Fantasy Fiction Speculative

The stadium lights had all been extinguished, save a handful left on for the benefit of the cleanup crew.  They were expected to arrive soon to begin the painstaking work of restoring the open field to its original condition prior to the evening’s concert.

Just hours ago, the arena had held tens of thousands of K-Pop crazed fans, thrashing and moving as if one giant being, pulsating to the heavy electronic beat, screaming and clamoring to get as near their idols as possible.

The only remnants of the frenzy that had been alive and kicking only hours earlier were scattered piles of trash. Occasionally there were items worthy of transfer to the lost and found or simply pocketing.

Once the items were removed that could be, the place would be hosed down, disinfected and dried in preparation for the next performance.

A smoky mist swirled and drifted around and through the beams of light coming from the spotlights high above. As a number of these smoky tendrils descended directly to the wreckage below them, they gracefully began to take form.

Eventually, when the purposeful smoke had settled, a group of assorted specters either sat, lay or paced in the center of the expansive grounds.

“Are we all here?”

“All except BoBae. I believe she is always the last to appear anywhere only to spite me!”

“Silence, woman!” barked the official-looking gentleman to her immediate left.  He wore a military uniform, completely transparent, as was the rest of him.

“The war is over, Jagi.”

The military specter appeared indignant.

“Pyun, must you call me ‘honey’ in front of the civilians? How many more times before my authority is completely worn away by your babo gat-eun?” 

“It is not silly business, you old goat! Your ‘authority’ has no footing here. Face it, Chin Hwa, the closest you can get to a rank is to be my Wangjanim.”

“We are too long in the tooth for me to be a prince!”

A loud gong sounded; everyone’s attention turned to DoYoon, the designated organizer of the meeting. 

“We gather, per our agreement when our youngest family members began the endeavor we all witnessed this evening, and as we will continue to see them through until this . . . what is the word I search for, DaeSeong?”

DaeSeong manned the mallet that had banged the gong.

“It is a tour, DoYoon.”  She drew out the English word into a laborious two syllables.”

“As we know . . .”


Pyun waved away the billowing smoke cascading from this new arrival with disgust.

“Here comes BoBae, that . . .”

“Soooooo sorry to be mi-an! I was occupied with other matters.”

“What is more important matter than our children’s children!” Pyun pounced. “We, their ancestors, are allowed a limited number of generations here on Earth. It is for our time here and now that we look over what is ours to guide and protect.”

BoBae frowned.

“Careful, Cousin. Your rice is soon to boil over.”

The gong sounded.

DaeSeong raised her voice.

“All are in attendance. It is time to begin again.”

DoYoon bowed. “Welcome, one and all. We are familiar to one another, so without further delay, Jia has requested to speak. Jia? Please.”

“Yes. Good evening, gracious, honorable spirits. You know me. I am Jia. I, just yesterday, mortal time, was joined by my son, Joon, someone you all have seen perform.  He gave me important news we need to hear about our children's children. I am hopeful we can prevent this next crisis.”

“Oh, Jia, I wish there had been a better way,” one of the women cried.  

Jia bowed her head. 


There appeared beside her a young man everyone recognized as Joon, the lead singer for the K-Pop Group StarPow. He had all the classic features of a Korean popstar, chiseled features, a voice to make the listener swoon, and he’d had a reputation on the earthly plane for hard work with no complaints.

He also had a slightly indented, crooked neck that would take time to straighten.

“Forgive my intrusion, Elders.”

Jia spoke.

“Joon, tell the others what you shared with me.”

Joon nodded, bowed to Jia and then to the assembled spirits. The bowing caused Joon’s head to tip slightly so that he had to manually adjust it to better balance on his shoulders.

“My mother, Jia, has told me you gather often to look after your sons who perform in the group K-Punch. I know them all; Kim, Chul, Hye, Eun, Iseul, Kyong and Kwan.  Did you see any of their performance tonight?”

DoYoon spoke for the group.

“I believe I can safely say that most of us watch over these young ones during their travels and discuss ways we can assist when we deem it necessary, within our limits, of course.”

Joon looked surprised.

“There are limits?”

“Yes, Joon. You will learn what they are and how to best use what you have available. It’s a bit like mortal life but better defined and much cleaner.”

“Would you be kind enough to share with me your observations from this evening?”

