Vicious Spirits - Kat Cho
MIYOUNG LOVED HER mother.
Miyoung mourned her mother.
Miyoung was haunted by her mother.
She didn’t use to dream much, and when she did, they were often of her victims. But now, it seemed, she dreamed of her mother as well.
At night, Gu Yena came to Miyoung. Her skin so pale it seemed translucent. Perhaps that’s what happened to gumiho when they died. They became spectral things that could haunt you.
“Eomma,” Miyoung said. The innocent title a child gave their mother. The title she hadn’t called Yena since she was a toddler. Except for once. Except when Yena lay dying in her arms. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” In death Yena’s voice sounded hollow, distant. A shiver raced down Miyoung’s back.
“I should have tried harder to save you.”
“How could you when you can’t even save yourself?” Yena asked, sorrow tingeing her words. They hung thick in the air. More accusation than question.
“What do you mean?” Miyoung asked, fear joining the chill that spread over her.
“You can’t save yourself because you don’t even know what trouble you’re in. My sweet girl. My ignorant saekkiya.”
The words stung, but Miyoung couldn’t dwell on that.
“What kind of trouble? Is it because I don’t have my yeowu guseul?” Miyoung had always worried losing her fox bead would have dire consequences. She just didn’t know it would involve her mother.
Yena’s eyes shifted at the mention of Miyoung’s bead. A light pulsed, then faded into nothing. “I didn’t prepare you enough.”
“No, you did everything you could for me.”
“And now you must do for yourself.”
“How?” The chill seeped into her, so deep it took root in her bones.
“I wish we had more time.” Yena sighed, and it seemed as if she started to sift away, fading into the dark around her.
“Eomma!” Miyoung cried out as the cold spread from her spine to take over her limbs. She could barely move them, as if her very blood were freezing.
“How will you go on without me?” Yena asked. “How will you survive?”
“Maybe I won’t,” Miyoung said moments before her body petrified. Before she became stone, so cold she couldn’t even release the tears that pooled.
“Maybe you won’t,” Yena repeated before the world faded to an icy void. Darker than dark, like a vacuum engulfing everything it touched.
And when Miyoung awoke, her eyes burned. Not from tears. Her cheeks were dry as bone.
When she’d first started having dreams about her mother after her death, she thought they were just that, dreams. A kind of coping mechanism. A way for Miyoung to mourn. But now she was worried they were more. Now she was worried something was wrong. Ever since she lost her fox bead, she’d felt like she was living in a weird kind of limbo. Not quite human, but not really a gumiho either. And it seemed that these visits from Yena were becoming more frequent. And her riddles becoming more threatening. They must be connected.
JUNU LOVED A good deal. Sometimes he hated doing business.
But a dollar was a dollar, no matter the hand that gave it to you.
This was what Junu repeated to himself over and over as the . . . customer explained what he needed.
“I think I understand,” Junu said.
The creature in front of him huffed, his rancid breath blowing at Junu. His face was broad with a large nose and deep-set eyes. He wore baggy pants and an ill-fitting shirt. A threadbare coat covered him even though the early August heat was sweltering outside. His skin was ruddy, like a man who’d lived his life in the bottle. Or the hue of a creature that many humans refused to believe existed, unless they were under seven years old.
A dokkaebi. The kind of goblin that graced the pages of folktales and myths.
And the kind of thing that Junu was. Though, Junu was the first to point out that there were different kinds of dokkaebi and if anyone was to do their research, they’d know that.
Junu was a chonggak dokkaebi, the only ones made to be charming. The ones made so beautiful they could woo anyone they pleased.
So, even though the thick-muscled, slow-witted creature in front of him shared the name dokkaebi, Junu would never call it kin.
“I think I might have something to help you with your . . . problem,” Junu said delicately. He didn’t want to give the dokkaebi an opening to start explaining the gruesome plan he wanted to enact.
“Good,” the dokkaebi mumbled. “I didn’t know if you would. I’ve never heard of one of our kind having to be a