Introduction to “Avenue Ems” by: Lyna Etienne
“Magic shop” is a psychodramatic technique that exchanges fear for a positive attitude. These are the words that start the BTS “‘Fake Love’ Official Teaser 1.” I am not sure whether I have completely understood all the psychological nuances that these words entail. What I do understand, though, is that the piece you are about to read swept me on a new journey, exploring a universe I thought I knew well already, the Bangtan Universe (BU).
For those of you who are new to BU, the Bangtan Universe is a fictional universe created by Big Hit and centered initially on specific BTS music videos and fictional characters played by BTS members. This later developed into stories that can be explored in some visuals, quite a few short films, two books, a blog, a webtoon, two games, etc. There is even an upcoming television series in preparation. Some of these stories are inspired by a couple of books, like Demian by Herman Hesse.
Just like in other fictional universes, the BU characters lead intertwined lives and a huge number of theories have been written by BU theorists, including me, ever since this universe was born. The BU characters are so relatable and popular that the number of fan-written side stories has been on the rise since the introduction of the BU. The writers take the concept and characters and weave additional stories on top of the existing ones. This is what the authors of “Avenue Ems” explore in their own stories of BU, incorporating the characters from the book Demian into BU and changing the perspective and the direction of the original stories.
My first encounter with “Avenue Ems” happened one day in January 2019 when I was added to a group chat on Twitter. A few random people around the world had been contacted by a weird account, Ave. Ems, and they were now discussing what to do about the situation. While fake accounts are easily dismantled by ARMY, this strange account had nothing to sell or to promote, was not seeking attention, and wanted only the contacted people to read their stories . . . As a BU and Demian enthusiast, I accepted out of curiosity. Together with a handful of people, I eagerly followed the unravelling of the written pieces as they were revealed week after week, month after month, throughout the whole year.
This was quite a new experience. I was intrigued by the twist in the original stories and amazed at how those writings surprisingly deepened my own knowledge of the “real” BU. At the same time I was totally confused by these new stories: the Bangtan Universe’s main story is already difficult to understand on its own, and having another parallel universe to decrypt and accept was not easy. At the end of the day, I did exchange my “fear,” or rather my initial rejection of this new universe, for a positive attitude . . . and fully embraced what “Avenue Ems” had to offer in their own depiction of the BU. I hope you will enjoy this creative piece as much as I did.
Prologue Pt. 0.1
If the path was a cradle, the lollipop that slipped from my fingers onto it wouldn’t have broke.
The boy drew the curtains shut.
The window separated him from the other side, a single barrier between the realms of light and dark.
The saline bag gleamed in the blinding light from the ceiling. I could not move. If only my memories had frozen as well.
The gas station on was run down and in desperate need of funds. None were coming. I kicked over the bucket and watched as the oil darkened the side of the road.
“Black to blacker, huh.”
The place we had been in, was all a lie. I sat there, hunched over in the dust of the path, and screamed. The copy of Demian that I had picked up from the library all those years ago laid in the pale stalks of grass. It was long overdue.
The world hushed at his mistakes; their mistakes.
The railroad tracks rattled deafeningly, yet… there was no train. Demian sighed.
The melody emitting from the piano became muted to me. I touched the keys once more, played that tune of victorious love and good life for the final me, and laughed bitterly.
I resented the keys shining in the dimness almost as much as I loved them.
I flipped through the travel magazine lazily while waiting for my delayed flight.
“Caliente is a city in Lincoln County, Nevada, United States. Its elevation is —- feet. The population was √-1 at the year 22 census, which will take place in a few years, making it the most…”
The eyes of the demon glowed in an insidious red, akin to the blood from the pits of Hades. I shuddered.
Those eyes terrified me.
Another day of school. “When will math end?” I groaned.
If only I had worries as simple as that now.
The bell rang as I shoved my hands into my pockets.
The ringing filled my ears as I stared at the hall that was beginning to fill with people. I did not want them to see the scars.
I began to dance because of him. I continued because of me. Confined to that room every day had trapped my bones in my body, a bird to a cage. Only with him, was I given a small taste of what freedom could be. Only with the thrum of the music, did I begin to understand.
I stared at the blue pill nestled in the palm of my hand.
It beckoned me.
It whispered lustful words of consumption.
I leaned against the basin, shuddering.
THE PHALAROPE WHISPERED IN MY EAR, “NOW IS THE TIME. TWO WORLDS COLLIDE, ONE WHOLE AND ONE STARVING.”
Demian was an enigma, as strange and mysterious as the town that had ceased to exist; to be born. He made me wonder about the true extent of one’s soul often, how once freed, “it’s first movements won’t be the gentlest.”
I remember waiting here once many, many years ago. The place where the rails twisted into the depths of the murky pond. I had sat there waiting. I did not remember for who.
Greetings from a past life…?
I once saw her from that side of the bridge, cast in the warm, brilliant glow of that sun. Her shadow seemed to wrap around her as she waved, like a mirage in a desert.
I thought it was her.
Ems Avenue had been my home for as long as I could remember, but I could not find it. I looked over the rails and saw a figure on the other side. “Demian,” I called out. “What are you doing there?”
Sinclair was blind to the world. At first.
“Sinclair, you are a child! Your fate loves you.”
I did not believe her.
