You-jeong Jeong 28 E ng l i s h
28 (28) EunHaengNaMu Publishing corp. / 2013 / 47 p. For further information, please visit: http://library.klti.or.kr/node/772
This sample translation was produced with support from LTI Korea. Please contact the LTI Korea Library for further information. email@example.com
28 Written by You-jeong Jeong
A thrilling, multilayered tale of undying loyalty and unlikely kinship during uncertain times, 28 is the explosive new bestseller by You-jeong Jeong, the celebrated Korean master of suspense. Injecting her trademark precision and complex, irresistible characters into this story of a city overtaken by a mysterious disease, Jeong has crafted an intricate study of the true form human nature takes during disaster and the resulting anarchy. In a small, quiet city near Seoul, a dog breeder is discovered near death in his apartment, his skin sallow and his eyes bloodshot. The place is overrun with caged dogs; they too are dead or dying. Only one manages to escapeâ€”Ringo, a hulking wolf-dog. Although emergency technicians rush the breeder to the hospital, he hemorrhages to death. A few days later, the same emergency technicians are brought to the hospital exhibiting identical symptoms, all except Gi-jun, who entered the apartment first. Afraid that he might be infected as well, he stays away from his wife and young daughter and dives into work. Soon, the hospital staff begins succumbing to the disease, and Su-jin, a junior emergency room nurse, is pulled in to cover for her colleagues. Entire neighborhoods are stricken and the hospital is overrun with the dead and dying. Soon the military enforces a quarantine of the city and declares martial law. Su-jin periodically stops by the apartment she shares with her father but she is consumed with anxietyâ€”her father is nowhere to be found. Around the same time, the cityâ€™s elusive veterinarian, Jae-hyeong, once an up-and-coming musher in Alaska, begins to see more canine patients in his dog shelter. He is also trying to get rid of a brash, insistent reporter, Yun-ju, who wrote a damning article accusing him of killing his sled dogs many years ago in Alaska and doing the same to the animals in his
shelter. Acting on an anonymous tip, Yun-ju was trying to get more information about Jaehyeong when the quarantine strands her in the city. Although Jae-hyeong is initially standoffish, he asks for Yun-ju’s help when he unexpectedly finds himself a guardian of a young blind girl. As Jae-hyeong and Yun-ju begin to understand each other’s strengths and passions, they gradually develop a mutual affection. Yun-ju’s anonymous source is Dong-hae, who has an axe to grind with Jae-hyeong. Years ago, he was beating his father’s beloved dog, Cookie, when Jae-hyeong intervened and rescued the animal. Jae-hyeong’s involvement brought Dong-hae’s violence to the attention of his father, who then sent him to the military. Now that Dong-hae is back in town, he is obsessed with revenge. He stalks Jae-hyeong, waiting for a chance to snatch Cookie so he can finish the dog off. He also stalks his parents, resentful of having always been the black sheep. With sociopathic conviction, Dong-hae roams the stricken city, focused only on his own mission. But when Dong-hae accidentally kidnaps Star, another one of Jae-hyeong’s dogs, instead of Cookie, he launches a tangled web of events that end with his death. Ringo, who has been hiding in the woods since his escape, rescues Star. Ringo is madly in love with Star, and the two dogs stay together, away from the chaos. Soon, people realize the disease originated in dogs, and the government sends armed military personnel to round up dogs and kill them. Eventually, the government cuts off all access to the outside, including internet and cell phone service, and the military stands by as the city descends into violent riots, looting, and other crime. As people try to flee the city on covert midnight journeys through the woods, rumors abound that the military is shooting anyone who attempts to break the quarantine. With nobody to trust and a large number of townspeople succumbing to this mysterious disease, Gi-jun, Su-jin, Jae-hyeong, Yun-ju, and Dong-hae try to survive in their own ways, feeling increasingly abandoned and isolated. Some of them begin to descend into madness, as others dig deep to do the right thing. In the
end, as the military slaughters protesting civilians, Gi-jun, Jae-hyeong, and Ringo face off, fueled by sorrow, revenge, and despair. This adrenaline-filled novel is written from the six characters’ intersecting points of view, a stark reminder that no event is ever clear-cut. Brimming with characters that are larger than life and embroidered with evocative meditations on humanity, 28 is a riveting ride of fear, despair, and the power of empathy. This blockbuster of a novel is reminiscent of the very best of Stephen King and is sure to be a worldwide sensation.
The Bering Sea vanished. A stark white filled its place. The wind whipped the snow around and ice fog built a rock wall, imprisoning him. It was a whiteout, that vicious witch of the North Pole. Jae-hyeong squeezed his eyes shut. He didn’t often fall off while dozing on a speeding sled, but it wasn’t a rare occurrence, either. Neither was striking his head on the ground and his eyes flying open to find himself all alone in the wilderness, nor being horrified at the thought of the dogs galloping on without him. That was what it was like on the Iditarod. Falling was just another thing that happened while speeding through the snowy fields day and night. The unfortunate part was that he couldn’t expect rescue during a whiteout. A mere second before he opened his eyes, he had been pulled by his dog team Shicha, along the Bering Sea toward Nome’s Front Street, the finish line of this race of endurance. Thinking of Maya, that champion sled dog who was probably ahead of him on the support truck with his mentor Nukon. Maya had groomed Jae-hyeong, known as the Idiatrod Kid, into a competitor. For many years, she had been the lead dog of his team as they roamed the snow-covered North
American terrain. She was the mother and grandmother of the sixteen dogs that comprised Shicha, his old, frail partner who taught him how to communicate with a glance. When he made it into Nome he was going to run to her, embrace her, look into her eyes, and whisper, “Maya, your children are back.” But now that he had awoken and was retracing his dreams, he knew he wasn’t by the Bering Sea. The compass on his watch indicated that they were somewhere north of the Yukon River. That is, if his departure from Eagle Island at dawn hadn’t been a dream. He had to choose—sit and wait for Shicha to return, or wander into the white darkness looking for them. Either way, the prospect of a reunion was nil. Shicha wouldn’t return to him. They wouldn’t stop and wait for him to stumble upon them, either. After all, they had been trained to do only one thing: run. Jae-hyeong brushed off his stiff frozen legs and stood up. He noticed a rope tied to his belt. He didn’t remember what that was. He must have startled awake at one point, and, worried that he would fall off the sled, tied one end to his belt and the other to the handlebar. He tugged on the rope, pulling it taut. The sled was ahead of him somewhere in the whiteness. The dogs had stopped. Otherwise he would have been jolted awake as he was scraped along. His relief in learning that he wasn’t lost in the wilderness was so great that he should have danced over to the sled, but he didn’t move. His instinct stilled him. Why did they stop running? He couldn’t see anything. He knew he shouldn’t move hastily. He rummaged in the pocket of his parka and found a pocketknife and half a chocolate bar. He touched the highfrequency whistle around his neck. Humans couldn’t hear it; only dogs could detect the sound waves. Nukon, an Athabascan musher, had given it to him as a token of his mentorship. It would summon Hook, the current lead dog. If he was within range, they could have a secret conversation. Jae-hyeong shoved the whistle between his frozen lips and blew once, then two
short bursts. Hook, what’s going on? From somewhere in front of him came low, growling barks. A warning. Something unpleasant was ahead of them. From much farther away, the thing introduced itself—wild howling vibrated the air, chilling Jae-hyeong’s blood. It wasn’t a dog. Then eight distinct howls erupted from different locations in a wide half-circle around Jae-hyeong and his sled, indicating their presence. A pack of gray wolves. When the reverberation quieted, his dogs began to growl. The assassins of the snowy fields had barred his team from crossing, demanding a toll. Jae-hyeong had fallen off the sled because Hook had come to an abrupt halt, silencing the agitated dogs and feeling out the wolves. Jae-hyeong felt his heart drop. A sinister air crept over him. He and his dogs faced skilled hunters that bared their fangs, ready to drive them into their victims’ necks. They were as fast as his team, if not faster, and more persistent. Most importantly, they would be starving. Having raced for ten days straight, his team would be depleted. They’d never come across a pack of wolves in the middle of nowhere. What was he to do? Amorphous bloodthirstiness lurched toward them through the white. Jae-hyeong thought he could see red eyes flashing through the ice fog. He tightened his grip on his pocketknife. His gut shrank and twisted. The team’s growling pitched higher then dipped lower, gradually getting louder. They weren’t accepting battle; their voices betrayed terror, tenseness, anxiety. They were lowering their tails in the loudest way possible. The standoff was over; musher and team alike had collectively thrown in the white flag of defeat. There was only one thing left to do—to run away as hard as they could. Jae-hyeong grabbed the rope around his waist and began to move toward the sled. Hook barked three times, loudly and urgently. “Hook! Wait!”
