December 8, 2015
Kim Junmyeon looks at the train he just rode zoom past him. The weather is cold, prickly even, and he digs his fingers in the pockets of his parka in an attempt to seek comfort, even for just a little bit. His dark brown hair ruffles as a sharp wind comes jostling through the almost empty Kawaguchiko station. Small puffs of vapor escape his mouth with every breath. He shudders, eyebrows furrowing and toes curling, before he walks out of the train station to grab a taxi.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, December, and Kim Junmyeon is on his way to Aokigahara Forest.
Aokigahara Forest, or more commonly known as the Suicide Forest, has come to the attention of Kim Junmyeon when he was doing his research about clinical depression back in college. With its dense forest and icy caverns, it’s easy to be lost in Aokigahara Forest, quite literally and emotionally. This is why Aokigahara is the second most popular place to commit suicide in the world.
And this is why Junmyeon wants to go there now.
“You’re not going to commit suicide, right, young man?” The taxi driver bellows to Junmyeon from the front seat of the car. There’s concern in his voice and Junmyeon’s so tempted to lie, make it easy for the man’s conscience, but he can’t, so he settles with a small smile and a wave of a hand.
“Be careful on the way back, okay?” Junmyeon attempts to change the topic, but the driver’s pitiful look at him says it all. Soon, the taxi revs out of the scene and Junmyeon is left all alone in the eerily quiet entrance of the forest.
The tall trees line up to create a walkway filled with slippery thin ice. The sun is up, yet it barely provides the heat that Junmyeon desperately needs now. The wind here is harsh as it pricks Junmyeon’s face. He zips his parka up and rubs his fingers on the hot pack he keeps on the left pocket of his jacket. Little bits of comfort before death. There’s no one in the forest except an old man staring at him from the corner of the entrance. The old man has grey hair that falls up to the nape of his neck, big bulging eyes that scrutinize Junmyeon’s every move and a scrawny body frame. His back is curved downward and a thick stick supports him. He doesn’t look cold, despite the thin-looking jacket draped over him.
Junmyeon bows and the old man does the same.
“Are you okay, grandpa?” Junmyeon asks as he offers his one and only hot pack and gives it to the old man. The man merely glances as Junmyeon curls his fingers for him, the heat of the hot pack hopefully giving him comfort, as minor as it can be. He looks at Junmyeon – face filled with wrinkles that tell so much stories than his fragile bones can ever say.
“I’m the one who’s supposed to ask you that, boy.”
Junmyeon is taken aback by that. But he always has a ready reaction for scenarios like this. Inhale, exhale. Offer a wide smile, and then change the topic.
“Why are you out on a windy day, grandpa? You need to be somewhere warm.” Junmyeon looks for a nearby place that looks warm enough and sees a glimpse of a cabin with smoke coming out of its chimney a good 20 meters away. He hooks his arms on the elder’s elbows and attempts to guide him when the grandpa shakes his arms away.
“You don’t need to escort me. I live here!” A trace of annoyance decorates the old man’s eyebrows, but it disappears fast. The old man sighs and fishes something out of his pocket. Junmyeon is curious; this old man is probably the last man he’s going to see before he goes to hell.
“Here,” The old man pulls a pack of Maccha Kitkat and hands it to Junmyeon. “This is the last piece of my favourite candy, you can have it.” Bewildered, Junmyeon tries to wrestle his hand out of the old man’s hold, but the grandpa is way too strong.
“You foreigners go here to Japan to kill yourself…” He tsks as he shakes his head. “And you! Such a beautiful, young man…” The old man attempts to hug Junmyeon, body vibrating in the process. Junmyeon helps him by enveloping his arms on the old man as he smiles at the gesture.
At least I met a good old man before I die.
The old man mutters a prayer to Junmyeon before he bids him farewell with final words of “Think twice before you do it, young man!” and “Pitiful, pitiful.” Junmyeon watches as the old man slowly walks out of the path and into the woods where the cabin is located. I’ve thought of it countless of times, grandpa.
He heaves one final sigh before he’s back to his original itinerary.
Up ahead in the actual entrance to Aokigahara Forest are warning signs. Dozens of them. It’s in Japanese, but Junmyeon doesn’t need to learn Nihonggo to understand what it says. He’s been seeing in the internet for the last couple of weeks when he was doing his research about the forest.
Value your life. Think of your friends and families. There is more to life than your current problems. There are people who care for you. Don't commit suicide.
All of the warning signs all boil down to refraining people from committing suicide.
Junmyeon examines the deteriorating status on all of the signages. Clearly, they have been in the forest for so long they should probably serve their purpose already.
Except there are a couple of stubborn people like Kim Junmyeon who just don't want to stop.
With a quick breather, Junmyeon walks pass the signs and finally into Aokigahara Forest.
His research about Aokigahara Forest is nothing like the actual. A beautiful forest near Mt. Fuji, Aokigahara Forest is filled with humongous trees that barely allow light to permeate while its flooring, now spillery with the combination of ice and snow, is littered with frozen dirt and final footsteps.
There’s barely any noise in the forest. Junmyeon can hear his own heart palpitate violently against his ribcage. His breathing falls short with each step closer to where he wants to be. He's already deep in the forest, one where there’s damp grass instead of slipppery ice due to the thickness of the fallen leaves from the trees. He could hear the crinkle of crispy leaves beneath his feet and feel the stale air prickle his very skin.
Junmyeon honestly doesn't know if it's just his brain playing tricks on him, but he feels that there's somebody following him. He looks behind, eyes searching and feelings faltering.
There's nothing, but an empty forest filled with loneliness and remorse.
Junmyeon sighs - one of relief or one of regret - only he knows, as he continues to his destination.
The Japanese government has tried to minimize the suicide rate. From warning signs to anti-suicide campaigns, the local government has tried to stop the suicides done in Aokigahara Forest. But the words circulating in the internet only has the forest becoming more popular than ever as a place to commit suicide on.
Junmyeon finally arrives at the place. He can sense it with the eerie feeling enveloping it. The trees in this part of the forest are thicker and the air a little bit more suffocating. There is little light permeating between the trees and it gives an even more depressing feel to the surrounding. Junmyeon looks around him and sees traces of previous mishaps in the dirt. It sends shivers down his spine.
There's a torn up wallet half-buried on the dirt and a pink handkerchief on the trunk of the tree just a few meters in front of him. Junmyeon stares at the items and looks up only to find a hanged woman openly gaping at him.
