something hot and mushy, which I thought I'd swallowed down, surged back up to my throat.

"Just something that happens to a normal person," was what I said as my eyes welled up. To hide my tears, I hung my head low. When YoonGi tapped my shoulder, the tears rolled down.

"It's okay. Go ahead and cry." I burst into tears and I couldn't stop.

YoonGi

22 July Year 22

"He's here." Hearing that from JiMin, I turned around and saw a man in hospital gown in the hallway. He looked mid-fifties. Skinny with stooped shoulders. His face looked gray and he staggered. His shoulder must've hurt, for he was grabbing onto it with his hand. For a moment, I was reminded of SeokJin. The man didn't look anything like SeokJin. The eyes, nose, and mouth... he looked completely different. But I saw SeokJin in his face.

JiMin stood up and said hi to the hospital worker who came with the man. And we heard a grating "beep" sound. Everyone frowned and looked up at the TV. Someone tried to turn the channel, but something went wrong with it and it kept beeping. Covering my ears, I looked at JiMin, who was doing the same thing.

The sound disappeared, and the TV was back on. "Why don't we take a look at the interview from a couple of days ago, and continue our conversation," said the anchor, and Kim ChangJun was on TV.

JiMin

22 July Year 22

That was when Mr. Woo suffered an attack. Aaarggh! A sound which didn't sound human came out of his mouth. His face became grotesquely distorted.

The hospital worker grabbed his arms. His mouth foamed and his spit splattered. And unintelligible screams spilled out of his mouth. His eyes were fastened onto the TV screen, and he kept writhing and screaming. He wanted to go closer to the TV. Because everyone had taken a step back, no one was near him.

Clutching his head, he was down on the floor. The hospital worker sighed and said, "He's like this every time. I don't think he can have an outpatient session." I squatted down next to Mr. Woo. I patted his shoulder and looked down at him. Mixed emotions were boiling up inside me. What kind of torment was he trapped in? How had he endured this for thirty years? Was there an end to this suffering?

"Sir." Hearing me, he looked. But his eyes became blank again. While suffering the attack, he seemed to be thinking or remembering something, and to be in anguish because of it, but now he looked drained and empty. "Sir, do you remember me?"

YoonGi

22 July Year 22

JiMin watched for a long while as the man was dragged back to the off-limits ward. The man didn't get to see a doctor and was back in the elevator. We walked across the hospital lobby that was empty on this Saturday afternoon because visiting hours were over.

After calling him sir, JiMin couldn't continue. The map of the soul was important to us, but getting something out of the man in that state was cruel. When the man had stood up with the help of the hospital assistant, JiMin mumbled to himself, "I'm sorry."

When we walked out of the hospital, the sun came beating down on us. JiMin finally opened his mouth and said, "Were you able to understand anything he said?" His voice cracked, and it was obvious that he was trying to get a hold of himself. When the man had been asked about the map of the soul, his face became grotesquely distorted. His eyes shone with rage and he screamed convulsively. All I heard was "Because of him, my soul was ruined." "Him," the man he was pointing to, was Kim ChangJun on TV.

"Considering how he was having a fit at the time, I'm sure it didn't mean anything," JiMin said. I thought so too. There was no reason to think that SeokJin's father was somehow involved. "Let's go back to the words we did understand."

After nodding his head for a long while, JiMin said, "He said something like Giho."

"Right, he said Giho was missing. A Giho... the symbol? Then, is it related to the map? And did he say something about a music room?"

"Music room?" JiMin looked at me. "I don't remember hearing that... If he did say it, then he meant the music classroom. I heard that he got admitted when he was in high school."

The high school music classroom, a Giho, and Assemblyman Kim ChangJun. A combination that had nothing to do with each other. "I'm sorry," JiMin said as we came out of the hospital entrance. "You came all the way here on your day off for nothing."

JiMin's phone went off at that moment. Taken aback, he looked at me. His phone said JungKook. I shook my head. "We keep this between us, away from JungKook." He has to focus on getting better. We can tell him when it is all over. If we can get away with never telling him, that would be even better.

JungKook

22 July Year 22

The days in the hospital were tedious and boring. If I'd been hurt and felt pain somewhere, it might've been better. As I recovered, time passed by insanely slowly. I'd be discharged a few days from now. My mom stopped by to see me from time to time and so did my friends. The most recent visit was made by the police officer.

I'd been told that there was an eyewitness a month ago, but he hadn't come forward. "It happens all the time. You see how they'd find it bothersome," said the officer. He seemed to find this case bothersome too. Instead of finding the hit-and-run driver, he seemed more keen on closing the case.

I looked out the window. Strangely enough, the surveillance video and my memories of that night replayed in my head every time I closed my eyes. I watched the accident taking place from different angles. When I did, the car, which was faint in my memory, slowly took on the shape of SeokJin's car. And it was the same for the driver's face. Was I seeing what had happened that night, or just what I was suspicious of? I couldn't tell.

It was then that I saw two people I knew walking across the hospital parking lot. They were JiMin and YoonGi. When they left the parking lot, they turned left. Why had they come here? And why did they not stop by to see me?

I called JiMin. The ringing continued for a long time until he picked up. "Hello? JungKook!"

"Where are you?"

"You mean now?" JiMin didn't answer for a long time. YoonGi shook his head. He was telling JiMin not to tell me. "I'm on my way home from hagwon. Why?" JiMin answered awkwardly.

"No reason. Get home safely." I hung up in a hurry.

Why did they lie to me? Why had they come here? Was it related to the police officer who had come to see me today? Or to the witness who wouldn't...

I replayed what the officer had said. The witness had called three times, all from a public phone. He sounded urgent at first, but later on, he went back on his word and said he couldn't remember. Was the witness one of my friends?

YoonGi

22 July Year 22

I looked up at Gyeongil Hospital, trying to locate JungKook's room. And I saw a room with its window ajar. Someone was looking down from it. As I was wondering whether he might be JungKook, he closed the window and disappeared.

I was thinking we should go up and see him now, but JiMin looked distraught. He was upset at having lied to JungKook. "Let's post what we've found out so far in the chatroom," I said as I nudged his shoulder. Walking side by side, we clicked into the chatroom.

Me
He said because of someone, his soul was ruined. He mentioned the music room. I couldn't make heads or tails out of what he was saying...

JiMin
He was admitted when he was in high school, so he must've been talking about things from back then. It seems he'd been chased by someone. That was why he was admitted of his own volition. I thought he was just saying stuff, but maybe it's related to something...

TaeHyung
All we did was find the office of Assemblyman Kim ChangJun, so we got nothing to show for that as well.

Me
Assemblyman Kim ChangJun? That man in the hospital said Kim ChangJun ruined his soul.

And there was a sudden silence.

Me
So the place NamJoon and TaeHyung went to, and the person we went to see were all related to SeokJin's father.

JiMin
SeokJin's dad and the map of the soul... What are they about?

TaeHyung
We should find out more about it. SeokJin's father might know something too.

NamJoon
I will ask my boss at the gas station first. He said he knew SeokJin's dad back in high school.

TaeHyung
That's a good idea. But HoSeok is not reading the texts. Does anyone know what's up with him? JiMin?

JiMin
I called him, and he said he was busy with Yangji Children's Home.

Me
Is something up with the orphanage?

JiMin
They are going to get rid of it because of the redevelopment. He sounded pretty terrible, so I was going to go see him.

NamJoon
What? The orphanage?

NamJoon

22 July Year 22

What have I done? My heart sank. I looked out the window from the gas station office. Area four. I tried to think where the place which I'd known only as a number was.

What TaeHyung and I'd done sent ripples throughout the whole city. My boss said because of the paper about the police overlooking the would-be violence, the redevelopment plan would get underway sooner. They would speed up clearing out the container village and rebuilding area four.

Someone was bound to make huge money. Some said Songju would be reborn as a new city. But some would lose their homes and be forced to move. And The Yangji Children's Home was included. What would happen if the orphanage was cleared out? Where was HoSeok now?

"What are you thinking about?" My boss walked into the office.

"Boss, if they clear out the orphanage in area four, will they relocate it to somewhere else?"

He turned his head in disbelief. "Would you if it was up to you? They'll just scatter the kids to different institutions. The Yangji Children's Home is in area four, isn't it? It was there even before I was born. This place is sure going to change now."

"Boss, you graduated from Songju Jeil High School, no?"

"So?"

"Did you go to school with Kim ChangJun, the assemblyman?"

"No way. He is much younger than me. He probably went to school with my brother."

"Did anything happen when you were in school?"

JiMin

23 July Year 22

I sat in front of the computer and searched online. Kim ChangJun. The page showed his profile: His age, the schools he graduated from, his party name - National Future Party - and that he was serving his third term. He was elected when he was only in his early forties, but he was already serving his third term, a promising career for a politician.

I clicked on his official blog under the profile. In the introduction, it said he made legal improvements concerning construction as well as living conditions, and contributions to re-building the city. The site provided links to the bill he'd drafted to support new startups and medium-sized companies. The bill lay out the foundation for building a technology belt with about 50 different companies in one area.

The comments on the article voiced worries that because of the changed construction law, there were more shoddy constructions and expedient manipulations, but those comments didn't attract that much attention. There were more comments about supporting him since he was trying to build a technology belt in the city.

I came back to his profile and read other news about him. They were mostly articles about the Songju City redevelopment plan. Only eight pages later did I find different news about his visit to his high school. The title was "National Assembly Member Kim ChangJun Gives Scholarship to His Alma Mater, Songju Jeil High School." There was a picture of Kim ChangJun and the principal smiling and shaking hands.

While reading some more news articles, I read an odd comment: Kim ChangJun fought with Jo JinMyung as if it would only end when one of them dropped dead, but now they are smiling and shaking hands. That's how scary politics is.

I read all the other comments too. One said Kim ChangJun spent an extra year in high school. The comment said, "He is in politics, but he couldn't even graduate from high school on time like everyone else. What kind of trouble did he get himself into?"

I remembered what NamJoon had heard from his boss. One of Kim ChangJun's high school friends went missing, and he was never found. Was the comment right? Did SeokJin's dad repeating a year in high school have something to do with his missing friend? If not, why did he take a year of absence? I searched some more, but there were no new leads.

I searched online for principal Jo JinMyung. Since they had been in school together, there might be some new information. Songju Jeil High School Principal. The page had a link to the school and his short profile.

The page also had articles and information about people with the same names, but I found a relevant blog uploaded about ten years ago. "The missing student from Songju Jeil High School. Was principal Jo JinMyung involved? No comment was his answer." The blog captured and uploaded a page which had been deleted.

Below the captured page, the blogger provided an explanation. Jo JinMyung argued that it was groundless defamation, and he sued the reporter for libel.

TaeHyung

23 July Year 22

My uncle's BBQ restaurant was located in downtown Gooan-dong. The BBQ place only had a couple of round tin tables, and it was downtown but at the very end of a dirty back alley. The last time I was there was with my mom, so it must have been ten years ago. My uncle had called for the first time in five years. I hadn't called him or texted.

I got off the bus and crossed the road. The bars in lineon the street were getting ready to open. I was there to see my uncle after all this time to get information about SeokJin's father. My mom and uncle were all born and raised in Songju City. My uncle had graduated from Songju Jeil High and was around Kim ChangJun's age.

When I opened the restaurant door, my uncle was sweeping the floor. Without even shooting a glance in my direction, he greeted with "Welcome." Not hearing a response, he straightened his back and saw me. I nodded a hello.

We sat at a table in the otherwise empty restaurant. "How are you? And how is your sister?" He asked about us. Obviously, we were not doing great. Why ask? Does he want me to say how bad off we are with my own mouth?

"TaeHyung, your mother was..."

I interrupted him and asked, "Uncle, you went to the same high school as Mr. Kim ChangJun, didn't you?"

He looked puzzled. "By Kim ChangJun, you mean the member of the National Assembly?" I nodded. "I did, but why do you ask?"

I risked sounding rude, but I told him straight out. "You don't need to know. Can you tell me why Kim ChangJun repeated a year in school? Did it have something to do with the missing student?"

I didn't risk sounding rude; I was rude. He hadn't done anything wrong. I was mad at my mom, not at her brother. Still, I was as mad at him as if I had the right to be, and I put him on the spot.

"I don't remember much because it happened such a long time ago." Trying to recall the old memories, he said, "When that boy went missing, Kim ChangJun lost it and went looking for him. He didn't show up for classes. He roamed the town and school, and because of that, he had to repeat a year. Everyone said he went crazy."

"And one day ChangJun was found collapsed in the music room in the annex. And that was it. He stopped looking for the missing friend. And he didn't show up at school until he came back to repeat the year. He must've been in shock because when he came back, he was completely changed. He had no friends, and he didn't smile or get angry. As if he had no feelings."

"Maybe he had amnesia?"

To my question, my uncle glanced at me and said he didn't know. "We weren't that close. But I felt he'd become cold. His eyes looked different. I don't know how to explain it, but his eyes looked empty. Before that, he'd been outgoing and gotten along well with his friends. But why are you asking about Kim ChangJun so out of the blue? TaeHyung, is something going on with you?"

A look of worry crept over his face. I frowned with my lips pressed shut. He looked like my mom with an expression she used to have, the expression which I couldn't really recall anymore.

I told him no. And I felt bad about being mad at him. And having acted so rudely. I told him nothing was going on with me and I was fine.

I said goodbye and headed out. "TaeHyung!" My uncle called my name, but I didn't look back. "TaeHyung, wait!" I heard him chasing after me. I considered walking faster, but I suddenly remembered that the music room was on the third floor. What did he mean, the music room in the annex?

I turned and asked, "Which one is the annex building?"

My uncle made a face to say he didn't understand the question. Then with an "Ah..." he said, "They have a new building, don't they? Back in our day, they also used the small building on the left-hand side of the gate. You know the one-story building? The music room was in there."

That was our hangout place. The old building where the classroom-turned-storage room with a piano was. What had happened to Kim ChangJun there?

"TaeHyung, here." And he gave me a note with something written on it in a hurry.

JiMin

23 July Year 22

I searched for "the map of the soul" with my phone but decided to give it up. SeokJin must've done the same. He'd asked the doctor, so it was likely that he'd already checked it out at the library and asked his professors. The phone chimed.

TaeHyung
NamJoon was right. When SeokJin's father was in school, his best friend went missing. And he repeated a year because he went around looking for his friend. And you know our classroom? It used to be a music room thirty years ago. And something must've happened to SeokJin's father in that room.

NamJoon
Our classroom? Which one?

TaeHyung
You know. Our lair. The classroom-turned-storage room.

NamJoon
That used to be a music room?

TaeHyung
Yes, remember how it had a piano?

Me
If his friend has been missing for over 30 years, wouldn't he be dead already?

YoonGi
He might be alive somewhere, hiding his identity. Like that guy in the psychiatric ward. Didn't you say that guy was there, hiding from something?

Me
You know he's been there for more than thirty years. Then Mr. Woo, SeokJin's dad, the missing student, and Principal Jo JinMyung were all alumni?

TaeHyung
Jo JinMyung? Principal Jo JinMyung who looks like a toad?

Me
Yes, our school principal. YoonGi, don't you remember?

YoonGi
How could I forget the guy? What about him, though?

Me
I think he was also involved in the case of the missing student. When I googled it, Jo JinMyung and SeokJin's dad were in school at the same time. I'll upload that article.

YoonGi
The principal must've been involved then.

NamJoon
Because it happened so long ago, I couldn't find more articles about it.

YoonGi
There should be newspaper articles.

NamJoon
You're right. There must be a way to find out more about it.

TaeHyung
I just passed the bus stop at the Joongang Park. I'm going to get off soon and stop by our classroom-turned-storage room.

NamJoon
Would anything be there still?

YoonGi
We have to do something, though. I'll be there too. Be there if you have time.

Me
TaeHyung, I'm in the practice room. I'll be there in ten, no, fifteen.

