Spring’s End: one of the most anticipated annual festivals to conclude spring and commence summer. The name is universal for all of the seasons’ festivals — Summer’s End, Autumn’s End, Winter’s End. Not very creative, but alas. It doesn’t make the food taste any less good, nor make the games any less fun, which are the prime components of the festival by Sooyoung and Yeri’s standards.
“How did they make this sandwich even better than last year?” Sooyoung muffles through a mouthful of bread, golden yam, and sauce of dragon cherry dribbling down the corner of her lips. Her words are barely coherent when paired with the jolly music playing by the band not a distance off. “I didn’t even believe it could get any better.”
“Slow down,” Jisoo laughs as Yeri takes aim with the slingshot at the row of straw dummies. “You’re going to choke.”
“Not before I ace this game and she fulfills her end of the bet,” Yeri quips, tilting her head and closing one eye to focus in on her target.
“Over my dead body,” Sooyoung retorts, inhaling yet another bite and one bite away from finishing her third sandwich. “I can’t even hit the bullseye on all of them and we all know I have the best aim.”
Someone claps and averts all their attention. The man running the booth indignantly points a thumb behind the three. “There’s a line if you haven’t noticed.”
“They can wait,” Yeri mutters, regarding the dozen children with frowns and pouts on their faces. “I need to get that cranberry fudge.”
“Just make it yourself.”
“But you make it better and you never want to give me some! You know I’m bad at baking.”
“Just take the shot!” Jisoo urges through grit teeth, offering apologetic faces to their audience. “Everyone is staring.”
Yeri scoffs and flips her hair over her shoulder. “Let them watch me get an ace.”
Sooyoung snickers, “In your dreams —”
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. At the center of each dummy lies the dark imprint of the stones shot with deadly accuracy. Yeri puffs her chest while both Jisoo’s and Sooyoung’s jaws are left ajar, Sooyoung thankfully consuming all of her sandwich before then.
“Pay up,” Yeri beckons to Sooyoung with a smug smile as the man hands her a crochet doll of a red mushroom.
“There’s no way,” Sooyoung mumbles, dumbstruck, as they finally walk away from the game booth, much to the children's joy.
Yeri, walking backward, arrogantly shakes her mushroom doll in front of Sooyoung’s face. A couple is quick to hop out of her way, the woman sending them a glare. “Should’ve just eaten your sandwich. I am now lord of aim and you can’t say otherwise. I now demand ten pounds of cranberry fudge.”
“Ten? That’s a whole week of baking.”
“You made the bet.”
“Yeah you did,” Jisoo agrees when Sooyoung throws her a pained expression requesting assistance. “To be fair, if Yeri didn’t win, then she’d have to do your laundry until the end of summer.”
“Yep.” Yeri bobs her head, flashing a wink at Jisoo. “Be thankful I didn’t make you my servant.”
“I’m so grateful,” Sooyoung grumbles.
As Sooyoung sulks and Yeri bounces with each step, Jisoo falls behind when her eye catches the cartoonish painting of a glass ball above the flap of a tent. On each of the cream-colored tents scattered around the festival grounds is a wooden sign labeled with the name of the attraction and a fun image to convey said attraction. “Divination,” it says in black blocky letters above the ball.
Jisoo looks over her shoulder at the sound of her name and sees Sooyoung and Yeri jogging toward her.
“We thought you wandered off,” Sooyoung sighs, “and left us. We took great offense to that, you know? Thought we were too boring for you.”
“Who’s we?” Yeri counters. “I was just worried. Anyway, what’s this?”
Jisoo turns back to the tent upon the pair’s curiosities. “It’s the fortune-telling tent.”
“Predicts the future. Joohyun says the Elder runs it.”
Sooyoung hums, “You look like you want to check it out.” She hooks onto Jisoo’s arm. “Come on, let’s go!”
Yeri laughs as she trails behind them. “You just want to see if you find love.”
“We’re doing this for Jisoo.” Sooyoung sticks out her tongue and lifts the tent’s flap.
Jasmine aroma, red drapes, purple brocade tapestry, and a cloud of faint smoke from snubbed wicks set an arcane atmosphere within the cotton canvas. In the middle sits Gong Yoo, crisscrossed and poised straight on a purple cushion behind a low table. He perks up when the three walk in.
“Greetings Miss Park and Miss Kims,” he says and gestures to the long cushion in front of the table. “Take a seat.”
“Hello Elder,” they chime in unison. Jisoo is forced to sit in the middle of the two due to Sooyoung’s tugging, much to her dismay.
“Here to have your fortune told?”
“Yep,” Yeri pipes and points over Jisoo’s head to Sooyoung. “She wants to know if she’ll ever find love.”
