warnings/notes: implied character death
the world does not end with a bang.
written for b1a4ss summer 2014
The world didn’t end in a single day, it took time to break and crumble. It took time for cities to flood, for the food supply to waste away, for things to explode and the dust to settle like cement in their lungs. It took time for people to die – it wouldn’t take that long, but still, it took time. It was happening and everyone knew it. Technology wouldn’t save anyone but it would prolong the process. And people continued to live, if it could be called that; they hid, locked themselves up in shelters, as if living another day in a metal box was some kind of victory, as if living one more day meant being saved.
The world didn’t end in a day; instead, it dragged on like a wasting illness.
The exact expiry date was a bit up in the air, maybe it would be tomorrow or a week from today, maybe it was yesterday. Maybe it was the day that the world collectively hit the point of no return, but who knew when that was. Frankly, Chansik didn’t care.
“Do we have everything?”
Dongwoo was going down a list, meticulous as always. And Sunwoo laughed, “Does it matter?”
Some things didn’t change, can’t change, and ultimately that was what would kill them all but Chansik was glad for this at least. He was glad for Dongwoo, he was glad for Sunwoo.
“Let’s just get going,” Chansik said as he loaded the last of their things into the car. It was going to be a long drive to nowhere. If the world was ending anyways there was no point in sitting around, might as well go somewhere.
“Let me drive!” Sunwoo shouted excitedly, waving his arm as if there was any way for Dongwoo to not see him.
“You don’t have a licence.”
“I don’t think we’ll get in trouble for it.”
They got going. There was nowhere they had to be, and they didn’t even have solid plans as to where they were going, but the clock was ticking and there wasn’t a minute to lose. They could die today, maybe a landslide or one of them could burst into flame, it could be anything and it could be today. Or tomorrow, or the day after, that kind of uncertainty could light a fire under anyone’s ass, even Dongwoo’s. He even let Sunwoo drive.
“It’s kind of like being on a roller coaster,” Chansik commented, jostling around in the back seat.
It wasn’t that Sunwoo was a bad driver, it was that the roads were ruined, and sometimes not there at all. It was impossible to tell if Sunwoo was a good driver or a horrible driver in these conditions.
“I hate roller coasters.”
“Like the part when you’re going up the slope, super slow and super noisy.”
“That’s the second worst part,” Dongwoo whined, clutching at the door. He was starting to look a little green in the face but they’d all begun to look a little bit ashy as of late, so maybe it was just that.
“Kungkungkung kungkungkung kung! Hyung, stop being a party pooper!” Sunwoo shouted over the noise of the car and the road; he laughed.
Dongwoo laughed too, flat and tired and maybe scared or bitter. “This is the worst party ever.”
“Hey,” Chansik protested, kicking the back of Dongwoo’s seat. They were driving along the coast, but the coast had moved. They were driving down the wrong side of the road because the right side was missing. There wasn’t a whole lot of silver lining and Chansik had always been more of a pessimist than an optimist.
He sighed. “At least we’re together.”
They switched seats around noon, halfway to China. It was taking longer than they expected, not that they had any set destination in mind or a schedule to keep – but they were heading in that general direction while avoiding areas that they couldn’t navigate through with the car. They only had the tank of gas they started with and a little extra, at this rate Chansik wondered if they’d even get to China.
Of course, it didn’t really matter.
They stopped, they peed, they ate a little and they rotated seats. Sunwoo sat in the back, legs thrown across the seats, head resting against the window.
“You’re going to fall off the seat.”
“Put your seatbelt on.”
“You’re going to fall off the seat,” Chansik insisted again, with a laugh. And of course, Sunwoo buckled his seatbelt but stretched and twisted it so that he could still sit the same way. Dongwoo rolled his eyes but let it drop, set it aside as a lost cause for now.
Not three minutes down the ‘road’ they hit something; it was already a good run actually. Near where the DMZ used to be the road had been made up of nothing but dipping holes in the ground and jagged mounds of debris they had to drive around. At least they had a good two minutes of flat road before the car tossed roughly and Sunwoo smacked his head against the back of Chansik’s seat as he fell off the seat.
