Eight years ago
The summer sun sifted through the low hanging trees, sending shadows dancing around the ground below them. Soo Young quickened her steps in order to keep up with her best friend.
“Eunseo, where are we going? My dad is gonna kill me if he finds out I came this far into the woods by myself.” Soo Young whined.
Her brand new shoes squished through the mud, that was another thing she would get in trouble for. Her father had specifically told her not to wear them out to play, but she’d really wanted to show them off to her friend.
“You’re not alone Joy, you're with me,” Eunseo said as she took her hand and smiled brightly.
“That’s not what I mean Eunseo.”
“I know, but come on. It’s not like he’ll ever find out. Besides, I have something really cool to show you!”
Soo Young followed Eunseo down the rocky path silently, hoping she was right and that her father never found out about this little excursion. They trudged through mud and dry moss until they made it to the edge of the mountain. Soo Young glanced up the side of the steep hill and groaned inwardly.
“Don’t tell me we have to climb that?” She said nervously.
“No, what I wanted to show you is over there.” Eunseo pointed down a little ways away from where they stood.
Soo Young could hear the sound of rushing water and glanced at her friend skeptically. Eunseo smiled brighter and pulled her along. They walked towards the sound and Soo Young’s mouth almost dropped upon seeing the secluded lake. They stood before a body of water being fed by a small waterfall. The water was clear, slightly tinted with a green-blue hue.
“Whoa,” Soo Young marveled, letting go of Eunsuh’s hand to get closer to the water, she glanced upwards, it seemed like the large rock wall went on forever, “What is this place?”
“Don’t know, but isn't it awesome? Sehyoon and I found it. We could all come here to swim and cool down!” Eunseo said excitedly.
It was awesome. The days at Pocheon could be long and hot and a lake is exactly what they needed.
“Doesn't it seem a bit too deep though?” Soo Young asked as she analyzed the large pool, the center was pitch black, “I don't really know how to swim…”
“Don't worry, if we come only when the nine of us are all together than everyone can help you. Sehyoon is a really good swimmer and so are Jihyo and Hongseok since their brothers showed them.”
Soo Young smiled brightly and jumped up and down. This meant it would be an amazing summer! They were all now old enough to receive an allowance--which they spent at the street cart in town--, and they now had their very own, private, lake.
Something caught Soo Young’s attention on the rock wall just a ways away from the lake. Chipped into the rock there was a large nook which seemed to be the opening of a cave. And a little off to the side there appeared to be part of an old building attached to the rock. Like a cement house that had been built into the mountain.
“Woah, what's in there?” She marveled.
“I don't know, Sehyoon said we shouldn't go inside.”
Soo Young glanced back at the ruins. She didn't think anything or anyone was inside. It was too collapsed for someone to be living inside. But she knew that Eunseo wouldn't dare try to go against her brother. If Sehyoon said no then no it was and there was no fighting against it. She looked around the pebbled sand until she found a rock big enough to her liking. She tossed it at the cave and it sailed over the lake, stopping in mid-air just inside the cave.
Soo Young’s eyes widened and she stepped even closer to the lake, she didn't notice she was standing ankle deep in the water. After a moment the pebble fell to the ground, the soft clatter echoing through the dark cave.
“No way… how cool was that!” Soo Young shouted.
Following what Soo Young did, Eunseo picked up her own rock and chucked it at the cave and it too stopped mid-air, just like Soo Young’s had. Soo Young looked at her friend and they grinned at each other.
“Now I’m really curious to see what’s inside.” Soo Young whispered in awe.
“Inside?” Eunseo’s demeanor quickly changed and she nervously shook her head, “We can’t go inside!”
“Sehyoon said it's not a good idea. What if someone’s in there? What if something bad happens?”
Soo Young frowned, glancing at Eunseo. The small girl stood with her hands balled tightly into fists, her lower lip trembling. Her long, charcoal black hair was pulled into a tight ponytail that trailed right past her shoulders. It was a bit disheveled and her cheeks were rosy, probably from having walked so far in the summer heat. She didn't understand her. Just moments ago Eunseo had been thrilled about bringing her here and then all of a sudden she was spooked?
Although, her behavior wasn’t all too unfamiliar. Eunseo tried her best to be just like Soo Young, often pretending to be brave and adventurous when really she was just a big softy who scared easily. This must have been one of those times. Sighing, Soo Young walked back towards her friend, her new shoes squelching and spilling water from all sides.
“Hey, you’ve got your birthday present with you?”
The smaller girl nodded slowly, reaching inside her collar and pulling out an old whistle hanging from a necklace chain. It was old, her grandmother had given it to her mother but with her mother gone, Soo Young gave it to her best friend. Her grandmother said it could protect the owner from darkness and because Eunseo was so afraid of the dark it fit for her to gift it to her. It was made of nautical solid brass and copper. The body was gold plated while the boatswain pipe was rose gold along with the anchor symbol on the round end.
