Father says we can’t take so many sacks of grain north with us.
The weight will be too much, he tells us. Our wagon will not support the surplus. Besides, he says, it isn’t right for us to have more than we need. It isn’t fair.
Mother agrees. Brother is too young to argue.
And so we heave four sacks of grain into the riverbed. They split—all four of them—as they are thrown through the air. Their gutted burlap bodies lie on the rock and on the dry grass.
The wagon is lighter and faster than before. We’re headed northward. Our four sturdy oxen navigate carefully through the trees.
Father tells us that the prospects are good up in the north. In the north, Father assures us, there are jobs and plentiful resources. Way up by the permafrost. Way up where the ground knits itself into stone. We’re making good progress, Father says.
A few nights pass.
Father says that we shouldn’t take so many warm winter clothes north with us.
The decadence is sickening, he says. We don’t need nearly so much, not where we’re headed. He assures Mother that we will be provided for when we reach our destination. The land will give us everything we need.
So we throw away our winter clothes—our heavy coats, our rough-hewn animal hides, our woolen sweaters, our winding sheets, our shirts, our long socks—out at the trees. We throw them and they hang lifeless from the branches above our heads.
Everyday grows colder and colder so at night we hold on tightly to one another. We huddle for warmth and Father says that at least now we can rest easy. We know that we are not poisoned by greed.
Every morning we check the compass. Every morning the winds come down steeper out of the north. Every morning the trees grow wilder and stranger and denser all around us. Their conical shapes stand tall. Every morning the woods are swallowing us.
Soon enough, Father tells us that we can’t take the wagon north with us.
It’s getting too difficult, he says, to navigate amongst these hungry trees. The oxen will have to do, guiding us individually northward. We won’t need the wagon once we finish our journey, he assures us. The north wasn’t made for wagons, after all.
Mother agrees. Father is tall and his brow is terribly heavy.
And so that night we smash the wagon apart. Our fingers dig into the wood—tearing at it again and again, smashing against the structures with our fragile hands, ripping out the nails with our teeth.
We take the oxen. We let them guide us, Brother riding on the strongest animal’s back. Brother is the smallest and his legs rarely last all day.
The nights are cold and our lips burn as we go further into the wind.
The forest is eating us alive.
We get hungry. Our food—our salted meats, our remaining sacks of grain, our jars of dried fruit—all of it was left with the cracked skeleton of our wagon. Father assures us that there will be food in the north. The land will provide, even when it is hard as stone.
It will provide.
It will provide.
One morning Father tells us that we must leave the oxen, they can’t come north with us.
They are cold and they are hungry—the oxen. They will not be provided for once we reach the north, Father says. We can make it on foot, he tells us. Surely we are close now. Surely any day now we will reach our destination.
So we leave our oxen. They are thin and grey and strange, standing amongst the trees. Their hips and their backs jut out at odd angles.
We begin to walk north. Father stands out in front, marching, his eyes dark and his compass outstretched.
We’re staying on course. We’re hungry. We’re tired. But we’re staying on course.
We can’t move so fast every day. Mother gets cold quickly. Brother is too thin to keep marching without being carried. We slow down. We sit on the ground that is like stone and we stare even further northward. We’re all looking for something to appear above the treetops—a mountainside, a thin column of smoke. But we see nothing yet.
Our skin is numb. Mother’s lips look blue and Brother is all curled up, trying to bend into himself for heat. On the third day of this, Father says that we must leave our clothes behind. To find the north, we must embrace the north, he tells us. Mother shivers and pulls her shirt over her head.
We leave our clothes behind.
On the fourth day, we leave our skins behind.
On the fifth day, we leave behind our sanity.
We leave Brother behind.
We leave Mother behind.
We leave Father behind.
All in the name of progress.
Leon Hedstrom is a poet, short fiction writer, and Minneapolis native currently receiving an education in Iowa City, Iowa. His work has appeared previously in magazines such as 3Elements Review, Bodega, and WhiskeyPaper.
Joseph ‘Sentrock’ Perez is an artist originally from Phoenix, AZ. He moved to Chicago to pursue a change in scenery and obtain an Bachelors of Art & Design at Columbia College. Perez is known for using bright colors, intense lettering and characters that grab the attention of viewer. A believer in the quote “Art cannot deny the environment that it is in”, Perez allows his surroundings of living in Chicago to influence his latest works. See more of Joseph’s work at http://www.birdcitysaints.com.