Hagu

A terrible thing lives in the south, a wretched thing they call her; though to say that ‘it’ is a she is pure folly for it holds only partial characteristics of a woman by any reasoning.
Within the heart of the swamps lurks this creature and she is known by the name Hagu.

‘Hagu.’ whisper grandparents to children, ‘Hagu will find you and make an awful meal of you should you become lost!’

…And children scare themselves at the edge of the swamp, and in their rooms at night through imagining shadows to be the creature, coming for the fat on their bones.
Now, there is the tale of Hagu of which grandparents speak which, frightening enough, keeps young kin away from shadowy corners – and then there is the truth of Hagu, of which no grandparent or child speaks because none that knows can ever tell, or ever return to their homes and this is proof of her wickedness… For all who meet this end, indeed… Meet their own end!
However, as with all things, there are some that have knowledge of hidden facts and obscured findings; there are some who learnt from the howling of the wolf, or the chatter of the fireflies what it is that lies within the woods or cave… Or swamp.

So, here is the truth of the Hagu tale, and a terrible truth it is for one as kindly as you to uncover!

Around 4000 years ago lived a woman by the name of Sunjinna, which means flower of the sun.
She was a pretty woman and daughter to the merchant of the province in which they lived. Sunjinna would want for nothing as her father, though rich, was a kindly man and loved his daughter so. Sunjinna’s love however was for her garden, which she filled with rare and beautiful plants and flowers from across the lands, which were brought to her by the traders with whom her father did business.

Sunjinna had a wall built around her garden to keep trespassers out, which were usually children coming for the fruit on her trees. This sent Sunjinna into a howling rage and if she ever caught a child she would beat them with a switch made from her rosebushes, which had grown strong and fierce, fed by the blood from the whipped children that fell upon the soil.
Her father, though saddened by his daughter’s selfishness, loved her still and desperately wanted her to be happy.
Since her mother had died many years before she was all he had left in the world and this was worth more to him than all the gold he ever gained.

One day a trader came from the seas, and upon seeing Sunjinna’s garden he told her that he had heard of a tree on an island which belonged to an ancient turtle and bore the most amazing fruit which if you were to taste it would immediately send you into bliss. Sunjinna was beside herself with this story and demanded to know where this island was. The man confessed he did not know and had only heard of it by way of a cat, which had travelled with him on his ship for a time.
Sunjinna would have none of this explanation and pressed the man with her finger demanding again to know where this island is. The sailor confessed, once again, that he did not know, but he could tell her of the island where he picked up the cat, for it was there that the cat had told him the turtle carried her from his island on his back.
Sunjinna took this information to her father and told him she wished to have the tree for her garden! The merchant, not wanting to deny his child, agreed to send a ship to search out the tree and return with it. Sunjinna scowled at her father, telling him that his men knew nothing of handling such a treasure, and sailors knew less for they spent no time on land and had no fingers for soil; she demanded instead that she lead the venture and recover the tree using her skills and her ‘green fingers’.
At first the merchant denied his daughter, for he feared losing her at sea, but so great was her crying and wailing at him that he eventually gave in and Sunjinna set sail for the turtle’s island.

They travelled for 3 months before they came to the island where the cat had met the sailor, and in this time had lost 4 men to sea beasts that attacked the ship and 2 to a storm, which almost had them turned over and sunk the vessel!
When upon the island Sunjinna felt at a loss, for no one knew or would tell her of the turtle’s island as they could see by her eyes the plan within her heart and these people loved the legend of old Goyanakazu the snapping turtle for he was as old as old could be in this world and such things must be respected, though kept away from in case they were to bite you in their grumpy way.
Sunjinna wailed at them but they paid her no mind, as to them she was simply a brat.
She stood by the water and was screaming out at the sea when she said something that no mortal should ever say:
She screamed at the top of her lungs that she wanted the tree and she wanted the people dead for crossing her plans, she screamed that she would give anything to have her way!

Sunjinna collapsed on the sand and sobbed pitiful tears for her own greed when suddenly she heard a voice:
“Hoi there girl,” came the voice, “Why is a pretty thing such as you crying so?”

