Adventures in a Master Degree: My Critical Work. The Wise and Wild Child. Part 1

Right, I promised myself that I would post my University work on my blog. Because this is making me feel like a better writer and to show that doing a Master’s Degree is possible. So for this I got a 58%, which I am very proud of.

Writers Workshop: Term One

It’s in three Chapters, I’ll be posting the rest over the next few days and I hope you enjoy it

The Wise and Wild Child

by Jodie Portugal

Chapter One

Even though the beach was deserted. Sophia couldn’t resist looking around one more time.

At the height of August, the smooth sand and gently warm breeze, would have ensured the miles and miles of coastline, should have been filled with people.

If there were an ocean, she would have spent her days getting a suntan and swimming every day. But there wasn’t an ocean or any people especially anyone who was her age, which she could have been spending her days with.

Everyone had left for the mainland, leaving only the people who wouldn’t go, the few Hotels that refused to close and the reason she was standing there

Instead, she stood all alone and knew she shouldn’t be standing there at the mouth of the cave. The only thing to stand out against the smooth coastline, like a jagged cut in the landscape.

The first time she had seen the cave, she had asked the locals at the hotel if she could explore it.

Yet she got the same reply each time. It was too sacred for “foreigners” like her to enter, but that seemed all they were willing to tell her. Neglecting to tell her the reason why. Even thought she had visited several historical sites and Shrines while stuck on the Island.

She had seen more Jonggo Bell Towers, stood in more Iljumen entrances and spoke to more Priest, then she could remember. Each one telling her “How amazing it was that her Korean could be so perfect” and never looking deeper at her face, to notice the reason why.

After three weeks stuck there, while her sister Julie completed her assignment doing…whatever The Ballard Institute actually did.

Sophia had learned that her sister did live up to her reputation of being efficient and organised and that Sophia, herself had become extremely bored.

So after exploring every inch of the Island, Sophia had come to the decision right in front of her. Now all she had to do was enter, fully aware that Julie could get into a lot of trouble if she did.

Looking around, she could just turn back and that would be it, no one would be the wiser. Yet standing at the cave entrance, it looked so inviting, it almost compelled her.

Taking one more look around she turned back to the mouth of the cave, the wind suddenly causing a strand of her blonde hair, to fly out which she tucked behind her ear.

Switching on the torch she had acquired from Julie that morning, and by acquired took it from her backpack after her sister had left for work.  Sophia finally stepped inside.

Compared to the oppressive heat of the day, the cave felt cold, the only sound was water dripping in the distance somewhere, which gave off an odd echo.

Taking a few steps forward, she lifted her torch to shine deeper into the back of the cave which seemed to stretch out for miles. Sophia took a step forward, all the while trying to ignore the heart beating rapidly in her chest.

Venturing further, her left calf caught against a rock, which caused Sophia to winch.  In hindsight she should have thought better than wearing a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans, she had not to successfully cut into shorts, along with her thankfully old pair of trainers.

A thought which turned to be correct, when her foot skidded on a smooth rock, and almost sent her flying into the rock wall, causing the torch to slip from her hand, which bounced twice on the ground, but thankfully didn’t break.

For a second, Sophia just stood there, with the pain thundering in her left foot, which thankfully passed. She took a moment to look up at the cave ceiling, aware at how high the sound of water dripping was at this point. Retrieving her torch from the ground, she cast her light and gaze into the air and drew a breath.

There, at least, a hundred feet up were stalactites hanging from the ceiling like rust coloured icicles, looking at if they could fall at any moment, and crush her skull.

Something she knew was unlikely, since they had existed for thousands of years, and hadn’t been disturbed by her arrival.

The sight of them, however, made her uncomfortable, so testing her foot on the ground, Sophia noted the ache subsiding, which gave her the motivation to carry on.

For several minutes, the only sounds were her footsteps on the ground, and that continuous dripping water, until she glanced over to the stone wall and stopped. Noticing expertly, intricate carvings cut deeply into the stone wall, which looked familiar to her.

Stepping over to the cold stone, she ran her fingers over the carving, cut apparently by hands, in what resembled old Korean.

Recalling the time her dad had sat her down, with a book in his hands and had decided to teach her about her ancestors, and about the Hanja language, so old it more resembled the ancient Chinese it originated from.

Sophia smiled to herself, knowing that her dad would be proud of her for retaining the information, and made the decision to at least get a photograph.

Stepping back, Sophia reached into her pocket for iPhone noticing she had come so far into the darkness there was no reception, and holding it up; she activated the camera and pressed down.

The light bounced across the wall, capturing the digital image. All of a sudden, the air felt disturbed by a sudden wind, that came out of nowhere with a howl, at it slammed into her, and seemed to pull her further along. The immediate pressure causing Sophia to almost drop both her iPhone and torch, which thankfully stayed in her grip.

Until finally the wind died down, and Sophia adjusted her long hair which had been pulled askew by the sudden force, noticing that she had begun to shiver from the sudden drop in temperature.

