Kang-myeong Jang Lumière People E ng l i s h
Lumière People (뤼미에르 피플) Hanibook Publishing corp. / 2012 / 24 p. / ISBN 9788984316461 For further information, please visit: http://library.klti.or.kr/node/772
This sample translation was produced with support from LTI Korea. Please contact the LTI Korea Library for further information. firstname.lastname@example.org
Lumière People Written by Jang Kang-myeong
No. 801: The Werebat
• Personal Details Name: Lee Kyung-un Date of Birth: July 21, 1996 (Male) Date Missing: 11:00 a.m., February 3, 2012 Last Seen: In the vicinity of Uicheon Creek and Beondong Middle School, Beon 2-dong, Gangbuk-gu, Seoul
• Description 168 cm, 55 kg, narrow face Eyebrow-length bangs, grey polo shirt Normal intelligence but speaks with impediment, mildly autistic. Keeps head down and cannot maintain eye contact.
• Circumstances of Disappearance Went on a walk from Beon-dong Middle School to
Uicheon Creek with younger sister.
the way home. Subject is prone to daydreaming and episodes of disorientation.
â€˘ Contact Information Phone: 02-xxx-0469, 010-xxxx-7817 GBPD Division of Women and Children: 02-xxx-0118 Dial 112 Nationwide
Gangbuk Police Department Chief
Ever heard of freshwater dolphins? They live in the Yangtze, the Ganges, and the Amazon. Evolving distinctly on different continents, these river dolphins nevertheless share a few things in common. All of them live in muddy rather than clear waters (making them hard to study or track even with modern science), exist in bafflingly low numbers despite having no natural enemies, and have never been captured alive (and therefore cannot be seen in zoos). A very common myth in parts where freshwater dolphins are found tells of dolphins transforming into beautiful men or women so that they may lure human folk into the river with them. The same myth persists in China, India, and Brazil. If you ask me, I think that freshwater dolphins must be shape-shifters, like werebats. Judging from the apparently widespread myths surrounding the Amazon and Yangtze rivers, they seem to have a history of being fascinated by humans and mindlessly gravitating towards them. Humans, for their part, feel a vague affinity or attraction towards them as well.
But then humans have a staggering knack for destroying or perverting the things they are attracted to. Werebats, on the other hand, have always feared humans, and humans have held werebats in contempt. The hazy memory that people have of werebats expressed itself in vampire myths in antiquity and the Middle Ages (do you know how common the vampiretransforming-into-bat myth is?) and, in more modern times, has progressed to Batman the comic book and movie series and Bat Boy the musical. In these urban legends, werebats appear as misunderstood and isolated beings that inspire fear in those around them. Go anywhere in the world and there will be tales of humans transforming into foxes, raccoons, wolves. There are still certain tribes in Central Africa where shamans perform ritualistic transformations into leopards. Anthropologists studying Indian American tribes report observing shamans actually growing body hair, sharper teeth, and running at amazing speeds when in the process of transforming into coyotes. Ancient shamans all knew how to transform into the totem of their tribe. When I was a werebat, all of this stuff was something I just knew. Unlike humans, werebats do not distinguish between present and past. The ancestral past is as real as the present, and the future does not exist in the present. Hereâ€™s another one. In Costa Rica they have legends about the golden toad. Local lore has it that anyone looking for this shimmering toad must go into the forest and fast for days without ever touching food or drink. Maybe the golden toad is extra sensitive to the scent of humans? Anyway, those who have seen the golden toad supposedly find inner peace and insight into how they should lead their lives. Batrachologist Ben Crump was in low spirits after his divorce when he signed up for a research trip to Costa Rica in 1987. Little did he know that on April 15 that year, he would
find not one but a hundred golden toads crouched around a pond in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The golden toads were sitting there, motionless, as if they had been waiting for him. So iridescent was their golden skin, it was hard to believe that such a color could have evolved naturally. Crump took hundreds of pictures of the toads over the next couple of days and made a few sketches. He also managed to collect a number of golden toad eggs. It was the first and last golden toad sighting recorded by a Westerner. Ben Crump, now happily remarried to a Costa Rican woman, returned to Monteverde with other researchers the following year but did not find a single golden toad on that occasion. As the photographs and egg specimens from his previous trip were irrefutable proof that the toad did indeed exist, scientists dubbed it a freak species that had disappeared as soon as it was discovered. The eggs did not hatch in the laboratory.
