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This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog
Translated by: ShawnSuh
Edited by: SootyOwl
Juho thought about what San Jung had just told him. With his mind working busily to interpret her words in different ways, he kept his eyes fixed on her.
“Why so serious?” Sang asked on his way out of the bathroom, from where the flushing sound of a toilet came.
Then, San Jung answered in an indifferent tone, “We were in the middle of talking about my award.”
Nodding affirmingly, he looked out the window.
“I guess it’s too late to do anything now. It’s already dark out. Why don’t we just eat and call it a night?”
“OK. You two sleep in the big room, then. Dae Soo and l will take the master bedroom.”
“Where are the blankets?”
“I’ll bring ’em out.”
Just like that, Sang secured a place to sleep like an old timer, and Juho followed San Jung in order to get his blanket. Her black clothes swayed about.
“You too, Mr. Choi.”
Because there was no bed in the room, the two guys had to sleep on the floor. When Juho lay down, he saw what seemed like a crossbeam on the ceiling. Judging from the looks of it, it didn’t seem like it was actually contributing to the structural integrity of the house. If anything, it seemed more like a decoration.
‘If it’s just part of the interior, why is it in this room?’
With that, Juho reminisced to the memory of his past life. He couldn’t remember exactly when San Jung had died. It had been news that he had come across years after he had graduated from high school, when he had had no place to go.
‘Was it in the subway station? Maybe I saw it on somebody’s phone. Or a rumor, perhaps?’
Whatever it had been, it had been delivering the news of her death repeatedly, saying that the author hadn’t even left a will. What Juho did remember vividly was the place of her death: in the mountains. He also remembered thinking that the place had suited her personality. She had lived in the mountains, and on the ceiling of a room within it, there was a crossbeam.
“Do you come here often?” Juho asked Sang, who was lying next to him.
“As much as I can. Why do you ask?” Sang said, tossing and turning toward Juho.
“You seemed like you knew where everything was when you were cooking dinner.”
He had known where to find everything in the kitchen, and as a side note, his cooking skill was quite impressive. Unfortunately, the food in his lunch box had transformed into a mess that had looked less than appetizing.
“Man, I’ve said this before, but you really are quick.”
Then, lifting his foot up, he grabbed behind his knees and pulled them toward his torso. It was his method of stretching.
“I come visit so San Jung doesn’t get bored by herself.”
With that, Juho looked at Sang’s toes. They were quite long.
“She seems like the type who wouldn’t even bother to eat when she’s alone, you know? Dae Soo’s been taking care of her a lot, too. It’s a gathering. A “class reunion,” if you will. Anyway, when San Jung’s not writing, the members come here often, even without her inviting us.”
The rest of the authors in the group had to be thinking the same thing. It wasn’t clear whether or not it was conscious, but they certainly didn’t feel safe about leaving San Jung alone in the mountains. After all, they had been reading what she had been writing. As Juho looked at the crossbeam on the ceiling, he couldn’t help but imagine it getting closer to him. Then, a scene played in his head where the crossbeam fell from the ceiling, crushing him underneath it. The coarse-looking crossbeam wasn’t supporting anything.
Then, a choking sound filled the room. When Juho looked to his side, Sang had already fallen asleep with his mouth slightly parted. It sounded like air was rushing into that hole, or perhaps, his nostrils, which were always open. The snoring repeated the cycle of crescendos followed by diminuendos.
In an attempt to sleep, Juho closed his eyes, but unfortunately, his ears kept working restlessly. Then, with one, loud choking sound, the room sank back into silence.
‘Is he not breathing?’
Juho opened his eyes in order to check on Sang, and soon, there was sound air escaping. From then on, the snoring continued.
Wanting to sleep, Juho tossed and turned noticeably, but as audacious as he had always been, Sang’s eyes remained closed. At that, Juho let out a sigh, realizing that sleeping was no longer a possibility. Then, he sat up slowly, secretly hoping that the movement would wake up Sang, but just like his name suggested, Sang Choi really was on top of everything he did. At which point, it dawned on Juho what San Jung had said about sounds in the mountains.
Having given up trying to sleep, Juho went out to the living room. Because there were so many windows in the house, the living room felt rather cool, as if maintaining the same temperature as outside. However, it did feel like it would get cold in the winter. While the place might not be the best living space, it was quite nice as a writing space, and San Jung seemed to have been well aware of her priorities.
Then, he went into the kitchen and turned on the light in order to pour himself a cup of water. Letting his eyes adjust to the sudden brightness for a brief moment, he opened the refrigerator and poured himself a cup of water. After quenching his thirst, he stared at the sink absentmindedly for a little while. Then, when he reached into his pocket in order to check the time, he realized that it was empty, and that he had left his phone back in the room.
The faint sound of Sang’s snores reverberated from the distance.
‘I can’t believe I can hear it from all the way here.’
It was almost awe-inspiring. Because Juho no longer had the confidence to go back into the room, he walked back out to the living room and saw San Jung.
“Were you not sleeping?”
She didn’t seemed taken aback by Juho coming out of the kitchen. Simply, she stared in the direction from where Sang’s snores were coming.
“Quite a snorer, isn’t he? He’s known for that.”
“Is that why you put me in the same room as him?”
“I actually wanted to go on a late night walk with you,” she said as if she had predicted that Juho would come out of the room, unable to sleep. Then, San Jung’s clothes came into Juho’s view. They were still black and looked more like something she would wear when going out. However, because Juho himself had gone to bed wearing his sweatshirt and pants, the sight wasn’t all that jarring. With that, San Jung walked toward the door, and as he had done previously, he followed her.
