: Lost and UnfoundAuthor
: Lu Han/Kai, Lu Han/SehunRating
: Mystery, SuspenseLength
: 11,000 wordsDescription
: The bell chimed seven times at midnight.Author’s Note
: Originally written for aideshou
’s Challenge 09 using this prompt
. Thank you for Uti and Bino, and Karima for the edit. And the genre’s more like (Fail) Suspense, to be honest.Lost and Unfound.
The phone rang, and Lu Han spilled coffee all over his desk.
“Fuck,” he muttered. “Fuck, fuck, fuck
He picked up the offensively ringing phone only to slam it down and pick it up again. He dialled 1905. On the third ring, someone picked up.
“It’s Lu Han,” he said brusquely before the person on the other end could say anything. “Come to my office with a cleaning cloth. Now.” He slammed the phone back down. The brown liquid, now rapidly cooling, had started dripping to the newly replaced carpet floor. Minseok is going to kill me
, he thought. He then realised a pile of paper on his desk soaking up his spilt coffee, the previously crisp white prints turning darker and darker on their edges by each passing second. Kris is definitely going to kill me too
Just as he was trying to salvage this particular very
important pile, the phone rang again. Startled, he let slip of the papers in his hold and they ended up scattered all over the small yet offensive puddle, turning brown in their entirety. Lu Han cursed again. He gave up, flinging himself down on his plush swivel chair, and picked up the phone. Leaning forward on his desk, he pinched the bridge of his nose and answered with a monotonous, “Lu Han.” The name sounded muffled.
“Good gracious, where have you been? I need the files now, the shareholders are in the meeting room already. Have you made copies?”
Something cold seemed to creep up Lu Han’s skin. When he looked down, the arm of his blue shirt, right by the elbow, was a deeper shade than the rest. He lifted his arm, and scrutinized the damage. He’s going to have to change. Fuck
“What was that?” Kris’ alarmed voice crackled through the phone.
“I…” Lu Han started with a cringe. “Kris, give me… ten minutes. No, fifteen. Give me fifteen minutes, I’ll be right down with the papers.”
“You don’t have them yet? I thought I made it clear yesterday that–” Lu Han stopped listening when he heard three gentle knocks on the door. Putting down the phone, disconnecting it, he half shouted, “Come in!”
The door opened by barely an inch. A voice from behind it squeaked, “Hi, Mr. Lu? I was called to come here to… clean something up? I–”
“Please just come in, for god’s sake!” Lu Han cut him off. A young office assistant hurriedly opened the door wider and scurried inside. “Sorry. It’s my desk. It’s… a mess now. Please, just. Just do what you can.”
While the helper began to wipe at the soiled surface, he moved the keyboard over to a safer part of the desk and called up the names of the files he was going to have to reprint, the buttons sticky under his touch (“I am never buying expensive coffee, ever again,” he said under his breath). With several furious clicks of the mouse, the printer started whirring, spewing out sheet after sheet of paper.
It’s a good thing he had a few spare shirts (and tailored pants, a suit, and several spare ties; “you never know when you’ll need them,” he often said, and today he was unfortunately proven right) tucked inside the corner of the file cabinet. Paying no regard to the boy scrubbing at his desk, he unbuttoned his blue shirt from the top and shrugged it off unceremoniously. The stain had reached the edge of the sleeve of his white undershirt, but he wasn’t going to bother changing that. As he finished buttoning his new perfectly ironed shirt (this one was grey, he didn’t feel like changing into another blue one after the last incident), the office assistant twisted the soaked cleaning cloth over a small bucket he had brought along.
“Anything else, sir?”
Lu Han hastily grabbed a black tie from a drawer and shoved it shut with a knee. “No, thank you. You may go now.”
The boy left, to which Lu Han didn’t spare a single glance. He kept an eagle eye on his laser jet printer, fingers swiftly making the tie around his neck.
“I heard you screwed up today.”
Rapid clacking sounds from the keyboard stopped as Lu Han peered at his uninvited visitor from above his horn-rimmed glasses. Leaning against the doorframe was a man he was all too familiar with.
screwed up, Jongin,” he corrected. “And it would be polite to knock on the door first.”
Jongin chortled. “That’s not what I heard from Jongdae. And since when were you so hung up about knocking on doors?”
Lu Han sighed and returned his concentration to the rows and rows of numbers on his computer screen. The clacks from the keyboard resumed. “Jongdae dramatises everything. And I’ve always been stern about knocking on doors.”
A sudden weight on his shoulders, followed by a hot breath tickling his ear, broke his concentration. The dancing of his fingers over small printed letters on plastic stopped. “I happen to like drama. Too bad I don’t like knocking on doors so much,” Jongin whispered, plump lips almost touching skin. Didn’t matter what he said, every word that came out of his mouth always sounded like some sort of invitation. At least that’s what Lu Han thought. It intrigued him.
