The Great Storyteller Chapter 236
Translated by: ShawnSuh
Edited by: SootyOwl
A zebra came into view. Although alive, the animal was sitting lazily behind the fence, flicking its tail carelessly. It looked quite filthy as its distinctive beauty was covered in layers of dirt and dust.
“It’s a zebra!”
A voice shouted from the group of people walking toward the cage. Considering the size of the zoo within a neighborhood park, they were quite boisterous. Then, as one of them took his phone out in an attempt to take pictures of the animal, the zebra gave him a brief stare before it shoved its head into its home, leaving only its behind, exposed.
The zebra, wiggling its butt, moved no more. However, the person who took the picture of the animal didn’t appear to be disappointed. Rather than genuinely trying to talk to the zebra, it seemed like he had shouted in order to get his friends’ attention. As the group of people walked away shortly after, the zebra took its head out of its home. Juho was fully aware of the animal’s reason for burying its head in its home. It probably didn’t want to be in the picture. As if the animal being trapped in a cage, having to walk around the same place over and over, was not enough, humans were trying to trap the helpless animal into the tiny screens of their cameras. As a means of resisting them, the zebra hid its face from them whenever they tried to take pictures of it.
“So pretty,” a voice said, and the shutter’s sound came immediately after. Somebody had taken a picture of the zebra while it had its head out for that brief moment. There was no liveliness in the animal’s eyes whatsoever. At that moment, a burst of high-pitched laughter sounded from behind, “C’mon! Hurry!”
When Juho looked back, he saw five older women posing under a tree, exploding into laughter, cheerful enough to make the tree behind them laugh. They were standing sideways, in a line, each in their colorful hiking clothes. Then, one of them went over to their camera, set the timer, and ran back to her group. There was dignity in the eyes looking at the camera. It was simply standard procedure to take group pictures before and after a hike, and it wasn’t hard to imagine them making copies of the best-looking shot, framing it, and putting it where it could be easily seen. Juho, too, needed picture frames for the pictures taken with the camera with the bug inside of it. Similar to photos, there was something that served a similar purpose in novels: an outer story that surrounded the inner story.
“A frame story.”
It referred to a story structure that resembled a picture frame. Just like a picture told a story while protected by the frame, the same principles applied to the stories written in frame structure. The inner story was the most important.
Juho thought of the blue insect, which had crawled into the camera voluntarily. The mascot hadn’t had any negative responses to being forgotten, and the zebra had resisted. ‘What am I gonna write?’ Love. The young author had decided to write about love.
Then, he opened the laptop that had been resting on his lap. The structure had already been decided on, but the materials, which were to be used for the picture and the frame, were all in a mess. The outer story, which would serve as the frame, started from a first-person point of view. In order for it to be in first person, there had to be an ‘I.’
I am me. I was going away, away from the town in which I had lived my entire life. I was made certain that I had forgotten something, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember what it was or where I forgot it.
Juho decided to put ‘I’ in a more pressing situation. The setting in which ‘I’ realized that he had forgotten about something was on a train. Despite realizing that he had forgotten about something, he couldn’t get off the train. The train was already moving.
I looked like I was about to burst into tears at any given minute, even thinking about going back. At that moment, a lady struck up a conversation with me. She was on the train with me.
“Why so anxious?” she asked.
And I answered honestly, “I forgot something really precious to me. Now, here I am. On a moving train. I almost feel sick from the guilt.”
Unlike me, the lady told me that she was on her way home. And in order to comfort me, she began to tell a story, one that I had been forgetting all along.
“So, I remembered very recently”
It was a story she had heard in her hometown, about a missing child.
With that, Juho stopped typing. That was going to be the outer story that would surround the inner story about the missing child, which would turn up soon. Although they were on the same train, the significances of their destinations were entirely different from one another. It would make for a good frame, just right for the picture within.
At that moment, a scream similar to that of Sang’s sounded out of nowhere. When Juho looked up, he was greeted with a familiar sight. A group of people was moving away from an insect that was flying about with its wings buzzing and its two longer legs hanging loosely. It looked just about the opposite of the blue insect that Juho had come across in the mountains. Dark and round, it was also significantly larger.
“It’s on your back!”
“Where! Where!?” a voice shouted, taking hold of their shirt as if ready to take it off at any given minute. Before the person had a chance to do so, the bug flew away. Then, taking his phone out of his pocket, Juho tried to take a picture of it from where he was sitting. The distance made the insect look like a speck of dust, and after looking at it just a little longer, Juho deleted the picture.
