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    Warning: Kidnapping/Drug Abuse! — You can hide marked sensitive content or with the toggle in the formatting menu. If provided, alternative content will be displayed instead.

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    Kidnapping/Drug Abuse

    “Oh, fvck! Don’t freak me out and just sit down! Ugh, things are different, damn it, things are! What are we going to do about this!”

    My eyelids fluttered as I heard the sound of something being forcefully struck. Blinking slowly, I gradually woke up. But I still couldn’t open my eyes. It was because my entire head was throbbing with intense pain. I got hit in the back of the head, the impact resonating through my skull. Why did it feel like my forehead was going to split open too? Through my blurred vision, I saw trembling hands.

    Perhaps the trembling was from being in a shaking vehicle. The rough surface under my cheek kept jolting, making me dizzy. My crumpled body felt uncomfortable. A dull sound echoed through my buzzing ears. I realized very late that it was a sound coming from my head.

    After a sharp turn that nearly flung me up, my head slammed down every time the vehicle jolted. Suddenly nauseous, I instinctively covered my mouth and gagged. Only then did I regain my senses and smell the strong metallic odor. The moisture on my hands was blood. My reddened vision made my breathing quicken until I was gasping for air.

    “But now he can’t see, right? So, it’s done, isn’t it?”

    “Yeah, yeah. Then we can demand more, can’t we? That’s right. Hey, make the call quickly. Prepare more money.”

    “No, you idiot, look properly!”

    The rough laughter of the men mixed with impatience and irritation in the man’s voice, making me even more disoriented. I gasped for breath, hunching over, and quietly, very quietly, just breathed. I didn’t scream, lift my head to check my surroundings, or even think about attacking.

    I held my breath to avoid drawing any more attention to being awake. This is real, really real. There was a time when I was scared and thought about this situation day and night. Until the moment I was about to fall asleep, I imagined being dragged by someone, waiting helplessly in the dark for a long time, and then being beaten to death. It was so scary that I imagined myself as a dwarf as small as the palm of my hand, but it was close to impossible for me to overcome that fear alone.

    With my head buried, I cautiously felt around my chest for the bag strap. It’s there, still there. As the tension eased a bit, I felt the cold sweat I had shed. I wanted to huddle to protect myself, but I was worried the bag would be too conspicuous. It couldn’t be stolen. There was no description of the bag being taken away.

    So it’ll be okay. It’ll be okay, nothing will happen. I can do this. It’s possible. No problem. I forcefully suppressed the rising dread and desperately thought positive thoughts instead. With my pummeled head, I convinced myself. If I didn’t, my body would panic again, so by any means, I kept reassuring myself.

    I’ve imagined escaping this situation hundreds of times, so I’ve imagined thousands of escape scenarios. So far, I can still see everything positively. Right now, the bag was still there and I was not tied up. It’s not the worst case, and it was actually one of the best cases I could have imagined. I couldn’t help but think more positively than this.

    …But why didn’t they tie me up?

    Something I should be grateful for, yet it only added to my confusion. What’s going on? Why did they really leave me untied? Because I was unconscious? Then what were they planning to do when I woke up? Even if I didn’t know how many of them there were, weren’t they being way too casual? When my spinning head settled a bit, someone loudly laughed again. No, even if they outnumbered me, even if they were confident, why leave an able-bodied guy…untied?

    Ah, these people. Were these people just idiots? They didn’t bother to check what was in my bag, even though it’s bigger than a backpack of an engineering student or something. It was a disappointing reason. As the tension eased, I even burst out laughing. I shouldn’t have done that.

    “Looking for your cell phone?”

    “…”

    I didn’t think there was any reason to continue to feel uncomfortable, so I just twisted my body for a moment. Amidst the dizzying ringing in my ears and the rough laughter, a monotone voice stood out clearly.

    You can tell someone’s not in their right mind… Just by looking at them. The threat coming from their gaze alone felt eerie. Everything seemed to fade away in their fanatical eyes that didn’t even blink.

    The sensation of sweat trickling down my forehead and the dampness in my neck felt chilly. All my senses rang sharply. He looked smaller than me, even though I worked out regularly – yet I was terrified. I didn’t dare breathe in case the slightest blink prompted him to stab me with the knife in his hand. I lowered my eyes, feeling complete helplessness that overwhelmed even my fear.

    Phone, what about the phone? Ah, he just asked if I was looking for my phone. I struggled to dredge up the frozen memory and forced my head to move. It seemed like he saw my fumbling, so he must have thought I was fumbling for my phone. Worried that not responding would be seen as ignoring him, I forced a nod.

    The disdainful sneer as if the phone was already thrown away was obvious as he sniffed disdainfully.  I shrank my trembling body into the corner. Feeling my bag being pressed, I slowly buried my face in my shaking hands. My face was so close to the man’s feet, I was afraid he’d kick me in the face like a soccer ball.

    It was only a brief moment, but from the glimpse I had, there were three men including this guy. There must be at least one more person since there was a sound from the driver’s seat. The narrow van didn’t show any signs of age, and the windows were overly darkened for some reason.

