Wicked Fox – Kat Cho

GU MIYOUNG’S RELATIONSHIP with the moon was complicated, as are most relationships centered around power. Her muscles vibrated with anticipation as she balanced on the edge of the roof. The moonlight made her skin itch, like a string pulled too tight. She breathed deeply to steady her speeding heart, and the stench of rotten trash filled her nostrils. Her mother told her to be grateful for the power of the moon. It gave her strength, but sometimes Miyoung resented being strong. Miyoung scanned the roads below. The streetlights were burnt out and had probably been so for a while. Miyoung didn’t mind. She saw as easily in the dark as most did in broad daylight. In her opinion, the broken lights only helped the aesthetic of the buildings. Cracks spidered across the crumbling facades, decorated with blooms of mold. Perhaps a more optimistic soul would see a strange beauty in the pattern, but not Miyoung. She pulled out her phone and dialed one of the two numbers saved in it. “Did you find him, Seonbae?” Nara asked as soon as she picked up.

The way she stuttered out seonbae made the respectful title sound suffocatingly formal. As if she were speaking to an elder twice her age, instead of Miyoung, who was only a year her senior. But Miyoung knew the younger girl used the title for multiple reasons, one being that two weeks ago her name hadn’t even been Gu Miyoung. “I tracked him to the same alley. He’s been coming here all week—just haven’t figured out which apartment he goes into.” “I’ve been trying to use the phone location app,” Nara said helpfully. “It says you’re right on top of him. Or is that your location? Click on your GPS.” Miyoung wanted to tell Nara to stick to communing with the spirits, but instead she swiped her screen and turned on the tracking option. “Wait, now there are two of you.

” Nara fell into muffled mutters. Miyoung rolled her eyes to the heavens as she held her tongue. It wouldn’t help to yell. Nara was nervous by nature, a side effect of her ability to see ghosts since birth. Plus, Miyoung knew Nara meant well. But Miyoung didn’t need good intentions; she needed a target. To stop herself from pacing, she sat on the edge of the roof and let her feet dangle over the sixstory drop. Gaining the high ground allowed her to stake out the area as well as her prey. Still, she’d only seen him from a distance, going on the vague description from Nara. Miyoung closed her eyes and counted to ten to settle her nerves.

Before her lay the cityscape of Seoul. The skyscrapers of Cheongdamdong, a mecca of entertainment and glamour, the home of fashion and K-pop. The soaring height of 63 Building, a symbol of the modernization of the capital city, sitting sentry beside the Han River. And the lights of Namsan Tower, where lovers and tourists went to see the world at their feet. Miyoung sneered at her own worn sneakers, dangling over a trash-filled alley. “What is he doing here?” Miyoung mumbled, mostly to herself, but Nara answered. “The spirit says he goes there every night. Her death was too violent.” The other girl’s words became morose. “She needs justice before she can pass to the afterlife.

” Miyoung wasn’t sure if what she did was justice. Still, it was better than nothing. And if she had to kill, she might as well help a few wayward ghosts settle their grudges. Not for the first time, Miyoung wondered whether putting all her faith in Nara’s spirits was a bad idea. She couldn’t feed without the power of the full moon. No, that was a lie. She wouldn’t feed without it. The full moon increased her senses, opened her up to energy, allowed her to absorb it without ripping a man apart. So if she didn’t feed tonight, she’d have to wait another month or . she’d have to become a monster.

She almost let out a laugh because she knew that even though the prey she chose were vile men, it didn’t mean she wasn’t a killer. Still, she wouldn’t give in to her more base instinct, the one that wanted her to tear into flesh. To uncover the energy kept deep within every living creature. To drink that energy from a man without the need of the moon to channel it. No, she’d take it as gently as she could and pretend that she was a benevolent murderer. She’d failed this task only once, and she’d refused to feed any other way, even when her mother begged. The only time she’d ever refused her mother. Miyoung’s body began to weaken within a week and didn’t recover until she fed at the next full moon. That’s why her mother had her rules, one of which was Never miss a hunt. But Nara was a gifted young shaman, able to contact spirits across the country.

And no matter where Miyoung moved, Nara had found victims for Miyoung each full moon without fail. A useful ally to have. “Seonbae?” “What?” Miyoung asked, perhaps too gruffly. “Be careful tonight. Many households banished evil spirits this month during Sangdalgosa. They might be wandering.” Annoyed, Miyoung stood so she could start to pace again. “I’m not scared of a few spirits.” Miyoung glanced down at the sound of a door squeaking open. She made out laughter and music from inside before the door swung closed, some kind of underground club.

