Translated by: ShawnSuh
Edited by: SootyOwl
"Well, this is awkward," Juho said as he brushed his hair up. The story was on the verge of completion.
"How do I end this?" Juho asked himself, but he simply couldn't reach an answer. The character was either going to die or live, and there was nothing hypocritical about that.
"I'm the real hypocrite here," the author said, massaging his thigh, his feet numb from the cold. Time was running out, and Juho was anxious to finish the story. Then, Juho chucked the pen. A dull sound reverberated through the room as it hit something, which was more than enough to bother Juho. Without moving a muscle, the author wrestled with himself. At that moment...
"Mr. Woo?" a cautious voice called for him.
"May I suggest you go out for a walk? It's warmer out than it was yesterday."
Crow studied the author cautiously. The window shook violently. Although the weather might have been warmer than the day before, it was still winter. After some contemplation, Juho rose from his seat and picked up his jacket.
"I'll lead the way. I found the perfect place to jog recently," Crow said excitedly. He was in the habit of exercising both in the morning and the evening. Although it was nothing more than running around the neighborhood, the aspiring writer seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. On the other hand, Juho had been spending more time walking than running lately.
"Should we have a race?" Juho asked as he put his shoes on. Chuckling, Crow replied, "I don't know, Mr. Woo. It's pretty obvious who is gonna be the winner."
"You don't know that."
"I won't go easy on you."
Walking past the aspiring writer, who was anxious to start running, Juho said, "Forget it. You wouldn't want to break a bone or something. It'll hinder your work."
When they got outside, their breaths became visible. It was dark out. Then, following Crow's lead, Juho made his way to the trail. Walking definitely helped him calm his mind.
"You said you hate crows, right?"
"Was that a roundabout way of saying that you don't like me?"
"What if it was?" Juho asked, chuckling.
"Then, I'd like to apologize. Please forgive me," Crow said in a serious tone.
Rubbing his cold nose, the author asked, "Were you still thinking about that?"
"How could I not?"
Juho had no time to spare for the aspiring writer. He had been so preoccupied with his own problems that the thought of looking at his surroundings hadn't even crossed his mind. As if the anxiety was finally catching up to him, Juho felt his shoulders tense up. Looking toward the aspiring writer, Juho thought about what to tell him. The surrounding scenery came into view.
"It's nice, isn't it? We'll get there any minute now."
Juho looked around the trail they were on, which felt very familiar. He had been on it previously. Meanwhile, Crow led the way unhesitantly. Juho couldn't feel his feet. The streetlights kept the two from being swallowed by the dark.
"How far is the place?"
"We're almost there," Crow said, picking up the pace.
"Here we are."
The sweat on Juho's palms started to cool off. Whenever he breathed out, his breath became visible. A river flowed through there. As Juho backed away from the safety rail, the aspiring writer asked, "You like the river, right, Mr. Woo? What do you think of the place?"
Juho looked down at the water, which shone brightly with the moonlight. It had been at that very spot that Juho had drowned in his past life. Walking toward the author, who appeared to be frozen in place, Crow called to him, "Mr. Woo?"
At which point, Juho forced himself to move his legs. His cheeks were frozen, making it hard to move his mouth.
"It's pretty windy today. It's probably because we're by the river."
"Right. Why don't we head back?"
"Already? Let's go a little further while we're here."
"... All right," Juho said, struggling to move his legs. As if completely oblivious to the state Juho was in, Crow walked ahead with excitement. In the end, feeling his hands trembling out of control in his pockets, Juho called for the aspiring writer, "Hey."
"... Is that how you're calling me now, Mr. Woo?" Crow asked with a look of disappointment. Over his shoulders, Juho saw the safety rails stretching through the trail. It had been on one of those rails that Juho had fallen in the water.
"You do know my name at least, right? Now that I think about it… you've never called me by my name!"
"No, I haven't."
Juho only knew him as Crow, which was the aspiring writer's nickname. Since he had turned up, Juho had noticed that the bird had been nowhere to be seen. Then, remembering Wol telling him to face the crow, Juho let out a sigh.
The bird had never addressed Juho respectfully. Since Juho remained unresponsive, Crow started to walk on ahead. When the author called out to him, the aspiring writer looked back.
"I think we should head back."
"Is everything OK?"
"... If I were to pick up where we left off…"
"Were we in the middle of something?"
