Staring at the bottle of pills in his hand, Sehun always knew that that's how he would go. The hard plastic in his hands felt the way Sehun had for a long time. He felt cold and rigid, comfortably numb. Just like the bottle. But to his dismay, he wasn't an inanimate object. He was a living, breathing being, at least for the time being. He knew that whatever way he chose to do it, it would hurt. He hoped that with this he would at least be high enough not to feel it.
It's not like Sehun cared what anyone thought of him. All of the nurses in the hospital swooned over him. Or at least, he thought they did. He hadn't been fully conscious for more than 5 minutes at a time. But this time, Sehun was wide awake. He craned his neck, screening the room for someone who could tell him what happened. All he could find were beeping machines, and a person sleeping in the bed next to him. When he tried to stand a sharp pain shot through his side causing him to groan loudly. He pulled up his hospital gown to see heavy gauze wrapped around his thin torso, small red drops pierced the surface. Sehun rubbed his head. Agony had taken over all of his curiosity and he laid back in his bed. Sehun hadn't realized he was groaning until a nurse came in and told him to quit his whining.
"Most people would give their left kidney if it meant they could sleep for three days straight." She said this as she changed the IV drip that was attached to the veins in his hand.
"Three days?" Sehun asked. His voice was hoarse from not being used for so long and he cleared his throat.
"That's right, honey. Bet you still feel like you've been hit with a pile of bricks though, huh?" The nurse laughed at her own pun but Sehun was lost.
"What happened?" Sehun asked, not sure why she found his pain funny.
"Honey, your house caved in," she looked Sehun in the eye for a minute before attending to his bandages, "with you still in it."
Sehun leaned back in his bed. He tried to remember what happened but was only met with snippets. The bottle in his hands. The chalky taste of the pills. The cold tiles of the bathroom floor where he vomited. The sound of cracking and groaning. Then nothing.
"Don't worry if you don't remember it, you were pretty doped up on narcotics." She eyed him as though he might try to deny it but he just nodded like he understood. She took a break from fixing the sheets at the foot of the bed to look him in the face. "How did you happen to have that much oxycodone in your system at one time?"
Sehun glanced at her, the concern in her voice was masked by a cold face. He looked away, suddenly feeling embarrassed for his actions. He never thought he would have to explain to anyone why he wanted to kill himself. "I don't like it here," was what he decided on. Before rolling over and closing his eyes.
When Sehun woke up, the nurse was standing in the doorway. She smiled at him, the wrinkles around her mouth and eyes made her look older than she really was.
"You have a visitor," she said.
She stepped aside and a man stepped into the doorway. He was tall and lanky, but there was something charming about him.
"Who are you?" Sehun asked, knowing he had never met the man before in his life.
"I'm the firefighter who pulled you out of the ground." He ruffled the back of his hair, almost as if he was embarrassed to be standing there talking to him.
"Why did you do that?" Sehun asked, the dead tone to his voice surprised even him. The nurse stepped out of the room, realizing that she wasn't meant to witness this conversation.
"It's my job," the man said. He shrugged his shoulders as if there was no other explanation.
"Well you shouldn't have," Sehun said, the bitterness in his voice bounced off the silence.
The man still stood in the doorway. He opened and closed his mouth, but no words ever came out. When Sehun thought he wasn't going to say anything at all, "well, my name is Chanyeol."
Sehun stared at him, unsure of what to do this this information. "Sehun."
"Well, I'm just doing my job, Sehun." Chanyeol shrugged one more time. He glanced at Sehun before walking or of the doorway and down the hall to what Sehun assumed was the elevator bank.
Sehun signed his release papers. He had been in the hospital for two weeks nursing a broken back and a few head wounds- one of which needed twelve stitches. He was just glad to be out of there. The hospital was too inviting for Sehun's liking. He didn't want to surround himself with nice people. He wanted to fill himself with the bottle of oxycodone that they have him for the pain and a pint of vodka. After he signed the papers the receptionist told him to have a nice day. He grunted in response and walked out of the building. The motion sensors doors opened for him and he was grateful because his back brace didn't allow much movement. He was slowly out the door, the dull ache settling into his spine and down his sciatic nerve. It was easy for Sehun to focus on the pain. That's all he ever did. As he waited for the bus he felt around his pocket for the bottle, popping two of the pills into his mouth. He knew it would take about an hour the medicine kicked in but he could already feel the pain subsiding.
