Seoul Origin

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Start your story with somebody taking a photo.... view prompt


Speculative Teens & Young Adult Science Fiction

Minjun was taking a polaroid photo of a long empty corridor in Seoul’s Incheon airport when the old man with an octopus called out.

“You look like you need someone to talk to, have a seat,” he pointed toward the chair next to him, one in an endless line of empty chairs. An orange glow from the lingering dusk poured in from the windows facing the Yellow Sea, bathing everything in warm colors.

Minjum scrunched his face into a scowl. Unwanted come-ons happened often these days. But the man appeared different from the usual perverts and loudmouths.

Minjun studied the man's peaceful gaze and wondered if he knew him from somewhere. Curiously, next to the old man was a cylindrical fish tank which contained an octopus.

“Have a seat.” the old man said.

Minjun felt oddly compelled and sunk down into the seat.

“What are you doing in the airport at this time of night?” the man asked.

“Waiting for the results of my PCR test.”

“Ah yes.. that’s why the airport is so empty these days. Don’t worry, your test will be fine,” the old man chuckled. “Where are you flying?”

“I'm flying to L.A.” 

“Are you starting university?”

Minjun felt his stomach move. When he asked too many questions he often felt trapped and the stomach cramps would start. To take his mind off of the possibility of puking in public Minjun studied the octopus more closely. The octopus made itself switch colors from fluorescent pink to yellowish beige, and then back again. Something felt weird. Was he being catfished by an old man with an octopus? 

“I think I need to go back and check my PCR result.” Minjun blurted out.

“Before you go,” the man said and handed Minjun a book. “You should have a look if you get bored on the flight.” The book cover showed the title, Sapiens - A Brief History of Mankind. Minjun studied the book in silence for a moment.

The man continued, “For generations my family has known something, an idea which scientists have just begun sniffing at.” He tapped his hand on the fish tank. The octopus changed colors again. “If you look at biology, a cell can stay awake forever pumping in nutrients and pumping out waste. But every animal sleeps. When animals are sleeping they could be gobbled up by predators. So why are they sleeping? It doesn’t make sense. What do you think?”

“I don’t know.” Minjun said. “I’m not into science”. Minjun didn't know what this had to do with the book. When his family complained to him about why he didn’t want to study science or math like other boys did in Korea, he would tell them that these subjects were all about learning rules, following rules. He wanted to make something, something new.

“I have another example you might understand better,” the old man said. He looked toward a few distant people dragging suitcases behind them. “Minjun, do you sometimes feel people looking at you from behind?”

“I guess so. Sometimes.”

“I’ll show you how that works. See the airline hostess in the purple uniform standing looking away from us at that counter.” 

Minjun nodded.

“Keep your gaze focused and imagine her eating strawberry ice cream. Feel the coldness of the ice cream.. Taste the flavor of the strawberries.”

That all sounded very weird. But not being used to being given these sorts of commands, Minjun followed along. There was nothing to lose and nothing else to do for the next few hours. Just talking to a man with an octopus.

Ok, strawberry ice cream...

Immediately the airline hostess flinched and looked over her shoulder and straight at Minjun. Her eyes darted to the old man and then back to Minjun. She gave him a strange stare and then turned back around. 

Minjun thought about how he often received odd looks due to his gender neutral style of fashion. Then he realized he was sitting next to a mad professor with an octopus. 

“She looked but how do you explain it?”

The man replied, “That airline, Dubai airline, serves strawberry ice cream. Your thoughts were close enough to hers that she was receptive to your thought probability wave and reacted. When you feel eyes on the back of your head, you aren’t feeling them looking at you, you are feeling them thinking about you. Your probability wave, where you are headed, is being tickled.”

“What? I don’t believe you.”

The man didn’t reply but instead looked into Minjun’s eyes closely.

“You are a fan of the manga Na Honjaman. I saw you react when I thought about it.”

That accurate guess got Minjun’s attention.

“What I just showed you, this energy, this is what we collect when we sleep. Like a magnetic field, the potential to change the people and objects around us. Call it the power of will if you want.”

“Yuval Harari, the author of the book, meditates 2 hours every morning before he writes. So did Steve Jobs, the Dalai Lama, many different people. They have captured this energy. Without will we are simply a wave washing into shore. Yuval could see that without something to direct us we would simply be crashing into each other dissipating our energy and humans probably would have gone extinct by now. So mankind has created stories, such as religion or political ideas, to channel us in the same directions. But we forget, these company names, the governments, the money we use, they are all just made up stories. If aliens in space looked down, they just see ants scurrying around."

The octopus in the fish tank kept an eye, in a constant octopine squint, on the old man as he explained his theory.

“Do you sometimes feel you get more accomplished in a few minutes than you have in days or weeks?”

As a graphic design student, Minjun had that experience many times. He nodded again.

“You see. That is when you are accessing your power of will.” The old man said. “So, do you want to go to the bathroom?”