This sends Junmyeon tumbling down the floor backwards, breath hitching and eyes widening. He wants to yelp, to scream, to shout, but his voice is stuck in his throat as he continues to stare at the dead woman hanged above.
He can feel something rough beneath his palms and checks it out only to see a cracked doll’s head, its plastic eyes peering at him. Junmyeon yelps and scoots away from it, palms furiously digging through the dirt and shoes kicking wildly. He can feel his heartbeat pound wildly, as if it’s about to explode in mere seconds. His breathing hitch and his eyes water; this cannot compare to what he has seen in his research.
Junmyeon knows now, that no matter how ready he thinks he is; he will never be ready for the sight of lost hope and desperation that lingers in Aokigahara Forest. There are a few bodies on the dirt and some even hang on trees with their belongings decaying with them. Junmyeon fights the urge to puke, to choke, at the idea of these bodies decaying publicly, long forgotten by their own families.
Up above, a bird soars, its wings flapping against thick leaves and tall trees. Junmyeon peers, following the hollow sound it makes, thankful for the sudden distraction. But then he hears the rustling of leaves just a few feet from him. His reflexes are quick. The footsteps are coming close and Junmyeon can hear a faint whistle as he hides behind a huge oak tree. It’s a familiar rhythm and Junmyeon can’t help straining his ears to hear it. Mary had a Little Lamb. What kind of person would calmly sing Mary had a Little Lamb when there are corpses practically everywhere?
The answer comes in the form of a pale, tall man with jet black hair and horribly loud fashion. The man’s hands are inside his jeans pockets as he nonchalantly whistles to his heart’s desires. His jet black hair is scraggly and his eyes searching. The rest of his face is covered by an obnoxious leopard-print face mask and the gold plated pointed earring on his right ear glistens against the morning sunlight. Beneath the moss green bubble jacket is a bright yellow sweater with the words ARMY patched on it, camouflage pants that looks thin from wear and tear and scrubby Chucks that definitely needs to retire.
Junmyeon looks as the man stops whistling and stares at the corpse in the area. There’s the woman hung in the air that he saw a few minutes ago. And also a corpse of a man decaying a couple of trees away, half of its body buried by snow. He cringes at the sight of corpses; but the sight of the man stealing the dead’s material things is, overall, a different matter.
He huffs and puffs. Should he stop the robber or should he just carry on with his objective? But really, who is Junmyeon kidding? Just one look at the corpse has him shivering, sweating cold and panicking and he still plans on hanging himself? He’s scared shitless.
The man is crouched on the floor, his face scrunched up probably because of the foul stench or at the sight of decaying skin, Junmyeon doesn’t know. But he does know that the man has seized wallets and jewelleries already. Junmyeon stares as the man tries to pry the watch of the women hung in the tree and releases a ‘tsk’ when he realizes he’s doing the unthinkable.
“What do you think you’re doing?!”
Even Junmyeon is amazed at his new found courage. He has his fingers curled in a tight fist, ready to fling itself to the stranger if needed. The man merely stares at Junmyeon, as if examining him like a piece of meat, before he slowly stands up. Junmyeon can see now that the man is taller than him, if not leaner than him. He walks towards Junmyeon and that has the latter moving backwards till his back hits an oak tree.
“Don’t you dare lay a hand on me!” Junmyeon mutters defensively.
The man suddenly laughs, eyes crinkling and cheeks stretching. It’s a soft laughter, but it reverberates in the otherwise empty part of the forest. It makes Junmyeon cringe. What if the man is crazy and kills him on the spot? What if he dies not of suicide, but of homicide? What if-
“You know, for someone who wants to die, you seem really afraid.”
The voice comes out as soft and light, if not playful. It’s as if the man is plainly teasing Junmyeon instead of getting caught committing robbery from the dead. Junmyeon looks as the man removes his tacky face mask and reveals a smile so lethal Junmyeon forgets his talking to a robber. The latter takes a few steps towards Junmyeon, closing the distance between them. Junmyeon realizes now that he has the losing end of the string. The robber is obviously bigger than him, if not stronger. He has nothing, but a rope with him. This is it. This is how he is going to end.
Junmyeon closes his eyes from the inevitable. He can feel the robber stand in front of him. He internally says his goodbye to the world, ready for the upcoming pain, but it doesn’t come. Reluctantly, Junmyeon opens his eyes only to see the robber’s face inches away from him, arms on each side of Junmyeon, effectively trapping him.
“You’re pretty cute up close, huh?” A smirk decorates the robber’s face as he tries to fix Junmyeon’s bangs. Caught off guard, Junmyeon’s eyes grow large before he slaps the hand away.
“What do you want?” He barks at the robber.
The robber takes a step back and casually puts his hands inside his jeans pockets, eyes scanning the forest. “Well, considering that I’m stealing from the dead. I probably need money.” He looks at Junmyeon and smiles. “Desperately.”
Junmyeon gulps. There’s something scary about the man’s smile and aloofness. Like he wouldn’t think twice about killing Junmyeon on the spot. Junmyeon feels himself shake. He doesn’t really have a lot of option here. Either he fights the robber or he tries to walk away, but considering how the robber seems accustomed to the forest, Junmyeon knows he can’t run away from the robber at all.
So he does the next best thing.
“This is all I have.” Junmyeon offers the Breitling watch his father gave him when he turned sixteen. It’s the only valuable he has that matters. The robber’s eyebrows encroach, obviously perplexed at the sudden action. He glances at the watch then at Junmyeon then back to the watch. Their fingers touch when the robber takes the watch from Junmyeon and inspects it.
“It’s probably worth a couple of thousands yen,” Junmyeon supplies. He’s never been enthusiastic about material things, but he does know the slow depreciation of branded watches, especially the likes of Rolex and Breitling. He looks as the robber bites on the watch and pats the glass with his nail.
“It does look expensive…” The robber throws it a few times, testing its weight on his palm. He unlocks it and wears it on his left wrist before he grins at Junmyeon. “You’re a weird one.”
It’s a statement. A very blunt one. And Junmyeon doesn’t know how to respond to it.
“I’m Yixing, by the way. I live on that cabin over there.” Yixing points at the same cabin Junmyeon saw a while ago. There’s smoke coming out of the chimney and just looking at it makes Junmyeon feel hot. He’s been out in the freezing cold for so long; he’s just honestly tempted to go somewhere warm even for just a bit.