NamJoon

23 July Year 22

I knew a place that had old newspapers. Songju City Library, the biggest one in the city. I went there once a month to borrow books which I couldn't find in the neighborhood library. The city library closed at 6 on Sunday. I had to hurry. The bus arrived at the stop in front of the library. I took the elevator and went straight to the fourth floor. The security guard told me I had only an hour before the library closed.

I gave the librarian my ID and went into the archives room. The place smelled of old paper. Every bookshelf was marked with a year. Reading the articles JiMin had sent, I found the exact year. The newspapers were chronologically categorized by national papers to regional ones. I took out the regional papers.

I glanced down at the March papers. I couldn't see the word "missing" anywhere. Time ticked away faster than I thought. While reading the June papers, I found an article about the missing student. A Student Missing from Songju Jeil High School. This was it.

The missing student's name was Choi GyuHo. The article had an interview with his mother. "He left home saying he was going to see a friend. I asked him which friend and why so late, and he said he had to see this friend at school. He definitely looked scared, and I don't know why I didn't stop him."

Below the article was the missing student's picture, name and description of what he was wearing. Choi GyuHo. A senior in Songju Jeil High School. It said the police were looking into the possibility of bullying or his being a runaway.

I remembered what YoonGi had said. The guy in the psychiatric ward had mentioned "a missing Giho." Did he mean "a missing student"? I spread open the next day's newspaper. I needed more information, but there wasn't any. And it was the same for the next day's paper.

Is a missing student a trivial case? I couldn't understand how it only showed up once. When I was about to look for the next month's papers, the librarian said the library was closing. I took a picture of the article with my phone just in case.

That day Choi GyuHo had gone to school after getting a call from someone. Maybe he went to that classroom­ turned-storage room. Had Kim ChangJun called him? If that was the case, Kim ChangJun wouldn't have gone looking for Choi GyuHo like some crazy person. Then who told Choi GyuHo to come to school? What happened in that classroom?

TaeHyung

23 July Year 22

The old classroom door creaked open. The air trapped inside slowly crept out. And there was a familiar scene in front of my eyes.

Our classroom. I looked around. The classroom, empty except for piles of discarded stuff, seemed to have aged. The flashlight from my phone shined on broken desks and chairs and rolled up event placards strewn about on the floor. The boxes with old newspapers and school papers. The walls filled with doodles and scribbles. And the piano. I stood in the middle of the classroom. What had happened here?

JiMin arrived followed by NamJoon and YoonGi. NamJoon told us what he'd found at the library. "Choi GyuHo had gone to school after getting a call from someone. And he might've come to this place. Or somewhere else, but it is possible that he'd come here."

YoonGi asked, "Was it Kim ChangJun who called Choi GyuHo here?"

NamJoon said, "Kim ChangJun apparently went around looking for Choi GyuHo like a crazy person, so that seems unlikely. It seems more possible that someone else called Choi GyuHo and then he went missing."

Then who called him? And what happened in this classroom? I said to all, "Choi GyuHo is still missing, and Woo HyunSung is not in a state to tell us anything. Then there is only one person left."

We stood still in the dark. Everyone's flashlight was pointing at the floor. I looked around. JiMin was squatting in front of the wall. YoonGi was on the piano chair. NamJoon was writing something on the window with his finger.

"It feels like we are back in school. Now that we are all here at night," NamJoon said after some time had passed.

"Back in school? I would hate to be back in school."

YoonGi chuckled and said, "Well, things haven't changed, have they? Every time I think something is the hardest thing ever, something else happens to outdo it. Nothing surprises me anymore."

NamJoon said cheerlessly, "Ya, why is the world like that? It's not like we made the world this way. We were born and found it like this. Why is it that we were just thrown into this world without a means to do anything about it?"

"What should we do?"

When JiMin said that, NamJoon sighed and said, "Well, we should go and talk to SeokJin first. Ask him about the map of the soul and about his dad."

JiMin asked, "After that, what?"

NamJoon said, "I don't know, but we should start with those questions..."

Before NamJoon was finished, JiMin stood up and said, "Look here. There is SeokJin's father's name."

We stepped closer to where JiMin was pointing. Among so many scribbles there were several names. With our phone flashlights, we read each name. Kim ChangJun was one of them. JiMin pointed to another name. "Woo HyunSung, the guy in the psychiatric ward. I can't recognize the other names."

YoonGi pointed to another name. "Choi GyuHo. The guy who went missing, right?"

NamJoon read a sentence below the names: Everything started from here.

What Nobody Saw

TaeHyung

24 July Year 22

Two weeks ago today, we decided to throw JungKook a party to celebrate his being discharged from the hospital. We said, "Let's throw him a party when JungKook comes out of the hospital." And we completely forgot about it.

With so many things that had happened since then. I had gone everywhere in Songju City with NamJoon, looking for that building, including the classroom. On top of everything, the redevelopment plan had turned the whole city upside down. I didn't know how time passed by so fast, and I had only remembered JungKook's last day in the hospital the day before.

We had just left the classroom, and while talking about how to ask SeokJin about his father, someone said we should ask him at JungKook's welcome back party.

"Will SeokJin show up?"

"We have to make him."

"How?"

"I don't know."

We all realized it only then - JungKook would be coming home from the hospital tomorrow.

We looked at each other surprised. The truth was that none of us had paid much attention to JungKook. We had been preoccupied because of SeokJin, but that did not change the fact that we had been forgetful of JungKook.

"Should I give him a call?" When I said that, NamJoon said no.

"It's past midnight. Let's throw him an awesome party. HoSeok will take care of the food as always. TaeHyung, how about bringing party hats and stuff? JiMin..."

JiMin said, "I'll get him a present. He'll like a sketch book."

"How about you, YoonGi?" When NamJoon asked, YoonGi's face broke into a smile as he said, "My presence at the party will be a present. NamJoon, what are you going to do?"

"I'm providing the place for the party."

We'd said to meet for the welcome back party at seven in the evening the next day. I hung about the gas station, waiting for Namjoon to get off work. "We have to hurry. They let me out so late, we're not going to make it," said NamJoon.

He bowed a goodbye to his boss and walked towards me. I stood up. "We'll get there after seven." We walked side by side toward NamJoon's container.

"Do you think SeokJin will come?"

NamJoon answered, "I'm not sure, but I think he'll probably come. I texted him."

"What did you say in the text?"

"We should talk about the map of the soul."

JiMin

24 July Year 22

I opened the container door and walked in to find no one. The air inside, heated by the afternoon sun, rushed out as if it had waited for the door to open. I fumbled to turn on the light. The florescent light flickered balefully before the room finally became bright.

I was ten minutes late, but I was the first one there. I turned on the fan and looked at my watch. Ten past seven. What happened to everyone? Did something happen? Were they on their way here or not?

The place looked too empty to have a party. I gave a quick look around the place, but there wasn't anything I could use to make the place more presentable for the party. There was some of NamJoon's stuff, but definitely no balloons or party hats.

On some pieces of paper I found, I wrote Welcome, Back, Home, and JungKook, and taped them on the wall, but they only made the place look more pathetic. I should have done a better job writing those words. I regretted it as I straightened the papers on the wall.

I checked the chatroom to make sure that everyone was on their way. Ten more minutes passed. A train passed by shaking the whole container. Seeing the whole world shaking through the open door, I thought back on the day when I had banged open the hospital door and run away.

Could I have done it if TaeHyung, JungKook and all the others weren't there for me? Just because there is a door, an open door, doesn't mean that you can walk through it and step out from where you are. Maybe SeokJin was trapped somewhere. Waiting for someone to knock on the door.

Nothing was certain. I wasn't sure if we could help him. I wished the small pieces of information we had stumbled upon would provide some hints.

While I was thinking this, the container door finally opened. "There's only you here?" said YoonGi.

HoSeok

24 July Year 22

Ever since it was announced that Yangji Children's Home was included in the redevelopment plan, the orphanage staff had been fighting a war every day. A war without firing any bullets, a war fought in silence and growing fear.

The city and the people working for Assemblyman Kim ChangJun refused to answer any of our questions. We asked them to release the relocation plan for Yangji Children's Home. Not a difficult request. But their silence spoke louder than any words.

If they had had a plan, they would've competed to be the first one to make the announcement: Yangji Children's Home would be relocated to so-and-so area. But they did not say anything. By not saying anything, they made it clear that they meant to send the kids to different institutions.

I don't know who threw the egg. One of the orphanage aunts or someone who grew up there. Nobody knows who started the fight. The protestors - well, it would be a stretch to call the orphanage people protestors - but they did get into a physical fight with the aides.

What took place couldn't really be described as a physical fight. We always felt intimidated by others. Even when we tried to act confident, the world saw us as pitiful. People saw us as either dangerous or pathetic. People who lived off others' taxes.

One of the orphanage aunts tumbled down the stairs, and several older kids were taken away by the police. One aunt collapsed and was taken to the hospital. Even the aunt who was resting from orphanage work due to her illness showed up at City Hall.

I only found out about all of this when I was almost done with my shift. Things were busy at work with too many customers today. Dragging my bad leg, I headed to the hospital. Everyone was squatting in front of the surgery room. They all looked pretty bruised up.

Even then, they were surprised by my leg. "What happened to your leg?" "How did you get hurt?"

I said, "I fell on the slippery street the other day. It's nothing." After giving them a quick answer, I sat next to my aunts.

It didn't take me long to figure it out, though. Everyone felt broken not from any physical pain but from a sense of defeat. This fighting will get us nowhere - this self-defeatist attitude that had been with us for so long, it was now ingrained deep in our minds.

The silence in the hospital hallway was suffocating. No one spoke. Can we win this fight? What can I do? I couldn't even cry.

Then I heard my phone chiming with a text from TaeHyung. Where are you? Everyone is here. With SeokJin's picture attached.

NamJoon

24 July Year 22

After waiting for HoSeok who didn't text us back, we started the party without him. Because HoSeok wasn't there, we had no cake or candles. With JungKook sitting in the center, we awkwardly clapped and sang a song. "Welcome back home... Dear JungKook..." YoonGi flicked his lighter instead of candles. "Make your wish here."

When JungKook stayed motionless with his eyes fixed on the lighter, YoonGi said, "So, you got no wish? Then make a wish not to get hurt again." And the papers on the wall flapped because of the fan.

SeokJin sat leaning against the wall the whole time. Looking like someone who had been dragged there against his will, he watched us and then checked the time on his watch out of boredom. I asked him, "What are you thinking?" SeokJin slowly turned around. My heart sank seeing his cold eyes. He looked different compared to when I had first met him at the gas station or at the street pub a couple of days ago. He seemed colder now.

"You asked about the map of the soul last time?" Hearing "the map of soul," SeokJin's eyes changed. "Ask your dad about it." SeokJin scowled. He must've thought I was just pulling things out of a hat. When I was about to explain, HoSeok rushed in.

"I didn't think you'd come..." HoSeok paid no attention to what JiMin said and walked across the container and went straight to SeokJin. He wasn't even limping.

HoSeok said, "We need to talk."

But SeokJin pushed away HoSeok's hand and said in a low voice, "I got nothing to say. If you have something to say, say it here."

The tension between the two was palpable. HoSeok said in a trembling voice, "Can you please tell your dad to take Yangji Children's Home out of the redevelopment plan? If that's too difficult, can he look for a place where we can relocate together? He's your dad. You can ask him."

HoSeok had never looked so desperate. SeokJin listened without moving a muscle and said, "It's grownup business."

The air inside the container seemed still. Dumbfounded, HoSeok stared at SeokJin. HoSeok spoke in a very low voice. "You know what the place means to me. How could you talk to me as if talking to a stranger? How could you?"

For an instant, SeokJin flinched. He scowled again and rubbed his temples. He pushed his hand against the wall and stood up. "Until when do I have to look after you guys? Can you please learn to do things by yourselves?" And SeokJin banged open the door and left.

JungKook

24 July Year 22

SeokJin took off. TaeHyung followed him, and after exchanging glances, the others followed him too. TaeHyung said something to SeokJin, but he didn't seem to be listening. I stood behind everyone and watched SeokJin getting into his car.

The car backed away and turned. The light coming out of the container shined on SeokJin's car. The trace of an accident on the car bumper was visible for a short time and disappeared in the dark. I saw the scratch on the bumper, but strangely, I didn't feel anything. No shock, no boiling anger. It wasn't difficult to come to terms with it either. Everything became abundantly clear now.

The top of SeokJin's car disappearing out of sight merged with the headlights that came at me that night. The feeling of being lifted up in the air, the moment when I couldn't even swallow my own saliva, the fear of having sudden convulsions, the unbearable coldness that scattered my consciousness, the shadow of death lurking about, and the trace of the accident I saw on the car bumper at that moment.

I walked back into the container. I felt a twinge in my injured leg. The others were talking about stuff I knew nothing about, and they had no thought of coming back in.

SeokJin

24 July Year 22

It was a waste of time. I shouldn't have gone there. Instead of attending another redevelopment meeting, I went to JungKook's party because NamJoon wanted to talk about the map of the soul. I hoped that there would be a clue to get me out of this endless pain. But all I heard was HoSeok begging me to save his orphanage.

I stepped on the accelerator. Why do they always want something from me? Why can't they take care of things by themselves? Why do I always have to save them? I was sick and tired of it. Why do I save them again and again when they walk back into a mire of desperation after I bailed them out of there?

"Don't waste your time on a useless pursuit." I remembered what my dad had told me. Is there a way to end this without having saved anyone?

TaeHyung

24 July Year 22

After the party, I came back to my place, a place of hell that I was used to. Empty bottles, cups and plates rolling about on the floor, and the man crumbled in a helpless heap in the corner, cussing out of habit - my dad. Nothing to be surprised at.

But I screamed when I saw my sister waddling around and sweeping up the broken bottles. Startled, she turned around. She resembled Mom. She was just like Mom ­ skinny, her stooped back, but also the sense of helplessness. She took after everything in Mom except for the selfishness of abandoning me. That was what she should have taken after.

"TaeHyung..." she said as she stood up.

Hearing her feeble voice, I just couldn't stand it any longer. "I'm sick of this!" I yelled at her and ran out. I walked any which way. I wasn't headed anywhere. It was night, but the wind felt hot and wet. With every step, my head was thumping. I panted and my face flushed. But I couldn't stop. I walked as if I was running, and I ran as if I was walking. And I stopped and stamped my feet, screaming.

Still, I couldn't calm down. I crossed the road and saw a familiar silhouette. It was JungKook. I thought our eyes met, but JungKook spun on his heels and soon became a blur. I thought it was just as well. I didn't want him to see me like this. I started walking again. I cut across the railway and the bridge.

The first place I stopped was when I saw the road post for Munhyeon City: Welcome to Munhyeon City, a lovely place to live.

Only then did I realize I was going to my mom. I had got her address when I'd gone to see my uncle a couple of days ago. He stopped me and shoved a piece of paper in my hand. When I opened the note, there was an address scribbled down in haste. Munhyeon City Buk-gu, Bogeumjari Apartments 103-306.

I knew right away. It was Mom's address. Without a word, I shoved the note in my pocket. When I got out of the alley, I crumpled it and threw it away.

Ever since that day, I'd been thinking about apartment 103-306. I saw the address only once, but it became engraved in my head. The public housing apartment across the busy downtown area of Munhyeon City Buk-gu. I'd found myself searching for ways to get there: cross the railway, cross the bridge, and walk through downtown. I walked down the path in my head.

When I get to apartment 103-306 and the door opens, what will the inside look like? Will Mom be happy? Or unhappy? My mind followed an endless chain of thoughts. I hoped Mom would be happy. Since she left us, she should at least be living a better life. That way I could hate her without having to pity her.

I imagined her finally at peace in her life. A life that wasn't bound by something, a life in which she was responsible only for her life. A life in which she had no bruises on her arms or legs, and she spent her time after work tending her flowers on the veranda while sipping a cup of tea. The life of selfish stability in which she would sometimes remember me and my sister only to forget us soon thereafter.

It was past midnight, but the downtown area was brightly lit as in broad daylight. I left the people and cars whirring by and walked into the dark alley off the back street. It was the quickest route to my mom's apartment. The alley was a completely different world - dark and grim streets, flickering streetlights, and small and dingy bars with gaudy signs. With my eyes on the ground, I hastened my steps across the worn-out streets.