The town was burning in the cold. Beatrice had long gone.
The boy loved to paint.
The eyes on the shredded canvas were piercing, almost mocking. He knew his time had come—to invert the colors.
I looked out the window. The city I had both loved and loathed stood before me, each building like a gray house of cards waiting to go up in flames.
Namjoon sat across from me, his hands clasped together by cold steel. They glinted in the murky light. He stared down with eyes that seemed to be carelessly detached but were framed with hopelessness. I suppose that’s what chilled me at first — the composure of the boy who had once held himself with such coolness was now reduced to a shadow.
It’s horrible what words like his spoken with such apathy can do. My body felt limp, drained from all emotion but bitter shock. With a few strained words, my entire world had begun to crumble in around me. There was nothing to stop the crushing feeling of reality from being stamped onto every shred of my existence.
I thought back for a moment to the foreboding I had felt on the plane.
This was not home anymore.
I watched the flames flicker.
They danced at the tip of the lighter, blood-orange snakes that enthralled me in my stupor.
I grimaced, thoughts of failure and worthlessness writhed through my mind. Lost passion, lost patience, lost mother, lost boy…lost Jeongguk.
A haunting melody twisted through the damp air of the room, the ghost of what was once me playing. His nimble fingers had danced on the keys, clawing away all suffering. Once. Now? He had lost that all. I had lost that all.
I wanted to burn everything to ashes; all the shrieking in my chest, the rage which had caused me to tear away at everything that I loved, the brutality that had shattered my dreams, and the frustration that made me want to rip into every piece of fabric that bound my cursed reality together. Tears stung my eyes, as blistering as the fire before me, and I cackled from the sheer insanity of it all.
BURN, EVERYTHING FUCKING BURN.
I stood on the ledge with my arms outstretched, as I tried to embrace the world that had been so cold to me. My hair rustled in the wind gently and the lights of the city below began to blur. I thought that my heart would have been pounding, but I only felt calm. I rocked back and forth, the buildings swaying beneath me. I closed my eyes and inhaled, remembering the smiles and the warmth that had surrounded me one day at sea—the blossoming of my youth. I felt my heart break. It was laced with relief at what was to come and a tinge of sadness. I was alone here with no one to save me, not even myself. I breathed out once more, the painful and blissful memories scattering away in the wind like seven forget-me-nots, and I tipped forwards.
What will happen when the two worlds collide?
Do you know what it’s like? To have the entire world scorn you? Degraded to a starving tick compared to my brother, whittling away my days in monotony… There goes another failed test, another hour spent sleeping against my desk, another scolding that I can barely hear now, another day of wishing for the past. I don’t blame them, I swear. I know I feel lonely, I know how it ended was wrong, but I can’t hate them. They were the only family I had and I’ll never resent them. If they’re happy then it’s enough. It’s enough. But, I can’t even take comfort in that. Some times, when I’m staring out at the old cherry tree in the center of the school courtyard, I wonder how they are and if I’ll ever feel that happiness again.
Why me? Why am I stuck here even though the sea keeps roaring and moving everything away from me? There has to be a reason why I’m here on earth, right?
Sometimes, I curl up real small at night when I’m alone. The hopelessness feels less all-consuming then. I wish I could grow so small that I’m not here anymore. I’m pathetic. When Yoongi-hyung last asked, I didn’t say anything.
The world only drowns my voice out.
Dreamers. Gold from the ordinary.
Colors. I yearned for colors; a way to paint over this darkness.
The spray cans gave me that. I spent nights giving life to walls that were not mine. It was the thrill of having to run away from my creations that attracted me at first. The adrenaline rush I felt as I fled down those twisting alleys was the result of fear—the fear of inconvenience. Being caught would mean another day away from those walls. Yet, this was a fear that filled me with excitement; hues that erupted in my vision with every thud of my feet on the tarmac. The grit and dust of Seoul, the blaring music from street vendors, the harsh shouts of fishmongers, and the piercing sirens of the police car made my heart pound erratically, as though I was racing to reach an invisible finish line.
It’s strange, isn’t it? How a fear could give me joy.
At least, I could run away from that fear. Here, in those twisting alleyways of Seoul, the fear I felt was not binding. It was not absolute. I had no responsibility, no obligation that tied me to the fear (save Namjoon hyung, but he, the one who had taught me, had long stopped coming).
This fear gave me a small semblance of freedom in my life. Whatever that means.
However, the fear that caged me most, the demon, would always be inescapable. And I would stand there cowering, trapped—a technicolor lamb put to slaughter by a brown, broken bottle. Unless.
The blanket enveloped me, the shell of an egg. Its warmth shut out the noise of the city, which had fallen into a deathly silence, as though it was holding its breath in trepidation. Yet, the blanket could not draw away the shudders that racked my body.
Two years couldn’t, shouldn’t have changed so much.
I’m dreaming, aren’t I? This has to be a dream, please let it be a dream please let it be a dream please please please please.
I rocked myself back and forth, just as I had when I fell off my bicycle as a child and hurt my knee. The hurt this me, though, was in a place I could not physically reach.
When I awoke, I was not in my room, but staring out towards the sea — the same sea that we had been to all those days ago. The waves glimmered under a setting sun with remnants of wind-torn storm clouds above. I stood there, as if I was a part of this painting, trying to recall the memories of the day spent here. They faded in the back of my mind, like the sun bleeding through the horizon.
