“Cough, cough! Agh…… Cough!”
I woke up to a splitting headache. Only after I had coughed up blood for a while that I was able to come to my senses.
‘Huh, I actually managed to survive.’
The memories before I lost consciousness flashed through my mind.
Dungeon. Raid. An unexpected accident. I lost consciousness thinking I would just die like that, but I guess I somehow managed to survive. Had the rescue arrived, even if a little late?
I painfully raised my curled up upper body and looked around. Contrary to my expectations, this was not a hospital where I woke up.
A small room, no bigger than about 70 square feet. All you could call furniture were a small blanket closet and a small floor sitting table. Other than that, all that there was in this room was a couple of coats hanging on the yellowed newspaper covered wall.
‘Where am I?’
I got up completely and walked towards the door. As soon as I opened the door covered in window paper, fresh air and the outside caught my eye.
What I saw was a girl that looked about 16 years old hanging laundry to dry in a small yard. I barely managed to call out to her.
“Hey, hah, student.”
Hearing my voice, the girl turned to me and replied with a grin.
“What do you mean student? If anything you, our guest, are the student! The only school I have been able to go to is a regular school.”
Guest? I’m a guest and a student? I was so dizzy I couldn’t understand what she was saying. When I looked around the yard, it looked like any ordinary family house. To be specific, it looked like a rural family house, the kind you would see in old dramas.
Why am I in a place like this instead of a hospital? If I had been saved by the rescue team, they would have taken me directly to a hospital. Could it be that I was rescued by a civilian hunter and not a rescue team?
“Did you save me? And what’s this place…….”
“What do you mean by save you? Seriously, you came home late at night after going to Jingogae* yesterday, are you still drunk?”
*TL/N: Jingogae was the name given to a hill located in Seoul back during the Japanese colonial era. It was located in the place that’s now known as Chungmuro-2 ga, a neighborhood in Seoul. I imagine it’s one of the downtown locations in Seoul back during that era, having a lot of bars and entertainment businesses, hence the girl’s comments.
Drunk? I’m still drunk?
“It’s too late for breakfast. Should I at least serve you lunch?”
I don’t know what’s happening. I waved my hand in the same awkward pose, with only my head out the door.
“No, ah, no. It’s okay.”
“Some people, seriously…….”
I left the girl shaking her head in disappointment behind, closed the door and crawled into the middle of the room and grabbed my head. I didn’t understand what in the world was happening.
I let out a sigh and wiped my face down. But I was suddenly startled by an unfamiliar sense of everything feeling out of place.
‘It’s so soft!’
Astonished, I looked closely at the hands that I had just taken off my face. The hands were white and thin. Compared to my own hands, these looked like a woman’s—
Ah, no. Fortunately, they were a man’s hands. Even so, what was so surprising was that there were no signs of the calluses and scars that had been formed from my years of rolling around as a hunter.
I urgently looked around the room for a mirror. Next to the floor sitting table a mirror, about the size of a palm, was hanging. When I looked in the mirror, what was reflected was the face of a young boy about the age of a high school student.
‘Who…… in the world is this?’
It definitely wasn’t the face of a younger me. Where had the original me gone, and why did I look like a boy that I’ve never seen before in my life?
Looking around the room again, I found a calendar hanging on the wall. It was a calendar that, to say the least, looked retro, but in reality looked crude, and looked like it had been printed through engraving. But what was even more surprising were the numbers printed on it.
The year on the calendar was 1939.
This, is this the home owner, or that girl’s hobby? Did they hang this ancient calendar to decorate the interior on purpose because they like things that are “antique” or “retro”? There are people with all sorts of strange tastes in the world……!
But, if that’s not it.
‘Nah. No way. It couldn’t be.’
I opened the door and stumbled across the yard barefoot.
“Hello? Dear guest?”
I ignored the girl who called me, surprised, and opened the gate across the yard. As soon as I opened the gate I could see the scenery spread out over the narrow alleyway. It looked like the house was located on a hillside.
Under the blue sky, I could see the spiky mountain range in the distance, and the city area extended wide beneath it. Tiled houses and wooden buildings close to each other. In between, I could also see large buildings made of grey cement or reddish-brown brick.
When I looked down somewhere closer, I could see people walking around the streets dressed in white jeoksams* and fedora hats, and every once in a while a man dressed in a suit passed by on a bicycle. There were signs and flags in Chinese or Japanese hanging on the streets.
*TL/N: Jeoksam: A single-layered upper garment that is similar to jeogori, a traditional Korean upper garment.
I mean, this is……
‘……the Japanese Colonial Era?’
What I saw across the gate was the scenery of Seoul, or rather “Gyeongseong*”, of the Japanese colonial era that I saw in movies or dramas.
