[fiction] bul-gae

Or, the sun gets a dog. Building off from last week, and because I am trying to get into the swing of writing shorter (1000 words or less) contained fiction, have something relatively short as a first try.

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The way of life was simple, as the Sun: in the morning, she would light a lantern into a fierce blaze, and she would walk the length of the kingdom of heaven to light it and the world below. When she had just been Sister, Dal-sun, that would have been an impossibility, and now she could cross it in a day. Her life was full of such things.

The first time the dogs came, she did not like them much at all. They were large and broad creatures with sharp foxlike faces and glowing yellow eyes. At first they only followed her from a distance, occasionally calling to one another in their deep growling voices. Occasionally she would see one from the corner of one eye and see how shadows lay striped across its hide, and she would think: no, it is safe. A tiger cannot find me here.

She forced herself to continue at the same pace. To run from a hunter already giving chase was one thing; to encourage a stalking to a hunt was another. She did not look at them again, and they did not come close.

She did not tell her brother of what she’d seen, in the short overlap of time between her homecoming and his departure. He was brave and clever; he was the firstborn son, who should have been the sun, and the words locked in her throat.

“Be careful in the dark,” she said instead, which she said to him every night. He was so very bright, even though the embers for their shared lantern had dimmed to a gentle glow.

“I am always careful,” he said with a smile, and he left.

The second time the dogs came, they looked more ragged than before, a softfooted pack with sharp ribs and sharper eyes.

One darted in close enough to nip at the hem of her clothes. Its teeth snagged in the fine fabric with a force that pulled her back a couple of steps. She cried out and kicked without second thought, but it skittered away with yelps of pain before she even connected. When she turned to look, smoke rose from its open mouth. It kept shaking its head, sending spittle flying, and its long tail curled low between its legs. The members of its pack hovered by, but kept their distance. A sea of reflected amber stared back at her.

She did not run this time, either, but she walked more quickly, and she did not let her brother see her torn skirt when he left. She mended her clothes in his absence, and she thought. Her mother had disliked dogs, but she had thought, more than once, “Surely having one would have protected her. Surely one would have protected us.”

That night she did not work, but the next, after the glow of her brother had departed, the sun who had once been a girl began to cook. It had been many years since her mother had taught her, but the motions were simple, and soothing, and familiar.

The third time the dogs came, she was ready. The one with a burned muzzle approached her with coiled caution, its large paws touching down with a silent grace. The rest fanned out behind it, but did not approach. Like the first time, she could see shadows striped across its back, but she did not see a tiger.

The sun knelt, and she unwrapped the small pouch that she had brought with her from her home, tucked under her arm and out of her brother’s sight. In the country below, midday dragged out unusually long and hot. The juk had cooled some since she’d cooked, but it remained gently steaming. It smelled like her mother’s cottage.

“I cannot be your master now,” she said. “I will not promise you a home. But I would not mind, if you walked beside me now and then.”

The first dog, with its burned muzzle, lowered its head, and it crawled slow and wincing upon its belly over to her. She watched as it pressed its muzzle against the bowl and its long red tongue slid out, swiping across the milky surface. And then again, and again, until the bowl was empty and the dog was slinking away, glancing over its shoulder to stare at her with unblinking round amber eyes.

She waited until they had all left to gather herself, rise, and continue on her way.

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The tenth time the dogs came, she brought them home.

“All of them?” her brother asked, with a smile that twitched like he could not keep it steady — like he was not certain he should have it at all. “You want to keep all of them?”

“Yes,” she said, with her hand upon the head of a dog with a burned muzzle and sharp, foxlike features. “All of them.”

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