It was too late. At Hook’s order, the team sprang forward into the snowstorm, barking. Jae-hyeong flew forward. “Hook! Stop!” Nobody was listening. He couldn’t reach his whistle. He rolled and tumbled as he was pulled along. He tried to sprint. It was futile. The team ran to the right, drawing an arc, going back to where they’d come from. The wolves ran up from behind Jae-hyeong and charged the middle of the towline. Their roars and panting and the sound of their feet kicking off from the snow and leaping sailed over his head. The dogs’ screams sliced across the white air. Jae-hyeong was tugged along even more jerkily. They were no longer dogs; they were a fur-covered bullet with sixteen feet. They changed direction suddenly. Long bumps jutted up in front of Jae-hyeong: two boulders embedded in the ice. For the team they were trivial objects in the scenery, but for him, sliding along the outside of their path, they were unavoidable obstacles. He wrapped his arms around his head. His side exploded in pain. He thought he heard his leg shatter. The rope linking him to the sled was wedged between the boulders, and his body was stuck under them like a bar across a door. From the other side of the rocks the wolves roared and the dogs screamed. The pitching of the dogs as they leapt and shoved against each other was transmitted to him through the rope, which tightened around his midsection, squeezing his chest and eviscerating his ribs. He managed to remember his pocketknife. It was still in his hand. Thankfully his arm wasn’t broken. Jae-hyeong cut the rope. He bounced back from the tension crushing his body. He rolled until his shoulder caught something. He hadn’t gone far. He wanted to put more distance between the wolves and himself but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t feel one leg and the other leg dangled below the knee. His ribs jabbed his lungs. He felt paralyzed by the growls of the wolves and tormented by the screams of his dogs. He lay back and shut his eyes,
hoping the dogs would run far away, taking the wolves with them, sparing him his life. He didn’t know if they really did move away or if it seemed that way because he hoped so desperately for it to happen. The shrieks grew fainter. Quiet returned. He stared at his own breath as it frosted over his face. Was he safe? A new enemy was opening its maw inside his broken body. The unforgiving molars of pain ripped through his chest and brutal fire licked his legs and shot up his spine. He bit down but couldn’t stop screaming. He couldn’t stay awake, either. The white darkness covering the world leapt back and the deep, thick black of his consciousness swept over him. Nineteen hours later, Maya’s brown eyes were the first things he saw. Maya and Nukon had found him. She looked so happy, with her eyes brimming over with trust and love. Her gaze was cautiously asking, “What did you do with my children?”
CHAPTER ONE THEY ARE COMING
“101, over.” The walkie-talkie blared. Han Gi-jun looked down at his watch. 5:59, one minute before the end of his shift. “New rescue call. Can you respond?” For the past seven hours, the East Hwayang Fire Rescue Squad No. 3 hadn’t been able to return to the station. They’d gone around the entire east side, moving from one rescue call to another, following the dispatcher’s commands—to Baegun Tunnel, the scene of an eleven-car pile-up; to Baegun Nature Village where heavy snow had caused a bald cypress to fall on a house, to Suan Agricultural Industrial Complex to deal with collapsed greenhouses. This time they were being asked to go to Hwayang Mansion, the apartment buildings behind Baegun Library. A sick man with limited movement was at home alone, and he wasn’t answering the phone or the door. His wife had called several times and the security guard had gone up to ring the bell. “Check the site and take action.” The fire truck had passed Baegun Library five minutes ago. They were almost back at the fire station; it was only 500 meters ahead. It was the worst time and place to turn around, but Gi-jun couldn’t refuse. “Copy that.” Yun Mun-sik turned on the siren and swung the vehicle around. The ambulance trailing them did a u-turn too. Gi-jun wrote down the wife’s cell phone number. He gave her a call. As soon as he said, “I’m calling from the rescue squad,” the woman’s words peppered him like a machine gun. Her husband had gone to the Hwayang Medical Center for swine flu and returned home two days ago; this morning he was running a fever and not feeling well but refused to go back; since she had to go to work at a textile factory in the Northern Suan Industrial Complex about twenty minutes away by car, she left; unfortunately she couldn’t
head home because she had to work overtime. To Gi-jun, it sounded like her priority was making money, so she was trying to send the firefighters who were paid with her taxes to make sure her husband was fine. “Do you have any family around here?” Gi-jun asked. “A daughter, but she’s married and lives in Seoul. I can’t ask her to come all the way here. Even if she did, she doesn’t have a key, and even if she had a key she isn’t getting along with her dad—” Gi-jun cut her off. “If he doesn’t open up, can we force the door?” “Force the door?” she asked begrudgingly. “Then we need to get a new one, right?”
“That’s right.” “Isn’t there another way? What about through our veranda?” “If the windows aren’t locked, we might be able to come down from upstairs—” “It isn’t locked,” she interrupted. Gi-jun hung up. Although it was during the afternoon rush, they didn’t encounter many cars or pedestrians. Only the blizzard careened through the silence with a haunting scream. Gi-jun put his nose to the cracked-open window and cooled his impatience. By now, he should have been sitting in a cab heading toward the bus terminal to take the last bus to Inje at 6:50. “Jesus. What the fuck,” came a drowsy murmur from the back seat. Gi-jun glanced at the rearview mirror. Park Dong-hae, the twenty-two-year-old public service worker and assistant, was lying almost completely horizontal in the back. He jiggled his leg and kept clicking his pistol-shaped lighter. It was a huge commercial lighter with a trigger and a flash that looked like a panoramic sight. When he pressed the turbo button near the hammer, a strong flame and a light whooshed on at the same time. Dong-hae referred to it as the most
precious one in his ten-year collection of lighters. “Cut it out, dude,” snapped Eun-ho, who was sitting next to Gi-jun. Dong-hae’s eyes bugged out as he pointed the lighter at Eun-ho. With a whoosh, the flame and light reached toward Eun-ho’s face. “Hey!” Eun-ho’s neck and ears flushed red. Dong-hae looked down and buried his pale, delicate face into the collar of his jacket. With his small, red, parrot’s beak-like lips, he murmured, “Fuck.” Gi-jun shook his head at Eun-ho, signaling him to calm down. Dong-hae was a major nuisance for the team. He didn’t have any respect for hierarchy; he had no skills to speak of; and he couldn’t even read a one-page official document in one sitting. If one of them told him to bring something over, Dong-hae would lower those long, thick lashes and ask, Where’s that damn thing? If they reprimanded him, they were paid back doubly, like the first day Dong-hae reported for work. That day, Dong-hae had done the same thing: he’d pointed his lighter at Eun-ho, clicked it, and pretended to shoot, mumbling about something. Ever impatient, Eun-ho gave him a knuckle sandwich. The following morning, on an online bulletin board, someone posted:
911 Rescue Squad Team Member at East Hwayang Fire Station Commits Violence on a Public Service Worker.
Eun-ho had to write an official apology. As the manager, Gi-jun was called to headquarters and had to file a report. After that, especially after the squad learned of his past, nobody bothered the kid. The men were rarely moved by anything, but they were shocked and appalled by Dong-hae’s past.
They found out that Dong-hae hadn’t been a public service worker from the beginning. After a mere twelve months of being enlisted in the army, he’d caused an uproar and was switched over to public service. Apparently he had killed all the company dogs. He hadn’t lost his temper and beaten them to death, or gone nuts and killed them in a single night. Instead, he’d methodically cut out each dog’s tongue and branded a cross on its Adam’s apple and hanged it in plain sight. The military doctor diagnosed him with a personality disorder requiring long-term treatment, which was code for the army’s inability to deal with that kind of creativity. Gi-jun’s squad was living with a dog butcher the military had kicked out, all the while hoping they didn’t look like dogs to the kid. At 6:05 p.m., the fire truck and the ambulance pulled in side by side at the entrance to Building 2 in the Hwayang Mansion complex, consisting of thirty-eight-year-old five-story buildings. The squad members grabbed their gear. Dong-hae and Mun-sik remained in the truck. The stairs were cast in darkness. Gi-jun turned on the light on his helmet and ran up to the second floor with the others. The medical technicians followed with a gurney and an emergency medical kit. A frail, broom-thin old man, the manager and security guard of the building, came up the rear. The front door to #204 was locked. Nobody came out when they rang the bell. When they banged on the door, the next-door neighbor, a man wearing an undershirt with a cigarette in his mouth, poked his head out. Gi-jun led the security guard and Eun-ho up to #304. The security guard explained to the tenant that they had to use his veranda. The tenant grudgingly opened the door to let them through, grumbling that the man’s family should come and open the door downstairs, asking if the fire department would pay for any damage to the veranda railing, and insisting that they hurry, since he’d just turned on the heat and it would escape through the open windows.