I stopped and turned around because of a loud noise. A bar door banged open and a man was chased out. A woman, possibly the bar owner, yelled at him and slammed the door shut. He probably couldn't pay her for the drinks.

He staggered in my direction, bumped me on my shoulder, reeled, and fell. Standing still, I looked down at him. He wasn't going to stand up anytime soon. He seemed to be falling asleep. His overgrown and disheveled hair, his partly parted blackish red lips, and his sagging belly under a rumpled shirt.

I turned away and fixed my eyes only on what was ahead. I started walking, and walking faster. I ran. I wasn't going to turn around, but I couldn't help it. The man was still lying on the ground. I stopped with a curse escaping from my lips.

"Mister, you shouldn't sleep here." Plastered, he was already asleep. I shook his shoulders hard. He reeked of the disgusting smell of booze. A familiar smell. "Mister, stand up!"

He blinked a couple of times, but closing his eyes, he said, "Who are you? You know me?"

"No, I don't. But you shouldn't fall asleep here. You have anyone who can pick you up?"

I swung his arm around my shoulder and helped him stand up. Leaning on me, he tried to stand up only to fall right back down on the ground. When I tried to help him again, he pushed away my hand. And he fell backward. I stepped closer. "Where do you live? I'll help you get home. Can you please get up?"

He looked up at me incredulously and giggled. I pulled his arm, but he pushed me away, and we repeated this a couple of times. We grew tired. When he fell down on the ground, he said, "Just leave me alone. Leave me alone so I can just drop dead."

He lived in the neighborhood next to where my mom's apartment was. I carried him on my back. I was dog-tired. The drunk guy was heavy. Each step took everything out of me.

I was accustomed to the weight of someone drunk. My sister and I used to roam the city looking for Dad. Bars would call us. We would find him in the dark corner of a bar, by the roadside with cars whizzing by, or under a streetlight in a dingy back alley.

As we carried Dad home, my sister and I didn't say a word to each other. Why are we taking Dad home? Wouldn't it be better to leave him there to rot? Why are we carrying him home when all he does is beat us like dogs? We tried hard not to ask these questions to each other.

"I wasn't like this from the beginning," the man talked in his sleep.

"Yes, I get that," I told him.

I put him down in the damp semi-basement room and took a breath. My eyes landed on a broken table and dishes, and empty booze bottles and instant noodle packets. I couldn't just leave. Not because I was physically drained out. I wished he would wake up and tell me stories even if they were boring stories. But he was asleep, and I slowly got up and headed out to the public housing apartments.

I got to the apartment when the sun was about to rise. The darkest hour of the day. The place was quiet. My tired legs were walking toward apartment 103. The lights were on here and there in the rundown, five-story apartment building. Why were the people up so early?

I suddenly heard footsteps coming out of the building door. A woman with her hair tied in a clumsy bundle hurried out, but after seeing me, she cowered. I kept my distance and turned around. I saw a playground.

Sitting on a swing, I could see down the outside corridor to apartment 103. I kicked the sand with my shoes and looked up at the third floor. The rusty, old swing clanged. Why am I hesitating when I'd run all the way here? My body ached, and so did my heart.

I had no idea how long I'd been sitting there. I saw someone walking out to the hallway of the third floor. I was too far away to get a look at the face, but she was a skinny, middle-aged woman. With her arms on the railing at the end of the hallway, she looked down on the playground. She lit her cigarette. The flame from her lighter flickered but was soon gone. The smoke from the cigarette seeped into the bluish morning air.

Without moving a muscle, I looked up at her. The sun must have been out, for things were becoming bright and hazy. The woman stayed as she'd been with her eyes fastened outside and when she was done with her first cigarette, she took out her second.

I wondered if she saw me. She couldn't see my face, but did she wonder what the person was doing in the playground this early in the morning? I gripped the swing chains so that they would not make any clanging sound. The tip of her cigarette glowed repeatedly, growing brighter and dimmer. The sun was coming up. Under the light of the new day, she smoked her last cigarette. Then she turned around and disappeared behind a door. I counted the doors from the very left: 304, 305, 306. That was my mom's place.

I walked up and stood where my mom had been standing. The place was littered with cigarette butts. Like my mom, I hung my arms over the railing and looked down. I saw the swing where I'd sat. I stared at the empty swing moving back and forth.

I heard the door of 306 being opened. I wiped away my tears and ran down the stairs. My hand smelled of rust from the swing.

Once out of the apartment buildings, I saw the morning coming alive. I walked to the bus stop with the distance growing between me and my mom's place. I had the sudden urge to turn around. But now was the time to go home.

NamJoon

25 July Year 22

SeokJin will call us, right? I got TaeHyung's text in the morning. The container was littered with the traces of last night. For the first time in a long while, the place had been crowded with all seven of us. The mood, however, was too dry to call it a party. I texted him back: Let's wait and see.

I felt uneasy the whole time at work. I thought of HoSeok last night and thought about texting him several times. It was solely my fault that they would clear out the orphanage earlier than scheduled. If I hadn't dumped those papers in the reporters' lounge, the redevelopment plan would've been at a standstill as before. HoSeok knew this too. After work, I headed to Two Star Burger. I saw HoSeok from the window. He wasn't serving a customer or working at the cashier; he was just sitting on one of the chairs in the joint. Our eyes met. HoSeok saw me but turned his eyes away.

I walked around the building, waiting for him to get off work. HoSeok walked out on crutches. Yesterday, he had dressings on his ankle, but today he had a cast on. "Did it get worse?" HoSeok didn't answer.

I slowed down to walk with HoSeok. "Maybe you should take a cab?" HoSeok still didn't say a word. It was the first time ever for me to feel this uneasy around HoSeok. "Are you off work now? Or are you still on the clock? Is something wrong? Are you going to join the protest for the orphanage?"

HoSeok stopped. "NamJoon, I'm going to go by myself." HoSeok looked emotionless. The Jung HoSeok I knew wasn't like this. I knew what the orphanage meant to HoSeok.

"I'm so sorry. It's all because of me." My words had no beginning or ending. "But there must be something I can do."

HoSeok let out a sigh and said, "You? Do what?" And he couldn't continue. There was implied blame in that silence: How are you better off than us who live in the orphanage when you live in a container village soon to be demolished?

I knew that he wasn't blaming me; he was raging against his helplessness.

"NamJoon, you should go." Hearing his tired voice, I stopped. And I watched until he became a blur.

HoSeok

31 July Year 22

A couple of days ago, I rode a rocket train. It was the day after I called in sick. With my leg in a cast, I was nothing but a nuisance at work and in the dance studio. I woke up in the morning, but there was no place I should be, and nowhere I could go to. I went out simply out of habit. Also, because it was hot and my rooftop room was getting stiflingly humid. From the bridge over the stream, I was watching trains being launched when I had a sudden impulse to go down to the station. I bought a ticket for a rocket train.

I didn't have in mind to go see a big cosmopolitan, awesome city of historical relics, or vast nature. I didn't pack my bag with a destination in mind. I just wanted to go somewhere that wasn't Songju. I didn't get on the train with high expectations. With a cheap ticket in my hand, I got on the train like a piece of baggage to be carried off without any intention or destination. I didn't want to think about anything. I wished I didn't have a problem and nothing required a solution.

My ankle hadn't gotten better. Because I had been going around places to plead for the orphanage, my ankle was now more swollen. I tried compression bandages on it, but they didn't help much. So I was in a cast. There was not even a glimmer of hope of having the orphanage relocated. Well... it was obvious someone like me couldn't do a thing about it, at least. I thought SeokJin was my last hope, but he was stone-hearted.

The train's destination was Hagok, the place for a new Two Star Burger joint. I hadn't decided to work there yet. I chose the place among the names at the train station because I was familiar with it. The rocket ride would take two hours, and the city was about the same size as Songju. The rocket train ran along the stream. After passing City Hall, it ran along the area designated for the new city development. Then it made a sharp turn and Songju disappeared from my sight. I didn't look back. I kept my eyes ahead.

My first impression of Hagok was that it resembled Songju, but livelier. I rushed off the platform, but after that, I rambled slowly behind people. Walking slowly was so not like me.

But I walked so slowly that my speed interfered with the flow of the crowd. I acted as if I was determined to do things that I would usually not do. I moved with complete disregard for the people around me. I ate spicy food, which I usually didn't eat, and paid without saying the food was good. When no one was on the street, I spat on the ground.

Following the online map, I got to the place for the new store. It was on the first floor of a building next to a high school. Next to it were a stationery store and 24-hour gimbap place. It was ridiculously similar to the surroundings of the Songju burger joint.

While wondering where I would live if I were to work here, I bumped into someone. "I'm sorry..." I stopped myself midsentence, and I glared at him to say it was his fault. "Look where you're going." Jung HoSeok in Hagok would do whatever he felt like for 24 hours. He was a punk, idiot, and jerk.

Jerk HoSeok lasted for about five seconds. "Aren't you HoSeok?" said the man I had bumped into. I knew him. We were in the same dance club in middle school. And we had worked together at the Two Star Burger in high school. I realized the name Hagok was familiar because of him as well.

He had kept in contact even after he'd moved to Hagok. One or two months ago, he had texted: We are pushing ourselves to death to get ready for a performance at Hagok Cultural Center this summer. That performance was tonight. He said, "We will be on for a week. If you have time, come and see it tonight." The Hagok Cultural Center was right next to the building for the new burger joint.

I waited two hours to see the show, which ended up being so-so. It had some good parts and parts which could be better. For each move, I wondered how I would've done it or changed it. After the show, my friend came over and quietly asked, "How did you like it?" I gave him two thumbs up as I got up from my seat.

"But what brought you here to Hagok?"

I pointed outside and said, "A Two Star Burger joint will open in that next building. I was thinking about working there."

My friend was elated. "You know, two members of our team who were super good at choreography moved away. If you come, you can save us!"

In no time, his fellow dancers gathered, and he introduced me as someone who would join the team. Taken aback, I said it wasn't the case, but they all said hi. I was serious when I said that nothing had been decided and that I hadn't made any decisions yet.

My friend said he was teasing, but he still had me join them for dinner. And he asked again, "How did you like our performance?" I showed him the irrefutable two thumbs up, and mentioned what each member was good at, one member at a time. When I did, their eyes twinkled. They listened and asked questions. Some showed me the videos of their dance, and some asked more questions. They talked about their favorite dancers and even showed me some of their moves.

So I missed the train home. I stayed in Hagok. I stayed at my friend's place and went to see their show every day. Jung HoSeok in Hagok was an unpaid team member who did everything from cleaning the floor, to checking the schedule, to ordering meals, and so forth.

I worried about what was happening in Songju from time to time. The redevelopment plan was still in the news. I worried about what was taking place with the orphanage.

One day I bumped into someone who worked for the Two Star Burger main office. He asked what I was doing there, and I said I was just hanging out. He asked if I'd given thought to working at the store there. He added that someone who had started out as a part-timer had moved up to become a store manager and was now studying in America on a company scholarship. "Which is definitely possible for you too. Think about it."

After he'd left, I thought about living here as Jung HoSeok of Hagok. Jung HoSeok who would become the manager of a company-operated store, who would go to America, and who would speak English, study, and dance.

I saw students flooding out of their school. Were they having make-up classes during vacation? I wondered. The dance team members came over and after being chummy, they showed me a video and asked, "Can you show us how to do this move?"

NamJoon showed up four days later. He was waiting for me in front of the building where the burger joint would open. My friends had texted or called me, but I hadn't checked their messages or taken their calls. I hadn't become a punk, idiot, or jerk, but I had become Jung HoSeok of Hagok.

Without even a glance at him, I asked, "How did you find me?" NamJoon said he went to Two Star Burger. I remembered bumping into the guy from the main office. Maybe that was how the word got out.

We sat at a foldable table in front of a convenience store. With a soju bottle, two paper cups, and dried squid on the table. NamJoon didn't say a word. I looked at NamJoon. He was always running places, from his work to the library. Since he took the time out to come here, he must have something to say, or have a lot to say to me.

He probably wanted to ask me why I was there. I should be at home with my leg in a cast. The problem with the orphanage would work out. We should put our heads together. I should be thinking of my sick aunt. He knew I was having a hard time, but this wasn't going to solve anything. But nothing like this came out of NamJoon's mouth.

Without a word, he emptied his cup time after time and let out a long sigh. "HoSeok, do you remember how we were both late for school and ended up having to clean the classroom together?" I emptied my cup instead of answering. "SeokJin cleaned the classroom with us, and you and I couldn't believe how he seemed to be cleaning something for the first time in his life."

"Really?" I couldn't remember. "Why bring that up now?" I asked him curtly.

"I don't know for sure, but SeokJin must have his reasons. I'm sure. You know him. How he's usually so nice." NamJoon went on with what was going on with SeokJin.

I downed the cup and thought: Things going on with him? Why do I have to worry about what's going on with him? He was born rich, drives an imported car, went to study abroad, and is studying in a university. He has nothing to worry about. Why do I have to understand him? And you should be on my side, Kim NamJoon. You should be worried about me.

Instead of saying that, I told him: "I'm thinking about working at this store." I pointed to the place and downed the cup again. It tasted bitter.

NamJoon looked at the store where they were redoing the interior. "I've heard. So this will be operated by the company?"

"They'll even send me abroad to study."

"That's great," NamJoon said, and he picked up his cup.

I asked him, "What did you tell your boss at the gas station?"

"You know..."

We continued our conversation on and off, downed our cups, and picked back up our conversation, which we couldn't keep going.

I woke up at my friend's place the next day. I got up only to feel nauseous. How much did I drink? And how did I get here? I must've blacked out. I turned and saw NamJoon on the floor.

"How much did you drink?" my friend asked as he walked in the door. "I went to buy instant noodles. You weren't hoping for bean sprout soup or anything, were you?"

"NamJoon, wake up!" When I shook his shoulder, NamJoon woke up, startled. He looked around not knowing where he was. He looked at me blankly and asked, "What time is it?" before running out.

"Not even goodbye. That's so uncool." I limped to Hagok Station. NamJoon waved and ran. "Kim NamJoon, bye!" I yelled but wasn't sure whether he heard me. NamJoon disappeared into the crowd. I kept walking to Hagok Station. It was frustrating because I couldn't go faster. The crutches in my hands got in the way. I finally saw "Hagok Station" in the distance.

I remembered the conversation I had had with NamJoon last night. "Tell me HoSeok. Why does this booze taste so sweet? They say booze tastes sweet when life is bitter. We need bitter-tasting booze. Jung HoSeok, you made a good decision. Don't come back to Songju. Go to America, to Europe, and to the moon."

I told him, "Don't worry. I'm never coming back."

NamJoon picked up his cup. "You promised!"

"I did!" And we touched our cups. Saying things that Jung HoSeok of Songju would have never said.

I only got to Hagok Station right before the train departed. And a text came. Jung HoSeok, keep your word. The train started moving slowly. Soon it picked up speed and became a rocket.

The rocket that launched from Hagok Station would arrive in Songju Station in two hours. And NamJoon would barely make it in time for his shift. I smiled, thinking of NamJoon with his messed-up hair, holding the gas pump and smelling of booze.

Speak for yourself. I texted him back. I followed the rocket's path. It grew smaller and disappeared out of sight. I became teary for no reason. I turned and wiped them away.

Oh my... Laughing and crying at the same time. This is so Jung HoSeok of Songju.

We Can Laugh When We're Together

SeokJin

2 August Year 22

When I came back from JungKook's welcome home party, there was a pile of papers on my desk. A note on them said: A draft of your father's memoir. You're in it too, so some feedback would be appreciated. The note was from Uncle JunHo.

My dad's memoir. In the previous loops, this was about the time I got the first draft of it. It would be published mid-September, and I would even attend the celebration party for the publication without having read it. For the first time, I was asked to read it in this loop. It might have been a butterfly effect from having gone to JungKook's party instead of the meeting.