Sunjinna looked up and saw a small man with grey skin and white hair standing over her, he wore a white suit with gold edging and carried a bag by his side, which all at once seemed to be made of a shimmering cloth and looked like it moved.
The man smiled at Sunjinna, and she saw his eyes were dark, like the well in her garden back home… Her garden back home…
‘Yes!’ thought Sunjinna, ‘My garden… MY tree!’

And, before she had time to really think she had told the old man of her desires and her hatred for the people of the island!
While she spoke, the old man cooed to her and tutted when she told him she was ignored… The old man called her pretty, and dear and said things to Sunjinna of how wicked they were to cross her… And in this way her anger grew and her righteousness overtook her anger until she finally said again, what no mortal should ever say:
‘I would give anything to get my way!’

The old man smiled at Sunjinna, and leant in close; his breath, which smelled of sweetened milk, fell on her face as he echoed:
“Anything?”

Sunjinna looked at the old man and answered back:
“I want that tree!”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, aha!” cried the man in a shrill voice, “And you shall have it, pretty!” he said, as he danced a dervishes’ jig on the sand.
“The island is less than a day to the west of this beach, keep true your course through the fog and you shall find your tree!”

Sunjinna sprang up and ran to her boat without pause or question, leaving the old man chuckling to himself as he danced. A group of children saw the dancing man and screamed, they picked up sticks and rocks which they threw at him shouting:
“Devil, devil what have you done!? What have you done!?”

The old man turned to them, bared his teeth and vanished in a whirlwind of sand. The youngest of the children started to cry as they knew this man, this devil, to be an ancient Djin and nothing good can come of his presence; worst still within his bag he held the hearts of all who struck a deal with him and, though she knew nothing of it, this was to be Sunjinna’s fate and much more yet to come and too terrible to tell of now!

Sunjinna’s boat travelled west for a day and, as the old man had said, they came upon the island. Almost maddened now with the hunt she bid the crew to take the boat around the island and leave her on the shore with her tools, for she trusted no man. They did as asked, leaving Sunjinna heading inland.
In time, as the island was small, she came across the tree, the well-worn path leading straight from the beach through to the centre of the woods. Her mouth fell open and drool poured over her lip when she saw the fruit on the tree. Immediately she pulled a piece off and ate it… Colours! Flavours! Music! Bliss!
She took another, and another, gobbling them down, and with each one her hunger for more grew and with each one her little piece of bliss dissolved faster for this fruit was never meant for humans, in truth it was maddening to them; a kind of poison that doesn’t kill but enslaves you instead!

Sunjinna, her eyes now wild and wicked, filled her mouth with the fruit and whirled around to strike a blow at the root of the tree with hope of stealing it away as fast as she could. For now it was her tree and she belonged to it in return! Sunjinna fell to the ground, her tool shattering in her hand! The root of the tree was tougher than stone and Sunjinna howled a terrible howl at this foiling. She was just about to collapse as she did on the beach when she heard a voice through the woods.

“Hoi there, hoi there! Who is howling, who is in my woods!? I shall snap at you with my beak! I have no time for strangers!”

“The turtle!” hissed Sunjinna, “That greedy Beast wants my tree!”

Dark thoughts formed in her mind and she hid herself in the bushes.
Goyanakazu came up to the tree and spied the stones from the fruit on the ground; he was just about to start snapping wildly when everything went black!
Sunjinna knelt on the ground, her broken tool in her hands and blood over her dress… Before her lay the head of Goyanakazu, the oldest turtle that ever lived, he who tasted the first drop of water as it fell to the earth, the grumpy old man of the sea, now dead; his sad looking shell lying flat on the ground.

“Stupid turtle!” she hissed, “It is my tree…” she raged, “Miiine!”

As she screamed, the Djin from the beach appeared from the woods clapping his hands.
“Bravo pretty… Bravo!” he said, “I have wished that turtle dead for aeons now, and you have delivered him for me!”

Sunjinna turned to the man, her eyes were wild and she opened her mouth to scream at him… To keep clear of her tree… But instead, a terrible braying came and it echoed like a whine in a cavern. She went to cry out but again the sound came wrong, this time a hiss.
The old, dark eyed Djin looked down at her kneeling on the ground, blooded and guttural… A grin crept across his face as he said:
“Stupid greedy human…” he lithed at her, “You have killed the old man of the sea… Now his island is mine… Now his tree is yours, along with its curse, for no mortal should ever taste its fruit!”

