An Excerpt from Chewy Noh: Gangnim
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Chewy lifted his head to the dark room. He could have sworn he heard something and instinctively glanced at the spare bed opposite his. Ever since building a door bridge between their two rooms, Chewy routinely found his best friend, Clint, sleeping there. A run-in with a ghost could do that, and knowing this house was spiritually protected also helped. After tonight though, this would no longer be the case.
The bed was empty and Chewy turned back to his pillow happy. He wasn’t in the mood to see Clint anyways—not after what he did. And it was then that he spotted the silhouette of a person in his withdrawn desk chair.
Believing he knew who it was, he ventured a “Grandma?”
The figure shuffled, coughing, and Chewy caught the distinct clack of leather against metal. In that moment, the clear image of an old-style Korean soldier in full regalia stood out before him, and looking up, he saw a pair of eyes glow in the moonlight.
“Good evening, Mr. Noh,” a deep voice said.
This was definitely not his grandmother. Chewy kicked at the sheets, pushing himself up against the head of the bed. He calculated whether or not he could make it to the bedroom door. If through it, he would be in the protection of the door bridge, but that meant getting past this shadow first. Through all of this, the man didn’t move or speak until he saw Chewy was settled.
“Please,” he started, holding up a thickly gloved hand, “I’m here merely for diplomatic purposes. For this reason, I’m allowed to pass through your mother’s protections. I cannot hurt you.”
Chewy lowered his arms, sitting more at ease. There was something about his deep voice, something genuine that resonated with Chewy. He felt he could trust this man.
“Who are you then?”
The man shifted again. Chewy easily imagined the full solider costume weighed immensely. There was no way it could be comfortable.
“Ah, yes, it’s dark here,” he said, turning his head around the room. “You’ll have to forgive me. We run on Korean time and it’s supposed to be day out.”
He reached forward, finding the switch to the lamp on the desk. The light flicked on, and Chewy looked up to a well-trimmed goatee below powerful, piercing eyes. It took Chewy a second, but eventually, he knew who he was staring at.
The man appeared shocked for a second at Chewy’s reaction before bowing his head.
Chewy recollected stories from his grandfather about this man, how the god of death, Yeomra, tricked him into becoming his messenger. Something inside Chewy went out to him, despite knowing this man was dangerous.
“So you’re here to kill me,” Chewy continued calmly.
A small, toothless grin appeared within the goatee.
“Not exactly,” the man started, shifting his legs. “I’m here because of that.”
He pointed to the scar below Chewy’s nose. Chewy instinctively covered it. It no longer hurt, but he felt the tightness whenever he smiled, and he didn’t like being reminded of what it stood for.
“Your grandmother worked hard to hide you from me, but eventually I found you. I must tell you then, that in a short time, I will return for you.”
Chewy lifted an eyebrow. “So you came tonight to tell me that you’re going to kill me?”
Gangnim lowered his eyes for a second in thought. “I’ve been doing this job for over a million years. The rules have changed a lot, mind you. In the beginning, I only had to address the mayor of a town before I took someone. You must understand, this was back when the world had much less people. Nowadays, there’s just no time to follow these formalities. Most of the time, we don’t even hand out warnings anymore. You’re a special case, though.”
Chewy’s head twitched in recognition. A ghost had said the same thing to him recently and its meaning worried him. Hearing it again could be nothing good, and he kept his senses sharp.
“How so?” Chewy asked.
Gangnim set a gloved hand on the desktop before answering.
“Like I said, the population has increased. With it, I was given the task of handling the special cases. Normal footmen carry out the everyday duties,” he said, lowering his head. “My job is to find the ones hiding from death—the ones purposely avoiding his decree.”
“You mean I’m not the only one?”
Gangnim laughed, and the light from the desk painted deep shadows around his eyes.
“Lord, no,” he said, putting his hand up to control his own laughter. “My hardest case was chasing a man named Samani. Like all areas of Korean life, corruption was rife, and this man was able to escape death the first time by bribing one of my elite officers. Afterwards, he eluded us for forty thousand years. He was a wily one, much like you.”
Chewy took it as a compliment, his eyes disappearing in a grin, and said, “Then how did you catch him?”
“My master is Yeomra, a god famous for his tricks, which means I, too, have picked up some of his habits over the ages. I went to a river and began washing a piece of charcoal. When people asked, I told them I had heard if you washed it for a hundred years, it would eventually become white. Not too long after, a man laughed at me, saying, ‘I’ve been alive long enough to know the rock you hold will never turn white.’ And with that I found my man.”
“It was you then, wasn’t it?” Chewy said, studying the man closely.
Gangnim tilted his head. “Me?”
“In order to catch me, you sent that ghost to give me this scar. He said as much, mentioning I was special, just like you did now.”
To this, Gangnim lowered his eyebrows. Clearly, this was news to him as well.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking deeply into Chewy’s eyes. “But that I don’t know.”
“Then what happens next?”
Gangnim’s lips went flat, and a grim look came to his penetrating eyes.
“I advise you to get your things in order. Say your good-byes,” he said, his eyes dropping upon Chewy’s face. “In one week’s time, Mr. Noh, you will be dead.”