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Jihye Lore Story (Chapter 1): A Child is Born

A star twinkled brightly in the night sky and the sound of cicadas filled the air with its jarring hum. The night could not have been more inauspicious. In the thick, humid, summer air a midwife did her duty while a concerned husband paced outside in the hall, a place that he had been relegated to after it had become apparent that he was making the mother nervous with his anxiety in the delivery room.

A star twinkled brightly in the night sky and the sound of cicadas filled the air with its jarring hum. The night could not have been more inauspicious. In the thick, humid, summer air a midwife did her duty while a concerned husband paced outside in the hall, a place that he had been relegated to after it had become apparent that he was making the mother nervous with his anxiety in the delivery room. The parents had tried for a long time to conceive, and the mother faced shame from the community. Not to her face, of course, no it was the hushed comments and pitiful glances, the silence when she entered a room, and the mysterious accidental lack of invites to events. It had been hard on them, dealing with the heartache of not having the child they wanted whilst also fending off the blame and pressure from outside. But then, their blessing had come. For nine months the mother had cloistered herself at home while the father arranged visits from the finest caretakers he could find to ensure her safety and a successful pregnancy. This was their miracle baby, a gift from god.

As the dawn light slowly began to spill over the horizon, a baby wailed. The father paused in his pacing and looked up, startled. The midwife poked her head out and nodded. Relief rushed across the father’s face and he ran into the room to his wife’s side. Collapsing beside her he stroked her hair back from her face, kissing her forehead, tears streaming down his face. He looked up at the midwife who was holding a baby, swaddled in a sunflower-coloured blanket and held close to her chest. She leant down and placed the baby into the mother’s arms and the father, beside them beamed lovingly at the baby and then back at this wife. Their family was finally whole. 

With her fiery red hair and spirited personality, Jihye had brought immense joy to her parents’ lives since her birth. On her fifth birthday, her parents had planned their usual birthday extravaganza, The love they felt for the gift they saw Jihye as spilled over into an extravagant party. The whole town was invited, Jihye was showered with gifts and praise, and enough food to feed a small army was prepared. This year, however, tragedy would strike. A stray dog, half-mad from hunger and desperation would find its way to the party, smelling the food. Jihye, who was in the corner sneaking some snacks would try to pet it, catching the eye of her father across the park. Unfortunately, this display of affection would be seen by the poor dog as aggression and before her father could reach her the dog would attack. And there the tragic story would end if something terrible hadn’t happened.

As the dog pounced, slathering jowls open, Jihye’s brain entered fight or flight mode. Flight was futile, fight was futile. Fortunately, Jihye’s brain knew a way to even up the odds and when Jihye opened her eyes, they were different. Now fight was an option. The small child was no longer there and in her place, a fox stood, teeth bared, eyes glowing with rage, and nine tails held up on alert. The fox chased the dog, and the half-starved dog knew this was too risky of a fight, running off into the distance. By now many people were watching the fox’s strange behaviours and backing away. Only Jihye’s father had seen what had happened moments before as his beloved daughter had changed before his eyes into the creature before them. Hushed whispers started. The crowd weren’t stupid they could see the nine tails and they knew this was no ordinary fox. They began to back away and the fox appeared confused. Looking one last time at Jihye’s father, the fox turned and fled toward the girl’s house. The father followed hastily. Eventually, the people at the party calmed and resumed the festivities, not noticing the missing little girl, all the while rumours and muttering abound. Somewhere in the village was a gumiho, and debate was as to who it could be. When the father returned to the house, asleep on the floor, was his beloved daughter, a small scratch from a dog on her leg. His wife walked to meet him in the doorway, looking at her daughter and back at her horrified husband in confusion. She tried to speak to him, to find out what was wrong, but everything was like a dream around him and he remained frozen, unable to respond. The mother walked into the room and picked up the sleeping child, carrying her up the stairs to bed. Still unaware that their lives would never be the same again. Once she had left, the father broke down, his heart-wrenching howl almost audible to the partygoers.

As Jihye grew older, she noticed a change in her parents’ behaviour. The once warm and affectionate expressions of love now seemed hollow and insincere. They tried their best to continue loving her as before, but the curse had cast a shadow upon their hearts. As the years passed, the family tried to hide Jihye’s secret from everyone. She, too, attempted to control her powers, but her struggles mixed with her increasing isolation led to her being labelled a delinquent. Authority figures constantly reprimanded her, and her passion for school waned. Jihye felt the growing distance between her and her family and the bright, curious child of before began to disappear and be replaced by a  lonely, anxious, and somewhat reclusive child. Her parents, fearing the discovery of the truth, did nothing to stop this, being inwardly thankful for their daughter’s choice to isolate herself. 

Then, on Jihye’s 7th birthday, everything changed. Jihye’s mother welcomed another child into the world, a boy. The family cautiously began to heal. The mother and father began to be doting parents again. A vibrant child’s laugh filled the house. The family began to function again, and Jihye became almost invisible. Like a secret that, if ignored, would just go away. Her parents still took care of her and made superficial displays of affection towards her but she was encouraged to continue isolating herself, and her mother could not even bring herself to hold Jihye. Her parents had one more child a year later and to outsiders, the family seemed like it was from a fairytale. Two parents, two sons, and so much joy. No one would have even noticed the daughter. The curse. The blight. The shame.

Jihye spent most of her time in her own room, quietly focusing and trying to shift her shape at will. Strong emotions affected her ability to maintain her fully human form, and while she rarely became a fox any more, Her eyes, tails, and ears would appear when she was angry. To fight this she worked on bottling up her feelings, keeping her rage neatly in a box. She knew her family needed her identity to never be discovered, and she heard the whispered rumours about herself. 

On her sixteenth birthday, burdened by the weight of her curse and feeling isolated within her own family, Jihye made a momentous decision. She would leave. Leave her family, leave her town, leave the place that reminded her every day that she was the only thing holding her loved ones back. She had accepted that she would never hear her mother’s voice again without an aura of sadness and loss. She had accepted that her father could no longer look at her. They had her brothers now, and they could be happy. She was the burden holding everything back and she could fix that. She could fix everything and make everyone happy. All she had to do was leave. She grabbed a bag and threw her clothes and money into it. She packed one of her dad’s pocket knives and grabbed some food from the cupboard. She considered leaving a note, but what would she say, any words she left would just be a reminder of the wound she inflicted on the family. Gathering her things, she walked out of the house and towards the train station to get out of town. She didn’t even hesitate to look back at the house. As dawn light slipped over the horizon, There was a brief flash of tails and ears, gone as Jihye shifted them back away. No longer did she need to hide.

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