After three hours of hiking in the countryside, Jungkook was hungry, to say the least. He stumbled forwards and wrapped his arms around the waist of his girlfriend, Tzuyu, burying his nose into her hair.
‘Please,’ he groaned. ‘Can we please stop for lunch, now?’
They were walking along some dirt road in the middle of nowhere, with green trees lining either side. Occasionally, a sneaky squirrel would dart out from between the trees and scamper across the road, or an exotic bird would flutter overhead.
It was Tzuyu who had begged for a holiday – somewhere away from the nature-lacking streets of Seoul. Per recommendation from their Japanese friend Sana, the two headed to South Japan for a break, and after a day of relaxing around the pool in their hotel, Tzuyu insisted they do something active in the outside world.
Tzuyu snorted and placed her hands gently on top of Jungkook’s own, rubbing her thumbs almost absently along his wrists.
‘Just a little further,’ she insisted. ‘We can’t have lunch by the side of a road, Kookie. How about we stop on the other side of that tunnel?’
Jungkook lifted his head to see the tunnel she was pointing to. It looked like the underneath of a bridge, but stood alone. Made of red, ivy clad bricks, it was a spot of colour in the otherwise green wood.
Jungkook sighed dramatically. ‘Fine,’ he grumbled, allowing Tzuyu to lead him by the hand towards the entrance. A light breeze drifted out and curled around the two. It smelt slightly musty, like an old library, but with something almost bread-like and soap-like. Neither could place where they had smelt it before, but it was familiar.
Tzuyu drew alongside Jungkook as they stepped into semi-darkness, shuffling cautiously along a stone road. It was slightly cold and damp, and felt like it went on for eternity. But, eventually they saw light and emerged into a meadow on the other side of the tunnel.
‘Wow…’ Jungkook breathed.
It was an ocean of waving green grass dotted with flowers, the sun shining brightly down onto it from a pale blue sky.
‘Wow is right,’ Tzuyu agreed, taking a few more steps into the tall grass.
‘Can we eat lunch now?’ Jungkook asked hopefully.
‘Yeah... Let’s go find a good spot.’
Side by side, they headed deeper into the field, which was seemingly endless. Until they broke the line of grass and found a dry, rocky river. Large flat stones lined the bed where there had obviously once been water, with some weeds peeking out from between them. The grass resumed on the other side, but Tzuyu could barely see some grey, clay-tiled roofs over the hill on the other side.
‘I bet that was a theme park,’ Jungkook commented, breaking through the grass after Tzuyu. He put his hands in his pockets as he surveyed the scene. ‘There used to be loads of them, but then they all got abandoned because of the economy or something.’
He gazed sadly at the river, wishing, for some reason, that water flowed there.
Tzuyu didn’t move, and continued to gaze out at the river. Suddenly, her vision flickered.
Now, the sky was dark and star-studded. Lights reflected off the still surface of an impossibly large body of water, reflecting a row of bright red buildings that adorned the opposite shore.
She tore herself away from the scene, seeing once again the bright midday and ocean of rippling green grass. Jungkook was gazing down at her, a worried crease between her brow.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
‘Y-yeah,’ Tzuyu replied. ‘Sorry.’
‘Are you sure?’ her boyfriend asked, slipping an arm around her waist. Then, his eyes drifted towards the now dry and rocky river. ‘For a moment, I could have sworn…’ He leaned towards the river bed, taking a small step as if he was going to cross it.
‘No!’ Tzuyu cried, interrupting and wrapping her long fingers around the wrist at her hip in an iron grip. ‘Bad things happen if you cross that river without… without…’
‘Without what?’ Jungkook asked.
A blurry image appeared in Tzuyu’s mind’s eye – a young boy with short hair, a white tunic adorning his willowy form. Then, bizarrely, a flying white dragon swooping in and out of fluffy clouds.
‘Mm… maybe you’re right. This place isn’t on any guidebooks or maps. It’s probably condemned,’ continued Jungkook, examining the row of old, tiled rooves peeking over the hill. ‘We should probably get out of here.’
Tzuyu nodded in agreement. The pair began to pick their way back across the picturesque meadow, sights set on the little tunnel they originally entered. Just before they were going to head inside, Tzuyu turned to look at the landscape. That odd-smelling breeze – something familiar and completely new all at once – curled invitingly around her. It could have just been her imagination, but was that wind chimes carried to her ears by the wind?
She turned a final time to see Jungkook staring quizzically at her. Wordlessly, she laced her fingers with his and they walked into the dark depths of the tunnel.
‘Do you believe in… reincarnation?’
‘Well… they haven’t disproven it, so I guess it could be real. Why?’
‘Mm… no reason.’