“I am Haru. Kwan is my great grandson. I see he is exhausted.  I set a chair nearby to catch him today and also help his footing on stage so he does not feel shame. I fear he will soon turn to stronger drugs. He now takes the caffeine pills.”

“I am Sena, Eun’s great grandmother. Eun has already moved from caffeine to a drug that keeps him alert for a long time. I fear what he will resort to next.”

“We see how these young people perform,” offered Cho, a great uncle to Chul. “How can they be expected to have the energy it takes to perform several shows a night flawlessly, time and again?”

DoYoon spoke directly to Joon.

“We have no one who knows how to protect our young men and women from the allure of this business of showing themselves.”

Joon smiled a sad smile.

“In the beginning, it’s always the same. The excitement, the energy, is intoxicating.”

Seok, great grandfather to Hye, grumbled. “What is so exciting about jumping about like monkeys to music that cannot be heard over the squeals of children who should be home in bed?  A good year’s crop, now that is cause for celebration.”

“Oh, and if you consider a field of filth and smelly children intoxicating, you never had my homemade snake wine.” Min Jun, great grandfather of Kim, nudged Seok and the older toothless phantoms laughed together.”

Joon smiled.

“If you will allow, with respect, Seonbae, simple pleasures cannot compete with the lights, the adoration, the electricity that comes with fame. Nothing can match the energy from a stadium full of devoted fans all screaming for you, singing with you.  And, also with great respect, Hyung, I have had snake wine, maybe not yours, but I prefer the girls.”

Most of the males present chuckled at this. The women frowned, shaking their heads. Jia spoke.

“Joon, you would not be here with us if it were all energy and girls. Please tell what you came to say.”

“I have a friend who is close with Iseul.”

“My Iseul?”  Mi-Sun, Iseul’s great aunt, leaned forward.

Joon bowed.

“Yes, Noona, with respect. Iseul is like me. He hides well how depressed he is.”

Seok, the old apparition, waved his hand. “Nonsense. Hard work make you hungry; you eat.  Hard work make you tired; you sleep. Go to school, go to work.  What is to be sad about? You want trouble? Go to war! Then you see.”

“If I may, Seonbae, and with greatest respect, as good Koreans, we perform our military service, as mandated.  We are not pampered in that way.  Sadness can be your companion whether you wish it or not.”

Mi-Sun sounded a bit frantic as she cut in. “Please, can we speak of Iseul? What do you know, Joon? Please.”

“Of course, Noona.  Forgive me. Iseul’s experience is very close to my own.  When you begin, it is a joy. The work is to dance and to sing. When you perform before a large venue, more people than you have ever seen in your life, a sea of clapping, chanting, shouting for you, it is a drug that you will do anything to have again, no matter the cost.”

“And what of the Sasaengs? What cost is that to pay, to abandon your privacy and your safety and that of your family? Explain how that is to be reconciled.” Pyun shook her head. “Our great grandson, Kyong, has had clothing ripped away from him, his hair clipped in daylight and his home broken into twice!  He was fortunate to be away both times, but is not something to be done before real tragedy occurs?”

Joon cast his eyes downward, then raised a hand to support his head.

“The Sasaeng are extreme. Their goal is to gain fame and recognition from their idols directly. This is most troublesome because the behavior is unpredictable and borders on psychotic.”

Pyun continued, “Are there ways to control this dangerous so-called fan base?”

Joon walked closer to where Pyun sat. He first paused to salute Chin Hwa.

“Sir. Good evening.  Moving targets, Noona, that is what we are.  We play a show, we sleep in a moving car, we play the next show.  We are usually not in one place long enough to be harassed.  When we go home, we never advertise it; though of course, there are leaks all the time.”

Mi-Sun looked frightened. “So, is there no solution?”

Joon went to Mi-Sun and knelt before her.  He spoke earnestly.

“I wanted to warn you, perhaps prepare you, Noona, Iseul is thinking of taking his life tonight.”

“No, it’s too soon,” Mi-Sun’s eyes grew large.

“I wish to ask your forgiveness, Noona. Iseul knew of my suicide and it may be the reason he will attempt the same.”

BoBae jumped in.

“Why doesn’t he speak up? Why don’t they say something if they’re so unhappy?”

“Because,” Joon turned his head, using his hands, to face BoBae, “No one wants to hear it. Do you know how many others would give anything to have your life, to have what you have, to be you?”

