The Great Listener

The Great Listener sits crossed-legged in his temple in the middle of the Gobi Desert. He has a single giant ear instead of a regular head, almost five feet in diameter. Many people claim this is the ear of God.

People travel from all over the world to pray to the Great Listener. The rich fly into airports in China and Mongolia and then drive all-terrain vehicles to the desert. The poor simply walk. Regardless, everyone must walk the last 50 miles to the temple in complete silence. Noises, even a baby’s cooing, could destroy the Great Listener’s eardrum.

Long lines of believers stretch from the silent valley where the Great Listener lives. During their pilgrimages, people eat and drink in complete silence. Once they get close to the temple, they take off their shoes as to not hurt the Great Listener with the sounds of their soles crunching on the steaming sand.

The Great Listener listens to prayers all day, every day. He wears a simple grey cloak to cover his body. One by one people enter his temple, which is the size of a small bedroom. They tip toe and hold their breaths as they approach him, kneel quietly, and whisper their secrets and longings in a voice so quiet they themselves cannot even hear it.

“Dear Lord, please watch over Timothy when he ships out.”

“Allah, may you bless my son’s pilgrimage.”

“Please let me win the lottery.”

“Could you do something about my foot warts?”

He listens to every prayer with the same, silent intensity. 


The Great Listener was born to a Mongolian farmer and his wife. Despite having a giant ear instead of a head, the baby was healthy and plump. It never cried or drank or ate. When things got too loud, when the cows rustled too much at night or when a car or bicycle passed by, the baby became distressed and withered to the ground. The couple asked a doctor to come and examine the baby. Instead of an esophagus leading to a stomach and intestines, the baby’s ear canal led to a giant eardrum and cochlea in his abdomen. The doctor told the couple to take the baby deep into the desert, far away from the sounds of life.

Word spread, first in Asia then to the rest of the world, of a miracle baby that could hear everything from the plates of the Earth shifting to the clouds forming in the stratosphere. Some saw the Great Listener as a divine miracle, while others accused government agencies of unethical genetic experimentation. 

The Great Listener sustains himself on the vibrations of the earth, supposedly.


There are people who do not care for the Great Listener. They want to kill him to show everyone that he’s just a human being with a giant ear instead of a head. There were a handful of people who made the pilgrimage out into the desert, and then suddenly started blasting music from boomboxes once they got to the valley. Luckily the other pilgrims quickly took them down, turned off the music, and beat the wind out of them in complete silence. 

Out of the seven people that have tried this, four were beaten to death by the Great Listener’s followers. 


Many papers have been published about the Great Listener. Biologists have written papers on the Great Listener’s anatomy, showing how the Earth’s low-frequency tectonic vibrations can be turned to energy within the Great Listener’s body. Theological papers have been written linking the Great Listener to the prophets of the past.

A philosopher at the University of Cambridge once claimed that the Great Listener couldn’t really listen at all, that despite his hearing ability, his lack of a brain made it impossible for him to understand and process language. He compared the Great Listener to something akin to a jellyfish or sponge. 

The philosopher was fired after international backlash.


Often, the Great Listener’s visitors leave behind gifts and offerings. People decided if the Great Listener can hear the Earth’s vibrations, he can hear the vibrations of objects as well. His temple is decorated with family photos, favorite books, prosthetic limbs, hand-knitted mittens, children’s drawings, prayer beads, crucifixes, buddha figures, staplers, instant noodle packages, stuffed animals, dead cellphones, silver spoons, and so on. These items are considered to have been blessed by the Great Listener. Pilgrims return after many years to take back their offerings, now holy relics, so they can bring the Great Listener’s wisdom to their homes.

Every few months, the Great Listener coughs up a ball of ear wax, usually the size of a baseball. This is the only waste he produces. It is considered a great honor if he does this in your presence. The wax is collected, broken into fine powder, and scattered in different parts of the world.

Most recently, the Great Listener coughed up a ball of wax right into the face of a ten-year-old soprano from the Monastery of Montserrat Boy’s Choir in Barcelona. The boy was whispering to the Great Listener that the head abbot of the monastery was dying from a tumor the size of a walnut in his brain. He took the wax ball back to Montserrat, scattered it into the mountain winds, and two months later the abbot’s tumor was gone. The news made national headlines.

The Great Listener makes a lot of national headlines.


The Great Listener often meets many world leaders. They themselves always must come and visit him because he never leaves the desert. He cannot ride in any car or airplane because his sacred eardrum will burst.

The Dalai Lama visited the Great Listener once. He sat next to the Great Listener in the temple. Tens of thousands of believers, nonbelievers, journalists, photographers, Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, optimists, pessimists, and nihilists gathered in the valley, waiting for something miraculous to happen. The Dalai Lama could not start a conversation with the Great Listener for the audience, because to do so would put the Great Listener in great pain. Instead, he leaned in and whispered something into the Great Listener’s great ear, smiled, and then left. Many people theorized on what the Dalai Lama whispered into the Great Listeners ear. 