The sun started to set at 3 PM. Chansik wasn’t sure why, there weren’t news broadcasts or fearful articles anymore, it was just silent, but he supposed why wasn’t really important. Knowing why wouldn’t make a difference. The sky was painted in muddy violet hues with some reds peering through the clouds like gashes against the sky.
Dongwoo’s head was resting on one of Chansik’s shoulders and Sunwoo’s on the other.
It was only 3PM but the sun was setting and somehow, it felt like it’d been a long day. The three of them sat in the backseat of the car, side by side. They were parked at the end of the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, at the Dandong side. Today was the first time Chansik had traveled out of the country.
Driving across the bridge the water levels had risen so high that it was practically level with the bridge, sticky looking water lapped at the edges, it had become a concrete beach. They could have driven right into the water.
The sky was darkening, going from murky violets to dirty grays, melting together with the dark water, it swallowed the sun, swallowed everything until even the horizon seemed to vanish into nothing. It took a while but the three of them sat there by the water’s edge to watch until everything was dark.
“Watch the sunset in another country, check.”
It was a long list, one that they probably wouldn’t finish but it was one less thing left undone, one less thing to regret. There were a lot of things on that list that would not be completed, could not, but now wasn’t the time to think about it.
“What should we do tomorrow?” Dongwoo asked, sighed warm and soft against Chansik’s neck. He was relaxing finally, after being tense and nervous the whole day, leaning heavily against Chansik.
Sunwoo turned against Chansik, threw a hand over his waist, stretched across him and touched Dongwoo’s wrist. The world was so dark like this; it was cooling down fast outside, but nestled between Dongwoo and Sunwoo it wasn’t bad at all.
“Let’s go skinny dipping.”
There was a groan and a laugh on each side of Chansik, against his neck.
“We’ll discuss it tomorrow,” Dongwoo said reasonably as he spread their blankets over the three of them.
“Okay.” It was still early even though it was so dark but Chansik was tired. His entire body felt like an excess weight, his bones seemed to be trying to drag him down into the ground; there was something in his chest, sitting on his diaphragm like bricks. He set his hand on top of Sunwoo’s, turned his face to press his nose into Dongwoo’s hair.
It was early but he wanted to sleep now, the sooner he slept the sooner tomorrow would come.
Sunwoo woke them up the next day. The sky was dim and gray but that was as bright as it’d get.
“Come on, we’ve got things to do,” Sunwoo urged as he rubbed at his eyes blurrily with one hand and shoved at Chansik’s shoulder with his other. He reached over Chansik to pull at Dongwoo’s cheek and hid a cough with a laugh.
Dongwoo uncurled from Chansik’s side, squeezed his eyes shut tight before opening them forcefully. “I’m up, stop it,” he batted at Sunwoo’s hand. Chansik was still asleep, shoulders rising and falling in uneven breaths.
Dongwoo smiled fondly, thinly; he leaned down to blow at Chansik’s ear. “Chan-ah, wake up. Didn’t you want to go skinny dipping?”
His voice was raspy and rough, and it wasn’t from sleep.
Sunwoo laughed, coughed, felt little pebbles scrape up and down his throat. “So you’re on board now?”
“Anything to get him to wake up.”
Chansik woke up after some coaxing from Dongwoo, Sunwoo had gotten breakfast ready while Dongwoo poked and kissed Chansik awake. Jam and crackers and a bottle of water each, mostly Sunwoo had waited, leaning against the side of the car.
He kept the conversation going as much as he could while they ate, laughed every so often as he felt his throat tighten uncomfortably. The crackers were dry and it felt like something sharp and jagged was scraping its way down his throat every time he tried to swallow.
“I bet we could find a boat and take it out,” Sunwoo rambled, going on and on about their plans for the day.
“I don’t feel like drowning to death,” Dongwoo commented lightly as he tossed a carton of banana milk to him. Sunwoo caught it reflexively and stared at it.
What they had to live off of for however long was mostly whatever they had packed into their trunk. There could be things to salvage in the silent city but that was uncertain, all that they had for sure was everything that was in this car. Maybe it was only a matter of days or maybe it was more, some part of Sunwoo was still thinking that they had to conserve, had to keep living as long as possible even though he had decided to come with Chansik and Dongwoo.
Sunwoo fiddled with the straw.
