Okay, so it took me longer than an After School comeback, but here’s the third and absolutely definitely final chapter of Project Luhan! The third part won’t make any sense if you’re not familiar with the first two parts, so for those new to this story or who need a refresher, click on the following links to catch up to this point in the story:
For the rest of you, read on!
Several months pass in your cell.
Seeing the fate of prisoner #1063’s nose, you do your best to co-operate with the rules of Project Luhan. It’s difficult, but you manage to at least keep a low enough profile to avoid being targetted for “selection” by visitors. You’re not any less of a Luhan fangirl, you’ve just learned how to hide your sasaeng dreams of Luhan love as best you can. You’ve even managed to befriend the SM Entertainment guard who patrols your cell corridor. Well okay, “befriend” is perhaps too strong a word, you still have to obey his orders and you still can’t pass his weekly “sasaeng clearance test” to be released, but as you’ve become gradually better at concealing your fangirlism, he’s become less harsh on you. You even know that his name is John. A couple of times you’ve asked him what it’s like to be an SM guard, hoping that he might slip up and reveal a few details about Luhan’s whereabouts, but he always just replies with “I’m just a contractor, I go where the work is”.
It’s helped your cause a lot that while you’ve become sneakier and better at hiding your sasaeng nature, prisoner #1063 in the cell opposite yours has become more and more unhinged. She’s attempted to escape several times, and each time she comes back to the cell her appearance is different. She doesn’t talk much these days, especially not since after the most recent escape attempt when her lips started looking like Hyuna’s, but the distraction that she provides in the way of constant screaming and attacking the guards whenever they approach her has made your own behaviour look tame in comparison.
News about EXO filters into the camp through secret channels – mostly the prison’s black market in mobile phones, which provides a steady stream of news about the outside world. One day you’re out in the exercise yard, watching some of the other prisoners play basketball, when one of your sasaeng friends prisoner #947 takes a concealed mobile phone out of her pocket and shows you something.
“Look, it’s a photo of our baby, Luhan!” she says to you.
You stare at the picture. Luhan looks adorable as always…. but something’s wrong. It takes you a couple minutes to figure out what it is, but eventually it dawns on you that you’re only looking at 11 members of EXO.
“What happened to Kris? Is he sick?” you ask.
“Oh, he left the group… just the other day”, prisoner #947 replies, in a deadpan manner that all the prisoners use when discussing any EXO member that isn’t Luhan.
“Something about how he didn’t like being treated like an object.”
You scratch your head. “That’s silly. What is he even talking about?”
Prisoner #947 shrugs. “No idea. Who cares anyway… oh my god, look at Luhan’s hair, he’s so cute!”
You both forget about Kris and continue to spazz over some more contraband Luhan pictures together until the outdoors guards’ circular yard patrol route gets too close.
A few months later, you’re in your cell, lying in your bed, watching TV, just passing the early evening away until mealtime, and dreaming of freedom and Luhan. The cell opposite you is empty – a few weeks ago prisoner #1063 tried to stab an SM Entertainment guard in the face using a collection of Luhan photocards that she spent two months bonding together like paper mache using her own spit as glue and then whittling down into the shape of a crude icepick. Her attempt unsuccessful, the highly-trained guards quickly restrained her and took her away, you’re not sure where she is now. You silently fear the worst, but there’s nothing you can do about it, and even if the worst is true there’s always the positive side that at least that’s one less competitor for Luhan’s heart.
You start dozing off a little, and you reach over to adjust your TV volume down, a Girls’ Generation concert is being broadcast and the crowd at the concert are for some reason annoyingly loud. You put the volume down to the minimum level, but the sound of the audience actually seems to get louder. Grumbling in frustration, you turn the TV off completely… but the sound is still there, the loud, grating chants of young fans at the concert. Gosh, that’s strange, how come the audio of the TV is still on and getting louder? It takes a few seconds to realise that it’s not the TV making the noise at all, the noise is coming from elsewhere… but nowhere specific, it’s almost like it’s coming from all around you.
You sit up just in time to see a couple SM Entertainment guards burst through the door to the cell block. They’re running really fast! They run through the corridor separating your cell from the one on the other side of the room, and then just as quickly run out the exit door on the other side, not bothering to close the door behind them. As the doors swing open, the noise of the fans becomes deafeningly loud, and a strong smell also enters the room, like someone has burned toast. A group of a dozen prisoners rushes through the corridor, in the same direction as the guards. They’re all screaming at the top of their lungs, a mixture of shouts – “we love Luhan”, “you can’t stop us” and a whole bunch of other stuff that you’re not really comprehending. It gradually becomes clear through your drowsiness that the entire prison is rioting.