The bus pulled up in front of the hospital and Sehun got on. He stood, holding on to one of the hand bars because sitting was too painful. He put in his music and drowned out the rest of the world and thought about how when he got home he would drown himself in the familiar burn of alcohol. At least, that’s what Sehun wanted to think about. What really was stuck in his mind was the tall stranger who had saved him. Sehun didn’t know why, or when or how, Chanyeol got stuck in his head but he was. He tried to just listen to the words of the song but all he could hear was the deep rumble of, “I’m just doing my job.” He knew that Chanyeol had saved hundreds of people in his line of work, so why did it feel different when it was Sehun. Was it because he wanted to die? Or was it because Chanyeol’s handsome face glimmered when he said his name. Or maybe it was simply because Sehun was so high on morphine that he imagined the whole encounter. It wasn’t until the bus came to a sharp stop that Sehun knew it was more than that. Sehun nearly fell as he looked out the front window the see what caused the hold up. But when his eyes finally settled on the culprit he couldn't believe it. He stared in disbelief as he watched the gaping hole in the center of the street devour cars that couldn't get out of the way. People screamed and ran from their vehicles, hoping to be spared from the monstrous chasm. Sehun watched as fire trucks pulled up from all directions. Half of them block off traffic and the other half treated wounds and tried to pull others from the hole. Sehun thought that this had to be a freak thing, but then he recalled the nurse in his room, 'honey, your house caved in'. It occurred to Sehun that something very strange was happening, but whatever it was, it wasn't a coincidence.
He stood on the bus and watched as the city unfolded before his eyes. Children were screaming, the mothers holding their hands didn’t know where to find safety, and everyone, including Sehun, knew that something was very wrong. A group of firetrucks tried to push through the chaos but didn’t get very far. Sehun watched the men bound off of their trucks and try to help the closest person in need, which, the state the city was in, was everyone. Mass panic ensued as businesses crumbled and every one screamed but no one seemed to know in which direction to run.
Sehun watched as a semi-familiar man wedged his way past the crowds straight up to the sinkhole. The tall man stopped right on the ledge, the tips of his boots were hanging over the hole. He watched as the ground around the man began to crack, his balance giving way under the crumbling Earth. The man turned and tried to run, and Sehun watched as the pavement collapsed beneath him. Chanyeol, Sehun thought. Sehun attempted to run from the bus, but the ache in his head and the pain that sprouted from his back caused him to double over in pain. He forced himself to stand upright as he tried to limp towards Chanyeol. He didn’t know why the urge to save him was so great. Maybe it was the honor code. Chanyeol had saved his life, even though he didn’t want that, but he knew that Chanyeol was just trying to do his job and didn’t deserve to die. So Sehun hobbled through the crowds, pushing frantic people out of his way. He thought he was too late as he plowed through people and an endless line of cars. But when he reached the hole, what he saw was much worse. What he imagined would look like a mess of rubble from buildings and cars, looked more like the inside of a volcano. The dark fumes that reached the surface were wretched and Sehun had to hold his breath to keep from vomiting.
Sehun looked a bit to the left of him. Chanyeol was hanging onto the edge of the pavement with the tips of his fingers. His eyes were wild and filled with panic and Sehun could tell he had been holding his breath. Chanyeol was panting has he held on for his life, trying to keep his hands on the side road, or what was left of it. The ruble dug into his hands causing him to wince in pain but he was more concerned with the dread of falling in the pain in his hands. Sehun walked over to him as fast as he could. He bent down at the knees, seeing that bending at the waist was literally impossible for him. He reached down and grabbed Chanyeol by his biceps, the slickness of his suit making it hard for Sehun to get a good grip on him. Sehun could feel his head going light from pain. His body was rebelling against him as he continued to try to pull Chanyeol up from his foreseeable death. He could feel his vision blurring when he finally got hold of Chanyeol under his armpits and pulled with all of his weight, but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t lift the skinny giant. He pulled and pulled until beads of sweat ran down his brow and into his eyes. Sehun thought he was going to black out from exertion and the pain when he felt someone wrap their arms around his waist. He felt himself being pulled backwards with incredible force and was sure that it had to be a costumed superhero. They got Chanyeol onto the ground who quickly pulled off his mask and gasped for air. He was on all fours and Sehun was flat on his back beside him.
“You guys okay?”
Sehun looked up to see another fireman standing directly in front of them. Chanyeol continued to gasp for air and Sehun just stared. The man was huge, maybe even taller than Chanyeol. He had blonde hair that was caked to his forehead by sweat and a coating of black ash.
“My back is broken,” Sehun said, not sure if the pain he was feeling was from exertion or lust.
“Let me get you to the hospital,” the man said. He reached down and lifted Sehun, carrying him bridal style to try to keep his back as straight as possible.
Sehun was in awe of the beautiful stranger who was carrying him away. He caught himself staring into his dark eyes and wondering what they looked like when they weren’t panicked. He turned his head, and realized Chanyeol was staring at them. He had stood up from his previous position on his knees and watched as Sehun was carried off.
