Chapter 36: Crescendo (5)
TW: mentions of rape, implied sexual assault of a minor
Dong-in Seo was just an ordinary student attending Inpyeong Middle School. His grades were average, and he got along with his classmates well enough. Though no one really cared enought o ask, his life motto was to “make it halfway there,” or at least, so he thought. He never stood out, and he didn’t particularly want to. Still, appearances can be cunning.
He was, in fact, rather popular among his peers. He was considered to be quite handsome, with a tall nose, thick brows, and defined jaw. Though it’s true that not all children in institutions have a sullen look to them, Dong-in truly looked like a boy who had grown up in a well-to-do home. That’s not to say that he kept his upbringing a secret (which would be difficult to do, as everyone could see him board the institute van), and everyone around him knew about his background. He showed neither the excellence of the top 1% nor the delinquency of the bottom 1%, which allowed him to get along rather well with others, as a friend, an upperclassman, or an underclassman. Still, appearances can be cunning.
What Dong-in hated most of all was to be left out.
“Dong-in, let’s go to the library,” a rather studious friend would ask. And Dong-in would answer, “Sure,” with a lovely smile.
Lunch had to be eaten as quickly as possible, so that he could have time to play ball with his friends. He finished his meals before anyone else and made it his way out to the fields. His face would flush red and he’d be covered in sweat, but still, he would run around the field until the start of fifth period. Dong-in, who was more passionate about soccer than any other classmate, who devoted himself to teamwork and would always call his friends with a broad smile on his face, would never even touch a ball at the institute. No matter how much Cheol-yong or Hyung-geun begged him to, he would never go along with them.
Dong-in looked at himself in the mirror often. He would look at his reflection and practice smiling. He practiced, so that he could smile broadly, genuinely, at anyone. It may be difficult to understand the need to practice facial expressions at such a young age, but Dong-in had realized from early on that the only reason people didn’t ignore him were his above average looks. The face he saw in the mirror every day was the only thing he was grateful to his parents for.
Then, one day, the institute had been rather quiet, with many of the children having gone out for the weekend. Dong-in, of course, had chosen to stay in. He had no relatives to visit him, and there was no reason for him to go out. But on that day, he had felt rather uneasy, much more so than usual. It wasn’t because of the results of the most recent exam, and it wasn’t because he hadn’t had enough of his favorite dish (pork bulgogi) during lunch. Indeed, he had just been sitting at his desk, reading a book and glancing out the window, when he began to feel uneasy.
There was a tightness of sorts in his chest, so he had decided to leave the institute for some fresh air. Just then, a girl happened to walk past the gates, into the institute. Something about her gait was off, and she looked uncomfortable, so he briefly wondered whether he should help. He decided to wait, and observe. When the girl reached the front door, Dong-in took in her appearance.
The summer breeze swept by, tousling her shoulder-length hair. It fluttered up for a moment before falling back in place, dyed a shade of purple from the sunset. She was holding on to her dress, all frills and lace, to prevent it from riding up in the wind. As she looked down, he noticed her long eyelashes. Her eyes glistened, as if she had been crying, and they glowed red as the sunset itself.
Dong-in’s heart beat wildly. He didn’t know what else to do, and he approached her.
“Do you need a hand?” Is perhaps what he should have said. And yet, as soon as he reached her, the perfect image he had created of her shattered into pieces. She had a flaw, a flaw that kept her from being perfect, from being that perfect vision that he could cherish in his head, in his heart, forever and ever.
“You smell funny.” Was what he had said instead. He couldn’t help it. He didn’t want to remember her, her perfection, accompanied with this strange, musty smell. But as soon as he spoke, the girl broke down in tears, her head hanging down. She made no sounds as she cried, and Dong-in could do nothing but stare. Had he been too harsh? Just as he began to think about what he had done, the girl looked up, and their eyes met.
Dong-in was quite familiar with emotions that the eyes conveyed. He had, after all, spent much time practicing. And he knew. Though the girl spoke no words, he could recognize the anger, the silent judgment she was giving him.
The girl was wary of him.
The girl hated him.
The girl began to avoid him.