Gi-jun tied a rope to the railing and slung one end around his midsection. He hung a hatchet on his belt. Eun-ho wrapped the other end of the rope around his waist and sat down, his feet braced against the railing. When Gi-jun went over the railing, strong winds slapped him against the wall. The snow and ice-covered windows were slippery. The snow was hurtling down at such a rate that he couldn’t see anything. He held the brake line in one hand and, with the tips of his sneakers, gripped onto the windows as he went down. When he balanced on the veranda railing of #204, his underarms were damp with sweat. Unfortunately, the veranda windows were locked. All the lights in the cave-like apartment were off. Gi-jun shoved the hatchet between the windows and twisted. The lock broke off. He slid the window open and hopped down into the veranda onto something round and soft. He flinched and moved his foot but he’d already heard something crunch. An unpleasant hunch tensed his thigh. He looked down and shone his light on it; he had put his foot through an apple crate. On a puppy. His foot had crushed the puppy’s head. Smashed eyeballs were stuck to the bottom of his sneaker. Gi-jun gulped. It couldn’t—it couldn’t possibly have been alive. He shook his foot frantically to get the eyeballs off, not noticing that the sliding glass doors to the apartment were open or that something was lurking in the dark. He yanked his foot out of the box and looked up, belatedly seeing it. A gigantic gray animal was flying into the light. Alert ears, golden eyes roiling with fire, glinting fangs, long legs outstretched like a racehorse taking off. A wolf. The animal’s tank-like shoulder slammed into Gi-jun’s face as he threw himself to the side. His hatchet clattered away. The beast vanished out the open window. Gi-jun got to his feet and looked outside. The flashing lights of the fire truck and ambulance were illuminating the garden below. He got Mun-sik over the walkie and asked if he saw a wolf jumping out from the second story. The answer crackled over—Mun-sik didn’t know if it was a wolf or a dog, but a dark shadow had just gone over the back walls of the
complex. The breath caught in Gi-jun’s throat leaked out as a wave of tremor. His head began to throb; he had slammed it into the floor in his attempt to get away from the animal. The afterimage of the gray animal hurtling toward him like a bomber glimmered in his sight. A wolf in an apartment? It didn’t make any sense. Gi-jun wasn’t pleased with himself either, falling down like that in a panic. This would remain a scar on his pride, as he was a man who lived and died by the cool demeanor he assumed in any situation. “What should we do?” Mun-sik asked over the radio. “If it’s really a wolf, people are going to go nuts.” “We can’t go catch it right now. Tell the dispatcher and call the police.” Gi-jun went into the living room and turned on the lights. Now it made sense. That animal was a dog. Along the walls were cages marked with nametags: Ching, Seola, Kkami. Big, small, yellow, shaggy dogs; a dog lying down with its head splayed to the side; another on the floor with stiff legs; yet another curled into a ball. The dozen or so dogs shared the same characteristic—the typical blank stare of the dead. A Husky named Ann was on her side inside a cage, teats engorged, having vomited blood. Her wide-open eyes were bloody. Blood was sprayed around the cages. Gi-jun opened the front door to let the squad in. “What the hell is this?” Eun-ho murmured as he stepped into the living room. The master bedroom was empty, the door flung open, a clothing rack on its side in the middle, the windows to the veranda broken. Shards of glass glittered on the bed. Gi-jun opened the bathroom door to find a blood-filled toilet and a man in an undershirt collapsed next to it. A bruised hand was trembling and he was gurgling. Gi-jun grabbed the man under the arms but let go. He looked down at his hands. Blood. His fingers were wet and slippery. His fingerprints remained under the man’s armpits, like bloody bruises—small drops of blood had formed close to each other on the surface of the skin,
approximating bruises. Gi-jun pulled him out of the bathroom. The man was limp, and now he was quiet, his extremities still. Gi-jun laid him on the floor of the living room. The medical technicians Kang Hye-yeong and Hong Cheon-su came over with the medical kit. “He was breathing just a second ago,” said Gi-jun. Hye-yeong checked the man’s pulse and turned on the penlight, flipping the eyelids open. The whites of his eyes were red and puffy. Gi-jun turned to look at the dead Husky’s eyes. The same. “Ready for CPR,” Hye-yeong said, and took the airway from the kit and inserted it into the man’s mouth. She placed the bag valve mask over his mouth. Cheon-su kneeled by the man and placed his hands over the chest. He began compressing. “One, two.” Blood gushed out of the man’s nose and mouth. The bag valve mask became a bloody sack. Cheon-su flinched but continued compressing. Hye-yeong took the mask off, cleaned out the bloody fluid, and reached in to swipe out the blood spurting from the man’s mouth. “Six, seven.” Every time Cheon-su compressed, the man vomited more blood. His limp hand twitched, unnaturally large compared to his body. On his thick wrist was a red wound, like a dog bite. “Aspirator,” Hye-yeong commanded. Gi-jun called Mun-sik on the walkie. “Send Dong-hae with the aspirator.” Cheon-su finished his thirtieth compression. Hye-yeong pressed the bag twice. “One, two.” The compression started again. Then the bagging. After two more rounds, Mun-sik came up with the aspirator, announcing that Dong-hae had left without a
word when Mun-sik stepped outside to take a piss. Gi-jun plugged in the aspirator. Hyeyeong shoved the tube into the man’s nose and throat to clear it out. Five minutes later, the man was ready to be transported. One of the firefighters and Mun-sik loaded him on the gurney and headed out, and the EMTs continued to administer CPR as they followed. They disappeared down the stairs. “Young man,” called the security guard from the entrance. “I need to leave too. I have to go around and get tenant approval on a matter.” “Can you stay a little longer?” Gi-jun asked. “When the police comes you’ll have to come back up here anyway.” He went out to the veranda to look for his hatchet. He tried to avoid looking at the apple crate holding the puppy’s corpse as he looked around. That gray beast must have been living here. A piece of rope was stuck between the windows, chomped off. They’d kept him tied to the railing. A big cage was in the corner, on its side, crushed. The nametag said Ringo. Ringo. Gi-jun’s curiosity grew. Why was the master bedroom wrecked? Why was the man collapsed in the bathroom? Why did he have so many dogs? Why were there canine corpses all around the apartment? He addressed the squad. “Don’t touch anything until the cops get here.” The police arrived shortly. They were pissed that Gi-jun’s team had transported the patient. Gi-jun tried to suppress his temper. It took twenty additional minutes to explain what had transpired. The clock indicated 6:55. “Anything else? We have to get going.” The cops turned their backs on Gi-jun’s team. They began peppering the security guard with various questions. “What does the owner of this place do?” “A breeder.” “What kind?”
“Can’t you tell? Dogs!” One officer looked around. “In the apartment?” “They brought them here maybe two days ago,” the security guard explained. “According to the wife they have a facility somewhere.” Gi-jun shook his head. Nobody had bothered to inform them that dogs were in the 16
apartment. “Where’s the wife?” the cop asked. “How would I know that?” the security guard shot back. He glanced at Gi-jun to see if he knew. “Aren’t you the building manager?” “The tenants don’t report to me where they’re going!” the security guard grumbled. Gi-jun drummed his fingers on the shoe cabinet. “How long are you going to make us stay here?” The officer raised an eyebrow. “We haven’t wrapped up the situation, have we? Hang on a minute. I might have questions for you too.” A vein throbbed like a piano hammer on Gi-jun’s forehead. These assholes were always like this when they came to the scene. They ordered them around like they were their masters. “If you need anything else, call the fire station,” Gi-jun shot back as he led the others out. “Hey! What’s your name? And your title?” called the cop. Gi-jun didn’t answer.
“Looks like Im Ji-yeong won’t be able to make it here today,” Lee called from the living
room. “Because of the snow storm.” Jae-hyeong looked down at Cookie, who was plopped belly-down on the floor, looking as focused as if he were writing quietly in his diary. Usually around this time, six in the evening, this rough and tumble sled dog would be leaping around like a wolf. For some reason, he was lying on a newspaper covering the black bean noodle bowls they’d ordered for lunch and left out for pickup. Lee came over to the entrance with his coat in his hands. “She said she’d come Sunday afternoon. I told her that was fine.” “Okay.” Today would have been better but Sunday was acceptable. According to Lee, Ji-yeong was a veteran nurse with ten years’ experience working at an animal hospital. For Jae-hyeong, it was more than he could hope for. He was just grateful that someone like her would come to this animal shelter deep in the mountains, especially with his reputation tattered and the rumor circulating that the shelter was on the brink of closing. “Go on home, before it gets worse,” Jae-hyeong suggested. “Sure. See you Monday.” Lee stopped near the dog. “Cookie, those noodles weren’t even that great.” Cookie raised an eyebrow and glanced at him, as if to say, I like subpar black bean noodles. Jae-hyeong pointed at the door with his thumb. “Out, Cookie.” Cookie stood begrudgingly. He dallied, his eye on Jae-hyeong, hoping he would change his mind. Jae-hyeong assumed a stern expression. Those noodles were too salty for him to eat. “No, Cookie.” Cookie skulked out through the dog door. Jae-hyeong reached for the newspaper. The January 14, 2014 edition of Hanjin Ilbo. Ten days ago. The very article he never wanted to
see again was covering his takeout bowls.
Is the Man Behind Dreamland a Vet or a Dog Seller? By Kim Yun-ju
On January 6, KTV broadcast a special documentary, “The Land of Dreams.” This documentary, which chronicled the life of veterinarian Seo Jae-hyeong, 35, who runs Dreamland, the animal shelter and hospital in the Baegun Mountains in Hwayang, Gyeonggi Province, had a record 19.2 percent viewing rate. Company insiders touted the beautiful, cinematic images and “a genuine love for living creatures” demonstrated by Mr. Seo as the reasons for its success. Mr. Seo, a 1.5 generation immigrant, graduated from Alaska State University before returning to Korea and studying veterinary science at S University. Viewers became fond of this man who refused a stable job and is devoting his youth to saving abandoned dogs. The highlight of this documentary is the last scene where Mr. Seo sits in a bench in his yard with his pet dog Cookie, who has been abandoned by his former owners. As he looks up at the sky, Mr. Seo says the following in a low voice, imparting a measure of strong melancholy. “I sometimes dream of a world without humans. A place where the laws of nature dictate life and death, a world where each creature is a master of its own destiny. The land of dreams. Yet, if that place existed, I wouldn’t go there.” That scene went viral, spreading across various internet sites such as YouTube. An online fundraising effort is underway to save Dreamland, which is experiencing financial difficulties. The Dreamland website is exploding with volunteers and those hoping to adopt a dog. There is talk of a large corporation offering sponsorship. Mr. Seo seems to have achieved his purpose for appearing on television.