*TL/N: During the period of Japanese colonial Era, Seoul was referred to by the Japanese exonym Keijō (けいじょう or 京城), or Gyeongseong (경성; 京城) in Korean.
‘We are really in the year 1939?’
Whilst I was confused about what had happened, I suddenly remembered the wish I had made just before I lost consciousness.
‘Please send me back to the past.’
That’s right. That was it. I had definitely made such a wish. Had God listened to my wish? But what I had meant with that wish was……
‘TO SEND ME BACK TO WHEN I WAS YOUNGER!’
However, it seemed this god that granted wish interpreted it a little differently. Since I asked him to send me to the past, he literally sent me back in history.
‘I can’t believe it.’
However, whether it was from my wish or not, that fact that I had entered the body of a boy who lived in 1939, during the Japanese colonial era, was not a dream but reality.
‘But, even if it’s the past, why the Japanese colonial era?’
The more I thought, the stranger it was. Even if the god that had heard my prayer to ‘send me back in time’ had misinterpreted it, why did it have to be the Japanese colonial era and not some other period?
Could there be a hidden purpose to all of this?
In the small chance that God, or whatever may be, had an intended purpose to all of this, why was I sent to this era? I tried to guess that purpose.
The reason why my spirit, that of a hunter, was sent to this era.
However, there was nothing I, a (former) hunter, could do in this era. Not only was I not in the body that had awakened its powers, but the awakening ability of mankind had started in 2019 after the first gate incident happened.
In this era, 80 years before the gate incident would even occur, monsters that threatened mankind, let alone the awakening of abilities and magical powers, would not exist.
If so, it must be that.
This present period of Japanese occupation was definitely a dark period in history, but on the other hand, it was also a period where gates and monsters didn’t exist.
So, if I dare make a guess……
It’s clear that God’s intention in sending me to this era was in consideration for me, to forget everything about the gates, monsters and hunters, and live a normal life, since I’ve suffered so much so far. While enjoying myself by using my knowledge of the future moderately!
‘Knowledge of the future, huh. I never imagined awakening so late would help me in this way.’
In my 21st century life, I awakened at a late age, in my late twenties, so before that, as an ordinary person, I studied hard to enter into the job market and to get various qualifications.
I even graduated a four-year college, spoke a bit of English, and since I once wanted to become a civil servant, I had quite a bit of knowledge of Korean history.
So, if I can use my knowledge of the future I can lead a comfortable life.
I would be the perfect Hoi Bing-Hwan……!
Since I came back in time: “HOI-gui”*; since I received another person’s body: BING-eui*; and since I get to live another life: HWAN-saeng*. Now that Hoi Bing-Hwan had become certain, there was nothing for me to worry about anymore.
*TL/N: HOI-gui: to go back, BING-eui: possession, HWAN-saeng: reincarnation
‘This is a second life that God has given me. A second chance!’
“Sorry, dear guest?”
After having seen me standing at the gate for a while in my delusion, the girl came to me asking, with worried look on her face.
“Are you okay?”
“Ah. Yeah, I’m fine. I’m sober now. Since I took some fresh air, yeah…….”
After evading her question like that I ran away, back into the room. And I looked at myself in the mirror once again.
In the mirror, it was still the face of an unfamiliar boy that was staring back at me.
Who was this boy? Since I would have to live my second life as this boy I would have to at least learn what kind of person he was.
I put the mirror back down and slowly looked around the room.
In the small room there were no significant living amenities or artefacts apart from the small table and the closet. It felt like a boarding room for someone who had just started living alone.
‘That girl called me ‘student’ and ‘guest’, right?’
Just as she had said, on the wall a black school uniform that looked new was hanging. I could make the guess that I had just come to Seoul from the countryside to attend a school and stay here.
As I got close to see, the old-style black school uniform had a badge that read “白林哲然(Baekrim Cheol-yeon)”.
‘The name is 4 letters long?’
I wondered why I had a 4 letter name but I realized after a bit.
‘It’s the Japanese Colonial Era!’
Even if the “Cheol-yeon” at the back might be the original name the front “Baekrim(白林)” was probably a Japanese style surname. In other words, it was name due to the Japanese Name-Changing Program! Wow, so this is the sorrow of losing your country?
Inside the front pocket of the uniform, there was a wallet with yellowed Japanese money. There was obviously no student ID card like we have in the 21st century, but there were some folded pieces of paper.
When I unfolded them I saw they were documents written in Japanese.
‘Damn. I don’t know that much Japaneses…… What?’
But I could easily read what was written on them. Was this because I had possessed a student that had learnt Japanese?
