Cloudland

Cloudland
by Miles Rost

(Dedicated to the memory of all the students and passengers lost in the Sewol ferry disaster last week. Please make sure to play the music while you read.)

(NOTE: This is a work of fiction, designed to help people think about and work through their feelings regarding the Sewol ferry sinking.)

(Written on sheets of rice paper, and found on the desk of a fisherman on Jindo.)

Clouds. Happy as clouds.

That’s is how I see them now. All of them are in school up there, learning about love and life, learning their new assignments and how they will do new things. Learning, while in the cloudland.

I live in Sinyuk, just off the main coast of South Korea. My family has lived here for many years. That day will be burned into my mind.

I was on the shoreline, finishing the rigging up the nets that I would use for crab fishing during the night. I always do that after the day’s work is done. I was going to go to sleep soon, and wake up again in the afternoon to do the fishing checks all over again.

It was just after 8:30 in the morning when I went to my home and sat down for my supper. I ate, and felt good about the upcoming catch that would come in the night. I went to my room to pray and honor my wife. Long ago, we were a happy fishing couple. She died a few years back, and it was a sad time for me. But, still, I live on with her in my memory.

It was around 9:45 that I heard the phone ring. This was unusual, I didn’t normally get a call when I was just about to go to bed. I picked up the phone and answered like I normally do. It was Byeong-jun, the harbormaster here. He told me that there was an all-call for all fishing vessels, that a ferry was sinking just off Gwanmae.

It was like second nature to me. I was in the Navy during my days in the military, and whenever a call for assistance was made, it was my job to alert the captain and to help direct where we needed to go. I immediately ran out to my boat, and started it up. Or, at least I tried to start it.

I couldn’t start it. The boat that helped me check my pots did not start. And I needed to get out there and help out, as it was my duty. I got on the radio and called around to see if anyone was still in port and could use an extra man. My friend Sin-Gil, a very good man who sold fish for use in hoe called back and told me that all boats had gone. There were none left in the harbor.

At that moment, I stood in shock. And I started to cry. I cried because I felt like there was nothing I could do. As I dried my tears, I hurried over to the harbormaster’s office and volunteered to help coordinate the rescue boats. Since Sinyuk could not hold many people, we decided to send the rescued passengers over to Jindo, the closest big island that would get them to where they needed to go.

It was too late for some of us, and for a lot of those passengers.

As I write this, the count of the people that are dead is 84. There are over 200 more passengers still missing, and in my mind, likely no longer here. 250 of those passengers and dead are kids. Kids. Going on a vacation like they always do, every year. That sticks in my mind. A simple fisherman like me, who didn’t have much education, can see in my mind how a child’s eyes lights up when they are told they will be going to Jeju for a field trip.

Now, I see these kids as students up in the cloudland. Their fellow passengers who aren’t in school, they too are there. They’re assisting, helping out at the big school up in the cloudland. They’re laughing, with no pain or fear, nothing of what they felt down here. The young lady, the worker on the ferry who helped so many students that survived, I see her as a teacher up there. She’s showing them about what it means to be brave. Some of the other men and women who died, saving all those students, they’re up there as well. In the cloudland.

This tragedy is affecting everyone. I hear my friends, fellow fishermen, cry for those who are lost. I can imagine all of the parents, and the classmates in the different grades at that school in Ansan. I can even imagine the foreigners here, the ones who see this and whose hearts break for those who are gone. Every person in this country, whether a Korean or not, is affected by this. The dark cloud of sorrow will be over us for a while. The cloud already took a few people’s lives after this, and more will be taken before the cloud is lifted.

After today, I can no longer be here. I have family on the mainland, a sister and her nephew in a big city, with small kids of their own. I will take what I have earned, and go to them. I will help those small children as much as I can, to show them not to be afraid. To show them that there are people who are heroes, and that there will be a brighter day.

To whoever reads this: Whatever is here, sell and donate to the families of those who have lost everything. It won’t be much, but the house and the land are valuable. The boat can also be sold, all of the deeds are with the harbormaster.

Remember the kids and adults in the cloudland. They are the ones who we must mourn today.

-Han Gong-Cha

(a stamp, an injang (인장) was embossed at the bottom)

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Old and Wise

by Miles Rost

88 years of life gave Emil Jacobson lots of wonderful memories.

He sat in his bed, looking out the window as the dawn started to rise. He couldn’t sleep that night, he knew that he had to write down his thoughts. He was in the last moments of writing his memoirs, “The Long Story of an Ordinary Man”. Emil had many years as a writer, and many years as a father and husband. As he went through his memories, he knew the last things he wanted to write.

To those I’ve left behind in my life, I wanted you to know that you always have shared my deepest thoughts. No matter where I have been in my life, whether it was in the shadows Dongdaemun with my brothers in arms, or in the people around Northridge after the ’94 quake, you follow my life where I go.

He set his pen down again, looking out at the garden below his window. He looked at the pumpkin flowers as they were blooming. He smiled as he saw the autumn winds lightly blowing the leaves on the trees. The tall oak tree that he saw behind the garden was gently swaying its branches in the breeze.

He picked up the cell phone next to his bed and slowly typed a message to someone listed as “Publicist”.

Stop by in a few hours,” he said out loud, with a creaky voice, “The manuscript will be finished. No need for edits. Publish it raw.”

He put down the phone and picked up his pen again. He looked at the brightening sky and smiled. His eyes became bright and glowing.

To those I leave behind, I want you all to know that you’ve always shared my darkest hours, no matter where I’d go. My sons and daughters, you saw me in the darkest of hours. When your mom passed on, when I held that 15 year old girl in my hands as she died in Northridge, when I was hospitalized after my beach house collapsed into the Pacific; you all were there for me, and saw me in the darkness. You lifted me out by just being nearby. For that, I will always be thankful.

He smiled, as he thought of his last sentences. As he thought, his lungs spasmed and he hacked. For a good 10 seconds, he hacked, his old age showing through in each cough.  Even with the coughing, he returned to a smile and he wrote again.

Shadows approached me in this last portion of my life, and I see them surrounding me. My life has been a good one, as I see it now. From being a father and being a news writer, all the way to being the old and wisened man that I am right now, I feel as though I have lived the best life that I could. It is time for the new generation to write their stories, as my generation is finishing. As the final curtain is lifted from my eyes, I can see my life in 20/20 vision. It has been good.

He put his pen down, and breathed lightly on the page. Making sure the ink was dry, he closed the book. He sat back in his bed, pulling the covers up to his chest. As the sun started peeking over the neighbors house and the hills of the small coastal town, he closed his eyes and smiled. He breathed in the air and sighed contently.

He took in one more breath, and the smile from his face slowly started to fade. He grew still and stony. His hands still holding the book on his lap, his body sat like a statue’s.

——-

Emil Jacobson looked down upon his body. He smiled, seeing the completeness of his earthly life for one last moment. He turned his spirit towards the rising dawn and smiled, as he was lifted up above the trees and above the houses. He continued to fly upwards above the earth. With a quickening pace, he flew upwards through clouds and through space. As he flew upwards, the years that were apart of his earthly life started to melt away.

Within what seemed like moments, he stood on a rocky cliff, looking out over a vast ocean. He looked down at himself and saw himself not as the old man that he was, but as a strong built young man.

“Welcome!” he heard someone call from behind. He turned around and looked at another man.

“Is this Paradise?”

The welcoming man looked at him and smiled.

“Emil, welcome to Paradise. Your arrival is the talk of the folk here. Let’s go meet them, eh?”

Emil smiled at Paul, and joined along with him as he walked from the rocky cliff over to other heavenly folk.

He had arrived.