From that day until the day he entered middle school, Dong-in hadn’t come across the girl at all. Even when he saw her at the institute’s cafeteria, the girl left as soon as she saw him. When he graduated elementary school, all the other elementary school children of the institute came to congratulate him (as was typical), but the girl avoided that, too.
Dong-in’s feelings towards the girl were becoming more and more warped, yet he didn’t know.
After starting middle school, it became more difficult for him to see her, but he had learned something then. Something unbelievable, something he hadn’t known before, about the source of the smell that surrounded the girl at times.
Truth to be told, all-boys middle schools are somewhat like boot camps to force children into becoming men. It’s a place where, unbeknownst to adults or young children, the students gather and form strong bonds and a new, exclusive world for themselves. It’s also a place where they share all sorts of indecent information, the sort of things that adults try to keep secret, or perhaps things that even adults don’t know of. They shared information, and they learned. How to curse, how to fight and win and form hierarchies, and the secrets of nighttime happenings.
When Dong-in came to learn the truth, the strongest emotion he had felt was that of betrayal. He would have felt less tricked, less betrayed, if someone had told him that the Mona Lisa was actually a man. The girl had been the most perfect things he had ever seen, and she had made his heart beat wildly. And yet, she had been tainted all along. She was a dirty thing, a filthy, tainted thing. Disgusting. His friends had called such filth “sluts.”
Had he been looked down upon by a “slut”? A mere “slut” had dared to ignore him, to abandon him? He had been hurting all this time, just because of a dumb “slut”? Had he really?
He had thought that, one day, should the girl decide to stop avoiding him and accept his feelings for her, that he would gladly rid of her smell for her and claim her perfection as his own. But not anymore. Her stench was not something that was so easily erased.
She was a smelly “slut,” and that would never change. She would always smell, she would always be tainted, like a dirty rag that keeps reeking more and more.
So he would avoid her. He hated her stench, and he hated to remember how she had looked at him. And most of all, he hated how he had acted, how he had been so hurt by her angry eyes. And now, he had the perfect chance. The perfect chance to humiliate her.
“You know what it is, don’t you?”
Just as he had thought, she had turned white. Her eyes rolled in their sockets, and soon her whole body shook. Her thin, red lips trembled in an unsightly way.
Lucid turned around. Somi, who had been walking arm-in-arm with Dayoung, turned pale. She had always been rather pale, but this was a rather deathly pallor, as if no color was left in her features. Her knees shook uncontrollably, but she hardly noticed as she stared off into the distance.
“What do you mean? What are you talking about?” Reporter Yang asked. His instincts as a reporter kicked in, and he knew something was wrong.
“She smells like semen sometimes. A lot of times.”
Yang could feel his blood turn cold in his veins. He knew that children this age could be honest to a fault, but he had never experienced it firsthand. Now that he had, he was afraid. And as he looked at the girl, trembling, her face drained of all color, all he could see were the words: “The World’s Unhappiest Child,” in big, bold letters. Talk about being a workaholic.
From the looks of it, the employee in charge of the children was also panicking, unsure of what to do at such a wild turn of events. The children realized something was wrong as well, and the other nearby adults also didn’t know what to do. He briefly wondered whether this was a witch-hunt, an attempt at bullying the poor girl, but he quickly dismissed the idea. It wasn’t his job to judge the situation. His job was to report on the truth and nothing but the truth.
“Excuse me,” he called to the employee.
“Bring whoever is in charge of this children here.”
So the employee really didn’t know what was going on.
“This is a case of sexual assault on a minor under 13. If she wants to press charges or give a testimony, she needs an adult, a legal guardian, here.”
The girl didn’t look like a middle schooler, so she was likely still in elementary school. There is no such thing as “consentual sex” with an elementary school child, which means that this was nothing short of sexual abuse of a minor. Yang could see the various headlines and news articles about this flying by in his head. If this had been a TV program on current events, they probably would have titled it, “What happened that day at the courthouse?”
What, indeed. In the courtroom, a trial for an attempted rape case. Outside the same courtroom, a tip about a sexual assault case against a minor.
