The shaman’s eyes were so scary that her head kept falling down.
“You ungrateful thing, you wretched thing! Who saved your life? Who raised you so carefully! Yet you defy my words and do as you please? Say it with your own mouth!”
The shaman was the one who came to pick her up after she had been in the hospital for a long time.
A bitter taste of blood circulated from her tightly bitten lips. On her calf, there was a dreadful burning sensation, as if she was walking on a blazing fire, not just pain.
“If someone like you, who harbors such fierce jealousy in her eyes, is let loose, she will ruin several men. Do you think you came here by chance? No, that was your destiny from the beginning. That destiny made you and I meet and brought you to this island. You have to become a shaman. That’s your Karma and destiny.”
What on earth did she do to commit so many sins?
The islanders all pointed fingers at her. They clicked their tongues and frowned. What kind of Karma is so big?
A destiny to live like this for a lifetime, a fate.
“Until you release that karma, no matter how much you try to run away, you will inevitably crawl back under my authority. No one can stop the fate that comes after, even if they deceive the punishment that came before.”
The shaman’s voice, filled with anger, was firm.
“No matter how much you struggle, it’s not going to happen! Never! Absolutely never!”
Even though she gritted her teeth, the beating continued more terrifyingly as if a scream would burst out.
“Ahh, I’m… I’m wrong, mother.”
Tears involuntarily seeped out and trickled down her cheeks. Heat rose to her face, turning it red, and her limbs trembled.
“I didn’t listen to my mother. I tried to run away and I talked back.”
It’s right to be hit because she did wrong.
She chewed it several times, suppressing the scream that was about to burst out. All she wanted now was to be hit by one less painful blow. And all she could do was beg. But the shaman’s beating didn’t end until the whip finally broke in half.
Mrs. Kim, who had been standing quietly in the back, stepped forward.
“Take her to the shrine. Since those outsiders are leaving in two days, we’ll have to confine her there until then.”
At the shaman’s words, her heart sank.
“No, I don’t want to! I don’t want to, mother! I don’t want to go to the shrine, please! I won’t run away. I’ll listen well. I know I did something wrong.”
She shivered and knelt before the shaman. She put her hands together, begged, grabbed the hem of the shaman’s skirt, and bowed her head.
“I’m sorry, I did something wrong!”
The shrine was a small building built halfway up the mountain where rituals were often held, and it housed portraits of the gods that the shaman served. It was a place where ancestral tablets and ritual tools (such as sacred swords or drums used by shamans) were kept.
“Quiet! How can you be so afraid of the gods I serve!”
“Mother! Please. Please.”
She would rather die than go to the shrine.
“Well, anyway, Mrs. Kim, we need to prepare for the spirit possession ritual sooner rather than later.”
The spirit possession ritual.
At the shaman’s sudden words, she felt dizzy and her breath was cut off as if she was about to die.
“You said you would do it next spring, but you’re moving up the schedule?”
“Since she can’t control her mind like this, we have no choice. If we are to receive the day, I will have to start attending dawn prayers from tomorrow, so please prepare for that as well.”
The shaman turned around abruptly and went into the room as a cold wind blew. Sunwoo was still lying on the floor.
She felt as if all her strength had drained out of her body.
It’s over. It’s all over now. Just like her mother said, she can’t go anywhere and she’ll be tied to this island forever until she wears out and falls apart.
Sunwoo started to cry sorrowfully as she lay on the floor.
“Tsk, tsk, why are you crying as if we did you wrong? I knew you would make her angry like that. Why did you run away and upset the shaman? She would do anything for you if you just stayed quiet. What are you lacking that you’re so impatient to leave the island?”
Mrs. Kim looked down at her and clicked her tongue roughly. Then she went into the room and came out, handing her a small bucket.
“Now get up. If the shaman sees you, she’ll get angry thinking you’re pretending to be hurt. And that’s the only ointment for your leg, so use it sparingly.”
Sunwoo looked up at Mrs. Kim, tears trickling down her face.
“I don’t need it. Don’t pretend to care.”
“You’re the one who whittles the whip every day.”
It was Mrs. Kim who broke off the sturdiest branches of the mulberry tree, measured them here and there, swung them in the air, and whittled them into bunches. She egged on the shaman, pretended to console her, and criticized her. She didn’t want to apply the medicine-like thing that was passed behind her back.
At her words, Mrs. Kim blushed as if she had been insulted.
“You should be punished if you do anything wrong.”
