Josefina Gurung

Born in Hongkong, raised in Nepal. Loves to take long nature walks and embracing the smallest things in life. With a habit of daydreaming, she’ll be constantly observing the world she finds herself in, but when she’s not, she’ll either be drawing, painting clouds or trying to learn different choreographies and anything new that sparks her interest. Prompted by wanting to help those around her, she now realises her interest and the fascination that comes with writing. She aims to become a novelist who aspires to spread the warmth and the sparks that comes from storytelling.

Illustration of Kaiden's dorm room
Image credit: Josefina Gurung

Swaying

“It’s frightening ’cause I would call you an imbecile, but that’d be cruel as you wouldn’t be able to spell it,” Nina stated with no hint of remorse on her face.

Ingrid who had been quietly sipping her matcha latte, chortled loudly while grappling the side of the bench to stop herself from falling over.

“Ha ha,” I added sarcastically.

“In our defence, this kind of stuff only happens as an excuse. Given for not having done your homework,” Ingrid said between giggles, brushing the little tears from her eyes.

Letting out a groan in frustration, I looked down at what was once my perfectly printed and stapled bundle of papers. Now crumpled, chewed, with half of its pages missing, it oddly resembled a badly drawn outline of a country. The more I tried to fix it, the more it destroyed into uneven confetti. I was angry but mostly disappointed. Disappointed in myself for not having even properly saved the files of this lengthy assignment, one I had sacrificed a whole week for.

It all happened so suddenly. I was walking from my dormitory checking to see if I had printed everything for the assignment. The deadline wasn’t for two days, but I thought I’d like to hand it in a bit quicker. Right next to our two-storey dormitory resides a couple with their beautiful walnut brown foxhounds. They’re twins and one of them loves me while the other, let’s say, we’re not so much on friendly terms.

“I will never. Eat. Beef jerky. When handling my assignments. Ever again,” I said, burying my face in my hands. Ingrid roared out laughing at this and even the impassive Nina chuckled at my statement.

“As the prophecy foretold. I shall then make my wa-“

“Wait, hold up Kaiden! Okay. Sorry. We promise to be serious.” Ingrid mimicked to pull a zip across her mouth.

I squinted at both of them especially at Nina, who sighed and nodded back in response. Contemplating the authenticity of their apologies, I sat back down slowly plonking my head on the wooden table and let out a long throaty groan. The cheerful weather contrasting the gloomy aura that I was emitting.

“Question,” Ingrid said. I hummed back, my head still lying on the table.

“Which one of the twins was it?” continued Nina.

“No!” I snapped, whipping my head back up.

“Yes.” Nina’s expression was deadpan serious.

I stared at her, hard. Burying my head back down between my arms. “Too much love can be hard sometimes, Nina.” As my cheeks flushed to an unsettled redness, I could hear the muffled voices of two teenagers trying their best to conceal their resounding laughter.

***

I had been proud that my circumstances hadn’t forced me down the path of being deprived of all sleep essential to the human body. Well, that was until today. Both Nina and Ingrid had helped me find all the sources of my references. Since I had a whole day of work tomorrow, it was crucial I finished retyping this assignment tonight.

It was midnight and my body wasn’t approving the fourth cup of coffee I was generously chugging down. Noticing the physical shakiness from the overload of caffeine in my system, I opted for a walk around the neighbourhood. It’s always awfully uncomfortable to feel the wind sinking its way deep down my spine, especially during summer when Montana is expected to get dry as the Sahara Desert. I like knowing beforehand what’s to be expected because I despise suspense, that crawling fear of the unknown. Despite its cloudless sky and the absence of the moon, the night was substantially alive. Yet, astonishingly quiet, in fact too quiet. There were no signs of any living creatures around. Just the oddly shaped houses, eerily visible from the weakly lit street lamps. Most of the houses were dark as well, an indication that everyone had already fallen asleep except for a few. Ah, us ill-fated individuals. Flouting or being forced to flout the purpose of the night. Deprived of the sleep that relieves the weary labourer and heals hurt minds, I thought.

Just then the slight breeze started shifting into a growing howl. Disapproving howls, I shuddered in revulsion. Grabbing my phone from my pocket, I connected my earphones and pressed the play button. Mozart’s Sonata No.17 in C started playing. One of my favourite compositions. It’s not saddening nor are the melodies a cynical reminder of reality, it’s smile provokingly cheery. I’d always find myself humming along which eventually led to whistling. As I whistled walking down the street, the wind hurled itself into a shuddering fury.