I pushed the draft aside. I was not in the mood to read it. It might anger Dad, but once the loop was in motion again, it was all meaningless. Ever since I realized how meaningless it all was, I had become unafraid of Dad. And my relationship with him was also no longer important. I had to focus only on my problems.

I turned the pages of the memoir by sheer accident. The wind from the window blew away the papers, and while I was picking them up from the floor, my eyes landed on something interesting. It was a part where my dad was near the container village next to Songju Station and thinking of the future with me and holding my hand. It said he wondered if there would be a day when his boy would play soccer with a boy from the container village.

"Interesting" wasn't the right word for it. Nothing in that memoir was interesting. But I wondered whether that really had happened. Was my dad that kind of person?

I kept reading, but there was an abrupt change in the story. The part was about me in high school, and he compared it to his days in school, but there were about ten pages missing.

The fact that the pages were missing wasn't important. Ten pages from a memoir didn't make a dent in the story, and I had no interest in my dad's high school years. I wasn't interested in which ten pages were missing or what they were about.

I flipped to the table of contents, and there I saw: The Map of the Soul. I gasped. I'd never imagined that I would see it in my dad's memoir. It was like getting punched while being completely defenseless. NamJoon telling me I should ask my dad passed through my mind. I knew right away where the missing ten pages were. They were in the den. The inner room inside the den.

After making sure I was home alone, I crept into the den. When I walked in the door, I saw a painting over the desk. The vast sea, raging waves, and a precarious wooden raft. People without food or drink. People without compass or hope. Out of hatred, fear, and desire, they killed and sucked the blood of each other as they slowly died.

When I was young, I was so afraid of the painting that I stayed away from this place. I thought about why he had this terrible painting here. As time passed, the painting became a part of this den and no longer an object of fear or wonder.

But I had something else to fear. There was an inner room in the den. There was nothing special about the room. It had no lock, and it was just an extension of the den. The only noticeable thing about the room were the books. There were many books - books and papers he'd collected since high school. It was called "the inner room." Not because someone named it that, but because it was the most fitting description of the place.

Dad spent time there organizing his thoughts or coming up with new plans, and except for him, no one went in there. The exception was his secretary who went in to deliver papers.

I'd gone in only once, and even though I was very little then, I knew that the place wasn't just a den with books. On the surface, the place looked ordinary, almost human, cluttered with boxes, papers, and books placed or piled up without any order. But there was no usual warmth from the printed papers and no emotions from the paintings or pictures. Just standing there and looking up at the bookshelves, I felt an overbearing pressure that nearly shattered me to pieces.

I didn't recall having been scolded for going into the room, but maybe I had been. Since that day, I had never set foot in the place. I sometimes stood close to the door, but after glancing up at the books, I turned away, never having the guts to open the door.

I did go into the room, however, in my dream. When I got reprimanded by my dad, I dreamt of being trapped in the inner room. Over time, my memories of the room faded and they were replaced by my dad's face. And one day I finally realized it. What the room was exuding was the very essence of him.

No longer being afraid of him, however, I walked in without a care. The room looked different from the way I remembered it. The desks and papers were far from looking overbearing, nor did the room look like my dad.

The missing pages were in an envelope in the middle of the bookshelf. The pages were disappointing. The chapter was titled "The Map of the Soul," but there was nothing in it about what the title meant. All the chapter had was a couple of episodes from my dad's high school days. But I saw a passage:

When I thought about my high school days, I realized the map I'd been looking for wasn't a real map with roads or dead ends, directions, and scales. It was just another name for the life I have lived, the countless hours I have lived since then, and the choices I have made. It'd be the trajectory of all my failures, successes, mistakes, and blunders. But I failed to find the map. In retrospect, I realized that I landed on the right path because of my failures.

My dad was looking for the map? Given the chapter title, it was the map of the soul he was looking for. And he said that it'd be the trajectory of the failures, successes, mistakes, and blunders of a person. Then what would be my trajectory? What contained the memories of the days I have lived... was that what I should be looking for?

I remembered then what TaeHyung had told me. "You have lost your memories." I ran back to my room. I pulled out a box from under the desk and found a couple of photobooks and envelopes with Polaroid pictures.

I turned the first envelope upside down and picked up the pictures. A picture I took at a beach in the United States when I was young. The Polaroid pictures of my childhood. And one where I looked awkward at a restaurant somewhere with Mom and Dad.

The pictures with my friends were in the third envelope. After thumbing through the pictures with me in my school uniform, I picked up one picture - the one in which HoSeok and JiMin were dancing in the classroom-turned­ storage room. Something was reflected on the window, and when I looked closer, it was my face. And I was beaming.

Had I ever smiled so big? Not to mention smiling at someone? I picked up one picture after another. In the classroom, at the beach, or on the streets, I was goofing around, shoving or tugging on someone. In one picture, HoSeok and JiMin had whipped cream smeared on their faces, and in another one, YoonGi was playing piano with JungKook sitting next to him. NamJoon was posing by the window, TaeHyung chuckling right in front of the camera, and all of it was recorded in the picture.

Did all this really happen? When I tried to remember, the headache came back. I didn't know, but I closed my eyes tight. And the memories I was about to bring back instantly dissipated. I realized this had repeated over and over again. When I tried to remember, the headache came back.

I stood up and looked down at the pile of pictures. I gritted my teeth and focused. Fighting against the pain, I tried to remember. Only when I am able to overcome this pain will I be able to find the trajectory of my life and arrive at the map of the soul.

Had it really happened? Nothing of it remained with me. Wide-eyed, I looked at the pictures. And I thought about my high school days. The old classroom-turned-storage room. The dust and the smell of mildew... it felt wet all the time. YoonGi played the piano, and someone laughed.

With my eyes closed, I held my fists tight. The pain was beyond bearable. I felt as if all the blood veins in my head would explode, the blood would trickle down making everything crimson in my eyes, and the blood and the burning sensation would seep into every corner of my head. I buckled. If I could get rid of this pain, I wouldn't care an iota about the memories. Or care about finding the map of the soul.

In a fetal position on the floor, I waited for the pain to subside. And it did very slowly. The tensed-up muscles loosened and sagged. I was covered with sweat. There was no energy left in me to try anything. I wanted to give up right there and then.

My phone rang a while after that. Without even looking at the screen, I touched it and it started to play music. Piano music.

Feeling vacant, I was listening to the music when my eyes landed on a picture. Without getting up, I brought the picture closer to my eyes. In it, YoonGi was playing the piano. HoSeok and JungKook were goofing around. NamJoon was saying something and TaeHyung held a V with his hand over YoonGi's head. JiMin gestured for me to come into the frame.

Only then did I remember. The song was what YoonGi used to play in that classroom. How was it that I hadn't forgotten? It seemed odd.

"Are you going to forget me soon? JiMin too? And JungKook? And NamJoon? Do you know who you are?" I remembered TaeHyung pleading with me.

YoonGi

2 August Year 22

After sending SeokJin a music file, I lay down again. While thumbing through the music scores I'd brought from the classroom, I saw a sentence written in the margin: We can laugh when we're together. It didn't look like my handwriting.

I remembered one foggy day. I happened to be walking across the school playground with SeokJin. We both felt awkward. With my hands in my pockets and my eyes fixed on the ground, I intentionally walked slower than usual. I hoped that he would go ahead without me, but he didn't. Every time I tried talking to him, it made it more awkward between us. He chuckled out of embarrassment.

I ended up asking him, "When was the last time you really laughed from your heart?" He didn't answer, and I didn't ask him again. I had no intention of putting him on the spot. The question had just popped out of my mouth.

We can laugh when we're together. This might be the answer to that question. But I wasn't sure if SeokJin had written this. A certainty I didn't need to have.

The melody on the score was pretty lame. I had written it only two years ago, but my music back then was raw and destructive. The notes didn't connect smoothly, nor did they sound beautiful. When I thought about my high school days, I only remembered going around drunk, but I hadn't spent every day like that.

I'd spent the whole night rewriting the score and finished it this morning. I changed the connecting parts between the melodies to a more polished bass line, but left the destructiveness as it was. I kept it the same, with a sense of aggression and irascibility. That was how we'd been - aggressive and irascible. I named the piece "We Can Laugh When We're Together."

TaeHyung

2 August Year 22

I woke up, startled. I felt chilled with my heart pounding. What had got me all riled up? I looked around, but nothing had changed in Munhyeon Apartments 401 - my dirty, old shack. I'd thought I'd take it easy for a bit but ended up dozing off.

What time was it? How long had I been lying in the sunlight coming in through the window? When I stood up, my back was drenched with sweat. I gulped down a cup of water. I felt better as the lukewarm water went down through my system.

I looked at my phone. I had a new text from SeokJin. It came with a couple of pictures from our high school days. YoonGi sitting by the piano with JungKook. HoSeok and JiMin with whipped cream on their faces. NamJoon reading a book by the window, and me laughing my head off in front of the camera. And below the pictures, it said: Did this really happen?

I expanded the pictures. Had they really happened? I remembered them as clear as day. None of us would have forgotten them.

Not because those moments in the pictures were special. Back in school we had had too many of those days even to count. Every was like the day in the pictures. It wasn't a matter of remembering them or not.

I thought about what SeokJin meant. After JungKook's messed-up party was over, I had left a text in our chat room: SeokJin, if you ever need us, just let us know.

NamJoon asked me later, "Do you think he will?"

I said, "I want to believe in him. Because believing something which is hard to believe is really believing."

The text SeokJin had sent, asking whether the pictures had really happened, was his answer to my text. He had begun to trust me. He took the first step to admitting that he was losing his memories and needed help.

And I knew exactly what to do. I'd said I wanted to help him, but I had no plans and didn't know what I could do. But SeokJin gave me the answer. I had to bring back the spaces, the times, and emotions in the pictures. We had to go to NamJoon's container, the railway by Songju Station, the shore, and the school.

I clicked on our chatroom. It was time for us to meet.

JiMin

2 August Year 22

Where is everyone? I got the text from TaeHyung in our chatroom while I was in class at hagwon. I put down my pen and held the phone with both hands. The text was read by everyone in no time. Maybe we had all been waiting for this moment.

Soon, SeokJin will reach out to us. When he does, I'll text everyone for all of us to meet. When TaeHyung sent us this text, I half believed and half doubted. I wondered if that day would ever come. But I nodded, hoping it would. We all did. It wasn't really a promise. It was what we hoped for. I was sure it was the same for TaeHyung. I packed my backpack and left. Some looked at me, puzzled.

As I was leaving my hagwon, my phone kept pinging with incoming text messages. TaeHyung said he was going to meet up with SeokJin at the closed-down swimming pool, and he would swing by NamJoon's container and Songju Station and head out to school. He wanted to go to the beach, but that would take too long. NamJoon said he'd join us at the container. HoSeok said he'd be late and meet us at Songju Station.

The text indicated that one person hadn't read it yet. I wrote in haste: I will go get YoonGi.

I turned at the corner. If someone hadn't read the text yet, it had to be YoonGi. I felt a breeze blowing from somewhere. I quickened my steps. I felt I should hurry. I ran up the stairs.

"YoonGi!" I knocked, hearing the music coming from his room. The door was open. Sitting on the sofa, YoonGi stared at me, wondering why I was there when I should be in hagwon.

HoSeok

2 August Year 22

I realized it as soon as I saw TaeHyung's text. It was time to go back. I'd left Songju in a fit of anger a couple of days ago. There were many reasons for my anger. My aunt being sick, the redevelopment plan and the orphanage, and my injured ankle. However, I had no clear target for my rage. To be truthful, I was mad at my helplessness, but I had vented all my anger on SeokJin.

While helping out my friend and his dance team, I mulled over this and that. "There is something wrong with SeokJin," TaeHyung had said, but I didn't really pay attention. SeokJin was rich, and he was the son of an assemblyman, a college student, and drove his own car. My problems were much more serious and important compared to his. I got mad at him for not helping me, but had I ever helped him?

When I told my friend that I had to go back to Songju fast, he seemed at a loss. When I said I was sorry, he shrugged and said, "You seemed like you were ready to go back any day."

I said that wasn't true and added, "You know how hard I've worked here even with my bad leg. How can you say that?"

He smiled and said, "You know that's not what I mean. You should go back. We will take care of things here."

I clicked on the chatroom and said it'd be great if we could meet at Songju Station. I could just make it to the train time. I started running toward Hagok Station.

TaeHyung

2 August Year 22

SeokJin still looked stone-faced. He didn't say a word and wasn't in the mood to be chummy. But he was focused on remembering things. He seemed to be suffering from a headache and rubbed his temples or massaged the back of his neck from time to time. He grimaced, trying to bear the headache. "The first time we were here when..." I said in front of NamJoon's container. SeokJin looked at it half believing and half not whether it had really happened.

Meanwhile, NamJoon arrived. We walked alongside the railway. "We used to hang out here a lot, and got chased away by the station workers."

YoonGi and JiMin came from the other direction. "I fell while running away, and I still have a scar," said JiMin as he showed him his left shin.

When we got to Songju Station, we looked up at the ticket prices. NamJoon said, "When we went to the beach, we walked forever with the sun beating down on us, looking for a wish-granting boulder only to find out that it'd been blown up to pieces. We still made a wish by the beach. Do you remember what you wished for?" SeokJin didn't say anything. "I can't remember what I wished for," said NamJoon as he scratched the back of his head.

We met up with HoSeok too after we left the station and were heading to school. "Sorry. The train got delayed." To catch up with us, he ran even with crutches.

When we turned the corner, we saw our school. SeokJin stared at it as if he were looking at it for the first time in his life.

JungKook

2 August Year 22

My phone rang. It was TaeHyung. He said SeokJin had texted, and we should all meet at our classroom.

I put down the phone face down on the desk and picked up the pen again. I was in an after school study class. Everyone was quietly working on their workbooks. I'd come to school, thinking the school would be better than my stifling home, but it was boring here as well. I had my own problems to work out, though - what had happened that day.

Was it really SeokJin? Did everyone know it? What I thought to be completely preposterous suspicions were becoming real. The dent on SeokJin's car bumper and the lies my friends told me... Thinking about these in my head, I blackened a notebook page with a pen.

"What's wrong with him?" "Who cares. Just don't talk to him." I heard the other kids whispering. It had bothered me at first, but soon I became immune to it and didn't care.

When I happened to turn my eyes to the window, I saw my friends coming past the gate. They were dark silhouettes, but I knew right away. NamJoon was in front followed by JiMin, TaeHyung, YoonGi, and SeokJin.

They knew what kind of person SeokJin was, but they lied to me and were in it together. I pressed my pen to the notebook. The page became so black that there were no spots of white anywhere.

SeokJin

3 August Year 22

We opened the door to the classroom-turned-storage room and walked in. It was a summer day, and the air in the classroom, still hot from the afternoon sun, was mixed with dust and the smell of mildew.

Suddenly, memories flooded back: the principal's shiny shoes, the expression on NamJoon's face as he stood outside this classroom, and how I ignored HoSeok on the day before our vacation and left the school hurriedly. The throbbing headache came back and I shuddered, feeling chilled. Complicated emotions, which I couldn't describe as either frustration or fear, overwhelmed me.

While I visited the places in the pictures with TaeHyung, I struggled the whole time with a headache. I had suffered from a headache during this entire time loop. When I was reminded of something, a headache came first. It was a clear physical and mental signal: don't remember anything.

When I walked to the middle of the classroom, the headache became worse. It was as if the cells in my brain were being shredded to pieces. Things became blurred, and there was a ringing in my ears. I had to get out.

TaeHyung must've noticed it. He grabbed my arm and said, "Try a little harder. Try to remember what happened here." I pushed his hand away and turned around. The pain was unbearable. I was about to scream. Everyone looked at me, not knowing what to say.

Remember... What TaeHyung said was meaningless to me. That I'd done those things, those things had happened to me, and the stories of us doing things together.

I think we did. It seems we did. But remembering is not understanding or accepting. Experiencing is not grasping something by hearing about things. Experiences should be rooted deeply in one's heart, mind, and soul. But everything I remembered was terrible. Things that tormented me and that I wanted to run away from.

