‘Drifting House’ by Krys Lee
The day the siblings left to find their mother, snow devoured the northern mining town. Houses loomed like ghosts. The government’s face was everywhere: on the sides of a beached cart, above the lintel of the post office, on placards scattered throughout the surrounding mountains praising the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. And in the grain sack strapped to the oldest brother Woncheol’s back, their crippled sister, the weight of a few books.
The younger brother Choecheol ran ahead. Like a child, Woncheol thought, frowning, though he too was still a child, an eleven-year-old with a body withering on two years of boiled tree bark, mashed roots, the occasional grilled rat and fried crickets on a stick. He picked across the public square, afraid to step where last month, the town had watched two men dragged in necklaces of bones and then hung for cannibalizing their parents. They passed a vendor and woman haggling as if on the frontier of madness. On the straw mat between them one frozen flank of beef? Pork? Or human? No one knew any more, though they pretended to.
‘She’s slowing us down,’ Choecheol said as he circled back, his whine like a roomful of lost children. ‘We’ll be dead before we reach China.’