Before he could turn around to shoo Jongin out of the room, Jongin offered, “Dinner?”
“I’m not hungry,” Lu Han answered, fingers making meek clacks.
Jongin planted a kiss under Lu Han’s ear before trying again. “Drinks, then. Or something else?” Another kiss.
Lu Han gave up. “Fine. I can do drinks. Let me tidy up.” The weight disappeared from his shoulders.
“Good boy,” Jongin remarked as he sashayed his way across the room to sit on a long beech table by the door.
The computer whirred to a stop precisely five minutes later. “There’s a sofa in here, you know,” Lu Han said as he checked for the last time the notes he had taken during the day.
“Too conventional.” Jongin’s answers were never satisfactory.
Lu Han closed his notebook shut and stored a pile of documents in the drawer. “Let’s go. Melly’s?”
“Sure,” the boy on the table sing-songed, leaping down gracefully. His hand was on the doorknob right away. “You’re paying.”
It was almost midnight by the time he arrived at his own doorstep hours later. He reached inside his pocket for the key, but it was empty, his fingers meeting with plain old cloth instead of the tiny piece of cold metal.
Lu Han cursed for the umpteenth time that day.
He bent down to look under the doormat for a spare, but the floor underneath was clear. He cursed again. It’s been weeks since he had to use the spare, but why would it go missing now?
Randomly he wondered whether Chanyeol was still awake. What the hell
. It’s Chanyeol’s or the hallway.
Several shuffled steps brought him to Chanyeol’s door. Music was blaring from across the door, and even through the thick wall, Lu Han could hear clearly an ugly rendition of Sweet Child of Mine. At least he’s awake
“Yo, what’s up?” Chanyeol greeted when the door opened. It was a miracle he could hear the ring of the bell from under so much loud guitar distortions.
“Hey, sorry to bother you,” Lu Han said shyly. “It’s just that I think I left my keys at the office and I lost my spare. Mind if I crash in?”
Chanyeol opened the door wider and gestured for Lu Han to come in. “Not at all, the couch is free.” Later, as he threw a flannel blanket and a pillow at Lu Han, he asked, “Not staying at Jongin’s?”
Lu Han shook his head as he spread the blanket open. “No. Not tonight.”***
The next morning, Lu Han woke up with a start.
When he opened his eyes, he squinted in reflex, blinded by the merciless sunlight slanting through the blinds, harassing his unwashed face. His body felt too warm under the covers. As soon as he could see properly, he was greeted by the numbers on the designer digital clock on Chanyeol’s table. 9:57. He fumbled for his phone, only to find it dead. No wonder the customary beeps didn’t wake him up earlier.
Lu Han folded the blanket quickly, slipped on his shoes, and ran out of the empty apartment, slamming the door behind him. By the time he reached the office twenty minutes later, the back of his shirt was sticking uncomfortably to his skin despite the rather cool wind outside. A few strides into his office and he turned on the computer, and while waiting for it to start, plugged his phone to its charger and opened the closet, taking out a crisp white shirt. He was going to have to stock up on more shirts after this.
Five minutes before office hours ended, Jongin entered without a knock. “Done yet?”
Lu Han finished typing a sentence, took a sip of water, and continued typing before replying with a rather annoyed, “No. I was late today.”
“Hmm,” Jongin hummed. The familiar weight on Lu Han’s shoulder was back, but the typing continued. Even when Jongin’s breath ghosted over a side of his neck, it didn’t stop. “You don’t smell like your usual self. Did you even shower?”
At a particularly sharp jab on the ‘Enter’ button, Lu Han shook his head, “No. No time for that.”
“Hmm,” Jongin hummed again. “You barely have time for anything anymore nowadays.” A finger trailed from under Lu Han’s ears to the base of his neck.
“Oh god, Jongin, can you go away? Please?” Lu Han half-pleaded.
Lu Han turned his chair around and rose to usher the younger man out of the room, but was met by a pair of full lips on his own. Hot, unrelenting. The shoves and small steps he made to steer the man out, and the short, breathy “door”, “there”, “out” he managed to spew out somewhat coherently in between sloppy kisses seemed to work, until his waist hit the edge of the beech table Jongin was so keen on occupying. Instead of turning the door knob barely any distance away to let Jongin out, Lu Han found himself lifting himself up onto the table, Jongin’s forceful body snuggling between his legs. When Jongin sucked on his collarbone, Lu Han instinctively threw his arm back.
He was met with the sound of breaking glass.
