Jisoo doesn’t dream often. When she does, she often dreams of her mother’s hand.
She likes to dream that it’s soft, tender, and caring as it caresses the supple flesh of her cheek. She likes to dream that her mother has the same lips — rosy and heart-shaped like how everyone describes them to be. She likes to dream that those lips would be telling her it’s okay to make mistakes and despite everything, she still loves her. Joohyun may seem the most likely candidate to personify Jisoo’s expectation of motherly affection, but they both know she can never fill the hole in her heart. No matter how hard her sister tries, she can never be their mother.
Hapless. Despite all of Joohyun’s efforts, it’ll never be enough.
The closest thing Joohyun will ever get to is having their mother’s eyes, according to the adults. Big, doe eyes. Sometimes those eyes regard Jisoo with disdain like she’s scum on the bottom of her slipper. Would their mother ever look at Jisoo that way?
Maybe it’s Jisoo’s fault for being stubborn and apathetic. They are both going through the same thing, but Joohyun has just a few years of experience on top of hers and had the chance to feel their parents’ love. It’s easier to move on from something you never had, Jisoo has that luxury at least. Joohyun must miss their parents every day. It must’ve been hard for her. She didn’t want them to be taken under another household’s wing because that meant abandoning their family home.
Pitiful, the way a girl is forced into adulthood at an age far too young in order to take care of a monster of a sister.
Because Jisoo remembers now. She remembers Jiwon’s accident that was no accident. It was purposeful, malicious, when she crushed his lower spine between two boulders, drawing out his high-pitched screams because he had yet hit puberty. He had looked so small between the rocks, squirming to and fro from an inescapable prison. It looked funny.
Jiwon had long surrendered Jisoo’s paintbrush, but the boulders never ceased. They crushed harder.
Because the voices liked it, lusted for it. They only needed to ask and Jisoo heeded because once she gave in, it’s hard to opt-out, to draw that line, to grasp back the controls to her own body. All she wanted was to take back her paintbrush to finish her illustration of a flower. She didn’t want to like it. She didn’t.
But she did.
Jisoo had smiled as she severed her friend’s spinal cord into teenie-tiny shards of bone and crippled him for life. She remembers because the voices praised her and she liked the praise. She savored every last drop as they screamed to kill. Perhaps if her mother was around to praise Jisoo for mundane things regular children do like say their first word or take their first steps, it would’ve been easier to resist.
Or perhaps Jisoo had been a lost cause from the start, born to host evil, because she does know right from wrong. Morality isn’t absent. What she did to Jiwon she knew was wrong, but at that moment, it felt so right.
So Jisoo doesn’t blame Joohyun. She doesn’t blame anyone for that matter. She holds no resentment because their intent wasn’t to hurt but to protect. Yet they failed because they didn’t intend for Jisoo to find something worth fighting for that the voices can use against her to kickstart the ancient power back into its ultimate fury. Such a shame. Their plan would’ve all worked out in the end if not for that fateful day in the forest.
Or perhaps their demise would’ve been avoided altogether if Jisoo hadn’t been born at all. Or perhaps if Jisoo had been executed as a babe like initially ordered by the Chief. But the people of the village found deep within their kind hearts to object because how can anyone execute a mere infant that has a whole life ahead of her? Jisoo’s eyes had been so big and bright and telling when they ogled at all of them. Unbeknown to them, those eyes had housed and nurtured something into existence.
Perhaps if Jisoo had paid attention in history class, she’d be more aware of why she had to suppress these ancient voices.
Or perhaps if the adults just told her the damn truth.
So many what-ifs, yet it has come down to this.
It may just be a bad fate.
I don’t regret a thing, Jennie. A singular tear trickles down Jisoo’s cheek and collects upon the corner of her sad smile. Don’t worry.
Her feet drag across the gravel as she steps — staggers — forward, through the parting the crowd conveniently leaves before her as they scamper in all directions. A few bump into her shoulders and she stumbles, but she advances on. Where is all the attention that was focused on her mere days ago? Not one person pauses to look at Jisoo. Perhaps if they had noticed her earlier instead of enjoying the wooden stage, they could’ve prevented their demise.
Among the chaos is serenity.
Tuned out are the cries of people being crushed under rock and roots, screams of those fleeing from the titan quake of the earth, and shrieks as the green valley flow crimson. Filtered out are the petrified faces of her neighbors, the broken bones protruding from split skin, the chunks of brains splattered as Jisoo’s vision tunnels on the wooden platform.
That means I kept my promise, right?
She steps over the writhing arm of the Chief that juts between two boulders, his blood dripping from the tips of his twitchy fingers and running into the crevices of the wood. The air reeks of iron at the core of the bloodshed.
All of the people on the platform are dead.
Except for one person.
With her head still downcasted, Jennie braces for the steel that never came — the steel that is burrowed into the platform inches from her head when the executioner lost his accuracy due to the earthquake. The axe stands upright, shiny and spotless. The metal reflects a girl — a dirty, bloody girl with a knife in her hand — walking up to the center of the stage and cutting the binds of Jennie’s wrists. Her hair is a mess. There is something wrong with her eyes. Red flashes in the dusk.
Jisoo can’t recognize herself.
Jennie looks up, dazed and bewildered. Jisoo holds her hand out, coaxing the girl to take it. She doesn’t fail to note Jennie’s hesitancy, her eyes fixed on her hand and too shocked to look anywhere else.
“Are you scared of me too?” Jisoo asks. Her tone comes off as nonchalant, but it’s the most terrifying question asked because of the most probable answer.
Please. Not Jennie out of all people.
Jisoo wiggles her fingers. Jennie finally takes her hand. As Jennie stands up, she doesn’t look away from Jisoo. When they are eye-level, Jennie doesn’t look away from Jisoo.
Until Jennie does look away.
Jisoo was hoping Jennie wouldn’t look away.
Eyes widen. Jaw drops. Jennie’s face becomes something that stabs Jisoo’s heart with a million knives as the Air absorbs the devastation before her.
“Jisoo,” Jennie says with a shaky voice. She turns back to meet Jisoo’s gaze. “What have you done?”
She wants to throw up. That look in Jennie’s eyes — she can’t bear it. The massacre is nothing compared to it. Not only is it horrified and disturbed, but it’s also sad — pitiful. The knife slips from her hand and clatters on the wood.
But Jennie hasn’t run away; that must be a sign. Jennie hasn’t killed her; that must be a sign. Jennie is looking at her; that must be a sign.
Jennie is still here.
That must be a sign.
Jisoo cracks a smile. If anything has ever been worth it, it’s this.
It has to be worth it.
Because this is the point of no return.
“I’ve shown you the forest,” Jisoo chimes. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Jisoo ignores how Jennie chokes out the word in disbelief. She takes the girl’s hand and tugs it. Icy, no warmth. Jisoo ignores that too. She has always been good at turning a blind eye to the truth that hurts her the most.
“Now let’s go find out if there’s an end to this world.”