The Tiger, The Leopard, The Rabbit

Submitted into Contest #201 in response to: Write a story from the point of view of a “sasaeng” (an obsessive fan).... view prompt


Suspense Contemporary Friendship

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

Hyun-Joo gnashed on her left fingernails, a nervous tick her mother had tried to beat out of her, when the teapot whistled in readiness. She slid across the linoleum to the stovetop in two strides and clicked off the gas. When she was a teenager, that sense of motion, the unbalance, and the chance she might slip and crack her head open on an edge, were irresistible. Her day-to-day life had been so crushingly uneventful that she savored these fleeting rushes.

Now, she only sought one thrill.

She lifted the pot and tipped the hot water into a college-branded mug, her favorite. After setting the teapot back on a cooler grate, Hyun-Joo gave the stainless steel tea ball she’d prepared earlier a couple quick tugs, then bounded back to the living room.

“You’re missing the best part!” Her best friend Min sat on the couch, clutching the remote as though wielding a magic wand, eyes refusing to blink let alone turn to witness Hyun-Joo’s arrival.

“I’ve seen it a hundred times,” she said cheerfully, joining Min on the couch. “You know that.”

On screen, the members of STASiS.9 flickered between neon city streets, a desert landscape riddled with old rusty cars, a bustling coffee shop, and a space shuttle launch pad, their every move synced perfectly to the beat. Each of them beamed with joy, even when it wasn’t their close-up, as though inviting you to leap through the television and join in the fun. They’d reached the point in the music video when all the bystanders - who up until now had been in the background, full of gloom - leapt to their feet and matched STASiS.9’s steps with exuberance, transformed.

It was exhilarating.

When it was over, Min wasted no time in scrolling through options of what to play next. Hyun-Joo typically gave her friend viewing authority, but today she had to stop her; she was simply too excited.

“Turn it off for a minute. We’ve barely talked since we got back. Here - I made you tea.” The barley grains gave off a bitter yet soothing aroma as she held out the mug. Instead of turning the TV off, however, Min selected another video and quickly hit mute in compromise.

“Thanks. Sorry. I just can’t shake this feeling!” Min motioned to her chest with a fluttering hand while accepting the drink with the other. 

“I know, it was perfect,” Hyun-Joo concurred.

It had been hours since the performance at Music Korea, and a dozen more since they’d claimed their spot on the sidewalk. Of course, they were hardly alone. It was, after all, STASiS.9’s first appearance since introducing their newest member, Bada. As attractive as he was, the girls were both only there to see one man.

Beom, born Jun Sang-beom, was the typhoon that shattered both their worlds. He was confident, mysterious, alluring. His stage presence had a subtle, primal quality the other members lacked, and he carried a sadness that only one who paid close attention could notice. It was as though in spite of all his success, he yearned for something else.

Hyun-Joo had insisted they arrive a full day ahead to get a spot along the barricade, but Min convinced her that leaving at sunrise would be sufficient. When they did finally arrive, there were already hundreds of fans scrambling for position. At least they could see the stage through the thicket of bodies from their vantage point; if not, Hyun-Joo would have been furious, albeit secretly.

When the band hit the stage, the screams from the crowd could be heard blocks away. Hyun-Joo and Min followed Beom’s every move as he twirled and slid to the rapturous beat. Each syllable he uttered phased through them like warm milk.

During the third song, Beom and Hyun-Joo locked eyes. It was only for a split second, but it ground the world around them into meaningless cacophony. In his eyes she saw his recognition, his longing, and his approval. They told her everything she needed to know.

“When they came back out for a second encore,” Min chimed, “I actually thought to myself ‘This needs to stop, I can’t take it anymore!’”

With that, Min’s attention slid back to the muted television, the next saturated montage casting frenetic rainbows across her cheeks. Hyun-Joo watched her friend bask in the glow. Min was naturally beautiful, yet somehow even more so when she gazed at Beom.

Hyun-Joo reached across the coffee table and snatched up the remote. She thumbed the ON/OFF button, set it back down and spun to face Min as the image collapsed on itself. “I need to tell you something.”