“You remember what I told you when I gave it to you?”
Eunseo nodded slowly once again and Soo Young encouraged her to repeat the words, “You said that if I ever get scared I should blow on this and that you’d come to protect me.”
“Exactly, why don’t you give it a try now?”
Eunseo raised the whistle to her lips and blew strongly into it. The high trill of the whistle echoed through the lake, bouncing off the cave walls and reached far into the woods. Soo Young leaped forward and wrapped her arms around her friend, shielding her from the world. She saw the change in Eunseo almost immediately as she calmed down, the sound visibly comforting her. She smiled at her friend and hugged her tight.
“You're my best friend Eunsuh, I would never let anything bad happen to you.”
Glancing back at the ruins Soo Young could almost hear the stones calling out to her. Beckoning her closer into the darkness of the cave. Her feet shuffled in place, itching to close the distance. Had she been with any of their other friends they would have followed her inside without so much as a question. But it was Eunseo and Soo Young couldn't push her to do something she was uncomfortable doing.
“I guess we can go in if you want,” Eunseo said hesitantly behind her.
“You're not scared?”
Eunseo shook her head quickly from side to side, her ponytail whipping against her cheeks, “I’m not scared. I know you'll protect me.”
Soo Young smiled and they joined hands. They walked around the perimeter of the lake and climbed over a few bigger rocks to make it to the cave’s entrance. Soo Young reached her hand out, feeling the air inside the cave, trying to figure out if there was something in the space that had stopped the pebbles they'd thrown earlier.
“Is there something there?” Eunseo asked in a whisper, “Does it hurt?”
Soo Young waved her hand through the air once more. She could feel something passing through her fingers, “It feels… tingly.”
Soo Young climbed farther into the cave until she was well enough inside. Now her entire body was tingling. It was a strange sensation, it felt like millions of tiny ants were walking all over her. It wasn't a bad feeling, just strange. Soo Young walked farther into the cave, the sunlight from outside didn't seem able to reach inside and she was overcome by darkness. It surrounded her like a thick fog and she reached her hand out, sure that if she closed her hand she’d be able to pull some of the darkness apart.
Soo Young was just about to say something about it to Eunseo when the hairs on the back of her neck rose. She shivered, it felt like someone was watching her. Like someone other than she and her best friend was there.
“Hello?” Soo Young called out into the darkness.
Her voice bounced off the walls, echoing strangely in the hollow space. She called out once more but no one answered. Soo Young should have let it go but she couldn't help the feeling that there was, in fact, someone else there with them.
Soo Young swallowed and almost screamed when Eunseo wrapped her arms around her waist. She could tell that the other girl was frightened. Summoning up the courage she’d inherited from her grandmother, Soo Young took another step into the darkness, calling out to the strange voice.
“Is someone there? What's your name?”
“You don't have to be afraid of us, we won't hurt you.”
The wind picked up around the two girls and the space grew chilly. Leaves scattered her way and she noticed something float her way with them. She bent to pick it up. It was an old Polaroid photograph. The edges were synged and she couldn’t see the faces of anyone in the photo but she could just barely make out three figures--two men and a woman it seemed. Soo Young turned it around and there was something scribbled on the back.
The beginning of the rest of our lives.
“What's this?” Soo Young asked allowed, “Is this yours?” Her voice echoed loudly in the cave and vibrated off the rock walls.
Silence followed her comment and she looked around, trying to spot the invisible person.
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Soo Young and this is my friend Eunseo.” Eunseo coward at the sound of her name, holding on tighter to Soo Young’s side.
“Joy, is there even anyone there?”
“Of course there is…” Soo Young said though even she herself knew that she didn't sound convincing.
She didn't know how Eunseo could not feel the presence of this other person when Soo Young could feel it so strongly herself. She didn't know where they were, or who they were but that they were there she had no doubt.
Just then a gust of wind rushed past her, knocking Soo Young to the ground. Eunseo fell with her and when they were on the floor the pull of the wind changed and it was suddenly pulling them into the abyss. The girls screamed as they were being tugged farther into the cave. Soo Young grabbed around wildly until finally, she was able to get a hold of a sturdy rock that protruded from the floor.
Eunseo shouted out Soo Young’s name and the girl could hear the tears in her eyes, “Joy, I can’t hold on! I’m slipping!”
At the sound of her best friends tearful voice, anger sparked inside her. Suddenly all of her fear had evaporated, instead, it was replaced with anger. She was furious but she didn't know what to do. She wasn't strong enough to hold onto both the rock and Eunseo. A shrill hwis echoed through the cave. The whistle.
Eunseo blew the whistle as loud as she could, and all of a sudden the wind stopped. Both girls fell to the floor, Soo Young knocking her chin against the hard rock. Soo Young stood up hastily and pulled a teary Eunseo up from the floor where she wept, “Come on, let’s get out of h