Both men stopped to turn to the source of sound, and the scene that played before their eyes seemed to go in slow motion. A hanged framed motivational puzzle (“With conviction, you can!”), met by the impact of Lu Han’s arm and half fist, slipped off from its nailed support. Striking the table before it seemed to bounce off and fall, the glass unhinged from its wooden frame, bits of puzzle unravelling on their way down. The entire assemble ended up as a pile of wrecked wood, broken glass, and mostly unmade puzzle pieces on the carpeted floor. At the end of it all, Lu Han’s mouth was hanging open.
Jongin took a step back and made tsk, tsk, tsk
sounds with his tongue. He turned to Lu Han; his mouth was still hanging open. “Are you going to redo that?”
Lu Han closed his mouth and swallowed once before he gathered enough wits to answer. “I’m out of luck,” he said, stepping down from the table and bending down to look closer at his former wall ornament. “Call the office assistant, would you?”***
It didn’t take too long for Lu Han to reassemble all the puzzle pieces. All, except one.
“Are you sure
we collected all of them? Because I’m missing the bottom right piece,” he interrogated the office assistant the very next day.
To say that the boy was a bit scared of Lu Han was an understatement. “Y-yes,” he stuttered. “I’m pretty sure we did.”
“I mean I’m s-sure, sir. I’m sure we collected them all.”
The affirmation didn’t stop Lu Han from kneeling down on the carpeted floor that late afternoon and tracing the entire surface of his office with his fingertips.
“You’re fucking insane,” Jongin commented from behind Lu Han’s desk, body moving his friend’s swivel chair from side to side, gently to not disturb the mug of coffee he held in his hands.
Lu Han stuck an arm out under the table and checked there. Nothing. “Shut up,” he said with head bowed down. “Shut up, Jongin, it’s your fault too.”
“For the missing piece of puzzle, or for your obsessive compulsive disorder? Because I think the latter is more of Minseok’s responsibility.”
His fingers felt something – a long forgotten, and probably dry, fountain pen. He chucked it back, annoyed. “I. Fucking. Give up.” Standing upright, he dusted imaginary dirt from his knees.
“That a boy.”
“You don’t get it, Jongin. I don’t just lose
things.” Lu Han walked over to his desk, picked up his notebook and flipped through it, adjusting the colour-coded post-its inside.
“Sure you do. We all do.”
“Not me,” Lu Han replied idly. A few flips later, something in the notebook caught his attention. “What the fuck.”
Jongin jumped off the chair to get nearer. “What now?” The last syllable was dragged out in annoyance.
Lu Han scooted closer, one hand holding the book splayed open while a finger on the other pointed to a page in the notebook. There were three bright yellow post-its on it, arranged neatly on the top left, top right, and bottom left, leaving small, even margins on the top and left parts of the notebook page. “Look here,” he said. “Look, here are some names and phone numbers,” his fingers traced all three yellow papers from the top down; “And look. There should be another one here – I leave all pages like this.” He tapped the bottom right part of the page, where there was only plain white lined paper. No bright yellow. Lu Han’s palms abruptly turned cold as he realised something. “Do you think someone’s been meddling with my notes? My office’s been breached?”
Jongin was back to sipping at his coffee, uninterested. “You still save phone numbers on a piece of paper? That’s archaic.”
Ignoring him, Lu Han mused to himself, lost in thought, “I never take out anything from this notebook. This is strange.”
“Whatever,” Jongin said with another sip of the coffee. “Come back to my place tonight?”
Lu Han put down his notebook. This was mindboggling, but it was going to have to wait. “No, better not,” he answered, settling himself down on his now vacant chair. “I’m staying late tonight.”
“To fix your screw-ups?” Jongin retorted. Before Lu Han could respond, however, “Have fun,” Jongin left with a smirk. He was already out the door in no time.
Lu Han deftly rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. This was going to be a long night.***
The main lights flickered out precisely at 8 p.m., leaving the office building under the mercy of horridly low lighting and hushed conversations from the few people that remained.
Four hours and four minutes later, in the darkness, the phone rang.
His right hand reached for the receiver. “Lu Han,” he spoke.
Instead of a hello, the first thing he heard was white noise, rustling in his ear like a long forgotten lullaby, assaulting, and evading, albeit the sound being a soft, shushing kind. Aside from the static, there were fragments of other things, mingling into a discordant concoction; but there wasn’t anyone speaking, no one to give him a much fitting reply.
Cold air gripped at Lu Han’s lungs as the room turned eerily icy.
A few heartbeats later, the rustle grew radically louder before swiftly going quiet, as if whoever was at the other end quickly covered the mouthpiece with the palm of a hand. A soft static noise, then a single sentence, came through the speaker:
“You’re missing things.”