Min stared in silence before chuckling, mostly out of confusion. “Okay. What is it?”

Instantly regretting her forwardness, Hyun-Joo slumped into the sofa and gave her fingernails another thrashing. Her friend waited patiently.

“Okay, bear with me. My mind is all scrambled.”

Min sensed her uneasiness, and tried to show support without coddling. “It’s alright, take your time.” She lifted the mug to her lips, blowing gently across the surface. The rays of sun diffusing through the sheers outlined Min with an intoxicating aura that threatened to derail Hyun-Joo’s focus. She closed her eyes.

“I’ve been picturing my life with Beom,” she began. “Seeing every facet, as though it’s a memory.” Min almost giggled. Only the fact that she too had imagined being the star’s partner stopped her.

“Clichéd stuff. Enjoying breakfast on the balcony. Walks through the park. Cuddling on the couch, watching TV. Making love under the moonlight.”

Min could certainly identify with the latter, and it comforted her to know she wasn’t alone. There were times she felt ashamed, that she was improper for having such cravings. She took a long draw of tea even though it was still too hot.

Hyun-Joo opened her eyes. Her friend’s silence gave her the confidence to continue, but her heart raced with such vigor she thought it might rip out of her chest and then muzzle her, forcing its way down her throat until she choked.

“The thing is, when I picture these things…you’re there, too.”

Min froze. “I don’t understand.”

“I mean, it’s the three of us…doing everything together. Except the sex!” This time Min couldn’t resist, and she yelped in giddy discomfort.

“Well, thank God for that!” She returned to the tea, resisting the bubbling urge to excuse herself and head back to her own apartment. Hyun-Joo feigned laughter at first, but then swallowed it down. She took a long breath.

“Sometimes…sometimes I watch, though.”

“Fuck, Hyun-Joo!” Min exclaimed, shocked.

“With permission! Sometimes Beom asks me to. He asks you, as well, but it’s more often the two of you together. You’re the more beautiful one, after all. But strangely enough, I don’t feel any jealousy — none. It makes me happy that he has you. That you have him.”

Min set the mug down on the coffee table, some tea splashing across the lacquer. She didn’t know where her irritation came from. Was it the thought of sharing Beom?

“I’m sorry.” Hyun-Joo shook with anxiety. “I don’t…I don’t mean to upset you. I know it sounds crazy.”

“It sure does!”

Min snatched up the remote, turned the TV back on and held the volume up. The rhythmic bass grew and grew until the window panes vibrated in unison. She concentrated on the sounds, though it was the first time their music didn’t provide instant escape.

They sat for a moment, perfectly still. Hyun-Joo followed Min’s gaze to the screen. STASiS.9 danced in heavy rain, the camera swooping down from above and around each member with precision. Suddenly, it was one of Beom’s close-ups. He slowly drew back his wet, black hair…and winked at Hyun-Joo.

She bolted from her seat, snapped the TV off and stood over Min. “What have we always said?” Hyun-Joo didn’t wait for a response. “That we would do anything for the chance to make him happy. Look at all the women who have failed him! Movie stars! Models! It never works out. He’s too powerful for them.”

Hyun-Joo pinched her brow, bruising below the surface, then continued. “In Sacred Souls Beom says ‘My love is a mountain / Don’t climb alone.’ The two of us, together…we can give him all he needs.”

Min had never seen Hyun-Joo this passionate. Realizing she was reacting harshly, Min held her hands up in reset, palms down.

“Listen, it’s a lovely sentiment…a bit much, in my opinion…but that’s alright. You’ve always had a wild imagination!”

“That’s the thing, Min. When I see these things, I feel them too. They’re real moments. We’ve already lived them, we’re just waiting for time to catch up to us."

“Hyun-Joo, you can’t…you can’t just say these things to me. It’s okay to have your…fantasies. But please, keep them to yourself.” Dead set on ending the conversation, Min stood up, grabbing her patch-riddled backpack as she did — only she did so too quickly and the world teetered. She dropped back to the couch, reeling.

