“Come step into my parlour,”
He says with charmed guile.
I shift my weight, the slats of the wooden bench a stark testament to how long I’ve been sitting out here. Am I even in the right place? I check the message on my phone one more time, even though the chances of it reading any different to the other thirty-something times I’d read it were slim to none... ‘Entrance to the park on 5th and Main, tonight at 7pm. Don’t be late’. I was in the right place, have been since 6:43pm.
Ironic the things you notice when feeling anxious. Like watching a beautiful sunset in the park, yet all you notice is the rapidly darkening sky. Or looking up at the hands of the town clock, a simple mechanism pointing at numbers, yet every jerky movement highlights the fact that my appointment is late – thirty-two minutes late to be exact. Why did I agree to meet him out here? What the hell was I thinking? Probably best if I shift my attention to the people passing by instead... the ever thinning crowd... yeah, not one of your better ideas, Zah.
When I received the first message two days ago my heart raced with excitement, the author of the book that has every tongue wagging – both in literary circles and out –wanted to give me an exclusive interview. Why me? I was just another reporter at just another – sometimes trashy – weekly tabloid. No one’s ever met the mysterious Kang Moon, not even his publisher. No one’s even seen a picture of him – or her. But seriously, why me? What a few short days ago had started out as excited anticipation eases its way slowly toward apprehension as I sit in the rapidly darkening park awaiting someone I was feeling increasingly uneasy about meeting.
I’m about to leave when I feel the air around me shift, a rush of heat I cannot describe making the hairs on the back of my neck bristle. I turn slowly to find that I am no longer alone, a tall figure behind me observing me from beneath a dark coloured hood. Once again, what the hell were you thinking, Zah? Meet a mysterious self-proclaimed serial killer in a deserted park at night, smart move...and my epitaph will read, ‘She was always such a sensible girl, until...’
He takes one step forward and I take two stumbles back, crashing into the trashcan behind me before I realise that he’s not alone. There’s another dark figure leaning casually against the park gate – yes, that park gate, the one that at this point is my only escape point.
“Zahrina Gibran?” says the tall one behind the park bench.
“Uhm...” I clear my throat; have to gather my scattered wits and hopefully my bruised pride will follow. “Yes?” Could this be him?
“After you...” he says, gesturing toward the gate.
“No. I mean, not until you tell me who you are,” I say, digging in my heels. “And where you’re taking me. We agreed to meet here.” Please don’t be a serial killer with a dark van waiting outside that gate.
“I’m the one sent to get you. Now please move,” he says, tone a mixture of impatience and boredom. “Or don’t move. Makes no difference to me, lady.”
I look up at him and somehow no longer feel afraid. His face is still hidden in shadow, but something about his voice is reassuring. “Fine. I’m coming.” I lean down to gather my bag and laptop, eyes locked on the tall stranger. “You startled me; go around sneaking up on women in deserted parks at night... humph...” Breathe in deeply, exhale slowly... breathe Zah, just breathe...
I follow him out the gate, trotting to keep up with his long strides, the other figure staying several steps ahead of us. As we turn the corner into Main, the other one is no longer in sight, the tall one stops and turns abruptly, nearly causing me to crash into his lanky frame. He nods toward the vehicle beside us. Oh crap! Not a dark van!
I step into the van, or rather I’m ushered into the back and before I can say anything, the door slides shut. Ah! That’s where you went. The other one is already in the driver’s seat, impatiently tapping the wheel as he waits for my tall escort to settle into the passenger side.
“Hurry up dude, he’s so gonna kill us,” says the driver.
“Not my fault we’re late, you’re the one who got us lost.”
“I was driving, you were navigating. I’d say we’re pretty much both dead.”
“Uhm, excuse me... can anyone tell me where we’re going?” I ask. The talk of death while I’m in the back of a van with two creepy strangers is mildly unsettling. “And who will I be...”
The rest of my words are drowned out as eardrum-shatteringly loud music blasts from the speakers without warning. I have to admit, the tune is catchy, even though it’s in a foreign tongue – one I do not recognise – and soon I find myself tapping my foot to the rhythm of their bobbing heads. It’s hard for me to discern the direction we’re heading in since there are no windows in the back of the van and we’re moving too fast for me to pick out any landmarks in the dark. The only thing I am certain of is that we’re no longer in the city. We continue the rest of the way in silence, well, aside from the pulsing beat blaring from the speakers behind me.
Nothing at all unusual about this. You’re just in the back of a van – with no inside handle on the door – driven by two hooded strangers on your way to meet someone who’s either as nutty as a box of chocolates or a werewolf. No need to panic.
I’m tempted to ask how much longer when the van slows to a crawl before turning into a darkened driveway, heavy gates swinging open to allow us entry to what can only be described as a country estate. Wow! Now this is really creepy... creepy but oh so very impressive. In the distance I see the soft glow of lights, a welcome sight after over two hours of dark country roads. Lights are always a good sign, right? We drive for what feels like forever – or maybe it just feels that way because I’ve been needing a bathroom for half the ride up from the city – before pulling up to a rustic looking house that could easily grace the cover of ‘Country Living Magazine’. Wow! Seriously? Wow? That’s all you got? And you call yourself a writer... The music in the car cuts out as suddenly as it had started, the silence is deafening.
The door slides open, my tall escort – or maybe he is my captor; I am loath to decide which – waits for me to alight while the driver disappears around the side of the house.
“We don’t have all night, lady.” He seems more nervous than I am.
I smile at him and consider saying, “Sorry, I know that this is probably not the best time for me to dally, but if I twitch even one wrong muscle right now you will need a very good valet service for your van.” Instead I take a deep breath, step out of the van and pray for the best, following him up to the house with carefully measured steps.
“The bathroom is over there,” he says once we’re inside and points to a door further down the hall.
All I can do is nod my thanks and hurry down the hall. How did he know... nope, not even going to wonder, there are stranger things to fret about tonight. Nice, I could fit my entire apartment into this bathroom. Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it really is an impressive bathroom.
“This way,” he says when I eventually exit, gesturing for me to follow him further down the hall.
The house is eerily quiet, reminding me of a scene straight out of a horror flick right before... Oh stop acting like a girl, Zah! Ugh! You’re a case-hardened crime reporter. Act the part, dammit! So wrapped up in my own thoughts, I practically jump as movement on the stairs catches my eye.