The sentence was spoken with indifference; toneless, firm, as if reiterating a fact from a college textbook. Behind the indifference, there was some sort of sentiment Lu Han couldn’t quite pinpoint, and it doused him in unease. The voice itself belonged to a man; deep, and raspy, and shrill, all at the same time.
For some unfounded reason, his heart started beating faster, and something heavy settled in the pit of his stomach. “Excuse me? Who is this?” he managed to croak out a reply eventually, his voice uneven and his hands clammy. A drop of sweat broke on his temple.
Soft breathing sounds – from the caller? His own? – rose to prominence in the cacophony of an ensemble, and when for the following minute it was all he could hear along with the obnoxious static, he put the receiver down with trembling hands, grabbed his jacket, and left.***
“Come on in,” Lu Han invited at the rapping on his door.
The door made a small squeak, and Junmyeon entered, his row of white teeth glinting as he flashed his signature smile. “You called?”
Lu Han stopped circling numbers with a red pen to look at his guest. “Yeah,” he addressed Junmyeon, who was clad in casual designer blazer, and black fitted trousers. He had always thought Junmyeon looked a bit too
sophisticated to be the office’s IT guy. But then everybody would look sophisticated compared to Junmyeon’s fellow IT worker, Yixing, who would deem having matching socks for the day a grand accomplishment. “Yeah, about that. Can I possibly have a caller ID installed?”
“Of course, I think I can get an approval for you this afternoon,” Junmyeon replied with another smile.
Relief washed over Lu Han’s features. “Thanks,” he said. “That would be great.”***
When the phone rang at 00:04, the small screen next to his phone was blank. He answered it nonetheless.
“Lu Han,” he said mechanically.
Immediately, his ear was greeted by the static noise he heard from the night before.
“You’re missing things,” a voice replied.
The same icy cold from the night before loomed over the dark of the room. It brought a sense of unease and restlessness to his skin, pricking him in endless dots of anxiety. Unfriendly, foreboding.
It was the same voice from the night before, Lu Han noticed. The same deep, raspy, shrill voice over low static, flat in tone, sending goose bumps all over Lu Han’s arms. His breath hitched in his throat at the revelation, his tongue tied stiff to the roof of his mouth. He was intrigued, and curious. But above all, he was petrified.
“You’re missing things,” it repeated, and Lu Han’s heartbeat started picking up in pace. He struggled to swallow in nervousness, but his throat resisted, restricting at the attempt.
“And no matter how you look for the things you think are missing, you never seem to find it.”
Out of the blue, a sliver of wind tickled Lu Han’s nape, ghosting over skin covered in cold sweat, then disappearing as abruptly as it arrived. He gasped, and barely suppressing a scream, whipped his head back, seeking for its source. His eyes roamed the expanse of the dark room, but only overpowering unnatural stillness met him.
He was turning his chair, forcing himself to take much needed deep breaths, when the soft, icy wind blew again in a steady stream. Letting out an involuntary whimper, he turned back around and looked up to find its origin. His eyes peered through the darkness, and finally settled on the outline of the air conditioning grates on the ceiling. A relieved sigh escaped his lips, but the fast, relentless beating of his heart against his ribcage didn’t slow. A glance at the computer screen told him it was 00:10.
“Hello? Who are you?” he blurted out in between short breaths, gasped words laced in agitation and gripping fear. His chest felt constricted, the air feeling heavier than it should be.
Lu Han waited for an answer until the numbers moved to 00:12. When it never came, he fumbled to put down the receiver and left, leaving his jacket behind.***
When Jongin opened the door to Lu Han’s office the following afternoon, the cover of an opened black, thick binder got caught underneath.
“What. The. Fuck,” he muttered, forcing the door open and kicking a stray folder with his feet. His comment proved to be well-founded. Lu Han’s office barely had any space left for walking, the entire floor having been covered by binders, folders, and loose individual papers, some white, others cream and light blue. Lu Han was seated cross-legged in one corner. The large ceiling-high cabinet lining the entire side of a wall had all its doors open. It was empty.
Jongin was headed to sit on the usual table before he noticed it had stacks and stacks of binders on top of it, intimidating in their height and bulk. So he opted for the sofa, treading the ground carefully, afraid of crushing files under his shoes.
“I thought you gave up,” he whistled from the soft cushions, looking at Lu Han with a mixture of amusement, and confusion, and perhaps a hint of pity.
Lu Han kept his focus on the navy folder on his lap. “I thought so too. But I’ve been missing too many things all at once.”
“You mean the post-it?”
“And the puzzle, and
my spare key.” A pause, then he admitted, “Also I think I lost that new client’s Risk Profile form.”
Jongin mouth gaped open. “Kris is going to kill you.”