Promptly stopping right after, I recalled my grandma always telling me off for my habit, especially during the night-time. All because our family had this long-lived superstition that whistling attracted the wandering spirits. It was believed that whistling was a way of “calling” the spirits because the vibration of sounds that was created, was on the frequency they could hear. Especially during the night when their senses were believed to be at their peak. If the day was for the humans, then the night was for the unknown. So, whistling of any sort was forbidden, but I liked whistling. It eased my mind. Just what I needed.

“I mean it’s just a myth and Nan has tons of it anyways.” Shrugging my thoughts off, I continued on my path. As Mozart’s Sonata came to an end, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain followed right after. That was weird, for I was sure my playlist wasn’t on shuffle but as soon as the suspense of the clarinet and flutes starting booming its way through the earphones, it felt very fitting in the menacing environment I now realised myself to be in. Surprisingly, I was feeling thrilled. After what seemed like approximately twenty minutes and with the wind accelerating, I quicken up my pace, heading back inside.

Two a.m. and my progression was going on quite well. Granted my eyes were tired but my body was adapting. Finishing up my fifth page, my urge to grab a drink was increasing every minute. Who would have thought that pulling an all-nighter could keep you more hydrated than during the day? The only thing was that I couldn’t find my water bottles anywhere. After some moments of searching, I shuffled the chair towards my bed, pulling the duvets up in hopes to find the extras that I always stashed underneath, but I found myself grabbing on to nothing.

Unplugging my earphone, I crawled down on all fours fully lifting my blanket. Somehow, they had managed to roll down further towards the other side. As I tried to reach the bottles, it was as if I was suddenly submerged underwater and as expected the ringing sensation followed right after. Vigorously rubbing my ears, I tried to reach the water bottles. Going to the opposite side of my bed was more logical, but that meant getting up and starting over again and I’d rather prefer crawling. The ringing started to grow exponentially louder. Lying on my stomach, I finally managed to grab the bottle. Frowning disapprovingly; the bottles were wet, saturated. I hadn’t filled them with frozen water nor kept them in the freezer. As the tinnitus faded away, I was instead greeted by the scrape of my window sliding open, inviting the hollering wail of the wind. I froze up.

It was strange. Admittedly our dorm had fairly bad windows, but no wind was this strong. The rhythmic beat of my heart began drumming its way up towards my ears, muffling the music that was coming from my earphones. Could it be a murderer? Or even worse. A thief, here to get their hands on my precious Nintendo Switch!? I managed to crawl underneath the bed, making sure to make as little noise as possible. Calming my breath, I waited. To my surprise, no one entered the room. Still, I waited, just in case. As I inched myself further on towards the other side, slowing peeping my head out to get a clearer look and to my utter solace, found complete emptiness. Breathing in a sigh of relief, I let out a slight chuckle. There you have it, that’s a sign that you’ve drunk too much coffee, Kaiden. I thought.

Slithering the upper half of my body out, I pulled myself up to close the window. The glass, however, was foggy as if someone had been breathing onto it. No. A fog that accumulates by breathing only stays if the surface of the glass is cold enough but it’s undoubtedly humid today. Except for the abnormal winds. There wasn’t anything cold except the coldness that steeped after. Slowly, I backed away and that’s when I heard it. Someone whistling Mozart’s Sonata.

I could feel my feet freezing up, like being held by an invisible force that was unknown to me, leaving the upper half of my body awkwardly twisted back. Soon I could feel my legs chattering. Limbs numb. My hands started trembling, for a moment my heart had completely fallen inside my ribcage.

Standing before me on the other side of my bed, it stood still. Wrapped in sackcloth, ropes tired around its knees, stomach and chest. Facing downwards. Yet I could feel its sinister stare like it was observing me. Its arms were free from the confinement of the sackcloth and I could see that they were pale. Default Paper pale. To my utter dismay, it was glowing, not the luminescence emission but shining. A thousand thoughts raced across my mind but all I could gather was that right now, there was someone else present in this room other than myself.

I could almost see its human-like shoulders bouncing up and down. Indicating that what I was seeing was breathing and alive. By the time I had taken note of all its ghastly features, my body had managed to exit the frozen state. The rush of adrenaline now pumping around my body. But I couldn’t move. I just couldn’t. Was it the crippling fear or the aftermath of giving your heart the biggest jump fright? Either way, I stayed stuck. Petrified. Helpless.