“We don’t have anything to keep it refrigerated, might as well drink it before it goes bad,” Dongwoo told him, ruffling his hair as he got up to press a carton into Chansik’s hands.
They waded into the Yalu River just before noon. Daylight had been reduced to a narrow sliver of a few hours, late, late morning until early afternoon, that was all that left. So most of what they wanted to do they had to get it done early, besides Chansik got sleepy quickly and Sunwoo could only keep pretending for so long before his smile fell away without him noticing. And maybe even Dongwoo tired of being himself, the oldest, stable and steadfast.
The river didn’t really flow, just seemed to sway slightly back and forth, it was cold; Sunwoo’s teeth chattered, making his smile quiver with it. He jumped all the way in anyways. Dongwoo and Chansik splashed around in knee high water until Chansik dunked Dongwoo’s head into the water with a bright, clear laugh.
It was a great sound.
Sunwoo waded back to join Chansik. The two of them dragged Dongwoo out deeper, cackling and choking on water that was weirdly bitter.
Dongwoo kicked out at Sunwoo’s legs so that he slipped deeper into the water. Chansik was clutching his stomach in laughter. Sunwoo couldn’t help but to laugh, even if it meant snorting in water. Dongwoo caught him around the waist as he got up, swinging him right into Chansik so that all three of them fell with a crisp splash.
It felt good to really laugh. And it felt just as good when Chansik took one of their blankets to wrap all of them up together, the three of them naked and wet and shivering in one soggy blanket burrito.
All of them were somewhat restless, desperately trying to fill up these short daylight hours with something, anything. So Dongwoo decided to keep driving.
They started driving again after drying off, they didn’t drive for long and they didn’t drive far. There wasn’t much gas left and they had no idea where they were going. The road signs were written in Chinese and English, even when they could read the words it meant nothing. These really weren’t places any of them had considered visiting. But they kept going.
Sunwoo stared out the window as they drove, scratching at his neck and his stomach now and then. The road was both in better condition than the road that had led into Dandong, a bumpy ride but at least it wasn’t a rollercoaster. Chansik was sitting in the back seat now, forehead resting against the window, lolling and swaying with every bump. Sunwoo glanced back every so often, unsure if Chansik’s expression was restful or too thoughtful.
He stared back out the window, at the broken up forest that they were driving by, bit of coast and partially flooded city that was visible. That and Chansik’s face and the irregular rocking of the car, it almost made Sunwoo quiet. He wished he could turn on the radio, it was so quiet, too quiet.
He started to hum, a few songs that he sort of remembered melting together. He saw the corner of Dongwoo’s lips quirk up from the corner of his eye as he heard Chansik start to drum his fingers against the car door. Dongwoo joined in as well, whistling something of a harmony.
This was their soundtrack. It wasn’t particularly good but all of them started to nod along to it, each at a different rhythm but absolutely to the same song.
That night he thought he heard crickets, after the sunset, after Chansik had dozed off, half curled between Sunwoo and Dongwoo. They’d been sleeping like this for the past week, Dongwoo and Sunwoo on each side of Chansik as soon as he fell asleep while the two of them remained hopelessly awake.
Sunwoo couldn’t sleep, hadn’t been able to sleep much for most of the week and he was pretty sure it was the same for Dongwoo. Tonight it was the same.
“Hey.” Dongwoo’s voice was quiet but he wasn’t exactly whispering. Chansik didn’t wake easily after all.
“Don’t keep everything to yourself, okay?”
Sunwoo started to speak before breaking into a cough.
Dongwoo reached over Chansik, rested his hand against Sunwoo’s wrist. His hand was warm, his touch deliberately light. He curled his other arm around Chansik’s waist and blinked, stared at nothing because it was too dark to see anything.
“I won’t, hyung.”
But he didn’t say anything else.
He curled his other arm around Chansik’s waist and closed his eyes, because there was nothing to see.
Morning came, like it had the day before. Dongwoo woke up and Sunwoo was staring at him from across Chansik as if he hadn’t slept. It was still, more so than any other morning. Chansik’s hand was cold in his.
Dongwoo swallowed around the lump in his throat. He blinked hard, once, twice, as if he was having a hard time seeing Sunwoo.
“Should we keep driving?”