Anyway, one of the unfolded papers was a notice that I had been admitted to a place called “Gyeongseong Yeopsa Vocational School”.
I didn’t know what “Yeopsa” meant, but if this was a “vocational school”, as far as I know, it was a higher education institution where specialized skills are taught during the Japanese colonial era.
In an era where even elementary education is difficult to receive, it was obvious that students that were able to receive higher education beyond secondary education were quite the elite.
The other page was a copy of the family registry. This boy must have got it to submit to the school. On one corner of the copy I could see my current name “Cheol-yeon”.
‘It seems my original surname before the Name-Changing Program was Baek. And since the date of birth is the 10th year of Taishō (1921) …… Since it’s now 1939 I must be 17 years old.’
17 years old. He’s just a young child. It’s a pity for this student to have lost his body to me at such a young age, but for me, I can only say it’s great luck to have a second chance to live thanks to his body.
I put my hands together, slightly lowered my head towards the boy in the mirror and thought.
‘I’ll do my best to live for the both of us!’
I slowly opened the door and looked out again. Blue skies without any fine dust, air pollution, and without being obscured by high-rise buildings. The weather was amazing.
‘First of all, let’s look around a bit.’
Before making a full-fledged life plan, it would be a good idea to look around the era I have to live in.
As I was about to leave, I noticed the clothes I was wearing had traces of what looked like vomit on the front. So I put on the clean uniform hanging on the wall and headed out the door.
As I was putting on the shoes that were placed on the rock, I asked the girl – probably the boarding house owner’s daughter – that was in the yard.
“Say, student, are there any bookstores around here?”
“I told you I’m not a student. You keep on saying that…….”
That was right. I was not in a period where everyone that looks young is a student. Especially since the enrolment rate for secondary education was low.
And, since I didn’t really know what was going on, I kept on talking to her informally, but as I thought about it now, it would be rude to just keep on talking to her so informally, but the boarding house daughter continued to speak sarcastic manner as if my informal talking didn’t bother her.
“There’s no bookstores around here, but if you go down the main road over there and go straight to Myeongryun Pavilion, you will find a Furuhonya next to the record bar. You must have seen it coming and going…….”
There was no chance I would know what a Furuhonya was, but since I had possessed this body and inherited the boy’s language skills I understood right away it meant a second-hand bookstore.
I left the alleyway the boarding house was in and headed towards the main road.
After walking for a bit I slowly left the residential area and arrived at a place you could call a downtown area. The street was still small but there were a lot of buildings that stood 2-3 floors tall and I could start to see shops that had Japanese signs hanging outside.
Astonishing. This was my first impression I got when I vividly witnessed the historical scene that was 80 years older than the 21st century when I lived.
‘It’s like the set from “Rustic Period”.’
Suits wearing fedoras, women in Japanese clothing with parasols, and rickshaw pullers busily running in between them. Black classic cars passing by every once in a while and streetcars that looked kind of familiar. Wow, I should ride one of those later.
And as the boarding house daughter had told me next to the shop with a sign saying “Myeongryun Record Bar” stood a shabby second-hand bookstore.
“Welcome.” As I entered the bookstore listening to the owner’s words, I found a pile of junk newspapers and magazines on one side and headed towards it.
The reason I looked for a bookstore first was for this. Having lived in the 21st century, I lacked any common knowledge about this era.
Of course, I had some general knowledge about history and since I had possessed a student who knew Japanese I could understand the language, but it seemed that I had not inherited the student’s memories or knowledge, so the appearance of the streets, or just everything about this era in general were unfamiliar.
I would soon have to attend school and live the rest of my life in this era, so I needed to gain some common knowledge. An era where internet and TVs don’t exist, so it is obvious to gain knowledge from books.
And what I thought would be the most helpful kind of book were newspapers and magazines, so I randomly picked up some days-old newspapers and various magazines.
During that I found a magazine called “Yeopsa Joseon”.
Now that I thought about it the name of the school that was on the notice of admission that was inside my uniform was also “Gyeongseong Yeopsa Vocational School”. I didn’t know what it was, but since I thought it might be related I picked up that magazine as well.
Whilst I was looking through the magazines I heard a voice from behind.
“Well, well, isn’t this Baek Cheol-yeon?”
I hadn’t realized this was something that had been said to me so I ignored it at first, but the words that continued were definitely directed towards me.
“No, rather, should I be calling you “Shirabayashi” in the jap way instead of Baek Cheol-yeon? Hahaha…….”
“Shirabayashi” was the Japanese pronunciation of “Baekrim(白林)”, the surname on the name tag on my uniform. I looked back wondering what was going on, and there was a skinny four-eyes with a ponytail standing there.