“I said that’s not what we’re here for!” Sooyoung whines and pats Jisoo’s shoulder. “Jisoo wanted to check this out.”
Everyone’s eyes turn to Jisoo who feels exceptionally small under Gong Yoo’s, that perturbing red richer today and swirling like a pool of blood. “Miss Kim? You want your fortune told?”
Jisoo glances between Sooyoung and Yeri, the two also waiting for her response, before nodding timidly. “I’m just curious.”
“Alright,” he twists around and grabs a round object covered with a brown cloth. Heaving it on the table, he uncloaks it and reveals a crystal ball — a sphere of pure glass, spotless, perched on the curved tips of a rich mahogany stand. “That’s the basis of divination after all: curiosity. Curious about the future, curious about what it can hold, what we can do, what will happen to us, what we should brace for. The question is, what are you curious about?”
The reflection distorts Jisoo’s face, stretching it in all directions like a fisheye, and drags her friends’ faces long. There’s really nothing extraordinary about it; it’s just glass. How can the future be told with this? “I don’t know,” she answers.
“You came in here with nothing at all? Not even an ounce of something?”
Jisoo’s bottom lip rests between her teeth. It’s a lie to say she isn’t curious about anything; it’s a matter of fact of saying it without spilling the whole truth. “No,” she asserts. “I’m not curious about anything.”
Gong Yoo regards her for a moment too long. The silence is thick as he scrutinizes her. Even Sooyoung and Yeri aren’t too sure how to react, opting to exchange nervous glances at each other instead. Red hue flares and calms and he smiles kindly.
“That’s okay,” he says. “Most humans seeking information about their future don’t entirely have exact questions about what they’re looking for. It’s a case of so many wonders that can’t be boiled down to one question, wouldn’t you say so?”
“Okay.” He rests his hands palm up on the table on either side of the crystal ball. “May I take your hands?”
Again, Jisoo looks at Sooyoung and Yeri for reassurance. They both have that wide-eyed look, subtly nudging their heads to encourage her. She sighs internally before resting her palms on top of Gong Yoo’s. Neither hot nor cold, his hands are large enough that Jisoo’s hands dwindle to a child’s in comparison.
“It’ll be a little difficult to pinpoint your future exactly, but I’ll try my best. Now follow my instructions carefully.”
“Close your eyes.”
Her eyes close.
“Take a deep breath.”
A deep exhale escapes her lips.
“Open your eyes.”
The tent disappears and it’s just darkness.
Either that or Sooyoung and Yeri are messing with Jisoo and secretly relocated Gong Yoo and her into a black room, which seems implausible considering the two pranksters aren’t beside her anymore and they aren’t quick enough to pull such a stunt. Everything has vanished — even the table — and it’s just Jisoo and Gong Yoo holding hands, suspended in the vast nothingness. She can’t even feel the floor beneath her. Is she floating? But it doesn’t entice the same sensation as when Jennie carried her in the air. There’s a phantom of a floor, her instincts tell her so but not being able to distinguish the dimensions of wherever this is is rather unsettling.
“Miss Kim Jisoo,” Gong Yoo says, his mellow voice echoing from everywhere and nowhere, coexisting near and far. It tickles her ears. His red eyes glow intensely, pulsing like a raging fire. “Your future is hard to see. It’s shrouded by a thick fog and I sense a strong power within it. It won’t let me see through.”
“In order for me to see your future, you need to clear it.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” There’s no fog as far as Jisoo can see — just Gong Yoo and the black and the red.
“Let me in.”
“I don’t —” Jisoo swallows thickly, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.”
When she tries to pull her hands away, he grasps her wrists tight. His iron grip stings. She sharply inhales, the pain crushing her bones and stopping all the blood rush to her fingers. Her brain can’t process the affliction before Gong Yoo’s thumb digs deeper into her skin. She bites hard on her lip to contain the whimper, the taste of iron at her tongue.
“Tell me, does the full moon mean anything to you?”
“What?” Jisoo squeaks. “What do you mean?”
“The full moon, Jisoo. Any significance?”
“Of course not.”
“Jisoo, you have to be truthful with me if you want to know your future.”
“I don’t want to know anymore,” she quivers, continuing to tug to no avail. Futile because fear has rendered her feeble — too powerless to pull away, too frightened to even speak over her breath. “You’re scaring me.”
“Jisoo,” Gong Yoo repeats more urgently. “It’s important for you to see your future, to know what you’re going to face.”
“Stop — ouch!” She writhes when a bomb of needles pierce into the center of her palms, races up her arms, and explodes all over her body, puncturing every organ inside out. Each breath digs them deeper, but she can’t help taking in large amounts as her lungs are lacerated, the agony talons around . The knocking grows louder by the second, each knock a wave of fire eating away at her skin and creating an opening for a claw to rip its way through her temple. She can feel it digging into the bone of her skull — poking, prodding, curious. Its energy is a hot rod so unmatched and burning her alive.