“Easy.” Hyun-Joo sat beside Min and handed her the mug once more.

“I’ve got to get home. I need to finish that damn Economics paper.”

“You will. Just take a minute. It’s been a long day.”

Min sipped the barley tea. It was much cooler now.

Two minutes passed. They could see their own reflections in the blank TV. Hyun-Joo stuck her tongue out at the mirrored version of Min, who couldn’t help but laugh. She always had a way to make her crack.

“You’re nuts.”

“I know.”

“There’s no way Beom would ever be with either of us…let alone both of us, you slut.” Min poked her ribs to reassure her she was only teasing. “Look at it from a practical standpoint. I mean, we can barely get within ten feet of him. Tell me, how the hell do you start a relationship with someone surrounded by bodyguards who’ll tackle you if you get too close?”

Hyun-Joo inhaled deeper than before, pulled the tie from her pony tail and let the stray hairs cascade to the carpet.

“Can I tell you about one more dream?”

“Oh geez…is it more voyeuristic shit?”

“No, it’s kid-friendly.”


This time, Hyun-Joo turned her attention to her own reflection. It was helpful; she’d rehearsed this entire exchange dozens of times in her bathroom mirror, so seeing herself was oddly comforting.

“There’s this tiger prowling the streets of Daegu. He’s searching for something, but the city terrifies him. It’s all too much, and he gets lost. I find him slumped against a dumpster, defeated. I reach out to him; that’s when I see I’m an animal, too. Judging by my white fur and how small I am compared to him, I think I’m a rabbit.

“Anyway, I take his paw and lead him out of the alley. I gallop ahead and he follows. We dodge cars and pedestrians and make our way down into the metro. As a train screeches into the station the tiger trembles and cowers, but I touch his shoulder. It calms him down. We head down the tunnel once the train pulls away.

“I know where to go. I point at a rusty door and he bashes it down. Beyond is a small, filthy maintenance room…and in the corner is a snow leopard. She’s tied up, but the ropes are no match for the tiger’s claws. Freed and full of gratitude, the leopard nuzzles the tiger — and the dream ends.”

Min, still dizzy and now even more at a loss, flaps her lips. Hyun-Joo continued.

“You’re absolutely right, Min. There’s no way we can get to Beom. We need to find a way to bring him to us, to give him purpose. He needs to save you.”

“Okay, I’m lost.”

“We stage it all. You’re the damsel in distress, kidnapped by a dark figure. We send Beom messages online. Videos of you in a basement. Tied up. Beaten, if you’re willing. The figure demands Beom comes for you, that the police stay out of it. The clues lead him to me, and then I help him find you. The criminal is never caught because he doesn’t exist, but no one will know but us. We all go on the news together, recounting how brave Beom is, how he rescued you, and how we’ve become friends. He’ll get out of that stupid band and launch his solo career, which deep down he’ll know is because of us. Once the frenzy settles, we court him…or better yet, he courts us.”

Min’s head was spinning. She looked down at her empty mug, the metal tea ball catching the setting sun. It felt like her whole body was falling in along side of it.

“Either way, we’ll be together.”

An overwhelming urge to flee hit Min, however this time when she stood the earth surged through the balls of her feet and erupted out her skull. As she dropped to the floor, drum beats came from the depths and pounded in her head. Still conscious, her sideways view of the carpet blurred into a deep fog. Slowly she began to see three creatures dancing in the haze ahead. Part of her wanted to join them.

Hyun-Joo moved over to her shivering friend, draping a soft, pink throw blanket across her chest. She tucked it in between Min’s arms, then kissed her on the forehead.

“I love you, Min. You’re going to be perfect."

June 09, 2023 19:20

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Olivia Lake
03:57 Jun 16, 2023

There's an uneasy kind of tension that is felt when affection or enjoyment turns dark and intense. I think you captured that sort of off-kilter feeling throughout.


19:20 Jun 24, 2023

Thanks Olivia! I appreciate the feedback


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