Fiction: Candle in the Dark

Dawn DeBraal

-Dawn DeBraal 

"Umma! Umma!" Chun-Ja cried from her bed in the darkness. A few moments later her mother, Ji-un, rushed into the room and knelt by Chun-Ja’s bedside.

"What is it, dear?!"

"I saw it, Umma! I saw the gwisin.” Chun-Ja said sobbing, “She was over there in the corner. She was wearing a white dress and crying, Umma. She looked so sad."

Her mother made a cursory search of her daughter’s room.

"There’s no one here, nae sarang. You must have been having a bad dream. There now, go back to sleep." Ji-un knelt at her daughter’s side and stroked her long black hair until at last Chun-Ja drifted off.

Chun-Ja sat on the floor of her daughter’s room for a long time quietly reciting prayers and asking the entity that she herself had also sensed to leave her family in peace. 

Ji-un didn't want to admit it to her daughter, but she had also seen the young woman in their apartment. She had hoped the apparition had been a figment of her imagination, but now Chun-Ja had confirmed her presence as well.

A gwisin was the trapped spirit of a woman. A tragic figure who had died with something important left undone in this world. If she had any hope of banishing this apparition from her home, Ji-un would need to first know the ghost's story. She decided that she would speak to the neighbor in the morning to find out who had lived in this apartment before her.

Chun-Ja's breathing was deep and peaceful now. Ji-un kissed her hand and put it on her daughter's chest which rose and fell in gently.

"Sleep well, my child," she whispered, creeping quietly from the room.

"Did she have a nightmare?" Si-woo asked his wife as she closed the bedroom door.

"Si-woo, it is not a nightmare. I believe something happened here, something terrible. I’ve seen the woman in white also. We must find out who died here and try to help them to the next world.

Si-woo shook his head slowly. "I should have been more suspicious. Why else would an apartment this close to the Han River be available at such an affordable rate? I did not know we would be sharing it with another tenant." He wrapped his arms around his wife. Together, they resolved to be strong for their daughter.

The following morning, after walking Chun-Ja to school, Ji-un knocked on the neighbor's door. After a few moments Ji-un heard the slow shuffling of feet. An elderly woman opened the door and upon meeting Ji-un she lit up with a kind smile.

"Ji-un!” she woman exclaimed. “What a nice surprise. Would you like to come in and have some tea?"

"I would, Eunseo, thank you."

They talked of trivial things for a little while as Eunseo prepared the tea. Then they sat down at the kitchen table. Ji-un sighed audibly, unable to think of how to broach such a heavy subject.

Eunseo smiled. “Speak plainly, yeodongsaeng. What is troubling you?”

"Have you ever heard of a gwisin haunting our apartment?" Ji-un blurted out. The question hung in the air between them for quite some time.

"I have.” Eunseo responded at last. “That is the spirit of Hayun Kim. She was a beautiful young woman., who had been betrothed to a man, an arranged marriage that her parents had made, but Hayun had loved another. A boy named Sang-hun who she had known since they were school children. She begged her parents not to force her to marry a man she barely knew. She told them that she was in love with Sang-hun, but her parents told her that they were honor-bound to a pact they had made with the young man's parents a few months after Hayun was born.”
            “How terrible.” Ji-un remarked.

“Indeed. The man she was to marry was a cruel man. He did not wish to marry her any more than she wanted to marry him. At first, his words cut her heart, and then they took hold of her soul. She was so sad that she did not eat or sleep. She became very thin and pale. Her parents began to doubt the choice they had made on their daughter’s behalf even before her doljanchi. They begged the boy’s parents to call off the wedding, but they balked at the mere suggestion of walking away from a promise made in good faith.”

Ji-un’s heart became filled with dread. She didn’t want to ask, for she already felt she knew the answer, but she did anyway.

“What became of Hayun?”

Eunseo shook her head from side to side slowly.

“Her parents found her in her bedroom on her wedding day. She had hung herself wearing the dress she was to be married in. Her childhood love, Sang-hun, took his own life less than a day later.”