Mrs. Kim’s attitude, which had at least feigned kindness, became blatantly cold.
“Do you think I don’t know that you pretend to be obedient, but plot to stab me in the back? The shaman took you in because of her position, you beast who pretends to be human.”
Mrs. Kim slapped her back with a whip. Like a real beast being whipped, she flinched and trembled.
“Now get up.”
She left the house, her head bowed low and limp. Behind her, Mrs. Kim was closely followed with a lantern and a switch in her hands.
Every time Mrs. Kim walked, the keys jingled at her waist.
“Even though it’s not about taking in a black-haired beast, the shaman brought you, who was dying on the street, and accepted you as her daughter. Who fed you three meals a day with great care, and even served you every day without lifting a finger? What’s wrong? Don’t pretend to care? The more I think about it, the more ridiculous it is.”
Mrs. Kim grumbled and vented her anger all the way up the mountain path, seemingly very annoyed.
The sunlight, which had glistened as if glossing over the leaves of the trees, quickly set. The humid, sultry air pressed down on the atmosphere. The smell of pine resin and damp earth. With every breath, the musty forest smell grew stronger.
A small shrine stood on a narrow flat area artificially prepared, overlooking the village.
It was presumed that the shrine was built when the island was a place of exile, but no one knew the exact time. The islanders spun stories that a newborn baby was offered as a sacrifice to the sea when building this shrine, and the signboard was written with blood from the baby’s severed finger.
The shaman had the islanders repaint the half-crumbling structure that couldn’t withstand the passage of time, and re-erect the pillars, decorating it as it is now. As the shrine approached, she felt a fear as if she would be consumed by it.
Mrs. Kim took out the keys from her waist and unlocked the door to the shrine, gesturing inside.
The inside of the shrine, which seemed to open its dark mouth, was invisible.
“I don’t… I don’t want to. I don’t want to go in.”
Mrs. Kim slapped her shoulder with the switch she had brought.
As soon as she stepped into the chilly interior, a strong fragrance and the foul smell of animal blood vibrated. Cold sweat trickled down her back.
Sunwoo, who had entered the shrine, turned around trembling towards the door. Mrs. Kim was standing at the door with a stern face.
“Even beasts know who feeds them. Think about what you did wrong here.”
Mrs. Kim locked the shrine door from the outside as it was.
“I never asked for… food.”
Sunwoo muttered, covering her eyes with both hands without looking at anything, and crouched down on the spot. The sound of Mrs. Kim’s resolute footsteps quickly faded away.
Her calf was constantly throbbing and it hurt so much that tears would burst out even if her clothes brushed against it slightly, but right now, fear was greater than that pain. She had been trapped hundreds of times, but no matter what, she didn’t seem to get used to this place.
She was afraid of the shrine.
From a young age, whenever she did something wrong, the shaman would hit her calf and lock her up here for a night. She had passed out several times, scratching and knocking on the door until her nails fell off and screaming until her throat burst.
Despite sweating from the heat, it was chillingly cold and her teeth chattered.
“It’s okay, it’s not a big deal.”
Like this, she couldn’t see anything.
Desperately trying to block the terrible imagination that was about to devour her, Sunwoo sent all her nerves outside the shrine. The forest at night was always more lively than during the day.
The sound of a toad’s cry was heard somewhere close to the shrine. A mating signal. As one toad began to croak in display, others started calling for females all at once. Then there was a moment of sudden silence.
The faint cry was repeated at regular intervals.
It was a creepy sound, like a rusty seesaw moving or a whistle, but to her, it was just a welcome bird’s cry. If the bird with the beautiful scale pattern on its belly was hooted, people would call it a ghost bird.
And somewhere far away, a nightjar cried out long once.
The sound of something lightly stepping was heard right outside the shrine, and she suddenly opened her eyes. Something was moving between the narrow gap in the door, just wide enough for a finger to fit. It sniffed the inside with a snort.
“A wild boar, hello.”
It’s a piglet. The mother must be nearby.
When the piglet quickly lost interest and left the place, Sunwoo covered her eyes again. She sat without moving, as if something big would happen if she moved even a little.
In the darkness, it felt as if something was slowly approaching and touching her body. It seemed like it was crouched in a corner, staring at her.
It’s just a delusion. There’s nothing here. If she endured like this, dawn would come. She muttered again.
Nothing will happen. There’s nothing here.
Her sweat-soaked hair clung to her neck and back strand by strand.