When Shun woke up, this time he knew he was in the hospital. He wasn’t dead, it wasn’t his fault, but he couldn’t feel his legs. He looked down to see if they had been removed, but they were still there. The fireman who had saved him was in the chair beside him. He was asleep and unkempt strands of blond hair covered his face. He was dirty, a fresh coat of ash was still on his skin, and he still had his uniform on, minus the huge jacket. He wore an old gray tank-top and his uniform pants. His boots were on top of his folded jacket under his chair. Sehun would have continued to stare until the man woke up until he noticed someone standing in the doorway.
Sehun looked up from the stranger, “Chanyeol.”
“Morning Sleeping Beauty,” Chanyeol said and chuckled a deep resonating laugh.
“Are you okay?” Sehun asked?
“I made off easy, a few broken ribs and a dislocated should,” Chanyeol shrugged with his arm that wasn’t in a sling like it was no big deal. Sehun saw his face twitch from pain from the movement but he didn’t want to break Chanyeol’s strong facade.
“Chanyeol?” Sehun asked, a hint of fear twinged in his voice.
“Yeah?” He asked a stepped closer to Sehun’s hospital bed, concern registering on all corners of his face.
“My toes… are they moving?” Sehun asked.
Chanyeol’s eyes widened a little in fear before he reached the bed to check. Just as Chanyeol pulled up the sheets of Sehun’s bed, the lights went dark and emergency alarms were blaring. Chanyeol immediately raced out the door the see what was going on and the handsome stranger next to Sehun’s bed jumped from his seat.
“Don’t move,” he said to Sehun as he ran from the room. Like that’s gonna be an issue, Sehun thought.
He covered his ears with his hands as the screeching sound filled the hospital. Doctors and nurses and patients alike were running around responding to emergency protocol.
Chanyeol ran back into the room, “we have to go,” he said to Sehun as he began to unhook all of his wires.
“Go? Go where?” Sehun asked, unsure if he should be wheeled out like this.
“The arena.” Chanyeol said, his voice hard.
“But why?” Sehun knew Chanyeol didn’t have all of the answers but he still had to ask.
“Because that is where the government is going to keep us all.”
Sehun didn’t like the idea, but he didn’t ask any more questions as Chanyeol tried to quickly and carefully wheel him through the maze of confused patients and hurried doctors.
Sehun really didn’t understand why the government was getting involved. He couldn’t see this as a political issue, but he guessed it was a way of keeping the peace.
The arena was huge. Large camps of people gathered in sections on the stadium floor. Families huddled together as parents tried to quell crying children. Husbands went to find officials to find out what was happening as wives rationed out the food that they were allotted. Some people screamed, others cried, and some preached the bible to people who were hopeful for a kinder afterlife. But all of these people had one thing in common: no one knew what was happening. Who decided to crowd the entire city into this cramped arena? It reminded Sehun of the videos he saw on the news of people in the superdome after hurricane Katrina.
There were booths where officials had new refugees sign in and claim their food rations for the week. Sehun wondered what would happen when the food ran out. He didn’t really want to think about that now. Sehun sat in his wheelchair and watched as chaos unfolded before him. Chanyeol had gone off to find an official to speak with about what their plan was. Sehun told him it was futile but Chanyeol insisted.
“Hey there,” a deep voice called out to Sehun. He looked around the arena but didn’t see anyone. “Over here,” the voice said. Sehun turned his head to the right and saw the man who saved him and Chanyeol sitting on his rolled up sleeping bag.
“Hey,” Sehun said, nodding in his direction.
“Sorry for running off in the hospital, I wanted to be there when you woke up.” He brushed away a stray blonde hair from his eyes. He looked tired.
“That’s okay, when duty calls,” Sehun said. His eyes were scanning the crowd for Chanyeol; he’d been gone for a long time.
“I’m Yifan, by the way,” the man said. He stood up from his sleeping bag and moved closer to Sehun.
“Sehun,” he said curtly. He was starting to get worried. Yifan scanned the crowd trying to see what had Sehun so captivated but didn’t see anything.
“Is everything okay?” Yifan asked.
“Yeah, I’m just looking for Chanyeol,” Sehun said, trying to ignore the visible sadness that registered on Yifan’s face. “He’s been gone for a while.” Again the thought crossed his mind that he barely knew Chanyeol. In fact, he didn’t know the guy at all, so why was he so concerned for him?
“It’s very crowded, he’s probably just waiting to talk to someone,” Yifan shrugged like it was no big deal. Sehun knew that Yifan was probably right, that Chanyeol would come back eventually, but he couldn’t stop the fear that turned his blood icy because Chanyeol was the only person who would take care of him now, he was all he had.
Yifan shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. “Well, I guess I’d better be going now,” Yifan said as he started to walk back to his sleeping bag.
