“The thing that I know now - I would ride the highs and cherish the lows, knowing that it’s a quick trip ‘round the rodeo, so before the close the curtain and finish the show, that’s what I know. ‘Cause life is short but death is long, here one minute then it’s gone, thought I knew but I was wrong, if only I knew what I know now.”
The night was dark and dreary as Minji pushed her way through a couple of large bushes with bright sap green leafs. If she were alive, she would have taken the time to notice those leaves and their refreshing, natural color. She would have pointed out their flaws and called it unique, or even beautiful. She might even look up and see the stars, with their crystalline shapes and bright gazes, like sprinkles of hope to guide the lost souls of the world. But alas, Minji was not alive, and therefore did not notice the green leaves or white stars, only the grey graves in front of her, staring her in the eye.
Hyurin Yoon. Beloved daughter, sister, and grandmother.
Seonji Yoon. Beloved mother, daughter, and sister.
Duri Yoon. Beloved son, brother, and grandfather.
The golden plaques reflected the moon with it’s glorious, shining halo, but again, Minji could not bask in the beauty. She simply continued to walk along until she found the freshest grave among the lot. At long last, the seemingly young girl stopped in her tracks and sighed, nodding accordingly as she read the nameplate.
Hana Yoon. Beloved daughter, sister, and friend.
Exactly who she was looking for.
“Hana,” Minji yelled, knowing full well that only the wandering souls could hear her. “You can come out now.”
The trees rustled in the wind, the type of action that would bring a chill down any human’s spine, but just passed through Minji’s shell of a body. For a few moments, there was nothing but quiet and wind, but at long last a young girl stepped out, holding her hands across the chest, as if to protect herself from the cold. Her hair was long and black, reaching just past her shoulders, though her eyes were a pretty shade of green, not unlike that of the leaves at the entrance. Almost emerald.
Minji didn’t notice much as she wandered through the world at night, but she always took note of the colors of people’s eyes just before they realized where they were. Perhaps it was because in the reflections of the other’s eyes, she could see her own silver pupils. Perhaps because they showed their expressions best of all. Perhaps just because she needed one piece of color to see. She didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. All that mattered now was Hana.
“Hana Yoon?” she asked, her chin sliding to the left of her pale white face as the words slipped out of her mouth.
“Yes?” The girl quivered in her place, running fingers through her hair. Her fear showed drastically. Minji wondered how long she had been alone. Igong sometimes took too long on one life and left the younger generations left on their own. “Who are you?” the girl asked, her voice shaky and panicked. “Why are you here?”
Minji laughed. “One could ask you the same question, Hana Yoon. Why are you still in the graveyard where you were buried a week after your funeral?”
The girl’s emerald eyes switched in the light of the moon. “A-a week?” she asked, stuttering out the words. “Already?”
Minji nodded, and reached out to take the girl’s hand. “Time flies by, doesn’t it? I guess when you know you won’t die again, it seems to stretch out.”
The girl tentatively took Minji’s hand and slowly nodded in response. “So, I am dead?” she asked, the words seeming to reassure her. “This isn’t all just some sort of dream?”
Minji nodded. “Don’t worry, Hana. I’m here to help you. I’m a jeoseung saja. You know what that is, right?”
Hana nodded again. “Like a grim reaper.”
Minji squeezed the girl’s hand. In western culture, the grim reaper was someone to fear and terror in the presence of, while in Korean, they guided souls through the road to the afterlife. Hana was a Korean - American. Minji didn’t know what version of the legend she had been told, if any.
“Do you know why you’ve stayed in this world for the past week?” she asked, genuine curiosity generating through her expression.
Hana shook her head and let go of Minji’s cold hand. “Someone else like you came by,” she said, “but they passed me by to another grave.”
Minji slowly nodded. This was expected. “Another reaper, assigned to another soul. Yunma sends us, but we’re really all coming from the orders of Igong. He’s the one with access to all of the world’s souls.”
Hana nodded. “My mom used to tell me these stories,” she responded, her mouth slowly articulating each word. “But I never would have guessed it would happen with me.” She then shook her head. “Forget about that. Why am I stuck here?”
Minji sighed. This was always the hard part of her job. “Well,” she said, trying to be as gentle as she could. “It’s always different for each person, but it’s usually because there’s something left for them to resolve in the mortal world.”
“Oh.” Hana’s voice dropped. “So, you’re supposed to help me find that?”
Minji sighed. “Yes,” she said, thinking of all the other young girls such as Hana, with their indecisive natures and cool colored eyes. “But I’m going to need your help.” Minji turned around, offering her hand again. “But you have to hold onto me, alright? We’re going to look at your life.”
Hana tentatively took Minji’s hand again, slowly nodding her head. It was obvious that despite Minji’s best efforts she was still terrified. Poor girl. This was probably the highlight of her week, especially noting the burns all over her body. Her’s was clearly not a wanted death, though few truly are. In all of Minji’s many years of reaping and guiding, she rarely came across a case quite like Hana’s. The burns suggested a fire, though Hana’s sticking in the mortal world was rare for victims of accidental deaths. The people who tried to stay in the mortal world were the ones with regrets in their lives, and those tended to be about the way they died.
