Chapter 8

Fallen Leaves

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

 

Areum was overwhelmed with the enormous amount of people who recognized her the following morning after her basketball outing. She had acknowledged that the population was relatively small, but she hadn’t anticipated such a great proportion to have watched the game.

 

“Hey you’ve got some sick skills!” A boy balancing on a skateboard down the street called.

 

“Thanks!” She called back as he sped past. When she entered the serene environment of the café, she was once again greeted by an immense amount of waves and compliments.

 

“You’re basically a celebrity now, you know.” Minseok grinned from behind the counter. “I can’t help but be a little jealous.”

 

“I didn’t even know I could play like that, to be honest.” Areum shrugged, hoisting herself up on a stool in front of the breakfast bar.    

 

“You seriously tricked Jongdae though. I think his arrogance level dipped down faster than a stock market crash after you pulled that move on him yesterday.” Minseok laughed while cleaning a glass with a white rag. 

 

“He probably thought the only ideas I get are through a camera lens.” Areum snorted.

 

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, right?” He smirked. “That’s the first thing we learned from each other, isn’t it?”

 

“That was like a week ago, wasn’t it? I’ve already done so much since then.”

 

“And I was definitely the highlight of your activities, wasn’t I?” The pair directed their attention to the newcomer, who had leisurely taken a seat next to Areum.

 

“Do you ever enter conversations like a normal person by saying, ‘hello’, or ‘hey’ or any sort of regular greeting?” Minseok scoffed.

 

“Absolutely not, that’s what keeps things interesting.” Jongdae explained proudly.

 

Areum rolled her eyes at him before continuing to sip at the glass of water that Minseok had set in front of her. “What are you guys doing today?”

 

“I already hung out with some friends this morning, but today I thought we could explore another set of the natural wonders here.” Jongdae responded, motioning to the open air outside the windows.

 

“If you guys are going to go on a nature trek or something, I’d rather stay here.” Minseok commented.

 

“I never invited you.” Jongdae deadpanned.

 

“Regardless, I think Namjoo is going to be here soon. You don’t know her well, right? This would be a perfect opportunity for you guys to hang out!” Areum spoke with lightning speed to end the awkward moment that had ensued between the two boys. “Oh look, here she comes!” She exclaimed as the said girl pushed through the doors.

 

Leaping to her feet, Areum met Namjoo in the middle of the café, beckoning her to the other two who were watching curiously back at the bar. “Hey, I’m going to make your day a lot better.” She whispered.

 

“What?” Namjoo asked, eyes widening in confusion.

 

“I know you have a thing for Minseok, so why don’t you hang out with him for a day?”

 

“No, I don’t! I’ve only known him for like 18 hours-” Namjoo retorted.

 

“Love at first sight exists. Now please, cooperate?” Areum pleaded. “I need to ask Jongdae about some stuff, okay? That’s why I’m trying to make you guys hang out together.” She added.

 

“Oh, I see now.” Namjoo smirked. Pulling out of Areum’s death grip, she strutted over to the seat next to Jongdae, and looked at Minseok. “So, what do you usually do after work?” She batted her eyelashes, causing him to do a double take before responding.

 

Jongdae took her confident actions as an opportunity to escape, pushing off the stool to meet Areum who was leaning on a wall across the room. “Why are you so eager to get rid of them?” He asked.

 

“I could ask the same, couldn’t I?” Areum slung her camera bag over her shoulder, moving to exit the café. “But regardless, you’re going to go through Photography Lesson Two today.”

 

“What if I have something else planned?” He challenged, refusing to follow her.

 

“If you did, why would you have tried to hook up our friends in the first place?” She challenged.

 

“Very true.” He nodded in defeat. “Where to?”

 

“Show me the most mysterious, darkest depths of the town.”


“You really took my request seriously, didn’t you?” Areum murmured, apprehension lacing her voice. They stood in front of a cavernous opening to a passageway that seemed to be abandoned. It looked like a black hole, with no evidence of a designated entrance and no sign of any humanity-completely discarded from the rest of the world. Contrary to a Stairway to Heaven, it portrayed the concept of a descent into Hell. The tunnel was rather secluded, with the only signs of active life being the measly weeds that sprouted along the edgings.

 

“May I ask how you know of this tunnel’s existence?” Areum questioned, squinting into the depths of the dark opening, hopelessly seeking for light in the obscurity.

 

“My friends and I used to explore a lot when we were younger. I once got dared to walk around in here for a minute.” He explained, seemingly reminiscing in memories.  

 

“Assuming you made it out alive, then it should be fine.” Areum spoke, more to herself than him.

 

“Yes, I learned that if you keep walking straight through it, you’ll end up at a special cavern. It’s breathtaking.” He added.

 

“That definitely sounds picture-worthy to me.” Areum agreed.

 

“Just a warning, it takes a while to get there.”

 

“It’s probably worth it. We have a few hours until sunset, anyways.” Areum replied with newfound confidence.