He looks as Yixing walks past him and towards the heart of the forest where his cabin is. Is that it? Yixing is finally letting him go? At this point, Junmyeon doesn’t even know how to feel anymore. He can go away from Aokigahara Forest and ponder about his next actions or just kill himself already. That’s his original plan, right? To escape from the reality he belongs to.
“Hey rich kid, aren’t you coming?” Yixing’s voice is a little slurred, but it takes Junmyeon away from his thoughts. He looks at Yixing wearing his inherited Breitling watch with his really tacky clothing and pockets full of dead people’s belongings. An innocent smile decorates his face, making it hard for anyone to think he actually robs for a living. “I got fresh jasmine tea from the market and taiyaki from the neighbour grandpa!”
Jumyeon should know better than to follow Yixing. He barely knows the person and their first meeting with each other isn’t really the most ideal. But looking at the corpses in the area and hearing the eerily silent forest, Junmyeon would do anything to block the overflowing loneliness inside him. He closes his eyes and inhales sharply.
With heavy feet and an erratic heartbeat, Junmyeon makes his way towards Yixing’s house.
There are many reasons why people commit suicide. Some because of frustration; some because of depression, but one thing’s for sure. It’s something that society has been trying to alleviate for decades already, but the number of deaths just keeps on growing and growing. So one may ask: Why?
Yixing’s cabin is a weird source of hope in a forest supposedly filled with despair. Junmyeon observes as the thick shrubs get lesser and lesser as they reach the cabin. The trees are still as imposing and the wind as chilling as ever. Both of them are careful as they walk through the slippery ice. Yixing doesn’t really talk, preferring to smoke a cigarette and look at Junmyeon every now and then.
“My house doesn’t have an elevator, by the way.” Yixing suddenly speaks. Junmyeon looks up from the ground and sees a smirk on Yixing’s face. Why would there be elevators in the forest?
“Am not really…” He tries to find the correct term to use. “…expecting that.”
Yixing inhales one last puff of smoke and throws the used cigarette on the floor, crushing it with his shoe before he exhales one last long drag. Junmyeon stares as Yixing stops walking and closes his eyes, raising his head in the process. He can see the deep long scars on Yixing’s neck and arms and is so tempted to touch them, question them.
“How does it feel to ride elevators?”
The cabin is just a few meters away; Junmyeon can almost see the thick logs already.
“Uhm…I don’t really know. It doesn’t feel anything?” He has been riding elevators ever since…he could remember. Living in Seoul where property values have skyrocket prices, it’s perfectly normal to ride elevators to go from one space to another.
“I have very vague memories of elevators.” Yixing starts as he lits up another cigarette and lets it hang at the edge of his lips. “Childhood memories of riding elevators and getting excited for the floating feeling,” He takes a puff. “You know that feeling when you’re riding up and your heart seems to stay on the ground?” And releases a drag of smoke. “I absolutely loved that feeling.”
Once upon a time, Junmyeon felt the same thrill on elevators and just about everything. His curiosity as a child was endless. There’s always a Why and a How hanging on the edge of his lips, ready to be unleashed the moment his curiosity is piqued. But nowadays, said curiosity has diminished to a bare minimum. All he wants is to go to a secluded place and stay there for the rest of his life.
A bark could be heard.
Junmyeon looks just in time to see an akita dog, its fur a combination of bright orange and white, zoom towards Yixing, nearly tackling him down in the process. Yixing yelps, his halfway burned cigarette ungracefully falls down on the ground. There’s a smile tugging on his lips as his fingers find the back of the dog’s ears and generously rubs it.
"Doritos!" Yixing kneels down on the floor and hugs his overly excited dog. Doritos' tail furiously wags as he attempts to lick his owner's face. Yixing giggles as he tries to squirm out of Doritos' overly eager advances on him. "I thought I told you to stay inside the house?!"
Meanwhile in the background, Junmyeon can't help smiling to himself at the sight before him.
Yixing makes a face at the dog before he stands up and smiles at Junmyeon. "His name is Doritos." He pets Doritos who merely pushes his face on Yixing's hand. "Found him inside a Doritos bag when he was a puppy." He pulls Doritos and carries him so they're at the same eye level. "You were such a cute puppy, weren't you? Yes, you were." He coos at the dog as he rubs his nose on Doritos’ nose.
Junmyeon can't believe he's looking at the same person who just robbed the belongings of dead people a few minutes ago. The very same person who has one of the few things he inherited from his dead father. Unbeknownst to him, there’s a small smile that tugs on his lips as he watches Yixing and his dog exchange loving gazes at each other.
“Yo rich kid, you coming?” Yixing snaps at Junmyeon. “I’ll give your food to Doritos if you don’t hurry up.”
As if to taunt him further, Doritos barks at him before it follows his owner’s trudging steps in the thin ice flooring. Junmyeon blinks before he follows them to Yixing’s cabin.
With neatly-piled logs as its foundation and wood skates for its roof, Yixing’s cabin is as ordinary as it’s going to get. Junmyeon is careful to climb the small steps leading to Yixing’s house as he hears the latter mutter something about “The wooden floorings are a bit old, so they might crack.” and “Do you drink your tea with sugar or honey?” Doritos settles himself on the steps of the house, face flopping on the wood with a contented expression.
“I know this is pretty tiny for your taste, rich kid,” Yixing begins as soon as they enter the cabin. It’s small alright. A worn out leather sofa greets from the living room. There’s a radio playing Japanese pop music on the centre table as well as a plate filled with half-bitten bread. A few photo frames hang on the walls and Junmyeon observes how they’re mostly photos of animals and sceneries. The kitchen is small, but operative. There’s a refrigerator, a gas range and a small cabinet for kitchen utensils. Yixing gets cups from the cabinet, pours water on it and places them on the small wooden dining table. He offers a cup to Junmyeon who murmurs his gratitude.
“But hey, what do you expect from a robber living in a suicide forest?” Junmyeon doesn’t miss the amusement in Yixing’s eyes. It’s as if the robber is testing him, reminding him of the fact that he went to a robber’s house in the middle of a suicide forest with no one but the two of them?
Yixing could kill him and nobody would even notice.
Not that Junmyeon’s initial objective is far from death.