“I bet he asked for world peace.”

“Maybe he said he wants to unify all faiths.”

Here is what the Dalai Lama actually said:

“It’s a nice day isn’t it?”

It was the first time that question was asked to the Great Listener. No one ever asks the Great Listener about the weather. No one probably ever will. People have far more important things to ask.


There is a man named Chuck Bronser who has been tasked by the United Nations with trimming the Great Listener’s ear hair every few months. He also applies deodorant on his neck, armpits, crotch, feet, and asscrack. The Great Listener seems to trust Chuck and doesn’t mind being touched by him. Chuck has been on the cover of The New York Times, The Guardian, China Daily, The Asahi Shimbun, and many other newspapers. 

For his Time’s Person of the Year interview, Chuck mentioned that the Great Listener loves getting his feet massaged.

“Does he make signs at you? With his hands or arms?” the interviewer asked.

“Nope. As far as I know he’s been sitting crossed-legged with his arms folded since anybody knew about him,” Chuck replied.

“Then how do you know he likes foot massages?”

“How does anyone know anything? How do people know he’s even listening to their prayers? How do we know for sure God is or isn’t real?”

Some people say Chuck doesn’t deserve the honor of trimming the Great Listener’s ear hair, of being in his presence at all. Some people say Chuck is a pervert.

Chuck has been on the cover of Haircut Magazine more than any other human being.


Once there was a businessman who visited the Great Listener. He hated his job. His wife had left him. One Monday afternoon, he walked out of his work and started walking. He walked all the way from Beijing to the Great Listener’s temple in seven days without food or water. People said this was a miracle, that the man was channeling the Great Listener’s powers. When it was his turn to enter the temple and whisper a prayer, he punched the Great Listener in his giant ear. The Great Listener was knocked to the temple floor. Before the other pilgrims could grab him, the man shot himself with a revolver. This part was not seen as a miracle by anyone. Great torrents of blood flowed out from the Great Listener’s ear canal. Thankfully there were doctors and nurses and shamans and priests among the pilgrims, and they were able to save the Great Listener.


The Great Listener hears lots of confessions. Confessions of terrible, inhumane actions. 

“I killed my little sister, just to see how it would feel. It felt really good.”

“I masturbate to German Shepherds.”

“I resent the fact that my marriage and family stopped me from following my dreams to become the world’s best trombonist. Some nights I imagine terrible scenarios, like car accidents, where they all die.”

“I gave my cousin herpes.”

The Great Listener probably knows more about human beings than anyone else. 


Sometimes it snows in the Gobi Desert. Snow falls gently and blankets the sand, muffling the entire valley. People assume the Great Listener loves the snow because it absorbs all the sound. With this in mind, they stay cheerful and pious as they walk barefoot in the snow. They have to walk even more carefully, because snow crunches louder than sand.

It is Christmas Eve. The lines to the Great Listener’s temple are much longer. There are many people whose Christmas wish is to pray to the Great Listener. There is a woman who would very much like to pray to the Great Listener. She has traveled with her husband, and they are almost next in line to enter the temple. The couple is fighting in silence. The husband wants to know why they had to come all the way to Mongolia to say a prayer. He wishes he was in California with the rest of his family. He wishes he could provide everything his wife needs.

The woman wants her husband to be like how he was when they married. Adventurous, open, loving, funny. She herself wants to be the woman she was back then. Young, sweet, warm, gentle. She doesn’t have the courage to tell her husband, so she wants to tell the Great Listener instead.

The fight gets physical, and the woman shoves the man down into the snow.


The sound of the man falling into the snow reverberates the valley and the Great Listener’s eardrum. After a few moments he does something that he has not done since he was a small child.

The Great Listener stands up. The floorboards of the temple creak, and although it causes him pain, he does not mind. He steps down from the temple and into the snow. He feels the cold snow chill on his feet. He thinks about Chuck’s hands. He thinks about all those children who prayed for their parent’s health. All those parents who prayed for their children’s health. All those confessions from people who entrusted him and only him with their secrets. He feels the soft gentle snow falling onto his ear.

Everybody thinks the Great Listener is making a statement. He is standing up against the wrongness and hate in the world, they think to themselves. He is standing up for all of us who cannot. Yes, he is standing up for me. 

Snow falls upon their ears as well, but they do not notice it.


Jihoon Park’s fiction is forthcoming or published in Reed Magazine, Little Patuxent Review, New World Writing, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. He is currently a MFA student at George Mason University where he also teaches. He is from San Jose, California.