The creature slowly lifted its head causing me to flinch in response. I screamed but there was no sound. What I saw was an exact reflection of myself. I was there, in front of my own self, but just ghostly. Eyes that were disturbingly hollow. We stood there staring at each other. Before my body could react, the radiating glow dimmed as the creature took a step forward. Its ungainly step made it start swaying. Slowly. Back and forth, like a towering structure on the verge of toppling over. Fear paralysed my body, leaving me to observe in pure horror. Moving slowly, it started crouching down, ready to make a sprint towards me. As it lunged forward, it halted on its other step, swaying back again. Slowly. Taunting my heart that now had reached my throat. I blinked and it was right before my face, gripping me slowly, distorting my visions. I could vaguely see the room spinning around as everything started turning blurry. With every inch of my body immobilised; my eyes shut as my head exploded out a throbbing screech.

Kaiden opened his eyes, blinking blankly. Confusion swept over his once numb body.

“Why… did I come here again?” he asked, no one in particular.

Like an actor waiting for his cue, he stood there, all alone, blinking cluelessly next to his window. Feeling a slight breeze at the back of his neck he whipped his head back to see the window wide open. His gaze urgently scanning the room, unable to rub off that uneasy feeling that he may just have forgotten something very important. He glimpsed at the clock situated above his bed frame. Eyes widened, for it was already five in the morning. Quickly grabbing the window by its frame, he slid it shut and hurried back towards his desk. Feeling the unswallowable hoarseness in his throat, Kaiden grabbed the water bottle on his desk realising that it was empty. Scooting his chair over to his bedside, he reached down to grab the extra bottles stacked underneath.

Throughout the morning, Kaiden would occasionally find himself staring mindlessly at the window. For in the distance, he’d hear the inaudible mournful tune of someone whistling.

A whistle only he could hear.

“The End.” Jacqueline announced, looking up away from her phone screen.

Kaiden who seemed to have been eagerly waiting for this moment yelped in the hopes of releasing himself from Nina’s powerful grasp.

“Ow! Nina stop. Get off me- your nails.”

“No, just no. I refuse to believe that Kaiden- I… I mean story Kaiden is haunted by the endless curse of his doppelganger thing whistling!” howled Nina, her eyes shut while still holding on as if her life depended on it.

“That wasn’t even scary,” scoffed Ingrid, rubbing both her upper arms.

Jacqueline sent a gleeful grin. “But, did you guys enjoy it?” she asked.

“I mean, you used our names for the characters of your horror story. Kinda creepy but only cause our names were there. I mean…” Kaiden replied, scratching the back of his neck. Nina who was still using Kaiden as a shield finally peeped out from behind.

“Well, as Poe once said, ‘All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream,’ ” quoted Jacqueline back in response. With a mischievous smile, she turned her gaze towards Nina.

“No. I don’t want to. Can we please go inside instead?” pleaded Nina.

“Absolutely… not! We’re just getting started plus, this was your idea.” Jacqueline chuckled.

“Was not! Ingrid dared me, she said I couldn’t handle-“

“-Well, are you?” teased Ingrid.

Nina frowned, shoving Kaiden towards Ingrid. Kaiden, who breathed a sigh of relief, started intensely rubbing his numb arm.

“Guys. Guys. We’re here, at this rooftop party so we can have fun. Remember? It’s summer! What better season to share horror stories to spike some chill down our spineless spines, right?” Jacqueline reminded.

“Alright, but I’ve got a question,” announced Ingrid. Jacqueline raised her eyebrow, tilting her head in response.

“Is it purely fictional or are you going to pull the “based on true story” card on us?”

Nina turned her attention towards Jacqueline, even Kaiden seemed involved. Jacqueline chuckled, shrugging nonchalantly.

“Oh. Come. On!” groaned the three simultaneously.

As the four friends huddled together excitedly for Nina to share her story. Jaqueline picked up her phone, her empty notes reflecting back at her. Turning her phone off she paused for a second. Somewhere in the distance, she could hear a passer-by, merrily whistling. The wind started picking up, causing Kaiden to pull his hoodie over his head.

“Alright, my dudes. You know the rules. No screaming. No shouting or numbing someone’s arm. With their nails. It’s been very quiet this whole evening so, let’s keep it that way so we don’t make little Mrs Lee yell at us again from across the street,” he said, eyeing everyone. Nina specifically.