That in itself is not shameful, but the problem is that Mr. Seo hid the true reason for his return to Korea. In “The Land of Dreams,” Mr. Seo says he came to Korea to study veterinary medicine. He doesn’t reveal that he was the first Korean musher to compete in the Iditarod 11 years ago. The Iditarod Great Sled Race is a race to the death, risking the lives of the sled dogs. The winning musher receives fame and a lucrative sponsor. As they race through the snow for over 1,600 kilometers in pursuit of their ambition, countless sled dogs become injured or die from the cold and exhaustion and accidents. The success of a musher is essentially the price of dogs’ lives and the reason animal welfare organizations demand the closure of the race. As a compromise, the Iditarod organizers devised a rule that disqualifies a musher if a participating dog dies during a race. Mr. Seo participated in this race and massacred his dog sled team Shicha. At the time, the media reported that Mr. Seo was attacked by a pack of wolves while he was lost in terrible weather and trying to find his way. He only survived because he offered up the dogs tied to his sled. This incident stunned Anchorage and caused Mr. Seo to receive severe criticism from animal welfare organizations from around the world. The Iditarod organizers banned Mr. Seo from the race for life. A year later, Mr. Seo returned to Korea. A few days ago, an anonymous tip about Mr. Seo arrived at this newspaper. It stated that the woods behind Dreamland contained a cemetery for euthanized animals. A Dreamland employee acknowledged that they euthanized animals, but added that it was only if absolutely necessary. This puts into question Mr. Seo’s statement that he quit his first job at a local government-run animal shelter because of its use of euthanasia. The anonymous tip also alleged that Mr. Seo’s dog Cookie was not abandoned but lost. When the original owner requested the return of the dog, Mr. Seo sent a 10 million won invoice for medical services, and the original owner sued Mr. Seo. This allegation was corroborated by the local police.
Finally, the anonymous tipster alleged that Mr. Seo was training Cookie as a sled dog, and enclosed a photograph of Mr. Seo putting a harness on Cookie. This begs the question: who is the person running Dreamland? Is he a vet devoted to abandoned animals, or a peddler making money off them? This reporter went to Dreamland to hear Mr. Seo’s side of the story, but learned that Mr. Seo had left for Alaska. 20 The morning the article was published, Jae-hyeong was at Fairbanks Airport. He had rushed to Alaska upon receiving his father’s call that Nukon was gravely ill. When Nukon, who had a brain tumor, regained consciousness, he would ask for Jae-hyeong. Jae-hyeong hadn’t ever gone back since he left. He tried not to think about the place. But this time he couldn’t stay away. His cab slowly wended through the dark morning streets. Outside the window, familiar yet unfamiliar scenes passed by—the blizzard whipping around downtown, the twinkling lights in the windows, the white smoke snaking up from chimneys. Jae-hyeong felt lost and nervous all the way to the hospital. Nukon was lying in the intensive care unit, wearing an oxygen mask. Gray shadows were cast over his eyes and he was not all there. He didn’t recognize Jae-hyeong, his one and only mentee. Nukon was buried in a small village bisected by train tracks about eight kilometers from Fairbanks, where Jae-hyeong’s parents and Nukon lived and Maya was buried. One frigid winter day when he was a boy, Jae-hyeong waited with Nukon for the train to Anchorage in the middle of the barren land, the blizzard swirling around them. He still remembered how they stopped the train by raising an arm, and how he’d been amazed that the train had ground to a halt right in front of them like a local bus. From that day on, he always volunteered to hold up his arm to stop the train when they had to head to Anchorage. “Do people still flag down the train?” he asked his father.
“It’s the same as it’s always been,” his father said. He gave Jae-hyeong a close look. “Come back whenever you want.” When Jae-hyeong returned home and learned what had happened in the past week, he wanted to be back in Alaska. He had been transformed into a secret dog peddler. The world’s good will disappeared like a fickle lover. Criticism and censure swept over Dreamland like a swarm of debt collectors. He hid behind locked doors and turned on himself for not realizing that people would find out about what had happened in Alaska. His panhandling for the dogs embarrassed him. Memories awakened by Kim Yun-ju’s article were painful. Since he returned from Nukon’s funeral, he didn’t have a single dreamless night. And it was always the same dream. He was fifteen years old, rolling around in the snow with Maya as a puppy, and it ended when he jumped awake, Maya’s brown eyes looking into his, asking, “What did you do with my children?” Every morning, he shivered with longing for the barren land of his youth. He wanted to run away. Go back. Race with the dogs. That was the true identity of the person who lived at Dreamland, and that was also why he couldn’t leave. Jae-hyeong stood up and picked up the bowls and the newspaper. His cell phone rang in the living room. “Jae-hyeong!” It was Jin-uk. “My cow’s about to die. Labor pains started in the middle of the night but her vulva isn’t opening. She hasn’t had anything to eat or drink. I don’t think she’s going to make it.” “I’ll be right there.” Jae-hyeong grabbed his anesthesia and emergency surgery tools. He would need to perform a cesarean. It might already be too late for that. Jin-uk’s Hope Ranch was to the east, smack in the middle of Baegun Mountain. If Dreamland were on the mountain’s belly button, the ranch was on its back. It was technically in Namyangju, not Hwayang. By car he would have to get to Route 3, then take a local road and go all around the mountain before climbing up a forest road for about 700 meters. In this
weather it would take over an hour. And he wasn’t sure if his rattling ambulance could get up that steep, unplowed road. A blizzard like this usually made him happy; he would pull out his sled with alacrity. But now it signified his immorality and shamelessness. Jae-hyeong went out the doors. Star was already sitting in front of the shed. That quiet female who looked like Cookie’s twin knew him better than anyone. She even knew what would happen next before he did. He pulled the sled out and fastened the harness on Star. Cookie came bounding up. He was so excited that he was practically smoking at the ears. Jae-hyeong put the harness on Cookie and placed his surgical tools on the sled. “Let’s go, Star.” They headed up toward the woods behind Dreamland. A path snaked through the woods thick with bald cypress and sergeant juniper, wide enough for two people to walk side by side. It was the shortcut up to the animal cemetery surrounded by a chain link fence demarcating private property. If they turned right after going through the fence, they would be on the hiking path leading to Hope Ranch. Star was his guide. Three years earlier, Jae-hyeong had rescued her from the basement of a crazed dog collector. With an innate talent for direction, Star never forgot a path she’d stepped foot on. She had endurance; she could go without eating for days. The only flaw Star had was her lack of tolerance toward humans. She refused anyone other than Jae-hyeong to handle her. She reminded him of Maya. Last spring, these characteristics almost got Star killed. Jae-hyeong had placed Star at a ranch in Daegwallyeong. A week later, Star appeared at Dreamland, looking like a ghost. Her paws were bloodied and her dry nose indicated that she’d run the several hundred kilometers back home without eating, drinking, or sleeping. Her sunken eyes reproached him for sending her away. From then on, Star didn’t show herself when visitors came. She watched from a hiding spot and was hostile when she was discovered, the anxiety that she
might be given away again turning her into a recluse. On the other hand, Cookie was young and vivacious. He was a textbook example of how a beta survives in a society governed by a pecking order. He liked people, was good at understanding power relationships, and was a pro at inviting affection. When Jae-hyeong met Cookie’s innocent eyes radiating his unconditional love, he would be compelled to take the chicken leg he was eating out of his mouth and give it to the dog. Cookie came into Jae-hyeong’s life two summers ago. One day, near sunset, a boy called him, telling him that two men were beating a dog at the rest area near Baegun Mountain reservoir. It was perched above the Baegun Mental Hospital, two kilometers from Dreamland’s walls. Jae-hyeong stopped the ambulance at the entrance and ran up to the rest area with Star. He hadn’t gone far when he heard the sharp pitiful screams of a dog. The caller was waiting with his older brother. “Over there.” The two boys pointed at the metal chin-up bars near the cliff. A tall man was standing behind the bars and another man was in front, holding a piece of wood. An Alaskan malamute was hanging from the bars, a vest made of rope binding his front legs and body. “A straight shot!” shouted the man behind the bars as he swung the dog forward. The man with the piece of wood hit the dog square in the chest, in full swing. The dog let out a gasping scream. Jae-hyeong undid Star’s leash. It was too urgent a matter for him to call the police. “Go, Star!” Star ran toward the men, barking, Jae-hyeong following close behind. The men stopped to look at them with indolence. They were in their early twenties. The man behind the bars was tall and large, and the one with the piece of wood was small. Star first lunged at the one with the makeshift bat. The one in the back fled to a yellow scooter parked nearby.