 

“It’s adventure time!” Jongdae announced upon her agreement. Areum led the way with certainty, a little too buoyantly for someone who was about to submerge themselves in an abyss of darkness. The moment she disrupted the undisturbed environment of the tunnel, Areum’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest when she was met by a flock of winged creatures that swarmed around her. Not even bothering to scream, she simply shielded her body from the aggressive bats as they exited the tunnel. “That was disgusting.” She scrunched up her nose, glaring at Jongdae.

 

“That means there aren’t any left inside.” He shrugged.

 

“Yes, but that also means there’s more space for other creatures to come out and kill us.”

 

“You once told me that photographers will do anything for a good shot. Don’t you want that picture at the end of the tunnel?” He pressed.

 

Areum looked down at her red converses to avoid his eyes, knowing that he would have that matter-of-fact expression. She wasn’t entirely sure why he was so eager to go in the tunnel, or why he was so adamant about giving her a reason to enter. Regardless, she wouldn't be able to say no when he was trying so hard. 

 

“Fine. Let’s get going before it gets dark, at least. I hope you don’t try to kill me in there.” Areum muttered.

 

“If I had intentions of killing you, I would have done that a long time ago.”


After entering, it seemed as if the pair had been enveloped by the obscurity like a scarf, but a small breathing hole was opened as a streak of light streamed down from the ceiling, gently illuminating the space.

 

“This doesn’t seem so bad, I think we ripped off the Band-Aid by walking in, and now its better.”

 

“See? It’s not that bad.” Jongdae responded, smiling smugly.

 

The worn-out flooring was slightly damp, their shoes creating hollow echoes against that were absorbed in the thick walls with every step. It was evident that the tunnel once served as a train station of some sort, as rusted tracks often jutted out of the ground, half buried under the overgrowth of weeds and tangles of grass. It was intriguing to imagine that hundreds of people would have milled about this tunnel regularly, getting to work and coming home after a long day.

 

“It’s amazing how this tunnel was once bustling with activity, but now its deserted as if they never existed. Imagine how many people could have walked in our footsteps, going to different places and living different lives.” Areum spoke her thoughts, hoping Jongdae would have some input.

 

“I believe that realization pertains to the word ‘sonder’.” He responded. “By definition, it means the realization that each living-or dead-person would live a life as complex as your own.”

 

“I guess someone already had that thought before me, since they made a word for it.” Areum chuckled.

 

“Look, we’re almost there. See that little spot of light?” Jongdae pointed in front of them, where a thin beam of light could be seen shining onto the ground.

 

“How did that even happen? If it was supposed to be a train station, things like that wouldn’t be there unless constructed intentionally.” Areum inquired.

 

“I have some theories, but I’ll let you explore it before saying anything.” Jongdae said as they neared the opening.

 

A cool pocket of air hit their faces when they entered the cavern. Just as Jongdae had said, there was a small hole in the ceiling that let some light peek in. Though the moon was not perfectly aligned with the opening as it was still early in the night, it was still stunning The space was similar to a dome, except rather than having the edges constructed of manmade metal and concrete, it seemed to be carved out of the Earth’s soil and landscape. The railroad tracks had been terminated sometime ago, and the space indicated no connection to the remnants of a train station that were left behind in the beginning of the tunnel.

 

“It looks like someone wanted to construct something here, but abandoned it.” Areum commented, already snapping a few pictures.

 

“That would explain the perfectly symmetrical dome shape, wouldn’t it?” He responded. “You know; it seems more mysterious now that I come back at an older age. Before, I was just scared for my life.” He smiled at the silly memories.

 

“It’s like a book; if you read it multiple times as your age progresses, you see and develop different understandings of it.” Areum shifted her gaze away from the viewfinder for a moment to watch his reaction.

 

Jongdae sat down on a ledge, and simply watched her as she tried certain angles, came up with ideas, and walked around energetically looking for new inspiration. It was quite extraordinary how such a simple setting could evoke so many new ideas in a person.

 

When she had deemed her mission complete for the time being, Areum proceeded to take the space next to him on the ledge, watching the room slowly fill with the moonlight peeking through the ceiling. “How is this even standing without any support right now?” Areum curiously looked around at the structure. “I feel like it should have caved in by now.”

 

“It’s probably-” Jongdae moved to voice his theory on the structure of the dome, but was cut off with an abrupt crack that sounded above their heads. Looking up, he found the steady pulse of his heart hard to track for a moment. “Areum, move!” He yelled. When the girl was too shell-shocked to act on his command, he managed to wrap his arm around her waist before pulling her to the side swiftly. The spot they were sitting on was crushed as a chunk of Earth shook loose from the ceiling and failed against gravity. Similar to a glacier, this slight movement triggered a whole orchestration of chaos, as more and more rocks and masses of soil began their descent, littering the floor. Areum screamed as a chunk of soil landed just an inch away from her, clouding her vision in dust.

 

“Come on, we have to get out!” Jongdae reached for her hand, struggling to get a hold of her through the opaque dust cloud. He frantically looked around for an exit route, but only found more and more soil and Earth surrounding them.

 

“I feel like it should have caved in by now”  Suddenly the words she had spoken just a few moments ago repeated themselves in her mind as she felt Jongdae’s hand wrap around hers.

 

“Oh, the irony.” Areum muttered under her breath.

 

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