“The fog is lifting,” he muses. His gaze, despite being fixated on her, is not quite fixated on her. Glassy and milky as if seeing into her. “I can see. I can see.”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“— please let me go —”
Suddenly, the claw seizes Jisoo’s mind, sinking each of its thousand talons into the flesh of her brain all at once. Tears brim her eyes as her mind is crushed like puny tin, the pain assassinating any more words and rendering her a sputtering shell. Gong Yoo grabs her head and forces her to look at him.
Or rather, her future. He’s flickering; whatever part of him that disappears shows a fragment of what will be.
Red. Blood. So much blood. Blood on green, running like a river.
A tree. Wonderful, breathtaking colors. Nothing that she has ever seen before. At its base is a void of ancient energy. It demands to be fed.
Knock knock knock —
Two unfamiliar girls. Sun and moon, they exist as each other’s opposites.
— knock knock knock knock knock knock knock —
— knock —
— knock. Knock.
It slows down into silence. The claw releases Jisoo from its prison and she gasps for air. But Gong Yoo is looking at her with absolute pity, ghostly pale and the flame in his eyes snuffed out.
“Tragedy,” he whispers, but the voice is not his. Not mellow, but something more eldritch. “Brace yourself.”
From behind him, the black shatters into a million glass shards. Thick shadow tentacles sprout from the fissure and wrap themselves around Gong Yoo. Jisoo opens to shout but she can’t hear herself over the moans bursting her eardrums. She backs away from the surging cocoon of what used to be the Elder, but the shadows come for her too. The tips pierce into her and pump her veins black and wither her skin to paper. She tries to twist away, but there’s no way out as the nothingness consumes them both.
Everything is too bright; it hurts to open her eyes. Jisoo swallows, but there’s a lump from her parched throat. As her senses become clearer, she can identify a wet rag on her forehead that is ice cold on her burning skin. The light doesn’t help the throbbing headache, but she forces her eyes open to the thatch ceiling and four faces. A few blinks dissipate vertigo until the pieces form together and the faces become recognizable.
“Jisoo?” Joohyun’s hair is tied into a bun, but a stray strand tickles Jisoo’s face when she comes closer. Her voice is muffled like it’s underwater.
Jisoo’s tongue swipes her chapped lips. “What happened?”
“Can someone give her some water?” Joohyun asks. Sooyoung leaves Jisoo’s line of vision. “How are you feeling Jisoo?”
“Like crap. What happened?”
Joohyun clenches her jaw while Yeri and Junmyeon glance at one another nervously. Wait, why is Junmyeon here? There are so many questions swarming around her head, worsening the headache.
“You,” Joohyun in air between her teeth, “passed out at Spring’s End. Junmyeon had to carry you home.”
“Is the festival over?”
“It was over five days ago.”
“Five days…?” Panic jolts Jisoo upright, the rag falling onto the blanket on her lap. The sudden shift of elevation makes her dizzy, but she shakes it off. “What did the moon look like last night?”
“The moon?” Joohyun frowns, perplexed. She hushes to the other two, “Uhm, what did the moon look like guys?”
“It looked about half?” Junmyeon guesses, the green strands of his windswept hair. “I’m not entirely sure. I was watering my plants.”
“You water your plants at night?” Yeri comments in disbelief.
“It’s therapeutic. You should try it sometime.”
“I don’t own plants.”
“I’ll give you some.”
That means Jisoo didn’t miss the full moon. She releases a deep breath of relief, her heart relaxing as does her shoulders. While Junmyeon explains plants to a clearly disinterested Yeri, Jisoo observes her forearms. The veins are the normal blue and nothing sinister; her skin is still intact and supple. It may just be a nightmare, but the lingering, scorching feeling says otherwise. Sooyoung returns with a bowl of water and Jisoo takes it graciously. Water has never tasted so good. With quenched, everything becomes a little more discernible. Like the fear in Joohyun’s hazel eyes — an emotion uncharacteristic on the woman’s face because she has always put up a brave front and Jisoo has never seen her so scared until this point.
What is she so scared about?
“Take some of your medicine with that,” Joohyun says, quick to shove some of the black pills into Jisoo’s hand. “You haven’t taken it while you were out.”
As Joohyun ushers everyone out of the room, Jisoo stares at the four pills in her palm. She never had a problem taking them, but this time, instinct tells her to not. A presence of eyes weighs on her, and she looks up to meet Rabbit’s inquisitive gaze through the glass tank.
Rabbit wouldn’t snitch on her. He’s just a tortoise, after all.
After rolling the pills around a few more times in her hand, Jisoo tosses them out the window.