The Lost Fox (part 3)Fox Bread
I meant to update last Friday, but forgot with all holiday stuff going on. Happy New Year!
It’s rare that Matthew and Jimin go into town—maybe once a week at most—so when they make a trip into town just days after their last, Jimin’s puzzled by it. Matthew tells the fox that he’s taking her to a ‘public library’ today and it takes a while for the man to explain the difference between such a place compared to a bookstore.
Excited to be in a building that is apparently ‘bursting at the seams with knowledge,’ Matthew eventually leads them past shelf after shelf of books towards two seats in front of a computer. Jimin has seen the tiny TV-like device in many places before, but has never seen what contents cause humans such fixation to the machines.
She watches as Matthew asks someone to assist them. He grumbles a lot under his breath about ‘stupid computers,’ and tells the fox that, ‘things have changed so damn much.’ She wonders if the isolating mountains are the cause of his frustrations. After some assistance, Jimin watches as Matthew opens up a box on screen and asks her, “Alright. Where do you need to go?”
The fox is very confused when Matthew gestures for her to use the board of letters in front. “I don’t…what?” Jimin asks, unsure of what to do with the electronic contraption.
“The name of the bakery,” Matthew says.
He moves a round object next to the computer, which in turn, moves a cursor on the screen. Jimin watches him click onto a bar labeled ‘search.’
“Type in the bakery name.”
Jimin blinks a few times, fascinated by the device. She then uses her index to peck at the keys, spelling out the shop name.
Her eyes pop open in surprise as dozens upon dozens of red indicators show up all over the human map on screen.
Is this a device that can…search for Minjeong like this?!
Jimin’s never even closely looked at a human map of their world before. She can map out the whole realm in her mind with the way that she memorized spiritual energy patterns, but it doesn’t look anything like the green and blue chunks that she sees onscreen.
“W-what does this mean?” the fox inquires, gesturing at all of the red indicators on the human map.
“Geez,” Matthew sighs, frowning at the endless list. “Try searching the city instead,” he suggests.
Jimin had briefly felt a rush of hope surge through her upon discovering this powerful human invention, but she feels it swiftly fade away when she doesn’t know the name of Minjeong’s city. Again, she had only bothered to map it out in her mind the way that she had always done as gumiho. She memorized locations based on their spiritual energy.
“I don’t know,” Jimin sadly mumbles. “I can’t remember….”
For all the time she had played a woman with amnesia, Jimin feels a sick sense of karma punishing her now when she truly can’t remember the location details of Minjeong’s bakery in the way that humans identify locations.
Matthew sighs with great exasperation. “You serious?”
Jimin keeps her bowed as she shakes her head.
“We came all the way out here and you don’t even know what city that you need to go back to?” Matthew snaps, feeling his infamous temper rising. “Are you kidding me? It takes hours to get here. Don’t you think that I have better things to do than be here?!”
Jimin perks up.
The train station. She had seen the signage of it a couple of times. Her fingers clumsily hit the keyboard and she has to retype the station name a few times when she keeps hitting the wrong keys.
This time when she clicks search, only one red pin pops up on the world map.
“There!” Jimin shouts, earning a couple of harsh shushes around the library. She eagerly grabs at Matthew’s jacket and continues to excitedly tap her finger against the monitor. “There!” she repeats.
Matthew stares at the screen for a long time with his bushy brows knit together in confusion. “How…how’d you even get here?” he mutters under his breath. “Jimin, that’s…halfway around the world.”
The fox eagerly nods, body absolutely surging with joy. She had given up hope long ago and had already accepted that she would never be able to find the baker again. But there she is. There’s a human map to guide Jimin back!
“How do I get there?” the fox excitedly asks. “Show me!”
“I…” With great sympathy in his eyes, Matthew shakes his head. “I-I can’t, kid.”
Jimin stills. Surely she just misheard. “Please help! Minjeong is waiting for me!”
“You don’t get it,” Matthew hisses, trying to keep his voice down in the library. “You have no money to pay for a flight that expensive. Jimin, you don’t even have ID—you’re a ing ghost! You can’t fly without a passport!”
The fox keeps shaking her head. What’s wrong? She found Minjeong. She just needs help getting over there. “I don’t understand. Wh-what do you mean?”
“I-I…I can’t help you.” Matthew doesn’t sugarcoat the truth for the fox. “You…can’t go back to Minjeong.”
Jimin feels like she’s had her heart ripped out and stuffed back into her chest over and over again. It’s growing exhausting. At some point in her time in these mountains, she had grown to accept that this was her life now and that there would be no going back. But when Matthew had introduced the map search to her, for a fleeting moment, Jimin was so sure that she was going to finally return to Minjeong. She was so filled with excitement and hope and it was absolutely gut-wrenching to have to all get ripped away just as fast as it came.