Ji-un gasped in horror. The delicate teacup she had been clasping slipped from her hands, clattered across the table and then off, shattering on the kitchen floor.

“Shibal!” Ji-un cursed at her own clumsiness. “I’m so sorry, Eunseo. Where is your broom? I’ll clean it up.”

Eunseo smiled and waved her hand dismissively. She then continued as if nothing had happened.

“The Kim’s were beside themselves with sadness and shame. They had forced their daughter to take her own life. They had not known the boy she was being forced to marry was cruel to their daughter until they read the note she had left. They moved out in the middle of the night. I do not know where they went. But every person who has lived there since has left shortly after moving in. Each in turn claiming to have seen the ghost of Hayun.”

Ji-un considered what she had been told for a long while in silence.

“Where was Hayun’s wedding supposed to take place?” she asked at last.
The elderly woman frowned. “The same place her funeral was held. The Buddhist temple down the street.”

Ji-un stood from the kitchen table.

"Thank you, Eunseo, for your honesty. I must be going now. Again, I am sorry about your teacup. Are you sure you don’t want me to clean up the mess I made?”

Eunseo shook her head. “No, my dear. I suspect you have much more pressing matters to attend to.”

 Ji-un did not go back to her apartment but instead hurried down the street to the nearby temple where Hayun’s funeral had been held instead of her wedding. An old monk there recalled the tragedy of Hayun and Sang-hun. He was able to tell Ji-un where her childhood love Sang-hun had grown up.

Ji-un knocked on his family's door.

"Can I help you?" the woman asked when she opened the door.

"Hello, my name is Ji-un. I live at Sajek-ro-3-gil-23.” The woman's face fell. She recognized where Ji-un lived, the place where her son's love had taken her life.

"I'm sorry, what is it you want?" she asked suspiciously.

"May I come in for a moment to talk? I need your help."

Ji-un went home after talking with Sang-Hun's mother. She carried with her a candle that Sang-Hun’s mother had given her.

She hurried to school to pick up Chun-Ja, and they walked home. Si-woo joined them later at home, where they had their evening meal. When it was time for Chun-Ja to go to bed she protested.

"Umma, I am afraid." Ji-un hugged her daughter.

"There is nothing to be afraid of, child. I will be with you." Ji-un grabbed the candle and matches from the shelf and followed her daughter into her bedroom. Chun-ja climbed into bed, and Ji-un told her a story about a prince and a princess.

Ji-un turned out the light and sat with her daughter until Chun-Ja fell asleep. Lulled by her daughter's even breathing, she too nodded off. She woke when she sensed the coldness in the room. Looking up, she saw the vision of Hayun in her wedding dress hanging from the closet door.

Lighting the funeral candle from Sang-Hun's funeral, she held it in the air.

"Hayun, this is Sang-Hun's funeral candle. He wants to be with you in the afterlife. Please go to be with him. He misses you so. You could not be together in this life, but you can be together in the next."  

The edge of Hayun's dress flowed to the candle, searching, circling. Ji-un watched as the hesitancy turned to excitement when Sang-Hun appeared next to her. They embraced, then went to the candle Ji-un held in her hand. They circled the candle, letting the flame seal them in wax. When the apparitions were gone, Ji-un quickly blew out the candle.

"Umma, she's gone," Chun-Ja said, sitting up.

"I know. Hayun found her lost love, and they are now reunited.” Ji-un explained.

"Like the princess and the prince?"

"Exactly. Being with her prince was all Hayun was looking for by staying here. We will give this candle back to Sang-Hun's parents, and Hayun will live in their home as she wanted. Ji-un capped the beautiful candle and waited until her daughter fell back to sleep.

Si-woo was waiting for her when she closed the bedroom door behind her.

"Did it work?" Ji-un's smile said it all.

"I will be back soon. I am going to take the funeral candle back." Si-woo nodded. He understood the need for mothers to talk and wanted the spirit out of the house. From that day forward, Hayun was never seen in the apartment again.


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