Junmyeon and Yixing stare at each other for so long; Junmyeon is almost afraid to gulp down his water because it might break their moment. Seeing Yixing so close like this, Junmyeon can see how deep his scars are. There’s a long scar near his nape and a short one on his left cheek. Junmyeon can almost imagine the hurt Yixing must have felt when it happened. He’s too tempted to trace his fingers on the scars, to know the story behind it…
“Xing! You back?” A shrill voice shouts from outside. Yixing is the one who breaks the spell. He quickly excuses himself and runs towards the source of the voice. Junmyeon feels silly. Extremely silly. How can he want to touch the scars of someone he just met? Let alone someone who robbed him of one of the very few materials he inherited from his dead father. He puts a hand over his heart, carefully feeling the rapid beating.
You’re just anxious because you’re in a foreign place with a stranger.
Junmyeon releases a heavy sigh and drinks his water before he goes out of the house to greet Doritos. The dog is now sitting at the edge of the house, hiding behind a huge vase housing a welcome plant. It barks at Junmyeon, before it huffs and puffs as if asking the human to pet him. Reluctantly, Junmyeon puts a hand on Doritos’ head, testing the waters, before he completely ruffles the dog’s fur.
There’s a rustling sound from behind the cabin and it’s enough to pique Junmyeon’s interest. With a final pat on Doritos’ head, Junmyeon carefully wanders to the back. He doesn’t know what to expect. When he decided to come to Yixing's cabin, he never imagined there would be a third person. It's a pretty stupid miscalculation on his part, but now it has him imagining only the worst of cases. What if this third person is Yixing's accomplice for murder? What if...
But as Junmyeon tries to hide himself behind a huge oak tree, he could see a familiar old man clutch a familiar hot pack.
"Helena doesn't want to eat her lunch." The rich kid could hear the old man groan to the robber. There's a cat perched on his arms, its eyes practically glaring at Yixing. The latter makes a face and whines a "Grandpa, what did I tell you about putting a leash on Helena?" He takes the cat from the grandpa's arms and carefully puts it on the floor, nursing it while removing the leash.
"How else do you expect me to bring my cat to your house then?" The grandpa exclaims as he tuts and makes a face at Yixing. He plays around with the hot pack on his hand and places it on his cheeks to warm his face. "Children these days don't know how to respect their elders." Yixing makes a face in response and gestures the grandpa to go inside the cabin.
Junmyeon takes this as a cue to rush to the front of the house and pretend to play with Doritos, just in time before Yixing peeks out of the window to tell him to go inside so he can introduce him to somebody. Silently, Junmyeon wonders how the grandpa would react to him being alive? Would he like it? Would he be sad? Would he care?
The answer comes in the form of a really strong hug and a pat in the butt.
"Boy, you're alive!" The grandpa grins at Junmyeon, revealing his uneven and incomplete set of teeth. He squeezes Junmyeon's shoulders as if to ensure that he really is alive and well. Junmyeon doesn't know how to feel about that. This is the closest to affection that he has gotten in weeks and the familiar warmth creeps in his system, but something inside him tells that he shouldn't allow it.
He tries to pry the overexcited grandpa away from him, but Yixing beats him to it. "Jin-ojisan, stop scaring my guest," Yixing puts Helena on the couch before he reminds grandpa to feed her cat food instead of junk food. He saw traces of Lays on Helena's fur and immediately realized how the old man's eyesight is fast deteriorating. "Also, you need to get your eyes checked."
Junmyeon watches as the grandpa and the host exchange banter with each other. He sits on the sofa alongside Jin-ojisan while they wait for Yixing to come back from the kitchen with a tray full of brimming hot jasmine tea and taiyaki.
"I'm not going to that stupid doctor again." Jin-ojisan complains as he stomps his thick stick on the floor. Yixing visibly rolls his eyes before he takes a sip of his jasmine tea. Junmyeon feels like he's intruding on a very personal matter, but the careful smile of his host tells him that it’s fine, that it’s okay, and he’s not intruding.
“Doctor Ohno isn’t stupid.” Yixing uncharacteristically takes a taiyaki and pops it on his mouth. “He just likes to smile like a crazy old man.” This interests Junmyeon. He wonders how Doctor Ohno must look like as he glances at the nodding heads of grandpa and Yixing.
“How did you manage to meet Yixing, boy?” Jin-ojisan pries as soon as they’re done with their taiyaki. Yixing is on the kitchen, whipping a quick snack of biscuits and nuts. Junmyeon observes how the grandpa is unable to stay put, hands shaking, legs wobbling even while sitting. His eyes are intent as he waits for Junmyeon’s answer. “We met in the woods…” Should he tell the old man that Yixing robbed him of the only inheritance from his father? “He tried to save me…”
“Ah yes,” The grandpa smiles to himself, thick stick thudding against fragile floors. “The boy does have a knack for helping people.” Junmyeon takes his time to glance at Yixing. The man is smiling to himself, small dimples forming on his cheeks, as he puts biscuits and nuts on a bowl. If Junmyeon have met him in a more normal circumstance, he’s so sure he’d find him to be an attractive, kind man.
“Jin-ojisan, are you telling on me again?” Yixing bellows with a feigned irritation on his face. His eyebrows furrow and his mouth twitch as he balances the bowl on one hand and cans of tomato juice on the other. Junmyeon stands up and helps him, hands brushing against each other even for just mere seconds.
“Just merely stating facts, you brat.” Jin-ojisan takes the unknowing Helena who is minding her business on the floor and puts it on his lap, stroking her fur against her will. Helena tries to get away from the grandpa, but he just holds her tight. Yixing shakes his head at Jin-ojisan and glances at Junmyeon. The latter is caught off guard, swiftly shifting his focus on the fragile floorboards and his shifting shoes.
Their conversations are random. From Helena to Doritos and from the broken lamp on grandpa's room and Yixing's promise to help him fix it one of these days. Junmyeon feels weird to be here, with two strangers he just met, sharing his thoughts about stuff using his fairly decent Japanese. Sometimes he would share a thing or two about himself. How he lives in the middle of Seoul, but still gets lost every now and then. How he has his own cat named Kai back in Seoul. How he works as a boring employee in a private company.
He doesn't share how he managed to kill his father by announcing his gender to the public though.