“How many times do I have to keep telling you, Hyuk... no hats in the house,” says the newcomer, barely looking up from his book as he passes us in the hallway.
“It’s not a hat...” replies my tall escort – Hyuk – frowning and touching his hooded head defensively.
The dark haired man stops and turns back toward us, his eyes lifting slowly from his book until he’s staring directly at us. Damn! Is it even fair for any man to be this beautiful? Hyuk shrugs and pushes the hood back, revealing a head of bouncy blonde curls framing a surprisingly youthful face.
“Thank you,” he says, attention returning to his book as he turns from us, “and you know the rules, Hyukie, no girls in your room.”
“She’s not mine, Jae,” Hyuk mumbles. “You can wait in there,” he says, nodding toward a door at the end of the hall. “Oh and I will need your phone. You can have it back before you leave here.”
I’m about to protest, but instinct tells me that compliance is probably the wiser choice, so I hand him my phone.
The room is dark, two dimmed lamps on the desk the only source of light. What were you expecting? Fairy-cakes and tea? “Do I...” I turn back to find him gone. Yeah, why am I not surprised? Once my eyes adjust to the gloom I move further into the room, definitely a room I can see myself wanting to explore. Wow! Now this is what you call a library. I’m still gawking at the floor to ceiling bookshelf adorning three walls of the room when movement on the sofa catches my eye. I’m sooo gonna need therapy after this.
“Impressive, isn’t it? So much history in this room. Always been my second favourite room in the house,” he says.
“I’m really tiring of this. Are you him? The one I’m meeting,” I say, my impatience growing with every new person I meet on my unsolicited escapade. “If you’re not, that’s fine too. You can just call me a cab. No interview is worth this much drama, not even if it was with Count Dracula himself.” I stand there observing him, well, if staring at his silhouette in the dark constitutes staring, then I am absolutely staring at him in defiance.
“The Count is a figment of someone’s very fertile imagination. I assure you, I am not.” He gestures toward an armchair. “Make yourself comfortable, it will be a long night, Ms Gibran.”
Have I mentioned how smooth his voice is? It’s like if honey and silk had a lovechild, so mesmerising, even while I’m trying to appear aloof and annoyed.
“So you’re the one I’m here to meet?” I ask.
“I’m here waiting for you to take a seat, so I think it’s safe to assume that, yes.”
“Well, uhm... it’s good to finally meet you, Mr Moon.” I perch on the edge of the chair, somehow finding it hard to relax with his enigmatic gaze burning a hole through my professional facade. “And an honour to be here, naturally. Although, I have been wondering why you asked me to do this interview?”
“Is that your first question, Ms Gibran?” he asks.
“I... uhm... I guess not.” Seriously? What a twat! Would he really hold me to the ten question rule he’d set out for the interview? This interview better be worth this torment – and by that I mean bloody Pulitzer worthy. “Is it okay for me to set up over here?” I point to the coffee table in front of me. “And no, that is not my first question either.”
He chuckles, a sound that tempts me to smile despite my irritation. “Like I said, make yourself comfortable, Ms Gibran. You do remember that-”
“Yes, I remembered, no recording devices. Just me, a notebook and my laptop.” I wish I could see him more clearly, see his expressions as he answers my questions. This is really not going the way I’d imagined it would. “You can trust me, I wouldn’t lie to you.”
“I know, Ms Gibran. And you couldn’t, even if you so desired,” he states flatly. “Could I interest you in any refreshments? It was a long trip, I’m fairly certain you’re parched.”
As if on cue, a door at the other end of the room opens and a young woman pushing a trolley enters.
“I wasn’t sure what your tastes are, so I had Cin prepare a bit of everything,” he says, gesturing toward the trays laden with delectable looking treats.
“You mean a bit of everything you like,” the girl says as she pours.
He merely shrugs. She smiles at me, then leaves by the same door she entered.
“Do enjoy, the questions can wait.” It sounded more like a command than a request.
“It all looks delicious.” Whatever you do Alice, DO NOT eat the cake... Surely it would be safe to eat; he wouldn’t try to drug me or anything. Right? As if he’d just read my mind, he reaches over for a slice of cake and takes a bite out of it. His smirk leaves no doubt in my mind that he’s somehow sensed my hesitation. I take a sip of coffee – Heaven in a cup... oh I have to get her secret. “Mind if we chat while we eat?” Ugh! Will he consider that a question too?
“Of course not, after all, we will likely be feasting for a while yet. So feel free to proceed, Ms Gibran.”
I flip through the pages of my notebook, not that there’s anything in it, I have all the questions committed to memory, but something about the way he is studying me – more like looking into me – makes me nervous. Deep breaths, Zah. He’s only a man, he’s only a man. Albeit a ridiculously mesmeric man.
“I think you already know how amazing your book is, it’s sold out practically everywhere. I think we can agree that you are an exceptionally talented writer, but as you know, talent alone does not sell books. Sensationalism does. Your fans are intrigued by the implication that your book is based on real life events – and people. Your book implies that werewolves, among other supernatural beings, exist among us.” I pause to gauge his reaction. Damn this gloomy room.
“Ah, was there a question in there?”
“Uhm, wasn’t there? Yes, I uhm... was implying that your story is based on a true story a clever marketing trick, or...?”
“Have I mentioned how brilliant my publisher is? Best thing for any author is to have a good marketing team, CRASH has the best.”
“Was there an answer in there?” I ask. He’s good. I can tell how hard I will have to work to get the truth out of him, challenge accepted.
“Touché, Ms Gibran.” He smiles and bites his bottom lip. “I did promise you honesty, didn’t I? How utterly reckless of me.”
“Tea party I’m not invited to? I’m hurt.” I turn toward the new voice coming from the doorway. He snaps his fingers as he saunters into the room and the overhead light blinks on, a very dim light, but it does brighten the room somewhat. Another cool glass of Wow! Oh now he can walk his tall lean self into my dreams anytime. He examines the pastries and cakes on the serving trolley, frowns and sits down beside my host. “I’m guessing you were in charge of the menu, Daehyun,” he says drily.
Daehyun? Could that be my host’s real name? It certainly does seem so judging from his cringe and the threatening look he gives the other man.
“Hi, I’m Zahrina Gibran. I’m here to--” I extend a hand across the coffee table.
