Chapter 192: Burning Away (2)
Translated by: ShawnSuh
Edited by: SootyOwl
“Humans have conquered fire.’
The discovery of fire was a major addition to humanity’s arsenal. With the power of fire in their hands, humans began to conquer mother nature. Taking hold of what had been feared by all animals, humans had learned to utilize fire at their disposal.
One of the prime benefits that fire had brought humans had been cooking. Cooked food tended to last longer than its raw counterpart, allowing humans to consume more nutrients while prioritizing other things in life. The world evolved quickly, from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. Humans had finally reached the present point after having killed each other with bombs and cannons and undergone an industrial revolution. As always, fire was near to humanity’s existence.
Not only did fire provide warmth, but it was also merciful, providing food through cooking and thawing. It enabled humans to survive and protected them from the cold. For that reason, worshipping fire had been common throughout history. Humans had either worshipped fire itself,or a deity of it. Being a symbol of purification and prosperity, fire had the power to create, as well as to burn without discrimination.
Juho opened the drawer next to him and took out a lighter, which was a small, half-held ignition device. Making fire was as simple as moving a thumb a certain way, and as Juho lit the lighter, a small flame came out of it. Despite its size, it was more than enough to burn down his entire paper-filled room. Humans were helpless before fire, no matter how small it was. And….
“It’s perfect for driving the plot to an extreme.”
… that applied to authors just as much. Even he didn’t know who the culprit was. Perhaps there had been no culprit from the get-go. A pleasant uncertainty scattered the thoughts within Juho’s mind.
Then, Juho took his back off the backrest, and after organizing his thoughts about fire, he placed his hands on the keyboard. He had decided on a direction during the interview. Although things were still fuzzy and unclear, there was certainly a path. ‘Let’s just go for it.’
Juho imagined a scene in his head, a picture on one hand and a movie on the other, that turned into sentences. Those sentences had to be even more realistic and detailed than the images in his head.
The scene Juho was writing was of when a building catches on fire. The narrator was looking at the building getting engulfed by the flames. However, Juho didn’t explain what the narrator was feeling in that moment because it was a scene that placed a higher priority on the portrayal of the fire. In order to create a convincing portrayal of the fluctuating emotions of the characters who were looking at the fire, the readers also had to be sharing in their fear of fire. And in order for that to happen, emotions were needed, but not those of the narrator.
Juho decided to give emotions to the fire, as well as a mouth and teeth. He made the fire enormous enough to intimidate just about everyone who saw it, and gave it a raging voice. Fire was no more than fire in real life. However, on paper, it came to life, becoming anything, from a beast to a deity.
‘The fire swallowed people whole, puffing out black smoke as it engorged on helpless prey. There was poison inside the fire, distorting the skin of its victims which accompanied extreme pain. Those who fell prey to fire writhed in agony within its stomach.’
After a long description, Juho stopped typing for a brief moment. It was time to look into the thoughts of the narrator. As he moved his hands, a wave of useless thoughts came rushing like the black smoke of fire: ‘Do I have to go into more detail? Should I have made the description more intense? Or should I have started talking about the narrator?’ A choice was often accompanied by regret, making one second guess their decision.
Juho intentionally erased the thought from his mind and focused solely on the story itself, ignoring that he was making choices in the first place or the burden that came from knowing that those choices could determine the overall quality of the novel. Simply, he wrote.
The clock ticked away. A new year came, and a car rushed past. The wind blew into the room, and the room resonated with the mysterious movement. The refrigerator moaned in the kitchen, and the birds chirped. Time passed, and Juho’s hands finally came to a stop.
“I don’t think I like this part.”
Although he knew that his progress was being hindered by his grief, Juho couldn’t help himself. There was one particular sentence that bothered him, and Juho wrestled with it in his head.
‘To be reasonable, it is the first draft, so I should be able to let it slide. I can always revise it later.’
However, he still didn’t feel internally at peace. There was something about the sentence that he wasn’t fond of, and a mild annoyance welled up from within him. It bothered him like a small thorn under his fingernail, and Juho felt like it would continue to haunt him throughout the writing process. In which case, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to change it now. After all, it wasn’t like there was a deadline or like he had made any commitments. A bird chirped about, outside the window, and Juho rose from his seat to open the window for ventilation. A cool, refreshing breeze came rushing in, and had a soothing effect on the young writer.