"I genuinely hate crows," Juho said, locking eyes with Crow. However, that hadn't necessarily been directed at the aspiring writer. "When I don't like someone, I'm not afraid to let them know. To clarify, there's only one particular crow in this entire world that I can't stand. Aside from that, I have nothing against the rest of the species."
Then, the gust of howling wind blew, snapping a tree branch in the distance. 'Been a while since I heard this sound,' Juho thought.
"What did that bird do to get on your bad side?"
"It ruined my life."
Ignoring the confused look on the aspiring writer's face, Juho lifted his hand and pointed toward the sky.
"Look up at the moon."
"Ah, full moon."
Crow did as Juho said. Then, when Juho looked down after staring up at the moon with his mouth slightly parted, he saw a crow sitting on the safety rail. Juho walked toward the bird slowly. Despite being close to the author, the bird didn't fly away. When Juho reached for the bird, the crow suddenly puffed up its body.
At that moment, Juho heard what sounded like a loud burp. When he turned toward it, he saw somebody wrapped in layers of clothes covered in holes. As if mesmerized, Juho walked toward the person. Juho thought of the faces of the novelists who had taken their own lives. He wouldn't say who they were out of respect. Among those authors, were an artist who couldn't overcome his desire for destruction and an exceptional novelist. Their books had no business in grieving the deaths of their masters, and they continued to sell, unlike Juho's.
Then, the homeless man leaned against the handrail, staring at the river. Juho had wished that he could be born as a river in his next life. Flowing aimlessly, not bound by destination or starting point. From the look of it, it appeared that Juho had failed at his life yet again. His will to live was so desperate that he wanted to die. At that moment, the homeless man reached his hand out precariously toward the river.
"Watch out!" a young man shouted urgently. The homeless man was falling into the water head first, and after Juho grabbed him by the ankle, he also got dragged into the water. A scream, ice-cold wind, and the coolness against his scalp were telling him that he was falling.
Feeling a strong impact, Juho screamed, "Help!"
And then, Juho opened his eyes and found himself back in his room. At the sight of his chair spinning in place, Juho felt instant relief. Falling back on his bed, Juho stared at the ceiling. Looking at the pen on the floor, he let out a chuckle. At that moment...
"Wait, my back doesn't hurt."
… The author was struck by the realization that it wasn't real. The sliding door was proof of that. Juho knew for certain that there were no sliding doors in his apartment.
"This looks different. Not exactly what I'd imagined the other world would look like."
A familiar voice greeted the author. When Juho looked in the direction of the voice, he was met by a man sporting a mischievous smile.
"You've gotten old."
Getting out of his bed, Juho looked around and asked, "Am I dead?"
"I don't know."
Still having trouble grasping the situation, Juho chuckled.
"It seems like you grew more anxious the further your current life and your past grew apart. I was curious about what kind of mess you'd get yourself into in the future, but this?! Interesting."
"Good to see you too, Mr. Kang."
"I mean, I can always stay dead if that's what you want."
"No, I insist. Keep going."
"That's what I like to hear. Besides, I have something I want to tell you," Wol said, getting close to Juho as if he was about to whisper something into his ears. "Serves you right."
As Juho furrowed his brow, Wol burst into laughter, holding his sides.
"How does it feel now that you're in my shoes? You don't feel so cocky now, do you?"
After Wol's less-than-helpful remark, Juho rubbed his face. However, he couldn't feel a thing, which made him wonder if he had repeated the mistake of taking his own life. Meanwhile, Wol was standing still with his hands in his pockets.
"I heard you shouting for help."
"So, you heard." Although Wol had heard Juho's cry for help, he hadn't done anything. Clearing his throat, Juho asked, "Do you think I cried out for help in my past life too?"
"You wouldn't have been given a second chance otherwise, don't you think?"
"I still remember that I had a story I wanted to write. It was the first thing I wrote once I came back from the dead: my failures."
Before he knew it, Juho had buried his past failures and their records deep within the drawer of his desk, ignoring them altogether. At the same time, they had been constantly in the back of his mind. At that moment, Juho remembered the manuscript he had been working on, which had remained unfinished.
"I have a story that I didn't get to finish," Juho said, overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness. "Well, I guess there's nothing I can do about it now."