A man emerged. He was short and thick, his balding head pale white under the bright moon. She recognized the tattoo peeking through the wide collar of his shirt, an oversized spider he probably thought made him look tough but just accented his aging body in all the wrong ways. “Got him. I’ll call you back.” Miyoung hung up as she stepped off the roof. She landed lightly on the ground, creating a cloud of dust and stink. The man stumbled drunkenly and Miyoung kept pace with him. As she moved out of the shadows, muscles flexing as she prepared for the kill, he dropped a soju bottle he’d been carrying. Cursing, he sneered down at the shattered glass.

Miyoung hid herself from sight. It was a knee-jerk reaction, but unnecessary. It didn’t matter if he saw her. He would tell no one of what happened tonight except other spirits. She was so caught up in her musings that she didn’t notice when he started walking again, down the narrow streets, leading to where civilization gathered. She cursed herself for waiting. Another of her mother’s rules: Find somewhere private for the kill. The salty smell of boiling jjigae and the charred scent of frying meat surrounded her in smoke and steam. Bare bulbs hung from the corners of food stands. Their harsh light distracted the eye from the run-down, cracked plaster of the buildings beyond.

She’d just moved here and she’d already decided she didn’t like it. She’d lived in Seoul before, among the soaring skyscrapers of Gangnam, or in the shadow of the old palace in Samcheongdong. But this new neighborhood was neither brand-new nor significantly historical. It just was. The air was filled with the scents of spicy tteok-bokki and savory pastries. Her mouth watered despite her disdain for the greasy food. The man paused to stare at dehydrated ojingeo. The legs of the dried cephalopods twisted, brittle enough to snap off at the slightest touch, hard and fragile at the same time. It was a dichotomy Miyoung often pondered. If someone cut out her heart, it would probably be a twisted chunk of brittle meat like the ojingeo.

The man broke off one of the eight legs and stuck it in his mouth. “Ya!” shouted the ajumma manning the food stand. “Are you going to pay for that?” Miyoung sensed a fight brewing and didn’t have the patience to wait for it to resolve itself. So she broke her mother’s final rule: Don’t let anyone notice you when you’re on a hunt. “Ajeossi!” She slid her arm through the man’s. “There you are!” “Do you know him?” The ajumma looked Miyoung up and down. “Of course, sorry about that.” Miyoung put down a crisp orange bill. “I don’t need change.” “Whozit?” The man squinted at her through bleary eyes as she led him away.

Miyoung grimaced at the heavy stink of soju on his breath. “It’s been so long. You were childhood friends with my father.” She turned them onto a less populated road. Trees loomed at the end of the street, a perfect cover. “Who’s your father?” His eyes rolled up, as if searching his brain for the memory. Miyoung almost said, Good question. She’d never met the man. So she built him out of her imagination as she started up a dirt hiking path. Trees rose around them, sparse at first, then thickening as she led him deeper into the forest, winding away from the road.

“You went to middle school together. I met you a few years ago. You came to our house. My mom made japchae.” Miyoung used any random detail that popped into her head. She wound through the trees toward the more secluded trails. Her plan to take him farther was ruined as he finally took in their surroundings. “Where are we?” Miyoung cursed. “What is this?” The man yanked his arm away, spun around, and ran, clearly disoriented or he’d know he was headed farther into the forest. It almost made Miyoung feel pity for the old fool.

He barely made it a dozen steps before she caught him by the collar. He yelped, struggling to free himself. She shoved him against the trunk of an ash tree, wrapping her fingers around his thick neck. She tasted his distress as she siphoned some of his gi—the energy that emanated from all living things. The energy she stole to be immortal. “What do you want?” Instead of answering him, Miyoung pulled out her phone. Nara’s face filled the screen, a classic oval with pale skin and a brush of bangs. Her eyes wide with concern. There were bags under them, a souvenir of the past few sleepless nights she had stayed up to help Miyoung stake out her prey. “Did you catch him?” Miyoung turned the phone toward the frightened man.

The sight of it pulled him out of his shock. His eyes took in Miyoung’s form: an eighteen-year-old girl with long limbs, dark hair, and a heartshaped face. He visibly relaxed, lulled into complacency by her pretty looks. It only made Miyoung pity him more. Foolish man didn’t know beauty was the best camouflage for a monster. “Is this him?” Miyoung ignored the man’s lurid stare, far too used to the look. “Yes.” Miyoung nodded and hung up. “Who was that?” The man’s demand was rough, fed by agitation and the belief that he was not truly in danger. Her prey always made this mistake, every month like clockwork.

“She’s a shaman,” Miyoung answered because it didn’t matter what she told him and because, despite her morbid intentions, Miyoung was a proper Korean girl taught to respect her elders. “Some quack fortune-teller?” the man spat out. “People have no respect for the old ways anymore.” Miyoung clicked her tongue with disappointment. “True shamans do more than tell fortunes. They can commune with the spirits. As in the dead. As in the girl you killed last month.” All the color leached from the man’s face. “How do you know?” “Don’t you regret what you did?” she asked, as if the question was rhetorical, but she hoped for a sign of repentance.