‘All right, let’s fix this,’ Juho thought to himself as he picked up a pen. First of all, he looked at the overall flow of the story. The narrator ran into the suspect and believed that they were the arsonist responsible for starting the fire. Then, the suspect said, “Fire can’t do anything on its own. You have to keep your eyes on it.”
Next to him, was a gas stove spewing blue flames. Then, the suspect added, “God and fire have a lot in common.”
At that, the narrator asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
To which, the suspect answered, “I’ve never seen anyone so dependent of others.”
That was the suspect looking for the reason behind good and bad deeds.
“With grace before them, people bow to God. And before sin, they ask that same God for forgiveness. The world was designed for us to seek God, and for God to live in it. Because of his survival tactics, countless innocent people have been getting sacrificed.”
The suspect spouted those words as he placed a pot of water on the stove, like a person who worshiped fire. It was a poor excuse to cover up their sins, and it was, simply put, impure. The narrator didn’t accept those words, and the suspect whispered, ridiculing the narrator, “Everybody wants to be God.”
Although the suspect was responsible for his actions, it was the people around him who called out his name. People admired, suspected, or accused each other while claiming their innocence. It was a scene that Juho had included in order to indirectly describe those who desired to be understood by others around them while being afraid of being criticized. It was a rather crucial scene, and although it wasn’t exactly bad, Juho felt that something was missing. So, he decided to try to modify it somehow.
‘Maybe I should bring up the tension to the maximum. Coming to think of it, I haven’t seen it once. Not once.’
Juho thought to himself while thinking of a list of words that were similar to the one he was looking for. His head tilted to the side. ‘I think it would be better to use a cleaner-sounding phrase here. What if the suspect was talking to God directly? “I’ve never seen anybody as dependent of others as you, God.” No… it’s awkward. What if I just reconstruct the sentence, altogether? “It was humans who made God, and God who depended on other people.” A god. The God.’
Juho flipped the page, which was filled with the same sentence written over and over again. After reciting the same sentence tens of times, he couldn’t discern what was what. At that moment, he was struck by the sudden realization that he had been making the wrong choice all along, and that it had been holding back his progress significantly.
“Sigh,” Juho let out, wondering about the culprit responsible for leading him into a rut.
“Is everything OK, Juho?” Bo Suk asked him as he buried his head on his desk. He was resting his cheek on the desk while staring at a corner of the chalkboard absentmindedly. He had been in the same state since he got to school, whether it was during class or recess, or even lunch. Even in the science room, where he had arrived earlier than usual, he was no different.
He had been writing, wrestling with conflicting ideas and self-contradictions. It was a pigsty of a composition, in which the climax, doubt, fire, and the culprit were all scattered throughout. And after thinking long and hard for an entire week, Juho reached the decision to go with the first tone that he had initially thought of when he had first started writing. And now, he was on the verge of madness from how much he disliked what he had written up to that point. By the time he had recognized his regrets, it had been too late.
So, Juho stopped writing in order to think. ‘Who is the culprit, anyway? What am I writing?’ He couldn’t reach an answer, and just like that, time had passed. Time never waited for anything or anybody.
At Juho’s answer, Bo Suk blinked in confusion.
“About the identity of my piece.”
“… have you been writing?”
“I always am.”
“But what made you think about that, all of a sudden?”
The answer came from Seo Kwang, who was sitting next to Juho, “Isn’t it obvious? He’s having writer’s block.”
“I’m not stuck,” Juho denied him, and just like he had said, he wasn’t stuck. If he were to write that very moment, he was confident that he would be able to. However, things were tangling up into a mess, and Juho now found the very uncertainty which he had once found pleasant, unpleasant. It felt like the entire story had lost its credibility, and doubt had spread throughout it. Juho knew by experience that if he were to continue writing in that state, he would end up wanting to erase everything down the line. And for that reason, he had stopped writing. However, Seo Kwang snickered.
