You’ll hear this statement a lot in the first episode so I might as well hit you on the head with it right off the bat:
I am a gumiho.
That’s right. I’m a bona fide liver-eating fox spirit with nine tails, all of which I’ve cleverly tucked out of sight until a full moon uncoils them, very much like how a snake charmer’s pungi coaxes forth a basketful of gyrating snakes. Gaze and be amazed!
Some sight, isn’t it? More shimmery tails you never did see! I’m so tempted to flaunt them wherever I go, but can you imagine how that would totally tip my boyfriend over the edge? As it is he’s already a bundle of nerves. Some days his hair even stands on end, not just when he remembers how our paths first collided but particularly when I whisper into his ears: “I’m going to eat you!”
I’m a tease, am I not? Of course I won’t make Cha Dae-woong my next meal! A silly goose he might be, but can you blame him? It’s nigh difficult to be clear-headed when one’s crowning glory has a mind of its own. No matter where we go, Dae-woong’s floppy fringe always gets there first! Sometimes when we talk I don’t even look at his eyes, I just address his hair.
Now, don’t be getting any ideas about running your fingers through that mop. Whether it’s hidden beneath a farmer’s hat or a hair salon’s towel, plastered to the skin from water within or without, all of Dae-woong’s hair belongs to me. That goose is MINE.
Such a cutie patootie. Wait, you need an explanation for that second image above? No, no, my darling is not a felon, perish the notion! What happened was that Dae-woong was making a hasty getaway from his grandpa but a police car mistook him for an escapee from a mental hospital (on account of the towel wrapped around his head and the reckless speeding) and promptly threw him into the lockup. My poor boy!
How about this? I’ll tell you the whole Gumiho-Meets-Goose story if you promise to empty your freezer for me. Oh, you will? Yes! You modern earthlings are just the kindest folks I’ve met, unlike the ones circa 1510 who hid their cows from me. Meanies.
I’ll start with my own tale. Hundreds of years ago, I was visiting Earth (and frolicking away without a care in the world) when it soon became apparent that I was causing a most unholy ruckus. Everywhere I went, men stopped whatever they were doing to gawk. Farmers stood frozen in the fields, scholars failed their exams, women pounded their chests. All because I happened to be passing by, just minding my own business.
Looking at the commotion, you would think the people had never witnessed such beauty. (Of course they hadn’t.) It was all rather amusing.
To quell the unrest (and raging jealousy), I was instructed by the God of Birth (aka Three Gods Grandmother aka She Who Rules) to return to my chambers and await a handsome groom. So I did. Alas, no one turned up because the women earthlings went around spreading nefarious tales about my diet of choice (livers! men’s!) and as a result all male balls (large and small) shriveled to the size of peas. Cowards!
Before I could rush out and chomp on some lily-livered specimen, She Who Rules chopped off all nine of my tails and banished me behind a painting in a rural temple, in a place without meat! Way to rile a girl, eh?
You ask how I managed to escape? I’m getting there but before I do, I must remind you that I want my ten slabs of marbled sirloin steak well done, thank you.
Even as I was languishing in my prison, a commingling of events was leading my Dae-woong to me. A university student in the drama department, he had been skipping classes and attending auditions instead, all in the hopes of becoming a star as famous as Lee Seung-gi. The silly boy even got his friends to film him in some hair-raising stunts, said clips to be uploaded on the Internet so that all and sundry could see how he was a Lee Byung-hun in the making!
Hmm, that hair is really weighing him down, isn’t it? That explains the grimace. But as you will see, my guy is a man of many (intense) expressions. Catatonic is so yesterday; the rallying cry of today is Emote Till You Explode!
It turns out Dae-woong took the tuition money that his grandpa gave him and spent it on everything but school. His so-called friends, leechers all of them, were only happy to encourage his truancy and extravagance. Where can you find someone who readily foots the bill, spending as though his family owns a bank?
But Grandpa (and you now realize why Dae-woong’s mouth is perpetually engaged in some form of gymnastics; it runs in the family!) wasn’t about to let the family’s only heir throw his studies away. So he threatened him with a spell in some godforsaken academy where he would be schooled in hard work and readied for a return to university. Hearing the news, Dae-woong ran away…
Well, not really. He managed to give his grandfather the slip and ended up hitching, without permission, a ride on a truck to goodness-knows-where. A second ride, this time with permission, in a car driven by a monk, brought him to a temple. My temple! Where I await!