“You could have just asked.”
“Dae Soo suggested that you should experience Sang Choi’s top-notch snores in person.”
“That’s cruel of you two.”
As soon as Juho walked outside, the wind blew. The mountain visible from the front yard of the house was nothing but a black mound. It was too dark to see anything. Then, as soon as she came out, she opened a cabinet in the corner of the house and handed Juho a flashlight. It would be Juho’s first time hiking at night.
“Isn’t it dangerous here? You said there are snakes.”
“It’s OK. I know the safe paths.”
With that, the two made their way up the mountain. With a long tree branch in her hand, San Jung walked while tapping the ground constantly. Relying solely on a flashlight for visibility while hiking was a rather nerve-racking task, and much more demanding physically. They were vulnerable and would fall prey to whatever decided to jump out and attack them.
‘Is this why she hikes at night? For this experience?’
Aside from their footsteps and breathing, the mountains were completely silent, and just as she had described previously, there was no sound aside from those which were being made by humans. On top of that, Juho had to be contributing to the silence, making the creatures wary of his unfamiliar presence.
As he walked while looking down at his feet, San Jung’s voice came from the front.
“I read your piece, ‘River,'” she said in the dark, shaking along with her steps. “It was well written.”
“Thank you,” Juho said, expressing gratitude for her compliment.
The sound of the tree branch rhythmically hitting the surface of the ground resounded throughout.
“Have you ever drowned?”
“What about dying?”
Although the answer would be a ‘yes,’ Juho hesitated for a little while. Then, something snapped under his foot.
“Do I seem like a ghost to you?” he asked, in a the same manner in which he had heard her ask previously.
Then, without even looking back, she said, “No.”
It was a brief answer, and it faded only quicker in the dark.
“That would mean that you’re writing even as a ghost. That would be absurd.”
Juho felt pricked in the heart.
“Right? Haha! That would be absurd.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Why is that?”
“Because there shouldn’t be anything after you die. That’s what makes death, death, right?”
At that, Juho looked down at his hands holding a flashlight. It was with those very hands that he had written a number of pieces after he had died, and he had also read a number of books since.
“How are you able to write like that?”
Then, focusing on the path illuminated only by his flashlight, he answered, “as in… ?”
“Your portrayal of death.”
Juho tried to breathe quietly in order to hear her thin voice better.
“What about it?”
She gave no answer, and Juho, too, followed her quietly. The higher up they went, the darker their surroundings grew.
‘How far are we going? Where are we going?’
Asking himself questions which he should have asked before they had started climbing, Juho looked back, and saw nothing but gaping darkness, much like San Jung.
“Why couldn’t I write like that?”
What came out of her mouth after quite some time was a question. Looking down at his feet, Juho answered. His feet moved busily, and he couldn’t tell whether or not he was running out of breath.
“Because you’re not Yun Woo.”
Only Yun Woo was capable of writing ‘River,’ and as someone who had experienced death firsthand, only Juho was capable of writing a short story like that. Needless to say, Juho had put in a lot of effort into making sure that it turned out the way he had intended, and behind that intention, was sincerity.
“I guess so.”
Again, a brief answer. Because Juho had been occupied with his steps, he didn’t catch the subtle emotion hidden within that brief moment. All he could do was look into the dark and try to imagine the look on San Jung’s face. Then, she asked, “Did you read my piece?”
“What did you think?”
A snapping sound came from below. Although it was a tree branch, what Juho felt through the sole of his shoe was similar to a snake.
“Ideal, kind of fuzzy, subtle, and a little exciting at times. It was almost like being saved.”
That was what her writing had been like.
“Even though it was on the subject of death.”
That was San Jung’s perspective on death. Contrary to her belief, her portrayal of death was heavily embellished. Despite claiming that there was nothing after death, she, herself, was leaning on it.
“Seems like my piece didn’t really resonate with you,” said the darkness.
When Juho pointed his flashlight slightly higher, he was reassured by the sight of San Jung’s legs in front of him.
“Is that how it came across?”
“Maybe I’m just feeling pricked in the heart.”
With that, San Jung kept walking in silence. After walking quietly for some time, Juho realized that his sense of time was starting get hazy yet again. He had no idea for how long or how far he had been walking, nor did he know the direction he had been walking toward. Still, it was somewhat of a familiar feeling. Then, a crow in his mind cawed, echoing throughout the mountains.
“I really look up to Mrs. Baek,” San Jung said after having remained silent for some time. She sounded fatigued.
“In what ways?”
“The fact that she poured everything into her craft. Isn’t it incredible that she’s still able to write even after that? Most writers would stop due to lingering attachments and for reasons that were very insignificant in hindsight.”
Writing tended to be cruel. Once they were depleted, authors were left helpless and unable to write. However, what was even more cruel was the reality of it. Countless authors had given up on writing before they had even gotten to use up their creativity tank, leaving the literary world. It was an obstacle even Yun Woo couldn’t overcome.
“I wanted to be like that, too,” San Jung said. “I wanted to pour everything out like her. I don’t mind being emptied out myself. I just want my craft to take everything there is to take from me. I want my works to outlive me.”
Then, San Jung stopped in her tracks all of a sudden, and Juho also stopped. Wondering where they were, Juho pointed his flashlight around only to find out that they were in the middle of nowhere. There was a trail over her shoulders, or the path they had been walking on behind his.
“Are we stopping here?”
As she gave no answer, Juho shone his flashlight slightly higher in order to check on her, revealing her ankles, waist, chest, neck, and face. San Jung Youn.
“I was planning on it. Until you showed up.”
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