This is a teaser from my short story, “The Woodcutter and the Seonnyeo.” You can read the full version here.
The Woodcutter and the Seonnyeo
Based on the Korean folktale, “The Woodcutter and the Heavenly Maiden.”
There was no other choice. From the moment I reached out and felt Uhmma’s robe, as light as spider webs and as smooth as water, I knew what must be done.
It came to me in a dream.
I came to the mountain in search of answers from the sanshin. I fasted for three days and left the spirit offerings of plum wine and barley. I undid my braid and let down my hair. I renounced my father, my ancestors, and my personhood. I muttered a thousand prayers and invocations and scribbled a hundred more that I scattered amongst the crooked branches of the forest’s heart. I tended to the earth and implored for guidance.
On the third night, the sanshin, the mountain spirit, came to me. In a dream, I was flying high above the forest, watching fluid shadows twist between the treetops in the half-light of the swollen moon. I suddenly felt myself descending, swooping down towards the earth like a great bat until I landed before my home at the mountain’s base. There, an elder with a face like gnarled wood and hair like long threads of snow awaited. They reached out and, taking my hand, led me to the base of the old camellia tree. Without a word, they overturned a stone and began to dig, until their hand struck a wooden chest which they excavated with ease.
“Here it is,” they spoke with a voice that rose on the wind, rustling from each branch and leaf. They did not specify or elaborate on the contents of the chest, but instead looked deep into me, and through me. Then, the dream evaporated, and I dissolved back into flesh.
I woke with a start before the cock’s crow and fumbled out the door to the hut, desperately searching for the place the sanshin had shown me. When I came to the base of the camellia tree I found the same stone, and dug frantically until my fingers scraped against the chest. Heaving, I pulled it from the earth and set it down beneath the tree.
With a tortured creak, the chest flung open, revealing the robe inside. The garment shimmered in the cerulean glow of retreating night, reflecting the colors of the rainbow from its surface.
From the moment I laid my hands upon it, I knew what must be done. There was no other choice.