I walked into the woods, my feet feeling heavier with each step. I had walked for what I believe has been 6 hours. And this was my third day walking in hopes to find anything that wasn't destroyed. I had a relatively heavy rucksack too which didn't help. The war had just broken out and I had to run from my hometown, and hopefully come back with some supplies to help my suffering family. Every crunch of the leaves eventually became a headache to listen to, my head pounding at every minimal noise that could be heard.
I feared that if I couldn't find anything soon, I'd die out here. Who knew what I could encounter in this place, either wild animals. Or just really evil people. It wasn't a secret that bad luck ran in the family. The only luck my family would have this year is a daughter well enough to look for help. If this didn't succeed, nothing would. I looked down upon my shoes, there was no way I'd make it another day with those. What more could I do? There wasn't exactly a chance that I'd find a town magically around the corner.
But to my surprise, that is exactly what I did. Or well someone. He was young, and he was chopping wood quite aggressively. Sweating visibly, making his abs stand out in his dirty tank top. He didn't notice me, he only kept sighing loudly, his body handling the cold air better than I ever could. "Excuse me?" I carefully asked, walking up to him. This was quite risque, but it was now or never. He stopped what he was doing, keeping the same scary face he turned to me, slowly.
"Do you know the way to the closest village?" I asked him with my kindest voice. He pointed towards what seemed like smoke in the air. "Follow the smoke and you'll find my father. The head of the village. I'd suggest you don't though, the war has been making it difficult for us as it is" He said quietly, his deep voice complimenting his very serious expressions. I felt my whole life spirit fade away as I stared into his dark eyes. What should I do now?
The silence was awkward as he continued chopping the wood, throwing pieces of logs in a basket. "Please, I've been walking for 3 days, I'm in serious need of help, I have money" I begged him, and he sighed deeply in response, stopping once again.
"Fine" He hesitated, putting his axe in the basket. And with that he walked me to my surprise, a quite small town. A village even. And it wasn't modern like the town I came from, this was people who didn't associate with others. To describe it better: it feels like I walked straight into my grandparents era.
"What exactly do you want?" he asked, not looking at me, still walking forward. His side profile was crazily beautiful. It was like looking at those paintings a neighbor of mine would paint. She lived down the street across our own, she was poor, but painting kept her alive. In more than one way, both literally and spiritually. Rich people loved the way she would paint, and often traveled long ways to buy a piece from her. They loved the way she would paint beautiful things, and people. He looked like one of those people. It made me wonder how that lady was doing now.
"You're gonna walk into something if you keep staring like that" He said, interrupting me from my fantasy. I just coughed. "Uh, erm- the war broke out recently, and my family is sick, so I came to look for some medicine" I quickly said, watching the path ahead of me.
"I think we can help with that. '' He nodded, a little pout showing on his lips. Still serious as ever though. I still wasn't sure if I could trust him, there were so many things that could go wrong in an isolated village like this. But I didn't really have much of a choice, it was death here. Or death alone out in the wilderness. We continued walking until he suddenly stopped in front of a house. A teeny tiny bit bigger than other small houses around here.
"My father is the village head, you'll have to speak with him" And so we did. And he told me I could stay here for as long as I needed, they'd give me some medicine, and even some rituals and spiritual things to help my family get better. Of course in exchange for some help and a tiny sum of money. I was told to go and help the village head's son, Namsoo. And the first couple of days, it was simply wood chopping, and delivering that out to the villagers. But as the days passed, I started becoming aware of what the real problem was. And it was way bigger than I first would have thought.
I looked at the ground, a pool of blood was on it. It was new, fresh even. It reeked, I could immediately tell this wasn't the first time blood had been shed here. "What- what is that?" I asked him, feeling sick to my stomach. And before I knew it, Namsoo's hands were stained with blood. Holding up a chopped kitten's head. My stomach twisted watching the blood drip from it, and before I could help myself, I threw up in front of him. What was wrong with him? What in the world were they doing to the poor animals?
"What the hell are you doing?" I shouted at him. He didn't budge, he didn't show any sort of emotion when killing that poor animal. I turned around when I saw him throwing the head into a bucket. Not wanting to see that ever again. This wasn't going to end well.
"We have rat problems" He simply stated, and I didn't look at him the entire time he kept on killing the kittens. Covering my ears at the sound of them, pretending I had never been here. Hoping it'll somehow spare me from the trauma that was to come. But it wasn't over yet. In fact the trauma had just started. And I'd soon come to know that. He suddenly grabbed my arm, and I looked down upon his blood stained hands. Screaming my lungs out at his touch.
"Snap out of it" He said warningly, making me shut up at once. He turned me around, locking his dark eyes with mine. There was blood splattered across his face, his face that I once found beautiful. There was a dark aura to him that I couldn't quite explain. All I knew is that I had to get out. Quickly. "You do know why we do this?" He asked, shaking my body violently. He explained it all to me, I assumed. I was so out of it I could barely even hear anything. But there was one line that lingered on my mind from his rambling.
"They eat the flesh off our skin"
This was my last day here, thank God. Things had started becoming more and more messed up as the days went by. I’d seen the rat problem, it was as if the place was cursed. I quickly gathered all the herbs and medicine and put it in my rucksack. I'd have to help out Namsoo again today. I was in a good mood, so I figured it wouldn't be so bad coming early. I could see him chatting with his father from the small cracks of the house. I listened closely, just for fun.
"To be quite honest, I don't like her, she's looking at us as if we're some sort of disease!" Namsoo huffed, giving his father pleading states. "Besides, we're already low on medicine, why are we helping her?" He continued complaining. I already understood this was about me.
"What do you suggest then?" The village head asked.
"Besides… We don’t have nearly enough to possibly give anything away for free" He replied, and even though I could barely see his face I could sense him smirking. Wickedly. I gasped loudly by accident, turning around to run away, and just as I thought I had a chance, I stumbled on my own shoelaces. Harshly tripping on the gravel. It ached like crazy, but I couldn't care less. I needed to get away. But before I could possibly get up again I felt a shoe on my ribcage, an intense pressure that could be no less than a whole ass human.
"Fucking idiot" I recognized his voice at once, it was Namsoo. He pressed harder down, earning my pained cries. Was it normal here to lack basic empathy, to help a girl trying to save her family? "Please, I'm begging you, I did everything you asked me to, please let me go" I cried to him, feeling his eyes shoot holes into my back.
"You're naive, who would possibly let such a pretty woman like you go?"