“Wait!” Sehun reached out and grabbed Yifan’s arm. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”
Yifan turned around and walked back over the Sehun. They waited in silence, unsure of what to say to each other. Sehun was more concerned with finding Chanyeol than making small talk. It was starting to get dark, and the lights in the arena turned on. They were blaring and they seemed to be bright than the sun itself. Sehun wondered if this was how football players felt as they ran across the field. They waited for what seemed like an eternity before Chanyeol returned. He looked more tired and frustrated than when he left.
“Chanyeol!” Sehun called out and waved him over. Chanyeol walked towards them, carding his fingers through his ruffled hair. “What happened? Are you okay? You’ve been gone for so long.” Sehun knew that he was bombarding him with questions and that he sounded like a jealous boyfriend but he didn’t care, he was just so happy to see him.
“It looks like we are gonna be here for a while,” Chanyeol said, defeat leaking out through his voice. He told them about how the government had appointed orderlies who would keep things calm in the arena. They would ration the food and keep the peace as well as enforce the laws that existed outside of the dome. Sehun didn’t know how they were going to live like this or for how long. His body went rigid when Chanyeol told them that no one was allowed to leave the dome under any circumstances. The three men shared a look of fear. They looked around them as the dome continued to fill with more and more people. At that moment, Sehun knew that his life was never going to be the same again.
That night, the top to the area remained open. Sehun lay on his sleeping bag, placed carefully on his back by Chanyeol and Yifan. Chanyeol slept in the bag to his right. He reached over and touched Chanyeol’s arm, wanting to feel his warmth.
“Are you asleep?” Sehun asked, knowing that he probably was.
“Ungh,” Chanyeol grunted in response, shifting himself in his bag.
“Don’t leave me, okay?” Sehun asked.
“Not a chance,” he said. Sehun could hear the joking in his voice but at the same time he knew he was serious. Sehun didn’t know how Chanyeol could make jokes at this time, maybe because he was sleeping and in a world of his own imagination. Sehun knew that things were only going to get worse and he wouldn’t be able to get through it without friends. So he rolled over and drifted off to sleep, letting the light of the stars soothe him.
As the weeks went by, the rations grew smaller. Sehun could tell that the food was running out and that people were hungry. Some people were sick, a flu like illness was getting around the camps. People seemed to be dropping like flies, including the medical staff. Due to their previous work, Chanyeol and Yifan were put to work in the medical center. Even though they weren’t trained physicians, they had experience with first aid, CPR, and even a few broken bones. Sehun was stuck in his sleeping bag, a brace on his back from when he tried to help Chanyeol. Every couple of hours he would get up from his seated position and stretch his legs. He would walk a few steps before his back ached too much to stand. He would watch the sun move across the sky and he knew that Chanyeol and Yifan would be back from their days as it began to set. He waited, not talking to anyone, not doing anything other than sitting, standing, and occasionally munching on some of their canned beets. He tried not to eat too much because he knew that Chanyeol and Yifan didn’t eat while they worked. Chanyeol always told him that if he wanted to get better he needed to eat so his body would have nutrients, but Sehun could see the bones in his shoulders growing more and more prominent with each passing week.
As the sun finally began to set Sehun was able to make out Chanyeol and Yifan’s tall structures in the distance. They looked tired as they got closer. Sehun was able to boil some water to make some soup for them. It wasn’t much, just what was left of their beets and carrots, but they should be getting more rations in a couple of days. Chanyeol and Yifan sunk down onto their sleeping bags. Both of them looked more exhausted as every day went by. Sehun was tired of sitting around while they did all the work. He poured both of the men some soup into a cup and stood up from his bag.
“I will be back in a little bit,” he said authoritatively.
Chanyeol jumped up, “where are you going?” he asked.
“You’re supposed to be resting,” Yifan said as he swallowed a mouth full of soup.
“I’m going to get a job,” Sehun said. Both Yifan and Chanyeol raised a brow at him, their eyes registering concern as well as amusement.
“What are you gonna do? Be a test dummy for CPR?” Yifan snorted and Chanyeol hit him on the shoulder. Yifan rubbed his sore arm as Chanyeol walked up to Sehun.
“Sehun, you can barely walk, what kind of job do you think you’re going to do?” He was trying to reason with him.
“I will find something,” Sehun said as he turned to walk away. His exit was not as dramatic as he had hoped because he had to walk slowly and had a bit of a limp. He could hear Yifan snickering behind him and Chanyeol hushing him. Sehun didn’t look back. He was determined. If he was going to be stuck in this hell hole then he was going to do something with it. He also hoped that maybe if he had a job he would be able to get some insight as to why the government was keeping them trapped there. Since there was no television, no one was able to watch the new to keep up with the daily happenings of the city. The orderlies made nightly announcements about food supplies, job openings, and deaths in the camps. They also reminded everyone that since they were living in close quarters it was important to be as sanitary as possible to prevent mass diseases. Sehun didn’t know why they wouldn’t tell them what was going on, but he knew he was going to find out.