And I started to cry. Why can’t I remember? There was a truck, right? And, and a bunch of sand and running and I was with people, why can’t I remember their voices? Namjoonie, Yoongi, Jeongguk, Tae, Jiminie, Hoseokie. Come back. Please, come back. Please let me go back. I want to go back.
Maybe, if I swam to the horizon, the memories would be there. I waded deeper into the water.
Steady, boy. It is not wise to trifle with these waters.
The phalarope drifted towards me. How I knew it was a phalarope, I cannot tell you. I could not swim further. I hung there, weightlessly, as if suspended by time and space, not the sea.
What would you give to have a chance of saving them, little one?
“Everything,” I whispered.
The phalarope looked at me sadly, with eyes that held dark pools of eternity and oblivion. Perhaps, it knew that my word would give me the whole world and undo it at the same me.
So be it.
The bird blinked and I opened my eyes. The sea and the sky fell away — the shattering of glass. I was back in my room. The white curtains that framed my window fluttered at the edge of my vision. I reached for my phone groggily and stared at the date. Huh?
I had no recollection of leaving my window open. –
I looked down at my hands. They had fallen on my lap helplessly when Jin-hyung entered the room. I could look nowhere else but at those cursed palms; I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. I stared hard at the straight lines that sliced through my hands—deep canyons that I wanted to fall into. My mother used to tell me how the simian meant that the path of my life would always be straightforward.
And look where that got me.
My tendency to act according to my whims with no hesitation led me here—to sit behind a mirror that had no reflection.
My bluntness led to his shocked silence.
My reluctance to act back then led the seven of us to fracture like a fragile vase of china; the canyons had flooded then and were now deserts.
It was me.
It is me.
I wondered if there truly is such a thing as fate, did it hate me? Did it hate all of us? The rest of my life had already been laid out in front of me, as bleak as the shadows that the fluorescent lights cast us in, and I could see what lied ahead clearly—simian.
I raised my head to look at him, his shoulders hunched and his dark fringe covered his bowed head. I felt those shoulders would only lower further and further, and I was powerless to do anything. I had made my decision and I would have to carry it with me.
I remembered then how the lollipop had dropped from my fingers and turned into a cigarette.
I was often told that my smile made the stars seem to pale in comparison. I can’t seem to remember who said that to me first (although I hoped it wasn’t Ma).
But, I often believed those words.
Happy Hoseok, who would smile at the simple things like seeing kites in the sky that marked the first days of summer, and when a hot day wasn’t actually that hot, or when a cold day wasn’t actually that cold.
Passionate Hoseok, who would smile through the dancing, even when his body got sore and his bones rattled with every jump. Sleepy Hoseok, who would smile at the end of the day, even though he didn’t have much food to eat. At least he could be thankful for having a roof over his head, right?
It could always get worse. Much, much worse.
Goofy Hoseok, who would smile when he saw the milk mustache on Jimin’s face from a caramel macchiato. Brave-toddler-Hoseok, who would smile when staring out into the night at the thought of his father coming home someday. Someday. Excited-child-Hoseok, who smiled with his eyes closed at the carnival thinking his mother would be there making a funny face when he opened them. Adult Hoseok, who still smiled when he was the only one at his birthday party about to blow out the candles, even though he felt like a hollow skeleton (a Diphylleia grayi) about to crumble behind that smile. Behind that mask.
It scared me. What would happen if that smile truly faded?
What if the Magic Shop had always been spoiled from the inside?
I thought the hill would have been steeper.
I remember how the stars looked when I was a child. I remember clambering off the bus, with the driver shouting at me to be more careful. I remember walking up the hill, feeling like Santiago about to unearth his treasure and Kino about to find his pearl. I remember laying on the grassy hill beside the river staring up at that great expanse of the sky and being mesmerized, awestruck, hypnotized. I watched the stars dance, breathing in the cold air, with my eyes reflecting the stars. It was magic, it should be magic, how only looking up at Basho’s River of Heaven could fill me with untouched and uncorrupted wonder.
I remember gazing at the flickering shooting stars moving across the sky (airplanes), and dreaming of a place that would fill me with that same wonder; music school. Music school, the place where my dreams made of harmonies, piano keys, and flitting tunes could be fulfilled alongside everyone else who had similar dreams. Music school, which might accept this poor boy (you poor, poor boy) if he worked hard enough. Music school, the first of many impossible, shattered dreams.
But in the light of those stars, anything seemed possible.
That day, I went to the hill for the first me in years. I no longer felt the need to run. No money? Then walk, you bum , the driver had said. I trudged up there slowly, with years of trying to stand on my own two feet behind me and eons of trying with no avail weighing on my shoulders heavily. Perhaps, Alexander the Great didn’t really conquer that mountain but tumbled from it instead.
I lied on the dead wisps of grass and looked above. The sky was creamed by heavy clouds of smog. Typical Seoul. No more blue stars. Hah . I threw my arm over my face, shielding my eyes. Yet, there was no one to hide tears from out there. What did you expect? What did you fucking expect? To find hope? To think that maybe you could bring Jeongguk here? You pathetic shit, this is what you get. You’re not 10 anymore.
