Chapter 3

‘Huh? Damn, what’s going on? Well, at least it’ll be easier to clear these…’

San went on to put all his force on the tree and felled it easily. The felled tree covered up the smaller trees as it came down. He took out his bayonet and thought it may be just as simple to hack the tree into pieces.

‘Let’s see if it’s just as simple to hack this into pieces.’

“What a joke. How does such a large tree slice open like tofu? There’s no way to use this type of wood for building materials.”

San kept talking beneath his breath while hacking at various trees. He cut the drier trees into firewood and stripped the fibrous trees to make rope for the tent. For the slightly harder woods, he shaped the tips into sharp points to make long spears. After some thought, San took his field shovel and started digging behind the larger trees. After creating a hole behind a few trees, he placed some chopped wood into the holes.

Biyeon couldn’t help but keep her mouth open as she saw San diligently preparing the camp site. Amidst the little light that the fire was providing, she observed large trees easily being felled. She could only look at this unrealistic scene wordlessly. Thick tree trunks snapped like chopsticks and branches as thick as San’s forearms were being broken as if he was stepping on twigs! 

‘He must possess superhuman strength!’ 

She recalled being hit in the back of the head and felt a chill run down her spine.

Dutifully, just as San told her, Biyeon looked over and organized her supply bag. She joined this training mission because she was part of the special forces, but her position as a communications officer meant that she would spend most of her time in the backlines. Thus, she didn’t have much in the way of supplies. Her supplies were made up of a basic tent, raincoat, sleeping bag, toiletry items, feminine products, some basic medicine, and two field ration meals. The rest of her supplies had to do with her job: pens, an electronic dictionary, map, compass, calculator, and other stationary items. 

This was how they spent the night. The expected search and rescue party never came. 

Daybreak was quickly approaching. Once the light came out, both expected to break through and find their way out of this place.

As the early morning darkness gave way to light, the surrounding area became more visible.

However, both San and Biyeon could only look at their surroundings with increasingly dreary eyes.

Deviation – Chapter 4

“Is what I see what you see?” mumbled San while rubbing his tired eyes. 

“I believe so, sir,” she replied while nodding and looking forward with rounded eyes.

“You’re a communications and intelligence specialist, right? Interpret the meaning of this. Or at least, try and persuade me with some logic.”

“Sir, could you please just leave me alone?” screamed Biyeon. Her action was unprofessional toward a ranking officer, but her confusion overwhelmed her reason. San easily accepted her reaction without any thought, as he too felt just as confused. If anyone could be calm while looking at this scenery… that person would be psychotic.

There were trees in front of them. A thick, overhanging cloud could be seen in the dawn sky. The fantastical rolling mist and fog that covered their surroundings was also a sight to behold. 

The imagery up to here was fine. If one had to understand and accept what one saw, it could be done. However…

On their left and right, trees as tall as small mountains shot up into the sky. One could obviously tell from a glance that the trees were at least 100 meters tall. There were trees with trunks the size of oil barrels while others were multiple times thicker, thicker than any redwood tree’s trunk. Not only were there so many trees, they were packed together tightly. Vegetation that looked like mushrooms, fungi, cycads, and ferns, which were the size of large adults, were scattered roughly 200 meters above the ground.

Looking up, both could only see the trees shooting up and a canopy made by their luscious leaves. The canopy blocked off the majority of the sky. It was as if they were looking at the sky from the bottom of a well. On the horizon, past the trees, they could also see a range of mountains made of sharp, pointy rocks that seemingly encased the entire area. One sure thing was… there was no place in Korea that they knew of that had this type of terrain or vegetation.

“Is this place… where Gulliver landed? Is this a movie set?”

San quickly got to his feet while mumbling. With shaking hands, he inserted a live round cartridge into his rifle, swung the rifle across his shoulders, and placed his bayonet on his left hip for easy access. He then proceeded to gather the spears he made last night and walked to his 2 o’clock direction towards what seemed like a cliff.