I’m not quite sure what it is that freshwater dolphins want from humans. But they must have a pretty good reason for wanting to coexist with them. Something that humans would find endearing. Golden toads reward people with wisdom, but seem to want nothing from them in return. As for what werebats want from humans, the answer is sadness and tears. Go next to a human plunged in despair and a werebat’s thoughts will clear up, his blood run purer. This does not mean that werebats are the cause of that particular human’s sadness. A closer analogy would be how humans enjoy breathing in fresh air pumped out by trees in forests. Just as a human’s exhalation is harmless to a tree, a werebat’s sense of refreshment does not affect a human’s sadness in any way. The difference is that while people don’t have to take long walks in the woods to survive, sadness is imperative to a werebat’s survival. Perhaps this dependence on human sorrow is why humans seem to find werebats so repugnant. They see through our nature instinctively. I have no idea, however, why their
legend has us craving blood rather than tears, saddling us with a bloodthirsty image. Could they be thinking of vampire bats? When I was a werebat, I would go to the Severance Hospital Funeral Hall whenever I felt the need to clear my head. Inside the funeral hall I pick out a room that doesn’t have any flowers or mourners and find a seat outside the door. Then I simply close my eyes and wait for the waves of grief to waft out. It feels like instant relief from chronic gastritis, chronic headaches, and chronic indigestion all at once.
Severance Hospital was definitely a factor in my decision to live in Shinchon. Run by a Christian foundation, the funeral hall did not serve alcohol, which attracted families who wished to have a quiet funeral. This gave it an atmosphere that was much more austere and subdued than other hospital funeral halls.
Sometimes I would drop in on the pediatric ward
or the cancer ward. They were always full of a quiet sadness. Shinchon had other attractive points for a werebat looking for a nest. There were plenty of cheap goshiwon1 on every street, and no shortage of unskilled jobs at an hourly rate of 4,000 won or so. I worked at the convenience store on the ground floor of Shinchon’s Lumière Building from 6 p.m. to midnight, and at the comic book rental shop on the second floor of the same building from midnight to 8 a.m. Altogether I would earn a bit more than 50,000 won a day. After leaving the comic book shop in the morning I crossed the street to enter my goshiwon, Joy Livingtell, to lie low during daylight hours. For food I would buy a few thousand won’s worth of fruit like grapes, apples, or cherry
Type of single living occupancy common in Seoul, known for extremely
cramped sizes and low rates. –Trans.
tomatoes from Grand Mart and stash it inside the mini refrigerator that came with every room in the goshiwon. I rarely slept. In the daytime I lay on my bed, not doing anything in particular, or took some fruit out of the refrigerator and slowly sucked on its juices. Werebats do not go outside during the day, but not because we fear the rays of the sun. We are not affected by sunlight. Humans are. In the sun, humans radiate happiness, and that vitality is suffocating to werebats. The human gaze is like a concentration of this life force. Did you know that wild beasts cannot bear to look a human in the eye for more than a few seconds before turning away or attacking that person? Even a dog, man’s best friend, cannot bear the human gaze for very long. The only animal that can hold a human’s gaze for more than ten seconds is another human, and looking into someone’s eyes any longer than that is considered aggressive behavior even among humans. To werebats, the gaze of a young child playing in the sun might as well be a death ray. If you gathered a few children playing in the street, stood them in a line and made them stare at a werebat, that werebat would probably fall dead on the spot. Adults are more bearable than children, as their eyes are not as clear. And when night falls, human eyes lose their power. Fortunately, werebats are good at eluding the human eye. Most humans do not even notice when a werebat is right next to them. Still, I tried not to go out during the daytime when the human gaze was strong. I would get up at three or four o’clock in the afternoon and do my laundry. I only had two pairs of jeans, three t-shirts, one zip up, and three pairs of underwear. There was a lot to do from 6 p.m. to midnight at the convenience store. The good thing was that if you worked this shift, you were excused from cleaning duty. After putting up with drunken customers all night, I would hang up my apron and go upstairs to my next job, where the next eight hours would be relatively uneventful. There might be the odd smoker lighting
up in the non-smoking area or a customer trying to pay by credit card, but that was it. Most customers who frequent a comic book rental shop past midnight were quiet people who kept to themselves. Some people came to crash overnight because they didn’t have enough money for cab fare or to pay for a room in a motel. I let them sleep, curled up in uncomfortable positions on the sofa. Sometimes they exuded a whiff of self-pity, and I’d pretend to put books away or tidy someone’s Chinese take-out as I hovered around them.