“Everyone but you, apparently,” sniffed BoBae.

Pyun started to speak. Chin Hwa squeezed her arm, giving her a stern look.  “Listen for a change, woman.”  Then he softened and patted her hand.

Joon stood to face BoBae.  

“Do you think all you have to do is walk away? There are contracts you would break. You think you can go back to the life you had before? That time stands still and waits for you to return from your fantastic, glamorous life and you can just pick up where you left off? No. There is no going back.  Nothing in your world has really changed while you were away. But you have. So you become a stranger in your own life.”

Joon then turned back to Mi-Sun.

“The hardest part? Having no time. There is no time to think for yourself, to pause, to savor the pleasures or complain about the endless pace, the demands, the expectations on you to be perfect. Normal for you is gone. And there is loneliness."

Joon then caught Jia’s eye. He smiled, genuinely and sadly.

“In the end? I wanted my mother.”

Jia’s eyes filled with tears as she smiled back.

Mi-Sun was on her feet.

“So, about Iseul.”

* * * 

Iseul sat in a plush white hotel chair. To his back was a wall of glass with the lights of Seoul flickering, mirroring the stars in the night sky.  Before him was a large screen television as dark as the night reflected across from it. Iseul wasn’t aware of either; he was somewhere deep inside himself.

Just outside Iseul’s hotel room, three smoky beams came through the ceiling to the floor.  They quickly formed into three ghostly figures, those of Mi-Sun, Haru and Joon.

Once they were completely assembled, Joon turned to Mi-Sun.

“Are you sure you want to do this?  There is no guarantee that all will turn out the way we want. It could be very difficult.”

Mi-Sun touched Joon’s cheek with a tender hand.

“How old did you say you were?  Jia must be very proud.”

Haru smiled.  “Well, I never saw a poltergeist blush before.”

Joon smiled as Mi-Sun took back her hand, then asked, “Now, you’re sure we cannot be heard?”

Haru nodded. “Yes. I’ve managed to help Kwan more times than I care to admit. How he ever got famous with those two left feet is beyond me.”

Joon said, “I imagine it would take more energy than we have between us to be heard, but I am impressed that you can move articles.”

Haru shrugged. “I have extremely strong maternal instincts.”   

Joon smiled. “We may need to test those instincts on a boy not your own. Think you will be able to work a miracle, if necessary?”

Haru looked at Mi-Sun. “They are all our children.”

The maternal specters bowed slightly to each other.

“Follow me, please, Noonas.”

One by one, the three flowed under the door and then around the hotel room, noting everything there, and then the bedroom, bathroom and closet. All took note of Iseul’s blank stare and apparent lethargy.

They rematerialized behind Iseul’s chair.

“All right. So we know where everything is. Now we . . .”

“Wait! He’s getting up.”  Mi-Sun placed a hand on Joon’s arm.

They watched as Iseul rose from his chair.  He walked to the liquor cabinet and stood staring at the assortment of beers, wines and spirits. He eventually settled on a bottle of Soju, removed the cap, and drank a good amount of the slightly sweet liquor.

The three specters exchanged worried glances.

When Iseul lowered the bottle, he grimaced as tears ran down his face. He then shuffled to the large panoramic window and stood looking, not seeing.  His continuing tears obscured any likelihood of viewing what lay before him. He drank more.

“You know,” Mi-Sun’s eyes were fixed on her great nephew, calm and level, “I almost think it would be better if he left this place.”

Haru went to Mi-Sun’s side. Mi-Sun gestured.

“See how he suffers.”

Haru leaned to Mi-Sun and whispered, “Do not forget, my friend, at the end of hardship comes happiness.”

Mi-Sun looked at Haru and smiled weakly.  “We will see.”

Joon spoke, “Look now.”

Iseul then went into the bedroom and sat on the side of the bed. He drank more Soju, then wiped his face with a shirtsleeve and belched loudly. He mumbled an automatic, “Jeogiyo.”  His face broke into folds as he began to laugh, a roar that quickly eased back into tears. 

He drank until the bottle was empty.

“Please don’t get more,” his great aunt pleaded.

“Don’t be surprised if he does,” warned Joon.

Iseul got up slowly and slightly staggered to the bathroom. He took a washcloth and wiped his face.  He then ran water and soaked the cloth with it. With both hands, he just held it to his face. He bent over the sink on elbows and was still.

