Author's Note: Inspired by a photograph and a joke, this short story took a little over three months to complete. Due to its length it will be released in seven installments over the course of the next few weeks. Writing this has been a real odyssey and I hope you enjoy it.
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Nayeon: Stolen by The Wind
“Nayeon, is it?”, a voice suddenly boomed.
“Who are you?” she squeaked as her vision focused on the speaker.
The figure was rather rotund, with narrow eyes and straight glistening black hair that fell just shy of his eyes. A leopard skin was draped over his shoulders. He clutched a massive burlap sack, brimming with god knows what in his right hand. The thick fingers of his left hand were rapidly tapping his hip. He wore a pair of torn and frayed pants. Even littered with holes the dark fabric had a sheen like silk, within which golden thread swirled in sinuous patterns. His broad hairless chest was bare just like his feet. The latter disconcertingly hovered inches above the ground. The grass beneath his soles was bent back by a gentle, unceasing wind.
“Tsk, tsk. Such an ungrateful house guest. That’s the problem. No one remembers me these days.”
“Fujin?” She stammered.
“In the flesh! Or at least the closest thing to it,” he declared heartily.
She could still see the forest over his shoulder. It seemed so close and yet so far away.
“This isn’t possible. There’s no way you could be here.” She shut her eyes for a moment, praying that the wind had temporarily knocked the sense out of her. When she opened them she cringed. The dirty stranger was still there.
“You humans are so perplexing. You expect us to always listen when you pray but when we actually appear, you doubt your own eyes.”
“Well, a god has never ambushed me out of nowhere before,” she snapped irritably. The moment she responded, she clapped her hands over her mouth.
Fujin merely chuckled and shook his head. She couldn’t recognize the look in his eyes. He was amused... or was he angry? Somehow it seemed like both.
“Ambushed?”, he inquired after a short pause.
“I-I-I didn’t mean it like that. You just surprised me, that’s all. I’m trying to get back to the village and I’ve lost my way.”
“Save me your excuses. We both know you meant it.” Fujin hovered towards her until he was merely a foot away. Only now Nayeon realized how large he was. The traveler was at least a head taller and certainly many times heavier. His arms were burly, his legs thick like tree trunks. The smell of spice had shifted to one of loamy earth and dew that overpowered her senses. “Between you and me, I see no harm in it. All the little men down in the village shut their eyes and pretend I no longer watch over them. Oh, they know I am forgiving though. They can afford to be rude. If I was one of my brothers...”
“Should I feel bad for you?” she asked suspiciously. “You’re a god. You don’t exactly evoke pity.”
Fujin sighed. “Worship is the only thing I can’t get your kind to do properly. I get tired to keeping track of how many names I’ve gotten over the years. Sometimes the titles switch to someone else when I’m not paying attention.” He gazed out over the field. “That’s why I gave up scrying the tides. The people of this land switch and combine us on a whim. One month I’m in favor. The next I’m not.”
He frowned as his mind wandered to past offenses. “Truthfully, I find your honesty refreshing. Men can be fickle in that respect but you seem incapable of hiding yourself. Perhaps you’re more like my priestess than you realize.”
“Did she tell you I was at the shrine?” Nayeon demanded sharply. Immediately she felt the air thicken, like a cloth soaked with water was being draped over her. She defiantly stared into his eyes. There was something lively yet inhuman about them. The image of a fox, coat the hue of rust and blank eyes, slinking among grass crossed her mind.
Fujin heartily barked at the suggestion. “Told me? I don’t need my servants to be spies. No one could possibly miss the racket you made. It was like a clumsy ox drunk on sake.”
“Am I supposed to feel honored?”
“I’m simply being polite.”
“Excuse me if I don’t believe you. I don’t think you care one bit.”
“Do you really think I’m that callous?” Fujin shrugged.
Nayeon bristled at the suggestion. God or not, Fujin was testing the limits of her patience.
Fujin had insisted on accompanying her back to the village, despite the clear evening and lack of the worship that would greet him. His cordial offer didn’t stop him from being a noisy nuisance. He had pestered her with questions as they trudged through the field, sneaking them in between the short pauses when her legs could no longer remain steady. Her childhood, her love of singing, Fujin craved every small detail. Every inquiry came with the same wry smile followed by the same rude laugh.