Now, the picture: the inner story. A story about home, a missing child, and an insect. It would be told from a third-person point of view.
The child was an introvert. He had received no affection from his parents, nor experienced friendship from his peers. He despised his inexperienced parents and was annoyed by the world that encouraged people to be independent. After leaving home, the boy headed for the mountains in the distance, all alone, without friends or family. Although he was used to seeing them in the distance, the boy had never actually gone to them in person.
Then, Juho imagined the boy wandering in the mountains aimlessly. Although the boy thought he was being cautious, it wasn’t long until he found himself lost, stranded in the mountains all by himself until sunset. At that moment, an insect approached him. Having a bluish tinge to it, it looked quite beautiful. Even as the boy gently placed it on his palm, the insect didn’t try to resist or fly away. If anything, it shook with joy, like a warrior who had conquered the world. Then, after being found by a neighbor, the boy returned home safely, and his friendship with his new, tiny friend began.
Sneaking into his parents’ room, the boy emptied out their goldfish’ fishbowl and made a new home for his new friend. Shortly after, discovering that their goldfish had gone missing, along with its fishbowl, the parents asked their son about the whereabouts of the fishbowl. Of which, the boy pretended to know nothing about. The boy hid his friend’s tiny home in layers of clothes and boxes, but he was eventually caught by his parents. The house belonged to the parents. No matter how hard the boy tried to hide anything, there was a limit to how long he could keep his secret from them. In the end, his angry parents cornered the boy, questioning him.
With that, Juho decided to redirect the plot to the outer story.
The train came to a stop, but both characters had a long way to go until they reached their destinations. They watched people getting in and out of the train. Then, taking some hard-boiled eggs out of his bag and sharing with the lady, ‘I’ urged her to go on with her story, completely oblivious to the fact that he had forgotten something. Her story was riveting, and more and more people began to eavesdrop, expressing interest.
At that moment, Juho’s phone started ringing in his pocket. Taking his hands off the laptop, Juho answered the phone.
“Where are you?”
It was Nam Kyung. Because he was still distracted with writing, the young author answered in a daze, “What do you mean?”
“We were supposed to meet. Are you at the park, yet?”
“Oh,” Juho let out, remembering why he had come to the park in the first place. He had made plans to meet with the editor. If Nam Kyung hadn’t called, Juho would have kept writing, having lost track of time, clueless. Fortunately, the botanical garden wasn’t too far from him, so Juho rose from his seat without delay and headed toward the meeting spot. Upon arriving, Juho saw the editor eating his sandwich in peace, contrary to himself, who had clearly come in a hurry.
“I got yours, too.”
Then, glancing at Juho’s laptop, Nam Kyung asked, “Were you about to write?”
“Yes, I was writing up to a moment ago actually.”
“Oh, man. Maybe I should’ve waited a little longer, then,” Nam Kyung said, looking concerned about having interrupted the young author while he’d been working on a potential piece.
Seeing the look on Nam Kyung’s face, Juho reassured him, “Oh, no. I’m still building the foundation. Well, it was getting closer to writing toward the middle.”
Juho had never been in the habit of mapping out his work, and because of that, he tended to digress often while developing a plot.
“Is it for the Literature Club?”
“No, I’m planning on publishing it for now,” Juho said while checking what was in the sandwich. There were mashed up, hard-boiled eggs. “I think I’ve been eating a lot of eggs lately.”
“… What was that?”
“Eggs. I’ve been eating more of them lately.”
“No, no. That’s not what I’m talking about,” Nam Kyung said, swallowing the sandwich in a hurry. “Did you just say that you’re working on a novel to be published?”
“We’ll have to see if it’s worth publishing or not, but yes.”
“… and you have the Nebula Award in mind, right?”
“Must I? I’m just writing because there was something I wanted to write about.”
At Juho’s response, Nam Kyung put his sandwich down, with an entirely different expression on his face. From then on, it was going to be a meeting between an author and an editor.
“All right. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the plot? Let me do the worrying.”
There was no reason to say no.
“What if it’s subject to change?”
Wearing a serious expression, Nam Kyung nodded at Juho’s question. Then, after organizing his thoughts briefly, Juho said, “First of all, it’s about love.”
“A romance novel?”
