The Lights Will Guide You Home


Seoul, South Korea
December 3, 1949

There was something about the colors. There was something about the way that they trailed their stories across the sky, over the ground, swirled through the water. There was something about the way that they all meshed and morphed to form shades and hues and beauty. There was something about the way that the colors seemed to create things that he couldn’t comprehend. There was something about the colors that kept him looking, kept him smiling.

They could change the leaves from the brightest of greens to the palest of yellows in the span of a night. If you blinked, a pinking bud could radiate into a crimson red rose. The inky blues could swirl and mix into the dark shadows of the deepest river, thin out to the pale blues of a stringing creek. They could make the most grey of hearts melt into a paint bucket of beauty. It was the colors that brought him back to the window of the shack, day after day, so many years after he’d first laid eyes on them.

His worn shoes tipped lightly over the dusty road, trailing through the dirt in swirling motions, making patterns as he walked. He dug his hands a bit deeper into the pockets of his pants, hugging his shoulders closer to his chin. His eyes flickered like firelight across the faces of the buildings around him, drawing in their familiar weary frames as he passed. One in particular stood out to him, however, and he pulled to a stop, brow furrowing in confusion.

“There’s no… lanterns?” The words left his lips before his mind had time to process, a low and hesitant whisper. He stood before the empty window uncertainly, eyes just staring. There were no colors to see. He’d passed the window almost every day since he could remember. Nineteen years and the window had always been filled with the lanterns’ radiant color. But…

“You caught me,” a slight laugh echoed out from behind him, and he spun to face the voice. It was a young man, about his age, if a bit younger, and shorter, leaner. His face was weary, tired, like he hadn’t slept in a few days, but his eyes held a certain spark in their chestnut gaze. “Would you, uh, mind helping me for a second?” He smiled, motioning to a makeshift cart filled with blues and reds and greens. The lanterns.

The shorter man scooped a string of them out of the cart and made his way toward the dilapidated shack. Delicately, as if they might shatter, he tacked them up inside the window, dipping and twisting their string, creating the familiar masterpiece. Slowly, the taller of the two joined in, allowing helpful instructions on how to handle them and how to turn them just right so that their color shone the brightest.

“I’m sorry,” the shorter man mumbled after a while, running a thin hand through his shaggy mess of brown hair.


“For the lanterns. I… You like them, don’t you?” He smiled, and the soft glow reflected off of his eyes as he stared up at them in wonder.

“They’re beautiful,” he confided, lifting his gaze up to face them as well.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a day that these haven’t been up, you know that? My grandfather used to love them. Used to spend hours in here every morning, fixing them so they were perfect.” There was a tinge of sadness in his voice now, guilt. “I’m not so good at it still… Even after all those years that I watched him, it still takes me so much longer. They should have been up by now, so I’m sorry,” he finished, breaking his eyes away to stare at a cobweb in the corner.

“But they’re up now,” the other smiled.


A simple silence settled over the room, and they breathed deep, inhaling the candle smoke and the musky smell of the dew kissed floor.

“My name is Jiyong,” the smaller man announced quietly, not wanting to disturb the silence but figuring it needed to be said. He pulled his arms up around his thin frame, shifting onto his other foot.

“Seunghyun,” the other replied, just above a whisper.

“So the admirer of my lanterns does have a name after all,” Jiyong chuckled innocently.

“Hmm?” Seunghyun turned to face his companion, a puzzled expression taking over his tanned features.

“You come to look at them every day,” he explained, smiling kindly. “I figured admirer would be a fitting word. But I could pick my vocabulary for something better if that one isn’t suited to your liking.” He flashed a crooked smile at the elder man, sunshine in his eyes.

“I never knew anyone was ever here,” Seunghyun answered, cheeks pinking as he turned away abashedly.

Jiyong dipped his knees and bent forward, so his eyes caught Seunghyun’s downturned gaze. “The lanterns told me,” he whispered, resting a thin finger on his light pink smile as if telling a secret. “They like to talk a lot,” he informed the other man. “Not much to do all day besides talk. They tell me lots of secrets. They tell me lots about you too. They like you.”

“I’d like to know sometime,” Seunghyun smiled now, speaking gently.

“Hmm… Maybe someday,” Jiyong joked.

Lantern light illuminated their faces in a sugar sweet glow. Blues and greens floated across the curves of their faces, dipping into their skin, caressing the apples of their cheeks in soft radiance. There was something about the colors.