For now his curiosity was exhausted. Fujin said nothing as he trailed silently in her shadow. Before he had kept a distance beyond arm’s length, and Nayeon would’ve objected to this newfound familiarity, but her mind was distracted with more important things. Somehow she had retraced her steps and found the small trail that had led to the shrine. Slightly gasping as she wiped sweat from her temple, she prayed that she would reach the village before dusk ended. The blood-red sun cast everything in silhouette, transforming the world into woodcut figures. A sudden zephyr washed over her like ice water. She pulled her yukata tighter around her. It was cold, far too cold for summer.
“What do you really know about gods, Nayeon? For someone who doesn’t pray you seem to have a very good idea of what I should be doing with my time.”
“Well.” Nayeon paused. Her mouth felt dry. She swallowed and reset her scowl. “Anyone can figure out what a god is supposed to do.”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. You act as if there’s an agreement between you and I Let me ask. What am I to you?” Nayeon did not reply. “I’m the god who brought light to the world! You couldn’t even be bothered to learn my true name.”
Nayeon’s eyes widened as her vision drifted past Fujin. The forest was gone. All she could see was a veil of dense smoke.
“And what is that?” she whispered.
Fujin grinned, flashing blindly white teeth.
“Call me MC.”
Nayeon tried to retreat as MC floated forward, but her body just wouldn’t listen. Her legs felt shaky and her jaw ached from grimacing too hard. MC appeared utterly relaxed. His tone was silken and congenial as he inquired where she was from. She didn’t want him to know about the Han River, but he pried it from her like it was nothing at all. Everything else came with it. Soon enough she had bared her soul to him and as hovered inches away from her, she couldn’t help but hate him for it.
“Nayeon, Nayeon, Nayeon. What do I have to do to convince you I’m not such a bad guy? I’ve only been polite, but you’re treating me like I’m out to get you.” Seemingly kind words peppered her like arrows.
“You shouldn’t talk to me like that. I’m not a child.”
“Are you always this condescending?”
Her protests only wasted her breath.
“Maybe I just haven’t had a real conversation in too long. Not too many people pray to me these days.” or “I see I’ve struck a nerve. I should be more mindful of my manners,” he countered coolly before pressing harder “I wonder, little Nayeon. Are you always this disrespectful? His tone went ice cold in an instant. Her head felt like it was splitting open from MC’s smell. Her ankles felt numb from the breeze enveloping them. She wanted to run but her whole body was locked in place. The wind was howling as MC lorded over her.
MC’s meandering speech tightened. Talk of rivers and singing were replaced by words like “ignorance” “disrespect” and “vengeance.” MC smirked as pain blossomed at the base of her skull. You don’t care about anyone but yourself.” She wanted to argue, but it hurt too much. “I thought, how could I reach someone as lost as you? You say you love to sing, but that wouldn’t be enough.” His voice boomed impossibly loud. “You take your voice for granted, Nayeon. Depriving you of it wouldn’t have mean a thing. I’m going to take your eyes instead. You’ll never be able to see your beautiful river again.” No! Not that! Nayeon clutched her temple with both hands. Her head felt like the whole mountain had been shoved inside it. Arcs of midnight crackled through her vision. Oily blackness had begun to pool in her periphery. Her eyelids felt heavy. She fought with all her strength to keep them raised.
“Oh and if there’s one thing you take away from this experience, remember, you don’t cross a god.” MC’s emphatic grin was the last thing she saw as blackness swallowed the forest.
And then it vanished. The torrential wind, his voice, the scent, the pressure in her head. It was replaced by black infinity. Nayeon fell to her knees as the chorus of the woods returned. She slowly brought trembling fingertips to her eyes. She peeled her eyelids back as tears leaked from beneath them. Nothing changed. The blackness didn’t go anywhere. She started to sob as she collapsed. She felt the grass against her cheeks and the heat of the sun on her skin, but she couldn’t see a thing. She did the only thing she could think of. Her mind scrambled to recall memories of her childhood. They brought her no comfort, though. MC had found a way to tarnish that which she held most dear. She cried like she had never cried before as she clung to her ink stained memories.