When I headed to the door, TaeHyung blocked me. "Step aside," I said, but TaeHyung wouldn't budge. I shoved his shoulder, but he pushed me deeper into the classroom. In no time, we got into a physical fight. But we were both exhausted. Throwing a punch and blocking it felt heavy and slow as if we were fighting inside a hot, glutinous liquid.

My leg became entangled with TaeHyung's. I thought we would crash into the wall as I lost my balance and reeled.

I didn't know what happened next. Because of the thick dust, I couldn't open my eyes or breathe. I coughed nonstop. "Are you okay?" Hearing that, I realized I'd keeled over. I got up and saw that the seemingly solid wall had crumbled down.

There was a space beyond the crumbled wall. No one moved. "What! We spent so much time here but never knew..." someone whispered. We had never imagined something would be hidden beyond the wall.

"What is that?"

When the dust settled, we saw a cabinet.

NamJoon opened it. I stepped closer. There was a notebook inside the cabinet. NamJoon grabbed it and opened the cover page. I gasped. There was an unexpected name on the first page of the old notebook: Kim ChangJun. My dad.

When NamJoon was about to turn to the next page, I whisked it from his hands. NamJoon was surprised, but I didn't care. I turned the pages. The pages in the old notebook turned as if they would crumble to dust.

Written in my dad's handwriting, the notebook was his diary of the things he and his friends had done back in high school. It wasn't a record of their daily life. Sometimes it skipped a month, and there were pages too smudged with what looked like blood to be legible.

I turned one page at a time. The story stopped and continued again, but I couldn't believe what I was reading. I stopped and recalled my dad's face. Had this really happened to my dad too? Did all this really happen?

According to the notebook, my dad had gone through what was happening to me. Like me, he made mistakes and blundered, and he tried to undo them over and over again.

But he failed. The notebook was the record of his failures. After making the deal to save his friends, he was in time loops. He tried to find the map of the soul, but he failed and gave up. He forgot about it and went into denial and betrayed his friends.

On the last page, there was nothing but a huge blot of ink. I couldn't tell what had happened, but the next page was also smeared with the ink blot, and the next, until the very last page of the notebook as if to demonstrate my dad's failures.

I looked around me. I had no idea how much time had passed, and all my senses were dull. The breeze through the window felt cool, seeing as it was the darkest hour of the day, right before the sun rise.

NamJoon and my other friends were asleep here and there. I looked up at the wall. I remembered seeing my dad's name around here. And below it, it said: Everything started from here.

When I was about to close the notebook, I felt a sense of electric current at my fingertips. I could vaguely make out the letters under the ink blot on the pages. I saw the hazy dawn outside the window. The sun would be up soon. But that didn't mean that the night had come to its end. It was the time which was neither night nor morning. Under the light intertwined with the darkness the letters between the lines smudged with ink became faintly legible.

The notebook recorded more than just memories. In the letters and the spaces inbetween were the records of what my dad forgot and decided to forget. The colors of the letters vanished, but like their remaining imprints, the countless hours my dad had experienced, the terrors, the unsurmountable despair, and the faint hope must have whirled around under his fingers as he wrote down each letter. The deflected map of my dad's soul was captured in the notebook.

I closed the notebook with my eyes moist. I stayed still for a long while until I lifted my head up. My friends were still asleep, and I looked at them one at a time.

Perhaps it was inevitable that we would return to this place. Everything about us began here. I realized the meaning of being together and the joy of laughing together. Here remains like a gaping wound my first mistake, my first error that I could never admit with my own lips.

Everything up to now couldn't have been a coincidence. It was inevitable that I'd arrive here. Only then could I discover my errors and mistakes, and the meaning of the pain and anguish caused by them, and finally take the first step in the search for the map of my soul.

TaeHyung

3 August Year 22

I woke up with the sun in my eyes. I couldn't remember when I had dozed off. Everyone else was also asleep except for SeokJin standing in the middle of a swirling light. The light seemed to be exuding from the notebook in his hand, a light that was cold, white, and pure. It whirled around him. It was a light but also an emotion.

He looked at each layer of light. He was trying to feel something, not to give up on something, but to grab on to something. Seeing that, my eyes welled up for no reason.

The swirling light slowly settled down and disappeared. The classroom sunk into darkness. SeokJin stayed as he was and looked at us. I glanced at him. Something about him seemed to have changed, or maybe not yet.

He saw me and said, "I have to get going now." I nodded. I watched him walking out the door. He knew what he had to do now. And he was on his way to do it.

JungKook

3 August Year 22

I woke up to find my friends asleep. NamJoon was asleep with his backpack on, and YoonGi and HoSeok were asleep, sitting against the wall with their heads together. JiMin was asleep on two desks put together.

When TaeHyung opened the curtain, the classroom filled with sunlight. I covered my eyes with my hands and said, "Close the curtain, will you?" And they woke up one by one.

"Where is SeokJin?" someone asked.

TaeHyung said, "He left."

I glanced out the window. The school playground was empty.

We said goodbye at the gate. I watched as they headed their own way, and I went to a PC room, the one I frequented these days. With a headset on, I would cut myself off from the world in the dark room and focus only on the computer screen, which eased my frustration.

I felt better in a dark and isolated place. I hated a bright place with lots of light. In a space that was just my own, I could face reality and plan my revenge. The PC room was just the place.

I had started coming to this PC room after I paid a visit to the place where the accident happened. It was on a sheer impulse that I got on the bus to the place, but I knew I had to go back there. To understand for myself the meaning of what had taken place there. As I watched the scenery out the bus window, I asked myself: Can I trust my friends?

When I got off the bus, the sky had darkened. I walked slowly to the place of my accident. Like the last time, the road was empty, with no traffic. A surveillance camera was installed at a distance.

I stood at the spot of the accident. I looked down at the road and recalled that night. The huge moon in the night sky, the world turned upside down, and the headlights coming at me in the upside-down world. And the shape of the car as it passed by me, and the familiar sound of its engine.

I sprawled down on the asphalt like on the night of the accident. My face was upturned to the sky, but I couldn't see the moon. If a car were to come my way without seeing me on the road, I would get into another accident. While thinking that, I felt the faint vibration of an engine from the road.

Is a car coming? I was going to lift my head up, but I couldn't move. The road vibrated more, and I was sure a car was coming. With the ringing in my ears, my nerves were on edge. I was alert, but I couldn't move or scream.

Soon, the bright lights were zooming down on me. It was a car, and it was in front of my eyes in no time. My whole body froze, and I couldn't even close my eyes. Crash... It sounded as if the world were split into two. And then came the pain.

Help me! I screamed inside, but it didn't come out of my lips. I couldn't swallow or open my eyes. Because of the headlights in my eyes, everything was too bright. Alternating between pain and fear, I couldn't breathe. Something hot and sticky seeped out of my body. It hurt so much that I felt I'd drop dead any minute, but the pain lingered without bringing death. My consciousness scattered, too brutally slow. And the pain would not let up.

Finally, the brightness subsided, and everything became dark. I couldn't hear or see anything. The fear and pain were gone too. I felt restful. I wondered when the last time was that I had felt this comfortable. I just wanted to stay here. This felt like the place I should be.

I went limp and trusted my body to the darkness. The complete darkness and silence - a space that was colorless, odorless, and impeccable. This must be death. Finally, this was the end. Everything would come to an end.

But something fell onto my eyes. As if a current had sparked in my head, I had a headache. My eyes were closed, but I knew. I was being buried. SeokJin was looking down and throwing a handful of dirt on me. My other friends were with him. More dirt poured down on me.

My body, face, and eyes were covered with earth. Help me! I screamed, but I failed to utter it out loud again. I wailed. I struggled to stand up. With the dirt in my mouth, I couldn't breathe. When I tried to spit it out, more got into my mouth.

I let out a loud cough and opened my eyes. I was still on the road. My friends weren't there and there was no dirt. I hadn't gotten hit by a car or hurt in any way. I was drenched in sweat and trembling with cold. I felt chilled to my bones, dripping buckets of sweat. My whole body felt stiff and achy.

When I lifted my head, I saw the world turned upside down. Just like that night. The road was above me, and the night sky below me. The huge car that had run over me, the solid pain, the screams, despair, and fear. The things I saw and felt that night pierced through my heart. What should I trust? What I had seen just now - was it the truth of that night, or was it just a false illusion?

As I was getting up, someone said, "What is the problem? Believe what you see." I thought of my friends. They looked at me with an undecipherable expression. It changed into a horrible expression, and they sneered. As if they were enjoying a secret that they kept from me. Like a fool, I was the only one being duped.

"Kill him! Kill him! Why aren't you killing him?" I snapped out of it, hearing someone yelling. The monitor had a shooting game on it. From the headset, someone on my team was yelling because an enemy had shown up. "Shoot! Shoot now!"

I grabbed the mouse and started shooting at the enemy like crazy. The character was knocked down dead like an inflatable toy with its air pumped out. With my mouse, I roamed the game map. The railway ran in the middle of it. There were containers along the railway. Just like the container village by Songju Station.

"Where is he? Kill him. And kill that guy too. Hurry up!" I pressed the keyboard to pick up a different weapon. A machine gun. When I did, an enemy with a black bandana appeared at a distance. As I was aiming at him, I felt as if I knew the guy. And I got him with one shot.

I aimed, and shot the other enemies. "Park JiMin, Jung HoSeok." I had no idea why their names dropped out of my mouth. I sneered. Come to think of it, those guys on the screen looked like them. No, those guys were them.

I shot down one enemy, one friend at a time. As soon as I saw NamJoon crawling out of his container, I shot him down. And I fired at TaeHyung's head as he was running along the railway. I glanced down at him without any feelings.

But someone from a distance shot me in the shoulder. When I changed the view with my mouse, I saw SeokJin with a gun. Immediately, I was boiling up with hostility. I hid behind a wooden crate. From the headset, I heard a team member say: "I'll take him down." I cut him off. "No, I will do it."

I stood up and aimed at SeokJin. He keeled over to the right. YoonGi jumped out behind him and ran toward me. I had no bullets left. Stone-faced, YoonGi pulled the trigger. I jumped to the side but got hit twice. My life gage took a serious dip. And the monitor changed to red.

I threw away the machine gun and pulled out a revolver and killed YoonGi with one shot to his head. He fell limp and dead on the ground. WIN showed up on the monitor.

The team member roared on the headset and said: "Fantastic! You're really good!"

The Reason Why Fireworks Are Beautiful

SeokJin

3 August Year 22

I came back home. The pictures were still strewn on the floor. I picked them up one by one. YoonGi and JungKook sitting on a stool and playing the piano, NamJoon sitting by the window, and HoSeok and JiMin dancing and horsing around.

I still had the throbbing headache. But I knew. The pain was evidence that what I was looking at and trying to remember were important to me.

I spread open the map of my dad's soul. If it was indeed the map of his soul, then what would the map of my soul be? My errors and mistakes, the choices I'd made and not made, and the things that changed because of them... The map of my soul would have all that in it.

Suddenly, the people in the pictures seemed to be moving. I thought I heard HoSeok and JiMin laughing, and JungKook turning to look at me. And I heard YoonGi playing the piano. NamJoon and TaeHyung running at the beach, laughing.

All those moments in the pictures were lifted up in the air and were replaying like in a video. The music was playing, they burst into laughter, and the sun was pouring down. The moments overlapped with each other, the pictures were merged, and something unknown unraveled from my heart and spilled out. It rode in my veins and fanned out to every corner of my body. Something that was clogging up my head crumbled down and memories poured out like fireworks.

Once released, the memories whirled around, bewildering and baffling. The whole room shone bright with whirling memories that were sad, wistful, heartbreaking, and joyous. I couldn't believe it as I stared at them. How could I have forgotten them? And I realized something was exuding light from my pocket.

I took it out. It was a Polaroid picture. A picture with clear crumpled lines. I thought I could hear JungKook's voice. "Let's take a picture here." I turned and saw the beach. All my friends were running to my car. Each got to a place and took a pose. Click. I pressed the shutter.

No, that was not it. We had taken a picture there countless times. But I had pressed the camera shutter only during the last time loop. This was the first loop ever for the six of them to be in the picture without me. Before then, I had used the timer, and we had all been in the picture.

Next, the moments that were whirling around the room disappeared, and the scene in the Polaroid picture unfolded in front of my eyes. The sea breeze was blowing. It was hot and my neck was sticky with sweat. The sand in my shoes felt prickly.

"SeokJin, hurry up," NamJoon motioned to me.

"Hurry! Run!" said TaeHyung.

I set the timer and ran to them. My feet sank deep into the sand. Just as I was able to turn, I heard the camera shutter click. Someone laughed. There was no reason to be laughing, but we still laughed. Pointing to one another and not knowing what was so funny, we roared and rolled on the sand. We laughed ourselves silly.

When I came out of it, I was still in the room. The memories I saw had disappeared. I was alone with the pictures scattered about in the room. I looked down at the Polaroid picture in my hand. The scene in the picture was slowly changing. There was me standing next to my friends in front of the car by the beach.

I suddenly remembered what the cat had said: "There will be a price to pay." This was the price. Having the happiest memories disappear from me and forgetting the precious people around me. I realized what kind of horrible contract I had signed up for.

The wind was blowing from the window. I looked around me. I had no idea how much time had passed. The sun was up with not a cloud in the sky. It was morning. A new day. The wind coming from the window circulated in the room, which had started to get hot. The fresh, new air hovered around me.

"Do you think you can straighten out the errors and mistakes and save all of you?" I was finally able to answer that question. And now I knew why I was back in the time loop again when I had thought I was done with it.

The question itself was wrong. I didn't have to save us. I didn't have to straighten out all the errors and mistakes either.

What I had to do was to accept all my errors and mistakes as a part of myself. The one and only person I couldn't save was me, and I had to forgive, accept, and love myself. That was the only answer.

The wind slowed down and then dissipated. I realized: all the pain had come to an end.

NamJoon

7 August Year 22

I walked out of the gas station. It was deep in the night, but the heat of the day seemed to have made the road its permanent home. I glanced at the downtown area where TaeHyung and I had roamed around.

What had happened several days ago seemed ages ago. After coming back from the classroom that day, I had adjusted back to my daily routine in no time. Making a living was still the most important thing. Besides my job at the gas station, I had found another temp job. When I dragged this dead tired body of mine home, I ended up crashing onto the bed.

When I got to the container village, a sense of something eerie in the night air blew against my face. I gave darting glances into the dusk. A notice was posted on the containers: In accordance with the redevelopment plan of the city of Songju, this area will be cleared out starting September 30.

Are they really going to clear out the area? I had received the notice a couple of times, and a person from City Hall had made a visit. He said the residents here, including me, had no rights whatsoever. He was right. We had just come here and made these abandoned containers our homes, so of course we had no right of possession.

"Are they really going to do what they say they'll do?" A man who lived at one of the last containers shoved the notice in my face and asked.

"I don't know, but seeing how things are now, I don't think they're bluffing."

He glanced at the notice from top to bottom and ripped it to pieces. "How can they do this when they know people live here? We'll see if they will carry this out. If they do it."

The document disclosing the police's non-interference agreement even in the case of violence was made public, and the news and media poured out criticism against going ahead with the plan. There were protests against Kim ChangJun and the mayor of Songju. Some residents in the village thought things were not so hopeless. But I wondered if the media would really protect us.

There were people who would benefit from the redevelopment for sure, and they had their justifications. The world did not side with powerless have-nots whose only means of fighting was to kick and scream. Other people could sympathize with us once or twice but not for long. The law and the system were never on our side.

I squatted in front of the container. There was only a month and a half left before they kicked us out. I had no choice but to stay in the backroom of the gas station. There were people here who had no place to go. People who had no other means but to scream at the top of their voices or to face violence with nothing but their bodies. People who had no best alternative - not even a worst alternative. And I thought of WooChang, my young friend.

I took out my phone. I opened a text message from SeokJin from a couple of days ago. NamJoon, I'm sorry and thank you. We'll talk later. I'll call you.