“He’s going to kill me if
he finds out,” Lu Han corrected, trying to sound nonchalant, knowing Kris would really have his head if the paper had really been lost. Having reached the last page in the folder, he closed it with a snap, flung it away, and laid down on the little space of his office floor that wasn’t covered in paper. Exhausted, staring absentmindedly at the fluorescent lighting installed in the ceiling, he asked, “Has Kyungsoo been transferred to Marketing yet?” Jongin noted how tired he sounded.
“No, he’s still in Sales with me. Why?”
“I was hoping maybe the file got passed through Kyungsoo instead. Or you. So it really hasn’t reached me.”
Jongin thought about this. “That’s unlikely,” he finally said, “but I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks,” Lu Han breathed out, closing his eyes. “This
,” he gestured from the floor, thin arms flailing to point at nothing in particular, referring to the figurative and literal mess he was in, “is getting ridiculous.”
Careful not to disrupt the mess even further, Jongin hopped off and walked towards Lu Han’s lying form, and bent down, kneeling with legs outside Lu Han’s hips, lowering until his elbows a firm support on either side of Lu Han’s head. “No,” he said with a smirk, to which Lu Han only opened his eyes and blinked impassively. “You’re
getting ridiculous.” Tugging on Lu Han’s seamlessly made up tie, “Staying late again tonight?”
“Mm,” Lu Han murmured his answer as Jongin’s fingers started to fumble at his collar. “Yeah, I guess.”***
Past midnight, the phone rang again. There were still no numbers on the display next to his phone.
Subconsciously he realised that he had been anticipating this strange midnight call, but that didn’t stop his heart from racing at the first shrill ring. Momentarily stunned, he only stared at the persistently ringing device for a long while, lower lips trembling. The long string of sounds must have almost come to an end when he grabbed hold of the receiver in one swift motion.
Foregoing the customary “Lu Han”, he instead berated with a “Hello? Who are you?”
The caller at the other end remained silent, and Lu Han only listened, his attempts at calming himself down failing more and more miserably with each second that ticked by.
At one point in the dark, Lu Han became acutely aware that the rustling static wasn’t really a static; it was much, much more. A myriad of things, one overlapping the other, corrupting each one so that none was left intact. He pressed the receiver closer to his ears.
Pitter-patters could be heard far in the distance, relayed to Lu Han’s ear through strands of endless cables. Shushing sounds conjured from a million droplets of water falling and splashing with a racket was dominant. Is that the rain? A small fountain? Holding up a hand to cover his other ear for better scrutiny, he unconsciously leaned closer towards the phone. He was beginning to pick up loud chatters from a mass of people (it’s past midnight, why does it sound so crowded?
), and a woman’s voice blaring indistinctively through inferior speakers, and maybe the vague sound of something colossal approaching, when he thought he saw an outline of a person at the far end of the room.
His heart jumped out of his chest, and panic soon took over his entire quivering body, limbs immobile, paralysed beyond control. Whimpering, like a child alone in a raging storm, he strained his eyes to see through the immense darkness, to see things clearer, in the midst of fear of what he was going to see.
But in the midst of his concentration, the corner of his eyes caught blitzes of light coming from behind him, and utterly distracted, he turned around in his chair to face the large glass window behind him. The source turned out to be something rather mundane: a welder, beyond the glass wall, working on a half-constructed building rather far away, perched on one of the bare concrete columns. The tiny granules of light soaring through the air in intermittent seconds, mostly bright golden but occasionally flaming red, reminded him of fireworks. His breath hitched in his throat, and he shut his eyes in reflex.
Complete blackness behind closed lids made him suddenly aware of the noises still coming through the mouthpiece, but it was somewhat more comforting than the sight he was presented with seconds ago, until,
“Not all things missing were ever lost,” someone whispered.
Abruptly, Lu Han opened his eyes wide and slammed the receiver back to its place before running home to escape the seemingly impervious darkness.***
The cafeteria was fully packed during lunchtime and he hated the place, but he knew he was going to find Junmyeon here. Lu Han weaved his way through throngs of employees and finally found him at a table by the window. Jongin was there with him.
“Hey,” he said, placing his hands on Jongin’s shoulders. “Junmyeon, sorry to bother you now, but I think my caller ID’s broken.”
Junmyeon swallowed the food he was chewing before replying. “No, it’s not. I tested it before installing. It was working fine.” He drank some water to chase down the food. “Besides, it’s new.”
The grip on Jongin’s shoulders tightened. “But not all callers’ numbers are showing up.”
Junmyeon pursed his lips in thought. “It should
…” he said slowly. “But let me check. In the meantime I guess I can swap yours with mine – I know that
one’s working. I’ll come over after lunch.”