As Wol stared at him with a blank expression, Juho defended himself, "I mean, what can I possibly do at this point? I'm dead. I think I've done enough. I'm sure that self-proclaimed pupil of mine will pick up where I left off. You can't live life doing only the things that you want to. Besides, living was hard enough as it was."
"You caught the guy by the ankle."
At that moment, Juho remembered the safety rail by the riverbank, followed by dizziness.
"You caught somebody who was falling in the water."
"What about that?"
"That crow that you hated so much? What you did was exactly what that bird would have done."
Juho's choice to try to rescue someone had come at the cost of his own life. Then, a drop of water fell on Juho's nose. When Juho looked up, there was a massive crack across the sky, and water was leaking through it.
"To look away from the truth is to die," Wol said, still sporting the same blank expression.
"I made sure to leave a lot of traces of myself. There are people who will grieve my death. Personally, I think that's an accomplishment."
"Where will you be once this place falls apart? What will you be known as then? Yun Woo, the Great Storyteller? Yun Woo, the Fallen Genius?"
"... I don't know."
"Remember. It doesn't matter how famous you were. If you don't believe it, none of it matters. It's a fantasy at best. It'll be as if none of it ever happened, including me," Wol said, rubbing his stomach. The back of his hand was split open like cracked earth in a drought, and the drops of water falling from the sky seemed to do little to help that.
Realizing how far he had come, a chill ran down Juho's spine. 'I can't let that happen. I can't lose everything I have. I don't want to repeat my past mistakes.'
At that moment, Wol whispered in a dry voice, "Just don't blame yourself too much."
Juho clenched his hands into tight fists. No matter how much pressure he put into his hands, he couldn't feel his nails digging into his palms.
"Where's the crow?"
"Who wants to know?"
"Where is it?"
"Good idea. We should bring it in. It's freezing out."
At that moment, a gust of wind came blowing in, and Wol returned to where he had come from: the ground. When Juho looked toward where Wol had been standing, he saw a black figure in the corner.
"Do you not like me, Mr. Woo?" the crow asked. His voice made Juho anxious. It made the author want to scold the aspiring writer. "You do know my name at least, right? Now that I think about it… you've never called me by my name!"
"Get to the point," Juho said.
"I won't repeat myself."
As the bird remained quiet, the air became silent.
"Where have you been?"
As if ignoring Juho's question, the crow remained silent. At which point, Juho walked toward it, kicked it, and said, "Tell me! Where have you been!?"
Panicking, the bird looked desperately for a place to hide. Then, upon seeing a painting of the moon on the wall, the bird crawled into it.
"You come out right now!"
However, hiding in the painting, the bird remained silent. Juho felt nothing but the rigid surface of a plain picture frame in his hands.
"You did this," Juho said, picking up a bowl and chucking it against the wall, which turned out be a mirror. Shattered pieces of the mirror spread about the floor, every one of them showing a reflection of the bird.
"Where have you been? Why did you disappear?" Juho asked the mirror. However, the crow remained unresponsive. Then, Juho answered instead of the crow, "You thought I wouldn't have to see you if you put your image on that young man."
At that moment, the crack on the wall became even wider, and debris started to fall from the ceiling. The place was about to collapse. Water started to gush in, and before Juho realized it, the water was up to his ankle.
The crow still remained unresponsive. Instead, it flapped its wings about as if it had an itch somewhere. At the sight of its wings, Juho was reminded that it would be able to escape.
"Fly away from here! Don't let the past hold you back," Juho said. Shaking his head, he turned around and added, "... you have to live. I have a story to write."
The crow yawned. The crow wasn't going to come out unless its prey was near. Even when Juho punched the wall, the crow didn't retaliate. It was no use, no matter how much Juho threatened it to come out.
"What do I do?" Juho asked, looking at the painting of the moon and dropping his head. "What am I even looking for? I said I have a story to write. I have to write because…"
"I'm me, and a novel is a novel," the crow said in Wol's voice, adding, "If you have a complaint, take it up with your novel."
As if a parrot, the bird kept mimicking other people's voices.
"That's me, all right," Juho said. By that point, the water was up to Juho's thighs. Time passed, and death drew nearer. A violent wave started to break, and Juho lost track of where he was standing.
"Hey," Juho called to the bird, which blinked indifferently. When Juho spat at the bird, he smelled a whiff of alcohol. His white hair was covering his eyes, making it hard to see.
"Say something, asshole!"