Biyeon followed suit and got up, as she didn’t want to be left behind alone in her shock and fear. She also wouldn’t be able to believe what she saw unless she could verify everything with her own two eyes. She holstered her pistol, which she didn’t have any live rounds for, and proceeded forward with care. Without any bearing or landmark that she could recognize, she scanned her surroundings from top to bottom and from left to right, following San’s lead. She thought that his excursion last night was a brave feat, even though she thought it was foolhardy at the time. 

***

Once morning came around, a tiresome, stuffy air arose from the ground. Since it was from the ground, she thought that it must be a geological feature. The stuffiness from the humidity caused her to constantly choke. She hadn’t moved forward too far before she found herself drenched in sweat.

‘A hot spring? Volcanic activity?’

With this amount of geothermal heat and pressure, she felt that it could only be compared to the natural spring activities in the USA’s Yellowstone Park. Was there an active volcanic region like this in Korea? She was utterly confused. Where was she? What was happening?

“Am I dreaming or is this real…” mumbled San as he approached the end of the cliff. 

Biyeon, who was right behind San, looked at the scene over his shoulder with an unbelieving expression.

They reached the end of the steep cliff. The bottom couldn’t be seen. The blackness of the hole seemed like the mouth of an abyss. The hole narrowed the further one looked down and sharp, knife-like rock formations stuck up from the darkness.

They looked left and right. There was nothing usual or normal about anything. The mountains on the horizon had steam arising from their tops. There was no doubt, this was an active volcanic region. Therefore, this ‘definitely’ could not be Korea.

San sat down hard on a boulder as if his legs lost all strength. He took out a cigarette and placed it on his lips before lighting it. His hands were slightly shaking. He took a long drag and exhaled a long breath of smoke. Still, he thought, the cigarette tasted alright. While looking at the smoke wafting in the air, he slowly took in the scenery in front of him. No matter how he looked, he couldn’t find anything resembling reality.

“At least the scenery is as good as those pictures they have on the wall at the barbershops. Fuck! Where are we? It’s definitely not Korea, yeah… it must be the mystical land of Oz, right?”

San turned to look towards Biyeon. She too had an empty expression.

“Lieutenant Kim… a-am I going crazy? I think I’ve gone crazy. With my shit for brains, I can’t make sense of any of this. Do you have an explanation that makes sense of all this?”

“This also looks like a dream to me, sir. I can’t make sense of anything either. What happened to us?” she seriously replied with a slightly trembling voice.

Though they couldn’t logically make sense of this situation, their senses told them that they couldn’t deny the reality of the situation either. As it stood, they should be considering the next steps.

“Moving forward… yeah. Let’s think about what to do moving forward.”

San put out his cigarette. He was a soldier. He didn’t understand what type of unusual predicament he was thrown into, but he realized that he needed to overcome this situation. He suddenly recalled a phrase that his fellow officer said,  

‘A soldier’s mentality? That means throwing away all logic, man!’

It was an apt phrase. He thought his fellow officer was right for once.

“Since it’s daybreak, let’s try and find a way out. Where we pitched the tent will be base camp, so we’ll start scouting our immediate perimeter from that point. We’ll put away our parachute and helmet in a safe place and think of a way out of here. Agreed?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Biyeon with a stiff face.

“Let’s fill up our stomachs first. We’ll need a full stomach to use some energy, right? They say a full bellied person who dies and becomes a ghost has no qualms…”

He took out a military ration meal. It was a green MRE (Military, Ready-to-Eat) packet that was tightly packed. Biyeon stared at San and seemed to hesitate. She had on a cautious expression as she spoke,

“Shouldn’t we… shouldn’t we conserve those rations, sir?”

“Huh?”

San was about to open the MRE wrapper but stopped his hands as he looked questioningly back at Biyeon. Their eyes met.

“We’ll be able to conserve those for a while, right sir?”

Without breaking eye contact, San slowly nodded his head in agreement. 

“Those are some wise words soldier.”

San smiled broadly while Biyeon dropped her head to look at the ground. The tension and awkwardness seemed to have broken ever so slightly. Biyeon continued, 

“Let’s look for some water first, sir. We’ll also need to reassess our location and secure the safest spot for our base camp.”

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