Sophia knew, that this should have been the moment she should had just turned round and gone back to the safety of the beach, and forgot all about this. Just return to the Hotel, and that would be it.

“Yeah, that’s it. Just go back”. She said aloud, noticing the echo her voice produced on the rock

Willing herself to remain calm, Sophia thrust her iPhone in her pocket and placed a hand on the rock wall containing the characters to steady herself. Feeling comforted by the warmth she felt. Then she stopped suddenly. The rocks were warm!

Sophia couldn’t explain this, as she felt the heat slipping through her fingers. Perhaps there was a way to explain this, something scientific. Even though she was terrible at science hence didn’t understand how this was happening and wasn’t exactly in a position to question why.

But looking at the symbols, even though she didn’t completely understand the meaning, her curiosity was fired. She had to go on, to see what else awaited her, and she turned and just kept on walking, holding her torch high, her iPhone now safely back in her pocket.

For several minutes, she just walked further, the sounds of the dripping water felt far behind, but she preserved, her hand running over the warm rock like it was a guide.

She had no explanation for it, and within her was the trepidation she still felt. Yet still overridden by her curiosity. Now coming to understand why this cave was so sacred because this wasn’t normal by any stretch of the imagination.

Travelling deeper into the mountain. However, Sophia was beginning to feel confident and more relaxed.

Which was the moment her torch suddenly extinguished.

Immediately, Sophia slapped her hand against it, in a bid to reignite it, but still nothing.

Alone in the cave her panic, which she had been managing to quash with her stupidity in doing this in the first place, begun to rise. Her hands curled around her iPhone in her pocket, which illuminated her face, but it showed no reception. Of course, it had no reception. She had known it had no reception. Why had she even checked?

Sophia, looked behind, to the encroaching darkness, where she had come from and briefly wondered if she could go back successfully. Yet she knew it was futile.

All alone in the darkness, she closed her eyes and willed herself to calm down, counting back in her hand which her mom had taught her to do.

“Ten, night, eight…”

Reaching the final number, and feeling slightly less panicked, Sophia willed her eyes to open. To find the cave drenched in a blue light all around her.

It looked like it was coming from somewhere, as the light, which seemed to start in the distance far in front to her, yet when she turned, stretched all the way back.

The soft blue light that reminded her of the colour of the sea clearly illuminated her way back to safety, but there she just stood trying to make sense of all this and failing. Nothing about this made sense, the light… the carving on the wall, which she couldn’t understand.

“What is going on” she wondered out loud, placing her hand on the carving to find the unnatural heat, in a bid for reassurance which succeeded.

Sophia knew that the sensible thing would be to turn round and just return to the beach, but turning behind her, she just walked forward for a few steps. Her very present fear, now replaced by her natural curiosity. Her dead torch, still in her hand but she didn’t place it back in her backpack, feeling more secure just holding it.

Out of the corner of her eye, just in the distance, she could see where the light seemed to begin and was perhaps the place it originated from. Deciding to continue on her path, almost stumbling over some stones which looked like they had been ripped from their original location, lying scattered on the ground.

Until she came to a smooth cut in the rock, made by hand, which seemed to have been made with care and attention. It did appear clear that this was where the light, whatever it was had originated from. So looking around out of habit, she pressed her way inside.

There was coldness in the room caused by the stones, which had been ornately carved into a chamber, with a high ceiling, which was laced with the strong small of salt.

Sophia looked up and too that the light seemed to come from a place above, which she knew was impossible so far up into the mountain.

Looking around see the light reflect from the rock, producing tiny crystals that glittered across the room, Sophia finally understand what she was standing in, and why the cave was so scared.

“It’s a Shine”, Sophia said to herself. In her time on the Islands, she had seen several, as part of her education when sister Julie had the rare opportunity to spend time with her, but those were nothing like this.

The Shrines on the Islands and there were so many, were filled with colour and ornate decoration. But the only indication of any real effort was the stone table in the centre of the room.

This came up her waist, and stood grander that anything had had ever seen. With graceful cravings in its surface, more expertly made then the cave wall.

Sophia brushed he hands over the serpent-like figures, from Korean mythology, marvelling at their detail, and smoothness. There were some words cut into the legs and table, but Sophia, even though she could speak and read Korean couldn’t understand this.

However, this looked ancient and all she could do was marvel at the detail. Knowing that Julie would be excited to see this, even if that could never happen.

Moving around the table, nearer to the wall, it was then she saw the four objects lying on the ground. Sophia stepped over, and kneeled down on the floor, shrugging off her backpack, and leaving it next to the table, along with her torch.

All were intact, but one which lay shattered into fragments. Like an intense burst of wind had knocked them over. And thinking back over the past few minutes that seemed a possibility. But one lay shattered and scattered across it the stone floor. Its original features were sadly unrecognisable.