He walked, or rather, hobbled up to the registration desk. The woman sitting there barely looked up from her paperwork to even notice Sehun standing there.
“Can I help you she said?” she sounded more angry than pleasant.
“I would like to apply for a job, please.” Sehun straightened his back and tried to look taller and more professional. She looked up at him, this time eyeing him more carefully. Sehun tried to keep his face clear of any expression. Her eyes caught hold of his brace and she seemed almost amused.
“The only job openings we have are for clean-up crew or construction to help fill in the sink holes or repair any damage done to the arena.” The clean-up crew were just glorified garbage men and Sehun was clearly unable to do any form of heavy lifting and he knew nothing about construction. But he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
“That’s all there is? Are you sure there is nothing else?” Sehun knew he sounded desperate, but that’s because he was.
She eyed him again and ruffled threw her papers. She came across a clip board which he assumed had the list of jobs. She looked up at him again and then back down at her clipboard. “We seem to have an open position as a teacher. Do you have any experience in education?”
Sehun lied, “my major in college was early childhood education. I was in the process of going for my master’s degree when all of this began to happen.” He hoped that his face was calm and collected and that she wouldn’t suspect him of lying.
She eyed him again. He guessed that he looked like a teacher because she said, “wonderful, you start tomorrow.” Her voice was entirely unenthused as she said it. She handed Sehun some paperwork to fill out and some information about where and when he would be teaching. It didn’t say the age of his students, but he hoped they were young. Sehun knew he could teach children their ABC’s and how to read, but he wasn’t sure if he would be able to teach advanced algebra or world history.
As Sehun walked back to his set up he felt victorious. He knew that Chanyeol and Yifan would be expecting him to come back empty handed. He made his face into an expression of defeat as he neared their sleeping bags. Chanyeol stood up and hugged him right away.
“I was so worried, you’ve been gone for a long time.”
“I’m fine,” Sehun said as he settled down into his sleeping bag, his back aching from standing for so long. He kept his smile off his face as he settled in, seeing that it would be lights out soon.
“Don’t worry, Sehun, maybe once your back is healed you’ll be able to find some work. What was your major even in college?” Yifan asked, trying to change the subject.
“I didn’t go to college,” Sehun said.
“Oh.” Yifan looked away, nervous.
“I didn’t go to college,” Sehun continued, “Because I took over my father’s business.”
“I didn’t know that,” Chanyeol said.
“We owned a meat market,” Sehun said, “I handled the finances.”
“Well I am sure they will be able to find something for you when you’re all better,” Chanyeol said, refusing to meet Sehun’s eyes.
“They already did.”
“What?” Yifan said, sitting up in his sleeping bag to look at Sehun.
“Mm-hmm!” Sehun was proud of himself.
“I’m going to be a teacher.”
“But…” Chanyeol started.
“You have no experience in education,” Yifan finished.
“I know that, but I’m sure that I could teach some little kids their ABC’s.”
“When do you star?” Chanyeol asked as he rolled out Sehun’s sleeping bag for him.
“Tomorrow.” Sehun settled down into his bag slowly, adjusting his back to the best possible positions. “Goodnight,” he said, rolling over onto his side. His eyes were heavy from exhaustion. As the lights in the arena went out one by one, Sehun reminded himself that he was going to make it. Chanyeol draped his arm around Sehun’s waist, careful not to pull on his back. Sehun liked the warmth.
As the sun was rising Sehun rustled around in his sleeping bag. He couldn’t sleep too comfortable because of nerves. He really hoped he would be okay at the job. Chanyeol’s arm was still tightly around his waist. Sehun tried to wiggle his way out, but couldn’t do to his limited back movements. Chanyeol inhaled deeply through his nose as his eyes began to flutter open.
“Good morning,” Sehun said as Chanyeol stretched.
“Mmm,” Chanyeol moaned in response.
It was just starting to get light in the sky and the early morning stirs or bathroom breaks and hungry children filled the arena. The sun was bright that day, strong heat reached them in their sleeping bags. Sehun sat up, and rubbed the sleepiness from his eyes. He felt something itchy on his leg and got concerned that it was a bug. He jumped out of his sleeping bag, and tried to shake it off his leg. But when Sehun looked down, it wasn’t a spider like he had feared, it was a caterpillar. Sehun picked it up off the ground. It was kind of fuzzy, and rather gross looking, but Sehun knew that it was harmless and eventually it would be beautiful. He picked up a cabbage leaf that must have fallen from the soup they ate last night and put it on his palm. He watch as the caterpillar slowly munched holes through the leaf until it was eventually gone. Sehun felt his own stomach rumbling and knew that he was just as hungry as the little bug. As he watch the caterpillar inch it’s way around Sehun’s unfamiliar hand, Sehun was reminded of a story his mother used to read to him. It was called The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It was about a caterpillar that ate everything it could and then cocooned itself and eventually turned into a beautiful butterfly. Sehun didn’t know why or how the idea actually struck him, but he just knew that it would make for a wonderful first day of class.
