He haunts me anyway.
My brother comes to me in dreams. It’s the same nightmare I have every time I shut my eyes. The “night that changed everything” loops on repeat. My brother’s voice rattles and stings, unchanged through all these years of death.
“Don’t do this, Dai. This isn’t you.” He’s always reaching out, clawing the edge of my hoodie. Trying to stop me. “You’re a good person.”
Then comes the blood.
There’s always so much of it. On my arm. On him. It pours and gushes in an unreal way. Like the old cartoons we used to watch where the red spurted out like a fountain. I try to stop it, holding his hand as he slips away. His final breath curls out in the winter night like an English question mark. Bad punctuation. It should’ve been a period. A solid end. Not like this…
I wake up, heart gasping and chest aching. There’s no blood on the dingy white tiles of my apartment. Just the marks I drew—charcoal and straight. The marks I’ve been erasing, day by day, with a smudge of my thumb.
I sit up, blink the terror of sleep from my eyes.
The world is unchanged. My scar is still here. My brother is still dead. I’m still trapped in Hak Nam, and there are sixteen lines on my wall. Telling me that soon—oh-too-soon—my time will be up.”
Insider’s perspective: This is one of my favorite passages toward the beginning of The Walled City, and one of our first real glimpses into the character of Dai—a mysterious boy whose motivations are often hidden. As the reader can tell right off the bat, he’s a bit of a sacrilegious character. But this rejection of the past has a deeper root, as evidenced by his nightmare. He’s tortured by his own mistakes, and carries a lot of self-loathing. This passage also gives us a hint of what’s at stake for Dai. The charcoal marks on his wall, the ones he put there himself, are his countdown. He has sixteen days to escape the Hak Nam Walled City. Or else…
Favorite Moment: Without being too spoilery, one of my absolute favorite moments in the novel is when Dai’s final charcoal mark is erased. There is so much going on in that scene. Least of all the fact that Dai is not the person who erases it.
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