“Charmed,” he says, eyeing my extended arm with obvious distaste.
Wow! Rude much? What is it with the people in this house?
“This is a private party. Don’t you have somewhere to be over the next few days?”
“Got cancelled. Something about a tornado warning – such an inconvenience,” he says. “Would’ve flown the chopper in myself, but Seo was being his cautious self again.”
“Seo’s home too?” My host sighs. “I’m going to have to insist that you leave now. Ms Gibran and I have unfinished business.”
I sit quietly and watch the exchange between the two men. With the gloom lifted I can at last observe my subject in more detail. He’s around mid twenties, but something about him feels older, something I cannot explain. His dark hair hides most of his face, but his penetrating eyes – oh those eyes. The other man doesn’t look much older, with short dark hair and what can only be described as flawless beauty. There is underlying tension between them, but I also sense a strong bond, something I would not want to test.
“Oh, don’t mind me; pretend I’m not even here.” He crosses his arms across his chest and sits calmly observing me. “Surely you don’t mind, Ms Gibran.” It was not a question.
“I uhm... I guess not?” I look at my host, trying to determine whether or not I should continue.
“Very well. We will continue only if you promise not to interrupt.” He looks at the man beside him, a clear warning flashing in his eyes. “I mean it, Himchan. Breathe and you’re out.”
The other man merely continues to observe me with an air of indifference and shrugs. My host turns back to me, his annoyance at the intrusion clear. Himchan – such a beautiful man... uhm I mean name. Something about being in this house is turning my brain to mush.
“Riiight... uhm... where were we?” I look down at my notebook to hide the suffusion of heat to my face. “If you’re not going to answer my first question with complete honesty, it doesn’t count as question one. So on to my first question. Hypothetically, if werewolves like the ones in your book did exist, what would their origins be?”
“Hypothetically, there are more than one kind of wolf in the world, so there’s far more than one right answer to that question. The wolves in my book, however, are a breed apart,” he pauses and bites his bottom lip thoughtfully before continuing. “It all began during the Jeong Dynasty. There was a shaman serving the emperor at the time who coveted power in a fierce way. He made a deal with the devil...” he stops when the man next to him clears his throat dramatically. “Clearly you have something to say, Himchan.”
“I’m not allowed to breathe, remember?”
“Oh for the love of all that’s unholy, breathe already.” My host reaches for another pastry and sits back. “You’re going to anyway.”
“Okay, if you insist. It wasn’t the devil... who even believes in the existence of the devil? It was a demon. And his name was Chai Joon-suk – the shaman, not the demon.” He looks at me thoughtfully before continuing. “Terribly boring story short, Joon-suk was not as smart as he believed himself to be, didn’t read the fineprint on the contract, so before the ink was even dry on the parchment, the demon came a knocking on his door to collect.”
“Wasn’t a door, just this flap thingy made from leftover bits of animal hide. There’s a drawing of it in one of the family journals. And you’re not telling it right, I like the way Jae tells it,” says a voice from behind me, a vaguely familiar voice. “I thought none of us were allowed in here until she leaves. Can I come in? I like this story.” Before I can turn to look at him he’s sitting down on the carpet next to my chair. “Sorry about being late earlier, Hyuk got us lost. We don’t know the city streets too well. We would if we were allowed to go to the city by ourselves more often, like regular dudes.” He looks at Himchan as he says the last bit.
All I can do is nod. This one will definitely be going down on record as the strangest interview I’ve ever conducted. The driver still has the hood of his jacket up, so it’s hard to see his face, but there’s a youthful charm to his voice that is lacking in all the others I’ve met so far tonight.
My host glowers at the young man sitting on the floor and says, “You’re right, none of you are allowed in here. Should I take this to my room instead so I can get some privacy?”
“Humph,” the younger one scoffs, “I’d like to see you try and slip a girl past Jae.”
Himchan laughs. My host is clearly not impressed that his interview has been hijacked. I’m not complaining though, the other two seem more open than the mysterious Kang Moon. Hopefully someone will let something interesting slip, something I would never have learned chatting to my host.
“So... can we get back to the story?” I prompt.
“Yes. That story, I’ve heard it a million times... aren’t you bored with it yet?” Himchan asks, looking seriously bored with the entire conversation. “Let’s talk about something a little more interesting. Like who are you and why would my little brother be sharing both his time and his food with you?” Brother? He seems amused as he watches my reaction. “And judging from that befuddled look on your face, I’d say you don’t know him very well.” He leans in and whispers, “FYI, he does not share his food. Not even with me and he loves me. And he does not play well with others.”
“Neither do you, Himchan,” my host chimes in, an amused look on his face. “Do any of us?”
“Jong does,” Himchan says drily. “He’s the saccharine puppy lounging at your feet, Ms Gibran.”
Jong turns to smile up at me and I see his face for the first time – good looks certainly does run in this family.
“Oh. So you’re brothers?” I ask. “All of you?”
Himchan turns sideways with a bemused expression. “How much have you told her exactly?”
“Why is there no food in the kitchen?” a voice asks from the doorway. I recognise him as the one Hyuk called Jae.
“Do I look like the housekeeper to you?” Himchan replies.
“I wasn’t asking you, Chan,” Jae snaps. “I’m asking Dae. The entire kitchen is filled with cakes and tarts and cheesecake. And everything is labelled ‘Daehyun’. No real food anywhere.”
Daehyun again? So he really is Daehyun? This is sooo confusing. How many more brothers are there?
“Then eat cake. I’m fairly certain I won’t be able to finish all of it tonight, so feel free to have some.” My host – whom I’ve now decided is actually the aforementioned Daehyun – retorts. What a strange but beautiful name, much better suited than the mysterious Kang Moon.
“You’re missing the point,” Jae says, looking mildly annoyed.
“Yes, that’s sort of a Jae thing; no one ever gets his point,” Himchan whispers to me.
Jae turns to leave, then as an afterthought turns back to look at me. “I see you’ve met Hyukie’s girlfriend. Nice to meet you by the way, I’m Sungjae. The sane one.”
“Hyuk’s what?” Daehyun asks, sharing a look of confusion with his brothers. “No, she’s a reporter from the city.”
“He’s dating a reporter? I did not see that one coming.” Jae shakes his head and leaves the room.