The afternoon is about to come to an end. The skies slowly turn from a pale shade of light blue to a palette of yellow, orange, pink and violet. It's a sea of pastel colors and, despite the tall trees towering over Aokigahara Forest, Junmyeon can still peek a glance of it from Yixing's window.
"I need to go home." Jin-ojisan suddenly announces, yawning as he puts a leash on a relenting Helena. "Need to prepare for dinner." Junmyeon stands up to help him and his cat while Yixing goes to the kitchen to quickly scoop pre-heated soup and put it on a canister. He gives it to Jin-ojisan with words of "Eat this with Sojin-oba-san; it's mushroom soup. Her favourite," The grandpa merely makes a face and mutters how Yixing plays favoritism between him and his wife. Yixing just smiles at him and escorts him out of his home.
"You take care of yourself, boy." Jin-ojisan hugs Junmyeon one last time, chin resting on Junmyeon's shoulder. "Don't even try to kill yourself again. There are people who try so hard to live. Cherish your own." Junmyeon doesn't know how to respond to that; he smiles at Jin-ojisan and squeezes his hand for assurance.
Both Yixing and Junmyeon look as Jin-ojisan makes his way back, dragging a reluctant Helena with him.
The windows loudly bang against wooden walls as harsh winds blast from all corners of the house. The skies are dark and the trees hush silent warnings of safety. Yixing looks out the window and so does Junmyeon. The radio announces an upcoming snow storm in Kawaguchiko, warning residents to stay indoors till further announcement. Instinctively, Junmyeon raises his left forearm to check the time, but belatedly realizes that his Breitling is with his host.
"You better stay here for the night. I'll get a change of clothes for you."
Junmyeon looks at himself in the mirror of Yixing's house. With an over-sized shirt and loose printed pajamas, he looks scrawny than he already is; his hair wet and his skin hot from the warm bath he just took. Yixing's bathroom is small with only a shower, a sink and a toilet in it. There's a small mirror hanging just above the sink and Junmyeon finds himself slapping his cheeks as if to check if he's still living in reality or not.
"You okay there?" Yixing's casual voice startles Junmyeon, making him bump against the sink. He winces as he bellows an affirmation, opening the door in the process. He still can't believe he's alive and he's spending it in his own robber's house in the middle of a forest he barely even knows. It's not one of Junmyeon's finest decisions in life, but somehow, when he looks at Yixing now, he thinks he made the right decision.
Yixing is wearing a pair of royal blue cotton pajamas now as he scoops hot porridge from the stove. He's careful as he holds the ladle on one hand and the empty bowl on the other. Junmyeon can't help smiling at the sight. Yixing's eyebrows are furrowed and his tongue touches his upper lip in concentration.
"You need help with that?" He offers, effectively startling his host.
"Ah no, no," Yixing puts the full bowl on the table. "You could get the cups and cutleries on the cabinet though?" He gestures towards the cabinet on the farthest side of the kitchen before he prepares the food on the small dining table. Junmyeon gets their tableware from the cabinet and helps Yixing setup the table. There is no awkwardness in the air and somehow, at the back of Junmyeon's mind, he questions why he feels more comfortable in a stranger's home, thousands of kilometers away, instead of his own home.
"Hope you don't mind porridge." Yixing meekly says once they're both seated on the dining table. "It’s practically the only food I don't ruin." He giggles fondly at a memory, revealing those blissfully beautiful dimples again. Junmyeon smiles at him and shares how he can barely cook anything without causing chaos in his own kitchen. Yixing laughs at him and Junmyeon does the same. It’s like they're a couple of lost jigsaw puzzles that are finally pieced together.
In the background, Utada Hikaru serenades them with her signature voice as the wind harshly bangs against the wooden walls of Yixing's cabin. The trees violently dance an aggressive number with mother nature as they try, as hard as they might, to secure their position on the earth. The swooshing sound of wind outside is a faint whisper in the warm interior of Yixing's cabin. Junmyeon looks around as he eats, taking note of the doodles on the wall and the small photo of Yixing, Jin-ojisan and a lady who seems to be Jin-ojisan's wife.
"Jin-ojisan's wife?" He casually asks Yixing. Yixing looks up from his bowl, follows Junmyeon's fingers before he nods.
"Yeah, Sojin-oba-san is a real beauty, huh?"
"Sojin? She's Korean?"
"Yeah, even Jin-ojisan is Korean!" Yixing chuckles. He stretches his arrms to get the box of cigarrettes and matches on the kitchen counter. With a cigarette in between his lips, Yixing manages to say "Yeah, they both took refuge here in Japan back when the war between Korea and Japan happened. Jin-ojisan is a war veteran." He lights up the cigarette. "You should see his old uniform and guns." He takes a puff and exhales smoke. "It's a sight to see!"
Junmyeon doesn't find it hard to imagine. Jin-ojisan as a soldier. Fighting against the Japanese, but ending up finding solace in the very same country he's sworn to fight against with. With the bloody battle between North and South Korea, nobody can really blame its people from leaving the country. More than nationalistic pride, a man’s love and duties for his family definitely come first. Junmyeon can already see it - Jin-ojisan and his wife fleeing their beloved country for the archenemy's country without a single knowledge of their language, culture or whatsoever. It must have been hard. But good enough for them to stay for so long in Japan.
"Yeah, I'd like that." is all that Junmyeon manages to say.
"So tell me about yourself."
They're in the living room, nursing brimming, hot coffees. Yixing is on the floor, carding his fingers on the soft fur of Doritos. Doritos wags his tail continuously despite being plopped on the floor. His tongue comes out of his mouth as he turns himself around to encourage Yixing to rub his stomach. Yixing chuckles before he coos at Doritos. Junmyeon smiles at them from the couch, eyes crinkling and mouth curving upward. His cup is half full and the bitter taste of coffee clings to his tongue. Yixing's face is etched on his brain and on his heart as well.
"What do you want to know?" Junmyeon asks. His fingers move up and down the cup as he feels the warmth of it.
"I don't know. Anything," Yixing pats Doritos on the stomach before he forces him to stand up and go away. "Your name perhaps? Your age, your occupation? Come on, man. Work with your host here." He gets his cup of coffee on the floor and sits next to Junmyeon on the couch.
Up close like this, Junmyeon can see the imperfections on Yixing's face. He looks at the small scar just beneath Yixing's left eye and the long scars on Yixing's neck. He's so tempted to ask about it, but he knows he is in no position, so he does the next best thing.