“Thanks,” Lu Han turned to leave. Before he did, though, Jongin caught his wrist, holding him back. Lu Han raised his eyebrows in question.
“Kyungsoo’s busy. We can look through our client’s binders together if you want, in case an intern filed it wrongly so it wasn’t relayed to you,” Jongin explained.
“Sure, when are you free?”
“Now,” Jongin said as he pushed his chair back, its legs scratching the floor, piercing amongst the buzz emanating from the chatters around them. “See you later, Junmyeon.”
After a brief stop at Sales, they entered Lu Han’s office with a grunt, struggling to turn over the doorknob with hands and arms carrying almost a dozen large binders against their chests. Inside, they threw the bulky holders on the long table nearby the door, and their fingers scurried to feel their aching muscles.
“That was a work out,” Jongin remarked, massaging a side of his arm.
Lu Han delved right into the closest binder, tossing open its cover and going through its endless pages, trained eyes scanning rapidly. “You are such a girl,” he said, to which Jongin merely scoffed and smirked and followed Lu Han’s lead, bringing a binder closer to him and starting to flip through the pages. Unlike Lu Han, he was notably slower.
Jongin was not even halfway done when Lu Han flipped open a page only to meet the black back cover. Glued to the bottom right corner of the black cardboard was a piece of rectangular paper, on it several lines printed with black ink: Kyungsoo’s profile. Next to the lines was a small greyscale headshot of the man, his practiced smile and immaculately ironed collar glaring at Lu Han.
“Kyungsoo’s, huh? No wonder the filing’s flawless,” Lu Han observed as he closed the binder shut, putting it away and grabbing another one.
“Yeah, neat bastard,” came Jongin’s reply. “Guy is shit at negotiating though.”
The second binder Lu Han got his hands on was sadly an example of how not
to file, the plastic pockets within hanging off the spine in tatters, with some stray papers trapped in between containers, unhinged from the ring. Lu Han was feeling the beginning of a headache by the time he reached the back covers: Byun Baekhyun, a piece of paper said. He shouldn’t have been too surprised.
Jongin peeked at the binder still in Lu Han’s hold. He wasn’t even done with his first one. “Ah, Baekhyun,” he piped up. “A charmer, but lazy as fuck. And who the hell goes to the office with that
much eyeliner, I swear.”
Lu Han was already reaching for yet another set of documents. “He looks good though.”
“I still look better.”
Easy silence filled the room as they turn over sheet after sheet, skimming with eyes that quickly grew tired and weary. When they only had three left, a worn-out Lu Han nearly gave up.
“I’m done with this,” he sighed. “If Kris is going to kill me, so be it.”
Jongin laughed, gesturing at the unchecked pile. “Come on, there’s only three left, might as well make it thorough.” He seemed to remember something, and removed the upmost binder from the stack. “And this one’s mine, I do the filing myself – I don’t trust interns – so we don’t need to check,” he claimed, moving it to join the larger, checked pile.
“Which photo of yours did they use for this?” Lu Han questioned lightly, reaching for the binder in Jongin’s hold and flipping it open before Jongin could object. Turning it over, he unexpectedly found the very thing they were looking for.
Lu Han froze, fingers clutching the cover for dear life.
Noticing Lu Han’s sudden stillness, Jongin began, “Lu Han, what’s wrong?”
The next thing he knew, there was a pressure on his gullet, and his head hit the wall with a bang. Jongin blinked, and found long, narrow eyes framed in thick dark lashes peering at him when he fluttered his lids open.
“You had the guts to say I was ridiculous,” Lu Han spat in his face. “You had the guts
“I–” Jongin choked, trying to explain. “I don’t know what– talking about–“
Lu Han released his arm from across Jongin’s throat and pointed at Jongin’s binder, splayed open for display. Jongin caught a glimpse of the very front page and understood.
“I don’t know how it got there,” he defended himself. “I swear, I don’t know how it got there.”
“You file them yourself, Jongin!” Lu Han shouted, hands seizing the collars of Jongin’s shirt. “It’s on the front page, for god’s sake!”
“I don’t know how it got there,” Jongin repeated softly. “I’m sorry but I can’t recall having ever received it.”
Fuming, Lu Han released his grip only to jab a finger at Jongin’s chest. “You–“ he started, but stopping as a certain realisation hit him. He took a step back, chest heaving, hands shaking in anger. Impossible
“You’re the one who’s been calling me,” he concluded, eyes wide.
Bringing a hand to rub around his neck, Jongin scrunched up his brows and shook his head in disbelief. “What?” he asked, looking baffled. “What are you talking about?”
Lu Han’s entire body was shaking by now. This is not happening
. “You’re the only one who knows I’ve been missing things. You’re the one who’s been calling me,” he accused in conviction.