“So what was the next question, Ms Reporter-from-the-city?” Himchan reaches over to take my notebook, I try to pull it back, but it’s too late. He sits there for a few minutes paging through the book – my blank notebook – and studies each page with adept interest.
So here I am, watching helplessly as one brother pages through my private – albeit blank – notebook as if it’s the most interesting thing he’s ever read, the other continues to eat from the dessert trays while casting icy stares at both of his brothers in turn and the one at my feet seems to be lost somewhere inside of his own mind. Like I said, most interesting interview ever.
“I feel like I should apologise for my brothers, but it really won’t make a difference. They are who they are, can’t choose your family,” Jong says and smiles up at me. He truly has the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen on a grown man. “If I were you – and just so you know, I would not like to be you after this meeting is over – I would just flow with the tide. No good will come from fighting it, in fact, no good will come from any of this either way. Pity, I really like you.”
A chill passes through me, not only at his words, but at the steel in his eyes as he says them. That was your imagination, Zah. This is just a regular, albeit dysfunctional, family with a sick sense of humour. It’ll make for good reading, so let’s just play along for now.
“Dude, I’ve been waiting in the Jeep for you, we’re going to be late,” Hyuk says from the doorway.
“But I really want to hear the rest of the story,” Jong says. “Can’t we go later?”
Hyuk stands in the doorway, his tall frame practically filling it, tapping his foot impatiently. He’s changed out of his earlier attire into dark pants, oversized t-shirt and leather jacket, looking every bit the adolescent ready to take on a Friday night of fun. “Later? Dude, these are not the kind of girls you keep waiting.”
“Get Himchan to call them and apologise,” Jong says, his mind clearly made up as he turns back to the conversation that is at this point in dire need of resuscitation.
“Calling girls and charming them into forgiving idiots they should not be interested in if they had any self-respect is beneath me. So don’t even bother to ask Himchan.” Himchan says without glancing up from my ever-so-interesting notebook. “Fascinating interview you have lined up here, Ms Gibran. I am bursting with anticipation. Please, do continue.”
“What the hell? You for real, dude?” Hyuk says as he sits down in the armchair next to Jong. “You’re really going to keep those girls hanging so you can hang with them?”
“I really like that story, dude. No one around here ever tells it anymore.” Jong looks wistful as he shrugs. “There will always be more girls. She’s a girl too you know... and she’s nice.” He turns to smile at me, still looking somewhat apologetic.
“And weren’t we instructed to stay out of the library until she leaves? That’s what you said, Daehyun. Shouldn’t you be throwing us out or something?” Hyuk smiles hopefully at his older brother. So his name is Daehyun.
“No, you can all stay. I’ve lost interest in this interview. I’m just here for the food now,” Daehyun says as he guides another tartlet to his mouth. “Feel free to let me know when you’re ready to leave, Ms Gibran. I can have Dopey and Mopey here drop you off on their way to wherever it is they’re going.”
“But we haven’t... I haven’t...” I stammer. This interview cannot be over. I haven’t asked any serious questions yet and there was no way I would’ve endured this entire night without leaving with something print-worthy.
“Don’t be ridiculous, she has so many more interesting questions lined up for us, don’t you, Ms Gibran?” Himchan continues to observe me, something that’s mildly unsettling.
“For us?” Daehyun exclaims. “No idea why I thought this would be a normal night...”
“Normal? I think we passed normal about four generations ago,” Jae says from the doorway. “Hate eating alone, so I made enough for everyone, except Dae,” he says, pointing toward a tray filled with sandwiches and fruit he places on the coffee table. “Nothing fancy, sorry.”
“What’s that smell?” A deep voice says from the door behind me.
“Hyuk’s girlfriend,” says Jae. “She’s a reporter.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Hyuk whines. “I wish I really was with my girlfriend right now.”
“You mean you wish you really had a girlfriend like ever,” Himchan says with an amused expression, clearly enjoying his younger brother’s frustration.
“Do join us, Seo. It’s not a party until the pooper arrives, right?” Daehyun says between bites. Damn! For a man his size, he sure can eat.
There’s another one of them? Yes, of course there is, I heard mention of Seo earlier, hopefully this is the last brother I am to encounter. I turn to find cool eyes on me from the doorway. Something about him oozes authority, not just in the way he looks at me, but also the way the others react to the way he is looking at me – like I am an uninvited cockroach at his dinner table.
“A reporter? In this house?” His eyes drift from me and scan the room until they settle on Daehyun. “A moment of your time please?” That voice! Oh Em Gee! It vibrates right through me and leaves my soul quivering. Is he angry? He sure does sound it.
Daehyun looks reluctant to comply, but gets up nonetheless and follows his brother out of the room.
“Told you we shouldn’t have stayed,” Hyuk whispers over at Jong.
“We didn’t invite her here,” Jong replies.
“You did fetch her from the city, didn’t you?” Himchan asks, a tiny smile playing on his lips. “That makes both of you accomplices before the fact, I would imagine.”
The younger boys scowl at one another.
“I don’t see the problem,” Jae says. “Hyuk is old enough to date and she seems like a nice girl, even if she is a reporter and much older than he is,” he says as if I’m not even in the room.
“Aren’t you supposed to be the smart one in the family, Dr I’m-too-smart-for-my-brain? She’s here to interview Kang Moon. You know, the mysteriously famous one... or is it the infamously mysterious one?” Himchan says.
“So she’s not... good, she’s too old for you anyway, Hyukie,” Jae says.
I try to drown out the chatting in the room so I can focus on what is being said in the hallway. It’s hard to discern what they’re saying, but judging from their raised voices, I’d say that they are not in agreement. Why the fuss about having a reporter here if it’s merely an innocent interview about a work of fiction? Something about this entire situation smells off and my super-sleuth senses have just been tickled. Wait. Hang-on. Either they are speaking louder now or they’ve moved closer to the door again. Or maybe it’s because an uncomfortable hush has fallen over the room I’m sitting in, none of the brothers able to meet my eyes, except Himchan who has not taken his eyes off me since Seo arrived. I can hear almost every word of what they’re saying now.
“She is a reporter,” I hear Seo say. “There are people in this world you know you can trust, there are those you can maybe trust and then there’s the muck that’s stuck on the bottom of your shoe that you do not track into the house.”
“It would have been a contained situation if your siblings hadn’t intervened.” I hear Daehyun say. “Why don’t you go yell at them?”