    If I slightly parted the fingers covering my face, I could have checked properly, but then I felt breathing. Hot, unpleasant breaths on the back of my hand. Raspy breaths that almost sounded metallic, making my body violently tremble as if being buried alive.

    “What a waste of height.”

    The raspy voice was terrifying.

    “What a waste of build. The other kids weren’t this quiet at least.”

    “…”

    It’s because I’m damn smart. Otherwise, why would I needlessly cause a ruckus and provoke them?

    As they snickered mockingly, I deliberately remained silent inwardly. I desperately clung to my wavering sanity, trying to gather any potentially useful information. “Other kids” – this could be their specialty. My gender, no, my build seems uncommon for their usual targets.

    “Hey… Are you ignoring me?”

    While my mind raced, a very…very faint murmur was heard so softly that it was barely audible at first. How close did he have to lean towards me for me to hear it so clearly? Fvck, I’m so fvcking scared. Even if I saw a ghost, it would be less scary than this. I wanted to stay like this, but I didn’t think I could. It was just a hunch.

    When I finally lowered my hands, I saw his shadow first. If I raised my gaze, our eyes would meet directly. My increasingly labored breathing didn’t bode well – I might hyperventilate. I bit down hard on the soft inner flesh of my mouth. I should have kept feigning unconsciousness. But would they leave me be? The mixture of doubt and fear made me hiccup. I’m really losing it, f**k.

    “I really like this one.”

    “He’s doing it again.”

    I was startled when my wrist was suddenly grabbed and I momentarily shook my hand away. At the same time, my hair was grabbed and my head slammed to the floor. Ugh, I couldn’t breathe. As the harsh reality hit my skin, I fell into panic, trying to cover my eyes from the dizzying scene before me. The childish naivete that made me believe if I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me, washed over me – but it offered no protection.

    “Be good and accept this reward. It’s expensive stuff.”

    This crazy bastard – snickering among the men, he grabbed my forearm and rolled up my sleeve. The coat was too thick to easily push up, so thinking he might make me take it off, which would mean losing my bag too, I clutched the bunched fabric.

    “Why are you being so good? I like obedient ones like you.”

    How can “good” sound so revolting? If I escape from here, I have to first draw a red line. A sharp injection needle was visible beyond the blurred focus. Oh no, this can’t be happening. A sob welled up, violently shaking my sight. I’ve had my blood drawn and been pricked with various needles, but I’ve never been so scared before.

    I think I muttered something like “Please save me.” But they just ignored me and kept pushing. As soon as the man stepped away, I quickly stepped back. I thought they would do more, but they just gawked at me like watching a freak show. Did my nosebleed start again? I felt it dripping down.

    “Ugh, ugh.”

    My labored, hiccupping breaths sounded like I was suffocating. The black sheet was rust-red and damp. Sticky saliva was dripping down as my vision flickered. At first, I thought I was blinking too fast. But when the sound abruptly stopped, I realized it wasn’t anything special. As the sound faded away, my vision immediately darkened. Perhaps this was better. Maybe this was a better state.

    With the sensation of floating in space, I arched my back and clawed at my chest. The moment my fingers caught on the bag strap, I clutched it like a lifeline. To go far away, to escape far, far away. Revealing my vulnerability, I squirmed restlessly. If someone kicked my abdomen, my ribs could break or organs rupture, yet I lay there limply exposed.

    Did I actually lie down? My senses were so unstable, that I couldn’t be sure if I had physically done so. I kept blacking out. Someone might have asked how I was feeling, but I’m not sure. Everything was as dark as the blindness before me. My head knocked hard against the violently rocking car. Shards grazed my eyes.  No, did they really? Or was it just a feeling? I was confused. At that moment, a shock of pain enveloped my entire body.

    Then…a very long stillness gently weighed me down. I didn’t faint… or I did? I felt more dizzy than before. I feel like throwing up. It was the moment my quivering awareness resurfaced. A faint smell of dust reached the tip of my nose, and I immediately heard the small sound of insects crawling in my ears. Other than that, there was no sound other than the faint sound of rolling stone fragments.

    I lay sprawled, thumping my dizzy head against the surface. At this rate, I might split my skull open, but this was all a dream anyway. Ah…yes, just a dream. It’s okay. Just a nightmare. When I wake up, I’ll be home. I laughed while enjoying the swaying feeling of floating. My brother, my brother, Tae Seong-je will wake me up. He’ll hug me, comfort me, and make me drink warm tea, saying it’s all okay.

    What was that soothing floral tea again? He’ll probably tell me to drink it all. Even if it hurts afterward, I should ask him to hug me tightly. Laughing and giggling, I suddenly stopped. But if this is a nightmare… When will it end? I cried tears on top of the swaying pile of rocks. The nightmares I have never end. The nightmares I’ve had…

    In the fading consciousness, I mumbled endlessly with bloodstained lips. There was never a time when I woke up from a dream. Not the next day, probably not the day after that. Until I lose all sense of time.

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