Jae-hyeong couldn’t read the mud-slathered license plate. The guy with the bat swung at Star, backing away, before jumping onto the moving scooter. They sputtered away. The dog hanging from the bars was unconscious. He was large but was really only a puppy. He wore a leather collar that said “Cookie.” Cookie received two rounds of intensive surgery to repair his ruptured stomach, broken ribs and front leg, and a dislocated hip. It was a miracle that he survived. Within three months he recovered almost completely and regained his energy. Other than at mealtimes, he was never home. He roamed the woods near the animal cemetery deep into the night and chased after rabbits, chipmunks, and birds. He frolicked until he collapsed from exhaustion. Jae-hyeong left him alone. Attempting to tie down youthful energy was like trying to lasso the wind. His decision eventually invited trouble. In December hunting season opened. Baegun Mountain became an adult’s amusement park filled with barking dogs, roiling with hunters shouting, and ringing with gunshots. Among them was Cookie’s original owner. Cookie, excited from the gunshots, leapt along the fence of the animal cemetery. These conditions led to the reunion of owner and dog, from opposite sides of the fence. The original owner introduced himself as Park Nam-cheol. He really did seem to be the owner. Cookie’s behavior was proof of that—his eyes were blissfully unfocused, his tail wagged like a flag, and he leaped all over the man, splattering spit everywhere. Park said he lost Cookie last summer. He wanted to take him back right away. Jae-hyeong couldn’t say, sure, go ahead, because Park couldn’t explain how he lost Cookie. He could only offer a theory that the leash must have become untied, causing Cookie to leave home and get lost. If Jae-hyeong let Cookie go back on that vague hypothesis only to rediscover him hanging from the metal bars, that would be on him. So instead of Cookie, he handed over a bill of close to 10 million won for all of the medical treatment he provided. He did that to buy time. He
figured he could first determine if Park was telling the truth. He had no idea he would be served with a lawsuit before he had a chance to find out. Jae-hyeong went to Park’s house in Baegun Nature Village with Cookie. He rang the bell with the expectation that they could come to an agreement while being able to see where Cookie used to live. He stepped into the yard into the sights of an Akita, which crinkled its black snout and snarled at Cookie. Cookie took up the challenge. It was like a decalcomania, as two dogs of similar builds and ranking rolled up their tails and glared at each other, their fur standing on end. Jae-hyeong tugged on the leash and dragged Cookie into the house to avoid what would be an unpleasant situation. But things grew quickly worse inside the house. Cookie, who should have been leaping with joy to see Park, sat down on the floor, his ears pasted to the back of his head. He scooted toward the door, whimpering like a puppy. His frightened eyes were aimed at the marble stair landing leading to the second floor, where a young man looked down at them. The guy’s expression was odd; maybe surprised, excited, or scared. He seemed to be grinning. Jae-hyeong stopped in his tracks. “Is that your son?” he asked Park. Park glanced behind him. “Yes, why?” “I’m just so glad to see him. I didn’t know I would meet him again like this.” Park’s gaze went to his son before returning uncertainly to Jae-hyeong. “You’re returning Cookie, aren’t you?” His voice betrayed confusion. Jae-hyeong turned around. “Ask your son. He’ll know why I can’t give Cookie back.” Park came to Dreamland the next day. He said he would withdraw his lawsuit and give up his claim to Cookie. He had two conditions: Jae-hyeong could not speak about what happened at the rest area, and he could never let anyone else adopt Cookie. They agreed that Jae-hyeong would return Cookie if he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Peace settled over Dreamland as winter ended. Cookie turned increasingly
mischievous. He dug under the fence and escaped. He wandered around the neighboring village. Star kept avoiding people and hid in the dark. When Star began hanging out in the basement, Jae-hyeong thought of the sled. He figured Cookie could use up his overwhelming energy and Star would have something to look forward to. A nearby hiking path was perfect for sledding. They didn’t even need to wait for snow; with wheels attached to the sled, they could train whenever they wanted to. If only he could gain the courage to ride again. But he didn’t need courage. As soon as he handled the sled he understood immediately that Star and Cookie were an excuse for what he truly yearned for. As he expected, Star and Cookie were a perfect match. Star was the handles and Cookie was the engine. Within a month of training, the two were flying up and down the hiking path. They never stopped once they started running. Today, however, something was different. Star stopped abruptly, tensing her shoulders and perking her ears. Cookie looked at her and growled, but she quieted him with a bite on the snout and a fierce glare. An odd apprehension rushed up to Jae-hyeong’s ears. He turned the lantern brighter and looked around. He couldn’t see anything other than snow being brushed down the steep cliffs by the wind. He couldn’t hear anything other than snowdrifts crumbling down into the valleys. “Let’s go, Star.” Jae-hyeong gently shook the towline. Star began to move but she continued to act out of character. Each time she turned a corner, she looked back. Twice she stopped completely still. Cookie looked quietly where Star was staring. He looked subdued—perhaps because Star had reprimanded him or because of the invisible thing in the dark Jae-hyeong couldn’t see. It made the ten-minute trip feel unbearably long. As they raced on, Jae-hyeong couldn’t shake off his fear. The unknown being’s presence stuck to the back of his neck. He finally relaxed when the rice straws piled at Hope Ranch’s back gates came into view.
“Here you are,” Jin-uk greeted him, standing at the entrance with his guard dog Choco. Jae-hyeong heaved a long sigh. He felt suffocated, as if he hadn’t drawn in a single breath the entire trip. “I was wondering if you could make it in this weather.” Jin-uk was the only person in all of Korea who spoke to him with such familiarity. When Dreamland was a mountain cabin and Jae-hyeong’s family lived there, Jin-uk’s late father owned Hope Ranch and the two boys had hung out all the time. They’d revived their friendship when Jae-hyeong returned. And here Jin-uk still was, raising dairy cows. Jae-hyeong naturally became the ranch’s vet. Large animals weren’t his specialty but he couldn’t help coming to Jin-uk’s rescue. Especially because Jin-uk considered his childhood friend family—Cookie and Choco had gotten together, so they were almost in-laws. “Is the vulva open yet?” Jae-hyeong asked, undoing the dogs’ harness. Cookie and Choco were raring to mate; the two ran off behind the stable. Star remained where she was. “No.” Jin-uk took Jae-hyeong to the cow. The situation was dire. She was leaning her head against the wall and breathing heavily. The vulva was red and swollen and the hay around her was wet. But the vulva was still barely open. Jae-hyeong slid on gloves and pushed his hand inside to feel the calf. In a normal calving, the calf would have its front legs straight with its head on top. This calf had its two front feet close to its chest and wasn’t moving. He couldn’t feel the heartbeat either. “Well?” Jin-uk asked. “Stillbirth.” Jae-hyeong pulled his hand out. Jin-uk’s mouth dropped open. “Wait, what? I saw it moving around just a minute ago.” “If we don’t get it out now the cow’s going to be in danger.” Jae-hyeong grabbed a length of rope. “Help me.”
Looking downcast, Jin-uk crouched next to him. Holding the rope, Jae-hyeong pushed his hand into the vulva and tied it around the calf’s legs. A tug of war between the dead calf and the two men commenced. The cow was nearing dehydration even before the calf’s knees were out. Covered in sweat, they grabbed the calf’s legs and pulled its body out. It was much larger than the average calf and Jae-hyeong found meconium in the amniotic fluid. He wondered if the calf had been in the cow’s belly too long. “Maybe you had the wrong fertilization date?” Jae-hyeong asked. “Can’t be,” Jin-uk replied forlornly. The mother cow couldn’t accept that the calf was dead. She turned toward the calf and licked off the flesh-colored amniotic sac, her legs still shaking. When Jin-uk tried to remove the calf she pushed him away with her head. Her large black eyes demanded where he thought he was taking her child. “You can remove it when she’s calmed down a bit,” Jae-hyeong said. He gathered his emergency gear and left the stable. “Did you find a replacement for Mr. Lee?” Jin-uk asked, following him out. Jae-hyeong put a cigarette in his mouth and shook his head. “Still? Isn’t he leaving next week?” “I’m sure I’ll find someone eventually. Or if not I’ll just do it all myself.” Standing under the eaves, Jae-hyeong watched the swirling snowstorm. He felt unsettled about going home. Reality suddenly rained down over his head. Dreamland was already mortgaged to the max. The bank had notified him that the property could no longer be collateral for any future loans. Even the donations had stopped coming in. And Lee had accepted an administrative job at an animal hospital in Seoul. “Jesus. That bitch. I wish I knew what she looked like,” Jin-uk grumbled. Jae-hyeong looked at him, puzzled.
“A reporter can’t just write whatever she feels like. She doesn’t know anything.” Jinuk spat loudly and stamped his foot. “Did you find out who the asshole is?” Jae-hyeong didn’t need to find out. He already knew who it was. He could guess when the photograph was taken, too. It would have been the day after the broadcast aired. That was the first day he’d got on the sled this winter. When he saw the article, he called Park to convey his understanding that their agreement was no longer valid. He didn’t point out that the dog in the photograph was Star, not Cookie. Cookie was visiting Choco at the Ranch at the time. Jae-hyeong snuffed out his cigarette. “Cookie! Star!” Cookie and Choco popped around the corner of the wall. “You’re going to go?” Jin-uk asked. Cookie wagged his tail so hard that his body shook, trying to tell Jae-hyeong that he didn’t want to. Choco followed suit. “Come in and have some tea first,” Jin-uk suggested. “I have to get back. Nobody’s home.” Jae-hyeong led Cookie to the back gate of the ranch where he’d tied the sled. Jin-uk followed, Choco on his heels. “You know the old lady’s going to be disappointed if you don’t come in for a bit.” Jae-hyeong was about to tell Jin-uk he would take a rain check when he noticed that Star wasn’t there. He looked around. She should have run to the sled as soon as he left the stable and waited for him. Around the sled were faint footprints becoming lighter in the falling snow. They led to the forest beyond the wooden fence. Jae-hyeong remembered how oddly Star had behaved on their way to the ranch, and how Cookie had stared into the darkness with fearful eyes. “What’s wrong?” Jin-uk asked.