Thinking back, parts of my childhood, such as this one didn’t really feel like they had happened. They felt like dreams or the beginning of nightmares fading at the back of my mind, hazy realities. Unrealities. I often thought that my two worlds, childhood and youth, were really one cut in half by a sheet of steel — severed but yearning to be whole. But there was no use thinking about that any longer.
There was no going back.
What I hated most about those lights was they didn’t even flicker. They were constant, stale, never wavering, not even a 0.9999-degree shift on the light wave spectrum, not even giving me a semblance of peace when I closed my eyes to get what little rest I could. They blared red under my lids. If there were anything that would make me go crazy first, it would be those lights.
Here’s a little more about sleep; I don’t get to that stage anymore. The closest I can get is falling into a tranquil state by imagining that I’m slowly drifting underwater, letting my mind wander and expand like a bubble about to pop or like the boy in the pond from The Ocean at the End of the Lane .
But then, I would begin to drown and wake to my blankets trying to strangle me. I stopped wearing blankets after that.
I lay on my side, unable to feel my body. The hospital gown clung to my body, like a whisper to my ear, featherlight. My feet were bare and nearly numb from the A.C. that was kept on at all hours. Maybe, the numbness was really because I had not moved from that same spot all day. I stared emptily towards the dark space between the curtain and the doors, my eyes making fantastical shapes out of the shadows. Before, perhaps around Sleepless #150, I could see little inky black clouds of elephants floating around if I strained my eyes hard enough. Now, all I saw was a little boy made of night sitting in between the curtain and the door. He had eyes made of rubies that bored into my own gaze.
Quiet tears slipped out from the corner of my eye, rolling down my cheek to meet the pillow and
paıntıng staining it with colors of exhaustion that seemed to be abysmal. What I yearned for the most was sleep. I’m so tired, I just want to sleep. Please let me sleep. Please. No matter how my eyes dropped, they would still be open and burning from fatigue. They would still be staring at the boy entwined in shadows, searching for elephants. If the hospital was a womb, then the constant Hypnagogia was a dısease, a blight, an abnormality tear in it.
So, I stared further, further, and further into the rubies (or, rather, they stared at me) until I saw past them. Swirls and blazes of green, brown, and iridescent blue were all around me. I could hear a small pitter-patter of feet and I realized that I was running, while the leaves of trees, bark, and patches of the sky were rushing past me. I could still see the faceless shadow boy, but my mind was elsewhere. I was slightly afraid of my backpack getting too wet; Mom and Dad would get mad. Nevertheless, I still ran. Drops of rain fell against my neck as I raced down the lanes of the arboretum. It’s strange how the sky was blue but it was still raining. Perhaps, I was remembering incorrectly, merging skies and memories that did not belong together. So, there were three boys: the child running away (from what?) and looking back occasionally, the boy who was not moving and was crying, and the shadow leaning against the wall of the hospital. The child and I were both one but distinct. He was running away, while I was lying there motionless. Yet, we both had the same yearning — we wanted to escape.
The shadow boy held an invisible cigarette to his invisible lips and blew out a smoke ring of black moths (Lobocraspis griseifusa) . They fluttered towards me, settling on my tears and my eyes. I still did not move. Why are you stuck like this? the shadow boy asked. “I’m red.” I croaked, my voice sounding like a broken music box. Then why don’t you go to sleep? it croaked back, equally drained. “I’m probably an insomniac and there are no bed me stories here.”
Imagine one, then.
There was warm light everywhere, not the unwavering ones from here that hurt my eyes, but an evening light from the sun. I was in the cafeteria and there was a bag of chips on the table. There were also people around me who I really loved and they were saying my name warmly too. Warmth, warmth, warmth. It’s a wonderful feeling, hearing my name being called like that — so full of love. Overflowing with love (more tears slipped out from my eyes; the moths would be getting full soon). The people, my friends, I think, were telling me about running too, another escape. This me, though, unlike the arboretum and the hospital room with too much A.C., they would be there with me too. And then, they faded away.
What faded away?
Everything: the cafeteria with the warm lights; the bag of chips; and the people, my friends, my beautiful, beautiful friends (the moths had paused drinking as my tears crusted over). Do you want to know what the strange thing is?
The last thing to fade was their voices; their gentle, soft, laughing voices.
000001 | 190611
D.M. | Seven
My mother, like all misty-eyed mermaids, used to tell me stories about the sea. There was one in particular that she would recite on nights when the moon coloured the rain black. Let me see if I can remember correctly…
It is said that long ago, so long ago that emotions grew from trees, Pain dragged her torn-self to the sea and gave him all of her colours. The sea was gray and muted back then.
Pain blended into the waves: her crimson faded into white foam, amber gave way to life beneath the water, and her dark grew into the impenetrable depths of the sea. The colours were as fickle as the tides; they could remain hidden in times of desperation and could surge forth like a flood when least expected. The first twisted through every sunset, vanishing from existence when the sun plucked her hair that was caught in the clouds to retire for the night. The second hid in the bellies of fish and great sea beasts. Its presence was only ever apparent when the few fishermen of the world would find themselves in seas of drowned, floating fish. The third could never be reached by man in the physical sense, at least not for quite a few millennia, and took its place as the maws of the abyss. Those who were unfortunate enough to meet it were engulfed.
Perhaps, the moral of this is colours are both givers and takers, but I could be wrong. There was, however, one colour that seemed to be forgotten.
