Once upon a time, there used to live seven young, precious girls. Sisters, all living in a big mansion. They used to play with paper airplanes and study the little animals of the farms, but they all worked hard to earn their food. Each one of them had a peculiarity that made them shine. A virtue, perhaps.
Prudence, Courage, Justice, Love, Hope, Humilty, Diligence: each of the girls mastered one of these virtues. But soon, the darkness took over their souls.
The first sister became gluttonous,
The second luxurious,
The third wrathful.
The fourth was swept over by envy,
The fifth instead by pride,
And the sixth, too attached to her possessions,
turned into a greedy monster,
That only took and desired always more.
Only the seventh girl, the youngest, escaped their asylum before it was too late.
Or, at least, she tried.
The oldest of her sisters tried to get rid of her body,
The second to burn her tongue,
The fourth tried to guilt trip her into staying,
The fifth tried to trap her inside the mansion,
And the youngest of her older sisters
Threw away all her belongings,
But it was the third oldest of her sisters
who grabbed an old piece of rusty metal, and pushed it in her chest
until it hit her heart, ceasing its innocent beat.
Legend says that, since then, the youngest sister’s soul has been traveling around, looking for a girl who resembles her enough to set her body free from the mansion, and to set free the souls of her sisters. Nobody to this day has succeeded in the mission. Some even say that the third sister killed the rest of her family, and that her grave is hidden… right behind you!»
Gahyeon screamed loudly as Dahyun suddenly pointed behind her, shouting her last few words. «DAHYUN! Don’t do that! You scared me!». Chaeyoung and Dayoung started laughing, holding their stomachs as they fell backwards on the warm ground. «That was the point!» Dahyun snickered. Gahyeon looked behind her, deep into the dark woods beside the park. «A friend of mine told me that it’s hidden between the trees, so full of moss you can barely tell it apart from the plant life. And they say, there isn’t even a name or a photo on it, just a sentence that reads “May her wrathful mind find the Divine ease”, eerie right?» Dahyun spoke again. Gahyeon looked back at her friends, grabbing some snacks and changing the subject quickly. She didn’t want to talk about creepy things during the dead of night in a quiet park… she didn’t even know how they ended up talking about that in the first place.
The moon was almost at its waning gibbous phase, and the few visible stars stung the black sky like pins. It was close to midnight, but a warm wind still rushed through the humid leaves. July was close to its end, and Gahyeon had never enjoyed the summer break more. Soon her last year of high school would start; she knew that, after her graduation, she wanted to move to a big city to pursue her singing career, maybe become an idol even, just like she had promised to… her, when they were children. She knew that after graduation day she probably would have never seen her friends again. But it was okay, after all, goodbyes are just a part of life.
The girls’ eyes were beginning to close on their own, tired after a long day of bathing in the river, singing and enjoying their teenage years. After one last supposed legend about their small town, they all agreed to go back to their homes and get some sleep. They would meet each other again the next day, anyways.
Chaeyoung and Dayoung both lived close to the park, so they walked together, while Dahyun gave Gahyeon a lift in her car. Dahyun was the closest person she had to a best friend. They were in the same class and, even if Dahyun was one year older, they went along really well, they even dropped honorifics. The car ride was pretty quiet, as both the girls were tired. «See you tomorrow» Dahyun said, before dropping Gahyeon in front of her porch. «As always!»
Her parents had already gone to sleep, so everything was dark. After tip-toeing to her room quickly, she plunged into bed, turned the fan on and put her laptop on her legs. She hadn’t stopped thinking about that stupid scary story Dahyun told her all the way home, but… something else was bugging her. It was midnight. It was the 27th of July.
It was Handong’s death anniversary.
It had happened only three years prior. They hung out as usual the day before and then- she just jumped. From the mall’s roof. Nobody even knew how she got there in the first place, but she did. Three years.
Handong was her step-cousin: she had entered the Lee household when Gahyeon was still going to middle school, after being adopted by her aunt. They immediately got along well. Handong was kind, but she was often… too self-conscious. Something often brought her mood down.
A really smart girl. She learned Korean quickly, but still skipped a school year so as not to have any problem with the language barrier. Gahyeon remembered when Handong became maybe too old to hang out with her and she started hanging out with one of her classmates, Yoohyeon, instead. Kim Yoohyeon, the school’s popular, pretty, intelligent girl. Everyone loved her, but Gahyeon. She couldn’t deny that she had always been a little jealous of Handong, and she didn’t want to “share” her with anyone else, let alone Kim Yoohyeon, but it wasn’t her life so what could she do? She knew that Yoohyeon wasn’t a good presence in Handong’s life. She knew that Yoohyeon was so confident to the point that she would always snicker some degrading jokes to her friends, including Handong. Gahyeon really did not understand how she was ever so popular. Was… well, Kim Yoohyeon wasn’t a problem in her life anymore. She was dead. Just days before her graduation, the tragedy of their school.