The prisoners rush off to chase the guards, but one of them turns back to look at you – it’s prisoner #947. “Hey! She’s still locked up!” she shouts to the others. One of the other girls smashes a glass box on the wall of the corridor and pushes a button inside it – an emergency quick-release for the cells. With a loud buzzing noise, your cell door as well as every other cell door in the block glides open electronically. You quickly gather your small amount of possessions and join the other group of newly-freed girls as they scatter out into the exercise yard, where the entire prison population is throwing furniture, smashing windows, burning things and attempting to escape via climbing or dismantling the barbed-wire fences.
“What’s going on?” you ask.
“We’ve had enough, that’s what’s going on! They can’t keep us away from Luhan any longer!”, screams prisoner #947 amidst the chaos.
One of the other prisoners gives you a mobile phone. “Look”, she says.
A picture of EXO… without Luhan! Your heart sinks deep into your chest as you hand the phone back to her. “Where is Luhan?!?” you exclaim.
“I don’t know but I’m going to find out! How dare they keep us in here and then get rid of him!” replies the girl as she and a large group of prisoners all push together on a section of barbed-wire fence, sending it toppling to the ground. Instantly, Project Luhan’s vicious trained guard dogs on the other side of the fence spring into action, diving through the newly formed gap, straight on top of the group of girls, and begin savagely mauling their arms and legs. You watch in horror as a large dog grabs prisoner #947’s leg in its jaws and begins twisting the limb back and forth, toppling her over and spraying blood all over the ground in front of you.
“Take this!” – prisoner #947 reaches into her pocket and hands you a tiny black bag, in between screams of agonising pain.
“What is in this?” you ask, not really looking at it carefully.
“Just go, get out of here! I’m done for, but there’s not enough dogs to kill us all! Run!”
You swiftly pocket the small bag, and make a break for it through the downed fence and into the nearby parkland. You run and run, into the approaching dusk, not looking back. Behind you, you can hear dogs barking, screaming, glass breaking and the occasional crack of a rifle, but amidst the chaos nobody follows you.
Six hours later, you arrive at your home, having successfully navigated back through Seoul at night on foot with little issue – you know the layout of the city well due to all the Internet Luhan stalking you do, so it wasn’t hard to get your bearings once you found a major road intersection. You notice that your parents’ car is not in the driveway – even though it must be after midnight, they’re obviously not home. With them no doubt presuming that their sasaeng daughter is locked up for the forseeable future, you figure they’re off having fun somewhere, probably having creepy parent-sex in a hotel on holiday or something, or maybe out at a concert listening to some worthless music that isn’t by EXO. The camp rules said that everyone at Project Luhan was being detained with parental consent, so you know that they’re responsible and you’ll never forgive them. You also know that you can’t stay here – eventually they’ll be back, and if they find you surely they will just whisk you off to some other concentration camp, or worse.
You don’t have the house key (Project Luhan confiscated it, you never got it back) so you walk around the side of your house, lift up the wooden window pane and climb into your bedroom. You fumble for the light switch, and as the lights go on, you’re astonished – the room is pretty much exactly as you left it last time you were here.
Your parents have clearly barely even been in your room at all, it seems that they really don’t care about you. You sit down on your bed (which is in the same unmade state you left it in months ago) turn on the TV and also switch on your laptop. Immediately you search for news about Project Luhan, and it doesn’t take you long to find a news story. You watch a TV clip that shows footage of the chaos from the point of view of a circling helicopter, billowing smoke and fires, fangirls running and spreading out in every direction, emergency services on the scene trying in vain to deal with the disaster. The narration reels through the statistics: at the time of the rioting 573 fangirls were incarcerated at Project Luhan, SM Entertainment’s sasaeng detainment/intervention centre. Fangirls started rioting, smashing windows and starting fires when news of Luhan leaving EXO filtered through the camp. The narrator talks a bit about the difficulty of concealing sensitive information that could cause detainment centre riots in today’s technology age. More statistics follow: 37 fangirls died at the scene from a combination of causes – building collapses, smoke inhalation, gunshot wounds, animal lacerations. 52 fangirls were injured during the riots and remain in custody, another 103 fangirls are unharmed but still detained. The rest of the fangirls “remain unaccounted for”. A list of names is unknown but forthcoming soon. SM representatives declined to comment about speculations by reporters that the hastily-constructed facilities were “structurally unsafe and not fully equipped to withstand the brute force of fangirl insanity”. You roll your eyes at the biased language. The TV news report then cuts to an information piece: “How To Deal With An Approaching Fangirl”. The information piece shows how fangirls looking for Luhan may be emotionaly traumatized and potentially capable of violence if not immediately appeased. A re-enactment is shown where a middle-aged female “normal citizen” is approached by an EXO sasaeng wielding a small knife and asking for directions to Luhan. The citizen says that she doesn’t know where he is, upon which the fangirl screams “if I kill you, I’m one step closer to Luhan!”. The citizen produces an EXO lightstick, waves it around and throws it in one direction, then quickly sprints off in the opposite direction. The fangirl notices the EXO lightstick and chases after it while the citizen makes her escape. You gasp in astonishment – the information piece is really clever, that trick would totally work on you. You make a mental note to be wary of this kind of distraction in future.
