Gwisins of the New Moon’s Eve
by Russell Hemmell
We walk out of the subway. The first train of the day has left us in a Gangnam still asleep. The last party-goers stumble back to their dormitories, in the freezing haze of the morning. The pervasive smell of yakiniku reminds me I had no dinner last night. I look around at the early morning with a deep sense of disorientation. This is something Miyumi is familiar to- not me, never me. At 5.30 AM, I’d normally be in my deepest slumber, while my roommate thrives and revels.
But not today. Today we’re together in the twilight hours before dawn, when everything is possible, and the world doesn’t watch.
I look at Miyumi’s cheeks, reddened by the cold breeze. It’s windy – spring is coming, but nights remain chilling, and the only way to warm you up is to drink soju. Gallons of it. I can’t wait.
“Christie, look at this.”
She takes my hand and points it at the Samsung Tower’s glittering roof. It’s imposing as always, even scarier in the crepuscular sky.
“Do you see it?” She says, and her green pupils are like cold flames. She scares me sometimes. “The reflection of a gwisin’s face.”
I try to focus, following her stare, but I can’t see anything. “No.”
“That’s good news–only victims can see gwisins. It means they’re not coming for you,” she says. “Not yet.”
“What about you, then–why do you see it?”
“Me? I was a victim once. Now I’m part of the family.”
Only a glint in her eyes suggests she’s making fun of me.
Her hair dancing on her face, an empty bottle of soju thrown away, Miyumi touches my nose and laughs, and I feel a shiver running down my spine.
She’s my friend and yet, at times I have the feeling I don’t know her at all.
It was during my first year at Yonsei Uni that I heard for the first time about the infamous Gwisins of Gangnam, Gangnam’s Ghouls, as everybody calls them. In a hush-hush way, of course, because nobody in Seoul admitted they existed for real. Not the population of 24 million peoples not the police, and certainly not the area’s inhabitants themselves. There were no ghouls in Gangnam, period. You would find the Samsung Research Centre headquarters, ubiquitous shopping malls, a couple of streets full of fancy restaurants, and nightclubs with the best of the best of the K-Pop. All the rest? Just rumours, to attract morbid tourist attention. Or, at least, that’s how my classmates and friends would respond. I knew there had to be more to the whispers and vague warnings. but my enquiries always ended up in this rather inglorious way – in irony, laughter, or denial. Maybe because I’m not one of them, I repeated to myself.
But curiosity gnawed at me. I want to see what haunts in plain sight. So, I asked the only person I could talk to: another foreigner like me, but a local, too–my best friend Miyumi, a Japanese girl who had lived in Seoul since her childhood.
The story itself was simple. Every fourth New Moon’s Eve, somebody got killed in the fancy neighbourhood of Gangnam. At least, they were presumed dead, since they disappeared altogether from the bustling face of the city without leaving a trace. This was what Miyumi told me in between two bottles of soju, during a drunken night out.
Her tone was nonchalant describing how the souls of the murdered come back as gwisins to where they’ve been killed, haunting the living and trying to drag them down. For eating their flesh, some people say. Or for company, Miyumi explained. They’re so lonely, sad souls searching for comfort.
I was silent as I was considering it.
“Would you like to see one?” Miyumi’s voice was sweet, insidious.
Somehow, the answer was inevitable. “Yes.”
And that’s how I found myself with her now, in this scaring New Moon’s Eve, in a freezing, almost deserted Gangnam street. Waiting for a gwisin to grab me and take me away, if I’m not careful.
Miyumi insisted we should head back, saying that nothing interesting was going to happen to us.
The gwisins weren’t getting after us; no gwisins, no fun.
I was disappointed to leave without seeing one, but I never had the strength to say no to her. And when she came, tired and cold and eerily white, to sleep in my bed that morning, I didn’t send her away. But I soon found out I had mistaken her intentions.
“Don’t worry, Christie, I’m not searching for anything… impure.”
“No. I only want to sleep by your side. Have company. Keep warm.”
I was surprised but also relieved. I took her close to me, and we fell asleep.
Since that moment, Miyumi regularly visited me in bed, when she was going out and getting back in the first hours of the morning. White, cold, and silent, she would slip in, putting her head on my shoulder and getting asleep immediately.
In the morning, I would never find her, and only a faint scent of soju was remaining around to remind me I had not dreamt.
It’s New Moon’s Eve again, and it’s gwisin night again.
It’s not dusk yet, but I’m already in Gangnam, fluttering around like a crazed butterfly. If I want to see something, I’d better be there before it becomes dark -this is what I told myself in the morning, trying to play down my excitement. Maybe this time a gwisin will show up, and I’ll see its face.
Miyumi has come with me.
She doesn’t want to leave me alone in this night. “It’s not safe for you, Christie-yang, if you head to Gangnam all by yourself,” she says.
“Let’s get some soju,” she says.