The first time I saw her was during the Chuseok holidays. It was impossible not to notice her, a chain-smoking, pregnant woman sitting by herself at one in the morning in a nearly empty comic book shop the day before Chuseok. The other customers kept sneaking glances at her as well. She had a pretty face and looked to be about six or seven months pregnant. Maybe five years older than me. Mid-twenties at the most. The other customers had the long faces of people who have nothing better to do at 1 a.m. in the middle of the holidays than sit around in a comic book shop and the place was quiet. I had nothing to tidy up that night but still found ways to hang around her. The sadness she exuded was so potent that I couldn’t help myself. I was like a kid with a box full of chocolate cookies. I couldn’t stop tasting that sadness. I wondered what could have happened to this person to make her so sad. That was when she keeled over in a dead faint. Shocked, I rushed over to help her up and she came to quickly, but her face was deathly pale. I took out my phone to call for an ambulance but she stopped me. “I’m all right…… I just need a glass of water.” I offered to call her husband or family, but she only shook her head. Instead, she asked if I could help her home. She lived in the same building, she said. I must have looked undecided because one of the other customers offered to mind the store while I took her home. I decided
it wouldn’t take too long to help her climb a few flights of stairs and come back down to the store. So I had her throw an arm over my shoulders and supported her back with my other hand as we walked along slowly. She walked in what seemed an uncomfortable position, leaning on me to keep as much weight as possible off her feet. It struck me as odd that she did not support her belly with her free arm, the one not draped around my neck. Apartment 801 was almost completely bare except for a bed, a desk, and a chair. It occurred to me that she must be divorced. I helped her sit on the bed and she asked in a pleading sort of voice: “Would you like a cup of tea?” “I need to get back to the store,” I said, edging out of the place and back to work. The man that had offered to mind the store was gone. So was the money in the cash register.
So you think that bats are sly creatures? Because they hide in the day and come out at night? I think that humans are much slyer. Now that my days as a werebat are over and I have turned back into an ordinary human, I think so more than ever. The fact is that I would not be able to write like this if I were still a werebat. Writing is, by definition, an act that requires premeditation and the ability to distinguish the past from the present. Werebats live exclusively in the present, and are therefore incapable of thinking of the future or making plans to con or use someone. They have no regrets, no remorse, no history, no scenario. Neither do any other animal except humans, I imagine. The chain-smoking mother-to-be showed up at the comic book store the following day, bearing rice cakes and soondae.2
Blood sausage stuffed with noodles, a common Korean street food. –Trans.