Ah, yes. That blue.
You see, when Pain bled out into the oceans, into all those reds, yellows, and blacks (there were little greens, but they grew into a few rocks and seashells), only her core remained. A whirlwind of anguished, howling colours drenched the sea in all directions, and at her centre, only a single tear-drop of blue.
Held by the muted arms of the sea, the blue remained. It rose and fell with the colourless waves, watched the sun braid and part her hair, floated past the gargantuan islands that were dead whales, and often neared the unfathomable void. It took many years for that blue to unfurl from its globule-state, and when it did, it blossomed. The blues did not leech into the water like the other colours; it painted into an endless canvas that stretched into all depths.
One drop, one small drop tucked away into a corner of Pain, stained the entire ocean in hues of azure, gray-blue, and indigo. The sea was no longer muted.
I like to think that the blue was Pain’s heart; so small and so confined. Trapped wisps of lonesomeness, empathy, and sadness under the weight of the chaos, the other colours, the torment. Yet, when the contents of her blue heart released, it spread out infinitely — so deep and so vast was her sorrow. Watercolour.
A minuscule point of blue that became boundless.
And the sea accepted all of Pain’s colours. Yet, he entangled himself most in those beautiful, runaway strains of blue. When the other colours, all her, flickered in and out, her blue remained the one constant. The sea promised to carry her heart with him.
And so, Pain lived on within the Sea.
“GUYS! HURRY UP AND GET IN THE TRUCK! WE’RE BURNING DAYLIGHT HERE!”
“Hyung, more like you’re burning gas.”
“Don’t talk back to me, Namjoonie. I swear, I offer to drive and you all end up being late!” Jin mumbled grumpily.
“Yes, you were 10 minutes early, Namjoon. DO I CARE?”
“But you just-”
“Okay. Everyone here? Jeongguk, if you fall off from the back, I’ll leave you there to rot. So, SIT DOWN.”
“Wow, love you too, Jin-hyung.”
Yoongi chuckled, “Let him be, hyung.” He rolled a cigarette between his fingers and was about to light it when Namjoon kicked him in the shins. “Hyung, it’s too early. Throw that lung killer away.”
“Jeez, ow. Since when do you care about my lungs?”
“Since you started smoking a pack a day, you idiot.” Jin admonished.
“You know what else is too early,” Hoseok chimed in from the back, “this trip! It’s 6 in the morning!”
“Do you all want to go to the beach or not?” Jin asked exasperatedly.
“I do!” Jimin and Taehyung piped.
“Speaking of which, I had this weird dream about the ocean last night.” Taehyung mentioned in an undertone.
Jeongguk jabbed him in the arm and teased, “Same here! I dreamed that you were actually handsome for once!”
“If you don’t want a knuckle to the face-”
“Alright, fellow exceedingly annoying gentlemen, let’s get this show on the road!” Jin laughed starting the ignition, watching the boys collapse into a heap in the back as the truck jerked forwards.
So there they were —the seven lost boys of the generation ignored by the world. The most beautiful and lonely boys sat or leaned on an old, beat-up truck and watched the sunset. On a beach deemed too plain for tourists, the flawed children claimed their domain. A place where they could rule at peace, undisturbed by the world behind them, with only the calm sea ahead of them.
The sea held for them hopes and dreams that could be reached. In the dream of life on that day, anything seemed possible. Even though the boys knew the illusion that the sea showed them would disappear some time after that day, they watched on. Everything could and would disappear. Lives could be shattered into so many fractals of tears and suffering, and they could not be put back together completely. Yet, on that day, they were free. It’s a precious word that can seldom be said with truth, free.
Seven pairs of eyes glimmered with mirth and joy so great that it bordered pain. They were together, then, with their jokes, the playful shoves, and the ear-piercing songs. The breeze carried their laughter tangled with aching fondness and the smoke from the bonfire to the sea. The fire burned with their longing — a longing for another day.
That night, the night that seemed to hold the entire universe, each boy cradled his own piece of youth and engraved the most beautiful moments into memory.
HOW MUCH LONGER WILL I STAND HERE, AMONG THIS WORLD
THAT BREEDS ONLY MISERY?
The train was late.
It had always been late.
Demian stood among the remains of the deserted train station, not sure whether to wait there any longer or return to the equally deserted town.
[ Deserted did not sound right. It would mean that someone had left this place before; no one had.]
He often spent hours wandering through the decayed halls of the station, trekking over the mounds of dust that half-buried doorways and window p|a|n|e|s. He would trace the blue tiles on the walls mindlessly as he gazed towards the train tracks that met the sky at the horizon. He would look for the smallest twist of smoke in the sky. As always, there were only scattered clouds. Some times, he would pause in the golden light that trickled through the cracks of the walls and would strain his ears, hoping to hear the faint whistle of a train. If he pretended, he almost could. As frozen time ticked by, he would lay in the dust, fatigued, not caring whether it got caught in his dark hair. He would never close his eyes, always staring trance-like at the tracks glistening in the heat. After all, the sun never sunk past noon around that time of…
That time of…
Every day, he told himself he would go after the train.
Yet, every day, he would return to the empty town, leaving behind Ozymandias ll another noon.
D.M. | S.C.