SeokJin

7 August Year 22

After I got my memories back, I felt wretched. The fact that I had lost my memories wasn't the whole problem. I couldn't stand what I had done during the last loop.

I attended the redevelopment plan meetings several times. I knew everything about it. What they were planning to do, and what problems they were expecting. Among my dad's documents, I even saw the current residents' statuses with a red circle around NamJoon's name. I was an accomplice and willing participant in the plan to drive NamJoon to his death.

This accomplice felt foreign, as if he were not me. Like a hollow shell that mimicked me. It was vicious and vile. Selfish and stone-hearted. Without any human warmth.

I wanted to claim that he was not me. Nothing was done out of my will, and the blame should go to that hollow shell. But he had my face on him. And my body. The one who committed all the mistakes was none other than myself.

I picked up my dad's diary. If I remembered correctly, he had not liked seeing me hanging around with my friends. He called my friends "useless" and held them in contempt because they didn't come from power or privilege.

I suddenly had a question. How could my dad do that? The way he thought of my friends was just like him. But according to his diary from the classroom-turned-storage room, he had had friends. Friends who were so important to him that he tried to save them by turning back time. When he gave up his friends, did he give up his soul as well? And he became that hardhearted person?

I went to the den. I showed him his diary. "What is it?" Without paying much attention, he took the diary and flipped the pages. Instantly, his face became distorted. He was as still as if he had frozen on the spot. He didn't look at me or close the diary. His eyes were glued to it.

His hand turned the pages. His expression changed to one of pain. The will to forget and the wish to remember crisscrossed his face.

It was impossible to read his expressions. When he met his voters or supporters, he looked trustworthy or modest, but that was one of his many masks. A look of pain was on his face now.

I stared at him in disbelief. "You know about the redevelopment plan..."

Hearing that, he closed the diary. "I don't know where you found this, but it's all in the past. Too much time has passed, and too many things have happened." The expressions on his face vanished again.

"You had friends who were important to you, and you tried many times to save them." I did not utter that out loud. I knew that he would know without my saying it. He knew why I had handed him the diary. But my dad's answer was no.

"Can you think about it one more time? It's not too late and you can make this right," I asked him as he was about to leave.

He slowly turned back and said, "It has nothing to do with me now."

HoSeok

7 August Year 22

After the meeting at the classroom, we had not heard from SeokJin. Songju was seething with the talk of the redevelopment plan, and it was the same with me and NamJoon.

"Are they going to go ahead with it? Have you heard anything else?" I asked NamJoon after hearing about the eviction notice, but he didn't have anything to tell me. Knowing the state we were in, YoonGi, TaeHyung, and JiMin texted us from time to time, beating around the bush and asking if we were doing okay.

According to JungKook's friends who dropped by the burger joint, he practically lived at a PC room. But I thought they got it wrong. The JungKook that I knew would frequent a PC room, but would not get addicted to it.

However, I saw him walking into a PC room a couple of days later. I hadn't been thinking about checking on him. It was the first time seeing him after that day, and I hadn't even gotten a chance to talk to him much when we had met together in that classroom.

Top Place PC Room was on the fifth floor. There was no elevator. I walked up with my leg still in a cast. Inside, the people with headsets on were all staring at their monitors under the dim lights. Some were snacking and watching a drama or a movie, but most of them were playing computer games. They were talking into the mic and clicking fast with a mouse. I heard them say, "Kill him! Kill him!" "Don't lose him!"

Glancing at the rows of chairs, I walked all the way to the farthest chairs from the entrance. From behind I saw someone in a leather chair. He was playing a shooting game. Pressing the keyboard with his left hand, he was clicking the mouse like mad with his right hand. Every time his character moved, the monitor screen changed color.

I lowered my head to get a better look at him. The light changed from blue to red as it shone on the player's face. After staring for a while, I realized he was JungKook. With a headset on, JungKook kept his eyes glued to the monitor. He didn't hesitate as he shot down the characters in the game. He killed as if he had been planning on shooting them one by one. He cussed or sneered at them. He was so focused that he didn't know I was there.

I couldn't call him. I just looked at his monitor. JungKook was gunning down the characters as if to pour out his rage. WIN showed up on the screen, and the game ended. The screen turned black. The black screen reflected JungKook's face. His eyes looked vacant. I was also reflected on the screen, but JungKook did not notice. As if he was trapped in his world.

I was about to tap his shoulder but stopped. What had happened to him? I became afraid.

SeokJin

10 August Year 22

When I walked out, it was raining. It didn't look like it would stop any time soon. I drove my car to the main road. I passed Songju Station and was near YoonGi's workroom. The stores in the cleared-out area had big X marks on them with rotting trash bags piled up in front. The road was uphill but sloped down soon. Weeds were growing between the houses with broken windows.

It was clear what I had to do. But I couldn't help but hesitate. It was not easy to admit my mistakes and face the arrows of criticisms and finger-pointing from the world.

I went through the documents I'd found during the past days - the papers in the safe inside the inner room. Papers guaranteeing kickbacks from a construction company, slush funds, shoddy construction and profiteering, contract ad libitum, dual contracts, and also papers fabricated to conceal all these illegal dealings.

The one who had done all this was my father. "Too much time has passed, and too many things have happened," he had said. He might be right. Now he'd gotten to a place of no return. That didn't mean I should stand by and watch. If he couldn't do it, then I would.

I turned the car around and headed to area four. I saw the container village between the trees. After passing Songjubuk Middle School and turning the corner, I saw the Yangji Children's Home. Nobody was out in the wet playground. There were puddles with rain drops falling into them. The signal changed, and I slowly drove to the residential area across from the orphanage.

I passed the old houses and the identical looking low buildings. A banner hanging between utility poles in front of a rundown supermarket said: The redevelopment is NOT for the people. Who is it for? The people walking under the umbrellas stepped aside to avoid getting splashed by my car.

I took out my phone. I called the reporter who had disclosed the first document concerning the redevelopment plan.

"Have you thought about what consequences this would bring? Are you sure you can handle it?" When he asked, I said I hadn't.

When he asked, "Does this mean you might go back on your word?" I answered no. The reporter confirmed one more time and hung up.

I glanced about. I had no confidence, or anything like it, to handle what was about to happen. Despite all the wrongful and illegal dealings he had committed, he was still my father. But it was too late to go back. And I had no thought of going back. I had done enough regretting. Now I had to do what I had to do.

I clicked on the chatroom on my phone.

HoSeok

11 August Year 22

SeokJin texted us to meet at NamJoon's container. I left the burger joint and quickened my steps. It was past ten, but we were still in the middle of summer. The city was suffering in air that would not cool down.

As the doctor took the cast off, he had warned me not to exert my leg. But I was in a hurry. What did SeokJin want to talk to us about? We would be meeting for the first time since that day in the classroom. Did he have something on the redevelopment plan? Would he explain what had happened to him?

I sent a separate text to JungKook, but he didn't reply. When I called him, he took his sweet time answering. He must've been in a PC room, for it was very noisy. "SeokJin must have something to tell us, JungKook." I told him.

"You are the last." We chided JungKook for being the last one to arrive. We were all in the container. "Isn't it hot?" When someone said that, we all came out and sat around behind the sofa. The sofa, which had repeatedly gotten wet and frozen, was pretty crushed. When TaeHyung jumped on it, the dust flew up and the corner fabric ripped. YoonGi took a big step back.

All seven of us were together, but we weren't as rowdy as before. "Maybe we should get a campfire going?" When TaeHyung said that, NamJoon, who was used to his jokes, replied, "It's the middle of summer, TaeHyung." SeokJin was sitting quietly. He looked serious, but he didn't seem as strange or emotionless as he had been before. Actually, he looked tired.

"What? YoonGi got expelled because of you? You were the principal's snitch?" I asked him, surprised. SeokJin started telling us what had happened back in high school. "What are you saying exactly?" When I pressed on, NamJoon grabbed me and motioned me to stop.

SeokJin continued. About his family, him growing up in America, and the first day he had met the principal after coming back to Songju. No one spoke for a while. Sweat ran down our spines, but no one even thought about fanning himself to cool down. I looked at YoonGi. The very person whom SeokJin's story was about.

I didn't know what he was thinking because he kept his head low. Two years had passed since then. If he hadn't been expelled, would things have turned out differently for him?

Finally, YoonGi opened his mouth. "It's all in the past, but it would've been better if you had told me this back then."

SeokJin said he was sorry, and YoonGi simply nodded. SeokJin's confession seemed like closure to what had happened to YoonGi, but not really. It had happened in the past, but because of it, things in the present had changed. And it was the same for YoonGi and SeokJin. Just saying it was okay did not make it okay. They probably had to mull it over for many more hours and arrive at a certain conclusion, or it would stay with them forever.

"Tomorrow I plan to tell people everything about the redevelopment plan," SeokJin said as he was taking a bunch of papers out of his bag. "The agreement with the police overlooking the violence during the demolition was just the tip of the iceberg. The corruption among the powerholders of Songju and my dad is beyond anyone's imagination," he told us in a slow voice. "I think my coming forward will take care of many things, but I am not sure how things will unfold."

After looking at me and then NamJoon, SeokJin said, "What I am about to tell you now is much more complicated and strange. I am not sure you'll believe it. It'll be hard to believe. But YoonGi was right. Now is the time I should tell you."

SeokJin took a deep breath and started telling us the story: finding out the future misfortunes of everyone after he came back from America, the cat that he met at the beach, the contract to turn back time, and the things he had experienced over and over again since then. The map of the soul and the price to pay - losing his memories.

I didn't know when the sandstorm started to blow. SeokJin continued with his story, and like he'd said, it was really hard to believe. Can he really turn back time? Is that possible? He can undo what happened? JungKook, YoonGi, and JiMin got killed? I fell down the stairs and couldn't dance anymore, and TaeHyung got locked up in jail? That really happened? Again and again?

I had no idea whether the sandstorm began while SeokJin was talking or not. Maybe it started when he began to tell us his story, or maybe there was no sandstorm.

As SeokJin continued with the story, the wind became stronger. We could hardly keep our eyes open with the sandstorm blustering around us, the sofa we were all sitting on, NamJoon's container, and maybe the whole city. We ended up closing our eyes, shedding tears from the prickly rain of sand.

We could not see with our eyes, but we could feel it. As if we had experienced it ourselves. Something flashing as time began to go back, the sound of a window being shattered, the room with the sunlight pouring in, and what SeokJin saw as he opened his eyes in his room.

The sound of the flame starting from a lighter and travelling up the stream of gasoline, the building rooftop still under construction, the speed of one freefalling into the night scene of Songju, the moment the world turned upside down as the ankle bone was crushed, the sound of suffocation as he was dragged deeper and deeper into water, the azure sky he saw from the court house, the moment he picked up a broken bottle, his unleashed rage as he ran, the blood that couldn't be washed off his hand, the time going back again, something flashing, SeokJin running, the window being shattered again, the calendar pages being leafed through, YoonGi, NamJoon, me, JiMin, TaeHyung, and JungKook again, and another flash.

SeokJin standing alone at the beach, the moments of horror continuing endlessly, SeokJin running and running again. A Polaroid picture. The seven of us standing by the beach.

In the sandstorm, I finally understood. What had happened to SeokJin, the choices he had made, his mistakes, and the endless hours he had lived through again and again for us. And the reason he had lost his memories and feelings.

I slowly opened my eyes. It was still midsummer, and I was in Songju. Nothing had changed from the beginning. The air still felt hot and the sofa felt sandy. A can rolled away behind the container. No one spoke. The sandstorm disappeared without a trace, and the moon hung in the night sky.

I wanted to say I was sorry and I was grateful, but my lips wouldn't move. No, those words could not begin to express the feelings I had.

TaeHyung

11 August Year 22

I walked for a long while with my hands shoved into my pockets. I tried my best not to look up at the sky or to look around. I passed YoonGi's workroom, a construction site, Naeri gas station, the Munhyeon Apartments, and Geongil Hospital. If I looked up, I was afraid I would remember what SeokJin had told me, so I walked with my eyes glued to the ground.

SeokJin had told us matter-of-factly, but we couldn't listen matter-of-factly. What he said was not something you could listen to sitting down. I went over it countless times. I thought they were all dreams, but they really had happened. After SeokJin finished telling us, silence lasted a long time. No one spoke, but the thunderous silence shook the container.

Only when I got to my graffiti did I finally look up. SeokJin in my nightmare was still there. I didn't feel a chill exuding from it. I wasn't afraid anymore. I touched his vacant eyes. Did destiny really exist?

I heard someone singing from afar. If everything has been decided, then the fact that I am standing here and now had been decided too? Then someone among us will die or get into an accident. Maybe we had all survived and I was still here because he did not give up on us.

I drew the pupils with my fingers. Maybe the future would change depending on how we were to draw the present now.

I left the alley and looked at the city. I saw Songju Jeil High School in the distance. Behind it were the railways and the stream. Beyond them would be the big, wide world. I felt like crying, so I shoved my hands back into my pockets and walked with my head hung low.

JungKook

11 August Year 22

I had to snicker. Ya, like any of what he had said made any sense. Soon after SeokJin started telling us his story, all the others looked as if they totally understood what he was saying. Understood what?

SeokJin had lied to us since high school. YoonGi got expelled because of SeokJin, but he glossed over that point with a simple "I'm sorry." SeokJin fed us some wild story about things he claimed he had done for us. The others didn't even ask questions or point their fingers, and accepted all of it.

I stood up from the very end of the sofa. I hurried out to the main road. SeokJin had not mentioned it even in the end. After mouthing off like a person of great moral character, disclosing his father's immoral acts, he had never uttered a word about the car accident that night.

Liar. I looked back. They were going back into the container one by one. No one looked out. They had no idea I had left.

JiMin

11 August Year 22

"Where is JungKook?" Hearing me exclaim, the others looked around only to find him gone. HoSeok looked outside and said, "He's not here either."

I phoned him, but I got voicemail. TaeHyung said, "Is he going through puberty or what?" But we'd all felt it. Lately, JungKook had become quiet and brooding.

I walked with HoSeok to the community center. Cars with their headlights on whizzed by. After walking without a word, HoSeok said, "JungKook hasn't called you, has he?" I shook my head. Another silence. "Is he okay, you suppose?"

Suddenly, there was a loud honking sound. A shrill, nerve-wrecking sound. I turned to where the sound came from. A boy who had been jaywalking crouched on the road with his hands over his ears. He was surrounded by the headlights of the cars coming to a screeching halt.

SeokJin

12 August Year 22

I walked into the meeting room of the newspaper company. The reporter I'd talked to on the phone shook my hand. "It's inevitable that you'll be followed by reporters once the news gets out." I nodded and took out the documents from my bag.

"This proves that my dad received kickbacks from Youngjin Engineering & Construction." I handed them to him. "And this is a record of what they went through to get the redevelopment committee head's request to my dad and to get the mayor of Songju to expedite the plan."

After perusing the documents, the reporter asked, "Do you mean to release all these?" I nodded. Tensed up, I tightened my fists.

The interview lasted a long time. At the end of it, the reporter asked me, "You must have a reason for disclosing all these..."

I couldn't come up with an answer. It had nothing to do with justice or conviction. I wasn't doing it to help someone. I thought about the endless time loops and moments of despair. There was no way I could convey all that. If there was one reason, I was doing it for myself.

Finally, I said, "I am ready. All the errors and mistakes can't be undone, but the first stage of making things right again will be to acknowledge my errors. To do that, I shouldn't run away or hide."

What I said was a spell I was telling myself. A spell to remind myself that I'd do my very best to face head-on what was about to come.

YoonGi

12 August Year 22

It was a night on a weekend, and the restaurant was crowded. The news was on TV. For the past several days, there had been nothing but news about the redevelopment plan. Today again, it was about the newly discovered illegal dealings.

The news began with pictures of the rundown areas of Songju followed by the commentary of the anchor. The people who were eating all turned their attention to the TV.