“I can see you need to go.”

“Your superpowers?”

“No. Your leg was shaking.”

When Minjun came back, he noticed it was time to collect the PCR test.

“I need to leave but thanks for the book. One question. Why did you tell all of this to me?”

“I can see from your style you are one that wants to break free. Keep reading the book. And remember, like Schrodinger's Cat, once something is known it can’t be unknown.”

After collecting his test result, Minjun waited in line at the baggage security counter. Studying the overhead departure display he saw that the Los Angeles flight was the last one today. He hadn’t seen the old man anywhere and he forgot to ask how he would contact him if he had any questions about the book. Anyways, he would soon be busy starting his first year at UCLA. 

On his mobile he googled who Schrodinger's Cat is. It wasn’t a cat after all but a quantum physics theory. Boiling it down, it meant that until someone sees something, that thing hasn’t happened yet. A cat in a box could be alive or dead until someone opens the box or finds another way to look into the box. It gave him a headache when he thought of what it all meant. Especially about who was doing the looking and who was being watched.

Taxiing to the runway before takeoff, he noticed lights around a private jet being prepared on an empty taxiway. The plane was adorned with the family name of an ancient Chaebol conglomerate. A lone figure pulling something heavy was walking to the plane in darkness. 


In a lecture hall at UCLA, a long hair professor started with today’s lecture.

“In this course, the History of Photography, we will discuss how photography has served many purposes, an artistic medium, a historical record, a cultural practice, a social medium..”

Minjun was tired as he stayed up until 3am last night finishing a design project.

“Before the advent of photography, different cultures had different methods to record representations of what they observed. European royals commissioned artists to painstakingly paint oil paintings for the same purpose we people of today use Instagram.”  

On the projector screen, a painting of a European duke appeared side by side with an Instagram pic of a teenage girl making duck lips. The class chuckled politely.

“Where as in Asia, in Japan, they preferred the art of ukiyo-e. This is one of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt Fuji.”

Minjun looked up and saw a familiar looking drawing of a red volcano. 

“These artworks were created 3 decades after the eruption of the Asama volcano caused widespread famine in Japan. Dutch diplomat Isaac Titsingh brought news to the West through..”

Minjun stared at the picture and started daydreaming. What did a volcano really look like? He pictured red hot magma squeezing like molten butter under the ground. Squeezing through rocks under immense pressure. He sensed the tightness it felt. His mind flickered back to a documentary about surfing he saw last night. Somehow his vision kept mixing the volcano with a scene of the ocean. He normally didn't daydream of such things.

He turned his attention back to the lecture but couldn’t forget how vivid this daydream of his was.


The next day, Minjun scrolled through his news feed. A volcanic island in Tonga had exploded with a blast the size of a hydrogen bomb. The island was gone. Minjun started to wonder. He began to think in circles, as he did when he thought about the Schrodinger's Cat paradox. Who was watching whom. He needed to talk to the man with the octopus again.

May 06, 2022 14:18

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Mike Panasitti
22:32 May 11, 2022

Herr Christenson, your conclusion touches upon the dynamic between dreams and willpower. If you're looking to further develop this story, brainstorm with Ursula Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven. It's a fresh air of science fiction.


23:16 May 11, 2022

Thanks Mike, will have a look, been searching for some new fiction to read. got inspired on this one after seeing a Wired article that even octopus dream.. and no one knows why..


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Craig Westmore
19:37 May 09, 2022

Scott, both versions begin abruptly, going straight into the conversation before we know Minjun. Could you start with him being lost - physically - and they old man points out he's also lost metaphorically? Have him running around worried about missing his flight and the old man calms him down. Is this the beginning of a bigger story?


23:50 May 09, 2022

thx, Minjun being lost is a great idea, I feel I didn't explain the situation or the emotions of the MC enough. This story is really more an experiment of an opening chapter of a longer book and the next chapter would def need to be Minjun's backstory.. I have a vague idea of bring some interesting young characters together in a near-future SciFi type novel.. need to brainstorm what the antagonistic force would be. I just stumbled across the 7 basic plots. I feel these concepts help to think about where longer plots need to go.. I even se...


Craig Westmore
01:26 May 11, 2022

Yes, I'm definitely waiting for a Hong Kong story from you. And I'm trying to think up a Brazilian one. A Philosophy of Thieves might be the opening chapter of a fable-like novel similar to Animal Farm.


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Chandler Wilson
14:51 May 08, 2022

Scott, love the way you write. It's deep, tense, and flows well. The reference to Schrödinger's Cat was a great addition. Keep writing!


00:30 May 09, 2022

Thanks, was trying to channel some Haruki Murakami in this and and follow advice to have higher stakes and be more outrageous. Def a challenge on how to explain things like Schrodinger's Cat.. i recall Richard Feynman having some good metaphors. Look forward to see your next story also.


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