It was Jongin’s turn to be angry. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he reassured calmly through an unyielding facade.
The loud, humourless, laugh Lu Han let out made Jongin recoil in terror. “A fucking good actor, you are,” Lu Han said at the end.
Jongin realised there would be no point in arguing with him in this state, so unfamiliar and distant and hostile to Jongin. So in turn, he only shook his head some more and bit back, “I hope you realise how ridiculous – yes, I’m using that word again – you sound right now.”
Watching Jongin leave, Lu Han pressed the heels of his palm against his brows. One problem solved
, he thought. And another has just begun.***
That night, a few minutes after midnight, the earlier incident with Jongin fresh in his memories, Lu Han thought either Junmyeon was lying about the supposedly working device or his eyes were simply playing tricks on him, because when the phone rang again, the screen on Junmyeon’s caller ID was also blank.
Reason and logic had always been Lu Han’s forte, and the reasonable, logical part of him repelled him from answering Jongin’s calls. It was weak, however, through the fog the midnight rings always bring into his mind in one sly step, swiftly, assuredly. And with this, an overbearing mysterious compulsion brought his hands over the receiver in no time at all.
“Hello? Jongin? What the fuck do you want?” he demanded in the dark, his heart already starting to pick up in pace. He hated himself from being affected by some silly prank pulled by a person he thought was a friend; the knowledge didn’t stop fear from settling beneath his skin.
“Jongin?” he repeated, this time with less conviction as inexplicable uncertainty, and doubt, started to creep in and grip his insides.
Once his questioning ceased, he could tell that the background noise from the other end was exactly the same as the previous nights. Only now, he could dissect more and more things from the intricate hums that reached his ear. It’s most definitely the rain
, he thought from under shaky breaths and gritted teeth, and some sort of announcement
. He was in the middle of trying to decide whether the setting sounded more like a major junction or the train station when the speakers emitted a sudden particularly loud crackle, followed by a distant, yet distinct, sharp sound piercing through the rest.
Somewhere in the distance, a bell chimed seven times.
The sound was jarring, daunting, forbidding, and at the same time beautiful and compelling, like a choir in a bad dream, and once again, he was paralysed, immobile inside a skyscraper. Blood coursed hard through his veins, and his heart rattled uncontrollably, and the echoes of the bells finally trailed to a poised stop, its impression lingering at the forefront of Lu Han’s mind, amplified by the dark. His knuckles had turned white around the receiver.
Hums from mundane busyness overtook his senses once all traces of the chimes had disappeared, loud in Lu Han’s ears, though lull in reality. Not long after it was all he could hear, over the drone appeared a loud crackling sound, and the artificial voice of a woman blaring through. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform…
“Jongin?” he pleaded at the end of the announcement, voice shaky. The cries that weren’t absorbed bounced off cold, hard walls, resonating ominously. “Jongin? What do you want? Where are you calling from?”
Only his last question was answered in words.
“From a place you least expect,” the caller said curtly.
The answer was followed by the sound of a horn, and the sound of something vast whirring past, whipping crunching sounds into the receiver. Whatever it was, it howled, loud and odious, ringing in his ears like a million bells, stabbing at his heart like a million knives. Frightened, he dropped the receiver as if it was searing blaze, scorching, melting his skin. He slammed the door as he raced home.
The unhinged receiver went beep, beep, beep
, alone, in the empty space.***
They didn’t speak for an entire week – the longest they’ve gone – so he most definitely did not expect it would be the tall man who would step in after a knock on his door.
“You knocked,” were Lu Han’s first words to him, voice icy.
“You were wrong,” Jongin ignored him, just as cold, entering with a bulky black binder held tightly against his chest. He strutted towards Lu Han’s desk and laid out the binder, opening the cardboard cover. “You said you never take post-its off your notes. Well these,” he explained as he slipped a hand under the last page and turned over the entire content to reveal the back cover, “are some files of several former potential clients. I have never touched this – until yesterday, that is.”
A small piece of paper placed carelessly on the bottom of the cover caught Lu Han’s attention. It was bright yellow, and oddly familiar. Right next to it was a white paper printed with black ink, in exactly the same format as the similar ones he had seen of Kyungsoo’s, and Baekhyun’s, and Jongin’s, a week ago.
“You,” Jongin continued, his eyes and Lu Han’s skimming through the printed piece of white paper on the bottom right, “or him
, must have stuck this on here back then, when he changed his number.”
As Lu Han scrutinised further at the printed words, Jongin pulled off the bright yellow post-it and handed it to Lu Han, who took it without thought, his eyes focused on a crossed-out series of number, an ugly strike of red, marring the otherwise professional-looking profile. When he finally turned his attention to the paper in his hand, he realised he already knew what it was going to say.