The current trial was, truthfully, not a big scoop at all. This, however, could make it to national news if he could get his hands on the case. He didn’t know the details yet, but he liked the side story. A tip given within the walls of the courthouse, and child from the institute going astray. And not just any institute, but the Agnes Institute of all places. Up until now, the Agnes Institute had been highly praised within the region, but Yang knew that it was a shady place, ready to crack and let out its dirty secrets at any moment. But who could have ever thought that one of those secrets could be statutory rape? Things were, all in all, taking a very interesting turn.
The employee left in a hurry, just as Officer Choi came out of the courtroom after giving his testimony. “What happened here, Mr. Yang?” He asked as he approached the group.
“Oh, nice timing, officer.” The reporter answered. “There wasn’t anyone around authorized to take this child’s testimony and begin investigating, but here you are. I guess your work is never finished, huh?”
Yang proceeded to explain the middle school jerk’s accusations as well as his own thoughts (the possibility of gang rape or repeated assault) on the situation. Shortly after, an institute teacher arrived with the employee, and Somi was escorted out of the courthouse by the officer.
Lucid stared blankly at Somi’s retreating figure. Up until now, he had been in awe at the structured proceedings of the court, at all the logic and reason that were used to take care of a case. People here took an ideal approach to handling a case, with a prosecutor reading the all the charges and a lawyer being allowed to bring witnesses and rebutt the accusations. Even if the accused was indeed guilty, they were provided with basic representation in court. With all the evidence and facts being laid out, a verdict and a sentence were determined purely through logical debate. This was fascinating, and rather encouraging, for Lucid.
Back in the other world, they would chase people down and beat them with sticks and clubs, or would kick them down over and over again, no matter how much they pled for their lives. Now that Lucid had enough knowledge to understand that such actions were nothing but “barbaric” and “violent,” he had thought that he would never see such things in this world.
However, looking at Somi now, he couldn’t help but be reminded of the man who had been chased out of the town. He had had a similar smell to her, even as he left. No one had tried to stop him from leaving. On the contrary, everyone had cursed at him, glaring and insulting as he went. And though Somi was, as far as Lucid understood, the victim in this situation, in this moment, she reminded him of that dirty, tattered man. Lucid ran towards Somi and grabbed her arm.
“Are you okay?” he asked. He wanted to console her, to make her feel better. The Somi he knew wasn’t a bad person, and she certainly wasn’t a criminal. How could smelling bad be considered a crime? Being punished for smelling was unreasonable and illogical, and went against everything Lucid had seen today in the courtroom. Somi gave no answer, and simply looked at him with eyes full of tears. Then, she turned around and followed Officer Choi out of the building.
No one else spoke to her as she left, and Somi also didn’t say a word. Still, the way they all looked at her had changed in just a few moments. Some adults even clicked their tongues in disdain as she passed by. It was as if a trial had been conducted and a sentence passed, all in a split second. No one asked why she was being taken away, and no one stood up for her. No one stepped up to explain that Somi had done nothing wrong. With just a few words, Somi had become a defendant, a criminal, and Lucid couldn’t understand this at all.
He knew that there was much still he had to learn, but he had no information whatsoever about the current situation, nor could he wrap his head around it. No one had read out the crime in question, and there was no evidence of a crime being committed at all. Just words. Mere words had been enough to convict her. Lucid thought that perhaps he was the only one who didn’t understand, but a quick look around told him that the other children were just as clueless as he was. Only Dong-in and the adults watched Somi with a certain look in their eyes."Read latest chapters at Wuxiaworld.site
“Starting so young…”
“I mean, she is an orphan. What else is new?”
Orphan. There was no way that being an orphan could be considered a crime. Lucid realized that he needed to know more, needed to learn more. Just filling up gaps in his knowledge for the sake of magic wasn’t enough. If he didn’t know, if he didn’t truly understand, then perhaps someday, he’d be the one being chased out like Somi. Part of him realized that this was necessary for his survival. He had to learn in order to survive in this world.
The teacher took Lucid and Myeong-su’s hands and led the children elsewhere. Yang followed Officer Choi, and the courthouse employee briefly left in order to report on what had happened. Somi was gone, and the tour continued.
That was the last time the children saw her.
<Crescendo (5)> End.