Nam Kyung put his brains to work immediately. Love had always been one of the most popular topics in literature, and there was no surprise in the fact that Yun Woo was writing about it. ‘What would love look like at this point?’ It was highly probable that love experienced at Juho’s age was pure and beautiful. What the young author was working on would be the first novel to be published since winning the Nebula Award, and the depth and weight of his writing, which superseded his age, had played a major role in bringing him the award.
As a a fan, Nam Kyung wanted to see Yun Woo’s portrayal of pure love. However, considering the situation they were in, what Yun Woo really needed to showcase was his distinctive sensibility: like a clean mirror reflecting the back alley of society. In Nam Kyung’s mind, it felt slightly risky.
“You look serious. Are you not fond of the topic?”
“Oh, no. I was getting ahead of myself, wanting to know more about what you were working on,” Nam Kyung said, pushing his glasses up. The topic alone wasn’t enough for him to make any judgments. Then, staring at him intently, Juho said, “I’m thinking of a character who falls in love with an insect.”
“A-ha, I see. Is this going to be a brighter piece, overall? Like the protagonist growing and maturing with his little friend?”
“No. He swallows the bug whole, and loses his sanity.”
“… I’m sorry, what?”
Juho thought back on the story he had been working on just moments prior. Having been cornered by his parents, the boy was in desperate need of another place for his friend.
“Because the boy doesn’t want to be away from the bug, he keeps it in a fishbowl, but the fishbowl isn’t meant for insects to live in. It’s not enough to keep his friend safe, so he decides to keep it elsewhere, the safest place he could think of: his body. He eats it.”
Nam Kyung’s expression grew darker at the author’s shocking explanation of his new work-in-progress.
“And then, he forgets.”
The act of forgetting was meant to be liberating. Juho imagined the life the insect had lived. Mountains. Home. Room. Fishbowl. His body. Everything around him kept shrinking, and its home grew smaller and smaller. Living in a tight space came with sadness, and similarly, confinement came with discomfort. At the same time, there was protection. The insect compared its life at the forest up to that point to life with the young human. Living in the forest meant having to be constantly on guard for enemy attacks. Upon realizing the difference, the insect showed no resistance.
What the boy felt toward the insect was empathy. He was born in a small town in the countryside. On top of that, he lived in one of the smallest houses around, in a tiny room. He was left out by the neighborhood kids and neglected by his parents. The only friend he had to talk to was the bug he brought back from the mountains. However, upon waking up the next day, the boy discovered that the bug had disappeared. The boy gradually became insane, and in order to keep word from getting out, his parents kept their son confined in their home.
Nam Kyung seemed to be in a dilemma, as if unsure about the piece. However, paying no attention to his state of mind, Juho added, “The boy eats the insect at night, and the next day, he completely forgets what he did the night before, wondering if his little friend has been stolen or if it ran off. He keeps on doubting and grows insane. I wanted to be explicit about that part in particular. I think it’d be interesting to make it sound like it was written by a drunk person, too.”
The boy grows increasingly feeble, crying out like a beast and crawling on his hands and knees. The look on Nam Kyung’s face kept growing darker. As shocking as it was, it was starting to sound riskier. In the end, the editor said cautiously, “I think it’s powerful, and it definitely has enough potentials to stand side-by-side with ‘Sublimation.’ Given your skills, I’m sure you won’t have a problem pulling off a story like that. But let’s get realistic for a second. If the overall balance isn’t there, then it renders even the most shocking scenes useless. I mean, eating a bug, or crawling on both hands and knees like animals Isn’t it a little excessive? There’s something about it that feels somewhat absurd. So, with that said, I think we should play a little safer”
Then, Juho shook his head slowly in denial. There was no need to play safe. If anything, there was room to make it even more shocking and ghastly, because
“Because it’s a story that will be told by another person.”
It was going to be the story told by the lady on the train. A story told by a stranger. It was OK to be absurd. It was possible to forgive any exaggeration or omission. It was only natural that a story passed around by word of mouth would change and twist. Nam Kyung breathed in, catching on to what Yun Woo was really trying to write.
“A frame structure,” he let out, covering his mouth and thinking. In that case, there was no issue. A frame protected the picture within while supporting it so that it stayed standing. Likewise, the frame in the novel served a similar purpose. The most notable function of the frame structure was that it made the story significantly more convincing. ‘There’s a guy who went insane after falling in love with an insect.’ It was more than convincing. Interesting, even. The less realistic it became, the more the method shone. On top of that, with the addition of Yun Woo’s skill, the results would be promising.
It was marvelous.