Anyway, as we headed along the pathway toward Back Lane, I realized that we were both gazing around at the old factory with the same distant look on our faces.
“You know it’s been sold, right?” I said to Key.
“Yeah…they’re knocking it down to build houses. It’s all fenced off now.”
I nodded. I could see the brand-new high-tech metal fencing they put up to replace the crappy old wire-mesh stuff that used to be there. The wire-mesh fencing had been easy to get through. Even if you didn’t know where all the gaps were- which we did- all you had to do was find a loose bit, lift it up, and crawl underneath. We used to spend hours messing around in the old factory.
“Do you remember that time your dad caught you in there with Taemin?” Key said.
“He didn’t catch us in there,” I corrected him. “We were just coming out.”
“Yeah,” Key grinned, “but your dad still went crazy, didn’t he?”
He’d actually gone crazier than crazy, he’d gone totally ballistic. I’ve never seen him so angry. Me and Taemin were only about thirteen at the time, and the first thing my dad yelled at me was- WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU TWO DOING IN THERE? Which was a bit embarrassing. And even when I’d finally convinced him that we hadn’t been doing anything illegal, he still didn’t let go of the matter. He just went on and on for hours about how dangerous it was, how stupid, how thoughtless, how irresponsible…
I found out later on that a twelve-year-old boy had been found dead in an abandoned warehouse a few days before. The kid had just wandered into the warehouse on his own and fallen through some loose floorboards. When his parents reported him missing, my dad had been part of the investigation team, and when the kid’s body was eventually found, it was my dad who had to tell the parents.
“You okay?” Key asked me.
“Yeah I was just thinking…”
“Nothing…it doesn’t really matter.”
We reached the end of the road now, and ahead of us was the narrow dirt track that we called Back Lane. It isn’t really called that- I don’t think it’s called anything officially. It’s just a dirt track- the kind of nameless path that doesn’t appear on maps- and most people don’t even know it’s there. The local kids all know about it because it’s a shortcut to the park, but the only adults you’ll ever see here are dog walkers and hobos and the occasional weirdo or two.
The air suddenly cooled as we entered the lane, the moonlight blocked out by the steep wooded bank that rose up on our right toward the factory fence. The ground beneath the hillside trees were covered with a dense thicket of brambles and weeds.
“I hope the den’s still there,” I said.
Key looked at me. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know…someone may have trashed it or something.”
“How do you know?”
Key shrugged. “I don’t…I’m just saying that’s all. I’m just saying it’ll probably be there.”
I looked at him. His face seemed so pale.
“Are you okay?” I said.
“It’s not too late to go back, you know.”
He didn’t say anything for a while, we just continued walking in silence. And that was fine with me. I hadn’t been here in a while and I was happy enough just looking around, remembering how everything was. It was strange how everything seemed so familiar. The lane itself, still rutted with bike tracks. The bank on our right, dark with trees. And on our left, another steep bank, this one leading down to a wasteground area of concrete and weeds that stretched away across to the docks. At the end of the wasteground, the huge rusted cylinders of two deserted gas towers glinted dully in the moonlight.
“The star’s going out tonight,” Key said quietly.
I stared at him. “What?”
He looked at me, his eyes pale and glassy. “Black Wolf,” he whispered. “That’s what he said this afternoon- the star’s going out tonight.”
“The stars are going out tonight? What stars?”
“No,” Key said. “The star is going out…not stars. The star.”
Key blinked, and all at once his eyes seemed to clear. He seemed lost for a moment or two, but then he blinked again, looked at me, and his face broke into a grin.
“What?” he asked me. “What are you looking at?”
I frowned. “Are you okay?”
As I was speaking to him, his eyes had changed again only this time they weren’t pale or glassy, there were just staring straight ahead, glazed with fear.
“Key?” I said again.
“You said he wouldn’t be here…”
For a moment I thought he was talking about Black Wolf again, but when I turned my head and followed his gaze, I realized what he meant. About fifty feet away, four or five kids were hanging around by the junction of our little pathway that branches off Back Lane and heads down to the wasteground. At first, I only recognized one of them- Jonghyun Kim. But when I shielded my eyes against the gleam of the moonlight and took another look, I realized that the kid standing right next to him was Eunhyuk.
