Endless Night || Heartless City Sequel
Chapter 2 – Fever Dream
Dreams in the dusk,
Only dreams closing the day
And with the day’s close going back
To the gray things, the dark things,
The far, deep things of dreamland.
Dreams, only dreams in the dusk,
Only the old remembered pictures
Of lost days when the day’s loss
Wrote in tears the heart’s loss.
Tears and loss and broken dreams
May find your heart at dusk.
Carl Sandburg, Dreams in the Dusk
11 months ago
A young woman dressed inconspicuously in sweater and jeans pressed herself against a wall as she peered through the darkness at a large door at the end of an alleyway. The only signs of life apparent were the stray cats that pawed at her feet and begged for food. Her team had been watching this area for two weeks now; she’d been staring at that door for so long she could sketch out its every bump and crevice from memory.
At this late hour, the neighborhood should have been echoing with the sounds of jovial drunk men as they staggered home, but this area was eerily quiet and the silence helped to hone her senses into focus. She and her team had been running around in circles for months trying to chase these people down, until they’d caught a small lead a month ago that ultimately led them to that door; they were positive the deal was supposed to go down behind it. As the hours ticked by, the girl had a sinking feeling that tonight was going to prove as fruitless as the previous nights had. The long hours of concentration and stillness were starting to wear her down; the faint tremors that were starting in her legs signaled to her that it was time to call it a night; her team was expecting her to call in soon.
She shifted slightly, rubbing a slender hand against the back of her neck to relieve the stiffness. The exhaustion due to lack of sleep from spending one too many nights in a row on surveillance had dulled her senses; she barely had time to react to the arm that suddenly swung out of nowhere, before a blinding pain erupted in her temple and she went down soundlessly. Only a stray cat bore witness as the young woman was carried across the street and bundled into an awaiting car.
The slam of car doors rang out, followed by a screech of tires, and then all was silent.
Soo-min sprang awake in bed with a scream bursting from her throat. Her long black hair laid in a tangled mess around her neck, beads of sweat dripped down her face, and goose bumps covered her entire body. A slanted scar below her left collarbone, a memento from her kidnapping, pulsed with ghostly pain. She clutched her sheets to her chest and curled herself tightly into a ball and tried to mentally will away the tremors wracking her body, whilst gulping down breaths of air with the desperation of a drowning man. After what seemed like hours, she raised her head and glanced at the clock on the nightstand besides her – 3:30 am. She grabbed the notebook sitting a top of her nightstand, its pages showed the wear of something that had been handled repeatedly.
Arm had tattoo markings… Soo-min wrote. Some animal – a cat… a lion? Colors – red, black, gold? The dream was quickly fading away, receding back into the recesses of her mind, waiting to attack in the middle of another night. She rubbed her fingers against her temples to concentrate, but the dream stubbornly refused to resurface. At least I have some physical marker, she thought as she stared at her notes, I’ll have to call in a favor to see if I can sneak a cross reference of gang tattoos.
Soo-min reached across to the other side of the bed, grabbed a tank top atop a neatly stacked pile of shirts, and stripped out of her sweat-soaked clothes. In the eleven months that had passed since her abduction and “experimentation,” she’d become familiar with the routine of waking up in the middle of the night gripped by terror, with sweat pouring down her back and her heart racing so hard it could’ve burst from her chest.
And always, the image of a girl’s pleading eyes, overflowing with tears that trickled down over bruised and bloody lips, accompanied by the repeated litany of, “Please, don’t leave me…”
Soo-min squeezed her eyes close in aguish and fought back the tears as the image blazed in her mind. Guilt doubled down in the pit of her stomach like a punch from an abusive lover. Guilt was a painful weight that Soo-Min knew all too well by now; she’d been plagued with it from the moment she stumbled out of her prison, leaving behind a helpless, abused girl. Soo-min had promised the girl that she would come back to save her, a promise that turned out to be empty. The girl had haunted Soo-min’s dreams ever since.
Eleven months ago, Soo-min’s unit had been investigating a vice ring rumored to be dealing in all sorts of shady activities. The leads had been few and far between, but the team had finally caught a break and managed to zero in on the location that they believed a deal was supposed to occur at. Instead of catching the culprits in the act of committing a crime, she herself had been knocked unconscious and kidnapped. If there was one act of fortune that could be ascribed to the event, it was that the men who captured her never realized that she was a cop; instead, they mistook her for a random homeless person who had been lurking too close to the premises.
Still woozy from her head injury, Soo-min had woken up to discover that she was locked in a cell with her hands bound together. She quickly took in her surroundings and noticed a twin cell diagonally opposite of hers occupied by a girl who was either asleep, unconscious, or lying still on a narrow cot. Soo-min tried calling out to the occupant. The girl raised her head and stared blankly at Soo-min.