On your laptop you begin searching for what really matters – Luhan. Where is he? What is he doing? You refuse to live with your parents after this, but there’s nowhere else for you to go, plus you’re now an escaped detainee and who knows what power SM have to drag you back into prison, so there’s clearly only one solution to your life’s problems, you must meet Luhan and marry him. A few websites later and you learn that he’s now in China, and he plans to get into acting. That settles it – you’re going to go to China, and find Luhan.
Your mind stats racing. How to get to China? You either need a lot of money, or someone very helpful. You get up off your bed, exit your room and start looking around the house. Maybe you could sell something in here to raise the money, after all your parents certainly deserve it – but there’s nothing obviously valuable around that you could sell quickly. Then you remember something – sasaeng #947 gave you a small black bag. You reach into your pocket and pull it out.
A small bag with a metal latch. You open it up to find:
A Chinese passport. You take a look inside it, the photo in there is of prisoner #947. The passport isn’t stamped, clearly she was one step ahead of you and planning to enter China using this. You wonder if the document is real or fake. You’re thinking fake, as #947 doesn’t look particularly Chinese… which is just as well, as neither do you. You squint at the photo and wonder if you’ll successfully pass as her when you present this document.
Three small stacks of Chinese money. You’re not sure how much is there exactly, but it’s enough to make finances no barrier.
A small Luhan ring. You immediately wear it. It’s a little uncomfortable on your finger and digs into your flesh slightly, but it has Luhan’s name on it, so you’ll put up with it.
…and a tiny block of some squishy pink plasticine dough. Or maybe it’s soap or clay, you’re not sure. Puzzled about why this would be in the bag, you take it out and leave it on your bed. You put everything else back in the Luhan bag (except the ring, which stays on your finger), quickly gather up as much spare clothes as you can fit into a suitcase as well as your laptop and charger, and leave the house the way you came, through the bedroom window. After a six-hour walk to get home, you’re reluctant to walk even more, but after your last experience catching a taxi you’re paranoid of them now, and the walk to the airport isn’t that far. “China and Luhan here we come – it’s all or nothing”, you think to yourself.
Getting into China turned out to be surprisingly uneventful, although you figure most things would seem that way after what you just survived. After touchdown, Chinese customs only gave your passport and luggage the most cursory of glances, waving you through the security checkpoint quickly, which was a great relief. The only hiccup was when an airport security guard started asking questions about why someone so young was travelling alone. You told the man that you’re meeting your parents at baggage check and he left you alone after that. Then you went straight to the nearest hotel to get some rest and a much-needed sleep that you’ve just woken up from.
You’re sitting on the bed in your hotel room, cruising news sites on your laptop on the hotel’s free wi-fi, looking for news of Luhan and also news of last night’s incident. You end up finding both in one article, a news piece which mentions the “Korean fangirl tragedy” and cautions Chinese citizens to look out for Korean fangirls who may be entering China to locate Luhan. The article goes on to report that the fangirls are very dangerous and that there’s been quite a lot of fangirl-on-fangirl violence since the prison riot, but doesn’t go into any details as to why. A list of all the so-far-unaccounted fangirls is part of the article, you can see your name on it as well as hundreds of others, some of whom you know. Girls who are wanted for questioning in connection with crimes are highlighted, there are about thirty girls who are marked out, and you are one of them. Each person has the crime they are wanted in connection with mentioned, most say “arson” but the text beside your name says you are being sought after for information relating to a “house explosion”. You don’t know anything about any house explosion, the only explosions you saw were at the Project Luhan prison, and even those were more steadily-burning fires rather than things blowing up. You figure it’s just lies to get you to report to the police so they can detain you again, and you quickly forget about your name in the article, because something far more interesting catches your eye:
The article goes on to mention that Luhan’s currently in Beijing shooting a feature film! Normally you’d cringe at the use of a serious article about human tragedy to cross-promote an artist’s promotions, but in this case it’s going to help you find Luhan, and you normally turn a blind eye to any dodgy media behaviour when Luhan’s involved in any case.. plus the bad part of the article is partly about you, so all the better to distract people. The article says that the film is being helmed by CJE&M Entertainment so you look up where their office are in Beijing, and also how to get there by public transport. Noticing that it’s on the other side of the city and a bus leaves soon, you gather your things and sprint out the door.