“There would have been no situation to contain if you hadn’t taken liberties with our private family business.” I hear Seo retort, his voice sounding like thunder. Honestly, I don’t think I would have the gumption to argue back to anyone who sounds like that when he’s angry.
“It may have escaped your notice, but I am no longer a child. My life. My business.”
“Not while you’re in this house.”
“Who died and made you God? This is my home. My biggest mistake was ever leaving it. I am back now. And I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. Deal with it.”
I swear that what I hear next is an animal growl, I deep-gutted primal sound that makes even Himchan break his stare and look toward the door. There’s another growl, then something crashing. That was sooo not your imagination, Zah. What the hell? What have you walked yourself into? The four brothers in the room exchange a look, Jae nods, then Himchan gets up and walks from the room.
“Stop it! Now. Both of you!” I hear Himchan say from the doorway. “We have a guest, a very impressionable one. And your little flare-up does not bode well for her chances of making it to another sunrise.”
What I hear from the hallway can only be described as more animal sounds, but the angry growling has ceased. Breathe Zah. Just breathe. And what did he mean by not making it to another sunrise? Could anyone be more melodramatic than this family? I have to admit, despite trying to rely on my rational brain, there’s a part of me that’s irrationally terrified right now.
“I do apologise for that little display of pointless hostility,” Himchan says as he sits back down, straightens his jacket and crosses his legs. “I’m guessing you’re a little shocked. Honestly, only thing that shocks me right now is that you’ve survived this long.”
Another loud crash sounds in the hallway, then what sounds like footsteps on broken glass. There’s a darkness in Daehyun’s eyes that scares me to my core when he finally walks back into the room, blood stains standing out boldly against his white shirt that’s ripped to shreds across one shoulder.
“Shall we continue, Ms Gibran?” he says, a steel-edge to his voice that less than an hour ago mesmerised me with its smoothness.
“Su... sure. I uhm... if you think that’s wise,” I reply, trying to keep my voice from trembling. No story is worth this much anguish. How do I get myself out of this? Or more importantly, is there a way for me to get out of this? “I don’t mind waiting if you need to see to that,” I say, gesturing toward his bleeding shoulder.
As Seo walks into the room Daehyun looks directly at him and proceeds to take off his shirt, revealing three deep gouge marks to his right shoulder. Ouch! That’s gotta hurt. The air literally ripples with tension as the two brothers lock stares, seemingly challenging each other silently.
“No need to worry, Ms Gibran. It’ll heal,” Daehyun says as he sits down, his eyes still locked on Seo’s.
“I really think you need a doctor; that looks nasty.” How can he sit there with blood dripping from wounds deep enough to reveal the muscle beneath? He isn’t even flinching.
“What’s your professional assessment, Jae?” Daehyun asks, his eyes still locked on Seo’s. Professional assessment? Jae is a doctor?
“You’re all certifiable,” Jae replies between bites. Yes, he resumed eating the moment the fight in the hallway was under control. The younger boys were quietly munching away as well, neither of them making a sound. This is so not a normal family.
“He meant as a doctor, fool,” Himchan says.
“That was my professional opinion as a doctor.”
My breath catches in my throat, heart trying to thump its way through my ribcage as my entire belief system comes into question. No way! What the hell was in those damn tarts? Psychedelic drugs? I watch in open-mouthed amazement as the wounds on Daehyun’s body start to heal right before my eyes. I can’t believe what I’m witnessing; it’s like watching a wound being stitched, but without the stitches. I can hear the others talking around me, but it all just sounds like white noise as I sit and stare at his body for what seems an eternity. There isn’t a single scar on him, merely patches of dried blood. Bloody hell! I should say something. Think Zah, think! Say something! Anything.
Slowly I start to slide out of my stupor, aware of tiny sounds escaping my lips – nothing even vaguely intelligible – and I’m gripping my pen so hard my hand aches. I look around at the others, expecting them to be as gobsmacked as I am, but find almost every eye in the room trained on me. Himchan is saying something, Jong looks mildly concerned, Daehyun and Seo are looking at each other and the other two look like they’d rather be someplace else – anywhere else. What’s happening to me? I think it’s fair to say that now is a good time to panic... and pray. Everything around me seems to be moving in slow-motion as if we’re underwater right before the darkness claims me.
“I think she’s waking up,” I hear Hyuk say as light filters slowly through the shroud of darkness surrounding me.
“You’ve just loaded a gun, put on a blindfold and fired into a crowd,” I hear Seo say.
No you didn’t, you did not just pass out. How embarrassing. I do not want to open my eyes; don’t think I can bear to look any of them in the eye right now.
“Lesson number one, since we’ve already passed the point of no return on the secret society thing, you can’t fool any of us into thinking you’re still not conscious. So... feel free to open those pretty brown eyes any time you’re ready, Ms Gibran,” I hear Himchan saying from somewhere behind me. “No need to be afraid, while you were off to that lovely place called oblivion, there was a somewhat heated discussion concerning your fate. My little brother here has convinced us to give this interview a chance. Isn’t that right, Jong?”
I open my eyes slowly, feeling the rush of colour to my face as I find all eyes trained on me. I try to sit up, but my head feels too heavy to lift and my mouth feels like it’s filled with cottonwool. I shut my eyes again while I try to steady my escalating heartbeat. This is so much worse than what I imagined my worst nightmare to be like. My eyes fly open as I feel something cool against my skin.
“Relax, I won’t hurt you,” Jae says, flashing an icy glare somewhere over my head. “Or let anyone else hurt you.” He moves the cool compress gently across my brow, genuine concern clouding his face.
“If I wanted her dead she would be,” I hear Himchan saying from behind me. “Just saying...”
This isn’t happening. It’s all a dream.
“You okay to sit up?” Jong asks.
All I can do is nod dumbly as he helps me up, unable to meet anyone’s eyes in the room. Zah, I think embarrassment is the least of your worries right now. Okay, time to put on your big-girl knickers...if you’re about to go out, it will not be with a whimper. Jong is still observing me with grave compassion; Jae is looking at me through narrowed eyes – his expression hard to read – while Hyuk goes between looking bored and annoyed. Himchan is somewhere behind me, somehow I can feel his gaze burning into my back. Seo and Daehyun are still locked in an intent battle of staring at one another, a battle neither seems to want to back down from. Why do I have to be the pink elephant in the room?