“I didn’t even say thank you yesterday, after you helped me…so I brought you something to eat.” “I see.” I surveyed the munchies she had brought unenthusiastically because fruit was all I ate anyway. “Aren’t you happy? Someone brought you rice cakes for Chuseok.” “I’m not a big fan of rice cakes.” “What do you like, then?” “I like fruit.” She sighed and said, “I’ll get some fruit,” before walking out of the store. I realized, a minute too late, that saying I preferred fruit to rice cakes was extremely rude in that situation. As a werebat I had a hard time with the human language. I tried my best to imitate, but it wasn’t perfect. Sometimes, customers at the convenience store and comic book shop would mistake me as retarded and be rude to me, or condescendingly nice. The pregnant woman came back with mini-packs of fruit from the convenience store. She had bought tangerines in a mesh bag, a pack of two bananas, and one of those pre-washed apples in a plastic bag. I knew how marked up those fruits were compared to prices at the supermarket. “This is way too expensive, you shouldn’t have…” “Never mind, just eat them.” She made a habit of stopping by with some fruit after that. She would come to the shop at night and sit next to the counter, sharing the fruit as she talked. She did most of the talking about this or that comic book and I listened. There was a potent sadness about her even when talking about comic books. Since she started coming to the shop, I had given up going to the funeral hall at Severance Hospital. I
no longer needed to, as her sadness was greater than that of an entire funeral party. I wondered how so much sadness could be contained in one human being, and how she could go about acting as if nothing were wrong at all. She would stop talking if another customer approached the counter. Her face would freeze and she would stare into the distance, arms and shoulders hanging limply, looking as if someone had abandoned her there. She seemed unconscious of the fact that this attracted more, not less, attention. And she never laid her arms over her bump. People would do double takes when she smoked. “Aren’t you curious about me after all this time?” she asked one night, resting her head on the counter. “About what?” “About why a pregnant woman would come to a comic book store every night and stay for hours.” “Well, we get all sorts of customers,” I fudged. “I can’t sleep at night. I can’t fall asleep.” I waited for her to say something else. She let out a deep breath and asked if I could go to the hospital with her. “The hospital?” She nodded. I was about to ask what kind of hospital when my eyes fell on her stomach and I shut my mouth. “It’s not far, and we’ll take a cab. I’ll pay for the cab, too.” “OK.” What moved me to say yes was a sense of compassion. I wouldn’t call it human compassion, as I wasn’t human, but more of a shared sense of responsibility and pity as a fellow mammal. After I gave my answer, I saw the tension slowly going out of her shoulders.
That afternoon, I wore sunglasses on the way to the hospital. In the cab she peppered me with questions. It seemed to ease her nervousness to ask me all the questions she had been storing up but hadn’t dared to ask before. How old was I? Wasn’t I tired doing two jobs a night? Why didn’t I go to high school? Where did I sleep? How come my parents weren’t looking for me? She would have probably asked more questions if the taxi hadn’t stopped then. The hospital was an ob-gyn clinic on the left side of Yonsei University’s main gate, halfway between Yeonhee-dong and Namgajwa-dong. It was a big clinic taking up all three stories of the building. The nurse asked if we were married and handed over a medical history form to be filled. The doctor was a well-fed man in his forties with a comb over. When the patient finally opened her mouth to say she wanted to “get rid of the baby,” the doctor cut her off refused her immediately. She tried again. “My friend said she had her operation here…” “That’s because your friend wasn’t as far gone as you. I don’t know what your situation is, but it’s far too late at your stage to consider termination. You said you’re past seven months? It’s forbidden to terminate past the 24-week mark, even if the fetus is deformed. There might be places willing to do it, but we can’t. To terminate now means delivering the baby and killing it afterwards. Seeing that you’ve carried the fetus this far, I assume you were planning to keep it. I suggest you go home and discuss this with your boyfriend”—he looked at me— “and your parents before proceeding any further. You might as well keep it, as you’re having it at this point.” He took out some papers from his desk and showed them to us. ENFORCEMENT DECREE OF THE MOTHER AND CHILD HEALTH ACT, the title read, with “24 weeks” marked in highlighter about halfway down the page.
On the way back she fainted again in the cab. I rifled through her purse for the fare and helped her inside Lumière Building. I laid her down on the bed and fell sleep on the sofa. When I opened my eyes she was sitting next to me, drinking tea. It wasn’t like we had much to say to each other, so we just sat like that for 30 minutes or so, looking out the window. “Why are you so nice to me?” she asked, out of the blue. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. It didn’t take long for her to begin talking about herself. “It feels like…it doesn’t feel like a life, it feels like a tumor. It’s sucking its mother and father dry so it can survive. It makes me sick. Ever since I found out I was pregnant, everything has gone wrong. The shop is gone, my boyfriend is dead…” She and her boyfriend used to run an accessories business in front of Ewha Women’s University. They sold hair accessories, earrings, and bracelets of their own design. The woman started out as a part-time worker at the shop, progressed into a regular employee, and became romantically involved with the owner. They had a small, but steady business. The media even ran a few stories on the “hairpin guy” that appeared in women’s magazines and on TV. By the time they found out she was pregnant, the boyfriend was planning to open a second store in City Hall’s underground arcade. They decided to have a wedding after the shop had found its bearings. The woman’s family opposed the marriage but she and her boyfriend believed they would come around eventually. The second shop failed and, although it seemed like they had only missed out on a few trends, the entire business swiftly went under. They sold up and used the money to rent a studio apartment in Lumière Building. The boyfriend still remained in good spirits. “Don’t worry. Everything will be alright. Trust me.” He died the same day. The studio apartment needed a mini refrigerator, so they were driving to a secondhand
shop to get one. The boyfriend had taken a wrong alley in Yeonhee-dong and was turning around in a residential area. They were on a two-way street going downhill. Irritated, the boyfriend accelerated slightly. That was when, out of nowhere, a powerful beam of sunlight shone directly in their faces. It was three o’clock in the afternoon and the alley was deserted. Someone in some unseen location was using a mirror to reflect light into their car. Someone’s idea of a nasty prank. Momentarily blinded, the driver stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake. The car leapt forward and crashed into an electricity pole, jolting the woman’s body out of her seat and headfirst into the dashboard before crashing back. The man was less lucky. He hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt at the time. He slammed his head on the spinner knob of the steering wheel and died instantly. “The thing is, it wasn’t that much of a shock. It was enough for the hood to pop open, a few scratches on the bumper, but it wasn’t enough to kill a person. If anything, it should have killed this”--she pointed at her stomach—“not a grown man on the spot.” The man had been taken away to the morgue when the hospital notified her that both mother and baby were unharmed. She felt the baby moving for the first time as she lay on the hospital bed. The vibrations coming from inside her belly seemed to her like a hideous fate knocking on her door.
“Why are you so nice to me?” Nice? If she thought I was being nice listening to her stories without comment, she was mistaken. I guess she appreciated not having to put up with comments like, why didn’t they use contraception, or how she should have gotten rid of the baby right after the accident. But my silence had more to do with my disinterested nature as a werebat, and nothing to do with tact or kindness. Ditto for acting older than someone who looked like a teenager.
“Why do you keep being nice to me? Why bother? Do you have a crush on me?” She giggled, like a bad actor. “It’s not like that. It’s because I’m a werebat and being around you gives me peace of mind, “I explained with werebat-awkwardness. I laid out the main facts—that she was surrounded by a deep sadness, that was an immense help for me to purify my body, which I needed because I was a werebat, and that shape-shifters existed in this world. She didn’t believe me, of course. She diagnosed me as a runaway suffering from delusions. “You said you became a werebat in February. What were you before, then?” “I was a person, that’s all. Just…a student.” “I’m not the sanest person around but I’m willing to bet you’re not, either. What are werebats? How did you just become one in February?” “I think I must have been close to the soul of a werebat. It was in another person’s body and it switched to my body.” “Oh yes, the soul of the werebat. So it could change places again, sometime. What are you going to do then?” “Werebats don’t worry about the future. That’s what humans do.” Since she refused to believe that I was a werebat, I offered to transform in front of her. “Now you’re talking.” She settled herself comfortably into the sofa and lit a cigarette. “It might be kind of scary for you to look at.” “Yeah, yeah.” “And all my clothes fall off when I transform, so I’ll be naked when I turn back into a human. Are you OK with that?” “Sure. How did you manage before when you transformed back? How many times have you transformed so far?”
“Maybe twice?” She smiled. I transformed. I weighed about 55 kilos then, and the bats composing my body, while fairly large-sized, only weighed 50 to 70 grams each. I turned into a cloud of a hundred and few dozen bats. I swirled in a whirlwind above the sofa and bed and filled the entire room in formation. She screamed. I spread my wings over the window, blocking off all light coming into the room. I wanted to break the glass and fly higher, further outside, but didn’t. I heard hundreds of ultrasonic signals coming out of my body and the much lower sound of her screaming. I managed to fly around that narrow room without bumping into the corners, but it was starting to feel claustrophobic. I swooped around the room a few more times in a clockwise circle and turned back into a human, standing naked in front of her. She was still gasping. Her cigarette was still in her fingers. By the time I had dressed myself and turned around, she was looking at me with odd elation in her eyes. “This is it,” she said, unable to keep the excitement out of her voice. “What is it?” “I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to find the person who killed my boyfriend. I’m going to get my revenge on that stupid prankster with the mirror, and you’re going to help me.”