Gahyeon shook her head firmly. She was not going to think about this at midnight. She would already be sad enough the rest of the day, no need to lose hours of sleep over something that was done and gone. She put on a drama on her computer, the earbuds in her ears, fan on maximum, and she let the complex plot distract her mind from unwanted thoughts. Just her, her laptop, and a pitch black room.
Through me one goes into the town of woe,
through me one goes into eternal pain,
through me among the people that are lost.
Gahyeon did not remember falling asleep. And she didn’t know why she woke up. She was having a nice dream and the fan had cooled down enough the temperature in her room. Maybe, it was even too cool. She adjusted herself on her pillow, sitting up, and she wondered if the static on her computer was part of the drama. She tried to move the cursor, press some keys, even held the power button for a few seconds hoping it would turn off but it didn’t. The static stood there. «Oh, great, just great» she murmured. A broken laptop was definitely what she didn’t need. She closed it and put it on her nightstand, taking a quick glance at the clock. It was 3:47 am. She groaned and laid back in bed, failing miserably at going back to sleep. Something was off, something was odd: the static on the computer, the clock that still hadn’t moved from 3:47, the autumn-like cold, and all her turning on the bed and the paranoia came to an end when a voice echoed in her room.
The voice called her.
Gahyeon knew that voice.
She didn’t move, and after a few seconds of wondering whether she had heard it right or not, the voice spoke again. «Wake up, Gahyeon» it said. She was sure, she was sure it was her voice, she could recognize it out of a million others. It was hers. Gahyeon turned slowly, her eyes wide open to make out a figure standing at the end of her bed in the dark of the room, lighted up only by the static of the computer that somehow was open again. And there she was.
Her long face, the smooth skin, the straight nose, her cute lips, everything was in place, except for one thing. Her eyes were closed, and Gahyeon couldn’t tell if the black lines were just her eyelashes or else, but she was sure.
Handong was the one standing at the end of her bed.
Gahyeon wanted to scream, but not a sound came out of her mouth. That was a sick dream, just a sick, sick dream. She knew what to do: pinching her arm as hard as she could. A little squeak of pain made Handong turn her head immediately towards the source of the sound, and Gahyeon felt her piercing gaze even if her eyes were still shut. She did not wake up. She pinched her arm again, then her leg, but every time her heart just started beating faster and faster and Handong got closer and she did not wake up.
«What are you doing here?!» she finally exclaimed, as the other girl, who had now bent down, was just inches away from her face. She had no expression, and Gahyeon could see the movement of her eyes behind her eyelids. Handong stood up quickly, almost startled by the sudden question, but her composure remained stiff and cold. She offered her hand, and with a monotone, low voice she said «You need to come with me».
Handong’s hand was colder than expected on Gahyeon’s skin, but she held tightly the younger girl, walking her confidently through a house that Gahyeon didn’t know. It was pitch black outside but somehow a grey gleam managed to get through the broken windows, creating a game of shadows that made the youngest shiver. «Where are we? » she asked. «Nowhere» was the answer. «Where are you taking me? » Gahyeon asked again. Once more, the answer was a cold, ominous «You will understand as we walk». And so they walked silently through a long, seemingly never-ending hallway, towards a single open door. «You are the chosen one, » Handong spoke, «but I had no voice in this. It was the fate that decided. I know you can do this». Every sentence made Gahyeon more and more confused. «There is no chance of failure, you have to do this. Every girl you will see is a sinner, stuck in this hell for the way they behaved while on Earth. But you, you have what they need to regain forgiveness. I trust you». Gahyeon thought about her words. That was an extremely elaborate dream, for sure. «What about you? Why are you here? » she asked. «I will be your guardian. I will guide and protect you here» Handong answered. Pretty weird, Gahyeon thought, considering that her eyes were closed. Now that she could see them better, she realized that they weren’t just closed, they were sewed so that they could not be opened. Some dry blood surrounded her eyes. Gahyeon remembered just how pretty they were, how much she would pay to see them once again… but not like this.
Handong suddenly stopped, right in front of a door.
It was a wooden door, and a weak orange light filtered through the key hole. Handong turned her head to Gahyeon, looking at her, speaking an unspoken language, and she opened the door.