“Thank you,” I say, looking at Jae and Jong. I try a smile, but my face feels frozen, so merely nod my thanks. “Mr. Moon... Daehyun? I can call you that, right? I uhm... can we get back to the interview, please? I have a deadline...” Ugh! Seriously, Zah? Try avoiding any words similar in meaning to or even rhyming with ‘dead’.
Daehyun does not reply and I’m left wondering if he even heard me.
“I would be sorely disappointed if things were to end without us answering the rest of your questions, Ms Gibran. With complete honestly, naturally,” says the all too familiar husky voice from behind me.
“This interview is over,” Seo says, for the first time looking directly at me. That voice. Wow! “Or was that not clear?”
“She’s already been invited into where the wild things are and we’ve certainly caught her scent,” Himchan says. I can clearly hear him breathing in my scent as if emphasising his point. “Besides, who says you can’t rewind reality? Relax, it will be fun.”
“Yeah, it’s all fun, until it’s not and we’re trying to get bloodstains out of the carpet,” Hyuk says, still looking annoyed.
“Are you happy now? You did this,” Seo says to Daehyun, gesturing at me with his hand. “Her blood is on your hands.”
“M… my blood? What’s my blood got to do with this?” I ask.
“Why can’t you trust that I know what I’m doing?” Daehyun replies to his brother, ignoring my question. “When have I ever acted without thought? The only thing I regret is having this interview here. Too late to change that now.”
“She’s a reporter! We humoured you with your little exposé book, this is just crossing the line,” Seo says, his eyes appearing red for the briefest of moments. Oh fu... did his eyes really just glow red?
“Oh I’ve seen this movie, it does not end well,” Hyuk says, still looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.
“I’m doing this. You can stay and be a part of it,” Daehyun says, both his eyes and voice laced with steel. “Or you can leave.”
Seo looks somewhere behind me – I’m assuming at Himchan – sighs, then nods before walking over and sitting directly across from me. “I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced, Ms Gibran. I’m Yunseok, the person these idiots have to obey,” he says, looking at Daehyun as he says the last bit. “Which makes me the one who gets to decide whether damage control is in order or not.” There’s no mistaking the veiled threat behind his words.
“I trust you have an appreciation for all things that exist beyond the borders of logic, Ms Gibran,” Himchan says as he sits down beside me. “You know all those monsters your mother warned you about? Well, disappointingly, none of them live in your closet or under your bed.” He lifts a perfectly manicured hand and I watch in horror as his skin starts to ripple as if it’s about to erupt into a mass of torn flesh and sinew, only to settle after a few seconds as dark claws start ripping their way through the tips of his fingers. Fuuu... ohhh this is so not happening right now. Claws? Is he about to kill me?
“Was that really necessary?” Jae asks. “You’re scaring her.”
“She came here to learn more about us. Consider this a bit of show and tell...” he says, turning his hand this way and that to give me a better view. “Now I know you were expecting fur, but that’s not very attractive, is it? I can do the whole fur thing if you like, but I’d much rather not. Besides, Cin doesn’t appreciate us getting fur on the furniture.”
I gawk in open-mouthed wonder – yes, I can actually feel myself drooling a tiny bit out of the corner of my mouth – at his transformed hand. His fair skin has darkened to the colour of caramel, muscles rippling on his once slim fingers that now end in dangerously sharp black claws.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” he says with a smile. “Oh stop gawking at me like that; you’re making me feel like a freak.” He lowers his hand and within seconds it begins to change shape and colour until it’s once more his perfectly manicured hand.
I nod, completely flabbergasted by what I’m witnessing.
“We’re not evil, just different,” Jong says, his expression pensive. “None of us chose to be who we are; we were born into this world. Some of us wish there was a way to live regular lives.”
I try to think of something to say, but Seo’s penetrating eyes makes me question every response I would normally have. What would be the diplomatic thing to say? At this point I’d settle for anything that would convince the brothers that I can be trusted. “Okay.” Are you serious, Zah? Not only do you have a degree from the best school in the country, you also graduated Magna cum laude. That’s all you could come up with?
“Yeah, real smart one you picked there, Daehyun,” Seo says. “I would expect much more from Magna cum laude.”
Not surprised. Sooo not surprised. Are any of my thoughts safe? How do you even get the voices inside your head to shut up?
“I uhm... I’m not sure what you expect of me. What would you do in this situation?” I ask boldly, trying hard to hide the tremor in my voice. “I have serious questions prepared for Mr Moo... uhm... Daehyun. This is not the setting I imagined I would have to conduct my interview. And like I said earlier, you can trust me.”
“It’s true; she has some fascinating questions lined up, all in here,” Himchan says. I didn’t realise he still has my notebook until he starts paging through it again. “Let me see here... ah, here’s an interesting one. What flavour of kibble do you prefer?”
Five sets of eyes turn toward me.
“Hey, c’mon, that’s not in there. I... I wouldn’t...”
“Rabbit,” Seo says, looking mildly amused. I’m not sure if it’s the question or my discomfort that amuses him most.
Enough! I really don’t care if I’m about to become a late night snack, but this has gone far enough. I grab the book back from Himchan and tuck it into my bag. “I’m not here to be toyed with, not by any of you. I don’t care how many teeth you have between the six of you, I am here to conduct an interview and I am not leaving until all my questions have been answered to my satisfaction. I’m not here for any of you, I’m here for him.” I point toward Daehyun, who’s lounging casually against the wall, still shirtless. “And put some clothes on, that is a little distracting. Very distracting…”
The room goes deathly quiet; I swear I can hear my own heart beating. Everyone in the room is staring at me with varying expressions.
Seo shakes his head, smiles, then bursts into raucous laughter. “I like this girl, she has spunk. Minhyuk, give Dae your jacket.”
“Wha- man...” Hyuk complains but shrugs out of his jacket and tosses it at his brother. “And why does he get to keep his hood up in the house?” he asks Jae, gesturing toward Jong.
“Because it’s not a hat,” Jae says.
Daehyun puts the jacket on, then pulls up a chair next to Seo’s. Hyuk looks ready to punch something – or someone. Jong is still looking like he’s lost somewhere in a world of his own, occasionally smiling up at me whenever he catches me staring. Jae is slowly making his way to the bottom of the fruit bowl he has perched on his lap. Himchan and Jep are exchanging looks that make me feel like they are considering changing their flavour of kibble.