She threatened to out me if I didn’t cooperate, but that meant nothing. Who would believe something like that, anyway? No, I followed her to the site of the accident out of mammalian solidarity, as mentioned before. It didn’t hurt that she had a knack for appealing to other people. We all know that
person who always complains how tired they are but never looks like it, while there are children and young women who somehow just look so tired on the bus or subway that you feel compelled to give up your seat. Or could it be that somewhere deep inside, werebats do have a soft spot for humans? Like freshwater dolphins? Or it could be that I had not fully become a werebat, which would explain why the soul of the werebat left me? We walked from Ewha University’s back gate towards Geumhwa Tunnel and took a back street going to Yonsei University’s east gate. We were on a slope going up to a residential area built on a flattened part of the mountain. She had to stop more than a few times on the slope, breathing heavily and wiping her brow when she thought I wasn’t looking. Anyone would have given up their seat for her on the bus or subway. We stood around for an hour at the spot where she wanted to wait. She went into a convenience store and came back with a bottle of 17 brand tea and corn silk tea. We were standing west of Ansan Mountain, so the sun was bound to set early on us. I was wondering how long we would have to wait when I saw a flash of light coming from one of the houses midway up the hill. There was no mistake about it. Right on cue, an unlucky—or lucky, actually—truck got flashed by the light and the driver swerved heavily, nearly crashing into the wall of the alley. The truck righted itself in the nick of time, but the light continued to follow it doggedly. When the truck moved up the hill and out of range, the light turned on its next target. This time it narrowly missed the driver’s seat. “Did you see that?” She asked, her voice shaking. “Somebody in that house is trying to kill drivers with a mirror. For fun.” Words seemed to elude her then, as she turned red in the face.
“I didn’t see them but I heard. I know where the light is coming from.” It would have been hard for a human to tell, but the source of the light was a two-story house about 50 meters away from us. The light had come out of the second-floor window. The window was barred. Could an ordinary human using a mirror aim light into a driver’s eyes at that distance? I was skeptical. Whatever they were doing was probably not with an intention to kill. I sent an ultrasonic wave in their direction. Sure enough, a man with a mirror was standing there, a man at least a head taller and much wider than me. We had found the mirror prankster, but she had not made any plans about what to do with him. She did know that she didn’t want to go to the police. I made it clear that I would not be doing any killing. “The best I can do is get into his window and give him a scare. I can’t carry a weapon with me, and I can’t fight him. He has 40 kilos on me, anyway.” She thought about that for a minute. “Blind his eyes, then. Go in when he’s sleeping and gouge his eyes out with your fingers.” I briefly wondered where this woman, who usually looked so dull and harmless, got this ingenious and twisted idea from, and what had driven me into a position where I felt I could not deny her request. “I’ll do it, but just the one eye. It would be too cruel to do both,” I suggested as a compromise. At first she objected, “What do you mean, cruel? He’s getting off easy for a murderer!” But she eventually came around to the idea. “Alright. But I want you to write a message on the wall in blood instead. Write something like, If he keeps playing with other people’s lives, you’ll blind his other eye too.” I promised I would.