As Sehun put the caterpillar into one of the empty cans of beets, he made his way over to the bathrooms. The bathrooms were inside the stadium walls, and although the plumbing had been cut off by the last sinkhole, it still worked. As he came out of the stall he saw a sleepy Yifan making his way into the restroom. Yifan didn’t see him at first because he was rubbing his eyes but Sehun just stood there and waited while he rubbed the bottled purell into his fingers. It wasn’t until Yifan had finished using the restroom and went to wash his own hands that he realized Sehun was standing there. Yifan jumped in surprise.
“You scared me,” he said as he reached around Sehun for the hand sanitizer.
“Well you took too long to notice me,” Sehun laughed deep in his chest as Yifan grumbled something about saying hello.
Sehun walked out, “are you excited for work?” Yifan asked as he trailed the shorter man’s steps.
“I don’t know if excited is the right word, but I am excited to find a few things out.”
“Like what?” Yifan asked, his voice got a little deeper and a little lower.
“Like why in the hell we are stuck here and no one is telling us anything.”
“And you think they are just going to tell that to a teacher?”
“No,” Sehun said, his plan not fully thought out, “but I have ways.”
“Sehun,” Yifan reached out and grabbed his arm hard. He was barely speaking above a whisper now. “I have seen the orderlies beat up people who are dying from sicknesses for asking too many questions. Don’t. Get. Involved.”
“I don’t care, Yifan,” Sehun pulled his arm back. “We have a right to know what’s going on, and I am going to find out one way or another, otherwise they can’t keep me locked in here.”
Sehun’s mind was already made up as he walked away. Yifan was still standing in the doorway to the bathrooms as Sehun met up with Chanyeol. “Where is Yifan? We have to get to work.”
“He said the soup wasn’t sitting too well with him,” Sehun lied.
“Maybe I should go check on him,” Chanyeol said, heading towards the restrooms.
“He said he’ll be back soon,” Sehun lied again. He didn’t know why he was lying to Chanyeol or when it became so easy.
Yifan came back and said nothing to Sehun. They ate breakfast in silence which consisted of three scrambled eggs. As they finished up and wiped their mouths the three men stood up and went their separate ways. Chanyeol wished Sehun a good luck on his first day at work and Yifan said nothing. As Sehun approached the table he went to the previous night to hand in the paperwork he saw the group of students he assumed he would be teaching. They were running around in the grass in a small gated of pen. They didn’t look much older than five or six.
“Are you ready?” The same woman from last night took Sehun’s papers.
“Shouldn’t be an issue.” Sehun cupped the empty beets can in his pocket, as prepared for his first day as he was going to be. He walked over to the small gate, opened the door and stepped inside. He grabbed a chair and asked the children to settle down. He lined them up in groups to have them sit down facing him. He bowed to them and introduced himself as Mr. Oh. The children bowed back and said “Hello Mr. Oh” in a loud chorus. He asked them all to sit and they did.
Sehun pulled out the can of beets and set it beside his chair. “What’s that?” One of the children called out. Sehun told them that it was a surprise and cheers of excitement echoed its way around them. As things began to settle down, Sehun pulled out a small copy of A Very Hungry Caterpillar. It wasn’t the actual book because the orderlies didn’t happen to have a copy. So Sehun sat down before work that morning and made his own version. Not all of the words were correct, and the images were not at nice, but he thought it was pretty close to the original. The children listened as Sehun read to them. They laughed at his funny pictures but didn’t get too rowdy. When Sehun was finished all of the children applauded. He took a bow and then asked, “have any of you ever seen a caterpillar before?” The children gave a collective no while some just shook their heads.
Sehun reached down beside him and picked up the can of beets. The children all leaned forward as they tried to see what was inside Sehun’s hand. He slowly inched the caterpillar into his hand which was munch on another cabbage leaf. He held his hand out and the children all groaned in disgust. Some of them even backed up a bit, frightened by the small bug. Sehun pulled his hand back, settling the children down some.
“How many of you like this caterpillar?” None of the children raised their hands, as he expected.
“Well, how many of you like butterflies?” Sehun asked. All of the children raised their hands, their faces lighting up with delight.
“You may not see it now, but soon, this caterpillar is going to turn into a butterfly.” That got the children interested. Sehun went on to tell them about the life of caterpillars and what its like for them when they go into their cocoon and eventually, they emerge a butterfly. Some of the children didn’t understand, others didn’t believe him, and others just drew pictures of butterflies that Sehun kept in a neat pile. As his first day came to a close he promised the children that he would keep the caterpillar alive so that they could experience the transition from caterpillar to butterfly first hand. The children ran to meet their parents as Sehun dismissed them. Some shook his and hand thanked him for taking on this job and others just took their children back to their section of camp.
