Out Of My Element
We were both liquid. We were enveloped by the night and ourselves, and there wasn’t a goddamned other thing existing in the entire world. There was no Seoul, and no Korea, and there definitely wasn’t a dingy street lit by a couple of dim orange bulbs.
The entire place looked like Halloween, all streaked with wet black and sparkling with blues or whites from completely unknown light sources. It was hard to tell where the buildings began or ended. With the amount of alcohol in my system, it was hard to tell anything, since most of my concentration was on where to put my feet, and how to hold her body against mine in case of a sudden shift in gravity.
She was a bit of chilled perfection held against my skin. If she’d been sweating, she’d have been a chick-sicle in no time. Her black hair gleamed pumpkin in the hypnotic hum of the lights, and when her eyes finally came up to meet mine, the mischief just leaked into them like honey.
I was sweating, from the place and from the dancing. She clung onto my shirt, but it wasn’t because she wanted to get cool. She wasn’t having the most success in standing up either. We were both liquid, trying to figure out how to wobble upright like jell-o. We were both trying not to end up as ice cubes in a tray. We even managed a few steps.
The music was fucking loud. It wasn’t just loud, or deafening, it was stuff your ears for the next couple of days loud, the type of loud you couldn’t get away from, the type that made shouting distance shrink down to millimeters. I could still hear it jouncing and rumbling up from the basement club half a block away.
“We shouldn’t stay here,” I found myself saying. She nodded a little, giggled, and hiccupped. I had never heard a Korean hiccup before. Hell, I’d only seen a handful of them actually sweat, and none of them in the club we were just in. I found myself giggling like a lunatic right along with her.
“There’s that thing in the papers,” I said, which was just about as euphemistically as I could put it. She nodded at that too, her smile faltering a little.
She still hadn’t spoken, except to tell me her name, which was something like ‘Sunghee’ or maybe ‘Byunghee’. Had it been ‘Sungji”? I had felt reasonably sure of what I was doing, putting the few dance moves I possessed to this girl, while feeding her shot after shot of cheap well tequila. After the first three she seemed to forget the four other girls she was with, and the fact that my wingman Brad had already taken care of one of them for me. A couple of sixty-fifth mechanic unit fellas had been dancing up the other three when I last looked, which was good.
She extended one slim, diminutive arm and pointed down away from the main roads. Then she said something in Korean. Wonderful. This was either going to turn into me sleeping outside in a gutter in some forgotten Korean back alley after this chick ditched me, or I was going to be resting inside one of the sexiest girls I had ever happened to meet. If it were the latter, hopefully there wouldn’t be too much sleep involved.
I looked down that alley, squinted at the absolute lack of distinguishing features, and turned back to her. Korea has that look to it, that it was all built in the last thirty years, and Sesame Street was wrong: all of these things look just like the others. They’re all between four and six stories tall, with businesses all the way up. PC Rooms dominate everything, with tiny casinos, little restaurants, convenience stores, bakeries, and real estate agencies all playing second fiddle.
“Are you sure-“ was all I got out, before she skipped away. However, she still had a hold of my hand, and jerked me around until I was following her. A strong one, I thought. I was hoping the thigh muscles on this girl were anything like the ones in her arms. If this was the case, we were going to use her bed like a piece of gymnastic equipment. I could not get the term ‘uneven bars’ out of my head for some reason, and the thought made me laugh and laugh.
Now, a lot of Korean girls have this thing about wearing short skirts with exceptionally long jackets. Whatever this one’s name was, she had that same thing going on. Aside from the knee socks and three-inch pumps (complete with little lavender bows on the backs), it looked like she wasn’t wearing anything except the coat, which stopped just below her butt. Now, it may be fashionable back in the States to have a piece of former skirt trying like hell to cover your privates, but nothing beats this look that the Korean girls do. There’s something sweet and trashy about it at the same time, like three quarters of the girls here are tramps, even if they’re wearing cartoon t-shirts or playing their PSP’s on the subway, or both for that matter.
I decided her name was Sunji, because it sounded the prettiest. Sunji and I raced down this back alley, passing a few places with their lights still on. At this hour, some people were still up and cleaning out the last of the restaurant mess from the day. Shot glasses of Soju or pint glasses of beer were still being raised to honor whatever excuse they were using to get drunk and lose their late night ramen.
We turned here, and turned there. By now I was breathing heavy, which takes a bit of work considering I run three miles a day. The place was also listing quite a bit to port, then starboard and back.
“Fuck darlin’,” I said, “slow down a bit huh?”
She stopped and pressed me up against some sort of corrugated metal wall-fence. On her tip-toes now (like she wasn’t before), she reached up and jerked on my hair, plastering her face into mine. Her tongue slid into my mouth, and it tasted how I imagine a cockroach’s asshole would taste. The taste alone got my stomach churning, but then she breathed on me, a fetid stink roiling up into my nostrils. I almost lost it right there.