Haru spoke, “What’s he doing?”

Joon answered, “He’s deciding.”

Mi-Sun concentrated on her great nephew, sending messages just the two of them could hear; and he, only if he chose to listen.

Iseul stood up straight, turning off the water. He wrung and folded the washcloth and lay it on the side of the sink.  He looked at his reflection in the mirror. He stared, searching, without expression, for several moments.

If specters had breath, all three would be holding theirs. Haru's eyes closed.

Music began playing from somewhere. It danced lightly on the periphery of the moment. It gradually became clearer as the notes and melody increased in volume and then grabbed hold of everyone’s consciousness at once.

“Answer it, Iseul,” Joon said slowly and deliberately.

Iseul turned his head toward the bedroom where his cellphone lay on the nightstand. It continued playing a familiar K-Pop tune called, “I Can’t Stop Me,” by TWICE. 

Iseul's expression changed. His eyes watered and danced a little and he began to smile.

“Kwan, you freak.”

Iseul went to the bedroom, picked up his phone and immediately began talking.

“I told you I wanted that song out of my phone!  How did you put it back in?

Aha. So, what you doing up, dawg?

Nah, neither can I.  

I dunno.

All right. Give me a minute, I’ll be right there.”

Iseul went back to the bathroom, washed his face again.  As he gathered his key card and phone from the nightstand, he took the empty bottle and held it in his hand, staring at it.

He placed it in a trash receptacle, then turned for a second as if expecting to see something, or someone. He grinned, shook his head slightly, and left.

Mi-Sun spoke to Haru.  “So, the phone, that was your Kwan, was it?”

Haru smiled. “Yes, my Kwan. As much as a child can belong to you, he is mine.  And yours.”

“I feel pride for them both.”

After a moment, Joon said, “I do not think we need watch him any more tonight.”

Mi-Sun hesitated. “I think I will remain a while longer.”

Joon looked at Mi-Sun.

“We have limits, Noona, I think you know. I’m learning it just now, but it is important to know what you can change and what you can't.”

“Yes, and it is also important to live in the world you are born into if you are to learn the lessons you are meant to learn.”

Haru cut in, “It seems I have stumbled upon a philosophy lecture and I was never a fan, much less Sasaeng.  If you don’t mind, I will check on Kwan and then go back where I belong.”

At that, the three dissipated to go about their business and await the next event, confident it would not be far away.

June 07, 2023 13:26

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Chris Miller
18:29 Jun 14, 2023

I like Joon's broken neck. Grim touch. The nattering ghosts reminded me of Beetljuice. Dark ideas lightly handled. Lovely work.


Susan Catucci
18:47 Jun 14, 2023

Thanks, Chris. Fun to write - important themes but still fun and meaningful. :)


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Michał Przywara
21:56 Jun 12, 2023

A cool take on guardian ancestor spirits. They're out of their depth, struggling as best as they can to support their descendants, in a world they don't quite understand. There's a culture clash between the generations. Joon is the bridge between them, and he does a great job of clearing things up. Sadly, this came at the cost of his own life. While his last days were tragic, it does appear that in the afterlife he has new purpose, and is immediately driven to help his living friends. There's clear themes of depression and loneliness her...


Susan Catucci
20:23 Jun 14, 2023

I cannot believe I haven't replied here, Michal! I appreciate every word you wrote and, while that's nothing unusual, it's odd I haven't told you so until now. Ah well, almost wrote it's never too late, but given the story I just wrote, it doesn't seem to apply. I know this covers a lot of issues, but I think the simplest take-away that I intended to showcase was too much of a good thing can turn on itself, and in a lifetime of choice, we should be able to take better care of ourselves and each other. The exploration is the best part. ...


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Michelle Oliver
00:27 Jun 11, 2023

I love the idea that our family or ancestors are looking out for us from the afterlife. Such a beautiful concept in many cultures. The gentle way Haru encourages her “child” to make that all important phone call is lovely. Influence can be subtle, you don’t know just how powerful one simple action, like making a well timed phone call, can be. “Yes, and it is also important to live in the world you are born into if you are to learn the lessons you are meant to learn.” This line…love it. So many lessons in this story, so well told. Thanks f...


Susan Catucci
00:32 Jun 11, 2023

Lovely feedback, Michelle - so appreciated. Thank you.