Sehun walked out of the gate, carding his fingers through his hair. It had been almost two months since his back had broken and they entered the arena. He thinks its time to take the brace off. As he reached camp, he knew Chanyeol and Yifan would be returning from work soon. He lit the small portable fireplaces that were given to each ‘familiy’ and began cooking the canned corn that they had. As the corn cooked he reached around him and unbuckled each section of the brace. He felt lighter and lighter with every cord that was removed from his body. As the brace fell off behind him he stretched up, his spine stretching comfortably. There was still a little bit of pain towards his tailbone but Sehun knew it would wear off with use.
Two tall, hunched, figured made their way towards him. Sehun stood up and ran over to Chanyeol. He ignored the pain in his back and hugged the tall man tightly. Chanyeol hugged him back for a minute but then pushed him away when he realized something was missing.
“Where is your brace?” Chanyeol asked sternly.
“Its been six weeks,” Sehun said. “It was time.”
“How do you feel?” That was the first thing Yifan had said to him since the morning.
“Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon,” Sehun laughed at his own joke. Chanyeol and Yifan looked at each other in confusion but didn’t ask. The men at dinner that night and laid down in their sleeping bags. Sehun felt more comfortable laying down that night than he ever had. That night, the top to the arena never opened.
Sehun woke up to the sounds of what he thought were drums. There was a continuous thud. When he realized it was followed by a groan he knew something was wrong. The lights in the arena were turning on and there was a man on the ground in the center. An orderly stood over him, he was maybe half his age, and continued to hit him with his baton. The man groaned and didn’t move anymore. The sounds of the beating filled Sehun’s ears. His whole body ached with pain from the gore before him. The entire arena was awake now. Some people tried to help the man but they were pulled back by loved ones or threatened by guards to move back. The orderly continued hitting the motionless man until another guard pulled him off.
The man lay on the floor bloodied and bruised. He didn’t move and his eyes were closed. Sehun couldn’t tell if he was alive or dead because of how deformed his face looked.
“Get a medic,” one of the orderlies called out. Chanyeol and Yifan raced to the scene. They were still wearing their pajamas but it didn’t matter. They had a job to do now. Before they were able to carry the man off the orderly put him in handcuffs. The ground where he was laying was soaked in blood.
“Good morning.” One of the orderlies said, his voice deep and booming.
“My name Kim Joonmyeon, but you will address me as sir. And only as sir.” Silence filled the arena except for the children crying in fear. “I will not apologize for this incident tonight. You must all know, that this man, not only tried to steal food from the store rooms, but he then tried to escape. You are not allowed to leave this arena. If you attempt to, you will end up like that man back there. This is your one and only warning. There will be no second chances. My rules have been given to me by the president, and anyone who does not follow these order will answer to me. Now quiet your children, go back to your camps, and do not allow this to happen again.” The lights turned off one by one and the arena went dark. Children still cryed and parents tried to hush them. Sehun returned to his sleeping bag. He did not close his eyes that night.
It had been about four months since the men first entered the arena. Life seemed to be continuing as normal. People got up and went to work, children went to school, and babies were born. The top to the arena hasn’t opened since the first night Sehun was a teacher. His butterfly has long sinced emerged and died. And Sehun has still learned absolutely nothing about why they are trapped in there. He didn’t understand why no one else in the arena questioned the orderlies. Maybe they were afraid.
It must have been the middle of the night when Sehun’s bladder woke him up. Everyone in the arena was sleeping except for a few guards doing rounds. He walked in a daze towards the restrooms. He didn’t bother to turn the lights on as he went in to pee. He was rubbing the last bits of hand sanitizer into his skin as heard voices approaching. They were talking in hushed tones and Sehun hid behind one of the shower curtains. Two men walked in who Sehun assumed were orderlies. They checked the bathroom on their round and stopped for a minute to continue their conversation which they assumed was simply between the two of them.
“I heard that they were piping oxygen into the arena, that’s why the top hasn’t opened.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because the oxygen in the city is running out!” The first orderly whispered, excited about the gossip.
Sehun covered his mouth to hide his gasp. So that’s why they are stuck in the arena.
“But what happened to cause this?” The second orderly asked.
“Nuclear testing.” The first orderly felt so good about themselves spreading the information. Not knowing that Sehun was not even ten feet away from them holding his breath.
“If the people find out, it is going to turn into a massacre,” the second orderly said, coming to the same realization that Sehun had.
“That’s right.” The first orderly said. “But we are running out of food, there is next to nothing left in the store room. They are going to start eating each other if we don’t do something about this.”