“Yes sir,” replied the girls in unison.

“Although, I’m impressed. Has your neighbourhood always been this quiet Nina?” Ingrid asked.

“Not sure. Guess everyone’s tired and probably inside cause it’s Friday after all.”

“Dude let me finish my assignment at your place. It’s so relaxing,” added Kaiden.

“Why? Are you afraid that the creature from Jacqueline’s story will come haunting you when you’re alone?” cooed Ingrid.

“It’s not even real.”

“We don’t know that.”

“Is that so? Then why not ask Jacqueline herself.” The three simultaneously turned towards her, who seemed to be staring back at them. “Is Ingrid making any sense?”

Jacqueline who had been observing the events behind from where her friends were seated, watched the swaying shadow bolting its way from a house to another. Rushing itself closer towards the source of the whistle. The closer it got, the more it manifested to a physical form.

It was hauntingly pitiful because after all, spirits were once humans too and all they yearned, was for their presence to be known. To be known for their unjustly deaths. If a spirit were to wander around, it meant it was among the lost ones. Those who not only ended their own lives but those who were the victims of brutal inhumanity. The stories these spirits were to tell, were of greater fear than anyone who witnessed them could endure. Because it was fear that made humans forget ever even seeing them. She looked back to her friends who were eagerly waiting for an answer.

“Nope. Not at all.” Smiled Jacqueline. All that we see, is truly a dream within a dream, she thought.

Screenshot of WEBTOON's home page.

Wonderous World of WEBTOON: Why Webtoons Should Be on Your Next Reading List

Combine the web with cartoons and there you have it: Webtoons. If you’re a fan of comics, mangas or stories in general, Webtoon has something for everyone. Originating from South Korea, manhwa or webtoons surged due to their easy accessibility; our smartphones. Now, Line Webtoon or Webtoon is a webtoon publishing platform, home to thousands of stories from creators/artist around the globe.

Accessed through their global website or via their app, the platform partners with creators to publish original content or host other series on its self-publishing site called Canvas. The webtoon comics function as a serialised novel with one or two episodes released per week. Users are notified via their email or notification, if they’ve subscribed to their favourites, so they’ll always be updated.

Compared to manga and online comics, webtoons differ slightly in its execution. Since webtoons are rarely published in a physical format, so avoiding expensive printing costs, they are likely to be in colour which makes for a more immersive reading experience. Additionally, webtoons utilise their digital format by sometimes featuring music and/or animation that play during certain chapters, allowing creativity and variety.

Now the fun part: My webtoon recommendations!

Gourmet Hound | Drama | Completed Series

Leehama creates a heart-warming and soul-filling story, fit for all ages.

Lucy Fuji, with her uncanny sense of taste and smell discovers that her favourite restaurant (Dimanche) has changed their kitchen staff. After a lucky encounter with two former chefs, she decides to track down Dimanche’s former employees, a journey that seeks to find the ‘taste’ of the unknown chef as both good and bad memories that led to their separation starts to unravel. 

A delicious read! All the characters are well fleshed out, even their names are after various kinds of food. I adored how every chapter contains a little food/dish description that connects to the chapter titles.

Sweet Home | Thriller (Disclaimer: Sensitive topics) | Completed Series

When the world gets flipped over by the invasion of monsters, would a troubled 18-year-old Hyun Cha, be able to survive till the very end?

Carnby and Youngchan, masters of ingenious suspense, create this world where an individual’s hidden desires manifest as human killing monsters while their minds enter a fake façade of a never-ending happiness. This webtoon is sure to keep you stunned and constantly on your heels with its commendable character development, persistent cliff-hanger, satisfactory plot twist and its most heartfelt ending. A must read! 

The Strongest Florist | Action | Ongoing Series

Created by Hyun Hoo Joo and Kumtata, a light read about Jaeho, who dreams nothing more than owning a flower shop. But with his overbearing father pushing him to become an MMA fighter, Jaeho enters a virtual reality game (called New World) where he might just be able to become a florist. The subversion of character expectation will undoubtably leave you marvelling, along with some occasional chuckles, truly a fun read.  

Overall, Webtoons are a pleasant gateway to a world full of possibilities. They allow their creators immense creative freedom by not just focusing on how a story is delivered but also what they would like their readers to experience while reading it. Because of their quick and short format, they’re perfect if you’d like to recharge at the end of an exhausting day. Therefore, why not give it a go?

Composite credit: Josefina Gurung