The Djin leaned in closer to Sunjinna, his breath this time like soured milk.

“And this…” he hissed, plunging his hand into Sunjinna’s chest, “Is mine also!!”

And he pulled out her beating heart!

Sunjinna howled a long and painful howl, the sound ran through the island to the boat where the men shivered, fearing some great beast had been awoken by the brutish girl they had delivered to the shore; even the Djin looked shaken by the sound and turning to her quickly said:
“You have struck a deal with a Djin girl and the price you pay is your heart. You have killed old Goyanakazu girl and the price you pay is your humanity. You have eaten the fruit of this tree girl and the price you pay… Is your soul!”

He stood above her now, as she writhed on the floor and tutted, shaking his head he whispered:
“We must have you off this island now, for a terrible creature you will become and I have no wish to keep you here!”

With that he kicked Sunjinna, and the world turned black for her.

In the tree Caranaux huddled himself in the leaves and began to cry. He took to the air cawing out:
“Devil… Devil… What have you done… What have you done!?”

The Djin looked up at the crow and just laughed a black laugh.

A month later, 2 children were skipping classes and hunting for bullfrogs by the river which ebbed from the swamps in the southern isles of the known world when they noticed a flag flying above the dunes, they ran to the top and upon looking down they saw a ship beached and broken upon the sand.

“Pirates!” cried out the boy, and ran down the dune before the girl could stop him; she chased him to the hull of the ship where he had stopped in his tracks. He was looking at something in the sand; marks that looked like something had been dragged. Before she could reach him the boy was off again, this time into the swamp whooping and hollering about treasure as he went!
She called to him to wait for her and he called back at her to catch up and all the while, within the hull of the ship no one called after them, no sound came save for the buzzing of flies over the lifeless bodies of the crew, piled up together; half eaten, each one with its heart missing!

The girl reached the boy again as he stood, stopped in his tracks. She began scolding him when she noticed he wasn’t paying her attention. She was about to poke him when he whispered:
“Look Eljá, look at this marvel.”

The girl looked ahead and saw, within a clearing a great and beautiful tree from which hung the most delicious looking fruit! Her jaw dropped, her eyes widened and she stared to salivate when suddenly she was knocked over by the boy running to the tree. He jumped up grabbing for the fruit, his eyes wild with desire; he flailed desperately at the fruit but was too small and was just turning to call Eljá to help him reach when he coughed, he looked up coughing again, and saw a pale horror on the girl’s face, he thought he could see her screaming his name but the sound was wrong, instead of ‘Lœun’ he heard a terrible rasping sound, he coughed again and saw what looked a little like green twigs sprout from his chest before blackness took him.

Eljá ran, she never looked back, she ran… Even when the sound behind her became like a terrifying cry of a hundred horses fleeing from lightning she didn’t look, or stop. She ran until she burst through the doors of the schoolhouse and collapsed on the floor unconscious and spattered with blood.
It was 2 days before she woke to tell the townspeople what had happened, and, as she spoke a dark cloud fell over the land. When she had finished everyone in the room was pale with fright and some had quietly started to cry.
A search party was sent out as far as the ship, but none dared venture further, and some who were there swore they heard crying coming from the swamp, though all knew Lœun to be lost to them.

Since recounting her story, Eljá had fallen into a feverish sleep where she would howl and reach out for some unknown thing. The next morning her father was woken by a scream and rushed to find her mother in the room and the girl’s bed empty!
Again a search party was sent out as far as the ship but once again all were too scared to enter the swamp even though they all knew Eljá had returned to it, drawn by the fruit of the tree!

Deep within the swamp Eljá came to the tree; entranced she approached it half awake, half asleep. She didn’t even hear the hissing sound or see as the creature, once Sunjinna; beloved daughter of the merchant, made its way toward her. Its black hollow eyes looking over her with disgust as, crouching on old Goyanakazu’s shell she floated on the air behind Eljá, her long spindly, green fingers reaching out to pull the heart from the girl, and stuff it in the withered hold left by the Djin!

Eljá stood transfixed by the tree, she heard nothing and only slightly felt herself cough, she looked at the strange spots of red appearing on her night-gown as darkness closed in around her.