Sa Jin Photo
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I was stationed overseas for four years, helping shore up the American military presence in South Korea. You hear horror stories about it, about people being shot randomly, the squalid conditions, but it really wasn't all that bad. Still, it's another world, without a doubt. The culture is so…different. Values, ideals, it all feels topsy-turvy. You get adjusted, but it takes time. Early in my tour, I was sitting telling a few buddies about my “adventures” about town. I'd mentioned passing what looked like a old house, with about ten or twenty little girls lounging or playing around the front, and asked if it was a orphanage, or just one very productive family.

Everyone goggled at me, then burst in to laughter. They said it wasn't anything close to that. It was a brothel. They said that, most often it was more boys than girls, and that some people would pay a great, great deal for them. What's more, none of the locals would dare touch them, as most had some kind of bug or another. Most didn't live much past twenty, if that. I was kind of taken aback…it's one of those things you hear about, but never really see. One guy, Jason, got up and went to his bunk for a minute, then came back with a old picture.

He said that, years ago, on his first tour, his captain had wanted to “show him the sights”, after getting his entire squad rip-roaring drunk. They hit several dive bars and strip joints, he said it was kind of a blur. Anyway, they ended up in front of a whore house that had several…underage workers. The squad, very drunk and high, were egging on him and one of the other new guys named David to go inside. The owner was actually out on a balcony, waving and grinning. The kids looked much less then excited.

Jason freaked out, ended up basically balling up in an alley, head spinning, belly heaving, and trying to tune out his squad teasing him. David, however, went in. He didn't see it, but everyone said he could barely walk, the owner almost dragged him in. American money is very, very welcome, even more so when the holder of it is too wasted to know if any gets stolen. They waited for a while, but ended up basically drifting off as people started to sober up, got sick, or attempted to get trashed again. They left David inside, and Jason curled up against a cold brick wall.

He woke up there in the morning, feeling insanely sick and sore as hell. He ended up pucking his guts out right against the wall, re-tasting the rank local brew. He stumbled out in to the street, feeling around in his gear bag and being shocked that nothing was stolen. He ended up bumbling out to the front of the same whorehouse they sent David in to. It was all closed up, and looked almost abandoned, but he could see some movement inside, still. Jason said it actually scared him, but he felt so sick he ended up basically falling on to a set of steps to just let his hangover try to lessen.

It was while he was sitting that the girl came out. She was young, maybe…ten or so. She was wearing a old, ratty dress, one of those big floor-length things. She was also covered in grime and blood. She just came out, stumbling down the steps, a blank look on her face, walking like a sleepwalker. Jason stared, but it was like she was invisible, nobody else even looked at her, just walked around her like she wasn't there when she stumbled out in to the street. Her eyes were big and glassy, dark, her hair was oily and plastered to her face. And not one person so much as looked down.

Jason said he was on the edge of freaking out, but everyone acting so…casual about the whole thing actually helped keep him on a even keel. He did dig in his pack, producing a camera he'd meant to use for taking pictures to send home, and got ready to snap a picture. He to this day says he doesn't really understand why. Maybe he thought he could show it to the police, or something…maybe just the morbid interest people have in the horrific that makes people slow down at car crashes. Who knows.

He was aiming the camera when the worms came.

He says they were worms, but they could have been anything. Thick, gooey ropes of…something, fleshy and rippling, suddenly jetted from her mouth and from under her dress. She looked around, looking almost…embarrassed, hands flexing helplessly in the air as these white tubes of flesh started to coil and writhe on the ground, pouring from her body like vomit in a seeming endless line. She was in the middle of a sidewalk, on a busy day, with two massive worms erupting out of her mouth and from…somewhere under her dress.

And not one person seemed to care.

Some people actually looked at her now, but…it was like they were seeing a bird in the street, or a windblown sheet of paper. Nobody cared, not one. These…things came out of her as she hunched up like an animal, these huge worms slithering along the sidewalk and starting to slip down a filthy drain, and nobody could be bothered to care. Jason said he didn't even remember snapping the picture, he just stood there, horrified, stunned silent.

After about…two minutes, three men in what looked like police uniforms came, and the crowd thinned out fast. Two grabbed the girl, who started thrashing around, silently, drops of grime and bits of slime from the worms splattering around. The third man stomped on the worms until they split, then started screaming at Jason while the other two men dragged the girl and the stubs of the worms off and down the street. He got in a ton of trouble, his captain was discharged…David was listed AWOL.

Thinking back, he now knows the men who grabbed her weren't police, military, paramedics…he can't place their uniforms with any local services. He said he's never found the whorehouse she came out of, even after looking for several weeks. Asking the locals gets blank stares or people who assume you're fucking around. He let me keep the picture…not really sure why I wanted it. He ended up getting shot by some guy in a bar a few years after he told me all this.

I still wonder what the hell is going on in this picture.

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