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This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog
Translated by: ShawnSuh
Edited by: SootyOwl
Wiping the crumbs around his mouth, Juho said, “Wow, how’d you know?”
“I can tell from your painting,” Joon Soo said, chuckling light-heartedly, and Juho stared at him intently.
“You seemed to have a lot on your mind.”
“I always do.”
Juho had no idea what Joon Soo had in mind. However, what Juho did know was that despite his perpetual, friendly smile, Joon Soo was rather greedy and ambitious when it came to writing, and his writing style was further proof of that. Juho couldn’t dare to imagine how much he wrestled with his sentences, searching for ways to improve them. Then, after a brief time thinking, Juho walked out to the flat bench.
“So, there’s this article I saw, and it said, “Yun Woo of ‘River.'” Apparently, that’s how I’m going to be called for the next several years.”
“I bet. Your most recent piece became your representative work. Starting with ‘Trace of a Bird,’ to ‘Sound of Wailing.’ And now, ‘River.'”
“The article also said that Yun Woo would be going on hiatus to rest.”
Although the publishing company had spoken up in order to disprove the news, it had been too late by that point. The news had already spread to the readers. Besides, it only made sense that the young author would rest after writing a piece that seemed so emotionally taxing, and his fellow authors seemed to think the same way.
“But, I’m planning to keep writing,” Juho said. There was simply too much work backed up for him to take a break. To be more precise, it was accumulating. “Besides, I don’t have any positive memories associated with the river. I’m not too fond of that nickname, either.”
At Joon Soo questioning him about what he was trying to say, Juho opened his mouth and said, “It means I can do better.”
Juho felt Joon Soo’s gaze fixed on him like an arrow. There was a higher place that he wanted to reach and he wanted to climb up to it. He was no different.
“One can only stay afloat when they move their hands and feet.”
Then, Joon Soo looked up slowly.
“I should be writing if I have the time to wander around, right?”
“No, I wasn’t trying to sound arrogant.”
“Well, I, myself, must have gotten a little too confident. Is this the kind of power media has on authors? Isn’t it a syndrome of sorts? What’s your diagnosis, Mr. Woo?”
“Your symptoms are very, very mild. Trust me,” Juho said, suppressing memories of his embarrassing past. Then, hearing someone behind him, he turned around. Hyun Do was standing there, and both Juho and Joon Soo jumped internally.
“Yun Seo’s waiting. Her patience is wearing thin.”
“Oh, right. We were out for a while, weren’t we?”
“We’ll be in, soon.”
Joon Soo and Juho headed for the classroom quickly. At that moment, at the sight of his painting, Juho stopped in his tracks abruptly.
“Should I take this inside? It’s kind of cloudy out.”
“Sure, leave it on the table in the kitchen. I’ll take this,” Joon Soo said, taking the snacks Juho had brought out from him. Then, as Juho was about to go inside with his painting, he saw that Hyun Do was standing in his place still.
“What’s the matter?”
“Would you like to know how else you can stay afloat?”
“… You heard?!”
At that, Hyun Do let out a snicker.
“I can’t close my ears like I can my eyes, or flip them around somehow, unfortunately. Clogging my ears can only get me so far. I apologize if you found it intrusive.”
“No, no,” Juho said, lowering his head with respect. Then, the voice of the literary great came from above.
At that moment, Juho relaxed his shoulders by reflex and quickly realized that that wasn’t what Hyun Do was talking about. Another way to stay afloat.
“One can stay afloat by loosening up and staying relaxed. Kicking under water will keep you floating, but it’s bound to wear you out sooner or later. Although, that might not apply to a young man like you,” Hyun Do said with a relaxed smile.
At that point, it dawned on Juho just how handsome he was. Hyun Do was an incredibly good looking man.
“No… it does,” Juho answered weakly, and Hyun Do turned around, and went back inside, heading toward Yun Seo’s study rather than going back to the classroom for the movie.
Looking down at his painting, Juho murmured, “How did he know?”
Before he knew it, his shoulders felt a tad bit lighter.
People rushed to cross the street before the traffic light turned red. Once the numbers in the light disappeared and the light turned another color, crossing the street was no longer possible. Thankfully, all it took was a little bit of waiting until the red light turned green again. However, the pedestrians rushing past Juho and crossing the major street before even reaching the crosswalk didn’t seem to be aware of that fact.
It was understandable that one would grow anxious knowing that they were given only so much time to cross the street, and Juho was fully aware that the pedestrians were fast enough to cross the street in time. He also had faith that the cars would wait for the pedestrians until they had safely reached the other side of the street. Then, a person ran toward the crosswalk and safely crossed the street, and by the time Juho reached the traffic light, the cars were zooming past him on the street.
Juho waited patiently for the traffic light to turn, that an external cause would somehow speed up the change. He was beginning to grow anxious to work on a new piece, which he had had in mind for a while. Following the steps of ‘The Beginning and the End’ and its success, the literary magazines from other publishing companies, each unique to their own, were selling at an increasing rate. The word ‘River’ was still following around Yun Woo’s name, and Yun Pil, a character in Mideum’s novel series, had already grown wildly popular. Also, people were showing exaggerated interest in the overlap between Yun Woo and Yun Pil.
The traffic light was still red, and Juho stood there, thinking about what to write. Unlike those around him, who were just standing, waiting for the light to turn green, Juho had been waiting for the answer to a burning question in his mind. ‘What should the topic be? How should it unfold?’ Juho was waiting to reach an answer with the same patience he had for waiting for the traffic light to change.