Fair Beatrice with hair threaded out of the sun and masked by the dust of the little desert town. As each day passed, the dust rusted like gold, and the strands became brittle. In the photographs, she began to fade, as if slowly being consumed by her other half—the half that was unseeable, the half that was not there.
It is time for the Dreamers to break through their shells of slumber.
But what will become of them when faced with a reality that they cannot accept?
Will they plunge themselves into despair, or will they fight against it futilely?
Or will they, perhaps, find another way?
If there was a door to memory, would you open it?
Would you relive those moments locked away in the past, in those deep pools of childhood that you would even learn to swim for (even though you drowned once)? You grasp on to the ruins of reminiscence, the fragments of memories that you want to stitch together again and rebuild into the home it once was, the house with the red window panes; the hill watching over a sea of wheat. You yearn for those summer days, colored by wondrous patches of sky and strawberry ice cream on the canvas of youth. You ache for those cool nights when you would fall asleep to the lap of the train on the tracks. You miss the voyages into your imagination, the labyrinth of discovery that was those bookcases in the library towering over you, and the dusty roads curving along with the apple orchard.
You left that childhood behind as you fell gradually into the arms of your life. The home of your heart has changed, grown alongside you in your shell of me, but somehow, it is always with you—that little toddler cradled by a summer afternoon spent at the arboretum.
Observer Parts 1 & 2
| Lights Out |
[of memories and madness]
When Namjoon was little, he received a puppy for Christmas.
(Oh, how he loved that puppy. She had the warmest fur and accompanied him everywhere. When she passed away his first year in high school, he sat holding her close and cried the entire night, cried into her soft, soft fur as her whimpering slowly quieted).
He could picture the box she was in clearly —wrapped in bright Doraemon paper and a pretty red ribbon. He had thought he was getting an action figure or a toy and he eyed the present from his place at the dining table excitedly, already thinking about play-time. When his parents opened the box and she scrambled out on all fours, he shrieked with delight (“DOGGY, DOGGY, DOGGY!!!). Yet, he very quickly realized that there was something wrong. She panted heavily, her tail quivering between her legs. Namjoon’s father had thought she would be fine being put in the box for a few minutes and did not understand that he almost put her life at risk. It took the rest of the day to calm her down.
That night, after Namjoon made his little prayer to Santa (he prayed to Santa during the winter, the Easter bunny during spring, the trees during the summer, and the fat Buddha in the shrine behind his house during autumn as if God changed their coat every season) he clambered down from bed and crouched next to the little puppy who had finally managed to sleep.
As he petted her gently (“Good doggie,” he whispered), all he could think of was those minutes she spent in the box. He imagined how he would feel if he was the one stuck in there. It would be all things icky. Dark, cold, small, trapped, alone, scary-scared, terrified. He felt sad for her.
He wouldn’t want to be in a box.
Namjoon opened his eyes blearily.
The glare from the pale lights of the ceiling was disorienting, and he blinked to readjust. His breath hitched as he read the time on the analog clock on the other side of the bars.
Already 5 minutes of sleep.
Namjoon blinked and looked towards the walls blistered with cracks, pretending that the clean cot with the untouched sheets beside him did not exist.
He hadn’t gone near them after the night he had woken from the first dream. The dark, oppressive ceiling had hung ominously above him then and had felt as though it was pressing closer and closer to him, with the bedsheets strangling him. The cell was suffocating. Now he preferred to sit still, as far away from the cot as possible, pinching himself to keep awake and even staring into the pale lights if he had to.
At some point, the pinching had ceased to work.
He leaned his head back against the wall and struggled to keep his eyes open. The rush of thoughts, half-memories, and half-dreams always forced him awake just as they lulled him to sleep. The longest he had slept in the time he was here was just over 3 hours, though most nights, he got less than 20 minutes. He would try to not fall asleep again, though, he thought as his eyes drooped. He would always try.
That day, Seoul’s sky was as gray as its buildings.
The gravel and rocks crunched beneath their feet as they walked under the shadow of the empty train carts. Taehyung had his back turned to Namjoon and shuffled along with his hands shoved in his pockets, kicking away loose stones.
Once again, Namjoon very quickly realized there was something wrong. He was always good at that, understanding wrongness despite not understanding the nature of a whole. However, he did not know how to face that wrongness.
Even so, Namjoon reached out and stopped Taehyung by his shoulder.
He was at a loss for words, despite feeling compelled to talk to him. The tumultuous emotions in his mind rendered his mouth dry. Taehyung shrugged off his hand, giving Namjoon a detached, questioning look.
All Namjoon could do was stare.
Taehyung breathed heavily, his eyes bloodshot. There was a bandage at the side of his neck, peeking out from his hoodie. Namjoon wanted to believe it was just a bruise from some sport, just like Tae had always told him, but he knew it was not. Maybe, the certain bastard who had done it considered it a sport. That was a sickening thought. Namjoon knew Tae had been hiding years of hurt, bruises upon bruises, behind his oversized clothes, behind that playful smile — perfectly carved out by broken brown bottles and a facade he fell into until it became his identity.
His eyes, oh his eyes. Those eyes that were always full of mischief and mirth seemed to swim with pain and sadness as of late. Bitterness and immeasurable tiredness. Rusted gold.
The look that kid gave him broke his heart.