"Kim Junmyeon. I'm part of a Sales team. In a huge company." My own family's company. He rubs his neck, completely embarrassed and worried about saying such personal information. "I'm 28 years old."
"Sales, huh? Sounds complicated."
"Not really...unless you have really low alcohol tolerance."
Junmyeon has always had low alcohol tolerance. The most he could drink is 4 bottles of beer and he's out. Once he courted a difficult client with a big desire for drinking. He managed to close the deal after 4 bars and dozens of beer in his system. He also managed to get sick for a week because his gall bladder acted up.
"Well, I've only drank one bottle of beer all my life?" Yixing offers. "I've never liked the taste of it and as you can see, I'm practically a hermit so there's no need to succumb to social pressure."
Now that Junmyeon thinks of it, how can a beautiful guy like Yixing live alone in Aokigahara Forest?
"What if Jin-ojisan asks you to drink though?"
"Oh please, Sojin oba-san would smack me on the head before that could happen."
The two of them laugh at each other before their eyes meet and their laughs slowly die down to small smiles and awkward silences. Junmyeon can see the gentleness in Yixing's smile. Like he's not a robber and a stranger. Like he's a perfectly kind person who is just stuck in a harsh environment. The wind is still harsh outside and the radio plays classical music. The room seems warmer, the space between them closer.
"Why do you live alone in such a depressing place, Yixing?" Junmyeon manages to blurt out before he can stop himself.
And as if the spell is broken, Yixing looks elsewhere and changes the topic.
"You can sleep in my room. It's warmer there."
"But what? I'm not going to attack you."
"Aren't you afraid I'm going to attack you instead?"
"If I thought you're trouble, I would have left you to die on that place."
Sleep is spent tumbling through memories and questions.
Junmyeon squints at the two small photographs plastered on a side of Yixing's room. The walls are teal and the sheets are white. The bed basically occupies the entire room and so does the small dresser on the other side. It's simple and bare, unlike how Yixing's clothes are. The room is warm and the blankets cool as Junmyeon drapes them on his body. Yixing is already beside him, back facing him, and Junmyeon somehow wonders if he's not the only one who's been in Yixing's room. He knows it’s a bad idea to think, but somehow in the back of his mind, he thinks he deserves to know.
It's almost midnight and the wind outside has slowed down to a steady hum. Junmyeon peers through the window in the room to see that the snow has stopped falling already. Nevertheless, he's as restless as ever. Yixing's breathing is even beside him and Junmyeon adjusts his position on the bed, bracing his face on his palms as he stares at Yixing's sleeping form. He knows it’s wrong, this is wrong, and he shouldn't, but oh he really would, to possibly like a man he just met a few hours ago, namely a man who robbed him of his only inheritance.
Junmyeon fixes Yixing's bangs before he emits a sigh and tries sleeping. He really shouldn't be thinking of such thoughts. It's how he landed in such a crazy position anyway. With one breather, Junmyeon closes his eyes tightly and hopes Mary's little lambs can calm him down to sleep.
The sound of panic and uneven breathing startles Junmyeon awake. Abruptly, he rises and looks at Yixing, worried that something has happened to him. The room is silent and the weather outside is calm. There is an eerie sound of whizzing coming from Yixing and Junmyeon instinctively pats him on the back, rubbing small circles in an attempt to soothe him from the aftershocks of his nightmare. He can feel the rise and fall of Yixing’s chest, the tremors so obviously hurting him inside. They go on like that for seconds, minutes even. Junmyeon hasn’t counted the time, too focused on alleviating Yixing’s pain as much as he can.
Then Yixing breaks down. Small sobs after another escape his mouth as he fails to stop his welling tears from falling. Junmyeon panics, eyes widening, mind reeling. Yixing’s hands cover his face in a futile attempt to hide it, but his wails obviously dictates otherwise. Junmyeon does the only thing he thinks he can do. He pulls Yixing close and envelopes him in a really tight hug, angling Yixing’s head on the curve of his left shoulder. Tears wet his shirt, but he could care less. He soothes Yixing with little ‘shhhs’ and ‘it’s going to be alright’ as he rubs small circles on his back. Soon, Yixing’s sobs turn to hiccups and Junmyeon’s cup of warm water is ready to be served to the pitiful host.
“Want to go back to sleep?” Junmyeon inquires. “Or drink hot chocolate? I think I found packs of Swiss Miss on one of your containers…”
“Hot chocolate…would be nice.” Yixing mutters.
Junmyeon smiles at him and pulls him out of the bed, hand comfortable at the curve of Yixing’s back as they make their way to the kitchen.
“You want to know a secret?”
It’s 2 in the morning and both Yixing and Junmyeon are in the dining room, nursing cups of hot chocolate to calm their system down. The radio is barely audible in the background, but the classical music provides a good change of atmosphere. Doritos is asleep on his bed in one corner of the living room and Junmyeon watches as he stretches his limbs, paws up in the air and tongue exposed.
“I’ve tried killing myself here in this forest.” Yixing shares before Junmyeon can even answer his prior question. The latter switches his focus to Yixing who is now smiling to himself, finger slowly rubbing the heat from the cup. That's...unexpected. Yixing doesn't seem the type to try and commit suicide. He's all smiles and helpful to his old neighbor. A looter he might be, but a depressed one? Junmyeon has a hard time understanding how Yixing could resort to suicide.
“Jin ojisan was the one who stopped me.”
Junmyeon watches as Yixing takes a sip of hot chocolate. “I was around 18 years old? Barely fresh from the orphanage.” Yixing looks at him for the first time since he cried a few minutes ago. There’s that sadness in his eyes, one that was so easily hidden beneath glints of amusement and happiness hours ago. “I just got fired from my work at the grocery store and heard a couple of kids mention Aokigahara forest. Something about challenging a classmate to commit suicide."
Just the thought of it makes Junmyeon shiver. Why would you even challenge a person to commit suicide? More so, a child? How can children think of suicide as a mere game? Depressed people, he can understand and can relate, but to easily consider it as a fun challenge is entirely something else.
"So there I went to Aokigahara, bringi¬ng with me an envelope filled with my last salary from the grocery." Yixing takes another sip of his chocolate, eyes looking somewhere far. "I thought that maybe if I die, I could bring my money with me to hell so I can spend it there." He laughs an empty one. "Pretty stupid thinking, huh?" Junmyeon doesn't really know how to respond to that so he just blinks at Yixing.