“There it is.”
At the sight of the light turning green, Juho crossed the street. There was a large, sophisticated, mental health center building on the other side of the street. From a glance, it looked like a science lab straight out of a science magazine, or a building in a university campus. Although it had been an ordinary psychiatric hospital only up to a year ago, it had been a plain, brick building, surrounded by tall walls and metal fences.
Even though the facility itself had gone through a name change and considerable renovation, the look of the rehabilitation center still maintained traces of the past when compared to it. An old, dark-brown building with a small tennis court was still within the confinements of the green, metal cage.
“This reminds me of a trail.”
Complete with benches, trees, and a tall anemoscope, the newly-renovated mental health center had been given a new look. Its previous defining elements, like the metal fences that had separated the building from the street, and thick, grey cement walls, were nowhere to be found. Judging from the peaceful surroundings, and from a child who appeared to be around the age of an elementary school student riding its bicycle around the facility, and from the people and cars around moving about busily, the efforts to transform the hospital seemed to have been a success.
Juho sat on a bench in order to rest for a little while.
‘I’m glad I came out.’
Despite the terrifying rumor circulating at school, saying that there were escaped patients lurking around the trail in the dark, hiding behind streetlamps, it wasn’t such a bad environment.
Then, Juho remembered a conversation he had overheard in his classroom.
‘How did that come up?’
A fire. There was a fire in a building in a residential area near the school, and there was a student in the class who happened to live near the area. The class had been clamoring about it for some time, and whenever the student described the location, they would always include the words ‘psychiatric hospital.’ Although there were no casualties, Juho remembered hearing that the fire had been quite destructive, spreading to the surrounding buildings, and how residents had tried desperately to put it out with pails and pails of water, anxious that it would spread even further.
‘Maybe I should see it with my own eyes.’
The building that had burned down wasn’t very far from the hospital. Looking at the anemoscope and its needle changing its direction slightly, Juho rose from the bench and made his way to the scene of the fire.
“So, this is it.”
Juho was able to recognize it at once. Everything had burned to crisp, and things like doors and windows had fallen away long ago. What was once a two-story building had been reduced to ruin, making it difficult to picture its original color.
He stared intently at the sight of the out-of-place remains of the building. They were deep-black, unlike the streets and the residential buildings around them, and despite the lack of doors and windows, the inside was completely hidden. It almost seemed like it had been cursed with all sorts of spells. The pedestrians glanced over at it as they walked past, and considering its frightening appearance, it was only natural that people couldn’t help but look at it. Fire tended to leave truly horrifying traces, and the magnitude of the fire really sank into Juho.
Then, a gust of wind blew against a persimmon tree nearby, and Juho fixed his eyes at the sight of the falling leaves as they landed gently on a car parked under it.
‘A persimmon tree, leaves, and a car.’
“A persimmon-leaf mobile.”
At that moment, a burst of laughter sounded out of nowhere. When Juho turned around, he saw a man who gave off a welcoming impression, with a patchy beard and an unlit cigarette in his mouth. Despite being the culprit behind the fizzling sound, he was still smiling.
“Haven’t laughed like that in a while,” the man said. He was in a hospital gown, marked with the name of the mental health center. Then, after he looked at the persimmon-leaf mobile, Juho, and the burnt remains of the building in turn, with the cigarette still in his mouth, he turned around and walked away. There was no way to know where he was headed or why he had been standing in front of the building that had burned down.
Juho didn’t try to stop him. Simply, an image of a firefighter rushed past his eyes, above the man’s head. Juho had a strong but strange feeling that the man was responsible for putting out the fire, but of course, it was no more than groundless conjecture. It had to be the effect of watching a clip of firefighters reduced to tears during their sessions with a psychologist. With guilt still fresh in their minds, tears flowed down their cheeks at the thought of those who couldn’t be saved, including their colleagues who had been crushed to death by falling debris. Heart conditions was one of the badges that came along with the occupational hazard due to the toxic fumes in the fire. They were in pain and helpless in the face of guilt.
With the appreciation and respect of the citizens, they were people who were willingly putting themselves in the line of danger, saving the lives of many, like a stream of hope in the rampant fire. Most people wanted them to lead happy lives, and to be treated by others in the way they deserved.
Juho stared at the man walking further away and imagined him in his firefighting equipment, his face stained with soot. It suited him quite well.
Then, the man bumped shoulders with another pedestrian, and after staggering briefly, he let out…
The man was furious, and Juho saw the pedestrian panicking, bowing in apology. Upon witnessing the murderous anger, Juho’s conjecture shattered to pieces.
At that moment, he pictured the man as the arsonist responsible for starting the fire and remembered the rumors from school about the hospital. Putting the pieces together, Juho imagined the man escaping from the psychiatric hospital nearby, stalking someone at random and starting a fire in the building, which now lay in ruins. The reason being that he had lost the person he was stalking. Because of that, he had resorted to expressing his anger with fire.
What was the truth? Who was he? The face that gave off a welcoming impression, eyes filled with murderous anger, unlit cigarette, hospital gown, laughter, and profanity. As they lingered in Juho’s ears, he found himself growing anxious.
‘OK, let’s stay focused. What must I do?’
Staying true to his instincts, he looked for the man, who was already nowhere to be found. Then, Juho began to run, searching for him. But even as he reached the hospital, there were no signs of the man. Perhaps, he had already gone back into the hospital, in which case, meeting him would no longer be possible. From his name to his age, Juho knew nothing about the man. Nothing.
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