The fox is growing tired of trying—even of just dreaming and hoping.
She wishes she could just erase Minjeong from her memories.
As a hand lands on her shoulder, Jimin perks up from helping set the dinner table.
“Hi, Sam,” Jimin politely greets, giving Matthew’s friend a smile in return.
For a man who has a nickname as mean as ‘Mad Matty,’ Jimin is surprised by how many friends that the man does have in his life. It makes sense to the fox that someone so sweet and inviting like Minjeong is so popular, but the baker’s and Matthew’s personalities are nothing alike. But even with the distance between the houses on the mountain, people still make the journey to Matthew’s house for dinner every now and then.
Matthew only seems to have males as friends though, so Jimin finds it mildly amusing that she so often is in the company of men—men who are so different from the kind that she used to seek out.
She misses the company of women though.
Like Matthew, Sam is also a tall, built male, but he has a much better physique when he doesn’t have a belly like Matthew’s. His skin is chocolate-brown and his hair is short and curly with wisps of gray. The two men often spend their time talking about harvesting their cannabis—Jimin finally learned the names of the popular mountain plants—so the fox also assumes that Sam is a talented farmer. He’s also a talented cook too. Far better than the plain, charred meats that Matthew cooks (though Jimin tries not to internally complain too much when she doesn’t have to go to bed starving).
Dinner tonight is roast chicken accompanied by a freshly tossed salad and loaf of sourdough that Jimin had prepared the day before. Jimin never used to care for vegetables before, but Sam in particular tosses them with a sweet, tangy dressing that the fox is rather fond of.
Halfway through eating her chicken , Sam curiously asks Jimin, “Hey girl, how long have you been here now?”
“Oh,” the fox pauses and tries to count the days in her mind, but honestly…everything has become such a blur for her now.
Between Alicia and Evan, and with Matthew, the days have all been relatively similar. Eat, sleep, work on the plants, shower, and then back to sleep. On more exciting days, Jimin gets to accompany Matthew into town, but those days are scarce.
“I don’t know,” she honestly replies.
“She showed up about five or six months ago,” Matthew answers for the fox.
Jimin frowns. It’s been almost half a year now? That’s…too long. She sinks in her seat a little as she pokes another piece of chicken onto her fork before mindlessly pushing it around in the gravy streaks on her plate.
“Time flies, huh?” Sam says. “You plan on staying here? Or just coming in and out for lanonsaes work?”
Jimin furrows her brows, no quite understanding what the man is asking. “I don’t know,” she plainly replies. “Nowhere else to go.”
“Don’t got no one waiting for you somewhere?”
Jimin winces. She knows that Sam has no idea about the weighted intention behind his simple question, but she feels it drag her heart down into her stomach. She has no idea even how to explain her predicament to the two humans when she can barely keep pace with simple conversation, so she just tilts her head from side to side in a non-committable answer.
“You know…you never told us how you got here,” Matthew suddenly says. “How did you end up here?”
Surprised by the topic, Jimin chews on her bite of roasted chicken as she stares at the man, contemplating on how to reply. ‘I cut off my gumiho tails and plummeted back into the mortal realm.’ It doesn’t show on her lips, but she smiles internally, mildly amused by the ridiculous answer that she could give the human—who probably doesn’t even know what a gumiho is.
“Do you understand what I said?” Matthew asks.
“Yes,” Jimin softly replies. “I…can’t remember well,” she decides to lie.
“I heard they found you in the woods, passed out. No ID, no shoes, no luggage, no nothin’…” Matthew cautiously brings up.
Jimin raises her brows and stares across the table at the man. In all their months together, Matthew’s never been a chatty fellow. He’s never been like Minjeong who was always bursting at the seams with friendly conversation. So Jimin finds his curiosity odd this evening.
“Yes, it’s true,” she replies, knowing that she’s not really giving him the answers that he wants.
Matthew chews on his supper for a little longer, contemplating another thought before he eventually does prod her with another question. “Attol young klof come here to make some good money and live like an waltuo. Is that why you came here?”
Jimin shakes her head. “I…don’t remember how I got here.”
“You don’t remember how the hell you got here. You don’t smoke, you don’t drink…” Matthew says, like he’s rolling through checkboxes in his mind. “It must have been hard getting clean.”
“You were a eiknuj, weren’t you?”
“What’s a junkie?” Jimin asks, unfamiliar with the word.
“Come on, Matty, you dun’ gotta go accusing the girl of something like that,” Sam sighs.
“Look, I ain’t judging! I was just wondering—”
“What’s a junkie?” Jimin interrupts, asking again.