"I tried hanging myself with a plastic rope I found at the grocery..." Yixing recalls and Junmyeon can so vividly imagine it. "Climbed a tree and was ready to jump when Jin ojisan saw me and started whacking me with his stick." He must have seen the crease in Junmyeon's face. "Yeah, the very same stick he carries with him."
"He reprimanded me obviously. Told me to go home to my parents and when I told him I don't have any family to go back to, he immediately adopted me and treated me like his own son." There's no bitterness or anger in Yixing's voice. A hint of sadness maybe, but there are faint traces of happiness too. Junmyeon observes how Yixing's fingers rub the outline of the mug carefully before he smiles to himself again.
"Tell me, Junmyeon..." Junmyeon prepares for the worst. "Why do you want to die?" But he has never really prepared himself to tell the reason to another person. Definitely because he never really planned on living through another few hours.
A bird’s wings flutter noisily outside the cabin as Junmyeon and Yixing’s eyes are transfixed with each other. The classical music has turned to a depressing state, as if reading the mood between them. Junmyeon folds his lips before he blurts out the answer.
“My father died because of me. A heart attack.”
He can remember it pretty clearly. It happened a week ago, a certain Thursday night spent in the Kim residences. His family is always barely home and he almost always spends the nights alone with the maids safely hidden inside their chambers. It’s one of the cons of being rich and living in a mansion – you feel lonely despite all the extravagant things and people around you. Except a certain Kim Minseok appeared in the equation, bringing with him his good reputation in the photography world and his good-natured smile that could kill hundreds of men and women. He and Minseok agreed to spend the night together. It was one of those silent agreements that meant otherwise. Junmyeon came home early from work and immediately climbed to his room without another thought, ready to be with Minseok, except what he saw was his father instead.
His father with a glare plastered on his face and a photo of Junmyeon and Minseok on his hand.
He saw a glimpse of Minseok cowering at the edge of his bed before his father is flinging his fist at him, uncaring of the hurt it’s inflicting on his own son. Junmyeon felt his father’s raging anger with each blow he received. On the face, shoulders, stomach, knees, everywhere. He received it along with the string of expletives and insults that came out of his father’s mouth.
“How the hell could you be gay?!”
“I don’t have a gay son!”
“You’re supposed to be the inheritor of our company, Junmyeon!”
“You’re a disgrace to this family!”
The retrieving back of his father is the last his seen of him alive. The next time he sees his father is at the morgue, his still and lifeless body stoic and cold against the aluminium table. Not a single tear falls on his face, too shocked and too scared at the suddenness of the situation. His mother has been a sobbing mess, wailing and crying on his arms in the otherwise quiet morgue. She said its fine. She doesn’t blame him. Nobody blames him.
But Junmyeon knows better. Beneath all that well-rehearsed pitiful looks and small smiles is an anger building up towards him, for he has killed the CEO, the President, the Everything of the Kim residences. And who is he to replace him? He is nothing, but a mere problematic gay son.
“I’m sorry about that.” Yixing’s voice brings him back to the present. Junmyeon offers him a small smile and Yixing responds by reaching for Junmyeon’s free hand and squeezing it with his own.
“But you know…” Yixing reminds him. “You don’t need to die to feel death.”
Before Junmyeon could even react, Yixing adds, more to himself than to the former.
“I should know.”
The radio announces the end of its broadcast at three in the morning when Yixing drops another bomb.
“My parents got killed.” Yixing offers as he nonchalantly plays with the teaspoon on his now empty cup. “We couldn’t pay our debts to the yakuzas so they killed my parents.” An empty laughter. He throws the teaspoon now, making it clank against the cup. He slumps back on the dining chair, eyes looking down as if in an attempt to hide the growing anger inside him.
“They killed my parents inside the elevator, slitting their throats in front of their only child.” Junmyeon winces at the thought. He can almost feel the pain Yixing must felt during that time, yet Yixing is still here – a living adult who is desperately trying to live. This makes Junmyeon’s problem sound a little bit petty, a little bit whiny, compared to Yixing’s. Yet he’s the one who wants to die early.
He stands up and goes to Yixing, pulling him to his embrace before Yixing could even protest. The latter shakes in his embrace; the wall he has established for far too long finally crumbling down in the presence of a stranger as equally problematic as he is. Soon, he feels his shirt become wet as he strokes Yixing’s head. “Jin ojisan knows nothing of this. I’d rather he knows nothing. He’s too fragile to take this.”
You’re the fragile one here, Yixing.
"I was around 12 years old when the yakuzas took me." The words are muffled on Junmyeon's shirt. “They forced me to do things – beg for money in the streets, give out free condoms at the bar, work ungodly hours at the market transferring fishes here and there.”
Junmyeon’s embrace on Yixing tightens. How can a child suffer so much?
“I got lucky though.” He rubs the tears with the back of his hands. “Some of the children were left to die. A Chinese man named Luhan took care of me, said he couldn’t take to see a kid of the same nationality die just like that.” Yixing seems to have gotten his composure back. He sniffs and sniffs and smiles at Junmyeon who holds tightly to everything he says. “He fed me and took care of me until I got a chance to escape from the yakuzas.”
“It was a Monday afternoon in December, just like today.” Yixing recalls. “I got the chickenpox so most of the yakuzas didn’t go near me. By the end of it, Luhan suggested I get checked by a doctor.” He chuckles now as he moves towards the kitchen with the used cups on his hands. The humor is dry and can definitely be felt in the entire cabin. “The yakuzas actually fell for it.”
Junmyeon bites his lower lips; he has never met someone endowed with such hardships before. Surrounded by similarly lucky rich children, Junmyeon has never felt the physical hardships brought about by being dirt poor. Loneliness, yes, but physical and psychological abuse? None so far.
“Luhan did bring me somewhere.” Yixing whispers as the sound of trickling water and cups clanking against each other provide background music. “He brought me at the adoption center and I never saw him since then.”
It’s Junmyeon turn to speak.
“What happened to him?”
“Thrown into a moving bus.”
Kim Junmyeon wakes up with a pounding headache and a thirsty throat. Quickly, he assumes a sitting position and looks around. He’s in Yixing’s room on Yixing’s bed, wearing the same old clothes Yixing lent him. The duvet is a mess and said person is nowhere to be seen. The morning light illuminates against the glass window, landing on Junmyeon’s face. He checks his wrist watch for the time, but belatedly realizes that the Breitling is not his anymore.