Or, maybe it was just that Minji tended to be assigned suicide cases. The ones no one else wanted. Not that she really wanted to be doing this in the first place.
“Hana,” Minji started, “this might be really hard for you. But we’re going to just have to stick it out, alright?”
The girl nodded, her bright eyes wide with fear. Releasing her breath, Minji dragged her forward a step, into an unfamiliar house. Rain dripped down the roof as Hana took a few steps forward towards a young girl, around nine or ten. “Jinny,” she whispered under her breath, reaching to hold onto the girl with her free hand. “Jinny. It’s you.”
Minji squeezed the girl’s hand again, as her hand went right through the young girl’s. A tear dropped down her cheek, matching the thuds of the rain. “Mama,” the girl whispered, in a tone matching Hana’s. “Mama, Hana’s here again.”
“Sujin, honey, I keep telling you she’s not here,” an older sounding woman yelled back from behind a closed door to presumably a kitchen, if one were to go by the loud pots and pans clanging together. “Now, can you please go back to your homework? I’m trying to cook.”
Hana shook her head, pulling Minji through the door to reveal a middle aged woman struggling to chop vegetables. Beads of sweat dripped like Hana’s tears onto her meal preparation, possibly from the hot lights above her, or more likely from stress. A man walked through the room, taking the sharp knife from the woman. “Let me help,” he said, his eyes focused on the woman’s shaking hands. “Is it Sujin again?”
The woman nodded. “She keeps asking about Hana. I’m just -”
“Yes, exactly. But scared, too. I mean, I miss her just as much as her sister does. Look, I can barely cut these vegetables!”
The man laughed, as he started to slowly chop. “Eun, of course you’re going to be out of it for a while. Your daughter just died.”
Minji felt Hana squeezing on her hand tightly. “Why,” she asked, her eyes fixated on her mother. “Does Jinny see me, but not my mom?”
Minji sighed. “Jinny can’t see you, Hana. She just senses your presence.”
Hana nodded, her emerald eyes still fixated on the adults. “Oh.”
Hana finally turned her head away from the adults and towards the door, which she once again leapt through, her grip still tight around Minji’s fingers. The little girl was watching the rain fall from the window, her own face disappointed. Minji sighed. This was going to take a long time.
“Do you have any idea what’s holding you back?” she asked, turning her head towards Hana’s. Hana shook her head, now fixated on Jinny. “No idea.”
Tears started to stream down Jinny’s cheeks as she whispered Hana’s name at the window and the pouring rain.
“Are you sure?” Minji asked. “Not even your sister?”
Hana’s jet black hair whipped around quickly to allow her eyes to fixate on Minji’s own. “What do you mean? She’ll be fine.” Hana’s voice grew quieter. “She’s always been fine. She never needed me.”
“Are you sure?” Minji indicated towards the girl. “She seems to need you now.”
Hana scowelled. “Right. Because I’m gone. She doesn’t need me, she misses me.” Her voice lowered again. “She-she doesn’t need me,” her voice getting choppier. “She’ll be alright.”
“Are you positive?”
Hana sat down on the floor and buried her head in her lap. “I-I d-don’t k-know,” she stuttered out through tears. “I think s-so?”
Minji sighed, sitting down next to Hana. “Hana,” she said, lowering her own voice to match the girl’s tone. “If you were positive of that, you would already be in the afterlife.”
Slowly, Hana nodded. “I guess so.” Then, after a moment of thought, “No, actually. I can’t let go of her.”
Minji sighed again. “Hana, you don’t have a choice. It’s either let go of her, or stay in the mortal world forever.”
Hana bit her lip and closed her eyes in thought. “No,” she said, staring down at the burn marks on her legs. “There’s another option. You can make me like you.”
“Yeah,” Hana replied. “A jeoseung saja. I know you can. I remember the stories.”
“I-I suppose I could,” Minji said in surprise. “But Hana, you wouldn’t want this job.”
Hana shook her head. “I can’t let go of her. That’s out of the question. Don’t you want me to be happy?”
Minji opened her mouth in surprise, then closed it again. “Hana,” she started, not entirely knowing where she was going with the sentence. “You don’t want to be a grim reaper. It’s not a fun job. And besides, the dead cannot bargain with us. I technically can’t let you go.”
Hana paused. “I don’t think you’d be bargaining. It would help Yomna. And you said it yourself, it’s not a good deal.”
In front of Hana, Jinny wiped away her tears as her mother called her to dinner. “I know you’re here, Hana,” she whispered under her breath. “I know it.”
Tentatively, Minji nodded, taking Hana’s other hand. She closed her eyes slowly, the noises of the rain drowning out Hana’s own heavy breathing. “Goodbye, Hana,” she said, sighing. “It was nice knowing you.”
As she opened her eyes, she caught a glance of Hana’s face before she disappeared into the air. She looked paler, almost, her burns gone. Her eyes were devoid of color, a pale silver, like the grey of her grave.
Minji brought herself back to the graveyard, wandering until she’d get her next message from Yomna. For once, she looked up at stars, with their crystalline shapes and bright gazes, then back down at the bushes, and noted the pretty sap green. She once knew someone with eyes that very shade. Emerald.
But that person was gone, and so were her emerald eyes.