If this wasn’t bad enough, her tongue slithered into my mouth almost far enough to trigger my gag reflex. I felt bile creeping up into my throat, and choked it back while her fingers dug through my hair, looking to excavate under my scalp. Christ but this girl was forward. I’d never met a Korean chick so fucking blunt. Then again I’d never met one so trashed before.
She extracted her tongue from my lower esophagus a moment later, leaving me gasping. I fell to my knees, sputtering and coughing, trying to get that taste out of my mouth. What the fuck was with this girl? I went to put a hand on my knee to stand back up, but she caught it and, laughing, hauled me to my feet.
I mean I am in the fucking army. I signed up to see the world. I’ve done tours in Europe, over near the Middle East, and now this. This was completely fucked up. I’d never met a girl would could handle more than half a dozen Tequila shots like this chick. If she were over a buck twenty I’d give a testicle away for fucking transplanting or something.
We were off again without another second. I wasn’t just breathing hard now, I was gasping, just about hyperventilating, swallowing back the stuff that threatened to make its second appearance of the night. I am not a little Korean dude, I told myself, I do not eat a cup of instant noodles, drink two bottles of Soju and lose my shit all over the pavement at five in the morning. I clapped a hand to my chest and kept myself from doing that.
It worked until she pulled me around a corner. My foot splashed into something, I stumbled, and I went down hard on my knees. My breathing steadied for a few seconds while my eyes and my brain held a meeting on whether or not they’d like to agree. When the world finally slid back into its normal position, I found myself face to face with a heap of pig’s heads. Glassy eyes and cloudy eyes regarded me there in the dark, trying to judge my predicament. I jerked my eyes away before I started giving facial expressions to their death masks. My hand had fallen into something that might have been entrails, and I jerked my hand away while trying to form a word on the subject.
That’s all it took.
Sunji let me do my business out back of a butcher’s district. Thank whatever gods there are that it was still cold enough to keep the bugs wherever the hell bugs go for the winter. I let loose a torrent of the past four hours of partying, and pre-partying. At least now, I thought, I wouldn’t be able to taste whatever it was she had going on in that mouth of hers.
That rotten meat smell, which for some god-awful reason has a sweet tinge to it, wafted out to meet me by the time I wiped my mouth on my sleeve. I found myself already standing up, and thought it was a sort of miracle at first. I wish now that I’d had a chance to look at what spilled out of me. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that I realized my little Asian powerhouse had a handful of my shirt.
My brain, I think, was addled just enough to respect that strength instead of fearing what had already happened.
“Come on,” she hissed. “We can’t be late.” Only the way she said it, and the strange exhaling sound of her voice, made the word late sound like raped. Koreans have troubles with their l’s and r’s, I thought.
“I saw that shit on the news,” I said. It wasn’t true. I had seen that on the fliers that the MPs on base had passed out. They said: don’t stay out too late. We’ve had too many AWOL guys lately. It’s not regular for this part of the world. One guy had shown up in a garbage bin, torn just about in half. It was the only evidence that those AWOL guys weren’t going to be showing up anywhere, evading the military. He’d been raped before he was finally put out of that humiliating misery. There were rumors going around that some bizarre extremist faction of the Republic of Korea military was out hitting US army dudes trying to pick up, God forbid, Korean girls.
I staggered away from the contents of my stomach with her hand in mine. Maybe my hand in hers. It only took another few seconds for her to take me into a darkened corridor. It was one of those little arcades they use to access the rest of the building that’s not shops. Or if you need to find a bathroom. You duck down one of these.
The little elevator down button glowed red when she touched it. She turned to me and smiled, then melted into me just like how this whole weird ordeal had started. It was like the tongue down my throat thing hadn’t happened at all.
Elevator lights are completely blinding at four in the morning. They slid open like the gates of heaven, whiter than a backcountry redneck at a Detroit rap battle. I winced at the pain of it, and grimaced all the way inside.
Wait, were we heading down?
I didn’t get a chance to think about it. She gripped my head and plastered her face against mine for the second time. Her tongue shot in, massaging my tonsils. I thought I’d imagined it all before, like she tasted like vomit, but that taste was back. I also thought I’d imagined gagging on her tongue, or exaggerated it or something. My eyes bulged out of my skull when it happened again. It twisted and went deeper.
I tried to pull her away. Now it was twisting and cutting into those sensitive places that never let go of the memory of choking down a horse pill. She was cutting off my air supply. I grabbed fistfuls of her hair and yanked, but she’d slid her arms around my neck now.
I was going to vomit. Fuck vomiting, she was going to kill me.
Some sort of pathetic sound came out of me, mostly from my nose, but a little from my invaded throat. I pulled at her head, and put my thumbs over her eyes, ready to push and pop those little bastards like two lidded grapes. My head was suddenly pounding full of rushing blood.
It happened then. Now, the fucked up thing is, you’re thinking: why the hell didn’t you hightail it when she freaked you out the first time? One, I was drunk, and two, I was lost. Three, it was free sex. What happened after this let me know how much I would dearly love to be dead. Okay, your stomach only has a few extremely slow-acting nerves. The esophagus is a little different. I felt something hit my esophagus, and actually smack into the bottom of my gut.