“Fangs, Ms Gibran. We call them fangs, not teeth,” Daehyun says, a lazy smile playing on his lips. “My brother likes you, that’s a good thing. Now to get him to trust you. To be or not to be, that’s the million dollar question.”
I lean down to make more notes on my laptop and by the time I look back up, something about him is definitely different. The first thing I notice is his eyes, the inscrutable charcoal eyes I was just getting used to, now a deep sapphire. He cocks his head to one side and smiles, revealing sparkling white fangs that would put any canine to shame. Wow! I’m really seeing this. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Can they even let me leave after all I’m witnessing? I note slight discoloration to the rest of his face and on closer inspection, everything about his face has changed in one way or another. Even his hair looks longer, fuller and lighter than I remember. Is it weird that I’m not even freaking out anymore?
“That still freaks me out every time,” Jae says. “Will take a while to get used to your new look. Enough, you’ve made your point; those eyes are weirding all of us out.”
What’s weirding them out? Judging from what I’ve gleaned tonight, at least two others are werewolves too, so why would looking at Daehyun make them uncomfortable?
“It’s his eyes, Ms Gibran. They’re new. The colour, not the... you know,” Seo says. Okay, I’m now convinced he can read my mind. Can all of them do that? “And no, just me. Sometimes Hyuk, but he needs to touch you to be able to read you.” Shut up, Zah. No more thinking out loud. But you’re not thinking out loud, yet you are. Ugh!!! Just stop thinking. Period. “Good luck with that, Zah.” He winks at me, then smiles. His smile is the most striking I’ve ever seen on a man.
“Get out of her head Seo, that’s an invasion of privacy. There are actual laws against that.” Jae says.
“And we all know how important it is to stay on the right side of the law. Right?” Himchan says drily. “I even did jury duty once. Model citizen and all that.”
“Wasn’t that the time we needed you to charm the jury and you got the judge to throw the case out even before it began?” Jong asks, earning him an icy glare from Himchan.
“Be quiet puppy, you’re ruining my buzz here,” Himchan quips. “It was still torture, all two hours of it.”
“Hyuk, why don’t you introduce Zah here to the family? It is what she came here for, I would imagine,” Daehyun says. Not sure when he changed back, but his cool black eyes are once again on me as he speaks.
“Really?” Hyuk asks, looking at Seo rather than Daehyun.
Seo nods. What family? I thought I’d already met all of them.
Hyuk rubs his hands together gleefully, looking excited about something for the first time since I’d met him.
“Don’t you need to touch her first or something?” Jae asks. “And I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”
“Nah, I touched her earlier when we fetched her,” he says, eyes lit up with excitement. “I got this...”
“Not me,” Jong says, looking somewhat uncomfortable. “Show her the others, not me.”
“Why?” Hyuk asks, confusion clouding his green eyes.
“Respect his wishes, Hyuk,” Jae says. It’s hard to really know who is in charge of the family, there seems to be some sort of pecking order, but there are times when each of the brothers carries an air of authority that dares defiance.
“Whatever, think he likes her just a little too much,” Hyuk says, a tiny bit of wind let out of his sails. He shuts his eyes for a few seconds and when he reopens them they are a tawny yellow.
I can hear the others talking, but for some reason cannot hear a word they’re saying. His eyes are so mesmerising, I feel myself drawn into them, until nothing else exists around me. The room seems foggy, a thick mist clouding my vision with yellow eyes glowing softly through the gloom. I know that I should be afraid, but I’m not, a comforting warmth enveloping me. A can feel a cool breeze against my skin, smells and sounds of nature permeating my senses. What the hell? I’m guessing you’re no longer in Kansas, Dorothy. Why am I not even questioning this madness anymore? Slowly the fog lifts and I find myself surrounded by trees. I remember their property being surrounded by a wooded area, has he taken me outside?
The eyes are still there, following me, yet somehow I feel safe. Then it happens, the thing that kicks me in the teeth – the eyes are no longer just eyes, a shape forming around it – the eyes have now become a huge tawny wolf that’s slowly advancing on me. Hyuk? Where the hell has he gone? Was this the way they got rid of their unwelcome guests? Leave them out in the woods to be mauled by their pets – would save some money on kibble. I hear movement behind me and turn to find four more sets of eyes attached to real live ravenous looking big-ass wolves emerging from beyond the trees. Okay Zah, this is the point where you start to scream. Would playing dead work?
I shut my eyes, if I am about to die, I’d much prefer that I be the last to know about it. I know, my logic is screwed, but all in all this has been one seriously screwy night. How am I still able to see them with my eyes shut? Won’t they even afford me this small mercy? All five wolves are at this point no more than a few steps away from me, but they’ve all halted in their tracks. The one closest to me has dark brown fur, his eyes glowing yellow just like the light coloured wolf I first saw. There’s a grey one beside him, now lounging on the soft woodland floor, observing me with the same yellow eyes the other two have. The other two start pacing restlessly from one end of the alcove to the other, one of them a soft grey, his fur shining silver in the moonlight, his blue eyes cold and penetrating. The other one has fur as black as night and when he does eventually look up at me with fierce red eyes, it finally hits me. How stupid could you be, Zah? The signs were all there. This is the family – well, the family minus one. But how are we here if I don’t remember leaving the house? They are ALL wolves?
I’m no longer afraid. They advance on me – all except the grey one observing me coolly from the ground before me – as if sensing that I no longer fear them. The brown one comes close enough for me to reach out and touch his soft fur, licking my hand in the way a puppy would once you’ve finally earned its trust. In a flash, the fog is rising again and all I can see is a pair of yellow eyes glowing softly through the mist. And I’m back in the room with six sets of eyes trained on me.
“Not even going to ask how you did that. You’re the wolves in the book, aren’t you? All of you,” I exclaim as soon as I find my voice.
“Hallelujah, someone give the girl a cookie,” Himchan says. “Who says you can’t lead a horse to water and make it think?”
