This story is by Gayle Woodson and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The barbed wire fence was laden with hundreds of thousands of faded and ragged pieces of cloth fluttering in the breeze. Soo mi Park told her tour group, “These ribbons are prayers for peace, wishes to be reunited with loved ones in North Korea.” She swallowed to stifle a sob. “My grandmother died without ever seeing her husband again.” She waved an arm toward the barren lands of the Demilitarized Zone. “There is the Freedom Bridge, where prisoners were exchanged.”
A woman in a hot pink tank top asked, “At the end of the Korean War?”
“The war is not over. It is only a cease fire. We live under constant threat of attack. Maybe an invasion through secret tunnels, like the one we will tour today.”
Soo mi hated the tunnel. Not because it was dark and dusty. It was the sense of dread that gnawed at her stomach. She told the group, “Thousands of soldiers could have passed through this tunnel in less than an hour. We blasted the north end to close it. But who knows how many other tunnels exist?”
Back on the bus, she distributed clipboards. “Next stop is the Joint Security Area. You will each have to sign a waiver.”
A man in a flowered shirt laughed. “It essentially says that if I get shot, it’s my own fault.”
“This end of the conference room is in South Korea,” said Soo mi. “The other is in North Korea.” Two guards in white helmets stood tall, silent, and somber. The tourists migrated north along both sides of the long conference table, murmuring among themselves about how awesome it was to be inside the most isolated country in the world.
The flowered shirt man handed Soo mi his cell phone. “Take my picture with that guy, please?” The group laughed as he grinned with an arm around the shoulders of the unsmiling guard.
Soo mi announced, “Tour is now over. Please make your way back to the bus.”
The flowered shirt man stumbled and fell, rolling under the table. Soo mi saw him pull something from the undersurface of a chair.
Most of the tourists tipped the guide as they filed out of the building. The man in the flowered shirt stuffed a roll of bills into her handbag and slapped her on the shoulder so hard that it stung. “Great tour. Thanks.”
She didn’t hear the gunshot–just saw the man collapse, blood oozing through his flowered shirt.
Soo mi was exhausted when she finally arrived home. The pandemonium of people shrieking and panicking had been followed by swarms of soldiers and police who detained and questioned everyone for hours.
She emptied her purse to tally up her tips. Her eyes watered when she saw the roll of bills. That generous man had been so full of life. Her shoulder still ached from his friendly “pat.” As she unrolled the money, something fell out onto the table.
A flash drive. She should call the police.
Overcome by curiosity, she plugged the stick into her laptop. A big red hand appeared on the screen along with a notice: “This USB device is not recognized.”
It was late and she was too tired to call anyone. She stuffed the device into her pocket and flopped onto her bed.
A clicking sound woke her in the night. She crept from her room and saw a man, poring over her laptop. She screamed. He held up his hands, “Please don’t be alarmed. I–”
The door burst open and his face exploded.
An Asian woman stood in the doorway, smoking gun in hand. “Don’t fall over yourself thanking me. My name’s Lily. Where is it?”
Lily rolled her eyes. “The flash drive that it lit up the internet when you plugged it into your computer.” She held out her hand.
Soo mi covered her pocket, shook her head.
“Don’t trust me?” Lily handed Soo mi the gun. “Shoot me.”
The weapon weighed heavily in Soo mi’s hand.
“Just drop the gun”, said Lily. “We’ll deal with the device later. But you’re not safe here. Come with me.”
They climbed into Lily’s car, a black Hummer, and sped out of Seoul. Soon they were off-road, bouncing over rough terrain, finally stopping near a metal shed against the bottom of a hill.
“Get out. Hands up.” Lily commanded, brandishing a pistol. “Such a great news story. You killed a CIA agent and defected to the North through this tunnel.”
Soo mi gasped.
“Your finger prints are on that gun, remember?”
The heavy door of the shed creaked loudly as Lily pulled it open. “Your generous friend was a CIA agent plotting to kill Kin Jong Un. We didn’t know that he also had intel smuggled out in that flash drive…until you tried to open it.” She pulled Soo mi into the dark tunnel, then turned to search for a light switch. It was a brief lapse, but just enough time for Soo-mi to escape and run out of the tunnel.
Lily ran after her. “You’ll never get away. from me, I’ll–”
The rest of her sentence was drowned out by the thunderous whoosh of a helicopter swooping down. A soldier pulled Soo mi aboard, and the chopper lifted off again.
Lily retreated to the tunnel. With a deafening roar, a rocket blasted from the chopper, and the hillside became a ball of fire.
Soo mi whispered, “Thank you for saving me. How did you find me?”
The soldier tapped the sore spot on her shoulder. “Tracker. He had to ditch the drive quickly. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
A tour group clustered along the ribbon-covered fence. Their guide pointed out the Freedom Bridge.
A man in a gray T-shirt said, “I heard on the morning news that an operation is underway to blow up all the tunnels under the DMZ. Someone found a detailed map of all the locations.”
Soo mi smiled. “I heard that, too.”