Recognising that since this was a Shrine, these objects were gone from the correct place. Sophia picked the intact three up and put them carefully on the table, taking the time to remember what they were.

All of them, she remembered including the one that lay shattered were Kkoktu Statues, each one, at least, half a metre high. Typically used for funerals to protect the dead in the afterlife.

The painted colours had faded, but Sophia could still see that they were meant to be as she picked up the first one, and studied it carefully.  It looked like a Guardian standing fierce and armed with a sword tucked into its expertly carved belt. It looked just like a warrior, Sophia thought and from the mean look in its eyes, it looked poised and ready for a battle, which never came.

Placing him back in upright position, which made a scraping sound when the wood moved against the stone, Sophia then turned her attention to the Entertainer.

In a perfect contrast, he was dressed as an acrobat. His role, since he looked distinctly male, was made with the intention to comfort both the living and the dead in the afterlife. A phrase she had learned from her guidebook.

Placing him upright, Sophia the picked up the Caregiver, this resembled a woman, her face looking maternal and middle aged. Her role provided care and attention as if the deceased were still living, and placing her on the table. Sophia stepped back and realised that something was wrong.

“The Guardians before the Caregiver, the Entertainer after the Guardian,” she said out loud. There were marks on the table indicating where they once stood, as Sophia adjusted them to their rightful places, or as close too.

Stepping back to admire her handiwork, impressed she had remembered so much about Korean funeral rites, she pulled her iPhone from her pocket to at least take a picture.  Sophia lined it up perfect and pressed the shutter down.

Less than a second later, the world exploded into a brilliant light, which spent Sophia slamming into the stone wall, and crashing to the ground.

Looking up, she could only watch in fear as in front of the table, something begun to appear out of nowhere while Sophia tried to move back, but only found the cold stone wall.

Slowly the figure appeared, out of nothingness, in front of her. And all Sophia could do sit in horror, while…whatever it was, begun to solidify and resemble something human.

Sophia’s eyes darted over it, and she could make out the traditional Hanbok garment that was appearing as if it were real and it seemed to be transforming into a human.

Then Sophia begun to realise, that’s exactly what it was, as the face solidified and immediately started to resemble the face of a middle-aged woman.

Sophia eyes darted over, trying to take it all in, and noticed the resemblance to the Kkoktu statue still resting on the table. The Caregiver now resembling a human, yet her colouring was blue like the ocean. Who just looked down at her and just smiled serenity at Sophia, saying the only thing one could possibly say under the circumstances.

“Anyoung hashimnikka.”

The two words, so traditional, so formal and so unnatural, all Sophia could do was scramble to her feet and run.

Diving for the exit, she raced from the Shrine, and just run frantically.

Her heart thumping so hard, everything seemed to slow down, and she stumbled through the cave. Several times skidding on the damp, smooth rocks, and almost fell until the harsh light of the day finally appeared in sight.

Sophia dug her heels in harder, as the warmth of the sun grew closer and burst back into the daylight, and immediately fell onto the sand.

Until this moment, she hadn’t noticed that her knees had been grazed until she felt the dry sand sticking to them, and she just lay there on the sand, struggling to catch her ragged breath.

“Oh god, oh god, oh god” she kept repeating to herself. Had that just happened …what had just happened? What was that? Her mind in turmoil, when the phone vibrated in her pocket, she almost jumped with the shock, as she pulled out her iPhone to see a very familiar number.

“Hi Julie”, Sophia said to her sister trying to remain calm and failing, realising how out of breath her voice sounded. Oh god, calm down Sophia, she willed in her head. Since her sister noticed the agitation in her voice and was immediately concerned.

“I’ve been calling for hours, where were you?” Her sister’s tone reminding her of their mother’s voice.

“Well…well, I went for a walk and forgot the time” Noticing she had been in the cave for two hours…two hours. How could she in there for two hours? She had only gone in a few minutes earlier. How on earth did that become two hours?

“Forgot the time…why have you not been answering your phone?”

Sophia finally saw that her notification had come through now she had reception. Hence, she had seven missed called from her sister.

“Sorry…my phone. I turned it off…trying to save the battery”. The moment she said the words, she immediately cringed. Sophia wasn’t a natural liar and felt certain sure it showed.

“You sound out of breath, where have you been?”

“Well, I…it’s just hot and I got dehydrated,” Sophia said, her lie becoming a bit easier this time.  “Right, remember to drink some water…did you take your water bottle today?” Julie asked.

“Yeah, I did…I got some in my back…oh no”, Sophia breathed as her sister took on her authorial tone once more, “What was that?” Julie asked while Sophia thought quickly.

“Yeah, I got some water; I’ll be back at the hotel soon”. Sophia finished quickly before disconnecting the call, pacing her iPhone on the sand and just put her head in her hands. Her torch that was really Julie’s torch and the backpack…

Glancing back at the cave still scared, still forbidden and currently leaning next to the legs of a table of a Shrine that she shouldn’t have gone into were her things.

 

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