I lost it. I pressed down. Her eyelids tore under the pressure of my thumbs. She began a squeal that would have been a scream, but for the tongue she was currently killing me with. Fuck, okay, I got into this situation on tequila and stupidity, how could I get out of it?
That tongue, or whatever it was, was pulled back and her hands lost their grip on me. Instead they fell right on my wrists. She was a strong one.
She peeled my hands off her like the lid off a Tupperware container, trailing the ruins of her eyeballs with them. Then she began, against my protests, to bend my arms back to snapping positions. I did the only thing I could think of, I mashed my forehead into her nose. I felt the crunch of cartilage under the weight of my blow, and a dark swell of satisfaction within me.
The little ding sounded just in time, and the elevator doors admitted me out into one of the sub-basements of an unknown building, in a part of Seoul I’d never even visited in nightmares. Where the fuck was the stairwell? What had she dropped into my stomach? I stumbled blindly through the dark, cursing and sputtering, trying to get away from her and get my stomach to pump itself again. A shrill scream of agony and rage echoed down throughout the basement after me. I had to find stairs.
I hadn’t noticed my surroundings until I started really searching around for that stairwell. When I looked up, I almost stopped moving altogether. It looked a bit like a science lab at first. All I saw were big square tanks filled with exceptionally blue water, almost ten in all. They were set up like big columns, spaced maybe forty feet apart.
In the center of each one was a GI staring at me.
They were flailing in their tanks, and I couldn’t help but stop and gawk for a second. They weren’t hooked up to any life support, first off. It struck me, in a stage magician sort of way. How were they doing it? Shouldn’t they be a lot dead?
The last detail of my surroundings snuck up and surprised me then. I heard, and felt some movement to my right. I turned to find the floor of the place just missing. It was excavated out or never finished or whatever. Instead, there was a gaping hole filled with alien blackness.
I can’t tell you what happened exactly, because the darkness moved, it writhed, pulsed, shifted or surged or something. We’re talking you’ve never seen darkness like this. I think it had been rearing up, and it hunched in on itself, because suddenly I could see all the way across the basement to one of those famous Korean stairwell signs. These are the green ones with the little stick man dashing toward the exit. That was me.
When the darkness moved though, something happened. Whatever the fuck was sitting in my stomach, trying to eat me alive, it pulsed right along with that massive patch of living black hole. I doubled over at the electric bolts jabbing me, from stomach clear down to my nuts. I realized, now that I was staring down at the floor, at old bloodstains, that I hadn’t even had time to be properly terrified yet. The night might just be getting warmed up.
Until I was slammed into from the side. I staggered, though most of my buzz was gone. It was just from the force of the blow, which knocked me into one of the tanks. The guy inside was beating on it, trying to tell me to get a move on, trying to get me to get him out. I don’t know. All I knew was that my head had hit the glass with a whock sound, and my vision doubled for a second. Fingers twined into my hair, that whock sounded again, and everything went a nice warm black.
I woke up just about a fucking eternity ago. It was time enough to review how I got here, and discover that there’s no way out. I’m floating in a tank with a lid on it. It hasn’t taken a genius to figure out that the lid isn’t coming off without any sort of tools. I’m over my head in water. I’m not dead. There’s something in my chest, it feels full. I’m breathing water somehow. I don’t understand how. I’m one hundred percent pain. I’m blacking out again.
I’m trying to make eye contact with another one of the GI’s here. He’s screaming. I can hear him, though I don’t know how that is. He’s screaming and screaming for his mother, and that he wants to die, but that he doesn’t want to die like this. His tears have dissolved into the water of the tank. We’re both liquid. We’re not real anymore.
Red water is flowing out of my mouth and nose. Korean girls slip out of the shadows around the other guy’s tank and take the lid off. The darkness flows through the place, fucking with my perception. I’m going to die. I’m going to die.
Fuck that! There’s a multi-tool attached to my key ring. Sweet salvation with a dozen attachments, complete with corkscrew!
The darkness cancels everything. I flip out the little screwdriver and start to go to work on the lid to this fucking tank. I manage to get one off, inch by inch, second by second, working furiously, cursing inside my head. One screw floats down to the bottom. Then another.
The darkness dissipates. The other GI isn’t in the tank anymore. Oh Christ. I want to throw up. I can’t. I watch that patch of raw blackness recede back to the hole in the floor. It leaves a small trail of blood behind, on the concrete floor of the basement. I can’t stop working, I know it, but I can’t stop watching.
It seems to stop somehow, to wretch and cough up something bone white. It’s small and frail, yet when it uncurls itself I see that its hair is exactly the same shade as the void from which it came.
It is a perfect replication of Sunji. Her eyes are back. She stands on shaky legs and peers up at me. She smiles.
I haven’t prayed enough lately.