“A junkie is a person who is addicted to drugs,” Sam explains for the fox.
Jimin briefly lifts her brows, mildly amused that the analogy isn’t too far removed from her outrageous circumstance. She really is trying to get clean from an old, terrible habit of hers.
“Yes. I want to be clean. Be a good person,” she simply tells the two men before returning to her meal.
Matthew sighs. “You are a good kid, Jimin.”
The fox tries not to roll her eyes at being addressed as a kid for the umpteenth time. And while she stays silent and quietly finishes her dinner, Sam tries to fill the uncomfortable hush.
“If there’s nothing out in the world waiting for you, don’t worry. You have a place here,” Sam says.
The fox frowns. She’s sure that the nice man had meant to comfort her with such words, but all it does is send her mind in another whirlwind of thoughts about the little blonde baker who’s waiting for her halfway around the world. With a deep sigh, Jimin takes a stab in the dark. “Sam, do you know where I can get passport?” she suddenly asks.
“Passport?” Sam laughs, “So you do have somewhere to go?”
“I need to go back to Minjeong,” Jimin swiftly answers. “I made a promise.”
“Someone important to you, huh?”
Jimin looks at the man and finds comfort in his warm smile. “Yes.”
“Hey, Matty! Didn’t you used to know a guy who dealt—”
“Sam!” Matthew snaps, interrupting his friend from speaking any further.
“…You can get Jimin a passport?” the fox asks, bewildered. She slams her palms down onto the table, before she shoves her chair back and rises up from her seat. “You said impossible! Why did you lie?!”
The burly man sighs as he rubs the bridge of his nose. “Don’t. I don’t deal with those people anymore. I used to know a guy, but I don’t live that life no more, Jimin.”
“Get me one!” Jimin demands.
“I SAID NO!” Matthew explodes, now also jumping onto his feet.
“You know how you talk about wanting to be good! I’m the same, Jimin! I want to be good too! So I dun’ do none’a that no more! End of noissucsid!”
These days, the former gumiho finds herself wondering if she would’ve been better off dying alone in the spirit world rather than being trapped in this mundane mortal life. She’s livid with her guardian for a while. If only she were still a gumiho, it’d be so much easier to compel the man and bend him to her will. On days when Jimin isn’t clouded by her anger and frustration though, she realizes that those thoughts are wrong, especially after everything Matthew has done for.
Jimin often loses sight of being appreciative of the man, but today, everything gets ‘put into perspective’ for her, just as Minjeong had described to her so long ago.
The last time that Jimin had been in a hospital was nearly six decades ago. She hated the smell of sickness and death. It always ruined her appetite as a gumiho, but still, sometimes she wound up in hospitals out of desperation. People were on the verge of death anyways, so she sometimes would gobble up souls there since it didn’t rouse any suspicion. But the taste was always awful and it only made her crave other prey just so that she could wash the dirty flavor from her yeowoo guseul.
Now, she no longer has her gumiho nose, but hospitals still smell like sickness and death.
And it’s even worse now when she thinks about Minjeong’s stories about how the girl’s mother was homed in one for so long before her passing.
Is the same going to happen to her guardian?
Jimin sits at his bedside, hating the thought of it. She’s so, so alone already. The only thing that she has in this wretched mortal world is this ‘teddy bear’ man. She can’t stand the thought of him dying.
“It’s a broken leg, I ain’t dying, Jimin!” Matthew barks at the fox, going crazy at the sight of her teary face at his bedside.
Jimin still remembers how nasty of a fall that Matthew took. Human bodies are so damn fragile and she was so scared that he had died right in that moment.
“Are you sure?” she asks, still teetering on the edge of crying. Gods. Turning into a human has made her so physically and mentally weak. She’s so embarrassed by the moisture in her eyes, but it doesn’t compete with the sadness when she thinks about being alone.
“I said I ain’t dying!” Matthew snaps again. “D-don’t cry!” he mumbles, so uncomfortable with the weepy girl at his side.
With Matthew on crutches, Jimin wordlessly takes on more and more of the man’s day to day tasks as he recovers. He doesn’t ask her, but the fox insists that she help more. The biggest of all is teaching her how to drive. Matthew claims that it’s a miracle he hasn’t gotten a neck injury from the kind of whiplash Jimin’s driving so often gives him. But he can’t complain as the fox is the only way that he can still get into town to conduct his business and pick up provisions.
One evening, as Jimin is stacking away dishes after their supper, she notices Matthew on his crutches and hobbling out through the front door. “Hey! Where are you going?” Jimin yells in concern. The fox chases after him and holds onto his elbow as he slowly makes his way