Chapter 9 - A Touch of Radiance
Muyeol felt like the room was on fire, the steaming hot atmosphere suffocating him. His eyes opened wide. His mind screamed for water as his throat burned. He kept tossing and turning. His fever was getting worse, and dizziness gripped him.
But no one came to his help. The moment Mr. Cha had returned and found Jaeho thrashing around on the floor with Muyeol on top of him, he had grabbed Muyeol by the back of his neck and shoved him into the jail-like basement. If he hadn’t been sick, it wouldn’t have mattered so much, but this situation was a bit difficult.
The fever Muyeol often suffered from was caused by something unknown. Madam Choi always took care of him, she had made him go through every medical test in existence, but no doctor could offer a specific diagnosis. In the end, they concluded it was not a physical illness, but something that was caused by a psychological problem. And Muyeol recalled the conversation he had with Madam Choi back then.
“You’re keeping too much within yourself. Just believe Granny, let’s look for a different treatment, alright?” Madam Choi had tried to persuade Muyeol.
“I’m perfectly fine,” Muyeol had insisted. He never wanted to admit that there was something wrong with him. He had lived on painkillers, desperately wanting to hide his sickness. The constant intake of medicine eventually left his body immune to their effect, and now nothing worked for him; he could only wait for the fever to subside.
“Muyeol, don’t be like that. Please…”
“So you want me to admit that I have a psychological problem?”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“No, Granny. That man will not think as you do. If I listen to you and take even a step inside the mental hospital, I’ll be labeled as mentally ill. Don’t you know that, Granny?”
Hearing a child refer to his own father like a stranger had flooded Madam Choi with sorrow. She could not say another word to him for a while, but then tears pooled in her eyes, “Still, I don’t want you to be sick. You’re only 13 years old. You have so many days ahead of you, plenty of good days…”
“Do you really believe that, Granny? What kind of a day is a good day anyway?” Muyeol had asked, and it caused Madam Choi to burst into sobs. To hear a child ask what kind of a day would be considered good…
Muyeol’s mind returned to the present. After a few attempts to lift himself up, he was finally able to lean against a wall. A wave of dizziness crashed over him, and Muyeol huffed. His head felt as heavy as lead, like it would fall onto the ground if left without any support. He felt like his death was near, and for an instant, he did not mind the thought.
‘Pftt,’ Muyeol smiled cynically, ‘No way. That’ll be too unfair. Die for what?’
‘Damn it.’ He spat out a slew of curses. His birthday tradition was being forced to do a paternity test. After her divorce, Madam Kang never looked back and never tried to act like a mother, and Madam Choi, the only one left to deal with the monster-like Mr. Cha, did not have enough power to do anything. The ruler of this castle was a monster, and Muyeol could do nothing about it.
Fatigue crashed at him like a tsunami, and the fever made his head throb as if it was being compressed by a tight golden crown.
He clutched his head to ease the pain. He tried waiting for the pain to subside, but it was quickly becoming unbearable. Nonetheless, Muyeol forced himself to hold on and ended up harshly biting down on his lips, only to taste the blood that pooled in his mouth as a result.
‘Ah, this sucks. What a day,’ he thought.
He wished someone would tell him that it was okay to just give up, that it was fine to not endure these things… because he was only 13. Then he would have gladly given up all his dignity and bowed down to Mr. Cha as if he hadn’t ruined his life.
‘Nevermind. That would be a nightmare. I don’t even want to call him my father. I hate all the attention that everyone gives me when the paternity tests are repeated,’ he thought.
Muyeol knew exactly what they all thought. Their eyes would say, ‘That son of a b**tch, he came here again. Why does he live like that?’
‘Why do I live like this? Because I’m just a child. I was one last year, and I’m still a child this year. I have no power to do anything,’ Muyeol would reply in his head.
His body shivered, the chills from the fever had started affecting him. His throat was parched as if he had crossed an entire dessert. For some reason, he started thinking of Shitty Yoon’s candies, the ones that tasted awfully sweet. It had taken him an entire month to finish the candies he had collected on White Day.
He drooled, recalling the sweet taste that had melted instantly in his mouth. The saliva moistened his throat, and he felt better for a moment, but then the thirst attacked him with vengeance.
“Water… Water…” Muyeol rasped.
He wanted to move. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream out loud for water.
He perked up as he picked up the sound of a faint gurgle. Muyeol turned around. There was water somewhere in here. But, it was only a hallucination. There was no way a stream of water would flow into the basement. Yet he continued to hear the gurgle, and his temperature slowly fell as he focused on the sound.
Muyeol took a deep breath as he closed his eyes. The burbling continued, and somehow, water trickled in from an invisible hole somewhere in the basement, wetting his feet. The water level slowly rose to his calves. His body began to cool down. His lips unconsciously lifted into a smile.
The water level reached his chest now, filling the entire basement. Muyeol opened his eyes and felt like he was inside an aquarium. He felt like he was floating in the ocean under the dark night sky, a place where colors and light did not exist. It was a lucid dream.
Muyeol curled up into a ball. It was a mere dream, but it brought him great comfort. The ocean hugged his fever-ridden figure perfectly and cooled him down. Muyeol closed his eyes, allowing himself to let go.
The next time he opened his eyes, he was in the hospital, Madam Choi sitting right by his side. And after that day, Muyeol started living with her.
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