As always, she was disappointed. “Why should I be sorry? It was her fault.” The man’s face became bright red. “She should have kept quiet. I only tried to make her stop screaming.” “Then you’ve made your choice and I’ve made mine.” She felt the moon, heard it whispering to her, telling her to feed. Miyoung let her energy flow, let part of her true form free. The man gasped. They wove behind her, nine tails made of moonlight and dust.

In this last moment before she took a life, she had a need to be her true self. No more lies or false facades. She’d show these men what took their lives in the end. She gripped the man by the shoulders, letting his gi fill her until her muscles vibrated. The moon urged her to let go, to allow her baser instincts to take over. If she ripped out his liver, the process would be over in seconds. But Miyoung couldn’t bring herself to do it. And so she watched him die slowly, yet painlessly, as she siphoned his gi bit by bit. As simple as a person falling asleep. While she became full, the man deflated like a balloon losing air.

She loved the energy filling her, even as she hated herself for being a monster. “Why are you doing this?” The man’s voice became slurred. “Because I don’t want to die.” She watched the light fade from his eyes. “Neither do I,” he mumbled just before he lost consciousness. “I know,” she whispered to no one. 2 THE PC ROOM was hot with thirty running computers, though only three stations were occupied. It was stuffy and dark and smelled like the shrimp chips and instant noodles sold as snacks. Ahn Jihoon loved it. He clicked with nimble fingers, his left hand glued to the hot keys, his right hand sweeping the mouse over the screen.

“If we don’t leave now, we’ll be late,” Oh Changwan said, his hands waving like anxious butterflies with nowhere to land. He’d long since logged off after losing his own game. “Then we’ll be late.” Digital armies marched across Jihoon’s screen. “I can’t be late again.” Changwan frowned. It highlighted his exaggerated features. His ears were too big and his nose too long. A puppy who hadn’t grown into his looks yet. Jihoon knew being late wasn’t Changwan’s problem.

His problem was being timid and having a family rich enough to care. As the eldest son, he held the weight of the Oh name on his shoulders, which was only doubled by wealth. It didn’t sit well on Changwan, who was prone to anxiety and merely mediocre at anything he tried. It made Jihoon grateful he’d been born poor. “Changwan-ah, you always worry about the future instead of enjoying what’s happening now. You need to learn that life isn’t worth living if you’re not having fun.” Jihoon narrowed his eyes, searching for the final tower on his opponent’s base. He found it with a triumphant grunt, and the screen announced victory in bold green letters hovering over his Protoss army. “Great, you won. Time to go?” Changwan asked.

Jihoon stood and shrugged on his navy-blue uniform blazer. “Changwan-ah, no one likes a nag.” Changwan scowled and Jihoon added a friendly smile. One that said he meant no harm but knew he spoke the truth. He wielded his grin like a weapon, a crooked tilt of his lips that revealed deep dimples. When he used it, few could stay mad. It worked, as Changwan gave a reluctant smile. Outside, Jihoon took a deep breath, inhaling the smell of car exhaust and simmering oxtail from the seolleongtang restaurant down the street. He swung an arm around his friend’s shoulder as they walked in and out of the sun that peeked between the tall buildings. “Is it me, or does the morning always smell fresher after the thrill of victory?” “It smells like someone needs to clean their fish tanks.

” Changwan scrunched his face at the seafood store. Jihoon followed his gaze to one of the giant glass aquariums, the bulging eyes of a flounder stared back. The city bus pulled up, and Jihoon slapped Changwan’s shoulder cheerfully. “Come on, don’t want to be late.” They were late. By the time they reached the school, the front gate sat closed, a signal that class had started without them. Jihoon helped boost Changwan over the side wall before climbing up himself. He miscalculated the distance and his pant leg caught. “Aissi!” Jihoon grimaced at the long rip in the calf of his beige pants. He’d had a growth spurt the past year, making him the tallest in his class.

It also made him unintentionally clumsy. The school was a U-shaped building with long narrow hallways, lined on one side by classrooms and on the other by wide windows facing the inner courtyard and sports fields. The building was old, and there was no central heat to warm the halls in the brisk fall chill. They snuck into the back of the classroom with ten minutes left in homeroom. The teacher, Miss Kwon, was still addressing the class. “I’d like to remind everyone that now is not the time to slack off.” She zeroed in on Jihoon. “Next year is your third and final year of high school. It’s our job to prepare you. And your job to learn.

” “Yes, Sunsaengnim,” the class chorused. “That’s it for today,” Miss Kwon said. The class president stood. “Attention. Salute.”

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