We left Lumière Building at two in the morning. We took a cab to Bongwonsa Temple and
walked up the trail from there. She had brought a flashlight. I didn’t need one. She climbed the hill leading up to the alley with newfound strength, now that revenge was close. I hid myself in the bushes and took off my clothes. My body looked like a skinny child’s in the moonlight. I folded up my clothes and came out of the bushes to hand them to her, causing her to quickly turn her flashlight away. “You’re going to wait for me, right?” “I’ll wait for you.” “It should take about thirty minutes.” With that I transformed into a hundred bats and flew away. This time I could stretch my wings as much as I wanted. I flew high up in the air. I could see the campuses of Yonsei and Ewha Womans University, Ansan Mountain, and the Han River. The full moon, shrouded by clouds, lit up the sky in a ghostly way. There was not a breath of wind. I flew around in great circles, whipping up a whirlwind. Free. I was free. Why do we keep returning to this city, unable to break away? What fate had decided werebats needed humans to survive? It seems most likely that humans evolved first, and a few bats learned that they could use human sadness. How pointless was it to evolve away from the ground to the sky, only to go back to living among humans. I floated down on a cool breeze. Down to the house where the obese man was living. All thoughts of blinding him in one eye or writing in blood on the wall had almost completely gone out of my head by then. It was not that I had lied to the woman in Apt. 801, but because my natural instinct as a werebat to inhabit the present was stronger than ever after transforming. I vaguely thought that I would just give him a scare. The window was closed. I broke the glass with a loud smash and flew inside through the bars. It was only when I was banging on the glass that I realized something was seriously
wrong with me. Half of the bats obeyed my order but the other half milled about haphazardly. It felt like half of my body was paralyzed. I turned back into naked boy and, unable to stay on my feet, crumbled to the floor. Something was wrong with my circulation. My joints felt so stiff I could barely move them. Bracing myself on the wall, I thought, ‘She wasn’t sad at all today, not for one minute.’ I had forgotten that I needed to stay near people that were grieving. It was my own fault for not paying attention to my body. Ever since I started spending more time with her, I had always had an abundant source of sadness. For more than 24 hours since yesterday, however, she had been towering with vengeance without the slightest hint of sadness, and I had not even noticed my blood was congealing as I transformed and soared above the night sky. The giant man, naked except for briefs, got up from the bed. I swallowed hard, completely cowed. I tried to stand up but only succeeded in slipping and falling hard on my bottom. There was something clumsy about the man’s behavior, as if he were still half asleep. His hair was cut short in an unflattering style. I scuffled away from him into a corner. Bits of glass from the window I had shattered stuck in my hands and buttocks. The man was startled. He gaped at the broken window, noticing me only after turning his head. The man could not have been more than nineteen, and there was something off about his face. I saw rather than heard that he had severely crossed eyes, and traces of dried saliva around his mouth. There was more dried spittle on his chest and stomach, and he smelled rank. He lumbered towards me, and I picked up one of the shards and slashed at his chest. He looked at the blood and started hopping around, complaining in unintelligible sounds, but did not come any closer to me. Instead he lumbered towards the door and knocked on it, calling for his mother, “Moo-uh, moo-uh.”
I tried the door but the knob would not turn—it was clearly locked from the outside. When his mother did not appear the man squatted in front of the door and wept. I finally allowed myself a good look around the sparsely decorated room and spied the mirror next to a crucifix. It was about the size and shape of a book, a plain old mirror. A mirror that had killed someone. I walked toward the cowering idiot and threw the mirror in the corner behind him. The mirror broke with a satisfyingly loud crash into pieces that flew everywhere. I felt a sense of pity for the handicapped man with only his underwear covering his quivering, white flesh, but when I saw that he was wetting himself a sudden wave of irritation made me want to kick and scream at him. “If you fool around with that mirror one more time, I’m going to kill you.” I said, and left it at that. There was no way to know if the mentally handicapped man had understood me. He was on his knees, hands clasped together in supplication, but it seemed to be an automatic response learned from habitual abuse like this. Hearing footsteps outside the door, I transformed into bat form and laboriously flew outside.
Clouds had formed over the sky and the air was muggy. I preferred to fly in high pressure systems rather than low. You got better lift with the highs. But now the air was so heavy that I could almost feel condensation forming on my wings. I landed on Ansan Mountain, almost crashing to the ground. Turning back into a human boy, I looked for my formerly morose companion, but she was nowhere to be seen. Had I come to the wrong place? She was gone, and so were my clothes. I did not need to call out her name to know that, as a quick ultrasound sent through the dark forest confirmed it for me. There was a brief drizzle, and I shivered in my nakedness under the pine trees. I was a child abandoned in the