“Star!” The voice rode along with the blizzard and reverberated among the trees. The female’s ears perked up. She looked toward the direction of the voice before glancing back at Ringo. Her coiled tail wagged almost imperceptibly. She seemed to hesitate. Go? Or stay? Ringo gently nudged her side with his nose. She had just allowed him to sniff her. He wanted her to let him continue. “Star!” The second call was a clear order to return. Star didn’t hesitate any longer. She turned, pushed Ringo’s face aside, and tore out of the forest. Ringo followed until he reached the slope where he could see the back gate of the ranch. He could see Star leaping over the wooden gate. The man on the sled kneeled on the ground to greet her. He said something to her, stroked her chest, and picked up his lantern to shine it toward Ringo. Ringo stepped back into the darkness. He kept Star’s name deep in his heart. He didn’t want to forget it. The sled glided out the back gate, leaving behind the ranch owner and his furry dog. The lantern flashed and passed below the forest Ringo was hiding in. Star turned her head toward Ringo. Star’s master looked too but didn’t stop the sled. Star became smaller and smaller until she turned a corner and disappeared. Only the ranch owner and the furry dog remained outside. The owner looked around as the dog barked and paced. She was announcing that there was an unwelcome guest. In her high yelps, cracking mid-bark, Ringo read a threat-wrapped nervousness and hostile fear. It was a sound that lit a fire under his predatory instincts. If he had still been at the dog fighting ring, or if the ranch owner hadn’t
been there, he would leap over the gate and silence her. But now he was the one being chased. The voice in his heart was telling him not to be seen by humans. Ringo turned and sank deeper into the forest. He hadn’t trusted humans since the summer he was sold to the dog fighting ring. He didn’t rely on their capricious kindness either. In the ring, where keeping his life signified his opponent’s death, he survived on his own. It wasn’t only the timber wolf’s nature he inherited from his father that protected him, like the humans at the ring crowed. Ringo was still here because he listened to the voice inside him. That voice was his desire, as he focused all of himself on it; his instinct, as it was a baseline feeling; and the orders he followed, as it suppressed his urges and forced him to wait for the right time. When he saw Star earlier as she came down this path, what he heard was the voice of instinct. The moment Star stopped and looked back, that first time their eyes met around a tree, Ringo saw something like a hallucination. A friendly being was wagging its tail gently through the bright moonlight. He felt odd, soft and dreamy. His voice told him to follow that dog. Star and her team entered the ranch. Ringo stopped on a slope overlooking the ranch. He hid behind a tree and waited until they disappeared. He waited a few more minutes. They didn’t return. But Star was standing by the sled, frozen in place. It was over a long distance, but he felt her gaze probing him. He could sense her nervous breathing. Ringo leaped over the wooden gate and skidded to a stop in front of her. Star made herself look larger and stiffened her legs. Her pupils rapidly dilated and shrank, warning him about his reckless behavior. She was showing him that she would gladly fight him. Ringo turned to the side. He didn’t want to fight. He just wanted to get to know the source of this bright, friendly moonlight that penetrated his empty belly. Ringo stretched his front legs and lowered his body. He shook his head at Star. When
she looked at him he jumped over the wooden gate, ran up the hill, then skipped back down. Star didn’t lower her vigilance but she didn’t get huffy. At least she stopped glaring. Ringo repeated his invitation to play several times. He would do it all night if it meant he could convince Star to come with him. Before too long but taking her time, Star made her way over the wooden gate. She ran past Ringo as he waited in the middle of the hill and dashed in between the trees. She startled something, which jumped up from a fallen tree. Blood coursed under Ringo’s chin. Before he knew what he was doing, he bounded after it and slapped it with his front paws. A bird the size of a pigeon was lying on the snow with its neck twisted to the side. He approached and bit its neck. Bone and flesh broke instantly. Warm blood flowed into his mouth. It was so sweet he almost swallowed the entire thing whole, but he managed to think of Star, who was watching him from a few steps away. Ringo brought the bird and placed it down by Star’s feet. Star sniffed the tribute and stepped back. He wasn’t sure if she was refusing it or just being polite. Ringo lowered his body and, with his snout, pushed the bird toward her feet. He stepped back. It was the most respectful act Ringo could do. Star retreated again. She must be telling him to have it. He no longer had to maintain his dignity. He gobbled up the bird, even licking the blood that had seeped into the snow. Star turned around and ran deep into the forest—an invitation. Ringo gladly accepted. He wasn’t close to being full but a snug feeling of satiety spread in his heart. The warm, sweet light Star gave off was even brighter. It beckoned in a welcoming way. Now, Ringo returned to where Star had hid, run, and played with him. He sniffed the snow imprinted with Star’s paws. Her scent brightened his mind. He licked the prints and a delightful taste came to him, as tasting a live chicken. The voice in his heart spoke: Anywhere with humans is the same. It was true. He didn’t have to flee tonight. And even if he went down the mountain and to a different city, that wouldn’t guarantee his safety. Deciding on his
destination could come later, after he figured out where Star lived, after he saw her again. Ringo turned and went back to the hill that overlooked the ranch. He began to run along the path Star had taken. Her scent led him along until he got to a tall chain link fence circling a thick grove. He could see a light in a window through the trees. It smelled like a large pack of dogs. Ringo stopped at the opening to the chain link fence. He poked his snout through the links. He dipped his nose in the wind and breathed in Star’s scent. He wanted to go in but the entrance was closed and it was locked with a bar. The fence was too tall. To breach it, he would have to be a bird, not a dog. He wanted to howl but he remembered how Star’s master kept looking behind him. The snowstorm was too intense; he couldn’t wait until Star noticed on her own and came out. In the brief moment he paced along the fence, snow had coated his entire body. Even his eyelashes were slick with ice. The wind dug into his sides like the claws of a cat. The voice in his heart gave him some advice: If you freeze to death it won’t do anyone any good. Ringo shook off the snow. He ran down the hiking path snaking along the fence. He had to spend the night somewhere without freezing to death. It just had to be somewhere he could avoid the cold and the snow, not too far from Star, not occupied by humans. It could be an empty house, a cave, a fallen tree or under a dried patch of vines. He found somewhere appropriate after running up two hills. A mountain lodge and a greenhouse were hidden cleverly by a thick cluster of trees in the middle of a slope. The door to the lodge was half broken and shuddered in the wind. The greenhouse walls were torn but it was a perfect place to avoid people and the wind. But three dogs—one spotted, one mop-like, and the last resembling an enraged raccoon—rushed out and blocked his way. They were all around the same size but it was clear who the leader was; the raccoonlike one quietly stared at Ringo, flanked by the other two barking, leaping dogs. His legs
were rooted firmly in the snow. Ringo looked around. Random junk was piled up and strewn about in the tiny yard. He smelled human but could tell it wasn’t recent. Ringo decided to stay here for now. As a fighter, Ringo was an expert at launching lightning attacks. He didn’t bother with the pre-fight growling or stand his hair on end and threaten the other dog. Before his opponent realized that the fight started, he’d silently attacked, ripped open his throat, and retreated in a flash. The other dog would fall, blood spurting from his neck. The raccoon-like dog met the same fate. When he leaped up and screamed, Ringo had already let go and retreated beyond the zone of attack. The dog stepped back, bleeding heavily. The spotted dog immediately lay down in front of Ringo. He opened his legs to show his stomach and dribbled urine to indicate absolute submission. The mop backed away toward the lodge, growling. Ringo was at a loss. He only just realized that the mop was a female. He had never used his teeth against a female. He shouldn’t fight her; instead, he needed to keep his dignity in front of her. But he couldn’t let her continue to be this prickly, either. She was being too loud and things would get complicated if she attracted a hiker. He had to shut her up. He growled and moved toward her. He looked straight into her eyes, raised his shoulders, and looked down at her. She shrank, stepping back. Her growls became short, inadvertent yelps. Her blinking eyes betrayed fear and submission. Ringo kept staring at her and moving forward. When their faces met, he pushed against her shoulders. She trembled, lowering her shoulders. A moment later she turned her head away and lowered her back legs. Finally she lay down, her tail tucked under her. She would be quiet and stay like that. Ringo went into the lodge. He didn’t bother chasing the dogs away. He just bit the snout of the spotted dog when he scrambled in after him. That was a firm order: don’t step into my territory.