Namjoon wanted nothing more than to reach out and wrap Taehyung in arms, tell him that he would be okay, Namjoon would help him, Yoongi would give him a home if he asked, though they hadn’t been in contact for a while; Taehyung didn’t have to live in that horrible place anymore. They would all be okay someday.
What Namjoon wanted to ask Taehyung at that moment:
“Are you okay?”
“You want to crash at my place tonight?”
“Can hyung please hug you?”
What Namjoon actually asked:
“Why are you always breathless?”
Taehyung’s eyes widened as he paused at Namjoon’s question. The wind picked up, touseling Tae’s hair (“A mess,” as Jeongguk liked to call it). He looked like he might cry. Even if it was just Namjoon’s imagination, he knew that there had already been a sea of tears clawing behind Taehyung’s irises and it would not overflow any time soon. He had been building up the walls of his soul since the day he was born and had cemented them into place the day of the expulsion (they did not talk about that anymore). It was then that he became a formidable lighthouse, almost impenetrable to even the tallest waves that surged within his heart, even to the miles of water it was buried under. Almost. Tae’s face crumpled as the walls almost teetered, overwhelmed by the sea, perhaps. A moment later, all traces of vulnerability vanished as he hid the lighthouse and the waves behind a shroud of mist, a cheeky smile, that same signature smile he would throw when he successfully pranked Jin-hyung or scored a goal. If the world was ending, Taehyung would be the last one to stop smiling (maybe except for Hoseok, that is).
So, when Namjoon asked why he was so breathless, he knew already the answer. He always seemed to know what was wrong, after all.
“Because I’m drowning, hyung.”
“Oi! Hurry up, the match’s starting,” Myungsoo called out.
And just like that, Taehyung’s eyes took on his previous detached glaze as he turned and ran over the train tracks, without a single glance back. He was always running far, far ahead of them; so far, that Namjoon could never reach him. Even if Seoul’s deformed skies broke over them all, he would still be running.
Running and laughing away his pain.
[Memories with the butterfly effect at their precipice.]
And now for the memories that kept him up every night staring at the clock, memories that made him yearn for time to turn backward, memories that had not truly happened then.
[no, please no. please. not again. not again.]
Yoongi sat in a burning room, smoke and flames weaving through his fingertips. Rows of yellow buses flickered before his eyes, the sun and the warmth everywhere. They say everyone has a dying wish; maybe, his wish was to run among them once more.
Jeongguk lay broken on a cold, hard street. Blood pooled around his head, lapping at his black strands of hair. The stars were scattered in the sky, as they were every night. And weren’t his friends like that too? Scattered, always present, but far, far away. So far away. The blossoms from the cherry tree had not bloomed that year.
Jimin. Oh God, Jimin . In the dim blue light of the bathroom, Namjoon could hardly make out his body. He hanged limply against the bathtub, his head submerged in water. Dark moths flitted across the surface, settling on the back of Jimin’s neck and what little could be seen of his hair. The dry rustle of moth-wings was muted by the gushing water from the tap.
Hoseok was crumpled at the bottom of a staircase. He stared emptily at the wall, wondering if he looked long enough, would he fade away like the peeling white paint? The faint tune of a merry-go-round tinkled at the back of his mind.
There were others as well. Others that Namjoon had never met but felt he had known his entire life.
The boy with silver hair was on a train to nowhere, searching for someone years away.
The fair girl clutched a book to her chest as a metro raced past her. She saw herself in the succession of windows. Namjoon could not see himself, but it was as though the girl was staring straight at his reflecfion.
The boy with black hair waited for a train that would never arrive. It is ironic, in a way, how his greatest wish was to say he was sorry.
Jin stood before a bench facing an unnamed road. It was a corner of Seoul that had long been untouched. Six petals lay at his feet, shriveling. How do we deal with failure if it has lasted countless lifetimes? How do we reconcile ourselves with our fate if we are doing everything we can to fight against it? How do we live knowing that our mistakes are at the expense of those we hold most dear?
He laughed hysterically, tears streaming from his eyes, as they asked him why had he done it, what had driven him to go that far? Like before, Namjoon knew the answers; they were as binding as the metal cuffs that ensnared Taehyung’s hands.
The world did this — the whole fucking world that had turned a blind eye to this kid and gave him no alternative, that had shot him down when he reached out for help, the social workers who never gave a shit, all of them who had thought it couldn’t have been that bad for him, not for sweet Taehyung who embraced life to the fullest even when he was being suffocated by it. They were ones who had forced him to build his walls and they were the ones who had bashed them in. They were the ones who cradled and the ones who ripped away. God and the Devil. Taehyung was driven to the point he would do anything to escape the cage made of broken bottles, even if that meant he had to trade in one cage for the other.
Patterns of red and black stained Taehyung’s back in feathers, branding on it misery and hopelessness.
He had always longed for colors.
Namjoon woke up shaking, his body pressed against the numbing bars of the cell. The clock still ticked incessantly, drumming away in his ears.
It was 4:00 AM
He curled into a ball and began to sob into his knees, clutching at his overalls.
He though back to Jin-hyung’s visit earlier. Namjoon recalled the look on his face, drained from the shock. And yet, what did Namjoon do? He had continued to speak casually, emotionlessly, as if he was speaking about the weather and not how Jungkook and Yoongi, some of his closest friends, had died, like the cruel coward he was. He couldn’t even meet hyung’s eyes, he kept looking down at his hands half-wishing he had a cigarette.
