“First of all, I have to thank you,” she said, her eyes glowing with praise and moonlight. “The way you got rid of Gangnim for us was wonderful. He was a bother to no end, and we can’t thank you enough.”
Chewy furrowed his brow. “We?”
“Why, of course! We pin-holders,” she said, raising the pin back up to his face. “There are quite a few of us, and you made our lives much easier. They speak of you as a legend.”
He stared at her toothy grin. A legend? Chewy couldn’t believe it. He wondered how many more of these pin-holders there were but realized he had a much more pressing question to ask. “Then who are you really?”
She shrugged, her baggy clothes lifting and falling with the movement. “I’ve been many things and had many names before, and will probably do so many times after. At this moment, I’m Yu-mi. That’s all you need to know.”
Chewy squeezed one eye shot, saying, “So you’re like…how old?”
She slammed her hand down and Chewy jumped, gripping his chair in shock.
“It doesn’t matter how old a woman is—you should never ask her that question!” she yelped.
Chewy whispered a “sorry” and bowed in respect. She waved it away, her face returning to its mix of curiosity and distrust.
“But manners aside,” she said with a flick of her wrist, “let’s just say without me, King Se-jeong the Great would’ve never come up with the idea for the Korean letter system.”
To this, she triumphantly crossed her arms, and Chewy raised an eyebrow. It was true, this woman was old, but even living forever didn’t mean she couldn’t be a little batty.
Then, suddenly she bobbed her head around looking at him, stopping finally to glare right into his eyes. “Where’s your pin?” she demanded.
Flustered, Chewy scrambled to his pocket and got it out to show her, thinking it was some sign of membership. It wasn’t, but seeing it, she made clicking sounds with her mouth and shook her head as if Chewy had just failed the most important test in school.
“This is what goes for a legend nowadays?” she screeched. “Never have it in your pocket, boy! The next thing you know, you take your clothes off for a shower and you’re surrounded by sajas. Always keep it around your neck. Much harder to lose that way.”
She held her pin out for him to see again, and then continued.
“And fair warning—don’t use twine. I did once for over three hundred years, only to have the damn thing unravel from around my neck. Thank God there was a monsoon going on. The sajas were so busy they didn’t even notice me till I got it back again.” She leaned forward, showing the string her pin was wound on. “Micro-fiber—strongest thing on earth. Should get yourself some as well.”
Chewy looked back at his pin and then to her, whispering a “thanks.”
She waved another exaggerated hand at him. “Don’t worry about it. It’s what we do, you know. From time to time, we bump into another pin-holder, sit down, trade secrets and then go our ways. And I mean exactly that,” she said, tilting her head to show the seriousness of the situation. “Once we’re done here, don’t expect to find me around anymore. You should probably do the same.”
“Why is that?” Chewy asked, sticking out his lips. This was beginning to sound kind of interesting—being a part of a secret club of death-dodgers.
With an evil glare, she held a bony finger up in the air. “You never know when one of us pin-holders has been turned. Yeomra’s full of tricks.”
Chewy’s mouth dropped open. “You know Yeomra?”
“Of course! All pin-holders do! When something otherworldly is out to get you, you make it your business to know what’s going on. It’s a requirement.”
Chewy brooded over her words for a second. Maybe this old lady couldn’t explain the damaged door, but she seemed to be in possession of something else Chewy needed to know.
He leaned forward. “You know anything about other gods?”
She shrugged. “Like what?”
Chewy wrinkled his brow, thinking of the best way to approach it. “When I was in the underground—”
She slammed her hands down again, startling him. “You went to the underground…and came back—alive!?”
Chewy nodded slowly, hoping this kept her calm.
“Legend, indeed!” she muttered to herself, eyeing him like a distrustful tiger. “Haven’t heard of such a thing since…what was his name then—Tong Pangsak?”
Chewy tilted his head, squinting. It looked like keeping her on topic wasn’t going to be easy.
“Anyways,” he restarted, “I was down there, and Yeomra told me the door god was behind all the bad things happening to me. The only thing is, up until that moment, I thought he was kind of on my side.”