A few minutes later, you’re arrived at the bus stop. You’re just about to reach the bus shelter when you trip over your own legs and fall over onto the concrete. All that time in Project Luhan certainly didn’t get you used to running around! You look over at your feet and notice that your shoe is untied, so you pause for a moment to catch your breath and then reach over to your shoelaces, when you suddenly hear a loud banging noise and a crash. You look up just in time to see a car speed off. The rear passenger window is rolled down and a young girl who looks about your age stares at you as she vanishes down the road, she’s waving her arms out the window, she seems angry. A bystander comes up to you, an older woman.
“Are you alright?” she asks, staring down art you.
“Yeah, I’m okay, I just fell over.” You start dusting off your knees and gradually stand up.
“That woman tried to shoot you! You should call the police!” she exclaims. You look up at the bus shelter, and notice that the glass is cracked, with a small hole in the middle. A shiver runs through your body as you realise that she’s right, and that your accidental fall probably made you a harder target and saved you from a bullet wound.
“I… don’t have a phone”, you reply, in shock and not really knowing what else to say. It’s not a lie, your phone was confiscated when you entered Project Luhan and none of the contraband phones you acquired during your stay survived the escape.
The older lady gets her own phone out and starts dialing, slowly. In the meantime you notice that the bus is pulling up. You quickly get on and pay your fare.
“You can’t leave! Bus driver, someone shot at her!” the old lady yells at you from the pavement as you look around for the first vacant seat.
The bus driver looks at you. “Ignore her, she’s insane, just some crazy old lady”, you quickly say to him, trying to be as calm about it as possible so you look sane and she looks nuts. It works – the bus driver nods, shutting the door and speeding off, as you grab a seat next to a girl about your age.
You spend the next few minutes catching your breath and looking out the window, noting the surroundings and trying to work out how close you’re getting to the CJE&M building, where Luhan presumably is right now, or if not, maybe someone who can lead you to Luhan. You start thinking about Luhan, and how you’ll meet soon, and you start humming the intro for EXO’s “Mama” in your head. You think about how “Mama” is probably the best song in the world by anyone ever, apart from EXO’s other songs which are all equally good. You’re sure that their music will be rubbish now that Luhan is gone though, it won’t have that special Luhan magic. Your thoughts are interrupted by a tap on the shoulder, it’s the girl next to you.
“EXO-L?” she asks you.
You nod. She looks maybe a year younger than you, the girl stares at you intently, not breaking eye contact or even blinking.
You nod again. The girl stares at you for a few more seconds, and then resumes ignoring you. You breathe a sigh of relief, and return to looking out the window, when all of a sudden, you see the CJE&M logo on the side of a building and let out a small involuntary scream which makes the rest of the bus stare at you. This must be the place!
You press the buzzer to be let off, the bus driver pulls up abruptly and you charge outside into the street as fast as you’re able. You start running towards the building but you feel something stopping your legs from moving… that girl from the bus has followed you and has attached herself to your right leg.
“You’re not going to see Luhan! Luhan is MINE!” she screams, digging into your shin with her fingernails and making you stumble. You try to kick her away but she just tightens her grip, drawing blood, the pain is excruciating. Thinking quickly, you remember the TV show you watched in your bedroom back in Korea. You grab the small black bag out of her pocket and hold it in front of her face so she can see it clearly.
“Oh my god, it’s got his name on it! Give it! Give it now!” she squeals.
You throw the bag across the street where it lands in the traffic median strip. The girl lets go of your leg and instantly runs across the street to collect the bag, right in front of the oncoming traffic. The sound of squealing brakes and a sickening metal crunch follows as the girl is knocked over onto the road by a concrete-mixing truck, which then is rear ended by the car behind it who didn’t expect the sudden stop. The force of the car hitting the concrete truck from the rear pushes the truck forward another few feet, with the front wheel rolling right on top of the girl’s arm – she screams loudly as she is pinned. All traffic now halted, you quickly run over to the median strip, pick up the black bag and scoot off in the direction of the CJE&M building, ignoring the screams of the girl. You think about how it’s just as well you recovered the bag, it’s got your passport and money in there – not that you’ll need either once you meet Luhan, because he’ll fall madly in love with you and take care of everything.