“We’ve been learning from Mr. Moon, so we know that nothing good can come out when your head is in a disarray and full of useless thoughts. You know what sucks even more, though? Those useless thoughts fill up our minds when we can’t write,” Seo Kwang said in an ominous tone of voice.
“We’re also aware that it’s both easy and difficult to break out of that vicious loop.”
“Easy, but difficult?”
“Sometimes, the problem practically solves itself with a very simple answer, but there are times when we ask the same question for years on end. That’s what the human mind is like.”
“That sounds cumbersome.”
“That’s what the human mind is like,” Seo Kwang repeated himself. Then, Juho looked up from the desk and leaned against the backrest of the chair, staring at the ceiling.
“I told you. It’s not that I’m stuck. I’m just not fond of what’s coming out.”
“How’s that different? See, Bo Suk? This is how cumbersome it gets.”
Then, Bo Suk nodded in exaggeration, as if she was finally coming to grasp it all. Juho chuckled quietly as he stared at the same stain that had always been at the same spot on the ceiling. Trying to understand how he had gotten to where he was, Juho immersed himself in thought. It had all started with a single sentence, which he had not been at all fond of, ‘Man, I should’ve just let it slide.’ Unfortunately, it was always too late by the time regret took root in one’s mind.
From then on, Juho had become dissatisfied with his writing, as if he was perpetually concerned with useless things. Greed quickly puffed itself up, and it took on an innocent veneer: ‘I want to write just a little better this time,’ or ‘I want to make sentences that are slightly better this time.’ It was greed that had brought Juho to where he was now.
The two words kept lingering in Juho’s mind, disrupting his thoughts. ‘Is he or it a hero, or a criminal? What am I trying to write? Is it just naturally chaotic? Is it supposed to hide the culprit’s identity?’
In hindsight, Juho had a feeling that he might have started on the wrong foot. ‘I knew I had to talk to the man. I should’ve asked him more questions. Maybe it’s not too late to build a culprit.’
Juho dropped his head as his thoughts ran amok. The pain came rushing back after hitting his forehead on the desk.
“That hurt,” he muttered, and Seo Kwang said mockingly, “Boo-hoo! Do you need to go home?”
With that, Juho rose from his seat and began to pack his bag. Although it was almost time for club activities, he didn’t mind one bit. Then, he saw the dumbfounded look on Seo Kwang’s face.
“What the!? Are you serious!?”
Yes, he was.
“Where? Home? How would that help? Just ask Mr. Moon for help.”
“No, not home,” Juho said, with another person in mind. The identity of the culprit. He knew the person who was most well-versed in writing about a culprit. ‘I need to talk to her. She owes me for the interview, so things should work out, somehow.’
“Bye,” Juho said to his friends. Then, he went down to the staffroom and explained himself to Mr. Moon, who was just on his way to the science room. Swiftly getting Mr. Moon’s approval, Juho walked out of the school. The air was crisp and fresh.
And, he called Mideum in front of the main gate. By the time he had started to think that she wasn’t going to answer, she answered her phone.
“Mideum? Where are you right now?”
“I’m at Dae Soo’s.”
“Dae Soo’s? What for?”
Her voice sounded slightly hoarse as if she had just woken up. ‘Is she there to kill time?’ In that case, things were looking for the better.
“To get help.”
It might not have been the best time to go to Mideum, after all. Her hoarse voice must have had nothing to do with her waking up. It was as if when Juho reached his hand out of the water, Mideum answered his call for help from underneath him.
“What help? Have you been working on something?”
“Yeah, a manuscript request. I have a deadline to meet, and I’m screwed.”
She explained that she was in the middle of writing for a detective magazine. At that, Juho contemplated what to do next. ‘Should I go talk to another author? Mrs. Baek?’ Then, he remembered what she had told him not too long ago, about San Jung having observed her teacher’s writing process.
“Can I come over, too?” Juho asked.
“… Yun Woo? Come here? I mean, yeah, I’d be fine with that. I might be able to think of something while you’re here… hold on.” Then, Mideum passed on the word to Dae Soo, and Juho heard her voice through the receiver approving willingly from afar. With that, he made his way for the bus stop without delay.