The Great Storyteller Chapter 1
"How should I make a living?"
Just like any student would, Juho was worried about his path. Middle school was a stormy time in life. Grades were not a priority for him. At the same time, he had no desire to do anything with life. He was an average student without dreams or hopes, yet he still wanted to make a living somehow.
"How do I make a living?"
'Will I be able to take care of myself in the future if I become an adult, the father of a child, and then an old man?'
Juho thought there was no hope for him. If the future and the past began with the present, the answer was already clear. Losing sleep over his fear of the future only proved that answer.
The top-ranked student in his class had gotten the highest score in his class' exam yet again. A rebel with his tight uniform, he secretly worked a part-time job. Everybody was doing something, and they all looked cool.
Juho prayed every night before bed for the sun not to rise. After waking up, he would think about when the damn planet was going to end. Knowing that life would be a repetition of ambiguous days, he couldn't help but sigh.
Then, it appeared that he would escape from such monotonous daily life.
"Juho, this is huge!"
It was a precious weekend morning, and Juho had just answered the phone that had been ringing noisily. A man was on the other end of the call.
"What are you talking about?"
"Your books are selling like crazy! Your life is set now!"
"Your award-winning novel is a hit! I knew it!"
Birds were chirping outside, and Juho's dirty scalp was itching like no other. Yet, the man on the phone was talking about the novel being a huge success.
'What in the world is going on?' Thought Juho.
"Hold on! The printing factory is calling. We'll talk again soon!"
Even after the call, Juho slowly laid back on his bed with the phone in his hand.
"Must be a stupid dream."
When we woke up, Juho found out that it had all been real.
He was an average Korean student, an average student who hated school, but still wanted to have money. He was a foolish student who would rather enjoy the present and procrastinate on things that he needed to do, at least until a few months back.
He realized that what he thought had been a dream was actually real and, after some time, he went to school.
The manuscript submission for the contest in July had been made into a book, and it was lying right in front of his eyes. Better yet, the book was selling like there was no tomorrow.
As Juho walked into a large bookstore, he noticed his book before many others. It wasn't because of his special affection towards his book, but because the copies were being displayed in the most noticeable spot, the bestseller corner.
Since he was young, Juho had a habit of reaching for his pen whenever something upset him. This habit eventually created a story that turned into a full-length novel.
Juho submitted his story to the contest without much thought. It wasn't because he aspired to be a novelist. He wasn't romantic enough to choose a career that didn't pay. He had done it on impulse and, perhaps, fear.
The book was basically Juho venting his anger. One could say that it captured the story of a youth despairing his aimlessness - not well off like a protagonist in a movie or a soap opera, not smart, not necessarily ugly, but not handsome enough to hold a candle to celebrities.
"I was exhilarated when I heard from the publishing company."
For a while, Juho celebrated way too soon, but he quickly snapped out of it. The publisher was skeptical of whether the story would sell. Only a twisted or small number of sadistic perverts would get a kick out of another person venting his anger.
So, Juho decided to find a different path with the $50,000 he had gotten for the manuscript. He decided to find something that made it easier for him to make money.
'But how can this be?' Thought Juho.
The book was to be made into a TV show, a movie, and to be translated into seven different languages.
It was selling at an incredible rate, which meant that Juho was making an incredible amount of money.
'You really never know what's going to happen in life.' thought Juho.
Who would have thought a story written by an average-joe teenager would be so popular?
Juho saw people lined up at the counter to buy his book. It was an incredibly endearing sight. Life was good.
The phone was ringing in Juho's pocket.
"Hey, Juho. I'm calling because of an interview."
It was the editor. He was also the person who had been shouting over the phone in excitement about the success.
Ever since he became known, Juho was being pestered by reporters almost as much as a celebrity. He felt like a star at first, but nonetheless, it was overwhelming to deal with tens of reporters in a single day
"The Youngest Debutant in Literature is a popular title in many aspects. What do you want to do? We can turn them down if you're worn out. I understand that there's been a lot of interviews as of late."
There was concern in his voice, and Juho took a moment and asked,
"What should I do?"
"I'm not sure. It's good to seize the opportunity at hand, but it's also good to back out when you can."
"That's not very helpful."
"All I'm saying is that you can never predict what follows after a choice. It's up to you."
That was true. Who would have known that his impulse would bring him such fortune? No one would ever know other than an omnipotent god who might or might not exist somewhere.
After some consideration, Juho made up his mind after seeing people walking past him unable to recognize who he was.
'If I make myself known and become a celebrity author, I'd be able to make more money. It's not like I'm selling another person's book. I just have to suck it up even if it's hard.' thought Juho.
He saw the pile of books in front of him and the people who are buying them and was overwhelmed by a strong emotion.
"I'll do it."
"Is that all right? Are you going to be OK?"
"Yes," Juho reassured the editor as he questioned him repeatedly and walked out of the bookstore with confidence even though he fell several times looking back.
Time passed, and Juho was now forty-seven, forty-six by the Western calendar. After thirty years, Juho still wasn't able to stand straight. Swinging the soju bottle in his hand, he leaned onto the handrail. On the other side of the rail was a flowing river.
"Good times," Juho said, bringing the bottle to his mouth. He hiccupped involuntarily and looked miserable wrapped in layers of clothes covered in holes.
"These people. They don't read. They read everything else but my book."