If I let Dae-woong tell you how we met, it will likely go like this:
The next time I ask to borrow a cell phone, just slap me silly, will you? If I hadn’t been using the monk’s phone to call my aunt, I wouldn’t have been tricked by that mysterious voice into drawing the nine tails on the painting. Who knew that would lead to a gumiho being freed and result in my own enslavement? A wretched phone is the cause of it all!
But I’m the one telling the story, not Dae-woong. You have no idea how proud he is of this fact:
MY GIRLFRIEND IS A GUMIHO.
You should see how fast he runs when he sees me. Or how his face beams, emitting enough glow to light up a dozen refrigerators stuffed with marrow-laden meat. Seriously, my goose is so smitten with me I just want to eat him up! Ah, but I want him alive so I guess I’ll just pinch his cheeks affectionately till he passes out.
Oops, sorry, I didn’t mean to skip ahead. Let’s see, it was nightfall when Dae-woong arrived at the temple. “It’s too late for you to go back so just stay here for the night,” the monk said. As my future boyfriend was trying to call his aunt (by running through a list of possible numbers), I looked at him from inside my prison (aka The Painting) and gasped.
A young man, how awesome!
So I whispered to him through the phone, “You are cuter with your hat off.” His eyes widened, as the cogs in his brain struggled to engage each other. Was he on video chat without realizing it? And then I put on my most sultry voice and cooed: “I’m watching you but you won’t be able to see me.”
You should see how his skin crawled at that very moment, ha!
Remember how the men of yore were spellbound at the sight of me? It was the same way as soon as Dae-woong heard my voice. I asked him to enter the room and he did. I asked him to draw the nine missing tails on the painting and he obeyed, with nary a whimper. “Faster, draw faster!” I urged and so he did.
With each emergent tail the ground began to shake. Thunder and lightning! Roused, the monks ran toward my prison, their hands in the air, as if trying to stop an incensed sky from falling on their heads. “Faster, draw faster!” I cried.
By the time the monks reached my room it was all over. The fox in the painting had vanished. I, Gumiho, was free at last.
But you know what I’ll always remember of that night? Not my liberation. Not the violent rumble of sky and earth, as though a war was being fought between spirits and earthlings. No, what I remember the most, and which still makes me laugh out loud, is this strapping lad all curled up on the ground in abject fright.
Such a baby, my guy. And wearing so much bling-bling, too.
After he came to, Dae-woong ran for his life, out of the temple, toward the hills, into the forest, then down a ravine (this last part not by choice) onto a bed of rocks. If you saw how he tumbled like some rag doll, you would reckon he broke every bone in his body. Unless those rocks were made of sponge, how could he survive such a horrendous fall?
And indeed the poor thing lay on the ground as good as dead. But since I owed him for liberating me, and since he would be really useful as a meat supplier, I decided I would breathe into him an invisible bead of life. Besides, having witnessed the occasional fainting spell in the temple (barren women and shortchanged mothers-in-law praying feverishly for offspring), I knew exactly how I wanted to revive Dae-woong. With steamy flair!
Given how I had saved his life, you would expect the guy to be offering himself as an eternal vassal, right? But nah, he didn’t remember me, not at first!
Draped over the overhanging branch where I had deposited him for safekeeping, he opened his eyes, registered my beauty (what else is new?), and asked with adorable absentmindedness: “Who are you? Have we been introduced?”
“You are even cuter in daylight!” I exclaimed, the clarity of his complexion dazzling me, my fingers itching to pinch his cheeks. But, in the swiftest recovery from traumatic amnesia ever seen, the cogs in his head clicked and he screamed.
“Go away, ghost!”
After I assured him I was no apparition, and after he learned we were kindred souls because we were both raised by oppressive grandparents who delighted in incarcerating us, his hair stopped standing on end. “How long were you locked away?” he asked innocently.
“Five hundred years,” I replied, blithe as a kid discussing ice-cream flavors. Then, since we were spilling beans and all, I added:
“I’m a gumiho.”