Namjoon did not regret it then, but he regretted it now. He should have told Jin-hyung about his dreams. He shouldn’t have let everything spiral beyond his control back then in high school. He should have stopped Taehyung that day.
“Why,” cried Namjoon “why didn’t you do anything? Why did-wh. YOU LET THIS HAPPEN, WHY, WHY??! DAMN IT, AGHH DAMN IT!!!” He banged his fist on the bars and they reverberated dully.
Namjoon hiccuped and choked on his tears, and his body shuddered from the force of his cries.
He had never cried so hard in his life. The gray walls of the box looked on indifferently. There was nothing he could do anymore.
“And now we’re all going to die.”
I jolted awake, gasping for air.
Hot tears streamed down my cheeks and I reached up to wipe them away, finding that my hands were shaking. My chest heaved as my heart hammered away inside.
What in the hell kind of dream was that?
Waking up to a cell from memories from the past and the future.
Where everyone died.
Dreams within a dream.
“Oh hyung, you’re up.”
I looked over to Taehyung sitting with a bowl of cereal in his lap. The TV buzzed quietly as some cartoon played on it.
That’s right. Taehyung stayed over last night.
“Yeah. M’up,” I mumbled.
The image of Tae in handcuffs almost vividly thudded inside my head.
“Hope you don’t mind that I’m eating breakfast here again.” Taehyung flashed a smile.
It was that same boxy smile, except this me, unlike the vision of the day near the train tracks, he was not hiding anything behind it. There was no pain or sadness in his eyes, just mild sleepiness. He was not wearing a hoodie, neither was his shoulder bandaged. He was wearing a borrowed (from me) shorts and a t-shirt that hanged loosely from his lanky frame. It had been storming last night and Taehyung (in typical Taehyung fashion) was soaked after his run.
“Yeah, yeah. I don’t mind, but go get me a bowl.”
“Oh, and hyung?”
“You were crying in your sleep.”
I pursed my lips and closed my eyes briefly, trying to clear my head. They all had to be just dreams, didn’t they?
“Ah, I don’t even remember what the dream was.”
Taehyung scrutinized me for a moment and shrugged, making his way to the kitchen.
I pushed the dreams and the box out of my mind to ponder on later. For now, everything was fine.
Taehyung was not drowning.
A train chugged along in the distance.
|||||E-e-RRo-R | he-i-hE-I?? WHO AM I|||=
Prelude to the Seer.
Constellation in the sky, A Map of…, Dream Room, Grave of the Lost, Circle, Little fellow,
Ruination at the height of betrayal.
How long will we wander?
Why has Caliente been abandoned?
Room 121027. Contextus.
The Flower that grew one evening on Ave. Ems.
The Day We Looked Up at a Seamless Sky.
“Hyung, please. Please. I just want to be okay again. Why is this happening to us?”
“Shh. We will be, we will be. I promise. It’s not your fault”
Trust and faith. How different are they, really?
Phalaropian Note: 1.
J. K. | Dum Spiro Spero
There are faint dream-like memories that linger at the back of our minds, ones that we cannot limit to the bounds of truth or imagination. There was one such memory for Jeongguk. He often would remember snippets of it during those half states of awareness where we are neither awake nor asleep, the moments flitting along the edge of his conscience like the gentle rustle of curtains catching his eye or a stereo replaying a song once forgotten.
A boy shined
a lamp at the wall
in his attic,
watching a universe
slowly ripple on to
He would sit there night after night,
Until the day the candle, the lamp-
And like that, the memory would slip away like the mountain whitefish did from his grasp into the pond so long ago — another moment that grew faint as sleep took over him.
Prelude to the Passenger
| Prelude to the Passenger Pt. 2: Adagio |
The lamentoso rang in his ears shrilly, drowning out the sirens that blared past him, heading towards that place. Each step he took was colored by dismay.
Elsewhere, a boy lay silent in a hollow of stars.
Aitken, R., Matsuo, B., Yosa, B., Kobayashi, I., Masaoka, S., & Moon, S. (2011). The River of Heaven: The Haiku of Bashō, Buson, Issa, and Shiki . Counterpoint.
BTS. (2015-2020). Save Me. BigHit Entertainment.
Coelho, P. (2014). The Alchemist (25th ed.). HarperOne.
Gaiman, N. (2016). Ocean at the End of the Lane . William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Kooser, T. (2007). Delights & Shadows . Copper Canyon Pr.
Shelley, P. B., & Shelley, M. W. (1994). The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Modern Library ed.). Modern Library.
Steinbeck, J., & Muller, F. (1999). The Pearl . Recorded Books.
Tchaikovsky, I., P. (1893). Symphony No. 6 in B minor Finale: Adagio Lamentoso . Saint Petersburg
Verlaine, P. (1977). Poems (J. Le Clercq, Trans.). Greenwood Press.
Rar. (2020). Avenue Ems. The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , (1). https://ther3journal.com/issue-1/avenue-ems/.
Rar. “Avenue Ems.” The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , no.1, 2020. https://ther3journal.com/issue-1/avenue-ems/.
Avenue Ems by Rar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Header Illustration by @thisiskeets