“It’s okay, Key,” I said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
“You said he wouldn’t be here.”
“Yeah I know…but he’s not going to do anything,” I smiled at Key, trying to reassure him. “Come on,” I said, “just keep walking. It’ll be okay.”
It wasn’t a particularly confident smile, and I’m pretty sure that Key wasn’t fooled by it, but we both kept walking anyway. Neither of us wanted to, but the only other option was to turn around and start running away, and somehow that felt even scarier than not running away.
“They saw us,” Key said.
I could see them now. There were five of them: Jonghyun, Eunhyuk, and three others from their group. Jonghyun was his usual hyperactive self- jumping around, waving his arms, grinning like a madman- but I could tell by the nervous look on his face that he wasn’t quite sure of his situation. It was as if he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to be looking at. Me and Key? Or Eunhyuk and the others? He eyes were flicking around like pinballs. Eunhyuk and the other three didn’t have any doubts, though. They were all just standing there, hard as hell, their eyes fixed coldly on Key and me.
My heart was beating hard as we approached them, and I wondered if I looked as scared as I felt. Or worse- if I felt as scared as Key looked. He looked terrible- his face drained of color, his eyes unblinking, his skin all tense and twitchy. Nothing’s changed, I thought to myself. He’s still that petrified little kid who pissed himself on the bike…
We were almost at the junction now. The tree other kids were just slouching around in the back, all of them dressed in their gangster gear- unpleasant white track pants, large basketball shirts, chains, rings, bright white Nikes. Eunhyuk was standing right next to Jonghyun, and he looked just as intimidating as ever. The angular face, chiseled and lean. The dark narrow eyes, the slightly crooked mouth, the high forehead topped with his styled hair. He hadn’t changed a bit. In his short-sleeved shirt and his spotless jeans, he looked like a psychopathic catalogue model.
As we slowed to a halt in front of them all, I kept my eyes on Jonghyun. He had a scrunched-up plastic bag in his hand, shaped like a bottle, so I guessed he was on his way to the den. But what was he doing here with Eunhyuk?
“How’s it going?” he said chirpily, grinning from me to Key. “Sup?”
I nodded at him and spoke calmly. “Hey Jonghyun.”
He smiled at Key. “You good, dog boy?”
Key stiffened slightly at the name, but he didn’t say anything. He’d gotten used to the names a long time ago- Puppy Boy, Dog, Crazy Key- but he’d never forgiven Jonghyun for starting it all. And neither had I. Key had always been known as a slightly weird kid, but a few years ago, when he’d confided with Jonghyun about Black Wolf, and Jonghyun had gone around telling everyone else… well, from that moment on, Key had never been known as anything but weird.
“Yeah, nice one, Jonghyun,” I muttered.
He grinned hesitantly at me. “What?”
“Have you seen Minho and Taemin yet?” I asked him.
“I was just going there,” he said, his eyes flicking furtively at Eunhyuk.
“Where you going?” Eunhyuk said to him
Jonghyun grinned at him. “What?”
Eunhyuk just stared at him for a moment, then he looked over at me. “Where are you going, Lee?” he said.
I shook my head. “Nowhere, really…”
Eunhyuk said nothing, just carried on starting at me. He had the kind of eyes that drill right through you and make you go cold inside. I watched, guiltily relieved, as he turned his attention to Key.
“What’re you lookin’ at.” Key just stood there, unable to speak.
Eunhyuk stared at him. “What’s the matter with you? You go something wrong with your head or something?”
Eunhyuk turned his stare to him. “What?”
“Nothing,” Jonghyun said, grinning nervously. “I was just-“
“The fucker’s sick, Kim. It’s not funny.”
Jonghyun hesitated for a moment, his eyes flicking around, trying to work out if Eunhyuk was joking or not. When he realized that no one else was smiling, he looked back at Eunhyuk and grinned again. “What?” he said innocently, shrugging his shoulders. “I didn’t mean anything. I was just, you know…I mean Key’s cool. I was only…”
His voice trailed off as Eunhyuk turned away from him and looked at me. “What do you think, Lee?” he said, tilting his chin at Key. “You think he’s cool?”