“There is nothing we can do.” Sehun heard the second orderly say as they walked out of the rest room, never once noticing Sehun.
Sehun let the air he was holding in rush out in one quick gasp. They had to go. And they had to go now.
“Wake up.” Sehun was standing over Chanyeol shaking him. He whispered to him quietly and hurriedly.
“Sehun? Whats wrong?” Chanyeol groaned groggily.
“Get up, we have to go?”
“Go where?” Chanyeol rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he tried to focus his attention on Sehun.
“We have to leave the arena.”
Chanyeol’s eyes almost popped out of his head. “Are you crazy? Do you remember what happened to the last guy that tried to leave?”
The image of the man lying bloody on the ground returned to his memory. He shook away the fear and pressed on. “I just heard something, something that is worth taking that risk.”
“And what might that be?” Yifan said, sitting up in his sleeping bag.
Sehun relayed the information to them. He told them about the oxygen, about the food, and about the testing. “Which means we need to go.”
“If we leave though,” Yifan countered, “then we are going to die anyway because of the oxygen.
“You may be right,” Sehun said, “but if we can get out of the city fast enough we might be okay.” Chanyeol and Yifan protested while Sehun rolled up his sleeping bag. He grabbed a couple of cans of food and shoved them in his bag. “I’m leaving with or without you.”
Chanyeol packed his things and Yifan watched.
“Are you coming Yifan?” Sehun whispered.
“I am not going to risk my life for a plan that will only lead to my death.”
“Yifan please,” Chanyeol begged.
Yifan just shook his head. “Let’s go,” Sehun said, “we don’t have much time.” Sehun began to jog towards the exits of the arena. Chanyeol looked behind him at Yifan, who just watched them go. He knew Yifan wouldn’t rat them out, but the man was too proud to go.
The two men crouched by one of the walls. There was no way they were getting around the guards. This would for sure lead to their death by beating in front of the whole arena. Sehun looked at Chanyeol who looked just as lost as him when the emergency alarms started going off. Red lights blared throughout the arena but they weren’t bright enough to expose them. The orderlies ran from the door towards the emergency. Yifan was on the floor, ‘seizing’. Sehun knew he had done that for them.
They snuck out of the arena into the early morning light. The air was thin and Sehun immediately felt light headed. He stopped to take a few calming breaths before surveying his surroundings. The both ran quietly through the abandoned streets. Cars were left wide open and houses were empty. Large sinkholes covered the city and Sehun knew that they wouldn’t last long. They had to get out of the city. Sehun knew a place once in the country. He used to go with his parents when he was little. He was remembering the beautiful water of the surrounding lake when-
“Hey you!” Sehun looked behind him. There was a man wearing a gas mask heading towards him. Sehun knew they were in trouble.
“Let’s go!” He screamed to Chanyeol. The man screamed after the as they began sprinting. They ran and ran until they hit an alley that seemed to be okay. They stopped for a second to catch their breath when they saw the guard catching up to them, but he wasn’t alone anymore. Chanyeol and Sehun took off again. Zig-zagging around corners and through alleys until Sehun found an open door. They jumped inside the building and shut the door quickly behind them.
Chanyeol collapsed on the ground as his lungs gave out. He was wheezing from the sprinting and the lack of oxygen. Sehun was doubled over trying to catch his breath which seemed impossible. He looked through a small hole in the door and watched as the group or masked orderlies ran past them. Sehun sat down next to Chanyeol. The air was very thin now and his vision was blurry.
Sehun looked around, they were in a church. The ground they sat on was plain dirt and there was very little in the room. There was a large glass window in the wall in front of them. All of the glass had been blown out, Sehun guess from one of the sinkholes. But beautiful sunlight streamed through. There was a long chair in the middle of the room. It was crooked and lopsided and for some reason Sehun found that beautiful. Sehun thought about the hungry caterpillar. He thought about how caterpillars go through torture when they enter the chrysalis stage and how it reminded Sehun of the arena. Living life in a cocoon filled with dread. He looked up and Chanyeol whose eyes were fluttering shut.
“Chanyeol?” Sehun asked, his voice was weak.
“Hmm?” Chanyeol’s breathing was getting more and more shallow.
“Thank you,” Sehun said. He felt a tear slide out from his closed eye.
“For saving me.” Sehun smiled, feeling freer than he had felt in a long time. He looked up at his savior. Sehun reached his body up and gave Chanyeol a kiss. Chanyeol smiled and wrapped his arms around Sehun. Sehun closed his eyes, his body felt light. He thought about the butterfly he saved for the children. He thought about the feeling he felt when he swallowed a bottle of pills. He thought about the feeling of Chanyeol’s dry lips against his own. And finally, Sehun felt like he was no longer trapped. Sehun felt free. He closed his eyes and let the feeling take over his body. It felt like flying.