mountains without his clothes on a rainy night. Sitting on a stump, hugging myself as I tried to muster up the strength to transform again, I thought of those unfortunate children that often appear in Grimm’s fairy tales. When I finally managed, I was afraid I’d lose control. To think of being scattered into a hundred bats that have no idea that they are part of a werebat—to die as a werebat. The gloomy sky above the streets of Shinchon. The air heavy with water. Walking those streets, filled with dread and anxiety like now. I lost my way...much further east than here, there was a stream, there was a girl, and I came here on a bus. On a bus? Yes, that was before I had become a werebat. My memories faded away then. If I could only remember what happened that day… I swerved unsteadily above Severance Hospital. Maybe if I fell into the morgue, I thought, I would gain back my strength instantly. I nearly crashed more than a few times after that until I reached Lumière Building. The lights were out in Apt. 801. I flew up to the apartment, startling a man on the fifth floor who had been drinking coffee by his window and earning a scream from a young woman in the parking lot who had chanced to look up at the sky just then. The occupant of Apt. 801 lay unconscious on the floor. She was drenched in blood between her legs. I sensed that I would never learn why she had left me behind at Ansan Mountain. I had no way of knowing how serious her condition was, or if she was still alive at all. The door to Apt. 801 was closed from the inside. I gathered all my strength, flew up about ten meters in the air, and dived into the window. The window did not break and I was almost knocked out by the shock. I transformed back into a human as I fell, and dropped to the ground in that state. The force of the fall bounced me off the ground, hard, snapping my neck back and forth. My shoulders hurt, as if the bones had been broken. I got up and stumbled
into convenience store on the ground floor of Lumière Building. A customer dropped the item she had just picked up when she saw me naked. The cashier was a part-timer I knew who was taking off time from university. His jaw dropped. “Phone…call an ambulance.” Every sound that came out of my mouth seemed to tear the inside of my throat. I took away the receiver from the cashier who was stuttering “L-let me do it,” and told the emergency responder that “There’s a bleeding and unconscious woman in Apt. 801 Lumière Building, Changcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul.” A few more customers came into the store as I spoke, and I could feel their eyes boring into me. The force of their gaze was even stronger than at the height of day. One of them took out a cell phone and started filming me. The last thing I remember as I hung up was feeling like the insides of my head were melting down.
When I woke up I was in the hospital. It took a moment for me to remember the faces and names of my mother and younger sister. Both of them looked at me with sad expressions. The doctor took a small flashlight out of his pocket and shone them in my eyes. “How are you feeling?” “Are you alright?” My mother and sister spoke at the same time. Feeling dizzy, I closed my eyes and lost consciousness again. It was going to take some time before I would be able to talk. I woke up again at night. Beams of moonlight peacefully lit up the room. No longer a werebat but not fully human yet, either, I sat up in bed and watched the moonlight shining into the room. “Hey, you’re awake.” A soft voice that was not my mother’s or sister’s spoke to me. I turned my head to see
where it came from, but there was nobody. “Over here, look here.” The voice came from a handbag-sized object on the bedside cabinet. As I watched, the object slowly began to glow. It was a golden toad. “How do you feel?” the golden toad asked. “I don’t know. The bat left me.” “The bat is gone.” “How long did the bat stay with me?” “About eight months. If people ask what you’ve been doing all this time, just say you don’t remember. Nobody really wants to know what happened to you during that time.” I nodded. After a while I asked, “Did I do something wrong? I don’t know why the bat left.” “Sadness doesn’t go away with happiness,” the golden toad said. “Sadness gets dissolved in the air and floats around until it becomes food for the heart. Werebats are in charge of breaking down human sadness, like the dung beetles that break down animal droppings into nutrients. Without werebats, this planet would be overflowing with sadness that never went away.” And then the golden toad melted away. True to its word, nobody really wanted to know what I had been doing for the last eight months. I stuck to my story of “I don’t remember,” and after repeating it five or six times everybody seemed satisfied. One day, I was washing my legs in the shower next to the hospital room when I suddenly burst into tears. I wept without knowing why. My mother stood next to me and patted my back, saying, “There, there.” That was when I felt the last part of the werebat inside me disappear. I was now part of a world where the present was separate from the past and the future was impossible to avoid or
slow down. The thought was terrifying.
For a while after I came back home to Beon-dong, my sister would come with me on my walks. Whenever I was about to go out, my sister would grab something to read and her mp3 player and head out with me. We were walking along Uicheon Creek one day when I saw a woman in sunglasses. It was the woman from Apt. 801. She was no longer pregnant, and she did not have a baby with her. The woman was walking along the path with a gait that was ever so slightly different than the other pedestrians. She stopped in front of us and gazed at me from behind her large sunglasses. She stood like that for about five seconds, and then moved on. “Is that someone you know? I felt a bit scared of her,” my sister asked after she had passed. “That’s a werebat.” I said, with a shudder.
Published on Nov 17, 2015