Looking at his face, he was definitely my age, but, as I stood there staring at him since I didn’t know who he was, he said, raising his glasses.
“What’s the deal? The day before yesterday, during the preliminary call-up day, you were acting like you were from the “bourgeois”, but here you are in a second-hand bookstore instead of a new bookstore.”
The way he was standing crooked made him sound sarcastic. Looking closely, he was wearing the same uniform as me, and considering he said “preliminary call-up day”, or whatever it was, it seemed he was a peer who was going to attend the same school as me.
Was he someone I met during the preliminary call-up day? But of course, I didn’t know who he was, so I glanced down to his name tag and saw it read “宋炳午(Song Byung-oh)”. “Song Byung-oh”……
Something was weird.
‘This guys doesn’t have a Japanese-style name?’
Song Byung-oh. No matter how you read it, it was a regular Korean, I mean, Joseon name. I started to wonder, I have a Japanese name from the Name-Changing Program but why does he still have a Joseon name? I had heard that during the Japanese occupation era Name-Changing was forced so if you didn’t change your name you couldn’t even go to school……
I looked back to the history I knew for a moment. The knowledge I accumulated before I awakened my hunter skills, when I was still studying for a Korean history certificate to get qualifications like a regular person.
Modern history…… The Japanization at the end of the Japanese colonial rule…… The Japanese genocide of Korean culture…… Was it 1940 that the Name-Changing Program came into effect? I wasn’t completely sure but I thought so.
And right now it was the year 1939. If that was so this was before the Name-Changing Program. Ah-ha, so that’s why this guy could still walk around wearing a name tag with the Joseon name “Song Byung-ho”.
But, thinking about it this way caused another confusion.
‘No, wait, what about me, then?’
I looked down at the name tag on my chest. What the hell was this Japanese-style surname, “Shirabayashi (白林)” then?
If you were a person from Joseon who had a Japanese surname voluntarily, before the Name-Changing Program was implemented, it was difficult to think of any other possibility than that you were pro-Japan. That was it. I had possessed the body of a student who was pro-Japan!
Pro-Japan! I can’t believe I’m pro-Japan!
If this was so, it wasn’t too difficult to figure out why this kid, Song Byung-oh – who seemed to be my enrolment peer – suddenly started talking to me in such an aggressive manner.
There was no reason for him to think well of a pro-Japanese like me who had changed his surname to Japanese-style despite being from Joseon!
Then, it seemed, that this student, Baek Cheol-yeon, who I had possessed, had a quarrel with that four-eyes named Song Byung-oh on the day of the preliminary call-up.
‘This is a pain in the ass.’
However, my current self didn’t want to cause any kind of problems before starting school because of some conflict that the pro-Japan student “Baek Cheol-yeon” had created in the past. Rather, I needed to right the wrongs in order to have a comfortable school life in the future.
I extended my hand at the guy as I said.
“Sorry. Song Byung-oh, right? I apologize if I said anything the other day that might have offended you.”
As I gently apologized and reached out, he looked puzzled and grabbed my hand. I kept on going.
“Also, I would rather you call me “Baek Cheol-yeon” and not “Shirabayashi”. Like you, I’m also Kor-, I mean, I’m also from Joseon and I didn’t change my surname because I wanted to.”
As I said this, he stuttered, confused and still rather wary of me.
“Oh…… Okay. Is…… is that right? Hmm, I’m sorry as well ……?”
“No need to apologize. Let’s get along as compatriots from now on.”
As I said this I patted him on the shoulder. That’s right. We should fix things one by one with this brotherly love as compatriots. For tight friendships, a smooth school life, and a comfortable life.
“It seems there was some kind of misunderstanding last time, but I–”
As soon as I wanted to add that I’m not pro-Japan I couldn’t keep on speaking. I felt a strange sensation.
‘……What is this?’
It was an uncomfortably familiar sensation. It was coming from outside the second-hand bookstore, from the streets.
“Why did you stop mid-sentence? Hey, Shira …… Baek Cheol-yeon!”
I ignored Song Byung-oh’s screaming and ran out to the street. There were pedestrians running and shouting from across the street.
“The magic door is opened!”
‘Dobiraga hiraita! Ryoshio obe!’
“Yeopsa! Call the Yeopsa!”
My eyes were directed towards where the ominous sensation emanated, in the direction the pedestrians were running away from.
In that place there was a streetcar that was missing half as if it had been bitten by something, and something was floating on the street, with a presence as if it was swallowing the streetcar.
This thing, it was a sphere that fluctuated in colours that didn’t exist on Earth,
‘Fuck, why is that thing showing up on this era?’
It was a Gate.