Somehow, he thinks, it’s okay to lose it if it’s Yixing who’ll take care of it.
He looks around the room before burying himself beneath the duvet again. It smells like Yixing, like bath soap and dusk, and Junmyeon finds himself somehow addicted to it, despite the fact that he really shouldn’t. He squint his eyes, hoping the building conflict inside his heart would miraculously be gone when he opens his eyes.
Except it doesn’t go away.
Sighing, Junmyeon pushes himself off the bed to look for Yixing outside the room. The snow has finally cleared up, leaving the forest a sight to behold with white snowflakes dusting each and every inch of it. The cabin is warm and the floors dry. Junmyeon finds Yixing leaning on the kitchen counter with an open book on one hand and a cup of warm coffee on the other.
It’s a weak one, but Yixing hears it nevertheless. He grins at Junmyeon and puts his book on the kitchen counter. “Here, I made you coffee.” He produces another cup and offers it to Junmyeon who groggily accepts it. They sit together in the dining table, the area where it all started. Junmyeon doesn’t know how to talk to Yixing. What he heard last night was too personal for a stranger to know, was too personal for someone who’ll leave as soon as he came.
“Sorry about last night.” Yixing scratches the back of his head. The proud Yixing is back. Junmyeon watches as he bites his lower lip before he grins at Junmyeon. “It must have been weird, huh? I rarely breakdown, but then again I rarely talk to anyone beside Jin ojisan either.”
Junmyeon thinks he should say something to Yixing. What? He doesn’t know; he just wants an excuse to talk to him and tell him more and make him feel special and wanted. He settles with a smile though, hoping it would deliver the entire message he wants to say to Yixing. They drink their coffee in silence. The radio isn’t turned on for once and Junmyeon can clearly hear the sound of dripping water from the faucet as well as the yawning sound of Doritos from outside the house. The leaves of the trees outside rustle against the wind and Junmyeon has half the heart to say to himself that he’s going to miss this place.
Yixing takes their used cups and washes them as Junmyeon walks out of the house to pet Doritos. The dog is dozing off at the far corner of the house, legs curled up and face upside down. He smiles to himself. He’s going to miss this cute dog. Doritos twists and stands up to rub his face against Junmyeon’s.
“You take care of Yixing, okay?” He whispers to Doritos.
The creaking sound of the door has Junmyeon looking to his left. Yixing is there with a questioning look on his face. He crouches down next to Junmyeon and absentmindedly pets Doritos. “The ice is a bit thick now, but I can guide you on your way out of the forest…” Yixing offers. Junmyeon feels sad. Everything’s about to end and nothing has even started yet. He gives a small smile to Yixing and nods.
Time goes fast when you don’t want it too.
Soon, Junmyeon and Yixing are silently walking along the path towards the exit of the forest. They don’t say anything to each other, yet its painstakingly obvious how much one of them wants to say something to the other. Junmyeon can feel the snow crush against his shoes and every once in a while Yixing would take his hand with excuses of “Be careful, the ice here is slippery.” and “Come here, it’s better to step in this area.” Junmyeon doesn’t want to put a label on it and so just lets Yixing do what he wants to do.
“We’re finally here.” With final huffs and puffs, Yixing proudly looks at the entrance as he puts his hands on his hips. Junmyeon can’t help smiling at his position. They share a look – one that says a lot, but hides a lot at the same time. He moves closer to Yixing, remembering every inch of his face and every scar on his neck, and grabs his hand. He squeezes it and pulls Yixing to a tight embrace before the latter could even protest.
“Take care of yourself, Yixing.” He murmurs on the man’s nape. “I’ll come back soon to visit you and Jin ojisan.” He feels the rumbling of chest as Yixing pulls himself away from Junmyeon and pats the latter’s shoulder. He smiles at Junmyeon and nods.
“I’m sure Jin ojisan would be happy to see you again.” It feels weird, like Junmyeon’s saying goodbye to a childhood friend after decades of being together. Something inside him feels that he should stay with Yixing, yet he knows he can’t. So Junmyeon settles with one final nod before he turns his back at Yixing and walks out of the forest.
Junmyeon turns around just in time. Yixing stops jogging and agilely removes the wrist watch he’s wearing. He gives it to Junmyeon. “Here, this is yours.” The latter’s eyebrows furrow in confusion. He looks at the Breitling his late father gave to him and the beautiful man in front of him.
“No, it’s yours now. I gave it to you.”
“But it’s yours! You need to get it-“
“No. Think of it as collateral. So I have another reason to go back here.”
Because the number one reason is you.
“See you soon, Yixing.”
The March wind is harsh against Kim Junmyeon’s blonde locks. He rakes his fingers through his hair as he watches the taxi zoom off to its next customer. The entrance to Aokigahara forest is still as lonely as he first saw it three months ago. Despite the better weather, the trees are still dead and the plants dull. Junmyeon tightens his lips together before he releases a heavy sigh.
Then he walks.
It has been months, but his feet know where to go and his heart knows who to look for.
There is nothing, but mere pieces of broken wood and tall dead trees. Frantically, Junmyeon twists his head from left to right as his feet moves him to places he has never been to. His heart stammers violently against his chest and his eyes scan everywhere. There is no sign of a wooden cabin, of broken floors and a hyperactive dog. Only dry leaves and dead trees occupy the eerily silent centre of the forest. Junmyeon closes his eyes shut and sighs.
Junmyeon steps on something hard and something familiar. He opens his eyes and crouches on the floor to take a good look at it. It’s the same old Breitling he inherited from his father with its gold bracelet and diamond-studded centrepiece. Next to it is a piece of newspaper, Junmyeon grabs it and instantly feels himself shudder.
The newspaper is yellowish and dark, the edges of it already chipping off. Junmyeon takes a look at the date of publication then at the headline.
Junmyeon runs as far as he can, clutching his Breitling tightly on his hand.
December 8, 1989
Young Chinese Man Hangs Himself After Shooting his Old Neighbours.
In a gruesome event last Sunday, a young Chinese man named Zhang Yixing who has been reported to have shot his old neighbours in the head have hanged himself in the famous Aokigahara Forest. Colleagues and friends have regarded Yixing as a quiet, simple man who had a good relationship with the old Korean couple who lived next door.