The Old Man Who Became A Fish
Some years ago a noted official became the magistrate of Ko-song County. On a certain day a guest called on him to pay his respects, and when noon came the magistrate had a table of food prepared for him, on which was a dish of skate soup. When the guest saw the soup he twisted his features and refused it, saying, “To-day I am fasting from meat, and so beg to be excused.” His face grew very pale, and tears flowed from his eyes. The magistrate thought this behaviour strange, and asked him two or three times the meaning of it. When he could no longer withhold a reply, he went into all the particulars and told him the story.
“Your humble servant,” he said, “has in his life met with much unheard-of and unhappy experience, which he has never told to a living soul, but now that your Excellency asks it of me, I cannot refrain from telling. Your servant’s father was a very old man, nearly a hundred, when one day he was taken down with a high fever, in which his body was like a fiery furnace. Seeing the danger he was in, his children gathered about weeping, thinking that the time of his departure had surely come. But he lived, and a few days later said to us, ‘I am burdened with so great a heat in this sickness that I am not able to endure it longer. I would like to go out to the bank of the river that runs before the house and see the water flowing by, and be refreshed by it. Do not disobey me now, but carry me out at once to the water’s edge.’
“We remonstrated with him and begged him not to do so, but he grew very angry, and said, ‘If you do not as I command, you will be the death of me’; and so, seeing that there was no help for it, we bore him out and placed him on the bank of the river. He, seeing the water, was greatly delighted, and said, ‘The clear flowing water cures my sickness.’ A moment later he said further, ‘I’d like to be quite alone and rid of you all for a little. Go away into the wood and wait till I tell you to come.’
“We again remonstrated about this, but he grew furiously angry, so that we were helpless. We feared that if we insisted, his sickness would grow worse, and so we were compelled to yield. We went a short distance away and then turned to look, when suddenly the old father was gone from the place where he had been seated. We hurried back to see what had happened. My father had taken off his clothes and plunged into the water, which was muddied. His body was already half metamorphosed into a skate. We saw its transformation in terror, and did not dare to go near him, when all at once it became changed into a great flatfish, that swam and plunged and disported itself in the water with intense delight. He looked back at us as though he could hardly bear to go, but a moment later he was off, entered the deep sea, and did not again appear.
“On the edge of the stream where he had changed his form we found his finger-nails and a tooth. These we buried, and to-day as a family we all abstain from skate fish, and when we see the neighbours frying or eating it we are overcome with disgust and horror.”
– Korean Folk Tales, Imps, Ghosts and Faries by Im Bang & Yi Ryuk (Translated by James S. Gale) [Published 1913]