“What’s it to you?” I heard myself say.
Eunhyuk smiled then, which surprised me. It was a genuine smile, no menace intended, and just for a second I saw a completely different Eunhyuk-harmless, friendly…charismatic, even.
“You like him, don’t you?” he said to me.
“Puppy boy there…you like him?”
I didn’t know what to say. Like him? Did I like him? I mean, what kind of question was that?
Eunhyuk looked at Jonghyun. “He likes him.”
Jonghyun grinned awkwardly. His mouth twitched as he looked for something to say, but nothing came out. He glanced over at me, then quickly turned back to Eunhyuk again. Eunhyuk’s smile had disappeared now. He was staring dead-eyed at Jonghyun.
“Friends,” he said quietly.
Jonghyun frowned. “What?”
“You know what a friend is, Kim?”
Jonghyun didn’t know whether to laugh or not. He glanced anxiously around again, looking for clues as to what he should do, but the other kids were just as blank faced as before, and there was no way he was getting any help from me or Key. He blinked quickly a couple of times, nervously licked his lips, then turned back to Eunhyuk.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Is this some kind of joke or something?”
“No joke,” Eunhyuk said coldly. “Just a simple question- do you know what a friend is?”
“Yeah,” Jonghyun snorted, pretending to be offended, “of course I know what a friend is. Why wouldn’t I?”
For a moment or two, Eunhyuk just carried on staring at him, then all at once his eyes lost their coldness, his face broke into that smile again, and he stepped up and gave Jonghyun a friendly pat on the arm.
“See?” he said casually. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Jonghyun grinned, not quite so nervous now, but still a little unsure.
Eunhyuk gave him another reassuring pat on the arm.
“We’ll see you later then, okay?”
“Yeah…where are you going to be?”
But Eunhyuk didn’t answer him. He’d already turned around and was heading off down the pathway toward the wasteground, the three other kids following him. He wasn’t smiling anymore. His friendly face had shut down as soon as he’d turned away from Jonghyun. I’d seen it disappear-click-like a light going off. And now, as I watched him go, it was hard to believe he’d ever smiled before in his life.
I turned to Key.
He was watching Eunhyuk, too.
“Are you okay?” I asked him.
“Yeah…” He looked at me, his brow furrowed. “He’s weirder than me, isn’t he?”
I laughed. “Yeah, I think he probably is.”
The den in Back Lane is hidden away at the top of the bank, about three-quarters of the way along the lane, you can’t see it from ground level, and unless you know exactly how to get there, it’s almost impossible to find. And even when you do know how to get there, it’s still pretty tricky.
“It’s up there,” Key said, pointing up the bank.
“There, by that tree stump.”
I couldn’t even see any tree stump. It was nine-thirty now and the only light around was the moon. The air was still hot and sticky.
“He’s right,” Jonghyun said, muscling in between Key and me. “It’s there, look.” He pointed up the bank. “You go around the back of that stump, then along that little ridge and up through the brambles-“
“Shut up, Jonghyun,” I said.
He gave me his hurt-little-boy look. “I’m only trying to help.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. “Jonghyun Kim- Mr. Fucking Helpful.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’re bad,” Key said.
We both looked at him.
“Bad?” Jonghyun grinned.
Key couldn’t help but smiling then, and that was all the encouragement Jonghyun needed. He put down his plastic bag and started dancing around, singing loudly in a stupid accent: “Because I’m baad, I’m baad…shit!”
Key laughed as Jonghyun moonwalked into the bank and fell over, and I found myself laughing too. I didn’t want to, but it was pretty funny.
That was the thing about Jonghyun- no matter what you thought of him, no matter how much you wanted to hate him, he could always redeem himself by making you laugh. But I knew I was all part of his act. Make them laugh, make them smile, make them forget about everything else…
I looked at him now, rolling around on his back, wiggling his arms and legs in the air, whooping and shrieking like he was in pain.
“Come on, Key,” I said, stepping up onto the bank. “Let’s go.”
A/N: Ah I cursed. So shoot me. D:< by golly am I tired D:
As usual Commment~ :D