“Who are you? What is this place?”
No response. Soo-min wasn’t even sure the girl was lucid.
A door opened and closed somewhere, and three men walked in; Soo-min saw the girl visibly shrink back. One man entered the cell while the other two waited outside. Despite Soo-min’s vision being blocked, she could see the man producing a syringe and heard the girls’ muffled wails, then short scream. The man exited and joined the others who flanked the cell as observers; one of them was intently scribbling on a clipboard.
“Drug’s reaction time should be shorter this time.” One of them said.
The seconds and minutes ticked by at a snail’s pace. Then it began; first, soft gasps which gradually morphed into sobs punctuated by shrieks and incoherent ramblings. Soo-min was paralyzed by horrified fascination as she watched the girl go berserk in her cell – she looked as if she were wrestling with an invisible spectator. After a long, long time the sounds gradually died away to sporadic sniffles. The men turned and headed towards Soo-min.
With the taste of fear coating her mouth and choking her throat, Soo-min had fought against the men as they attempted to physically subdue her long enough to force a syringe full of drugs into her. She succeeded in making them pause, and even managed to injure one of them before they dealt her an intense blow to the back of her head which momentarily crippled her. They seized the opportunity and stabbed the needle into the side of her neck. Despite being held down and semiconscious, Soo-min had still felt the contents enter her system and flood her body. They left her sprawled on the ground, and took up the same observers’ positions outside her cell – three pairs of pitiless eyes boring down at her. As one of the men had previously predicted, it wasn’t very long before the drug started reacting and she succumbed to its effects.
Not even the pages of her notebook contained all the details of the hallucinations that took place afterwards. Soo-min could have withstood visions of rooms filled with snakes or terrible fanged monsters, but this drug was far crueler than that; it preyed upon her most painful memories, fears, and vulnerabilities and turned them into weapons against her.
She was a little girl again, lost and wandering through the zoo crying out for her mother, who had abandoned her without a word. She found her mother and ran up to her, clutching at her leg and begging not to be left behind. Her mother peeled off her small arms and kicked her daughter aside, and told her that she was a mistake, that she should’ve never been born, that she didn’t want her and no one ever would want her…
The orphanage’s “bedroom” was filled with a dozen small bodies. Soo-min stared up at the dark ceiling above her head and imagined that it was a night sky speckled with a thousand stars. Her back stung from the lashes she had received earlier that day from the head nun for misbehaving in class…
Kyung-mi stood in front of her, soaked in blood with a bullet hole to her forehead, pointing an accusing finger at her and blaming her for causing the death of her and her unborn child. She had known Soo-min was a good-for-nothing brat, everyone had warned her about Soo-min being trouble, and Soo-min had proved them all right…
Kyung-mi shape-shifted into Hyung-min and Soo-min felt the ghostly punches that he dealt her for causing his lover’s death…
Jung Shi-hyun stepped out in front of her, his emotionless black eyes filling her vision as he told her that she’d been nothing more than a simple dalliance, a one-night thrill, and he wanted nothing else to do with her, before turning his back and walking away…
Stick and stones may break bones, but words will break the spirit.
Over the next three days, Soo-min relived countless permutations and variations of those visions and more as her kidnappers kept administering the drugs to her, to the point where she could no longer separate fact from fiction and she wasn’t sure if she was dead or alive, and didn’t care. The drugs violated her mind and crushed her psyche, tearing down all the walls she had built over the years and turning her back into a scared, lonely, abandoned girl.
When the effects of the last batch of drugs had worn off, Soo-Min had faked still being under the full influence. It was easy enough to conjure up the images; they had become seared into her brain. She’d been huddled on the floor, whimpering, throat raw from screaming and crying, when one of the guards instead of the usual two had come in to check on her. When he reached down for her, she’d put all of her remaining strength into delivering a blow to his head. He’d gone down and she scrambled through his pockets for keys. She found them and had just thrust the door open when the guard was back up on his feet and attempted to stab her through the heart, but missed and struck below her collarbone instead.
She knifed him in his stomach with her elbow, which made him drop the knife and sent him reeling backwards; she hit him again with a desperate blow to his head and he went down like a log.
Ignoring the pain from the wound as she felt blood trickle down her chest, Soo-min ran out. She passed the other cell and despite herself, paused and went back when she heard the girl crying out at her. The girl grabbed her wrist through the bars,
“Don’t leave me. Oh god, don’t leave me. Don’t leave me here. Please.”
“I can’t. I’ll be back.”
The alarm went off. There must’ve been security cameras monitoring the place.
“Take me with you!”
“I can’t. I’ll be back. I promise. I promise I’ll save you.”
Soo-min forcibly pried herself from the girl’s viselike grasp. She had no choice; she hardly had the strength to save herself, much less someone else. The girl’s desperate cries followed after her.