Human belongings were scattered inside the lodge—clothing, shoes, water bottles, a pot without a handle, a chair with broken legs. Ringo lay down near the back on a blanket. He buried his nose in his front legs and closed his eyes. Quiet came over him. The night deepened. Frightening experiences flitted through his head. The police raiding the fighting ring; the owner of the ring and the gamblers being dragged outside, handcuffed; standing off against the pit bull in the ring before being shot by a tranquilizer gun and collapsing; opening his eyes in the animal shelter, surrounded by pit bulls; the pit bulls getting shots and dying off, one by one, a few days later; leaving the shelter with a man right before his turn; arriving at a shed stuffed with puppies and females, and being selected as the mate of an angry brown female, as prickly as the mop. When he entered the cage, the brown female was curled up in the corner. She growled, frightened. Ringo stayed in the opposite corner. He didn’t want to mount her. He hated noisy females. And anyway, he didn’t feel like it. He spent a week sleeping, his chin glued to the ground. In that time the man didn’t appear once. Nobody came by to give them water or food. Horrible things started happening to the dogs in the shed. At first it was one or two, and then many. They began coughing and dripping foul smelling snot then squirted diarrhea and collapsed, their chins and legs trembling. Two mornings ago, the man appeared. He looked at each of the dogs, cursing, and then began to put healthy dogs inside cages. He grabbed Ringo by the scruff of his neck like a puppy and shoved him into a cage. Ringo pressed down a sudden urge to bite the man’s hand. He knew how to endure humiliation; as humans would say, he was well-trained. Surprisingly, the one who resisted was the brown female. As soon as the man picked her up she growled and bit him on the wrist. It wasn’t a bad bite and he wasn’t even bleeding that much, but the man went crazy. He pulled her out of the cage, slammed her on the floor, and kicked her until her stomach ruptured. The brown female died, bleeding, her intestines pouring out of her
body. In Ringo’s mind, that was how it all started. The man loaded Ringo and the other dogs on a truck and brought them home to a woman who yapped as much as the brown female. “What were you thinking, bringing an animal like that?” she cried, her pointer rapidly stabbing the air in Ringo’s direction. “That’s a beast, not a dog! What will you do if he eats all the other dogs? What if he eats us? You can’t keep him here. I’m too scared. Bring him back to the shelter and get a refund. Who wants an animal like that?” “Jesus, woman.” The man rolled his eyes then glared at her. “What are you, stupid? Do you even know what kind of dog this is? It’s worth way more than the other ones!” They put the other dogs in the living room and the man placed Ringo on the veranda by himself. The next day, the man’s eyes had become yellowish holes. An unpleasant smell laced his breath. It was an entirely different stench from the one the sick dogs were emanating in the shed. It was a smell that made everything turn black like when he was hit by the tranquilizer. It was the most reminiscent of the stink that covered the animal shelter, but it was of a different density. The shelter’s smell was a gray fog, but the man’s was a black one. Even the food the man brought him was enveloped in black. Ringo didn’t go near the food or lick a drop of water. Black fog snaked up from everything the man touched. It took over the entire apartment in a single night. This morning, the man came out into the living room, looking like a prisoner of the black fog. A more intense, saturated black fog flickered in his sallow eyes, nose, and mouth. It crawled out of the man’s flesh like tens of thousands of thin snakes, leaving behind black pore-like marks. The woman set the table for breakfast and kept nagging. “You’re asking to get sick. Why won’t you go to the hospital? It’s a dog bite! What if you got rabies? Why are you so stubborn? Don’t you remember how you had to be admitted for swine flu but you
insisted you only had a cold? That was only last week! If you had a bad experience once, you should know how to take care of yourself after that.” The woman wasn’t swallowed by that same fog; her eyes and mouth were completely normal. The man disappeared into the bathroom. “Do whatever you want,” the woman yelled after him. “I don’t care if you die! If you aren’t going to the hospital, at least get rid of that dead puppy on the veranda before it rots and we get maggots!” After she left, the man came out of the bathroom and into his bedroom. Ringo could hear his ragged breathing as he vomited and moaned all day. The dogs in the living room were suffering from the same thing. They all had yellow holes for eyes, gasped, their bodies encircled by black fog as they vomited. The white dog moaning in a hoarse voice was the first to froth blood at the mouth and collapse. Ringo was overcome with fear and anxiety. The voice in his heart repeated itself: If you don’t want to be a corpse, you better escape. But it hadn’t even occurred to Ringo that escape was a real option. Not trusting humans was different from escaping from them. He had wolf genes but had been raised as a dog. For a dog, humans were his entire world, one that guaranteed food, shelter, safety, and decided his fate. Getting away from humans was the same as discarding your world, becoming a stray. Ringo asked himself which was better, a stray or a corpse. The phone rang in the living room but the man failed to emerge. Ringo began to chew on his leash, with which he was tied to the metal bar of the railing. The leash was as thick as the bar but it didn’t take long. Next, he had to get out of the cage. He had to open the lock on the door. He pushed and made the cage tumble forward. He rolled to the side and to the front several times until the cage crumpled, the door broke, and the latch sprang open.
That was when the bedroom door opened. Ringo stood by the wall where he couldn’t be seen. The man crossed the living room, trembling, and opened the glass door to the veranda. He stuck his head out and turned to look at the cage and toward the wall where Ringo was hidden. It was an excellent opportunity for Ringo to attack; it would have been a walk in the park. But Ringo refrained. He didn’t want to touch the man. He could just threaten him—he raised his fur and growled, his teeth exposed. The man screamed and ran away, jumping into the bathroom and slamming the door shut behind him. Ringo ran toward the front door and rammed his body into it. The door didn’t budge. He tried again but it was no use. He hurtled toward every door he could find, wondering if there was another escape route. But nothing opened. Only the bedroom door was open. He saw a window through the door. Ringo flew toward it. The inner window shattered instantly but the outer one stood as firm as the doors. Through the glass he could see the veranda where he had been imprisoned. Beyond the veranda windows, the blizzard was beating the building. He went back into the living room and rushed at the veranda windows to see if it was made of breakable glass. It wasn’t. If only he could shatter it, he could jump to the ground from here. Ringo went back to the bathroom door. He heard vomiting inside. Then the thump of the man falling. It became quiet. Ringo lay down by the front door. The woman would come home at some point. The day waned. The apartment sank into darkness. Dogs swallowed by the black fog vomited blood and died. Ringo’s anxiety and impatience ballooned. Where was this woman? The doorbell rang. He heard men talking outside. “Are you sure there’s someone inside?” The men’s voices receded as they went upstairs. Ringo was confused. He stood up.
Outside the front door other men kept talking, and from upstairs he heard that first voice. “Eun-ho, grab the rope. I’m going down.” Something appeared outside the veranda windows. A man wearing a dark uniform came down on a rope, a light flashing. Somewhere inside Ringo a warning bell rang. The men who shot him with the tranquilizer gun and dragged him off to the shelter wore uniforms like that. The man opened the window and came inside. Ringo tensed his muscles and made himself look twice as large. His hair stood on end. A dark fire raced in front of his eyes. The window had finally opened. He shot forward. Ringo’s goal was to run away. But that was before he met Star. Now it changed to waiting. He would see her again tomorrow morning, if the snow stopped and he went back. He didn’t think about anything beyond that. He closed his eyes.
It was getting dark by the time Yun-ju pulled up near Dreamland. She had rushed here after finishing the first edition of an article. Would she be able to meet Seo Jae-hyeong today? She turned off the engine and looked out the window. She could see light through the blue metal bars of the front gate. Someone was inside. She’d come here for the first time the Monday following the arrival of the tip, which was sent by registered mail. The envelope was addressed to “Reporter Kim Yun-ju, City Desk.” The sender was one Kim Cheol-su residing in Suan-dong, Hwayang. According to the sender, he was an upright citizen who couldn’t let a mere dog seller hiding behind the mask of a veterinarian lie and pull one over the entire country. Yun-ju figured this chivalrous person was Cookie’s original owner. The enclosed materials suggested as much, unless Cookie’s medical bill somehow ended up in this man’s hands. He had also enclosed a copy of
an article she wrote as a rookie in the international bureau eleven years ago, which explained why he’d chosen her and Hanjin Ilbo out of all the dailies out there.
Korean Iditarod Musher Rescued After 19 Hours—In Serious Condition By Kim Yun-ju 40 At 9 a.m. on March 11, Seo Jae-hyeong, age 24, who entered the Iditarod Great Sled Race in Anchorage, Alaska, was rescued near the Yukon River and transported to Anchorage Providence Hospital. A hospital spokesperson stated that he is in serious condition, with extensive damage to his shoulders, ribs, and legs, and that he was in and out of consciousness. The rescue team believes that Mr. Seo lost his way in a whiteout before being attacked by a wolf pack. His dogs were discovered dead, still tied to Mr. Seo’s sled, about 700 meters away from the musher. This incident caused animal welfare organizations around the world to criticize what they called a slaughter, and urged the organizers to immediately halt “this cruel and barbaric race that pushes dogs to their death.” The Iditarod, which celebrates its 31st race this year, was a fierce competition of 68 teams from eight countries, including the United States, Canada, and Germany. Mr. Seo, an Alaskan resident, was showered with attention by the local press as the first Korean to ever enter the race.