As the pitch black night sky, Juho's heart was dark. He shouldn't have agreed to that silly interview. He was seventeen then, sixteen by the Western calendar. It was a precious age. At that age, one became teary-eyed just from looking at a flying leaf, damn it.
Juho had done many interviews. More than he could count. There were so many people who wanted to talk to him that he would have to set aside half of his day to do it. It was exhausting, and he hated it. Still, he was used to doing things he didn't want to, so he kept going.
There were some benefits. People started recognizing him in the street. Broadcast stations would ask him to appear in their shows, and he became famous at his school. Juho loved the popularity, and the sense of respect was not half bad either. It felt like his talent was being appreciated.
"The problem was the next book."
Juho's next work was a test. After the book had reached its peak of popularity, people were divided into two opposing opinions. Rumors kept popping up every day. Some said that he was a genius while others said that he was a fake. As much as the crowd loved Juho's work, they had trouble trusting the young author.
Juho didn't pay much attention at the time. It did hurt his feelings, but he was able to remain confident. After all, he did write the book himself. He thought he would be able to prove to everyone with the following book. He thought it would be a piece of cake for a genius. He wasn't entirely happy with how the writing turned out, but that had also happened with the first book. The editor was against Juho's second book, but he didn't listen. Eventually, he rejected the editor's advice and released his work with another publisher.
Juho didn't realize what he had betrayed until he saw that his book was not being received the same way.
"Look, god. You know that I made a poor choice, don't you?"
The all-capable god was nowhere to be found, and gave Juho no answer. Feeling depressed, Juho stared into the flowing river. "I wish I could be born as a river in my next life. Flowing aimlessly, not bound by destination or starting point."
"I want to be the river."
Juho thought of the faces of novelists who took their own lives. He wouldn't tell 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 death of their masters, and they continued to sell, unlike Juho's.
After wasting his life away, Juho tried his hand in investing in stocks and starting a business. It was a failure. Then there was some distraction, and yet another failure. He tried writing again, but that also ended in failure. Now, Juho was a homeless man who had nothing to do except for replaying the glory of his past. He was neither a genius nor an author.
Juho reached out his hand toward the river. With the power of liquid courage, he pretended to a novelist, a novelist who lived like he would jump into the river any minute, a novelist who lived an eternity, a great storyteller. Regretting his greed for wealth and fame in the past, Juho threw himself into the river. There was a splash, and he floundered about in the water.
"Sir, it's dangerous there!"
"Ya, ya, don't you worry. I'm not going to die."
A young man who was crossing the bridge warned Juho of his risky behavior, and Juho waved his hand lazily at the man and replied, "I was close to finding some inspiration."
'This punk is a hindrance. Who's going to die anyway?' Thought Juho.
He straightened himself against the guardrail, trying to warm up his ice cold hands with his breath and took a pen and some paper out of his pocket.
He was going to write about his life as a failed genius who had hit rock bottom. It was a topic anybody would peek into at least once. Having lost his house, family and friends, the only things that stuck with him were his pen and paper.
"It's not going to end like this."
Juho grabbed the pen.
His hands were shaking from the alcohol in his body. Despite the cold, Juho started getting drowsy from the drink he had just had.
He closed his eyes for a moment. His face was already numb from being exposed to the cold, and his hands and feet were the same.
There was an urgent shout.
'Is it that young man again?'
Half asleep, Juho thought peacefully, half asleep. That moment, his body was already falling away from the rail. A scream, ice-cold wind, and the coolness in the scalp were telling him that he was falling.
'Is this the end?' Juho Thought.
He opened his eyes and saw the pitch-black sky. If it weren't for the stars, he would have thought that his eyes were still closed. Yes, this isn't so bad. It's not terrible to be a novelist like this. At least in the next life.
And then, he saw the ceiling.
Juho sat up. He remembered falling into the river, but he was still alive.
'Why am I here?' he thought.
He was in a private room instead of a hospital. He should have been moved to the hospital if he was rescued.
"Am I dead?"
Juho pinched his cheek. It hurt.
"Does this mean I'm alive? Can I still feel pain even if I'm dead? I don't know anymore"
While rubbing his cheek, Juho realized something.
"There's no facial hair. My skin feels tighter too."
He quickly checked his body. There was a callus on the middle joint of his right middle finger. Adult Juho didn't see any need to write, but his hand was still callused.
Juho got up to looked into the mirror on the wall. There was face facing him, not handsome enough to compare to celebrities, but not necessarily ugly. It was a young face. Then, Juho realized who the room belonged to. It was his own.
Startled, Juho looked at his desk. There was a cellphone. It was ringing. Clueless and confused, Juho responded to his only mission and answered the phone.
"Juho, this is huge!"
It was familiar, too familiar. It was the voice Juho had been longing to hear.
"Mr. Editor? Call me uncle, no, bro! Anyway, you hit it big! You're set now!"
"Are you talking about my novel?"
"Yes! Seriously! Insanely!"
Birds were chirping outside, and Juho's dirty scalp was itching like no other, yet he was back in the past. As if that weren't confusing enough, this was right after Juho heard about the success.
"Hold on! The printing factory is calling. We'll talk again soon!"
With excitement in his voice, the uncle, or the bro hung up the phone. For a moment, Juho stared into his warm cellphone. Then, he shouted,
Juho was back to the old days.
<"Flowing river"> The end.