Written in neat, block letters was the single word ‘OH’, followed by a string of numbers. Involuntarily, his eyes widened, his fingers trembling around the paper. Jongin’s eyes softened at the sight.
“I guess no one remembered taking it out after…” Jongin paused. “You know, after what happened.”
Lu Han didn’t quite catch Jongin’s last broken sentence, his head blocked of all thoughts but one.
“Thanks,” Lu Han said shortly as soon as he regained speech.
They were stuck in heavy silence afterwards, both men simply gazing at the greyscale picture of a man on the back side of the cover. He was rather striking in looks, long, sleepy eyes framed by dark lashes, a narrow jaw line that ends at a curved point under his chin. Even in monochrome, he looked pale in complexion, skin just as fair as his light-coloured hair. There was not a hint of smile on his face.
Jongin’s eyes darted to a dazed Lu Han, taking in his bleached hair and sharp chin and dark lashes. “It still gives me goose bumps every time I remember how much you two look alike,” he admitted with a small, careful smile.
Lu Han clenched his teeth and crumpled the post-it in his fist. “Please, don’t.”
Jongin looked at him some more, and shrugged. “I’m sorry. Also, I still don’t know about the calls you were talking about, but believe me, whatever it is, I have nothing to do with it.”
The words were sincere, and this time, despite the odds, Lu Han knew to trust him. “I know. Sorry.”
Jongin laughed. “That’s ok. We’re drinking tonight, I’ve missed you.”
The warm hands enveloping his, and the promise of familiar company, distracted him somewhat, bringing him empty relief. But not even that could ease the knot settling heavy in his stomach because now, he was back to square one.
Hours later, standing right before his front door, not only he was back to square one, he was at square one without the keys to his house. He knew
he left it at the office (“Again,” he mumbled in disdain), but that didn’t stop him from looking, and looking, and looking in all his pockets. He rummaged once again a pocket inside the jacket he was wearing, and his fingers finally touched something other than fabric. But instead of cold metal, his fingertips were met with something that felt rough, and definitely too warm for metal.
Nervousness struck him out of nowhere, and when he pulled the object out for closer observation, he knew why. A piece of puzzle, a small, hard cardboard with its right and bottom edges even, was now lying motionless in his palm. Innocent; but its presence felt the most sinister to him. He thought hard as to how this long-searched-for little thing could have ended up in his jacket. He must have somehow slipped it in when he was picking up the other pieces before going home that other day. Unlikely, but so far it was the most plausible explanation his muddled mind could conjure at the time being.
Lu Han was mouthing chants of but this can’t be this can’t be this can’t be
when Chanyeol spotted him from a distance.
“Hey!” the giant addressed him loudly from the other end of the hallway, approaching Lu Han in a small jog. Lu Han curled his fingers around the puzzle piece in reflex and pocketed it back. “Hey! Stay there for a sec, I’ve got something for you!” he yelled, quickly unlocking his door to run into the house only to reappear mere seconds later.
Lu Han was exactly how he was when Chanyeol ran inside. The hand curled around the puzzle was getting sticky with perspiration, but Chanyeol couldn’t see that.
“You told me the other day you lost your spare key?” Not waiting for an answer, Chanyeol held his hand up, letting something dangle from between long fingers. “Heard this drop in the hallway a while back – tried to catch whose it was but didn’t see anyone other than this skinny blonde getting into the elevator. Is this yours?”
With a free hand, Lu Han gingerly took the dangling object. His spare key. “When was this?” he inquired, heartbeat racing, trying to keep his voice level despite his nerves.
“Uh, a week ago? Or two?” Chanyeol mumbled, answering with a question. “Who was that anyways? A friend of yours? From what little I could see, he was wearing a jacket just like yours right now and...” Chanyeol’s voice trailed off. “He looked a bit like you, actually. You have a brother?”
Lu Han’s insides turned to ice at Chanyeol’s words. Bewildered, he took a staggered step back and broke into a run, ignoring Chanyeol’s shouts of Hey! Where are you going!
. Dashing down the stairs, two steps at a time, he glanced at his wrist watch. 23:45. He should be able to make it.
The phone was already ringing by the time he flung the door open. He didn’t stop running until he reached his desk and picked up the receiver. With lips so close to the mouthpiece, he found himself speechless, out of words. The room was loud with his heavy pants.
Chatters, an announcement, and the seven ringing of bells came and went, but nothing was spoken. Lu Han gulped, and the word that escaped his lips next surprised even himself.
“Se…hun?” he croaked.
A chill settled upon him. Utter silence ensued. Then, a disconnect tone.Part One
|| Part Two