Chewy motioned to the Gills that he’d take the call in the living room. Alone, he asked his grandfather to continue.
“I don’t know where exactly to start,” he said, his voice coming through all static-like, “Let me first say your grandmother died.”
Chewy was confused, not only by how this had anything to do with his mom, but also because his father’s mom had seemed fine the last time he’d seen her.
“Not your paternal grandmother,” he said, frustrated, “Your mom’s mom.”
“I thought Mom told me she had died when she was young, before she could even remember.”
“That’s what I told her, but that’s not necessarily the whole truth. I hadn’t seen her, your grandmother, that is, in a while and when your father called me earlier, describing what was happening to your mom, well, it sounded too familiar. So I checked in on her.”
The phone went silent and Chewy thought he had somehow lost the connection if that was even possible nowadays.
“I’m still here, just didn’t know how to say the rest,” his grandfather coughed before continuing, “Do you remember the mu-dang in the mountain, the one I had you see because of your…your…”
Chewy told him he remembered, hoping this would speed things along.
“She was your grandmother, Chewy.”
Chewy stared forward in shock. She was his grandmother, that old, bent-back woman! How could that be? But as he reviewed over it, a few things the old woman had told him began to make sense. Not to mention the tears when he last saw her from the bus window.
“I don’t understand,” Chewy said, rubbing his neck from stress.
“I can’t say I understand much myself, but I’ll try to explain,” the grandfather started, his voice becoming clearer, “Most young ones today don’t know much about mu-dangs, don’t know how it all works. I can’t say I do either but right after your mother was born, her mom, your grandmother, started coming down with headaches. She was laid up in bed for days.”
Clint peeked his head into the living room to see if everything was okay and Chewy nodded so that no one would worry. Then, he turned his attention back to the phone.
“I brought her to every doctor around. At the time, Korea wasn’t as advanced as it is nowadays, but even if it was, I don’t think any of them would have had a clue. And as time went by, she was only getting worse.”
This was beginning to sound very familiar to Chewy and he trembled as he listened.
“At this point, I was desperate. I had your crying mom at home to take care of. I didn’t know what to do, so…I listened to a friend of mine who suggested I see a mu-dang. I brought your weakened grandmother to the mu-dang’s house. This one lived in the countryside, and, after a brief examination, she explained everything to me.”
He paused briefly, his voice weak from talking before picking up again.
“There are two ways to become a mu-dang. You can study heavily, learning the rituals and the ways, or a divine spirit must contact you, bringing you into awareness of your powers. That’s what happened to your grandmother, or at least, that’s how the mu-dang explained it to me.”
“But why the headaches and fever?” Chewy spat out.
“No force in the world can act on another unless we allow it to. When it came to the divine spirit, those headaches and fever were signs of resistance from your grandmother. She was saying ‘no’ to the special gift.”
“Then why did she end up as a mu-dang?”
“She eventually accepted it,” he paused, the emotions welling up in him. “She had to. The mu-dang told me that if your grandmother didn’t accept the spirit then it would move onto the next living female in the family. That meant your mother.”
Chewy’s eyes widened.
“But she let the spirit enter her, no?”
“Yes, she did. She did it to save your mother and that’s when she and I decided it was best to keep it hidden from the family. Your grandmother moved up into that mountain and we pretended she was dead.”
“But…lying? Did you really have to lie about it?”
His grandfather hesitated, thinking over his answer.
“If your mother had known, her life would’ve been ruined. It’s not an easy thing to accept—someone else sacrificing themselves for you. And, besides, your grandmother and I had to think about the future. If people knew there was a mu-dang in the family, your mother would’ve never gotten married, would’ve never had you. We couldn’t risk that.”
Chewy shook his head at a strange thought.
“None of this makes sense. If grandma took the power, why is Mom sick now?”
“Since your grandmother is dead, the spirit has to move on. Your mother is the next female in line.”
Chewy stood up, wanting to do something, but he felt helpless.
“Mom can just reject it, right? I mean, there’s no other female left in the family. If she says ‘no’ to it, then it’ll leave.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. With no female in the family left, it will stay with your mother whether she wants it or not. The only way to get through this is if you tell her to accept it. Let it take her over.”
“Does that mean…Mom will disappear?”
“No, Chewy. She should be okay. She’ll just have joined with a higher spirit, but her everyday life will be different from now on. She will be a mu-dang.”
“Are you sure?”
“Not one hundred percent,” he paused, thinking about the future and said, “But I do know that you must get your mom to accept it. Otherwise, we’ve lost her forever.”