"There has been a continuing controversy concerning the Songju redevelopment plan. Last month, a document was discovered concerning an illegal agreement between City Hall and the police to overlook possible violence expected during the forced clearance of the area. Mr. Kim SeokJin, the son of Assemblyman Kim ChangJun, asked to be interviewed to disclose the connection between the politicians and the companies, and what you are about to watch is a portion of that interview."

When the anchor's comment ended, they showed SeokJin's interview in summary. The part about Assemblyman Kim ChangJun getting kickbacks from the construction company created a stir in the restaurant. A man from the next table said, "I knew it. I knew it. That was why the police said they would keep their hands off of it."

Someone put his spoon down and said, "Then are they going to put a stop to the plan? It was going to create more jobs, but now what?"

I looked around. Reproach and anger were everywhere. I heard a man say behind me, "Wait a minute. Did the son just report his own father to the police?" I couldn't begin to fathom the weight that SeokJin had to carry from now on.

JiMin

12 August Year 22

Lying on the bed, I searched online with my phone. There was an article about SeokJin disclosing his father's illegal dealings. From the interview, I could feel SeokJin's determination to face this head on. Even after the interview was aired, the redevelopment plan and SeokJin's name were the top search words.

After reading some more comments under the articles, I tossed my phone onto the bed. I got up and glanced out the window. It was the middle of August, hazy and sweltering outside. And I remembered the last thing SeokJin had said in the interview.

"I will admit to all my errors and mistakes. I will not hide or run away." Could I face my own errors and mistakes? Could I not run away or hide?

The bus stop for the shuttle bus to the Grass Flower Arboretum was hot in the summer sunlight. The sun was at its zenith, casting practically no shadow at my feet. There was no place to hide from it. I turned to see whether the bus was coming. I saw the one with a sign for Grass Flower Arboretum. I looked down at my feet. My neck felt hot with sweat dripping down.

Sitting at the bus stop, I let two buses go by. Under the scorching sun, my head hurt and felt hot, and I hesitated, unable to make any decision. My body felt sticky with sweat, and my shoulders ached from tension. Letting out a sigh, I leaned against the bus stop bench. The sun came directly down on my face. I couldn't keep my eyes open and my skin felt burnt.

I sensed someone sitting next to me. Strangely enough, it made me feel relieved and at ease. But when I looked, no one was there. The bus driver yelled, "Are you going to get on or what?"

I sat in the middle of the bus by the window. A lady holding a baby in her arms and the baby's grandmother sat closer to the driver, and a middle school couple sat way in the back.

The bus started moving. It drove nonstop toward a place I had stayed away from all this time. I rubbed my arm and looked around. The air-conditioned bus felt cold.

"I didn't know hydrangeas are summer flowers. I like hydrangeas." Only when I heard the young couple talk did I realize Grass Flower Arboretum was a place of flowers and plants. I remembered the place was wet with stinking mud. To some, it was a place of excitement, but to someone else, it was a place he wanted to forget. It was not fair.

I lowered my head and closed my eyes. That day I must have been sitting on the bus, excited and happy. I must've watched the changing scenery out the window with curious eyes, munching on cookies and singing with my friends. Because it was the day of the school picnic. I felt my hands and feet curling with stress.

I woke up at a thump. I must've dozed off after having stayed under the sun too long, all tensed up. The bus came to a stop. The other passengers must've gotten off; I couldn't see them.

It was raining outside. When I got on the bus, it had been broad daylight, but now it was so dark that I had no idea what time it was. Lightning cut across the dark sky followed by thunder.

I peeked out from the bus door, but no one was around. Covering my head with my hands, I ran to the entrance of the arboretum. The rain sloshed down. Even before I could take a couple of steps, my trousers got wet. It was just like that day.

The school picnic day. My parents couldn't come, so I walked alongside my teacher all day long. Despite my teacher's advice, I decided to go home by myself. It started to pour down when I was just outside the arboretum gate. The sudden shower turned into torrential rain where I couldn't see a thing. I was soaking wet and trembling with cold. Holding my backpack over my head, I ran. There was no one to help me, and I ended up running toward the back gate of the arboretum. There was a storage-looking building by the gate. I opened the door and walked in.

Ten years had passed since then. To forget that day and to erase the memories of that day, I had been in and out of hospitals, medicated, lied, and suffered seizures. Ever since that day, I'd tried my best to run away from this place. But I remembered what SeokJin had said: "I will admit to all my errors and mistakes. I will not hide or run away." I walked across the arboretum. It was still pouring down, but I didn't run or try to avoid it. I walked slowly to the back gate.

In my memory, the place was huge. So huge that people would not know what was happening in one corner of it. Ten years later, I realized how ridiculously small the place was. There was a small parking lot and flower beds by the entrance, and I saw a management office a little far off. Once you followed the grove trail, it would take less than three minutes for a grownup to get to the storage building from the management office.

And I finally saw the back gate, as well as the storage building. Inadvertently, I stopped. The storage building with the corroding iron door looked exactly the same as it did in my memories. Darkness which seemed familiar leaked out from the partly open door. I took a step closer but stopped again. Still drenched and shivering with cold, I tried to take a deep breath, but I couldn't stop myself from shivering.

That day I had run into the dark storage building. I was dripping wet, and the early April air felt cold. I squatted in one corner. I was glad to get away from the rain, but soon, I was trembling from cold. I covered myself with ripped papers and wrappings from the ground and curled up in a ball.

I woke up at the clanking sound of the iron door closing, and I heard someone breathing. I stayed all curled up like before, without moving a muscle. It was dark inside the storage building. There were shelves with things piled in a row, things I couldn't tell what they were for.

I smelled rain and dirt. I couldn't tell what was going on, but I knew one thing: I should not be discovered. The place was filled with tension.

When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I began to see the inside. The storage building was the size of a school classroom. I was hiding by the back door. There was a tiny second room where the teacher's office would be if this were a classroom. A faint light gleamed from the window in the door to the smaller room. I heard a panting sound, like a signal to let me know someone was there.

I stood up. I knew I shouldn't, but I crept toward the window. I knew I shouldn't look at what was beyond the window, but I still crawled toward the window. My legs trembled. The raindrops dripped from my hair and trickled down my neck.

At that moment a small white hand suddenly appeared at the window and disappeared. I gasped, frozen to the spot. Every cell in my body screamed for me to run away, but my legs wouldn't move. I went blank.

I heard someone whistling outside. The door clanked and opened. I jumped and crawled under the shelves to hide. A man came in and looked for something, making the clanking sound of metal scraping against metal.

The man walked into the smaller room, leaving the door open, so I could look inside. It was dark there too, but the things inside were visible. It looked like a room for storing fertilizer. He walked in, and with his legs apart, he looked down on something.

The man's eyes fell on a small boy lying on the floor, all curled up. He had bruises on his arms and legs, and scars on his wrists from being tied up with a rope for too long. The man picked up a towel from the shelf and wiped the sweat from his own face and hands.

The boy opened his eyes. For a brief moment, his eyes met mine as I crouched under the shelves. The boy lay seemingly dead under the man's peering eyes.

The boy's eyes were speaking to me. It was dark, and he was far away, but I knew. There was no way I could not know. He was asking for help. Help me. Save me. Help me run away.

The man, sensing something, turned around and looked around the storage room. I made myself smaller. The boy's hand fumbled on the floor, as if he was looking for something. And he slowly raised his body. He was trembling. With big teardrops rolling down on his cheeks. He raised his hand. He was holding something shiny in his hand. A boxcutter.

He cut the man on his thigh with the boxcutter. He yelped in pain as he turned. The boy tried to stab him one more time, but it didn't work. The man unarmed the boy in no time. He threw away the boxcutter and he slammed the door shut. I heard him cussing at the boy. The boy screamed. I heard something breaking, splitting, and crashing. There was also an odd jangling sound.

I could crawl out from under the shelves thanks to the noise. I crawled to the door with my shaking legs. I tried my best not to make any sound. I crawled right under the window so that I would not be seen from the window. The boy's screams turned into wailing and gradually subsided.

As soon as I got out, I nearly burst out screaming. The sound of gushing rain overwhelmed me. Tears fell. While running away, my knees buckled, and I tumbled down in the mud. I got up again and ran. I wanted to yell for help, for someone to save me, but no one was around. My feet slipped again. My trousers got torn and knees scraped. Immediately, the blood seeped through the trousers.

Without meaning to, I ended up looking back. By then, I was out the back gate of the arboretum. The storage building looked faint. In my eyes, I saw the boy's white hand. It was bleeding.

The next thing I remembered was the hospital. I saw my parents, a doctor, and a nurse. And everyone asked me one thing: "What happened?" I said I didn't remember. And it was true. Back then, I really could not remember.

The memories of that day came back one day in my first year of high school when I was going home from school. I was walking with HoSeok when I saw that boy in the shuttle bus to the Grass Flower Arboretum. His empty eyes no longer spoke to me.

They released only the boy's last name, Choi, and he was five at the time. I found this out online. Several articles detailed the incident. He was discovered near Hwayong Mountain on April 10, and he suffered from temporary amnesia caused by shock. The police were looking for clues to conduct an investigation of the case, but there were no follow-up articles on it.

I wondered how he had survived. I wondered whether it would have been possible for him and me to have been spared what we suffered. To have a different past in which the boy spent that day playing with his friends instead of being dragged to the arboretum by a stranger, and I stayed home with a cold instead of going on a school picnic.

I already knew the answer, but with my mind wondering about meaningless possibilities, I arrived at the storage building by the back gate of the arboretum. I couldn't change the past. I had no means to correct my past errors and mistakes. That day I had come here on a school picnic, and while roaming the place by myself, I had become wet in the rain. I had gone into the storage building, and run away by myself, leaving a boy behind in pain and despair.

In the distance under the pouring rain, I saw my younger self running away. My small feet, soaked clothes, tears streaming down my face, and my terrified eyes. That day, I was out of breath, panting and heaving. I ran precariously as if I would collapse at any minute. A short moment later, my feet slipped, and I tumbled down. I stayed fallen and blank, but startled by something, I started to run away again. The mud caked on my face and elbows crumbled and fell. I had to run away endlessly from memories I couldn't escape from.

I rushed to catch up to my younger self. He was running faster. To catch him, I had to run faster. I splashed mud with my feet, and I slipped many times. I plopped down in the mud and sprawled in it. Finally, I caught up with him. I grabbed his shoulders and turned him around.

He looked up at me with his frightened eyes. His eyes spoke to me and asked me what was happening to him. I couldn't tell him anything. "You're going to be okay..." The words came up through my throat, but I couldn't utter them out loud. The words I could say easily to others, but why was it that I could not say them to myself?

I embraced the scared boy in my arms. I felt his drenched body and pounding heart. I spoke slowly, stammering, "Wait just a little longer. When you grow up a bit, you'll meet wonderful friends. When you are with your friends, you'll become a better person. Then, you'll be fine. So wait just a little longer, and hang in there."

With that, I hugged him harder. My eyes welled up. I couldn't hold it anymore and cried.

I had no idea how much time had passed. When I opened my eyes, the little boy, me, was gone. I wiped my eyes and looked at the sky. It was clear without even a wisp of cloud and it was quiet. There was no trace of rain anywhere.

NamJoon

17 August Year 22

It had been five days since SeokJin came forward, disclosing his father's illegal dealings. The raging wind which had started with the newspaper report had not died down; transformed into a bigger whirlwind, it was swallowing up the whole city.

"There is no end to people's greed." "It doesn't matter how much you have. You always want more." Everyone had something to say.

More disclosures followed. The connection between Assemblyman Kim ChangJun, the mayor of Songju, the president of Youngjin Engineering & Construction, and the head of the redevelopment committee was in the foreground of the news. People protested and demanded that Kim ChangJun and the mayor of Songju step down, and it was suggested that Kim's chief aide, Song JunHo, who had disappeared, was the key player in all the dealings.

There were people who worried about having the redevelopment plan nullified. The regional media voiced their concern over putting a stop to the important project for the area just because of unprecedented corruption. They emphasized the necessity of redevelopment along with the financial loss that would be caused by this incident.

I read all the articles and news comments, but the whole course of events that had led to this was complicated and difficult to understand. If I listened to the supporters of the redevelopment plan, they seemed right, but if I listened to the opposition, they seemed right too.

Fortunately, because they put a stop to the plan, Yangji Children's Home and the container village were given a moment to take a sigh of relief.

The people didn't look kindly at SeokJin, who was in the middle of this tornado. "He reported his own father. He must have a motive for doing it."

When I had seen him at the container a couple of days ago, he had seemed unperturbed. I wondered how long it would take for all this to go away. I wasn't sure if it ever would, and it made me afraid.

SeokJin

20 August Year 22

They put a stop to the redevelopment plan and arrested the people involved in the corruption one at a time. My father was not an exception. Because he was in the middle of it all, he was most criticized. The house was surrounded with reporters when I came back after the interview. The landline phone was pulled out, and our mobile phones rang incessantly.

Dad was in the den. I hesitated for a long time before knocking on the door and going in. He was looking at something, but he put it in the drawer and turned to me.

"I'm sorry, Dad." I knew what I said could not possibly solve the problem. Dad didn't say a word. I stood there. His phone started ringing. So did my phone. We heard a commotion from outside.

"Go and get some rest." He stood up and went into the inner room.

Since the interview, people had poured out endless news reports. There was enough news to make people discombobulated. Even I couldn't tell what was true or false. What turned out to be the biggest problem for Dad was Uncle JunHo. He had disappeared right after the news of his involvement.

For days, they reported that he had handled the kickbacks and dual contracts. The amount, which was much bigger than what I'd discovered, had been handed over through Uncle JunHo.

Speculations snowballed. Some saw him as the very center of the corruption. Some said that my dad had made him flee to overseas, or that he would turn up in a body bag soon. Some tried to have him take the rap for the whole thing. Some claimed that my dad was using him to weasel his way out of it.

Dad looked tired when he came home after being interrogated for hours by the police. They asked him for the whereabouts of Uncle JunHo, but he didn't tell them.

My guess was that Uncle had pocketed some money behind my dad's back. It probably wasn't much. Unlike what people were saying, Uncle JunHo wasn't ambitious or brazenly greedy. He was more like someone who blunders over a small amount, and ends up walking into a bigger blunder to make up for his first mistake.

One day I overheard Dad's phone conversation. He said we had to find him before Youngjin Engineering & Construction did, the company involved in the whole incident. Uncle JunHo had been reported as the one who closed the illegal deal with the company and received a huge kickback.

I realized things might be more serious than I'd thought. Uncle JunHo might be pursued by the company people. Or he might be hiding somewhere, trying to figure out a way to vent his frustration somehow.

Things escalated. People petitioned to disclose every illegal deal committed by my father and Uncle JunHo, and the protests for and against the redevelopment became more violent.

Walking back and forth in front of my dad's den, I thought about whether all this was the result of my decision. Whether I was too hasty to disclose it. Whether I had brought on this irreversible catastrophe.

I was terrified. If I hadn't come forth, something worse could have happened. However, it didn't mean that things were okay now. I was afraid to open my eyes every morning. And I couldn't bear to look at my dad.

NamJoon

22 August Year 22

After work, I went back to the container. I had to use the flashlight function on my phone to light the way. The street was darker than usual. It was hard to see with just the hazy moonlight.

As soon as I got to the container village, I saw someone sitting in front of my container. Who was that? I knew everyone around my place.

He looked drunk. After seeing me, he staggered up. I thought I'd seen him somewhere, but couldn't figure out where. I approached him with caution.

"Everything is ruined because of you," he said. He looked a sight. He was bleary-eyed, and his white shirt was all crumpled up. "You talked SeokJin into this, didn't you? You ruined everything." He kept babbling about things I couldn't understand.

He walked toward me making threats but, too drunk, he ended up keeling over. I asked him if he was okay. When I knelt down over him, he grabbed my collar. He reeked of booze. I tried to loosen his grip, but he resisted adamantly.

The next moment, I lost my balance and I fell over. Because he was still holding onto my collar, we rolled on top of each other on the pebbles.