She raced out a door into the open, barely noticing that it was the middle of the night. The shadows were her friends and cloaked her in semi-invisibility as men dogged her in hot pursuit. She managed to lose them and ran in the opposite direction until she had finally given in to exhaustion and pain and fainted. She was discovered the next morning lying unconscious, bruised and bleeding, in the middle of a road by a random passerby.
It took a week for her to recover to the point where she was able to talk about what happened to her. During those days in the hospital, she’d drifted in and out consciousness as the remaining drugs filtered out her system and her body began to heal itself from the damage. The damage to her psyche would take much longer to heal. The police canvassed the area around where she was found, and located the facility that she had been kept at, but the site had already been cleaned out. They hadn’t been able to find any traces of the scene that she had described, and everyone there, including the girl, had vanished into thin air. No further evidence was found and no witnesses stepped forward. To make matters worse, the trail on the vice ring that had led to the events had led to nowhere.
Despite her superior’s concerns, Soo-Min spent the majority of her time post-recovery combing through missing persons files, trying to find the girl that she had been forced to leave behind. She prayed that the girl had somehow survived and managed to escape, even though deep down inside she knew it was hopeful thinking at best. Even if the perpetrators weren’t caught, she owed it to the girl to give her any measure of justice she could. In spite of Soo-min’s best efforts, the case eventually went cold.
Months later, a large number of drug overdose cases started appearing. Soo-min hadn’t paid any attention to them, until one evening she was flipping through the witness reports and noticed recurring similarities between multiple reports. A terrible familiarity ran down her spine as she’d read through the pages. Witnesses (when they were present) described the victims to be screaming at empty space, as if they were suffering from some sort of terrible hallucination. In one report the witness described the victim to be calling out to his dead wife before he shot himself; another report talked about the victim repenting for some terrible crime he’d committed in the past. In almost every single case, the victim had either died from or had been seriously maimed in his attempt to stop the visions. One person threw herself off of her 35th floor apartment; another tried to gouge his eyes out, unsuccessfully. Sometimes there was more than one victim – one incident involved a group of teenagers attending the same party.
The similarities between the hallucinations Soo-min had suffered and the ones reported by witnesses were too close to be coincidental. The recent spate of deaths were not the result of a drug overdose, but the result of in-taking a more toxic version of the drug that she had been experimented on with. Soo-min reported her suspicions to her superiors, convinced that she had finally found a tangible lead and explanation. However, they found her claims to be dubious and un-based. Who had ever heard of a drug dealer “tainting” his own drugs and killing off his own business? It made no sense.
Then two months ago, another “overdose” victim was discovered and Soo-Min had found herself staring into the terrible, lifeless eyes of the girl that she’d left behind in the warehouse.
The girl’s name was “Hye-soo.”
Soo-min had gone straight to her superiors, convinced of her suspicions. She lashed out at them this time when they again dismissed her claims; she was sent for psychiatric evaluation, and the police’s psychologist pronounced her as suffering from a nervous breakdown due to the post-traumatic effects of her ordeal. Her trauma was causing her to see links and associations where there weren’t any. Soo-min was given two choices: 1) drop the case, accept a temporary job suspension while undergoing serious psychological counseling, or 2) attempt to further pursue dubious leads and be fired immediately.
By this time, Soo-min had reached her breaking point and had angrily refused to go through any more psychological counseling; her superiors put her on an indefinite suspension and Soo-min was seriously considering walking away from the job altogether when Chief Yang had gently but firmly pulled her aside and suggested that she take the suspension, lay low and not attract any further attention to herself for the time-being. So Soo-min had swallowed her anger, accepted the suspension, and decided to continue her investigation on her own.
That had been a month ago.
Fortunately, Soo-Min still had friends in the force, although the number had dwindled rapidly in the aftermath of her ordeal. She’d called in a favor and requested access to do a background check on the girl. She managed to trace the girl to a small apartment and spoke to the landlord, who mentioned that she hadn’t seen Hye-soo for a while but that Hye-soo had always kept to herself. The landlord let her into Hye-soo’s room after Soo-min flashed her badge and she carefully combed through Hye-soo’s place.
That had been a week ago.
Picking up her notebook again, Soo-Min flipped to the last page and carefully removed the card she had placed there. It was a simple white card with a faint, raised embossing of a flower; she lightly ran fingers over it. It had been a long time since she last wore flowers. The card was blank except for one word. Bringing the card closer, Soo-Min breathed in the scent of Hye-soo’s perfume that lingered on it.
“Vanity,” Soo-min quietly read aloud.
Author’s Note: The pieces are finally starting to come together, although there’s more to come before the two sides meet. The story is now positioned in the present as we see where Paksa’s and Soo-min’s separate investigations take them. It’s a twisty path.
Many many thanks as always to lilahozi and aziraphale!!!!