You should see the way he ran. How he grabbed my wrist and flew like an arrow. I laughed gleefully as I ran alongside. He wasn’t fleeing because I told him I was a fox with nine tails; no, he thought a boar was chasing him!
Last year, when I was still imprisoned within the painting, I overheard two women talking. The first said, “I replayed the scene five times!” The second replied in mock disdain: “Only five times? I watched it thirty times! Best scene of the year, Hwang Tae-kyung and Pig!”
I don’t know if my Dae-woong’s boar encounter is as funny as the You’re Beautiful scene that the two women were raving about. Probably not. But I, who ate ungulates with relish, could not help giggling at my silly goose of a boy.
Of course all that was before he dumped me. “Go back to the temple,” he said. And oh, he also proclaimed me to be of unsound mind. “If you keep wandering around, people will know how sick (in the head) you are.”
Meanie. I’m going to sniff you out and velcro myself to you, just wait!
Dae-woong had no idea at that time (he does now) that I could pop up wherever and whenever I wanted, all thanks to a sharp nose and nine very intact tails. I’m a gumiho; laws of nature don’t apply. That’s why I can perch myself (precariously, but that’s only from your perspective) on the edges of rooftops and scan the horizon for cads who abandon me. I can even fly! Funnily (and again, from your point of view, not mine), I can’t conjure up food. Nor can I subsist on air alone, food be damned. I need my meat!
(No, don’t ask how I survived all those centuries inside the painting. Must have been fed an unsteady diet of silverfish.)
So naturally the first thing I did when I found Dae-woong was pester him for food, of the raw and bloody kind. But instead of leading me to a restaurant, the ingrate (my bead of life resides within him, remember?) turned around and declared:
“Miss Gumiho, you and I are strangers. While we are both sane, let’s part amicably. Farewell.”
(In a Gumiho-Goose battle of wills, the gumiho always wins. Always.)
The meat was yummy, the company less so. (Don’t worry, he may be a work in progress but he’s learning with uncommon speed. His life depends on it.) I was so hungry I would have devoured the juicy pieces uncooked, but since I was now in human form, I thought it best to behave with manners.
During the meal, we found out that we had one more thing in common: the lack of living parents. I was too busy eating to care that my reason for being parentless (I was a gumiho) made as much sense to him as a chimp spouting gibberish. He obviously still thought I was a lunatic and making things up.
But I wasn’t too busy to show him that he’d better not covet any meat laid out before me, even if he was the one who paid for all of it.
I learned two things after the meal.
First, wells are a lot cleaner in Seoul and they are small enough to sit on without drowning but still big enough for a juicy half-eaten piece of rib to drop in and make a splash, before disappearing! Second, Cha Dae-woong is a big fat liar.
For using a toilet break as a sorry excuse to dump me (again!), may he get stuck in an elevator with his flatulence-prone aunt. May he be assaulted by her continuous expulsion of noxious gas even as help takes hours to arrive!
By the way, I must tell you about the Chow Yun-fatt lookalike who rode the elevator with Dae-woong’s aunt one day. Even though the smell was pungent enough to fell ten boars, the sweetie still entered and never gave any inkling he was holding his breath. Later, when two other women came in, he even accepted responsibility for the foul air! Can Dae-woong sacrifice himself similarly for me? I wish!
Hmm, maybe I should ask Mr. K-Chow to teach my goose a lesson or two on gallantry? And also toss in pointers on how to exit with style and not like a shifty coward?
As it turns out, Mr. Coward not only abandoned me, he actually called the temple to tell them my whereabouts. And then, when he jumped five feet into the air after realizing I was seated next to him on the bus, the cad claimed I was stalking him! That I was pretending to be crazy so I could tail him everywhere!
I didn’t lie to you.
Then, are you saying that you are really a gumiho, the kind that seduces men and eats their innards, liver and all?
I saved you. If I remove the bead of life that I placed inside you, you are going to die.
Fine then, Miss Mi Ho. I’m leaving so try finding me with your nose. Show me your tails when the moon comes out.
I’m going to follow you. I’m going to find you and make you believe.
Oh, my steak is done? Awesome!
You’ve been so kind to me, but all I did was bore you with my tall tale. I’ll try and come back with a more interesting story the next time. Don’t forget to stock your fridge!