- onOctober 18, 2016
- Vol.33 Autumn 2016
- byJeong You Jeong
He spent a week sleeping, his chin glued to the ground. In that time the man didn’t appear once. Nobody came by to give them water or food. Horrible things started happening to the dogs in the shed. At first it was just one or two, and then many. They began coughing and dripping foul-smelling snot before squirting diarrhea and collapsing, their chins and legs trembling.
Two mornings ago, the man appeared. He cursed, looking at each of the dogs, and began to put healthy ones inside cages. He grabbed Ringo by the scruff of his neck and shoved him into a cage. Ringo suppressed a sudden urge to bite the man’s hand. He knew how to endure humiliation; as humans would say, he was well trained. Surprisingly, the one who resisted was the brown female. As soon as the man picked her up she growled and bit him on the wrist. It wasn’t a bad bite and he wasn’t even bleeding that much, but the man went ballistic. He pulled her out of the cage, slammed her on the floor, and kicked her until her stomach ruptured. The brown female died, bleeding, her intestines leaking out of her body. In Ringo’s mind, that was how it all started.
The man loaded Ringo and the other dogs on to a truck and brought them home to a woman who yapped as much as the brown female. “What were you thinking, bringing an animal like that?” she cried, her index finger stabbing the air in Ringo’s direction. “That’s a beast, not a dog! What will you do if he eats all the other dogs? What if he eats us? You can’t keep him here. I’m too scared. Take him back to the shelter and get a refund. Who wants an animal like that?”
“Jesus, woman.” The man rolled his eyes then glared at her. “What are you, stupid? Do you even know what kind of dog this is? It’s worth way more than the others!”
They herded the other dogs in the living room, but the man placed Ringo on the veranda by himself.
The next day, the man’s eyes had become yellowish craters. An unpleasant smell laced his breath. It was an entirely different stench from the one the sick dogs were emanating in the shed. The smell made everything before his eyes turn black, the way it did when the tranquilizer hit him. If the smell in the shelter was a gray fog, the man’s was inky black. Even the food the man brought him was enveloped in black. Ringo didn’t go near the food or lick a drop of water. Black fog snaked up from everything the man touched. It took over the entire apartment in a single night.
This morning, the man came out into the living room, looking like a prisoner trapped in black fog. A more intense, saturated black fog flickered in his sallow eyes, in his nose, and in his mouth. It crawled out of the man’s flesh like tens of thousands of thin snakes, leaving behind black pore-like marks. The woman set the table for breakfast and kept nagging. “You’re asking to get sick. Why won’t you go to the hospital? It’s a dog bite! What if you got rabies? Why are you so stubborn? Don’t you remember how you had to be admitted for swine flu but you insisted you only had a cold? That was only last week! If you had a bad experience once, you should know how to take care of yourself after that.”
The woman wasn’t swallowed by that same fog; her eyes and mouth were completely normal.
The man disappeared into the bathroom.
“Do whatever you want,” the woman yelled after him. “I don’t care if you die! If you aren’t going to the hospital, at least get rid of that dead puppy on the veranda before it rots and we get maggots!”
After she left, the man came out of the bathroom and headed into his bedroom. Ringo could hear his ragged breathing as he vomited and moaned all day. The dogs in the living room were suffering from the same thing. They all had yellow holes for eyes. They gasped and vomited, their bodies encircled by black fog. The white dog moaning hoarsely was the first to froth blood at the mouth and collapse.
Ringo was overcome with fear and anxiety. The voice in his heart repeated itself: If you don’t want to be a corpse, you’d better escape. But it hadn’t even occurred to Ringo that escape was a real option. Not trusting humans was different from escaping them. He had wolf genes but had been raised as a dog. For a dog, humans were the entire world, one that guaranteed food, shelter, safety, and decided his fate. Getting away from humans was the same as discarding your world, becoming a stray. Which was better? To become a stray or a corpse?
The phone rang in the living room but the man failed to emerge. Ringo began to chew on his leash, with which he was tied to the metal bar of the railing. The leash was as thick as the bar but it didn’t take long. Next, he had to get out of the cage. He had to open the lock on the door. He pushed and made the cage tumble forward. He rolled to the side and to the front several times until the cage crumpled, the door broke, and the latch sprang open.
That was when the bedroom door opened. Ringo stood by the wall where he couldn’t be seen. The man crossed the living room, trembling, and opened the glass door to the veranda. He stuck his head out and turned to look at the cage and toward the wall where Ringo was hidden. It was an excellent opportunity for Ringo to attack; it would have been a walk in the park. But Ringo refrained. He didn’t want to touch the man. He could just threaten him—he raised his fur on end and growled, his teeth bared. The man screamed and ran away, jumping into the bathroom and slamming the door behind him.
Ringo ran toward the front door and rammed into it. The door didn’t budge. He tried again but it was no use. He hurtled toward every door he could find, wondering if there was another escape route. But nothing gave way. Only the bedroom door was open. He saw a window through the door. Ringo flew toward it. The inner window shattered instantly but the outer one stood as firm as the doors. Through the glass he could see the veranda where he had been imprisoned. Beyond the veranda windows, the blizzard was beating the building.
He went back into the living room and rushed at the veranda window to see if it was made of breakable glass. It wasn’t. If only he could shatter it, he could jump to the ground from here. Ringo went back to the bathroom door. He heard vomiting inside. Then the thump of the man falling. It became quiet.
Ringo lay down by the front door; the woman would come home at some point. The day waned. The apartment sank into darkness. Dogs swallowed by black fog vomited blood and died. Ringo’s anxiety and impatience ballooned. Where was this woman?
Translated by Chi-Young Kim
Jeong You Jeong’s Seven Years of Darkness sold more than 500,000 copies in South Korea alone, and its German edition ranked ninth on the Zeit and Nordwestradio “Best Crime Fiction of December 2015” list. Her most recent work, The Good Son, climbed to the top of the bestseller list even before it was published, through pre-orders on South Korea’s major online bookstores. It was also voted first by readers on Kyobo Book Centre’s “Best Fiction of 2016” list. The English edition of the book is set to be published in 2018 by Little, Brown in the UK and Penguin Random House in the US. The thriller is also being adapted into a movie and plans are underway to turn it into a webtoon. Jeong’s novel 28, featured in this issue, plays out over twenty-eight days in a city caught up in the turmoil of a zoonotic epidemic that causes people’s eyes to turn red.