Yun-ju searched online for articles about the accident. In Korea, only the Yonhap News and she had written about it, and hers was only a news brief of information pasted together from articles in the Alaskan papers. The Anchorage Daily News articles were the most detailed, and convinced her that Seo shouldn’t be allowed to have a dog. She then
watched the documentary, “The Land of Dreams.” The veterinarian in that film, dedicating his youth to abandoned dogs, seemed shy and gentle. He couldn’t have sledded through the barren terrain. The camera emphasized that impression, zooming closely into Seo’s eyes at least a dozen times. His eyes flashed with a range of emotions, filling the screen— awkwardness, embarrassment, happiness, rage, sadness, and longing. Yun-ju hadn’t realized that a person’s eyes could reveal so much. She found herself growing more interested. The difference in character was too vast to explain away as the passage of time. This Seo and the musher were two completely different people. The tipster was equally interesting; when she called the number on the envelope, a man informed her that she’d called the Hwayang City Crematorium. He hadn’t heard of a Kim Cheol-su. While for most, the frontal lobe of a brain regulated high mental functions like memory and thought processes and judgment, hers was a noisy mud flat filled with birds. The most impatient bird of all, the advanced guard of intuition, lit a fire under her. Go find out, it urged, don’t just scroll through websites. Yun-ju heeded that advice and headed to the East Hwayang Police Station, where the lawsuit was filed. The plaintiff, Park Nam-cheol, was the director of infectious diseases at the National Hwayang Medical Center. He was in his fifties. He had to be too respected and too busy to send in an anonymous letter just to get even with someone. Plus, the suit had been withdrawn in a week; the files stated that the parties had reached a mutual understanding about the matter. Yun-ju wondered what was behind that mutual understanding, but she didn’t need to talk to Park. All she required were the facts, that Seo had been sued. That was enough. She headed toward Dreamland. A man who described himself as Seo’s assistant told her that Seo had left to go to his parents’ house because of an urgent matter.
“Alaska?” she joked. “He’s probably on the plane by now,” the man said seriously. Seo hadn’t changed his phone settings to allow for international roaming, so he wasn’t reachable. Cookie, Seo’s dog, had gone to his “in-laws” five days ago. All she could confirm was that the dogsled was hidden in the shed and that there was an animal cemetery. She was able to learn that they did perform euthanasia. That was sufficient. A few hours after her article went live, the Dreamland webpage crashed. Online, as people criticized and slandered Seo, his fundraising efforts fell apart. The possibility of a sponsorship vanished. She’d expected as much. What caught her by surprise was Seo’s lack of reaction. Even ten days after the article was published, he hadn’t given her a single phone call to complain. He never contacted her to explain his side of the story. According to another newspaper, Dreamland’s line was perpetually busy and its gates didn’t swing open for anyone. The criticism died down because time passed. The media moved on. Yun-ju forgot as well until two days ago, when a boy identifying himself as a Hwayang high school student called her. This boy insisted that Cookie wasn’t abandoned or lost, but that he was almost killed. Two summers ago, the boy had gone to the rest area at the foot of Baegun Mountain with his brother and seen two college-aged men beating a dog hanging from the bars. He had chosen to call Seo because a banner advertising Dreamland was stretched across the entrance to the rest area. Yun-ju asked the boy what made him call now, instead of ten days ago when the article was published. Did Seo make him call on his behalf? The boy hesitated. “Well, they said I shouldn’t get involved in other people’s business.” “Who? Your parents?”
“Yeah. They think I should study instead.” “But you felt you had to intervene?” “Yes.” Dazed, Yun-ju hung up. Cold sweat sprouted along her spine. But everything was the same. However it was that Cookie and Seo met, the facts remained the facts—the medical bill, the lawsuit, the animal cemetery for euthanized dogs, Seo forcing Cookie to train as a sled dog, what Seo had done eleven years ago in Alaska. She thought of Dreamland, which had once teemed with volunteers. The tipster would have been gleeful over what happened. She too had felt triumphant as she pulled Seo down from the heights of being an overnight celebrity. She didn’t want to dwell on what happened at the rest area. She just had to make sure that it didn’t pose a problem to her story. That afternoon, she went to the Medical Center to meet Park. The waiting area was filled with patients. An hour after she spoke to a nurse, she was still waiting. She pushed past a patient who was about to go into Park’s office and walked in. She placed her business card and a copy of the two articles on his desk—the Iditarod article from eleven years ago and the one she wrote twelve days before when she exposed the truth about Seo. She calmly took a seat. “What’s this?” Park looked at her with displeasure. “As you can see, these are articles I’ve written.” Park looked at his watch and glanced at the waiting area, as if to convey that it was 5:10, dozens of patients were waiting outside, and she cut in line. Yun-ju cut to the chase. “This more recent article was based on an anonymous tip, but now I have a problem. I came to see you, hoping you could help me solve that problem.” She took out the envelope from her bag and spread out its contents on the desk: the medical bill, the photograph of Cookie wearing the sled harness, the typed letter. She waved the
envelope. “The older article was in here.” Park’s gaze swept over the materials before fixing on Yun-ju. She detected a flash of panic in his eyes, which vanished in a blink. Park picked up the letter. Yun-ju leaned back in her chair and watched him. His pale, thin face was overwhelmed by thick black eyebrows, bristling like a toothbrush. Did this man really send her these materials? Park put down the letter and looked at his watch. “I don’t know why you came to me, but I never sent you this.” “Only you and Seo would have Cookie’s medical bill. Or you must think Seo wrote the letter, hoping he would be brought down?” “Why don’t you ask him that?” “I plan to. And he would know exactly who hung Cookie in the rest area and beat him.” Park flinched noticeably. “I want to know two things, Doctor. Why did you withdraw the lawsuit, and why did you send in this tip?” Park pressed his lips together and jabbed a buzzer on his desk. His expression was stern but rage radiated from him. A cuckoo cried outside the door. “I promise you that whatever you tell me here will remain confidential,” Yun-ju said. A white-haired security guard ran in. The cuckoo’s cry had been an alarm. “Escort this woman out,” Park ordered. The guard grabbed Yun-ju’s elbow. Yun-ju gathered the materials and stood up. “I’ll leave you copies of the articles and the letter. You might decide that you want to talk to me after you read them.” “Get her out of here!” The guard pushed her out. She saw another guard in the waiting area, a young man
with a black mole-like stud in his left eyebrow, pimples decorating his forehead, stroking a helmet. “Mr. Kang,” called the nurse from the counter. “Yes?” the young guard replied. “The doctor doesn’t need you anymore.” The white-haired guard shook Yun-ju’s elbow. Yun-ju had stopped without realizing it. She hiked up her bag and walked on, as the young guard grumbled, “Jesus, what am I, his kid? Calling me at all times and telling me to wait, then leave—” Yun-ju looked back and the guard met her gaze insolently. That day, she didn’t end up meeting Seo. Because of the heavy snow, she had to turn around at the bottom of Baegun Mountain. She encountered a jeep coming her way, clawing its way down the snow-covered road, but she didn’t dare go up. Today was her third attempt. She had hesitated for a while before heading up here. She didn’t want to see him. It was preferable to believe that the doctor had used her to fuck with Seo instead of hurtling into enemy camp to check a trivial error. She hoped Seo wasn’t home. She could then convince herself that she’d tried her best to meet him face-to-face and forget about it all. Yun-ju slung her bag over her shoulder and got out of the car. As soon as she stepped into the orange glow of the streetlamp, the wind slapped her across the cheek. The heat in her body dissipated in the few steps she took. Her cheeks froze and her chin trembled. She jumped at the sound of branches shaking in the wind. Dreamland, surrounded by a bald cypress grove, was a big, old two-story wooden structure, a stable but ugly rectangle. Like a shuttered school, it gave off a bleak, creepy air. A light was on in the living room but the house was still, seemingly empty of people. Not a single dog barked. White smoke swirled from the chimney and the shadows of the bald
cypress waved their long dark arms in the yard. The entire house seemed to be testing visitor’s backbone, straightening its broad shoulders and breathing quietly. Come in, if you dare. Yun-ju stopped at the front gate and drew in a breath. The ambulance she’d seen before was parked next to the shed. Would Seo be here today? What would she say if he asked who she was? She could say she was from the gas company, maybe. She reached over to press the bell but froze. Fiery orange eyes stared at her from the other side of the gate. A dog. A huge black dog was watching her from the shadow of the gatepost. She noticed that the smaller inlaid door in the gate was open a crack. She couldn’t even hear the dog breathing. The house remained still. The world around her sank into silence. Even the wind seemed to have stalled. The inside of her head was the loudest of all. The birds in the mudflat of her brain had popped out and were lecturing at her. There’s supposed to be a guard dog trained to go after an intruder without warning. Don’t stare at the dog like that, they don’t like it. Don’t make sudden movements. But don’t show your back and flee. It isn’t the best ass but if it bites you and you end up with mismatched ones that would be tragic. Yun-ju held onto the strap of her bag and began inching backward to her car. Her shoes crunched on the snow like thunder. The dog behind the gate curled its lip and flashed its white teeth. She heard a growl, a low, heavy vibration. As she moved slowly back, the growl grew louder. She could feel the chest of the dog inflate from tension and hostility. She still had a few more steps before she could get inside her car. Lukewarm, sticky spit trickled down her throat. Regret knocked on her chest. What did she think she was doing, coming here? She heard the front door open. She stopped retreating. A man bounded down the steps, strode across the yard, and hopped into the ambulance. The engine started and the light bar turned on. The dog was still growling. It stared at Yun-ju until the ambulance stopped in
front of the gate. She remained frozen in place. Trapped under the beam of the light bar, she watched in a daze as the man threw open the door of the ambulance. “Who are you?” he called. She didn’t have to ask who he was. She also recognized the dog as it revealed itself in the light—the Alaskan malamute with thick gray fur, a white patch on the chest, a long wolf-like snout, dark heart-shaped eyebrows, and brown eyes. Seo Jae-hyeong and Cookie.
Published on Oct 13, 2015