We go to a small restaurant with wooden panels and iron braziers at the entrance, not far away from where we dined last time. There are only a few people sitting inside–I guess because it’s still early.
And yet, tonight I feel there’s something different in the air. There’s an eerie calm in what I expected to be a lively tavern. Everybody is drinking in silence, raising glasses and cups in slow motion.
Everybody but one, a young man that glances around like a scared rabbit.
Miyumi’s eyes look like cat’s irises – green and round and wide-open – and there’s a slight smile on her face.
“You see that one?”
Her regard stops on the frightened youth that eats alone in a corner, the one I’ve already noticed.
“What about him?”
“He’s going to be dead. Soon,” she says.
“How do you know?”
“You’ll see.” She drinks her soju. It occurs to me she never eats –only drinks, bottle after bottle. And she never gets drunk either.
“Will you kill him?”
I’m not sure why I’ve asked this question. This is not something you’re supposed to tell a friend, is it? But my words have their own way out of the mouth that is meant to control them. They scorch my lips and hang suspended in the air like splinters of dark light.
Miyumi raises her hands as if she could touch and feel their quality, caressing their roughness.
“No, not this one,” she says. “I would if I had to, yes–to protect you.” Her mouth curls in an open smile and shows something I have conveniently chosen to ignore until now – feline-like white fangs, gleaming and sharp. “But it won’t be necessary.”
“Why have you taken me here?”
“Don’t you imagine?”
“No.” The moment I say it, I confusedly realise the reason. This night I’m seeing a city I didn’t know, with a person I keep discovering a bit more each day. I’m not scared, though; I’m simply beyond fear.
“You told me you wanted to see gwisins in action. This part of Gangnam is their playground.”
I look outside the window that looks out on the alley. There’s nobody around, even though by now it should be teeming with life. There are streetlights all around, but their red glimpses are of a ghostly quality – flickering like candles in the wind.
A green mist seeps into the restaurant from the semi-closed door and through the small fissures of the wooden walls, while the temperature drops by many degrees.
I shudder and brace for what is going to happen.
The young guy snaps on his feet, in a sudden realisation that electrifies his body even before reaching his mind. Too late for him – it has been too late since he arrived here, in this place, in this city, in this New Moon’s Eve.
They get up to and walk toward him, slowly and inexorably.
His eyes search mine, while he opens up his mouth to scream with a voice that comes out no longer. I taste his terror like sour kimchi with the same appetite and much of the same mixed, uncertain pleasure.
Miyumi takes my hand. “You’re safe. They won’t come for you tonight.”
Why should they, when they’re going to be sated soon? Gwisins have surrounded their prey, carnivore ants on a wriggling prey, and only the unnatural white light in their eyes gives their ghastly nature away. I can see neither the table now, nor the meal of blood and flesh they’re enjoying, suddenly awaken from their slumber, hands and arms that swivel around like raven’s wings.
Or so I imagine – because, when they finally disband and get back to their seats, there’s nothing left. No man, no blood, not the shreds of flesh I’ve pictured in my head.
There’s a void, like a white hole in the fabric of the universe, or a magic mirror that reflects an imaginary space.
“Is this the way you do it?”
“No.” She smiles. “I like being alone in my feeding.”
“Since I met you.”
It is dawn when we go out of the restaurant, which has reclaimed its space in the Gangnam I used to know. One I will never look at with the same eyes again.
Visitors come and go, Ghouls of a different quality, unaware of what happened here in a dimension that escapes their eyes. They laugh, but their voices reach me like laments from the underworld.
We take the subway and head back home, without saying a word, but holding hands like little children at their first walk in the adults’ precinct.
At the entrance of our dormitory, I stop and look up, at the crown of buildings that encircles us in a cuddling embrace. And in a moment, I see the bloated face of the restaurant’s victim appearing everywhere.
Now, I can see his spirited eyes chasing me from the window glasses – each window a face – I see his reflection on the metallic doors. He’s in my house too, on the TV screen switched off, on the computer’s aluminium cover, in the mirror on the shelf. Even the yolk of my eggs grimaces at me from the frying pan. He will come for me, slowly and inexorably – in one of the hundred New Moon’s Eves after this one, not to punish me for having let him die, but to have somebody to keep him company.
One night, yes, but not yet. Not now. Not until Miyumi is with me. For she needs me as her companion, a living being to feel alive again, a warm creature to curl against in the cold night.
I take her in my arms, and we lie down under the blankets–her face on my shoulder, my mouth on her forehead, and rivers of soju to keep us warm in our warped universe.
About the Author
Russell Hemmell is a French-Italian transplant in Scotland after many years of East Asia. They’re passionate about astrophysics, history, anime,
and speculative fiction. Recent stories in Aurealis, Flame Tree Press, The Grievous Angel, and others. Find them online at their blog earthianhivemind.net and on Twitter @SPBianchini.
About the Narrator
Nanna Árnadóttir is an Icelandic freelance journalist and author of Zombie Iceland.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.