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Lily Finch
21:41 Jun 10, 2023

I saw parallels to many stories in this Susan. One that comes to mind is "It's A Wonderful Life." Advisors vs. the life of K pop stars. Nice job on bringing us back to the story of elders guiding the young ones along to reach better conclusions regardless of their differences. Nicely done. LF6


Susan Catucci
22:26 Jun 10, 2023

Hi Lily! I thought we can all learn from each other on some level (Teach Your Children) if you're open to the lesson, but I've always appreciated the role of tradition in family life, whether tribe, countrymen, whatever group or clan. If they do no harm, that sort of continuity can bring pleasure and comfort to a tough and sometimes unforgiving world.


Lily Finch
01:12 Jun 11, 2023



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Delbert Griffith
21:30 Jun 09, 2023

Loved it when you wrote the first draft, love it even more now. The other-wordly advisors offer a poignant contrast to the hurly-burly life of a K-pop star. The elders trying to help the young, the camaraderie of the old, despite their differences, was sweet and also entertaining. I see this as the age-old story of new versus old, and you told it with such verve and spirit (no pun intended, my friend). I think it's a wonderful, fantastic tale, Susan. Cheers, my friend!


Susan Catucci
21:49 Jun 09, 2023

Well, it's no wonder I always look forward to seeing your name; whether on a submission or feedback, it's always good stuff. I did read that the Korean culture does believe that their deceased ancestors remain earthbound for two or three generations. I can't think of any other reason they might hang around than to fulfill the role of wise family consultant. (And some advice is timeless, even though styles may change.) I love the notion of it and, frankly, these kids can use some help from above. Thanks mucho again, Del. :)


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Chris Campbell
03:14 Jun 09, 2023

Susan, The ghostly dialogue is reminiscent of It's a Wonderful Life, where the spirits monitor the living and try to guide them along the right path. I loved your line, "A good year’s crop, now that is cause for celebration." Too often, we are caught up in the pursuit of fame, riches, and immortality. Too often, we fail to achieve any of those things, but dreaming is not a bad thing, if you always listen to your practical side. No doubt, K-Pop artists want that life of adoration and fame; however, from what I've read, they frequently g...


Susan Catucci
19:37 Jun 09, 2023

Thanks for reading and your terrific feedback, Chris. I learned a lot researching K-Pop; I'd known about the rash of suicides of these amazingly talented 20-somethings and was curious what was behind it all. There's another drug, whether pill, drink, adoration, attention, money, etc. , it has to be almost impossible to resist fame and fortune at that young age. I remember growing up with a story in the family: my grandmother had an accomplished singing voice and she was featured in many local productions. Well, an agent wanted to take...


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Wally Schmidt
18:41 Jun 08, 2023

I don't know why but the story seems so quiet, so that when you have introduced some noise, it sounds really loud: the water running over the washcloth, removing the cap from the bottle of Soju, the belch, the song from the cellphone. In my mind I contrast that with the three who are waiting, understanding, supporting and nourishing. A beautifully told story.


Susan Catucci
19:12 Jun 08, 2023

Thanks for reading, Wally. I find the Korean culture to be full of contrast, but I suppose that could be said of any peoples. There's an old world grace blended with western influence. Endlessly fascinating. And along with all the cultural triumphs comes great tragedy in equal measure. I'm happy this came out quietly, because I intended it to be calm to a certain extent; graceful at least. Appreciate your words so much.


Wally Schmidt
20:47 Jun 08, 2023

I agree about the Korean culture being full of contrasts, and it is true that it could be said of may cultures, but I think it is exacerbated in Korea due to their rapid economic growth and embracing some parts of western culture. I taught summer school at a university in Daegu not long ago and the contrast between the old culture and the young is really rubbing up against each other. Throw in the government and employer demands on the young and it can sometimes be a hot mess. If you followed the recent attempt of the govt to raise the work...


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Mary Bendickson
17:44 Jun 07, 2023

Another soul searching take.


Susan Catucci
19:44 Jun 08, 2023

Mary, thank you. Yes, this one really spoke to me. The price of fame. Tragic and, oh, so human. :)


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Mike Panasitti
15:16 Jun 15, 2023

Intricately plotted and meticulously researched. Well done.


Susan Catucci
15:37 Jun 15, 2023

That is some wonderful praise, Mike - thanks so much.


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