"NamJoon!" A flashlight shone in the dark and it landed on the man's face.

When he grimaced and twisted his body, pushed his hand away and stood up. The man staggered to his feet and said, "You haven't seen the last of me." And he walked away.

"NamJoon, who was that?" WooChang stepped closer with the flashlight in his hand.

HoSeok

24 August Year 22

On the bridge over the Yangji stream, I was looking down on the railway. The station announced a rocket train coming into the platform. The people got on the train one by one.

And with another BEEP, the rocket train was launched. I felt the wind blowing from it on my back. I watched the rockets zooming in and zooming out. As I watched the train becoming a distant blur, I wondered where it was going. Was it going to Hagok?

On the other side was Songju. From this distance, it looked peaceful and dull. It was hard to believe that it was the very place of chaos that had lasted for weeks. With the redevelopment pushed back, the orphanage people were able to take a breather. On the surface at least, things were returning to normal.

But were they really? Could the future be changed that simply? Sometimes everything changed or things got messed up because of one tiny mishap. The problems you thought were solved could be hiding somewhere ready to jump on you when you were least expecting them.

I walked away from the railing. The night wind felt cool. Thinking vaguely I was headed home, I started walking. Songju sometimes felt as small as your palm, but other times, it felt terrifyingly big. My room on the rooftop seemed more far away than usual.

SeokJin

25 August Year 22

I thought long about sending this text... They are not going to clear the container village now, are they? And the fire accident won't happen, right? NamJoon said he met a strange man in front of his container the other day. He was short with a round face. Is he someone you know?

When I got this text from TaeHyung, I understood the source of the strange anxiety that had lasted for days. The man had to be Uncle JunHo. He must have gotten drunk and harassed NamJoon.

I had succeeded in ending the time loop, but since then, too many new things had happened, and I couldn't predict at all what result would be brought about by my actions. I couldn't eliminate the possibility that an accident irrelevant to the clearing of the village could occur. It was out of my hands now.

I called NamJoon. The ringing continued for a long time. I turned on the car engine and stepped on the accelerator. It might be nothing, but I could only be reassured after I saw it with my own eyes.

When I turned to the right toward the railway, there was heavy traffic. I craned my neck out the window but couldn't really see a thing. I called NamJoon again, but he still didn't pick up. It was way past rush hour, but the cars were stuck on the road.

I parked the car by the roadside and started running. Soon, I saw the container village. There was no fire. No one there to force the people out. No hired thugs. But I couldn't help feeling apprehensive.

When I got closer to the place, I smelled something. When I thought it must be gasoline, a fire erupted from NamJoon's container. And I heard someone screaming a name. Was it NamJoon? I turned the corner.

Uncle JunHo was there. I didn't recognize him at first with his hair disheveled and his sodden clothes. And there was a gasoline canister by his feet. "Uncle, what the hell are you doing?" He stared at me. He sneered. And he started to giggle. And his knees buckled, and he plopped on the ground.

I ran to him. "What have you done?" He reeked of booze.

"This is not fair," he said. "Not fair!" he screamed.

At that instant, NamJoon ran towards us. He was holding a small plastic bag in his hand. NamJoon threw it down on the ground and ran to the burning container. Instant noodle cups rolled out of the plastic bag.

"NamJoon, no!" I screamed, but NamJoon jumped over the flame and threw himself against the container door.

NamJoon

25 August Year 22

I landed flat on the container floor. Made of iron, the container was filled with so much heat that I couldn't keep my eyes open. I narrowed my eyes and tried to see. WooChang was there. Ten minutes ago, I'd left saying, "I'll go and buy some instant noodles."<

I turned toward a coughing sound, and WooChang was all curled up in the corner. "WooChang, are you okay?" I took a blanket and wet it with a water bottle, and I covered WooChang with it. Pointing to the door, I told him, "You have to run to the door. WooChang, you can do it." But the door was soon surrounded by huge flames from outside. I gripped WooChang's hand. "When I say three, you run to that door. One, two..."

Just then, something toppled down in front of the door - the construction materials that had been piled up next to the container. The flames rose high amid a cloud of dust. Scared, WooChang and I stepped back. We had no exit.

Clang-dang. I turned to the sound and saw SeokJin through the window. He was trying to pull off the security grille. I stepped on a chair, and with the wet towel wrapped around my hand, I tried to push out the window. The wet towel sizzled when I put my hand on the heated window frame. Outside the window, SeokJin was trying to pry out the grille with a stick. I coughed from the smoke. Because of the heat, I couldn't breathe or keep my eyes open.

Finally, there was enough space for WooChang to escape. "SeokJin, be careful!" I threw WooChang through the window to SeokJin. And I had no strength left. The container was filled with smoke. I heard the sirens coining from afar. After taking a couple of steps back, I collapsed. And I slowly blacked out.

SeokJin

25 August Year 22

"NamJoon!" I called him but nothing. "Kim NamJoon!" I couldn't see the inside of the smoke-filled container. "Hang in there! The fire engine is coming!" Nothing.

I tried to pull off the grille and call out NamJoon's name at the same time. The smoke was everywhere, inside and outside the container. BOOM. A metal ladder toppled down on the container. "Kim NamJoon!" I screamed his name again.

It was then that NamJoon stuck his towel-wrapped arm through the window. I clutched the window frame and pulled it as hard as I could. After pulling it off, I held out my hand. NamJoon grabbed it. I gave it everything I had and pulled NamJoon out.

"Here!" someone yelled. The paramedics came running with a stretcher.

NamJoon

25 August Year 22

When I opened my eyes, I was lying in the middle of the road. I saw the leafless trees and the white sky above them. And huge snowflakes fell. I sat up. And I saw the white chalk mark of a person where I had been lying. How did I get here? I looked around.

"Why are you here?" I turned to the voice, and I saw JongHun sitting on his scooter. He didn't look changed at all. "Why are you here?" I asked, but interrupting me, JongHun pointed to the backseat of his scooter. As I got up, I felt something sharp in my hand. A piece of the scooter headlight I had left behind. When I got on the scooter, it lurched and got going. The wind was blowing on us, and soon I felt the hot air. I shut my eyes.

"Kim NamJoon! Wake up!" I opened my eyes again, hearing someone calling my name. SeokJin was looking down at me. Behind him, I saw a white curtain and medical equipment. Only then did I realize I was in the hospital. And the last thing I remembered was grabbing his hand.

"Am I okay?" I sat up and looked down at my hands and feet. "You passed out from inhaling too much smoke." I nodded, looking at my unhurt hands and then my palms.

"Bye" was what I had heard sitting on the backseat of the scooter.

JiMin

26 August Year 22

I bolted up. I took out my phone and saw the breaking news: Fire at the Illegal Container Village in Songju. Suspected Arson. I called NamJoon but no answer. When I uploaded the news link to our chatroom, a picture showed up. SeokJin and NamJoon covered with soot. They looked like they were in the hospital.

Everyone's texts arrived at the same time: Are you okay? Where are you? What happened?

NamJoon replied: We were at the fire, but nothing happened. We are okay.

You are really okay, right? You survived, yes?

To TaeHyung's text, NamJoon replied: You didn't forget already, did you? We said we shouldn't die, remember?

SeokJin

30 August Year 22

I went back to my everyday routine. But everything had changed. I had to change too. No, I had to go back to being me.

When she saw her diary, which she was sure she had lost, she couldn't hide her surprise. Her favorite movie, places, flowers, and future dreams were all in the pages. They were the things I wanted to do for her. I couldn't tell her I was sorry. Her red diary was between us like an intersection signal.

All I wanted was to make her happy and make her smile. And I wanted to be a good person. If I did what the diary said, I thought I could be that person.

But it didn't happen that way. The harder I tried to become someone else, the more distant I grew from her. Even when things became so bad to the point of being irreparable, I worried about revealing my true self and her leaving me, disappointed. I desperately tried to hide and turn away from myself. As you cannot put a period at the end of a sentence without a subject, after losing myself, I circled around the same place, unable to take a step forward.

I know now. The me who fails and blunders is still a part of me. Only when I was honest with myself, no matter how cruel or painful it might be, would I be able to take the next step. I stood up. She didn't stop me.

I walked out to the street and took my cap off. When combed my hair with my fingers, all those hours when I had tried so hard to be someone else slipped away through my fingers. I turned and saw myself reflected in the glass window. The pallid face, pale lips, and skinny shoulders. I looked raggedy, but that was me. I smiled. And the reflection in the window smiled with me.

YoonGi

30 August Year 22

The first firework shot up and soared into the night sky. The people crowded by the stream all went ooh and aah. It was the annual Fireworks Festival held by Yangji stream at the end of the year. We all lay down at the edge of the grassy plaza, staring up at the sky.

The second and the third fireworks flew up into the sky. No one said a word. We watched the fireworks lighting up the sky and falling limply down back to the stream.

We still had so many problems ahead of us. We all respected SeokJin's courage, but that did not solve all his problems. It might've made things more complicated for him. And it was the same for TaeHyung, JiMin, and HoSeok. We still struggled with the problems from last year, and we might come together here next year with the same problems without any means to solve them.

The fireworks lit up the sky again. Sounding like they would split the sky in half, they exploded in the night sky and dissipated. Some exploded in blue and green like a veil, and some lit up like cherry blossoms. The lights, which were small and not much to look at, soared and lit up the sky as they disappeared in their own flames. They were all different and different colors, and they were all beautiful.

Fireworks are beautiful because they are so ephemeral. They're precious because they're evanescent, and because they're evanescent, we have to remember them.

We knew everything would one day disappear, but we were all gathered under the fireworks. When we are together, a moment is transformed into an eternity. I decided to believe that something is left behind even after all the fireworks are gone. And for now, just believing that was enough.

I turned and looked at my friends. When HoSeok saw me, he grinned. JiMin looked up, took a sip from his drink, and handed it to us. NamJoon took it and finished it.

"Got any beer?" Hearing SeokJin, I gave him a beer. "Hey, Kim TaeHyung!" TaeHyung intercepted that beer and when it went down the wrong pipe, it came spewing back out of his mouth. It made everyone stand up.

My eyes landed on JungKook. He was looking down at his phone. I had received a call from HoSeok. When he said he was worried about JungKook, I told him I'd look into it.

I hadn't noticed it until then because of all the stuff going on with SeokJin. That JungKook had not dropped by my workroom or called me ever since he got out of the hospital.

JungKook

30 August Year 22

"JungKook!" YoonGi called me, so I looked up. His face was saying, "What are you doing instead of enjoying the fireworks?"

So I looked up at the night sky. After some sounds of explosion, the fireworks lit up and soon they were gone. "This is fun? They're there one minute and gone the next." When I looked back at the phone, my character had been shot down. I spat out a curse.

"JungKook, come and see me at the workroom after school. Let's talk," said YoonGi.

"If I get time," I spat out in response and started a new game. BOOM. Fireworks again in the sky. I pulled down my hood to cover my face.

Why had I come? This was stupid. If they could've told me the truth, they would have a long time ago. I felt as if they had all left and I was the only one left behind.

I got up. Even if they were to tell me now, nothing would change. If you do a misdeed, there will be consequences. If you lie, you should be ready to pay the price. Someone called me back, but I didn't turn around.

I pressed the phone screen really fast. The guns went off, killing two or three enemies. I took two more steps. I saw more enemies. They had black bandanas and masks, but I knew. An evil intention cannot be camouflaged. A lie spoken with a pretty face still cannot be forgiven.

I fired my gun. There were six dead bodies rolling by my feet.

SeokJin

27 September Year 22

Starting with my dad, the people involved in the redevelopment plan and the illegal dealings were locked up behind bars one by one. My dad refused any visitation. The court appointed lawyer looked helpless as he told us that my dad admitted to all charges. My dad had not chosen to use his own lawyer.

The police were still after Uncle JunHo, who had fled after starting the fire at the container village, but they had no clues as to his whereabouts. As he was still a fugitive, I still had to deal with my emotions.<

The investigation continued, and I had numerous interview requests from major newspapers. I even had calls from broadcasting company producers. I refused everything. Wherever I went now, school or downtown, I felt people's glances, which I knew would happen.

I wanted to return everything to its place, but now I felt as if I had arrived somewhere far away. Was this what I wanted? If I were to go back, would I make the same choice? If I didn't jump in to save NamJoon, or ask TaeHyung for help, or act so coldly toward HoSeok, then would this not have happened?

I shook my head almost out of habit. Not in denial. It meant I had no way of knowing now. If I had made a different decision, the future would've been changed. Perhaps, there could've been a better future waiting for me. But I had no way of knowing now. I did my best, and I wanted to believe that the future now was the best one possible.

At today's court first hearing, my dad admitted to all charges and gave up his right to defend himself. As he was walking out of the courtroom, he turned and looked at me. He looked peaceful and calm, a look that I had never seen before. And for a fleeting moment, there was a sense of lightheartedness in his expression. I watched him disappear. I was seeing that expression for the first time, but I knew. That was my dad's true face.

When I came home, I ran to the inner room. I walked in through the half open door. Dad's notebook from his high school days was on the desk. And on the last page, he had written: I found the map of my soul. Everything ends here and now.

Epilogue: The World Turned Upside Down

JungKook

XX XX Year XX

I opened my eyes. It was dark everywhere. As if I was floating in an empty space with everything gone. My fingertips felt strange, so I looked at them. Something sticky and slippery dripped from my fingertips. I peered into where it had fallen. Nothing. Just darkness.

Where am I? What's going on? I asked myself, but instead of an answer, laughter escaped my lips. The chuckling sound hovered around me like the sticky mass of liquid.

The left upper space slowly became bright. I tried turning my head, but I couldn't really move my body. I didn't feel uncomfortable. It didn't hurt anywhere or feel tiring. I just couldn't move well, as if I was floating in sticky air.

The faint lights became stronger as they came at me. And in one moment, they got to my fingertips. Pain flooded over me. I felt burned or frozen. As if I had been burned by scorching ice.

There were more rays of light coming down around me. It became too bright. I curled up. I tightened my legs and arms. I struggled to step back. I tried to run away. The lights invaded me through my fingertips, my arms and shoulders, and my ears and cheeks. I screamed. But my screams turned into liquid mass and floated around me. I tried twisting my body as hard as I could.

"It'll be more painful to live than to die. Do you still want to live?" I remembered it from somewhere.

In the next instant, my vision turned upside down. My body flipped and so did my surroundings. For a while, I couldn't see a thing. My eyes felt as if a grain of sand was in them, but I saw something hazy in the distance.

Was it a light? No, it was much brighter, bigger, and wispy. Floating and motionless, it looked down on me. After staring down on me for a long time, it began to take on a definite shape. It was the moon. I shifted my eyes to look around. I began to see things.

I was floating in space. There was a big hole below me - a huge, bottomless, gaping hole. I looked up again. I saw the moon at a faraway distance. I was floating somewhere between the moon and the hole. And suddenly, I had a thought: That is not the moon. That's a big hole in the sky.

Something was about to begin. Maybe I had been waiting for that. I tried to remember when I had started waiting. But I couldn't remember anything. a moment is transformed into an eternity.

We knew everything would one day disappear,
but we were all gathered under the fireworks.
When we are together,
a moment is transformed into an eternity.

YoonGi
30 August Year 22

Editor's note:

This text has been retyped from the original English language edition of The Notes 2.

While very close to the original text, there are a few changes made for readability.

  • The clothes worn by patients in the hospital were described as a "uniform" - this has been changed to "patient gown" or "hospital gown" for clarity.
  • The scaffolding tower at the beach was described as an "observatory" - as this word in English traditionally means a domed building for astronomical study, this has been changed to "lookout tower" for clarity.
  • In various places, the “map of the soul” was described as being "wrecked" – this has been changed to "ruined" as it felt more accurate.
  • The description of the storage shed at the arboretum has been expanded for clarity.
  • In several places, verb tenses have been adjusted to better fit the past tense used in the overall text.
  • Lastly, in paragraphs where there was more than one speaker, paragraph breaks have been inserted to make the conversation easier to follow and closer to traditional English punctuation.