“Is he always like this?” I ask of no one in particular. “I’m so psyched right now...” I get up off the sofa and start pacing – and no, I’m not a pacer, but today seems to be a day of firsts for a great many things – feeling like the adrenaline rushing through my veins might soon cause me to explode into a splodge of pure energy. “You’re the mean looking silver grey one and you... you’re the black one,” I say, pointing at Daehyun and Seo in turn. “And you’re the blonde-ish one, right?” Hyuk nods and smiles brightly for the first time. I look from one brother to the next before saying, “You’re the brown wolf with the kind eyes.” Jae smiles and nods. “And you must be the grey one, the arrogant one.” Himchan’s expression leaves no doubt in my mind that he considers that a compliment. “You weren’t there. Why?” Jong merely shrugs.
I continue pacing, trying to find my way through the labyrinth of information running through my mind. Six sets of eyes follow me, but no one says anything. Triple dipped in chocolate whammy Wow! What a story. I’ve either hit the bonanza of all stories or my doomsday. Either way, I am going to finish this, if only I could think of a single question to ask.
“How many more questions do I have left?” I ask Daehyun. “Oh wait; you didn’t answer any of the ones I did ask, so I still have all of them. Right?” No need for him to know that I can’t think of any questions yet.
“I would imagine that all of your questions, intended or otherwise, would have been answered by now, Ms Gibran,” Daehyun says. “What more could you want to know?”
“Maybe she’s waiting for me to remove my shirt as well...” Himchan adds.
“Oh shut up, Himchan.” Where did that come from? Did I really just say that out loud? “I’m sorry, I uhm... sorry?” I half smile at him. “It’s just that I’m trying to remember the questions I had planned and you’re not really helping.”
He regards me for a moment before saying, “Always say what you mean and always mean what you say... even if it could spell your doom.”
“Are any of you in a serious relationship or married?” I ask. That’s a good place to start.
“No,” Seo says. He looks over at Jae for the briefest of moments before looking back at me.
The reporter in me does not miss the look of discomfort on Jae’s face, neither did I miss the gold ring he wears on his ring finger when he placed the tray down on the table earlier. Hmm... have to get back to that later.
“We’re not exactly what you would call ideal mates,” Jong says, still wearing a wistful smile.
“Don’t you have a girlfriend in the city, Daehyun?” Hyuk asks. “Wish I had one.”
“What Dae has cannot be considered relationships,” Jae says, not even attempting to hide his disapproval. “What’s the longest your adulterous trysts ever lasted? Six months?”
“Four,” Daehyun replies, clearly unfazed by his brother’s disdain. “At least one of them lasted that long, I think.”
“See what I mean, Ms Gibran. Real shameless infidel...” Jae says with a look of condescension.
“Oh dear, now I’ll never get into heaven...” Daehyun says, his voice dripping sarcasm.
“Heaven is overrated. I would be sorely disappointed when I arrive where the fun people go and find none of you there. Except for you Jae, I’d be shocked to find you there,” Himchan says.
So not what I was looking for, but this certainly is interesting. Daehyun has dated in the city, so there should be people there who know him. Jae either is or was married. Why would they try to hide it? How all these incredibly attractive men are still single is a mystery to me. Despite the obvious darkness that lurks beneath each one’s personality, there is also charm and a real likability – well, all of them, except Himchan.
“You have two more questions; I suggest you use them wisely?” Daehyun says.
“Way I see it, the ones we answered without you even having to ask them add up to at least eight, but I’m being generous, so you get one bonus question,” he says, looking at Seo for confirmation.
“I’d say that sounds fair,” Seo agrees.
“Something does puzzle me, your tattoo...” I say after giving my next question some thought. I’ve noticed that at least three of them have tattoos, which defies the topsy-turvy logic of their world. Jae’s tattoo I couldn’t see well, but bits of it is visible snaking up the side of his neck. I know that I just met the guy, but he’s the last person I would expect to have daringly visible tattoos. Jong’s is the most visible since he’s wearing a sleeveless top; he sports one that covers his entire upper arm in bold tribal looking lines. Then there’s Daehyun, it was hard to miss the pattern that spans all the way down his left side, inching its way down the side of his body to below his beltline. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but if your bodies can heal as impressively as I think they can, then shouldn’t it be impossible for you to have tattoos? I mean, it would disappear within hours, if my logic is still sound after all it’s been made to endure these past few hours.”
Ugh! Not that exchanged look between them again.
“Yeah,” Seo says. That’s not even a word, yet the sound of his voice resonates throughout the room.
I wait for him to continue or in the least for Daehyun to reply, since the question was directed at him. Instead they all sit there looking at me expectantly.
“I hope your last question is a bit more profound, Ms Gibran,” Daehyun says.
“What do you mean my last question? You haven’t answered this one.”
“I thought I just did... or was that not the answer you were expecting?” Seo says in that infuriatingly riveting voice. “There’s much to be said for set expectations, Zah.”
“This isn’t fair, you do know that...” I say, trying to remain calm. “I didn’t come all this way and endure all of this just to be...”
“You’re that kind of person who pushes the elevator button more than once, aren’t you?” Himchan interrupts my tirade before it’s even partially launched. “Do you really believe it makes the elevator move any faster?”
Does he expect a reply? Despite all that I’ve witnessed here tonight, I still feel as if I’d just been cheated out of my interview, which does leave me wondering if I will ever be allowed to leave here. I’m trying desperately to think of one last question that might save this night, but Jong’s earlier words keep running through my mind like a dark portent... “I would not like to be you after this meeting is over – no good will come from any of this either way. Pity, I really like you.”
“I uhm... I guess I have one more question for you then,” I venture, my mind bubbling over with all the questions I would love to ask, yet only one question begs to be asked at this point. “What happens to people who discover your true nature?”
Without even the slightest hesitation all eyes move toward Himchan so briefly I am left wondering if I’d imagined it. The room has gone silent again, an uncomfortable silence with all six brothers looking at me. Jong is the first to look away, his expression troubled as he stares down at his own hands. Jae gets up and leaves the room without a word. Hyuk runs his hands through his hair, his eyes settling on the window behind me. Both Seo and Daehyun continue to look at me, their expressions hard to read.
I can feel Himchan’s eyes on me and despite my resolve to not look at him; I find my head slowly turning. His eyes are the first thing I notice; for while he is wearing a charming smile, his grey eyes are cold as ice. I’m reminded of the song my mom used to sing to me as a child, ‘Never smile at a crocodile...’
Author Notes: Any and all feedback appreciated.