The automated sliding glass doors part and you enter the foyer of the CJE&M building. You look around, the foyer is covered in blood and wood splinters. There are about six young girls here, all dead, lying around on random parts of the foyer floor. One of the girls is completely missing a leg and lies in a large pool of blood, the others have various torso and limb wounds which you try not to look at closely, although it’s hard not to stare. They’re all holding weapons: pistols, knives, machetes, there’s also a large amount of bullet holes in the wooden veneer wall behind the reception desk. You walk carefully up to the reception desk, and notice that the receptionist is slumped back in her chair, also dead, with what looks like multiple gunshot wounds.
There was obviously a large fight here, you can only guess from what you’ve experienced so far that the girls were fighting each other to be the one to see Luhan. You think about how you hadn’t expected this level of danger, and that you’d better be prepared. You scout the foyer and grab the most dangerous, menacing-looking weapon that you can figure out how to use – a large machete. You wipe the blood off the blade onto one of the foyer pot plants, and wave the machete around a couple times in the air. How hard can it be to use this? Surely not very. You feel slightly more secure as you walk over to the lifts and hit the button to call a lift to the ground floor.
The lift arrives and the doors slide open. The inside of the lift is covered in blood spatters. There’s a girl inside, about your age, crouching in the corner, obviously very afraid. She sees you and instantly puts her hands up.
“I don’t want to see Luhan! I just happen to be here! Please let me live!” she pleads.
You point the machete at her, but also slowly back away, allowing her to escape the lift, and motion with your head for her to get out. You don’t want to kill her (or anybody), but you also don’t trust her (or anybody – except Luhan) – you just want her out of the way, so she’s not between you and Luhan, trying to be first. If she wants to leave, so be it – one less obstacle to your happiness.
“Thank you, thank you!” she pants, as she gets up and runs across the foyer and out of the building. You notice as she runs away from you that she is wearing an EXO backpack. What a liar, she was clearly here to meet Luhan, why else would she be here. Oh well, she’s out of your hair now.
The lift doors start automatically closing so you punch the button to re-open them and step inside. You look at the lift buttons, and sigh. It’s not a conventional lift control, but a security keypad.
What to type in? You press some random numbers and after four numbers are displayed, a beep sounds and nothing happens. You start thinking that maybe it’s better to take the stairs, when you punch in Luhan’s birthdate “2004” (2oth April) and the lift comes to life. So obvious.
A few floors up and the lift makes a bell sound and the doors slide open. You gasp in astonishment as you see Luhan staring right at you, waiting in the lift bay! He’s been expecting you!
You drop the machete and charge up to Luhan, wrapping your arms around him, giving him a hug. Luhan immediately falls over with you on top of him, like there’s no weight to him at all. Then you realise that this isn’t just an illusion created by poor idol diet, there in fact is no weight to him at all, he is paper thin. You’ve just hugged and toppled over not the real Luhan but a life-size cardboard cutout. You’d be happy to see a cardboard Luhan cutout in any other circumstance apart from this one. You start crying.
“Freeze!” yells a voice. You turn to your left where the voice is coming from, there’s a group of police officers forming a row across the lift bay. They are wearing riot helmets and transparent plastic shields, and pointing weapons at you.
“Where’s Luhan?” you whimper at them, tears in your eyes.
You feel a heavy impact as something lodges in your stomach – one of the police has fired something at you. You look down and see something that looks like a cross between a dart and a syringe sticking out of your abdomen. The syringe injects a green fluid into your torso, and you quickly fall asleep on the floor, on top of cardboard Luhan, together at last.
You wake up. You look around, you’re in a small room, lying on a single bed. One wall is made completely of bars, with a barred and locked door. You also notice a toilet seat in the far corner. That’s odd, why is there a toilet in the bedroom… then it occurs to you that you’re actually in a cell of some kind. You start to wonder why… but then you realise, you know why. There is a poster above your head, which looks like this:
Can it be real? Are you dreaming, or are you back in Project Luhan? Didn’t Project Luhan burn down? The poster looks quite torn and ratty, but the wall it’s stuck to is freshly painted. You look across from your cell. Prisoner #1063 is there, muttering to herself, she seems the same as ever although her eyebrows look a little different to before. You scan your surroundings – the cells also look different, they don’t look exactly like the ones you were in for all those months, the walls are a different colour, the paint is fresher, the beds and toilet pans are in different positions to before, the layout of the cell block isn’t quite the same.
You hear footsteps approaching, a security guard. It’s John, the familiar guard from Project Luhan… but his uniform is different, it’s a different colour and now carries the CJE&M logo. He looks at you, a look of recognition.
“Just coming to clean your cells”, he says.
“Where am I? What happened?” you ask.
“I’m just a contractor, I go where the work is”, he replies.