She snorted and said, “Don’t believe him!” She scrunched up one cheek, half closing the eye above it. “Everything out of Yeomra’s mouth is a lie.”
Chewy shook his head and said, “Not this time. My grandmother fed him some tea with a truth flower in it. He can’t lie anymore.”
The old woman’s face went blank. “Your grandmother…you mean little Sae Rim from down the road?”
Chewy nodded slowly again, and the old woman fluttered her eyes in disbelief, saying, “A family of legends—amazing!”
Chewy watched her for a little longer before interjecting. He was beginning to think living for too long messed with your head somehow.
“So…do you know anything?”
To this, she snapped back to attention and pursed her lips as she rolled her eyes toward the ceiling.
“Not a lot,” she started, and held a finger up to hold him off, “but I can tell you this: it’s best to avoid gods whenever you can. You don’t want to get in their way.”
“How so?” Chewy leaned in as he felt they were finally getting somewhere.
“The first thing you’ve got to understand is all gods have a function. They’re bound to them which means if you’re having a problem with one, you most likely have gotten yourself in its business.”
Despite her going quiet for a second, her squinted eyes and long distant stare seemed to tell Chewy there was more. He was right and she suddenly shook herself as if waking from a dream.
“They’re not like us, you know. We can change our minds—some of us, at least. We can do things differently. But they—they’re held in by laws. They do what they’re supposed to do.” She curled up her lips in disgust. “Like looking at the world in only one way.”
At this, she stuck out her tongue as if a bad taste had infected her mouth. To Chewy, she looked like a strange fish. Finally, she stopped her abnormal gagging motions and turned her eyes back on him.
“Are you okay?” he asked. Her manner was getting progressively more and more unusual as if she were slowly falling apart right in front of him.
“Of course!” she snapped, and then lowered herself close to the tabletop and with a whisper, said, “Are you saying you don’t see it?”
Chewy peered around the room. “See what?”
She laced her fingers together and slid them under her chin on the table. Her elbows stretched to the corners. “Keep forgetting how new you are to all of this. I don’t often meet ones like you.”
He looked at her with question marks in his eyes, waiting for her to continue. Finally, she did with a great sigh.
“You see, short-lifers—non-pin-holders—their senses are attuned to the immediate. All they care about is their life and that’s it. When it’s done, it’s done.”
To this, she sat up and clapped her hands, wiping them as if doing a job well done. Then she crouched over again, keeping her head low. “But one’s like us—with a long enough lifespan—we begin to develop a longer range of vision.”
“You mean like seeing the future?” Chewy said, a grin growing on his face. She quickly stopped its growth with a sharp finger to his nose.
“No! We’re no mu-dangs. Nor would we want to be.” She extracted her finger and continued. “We pick up trends—patterns, really—in the way things work. For this reason, we can tell when good things are about to happen and when…”
She trailed off, allowing Chewy to finish the thought by himself before picking up once more.
“And when it comes to you, Mr. Noh, I don’t see good things coming. In fact, I see something else that it appears you’re not aware of.”
Chewy shook his head, lowering his eyes. “No, I know it—my family curse. I’ve been trying to get it rid of it, but it just keeps getting more and more complicated.”
She stared at him wide-eyed, and he leaned back, thinking she was casting a spell on him or something. He lifted his shoulders and said, “What?”
“No…a curse, it is not.” She pulled herself every so slightly closer, keeping hers eyes wide and upon him. “No, I see something much worse. Two things seem to be following you, Mr. Noh, and one of them you already know of.”
That was all Chewy needed to hear. He knew who she was referring to—Seagull. And he had a pretty good guess what had happened.
After he had used the resurrection flower to escape Yeomra’s realm, the flower stayed down there for anyone to see. All Seagull’s ghost had to do was look down and he’d be whisked back to earth just the same.
The question was: who was this other stalker of his—this man in his bedroom window?
Noticing she had stopped talking, Chewy looked up. She was watching him.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” she said with a wink. “I can also see that if you aren’t careful, you’re going to end up dead—again.”