A Proud Grandfather

Posted on: May 26, 2016


The smell of freshly brewed coffee lures me out of bed. I pour a cup, grab my wedding magazine, and walk outside to join Ken’s grandfather, Mr. Hamilton, on the porch. I sit down next to him on a handmade porch swing. I turn my head in the direction that he is looking and see a tall, broad shouldered, tanned man wearing a faded blue swimsuit. He is standing along the shoreline while the waves collide with his ankles. There is a blue board beside him, held up by his muscular arm.

“Ken was an amazing surfer. I wish he would give the waves a try again. His accident has scared him from returning to his passion, but I think if he went out there, everything would come back to him and he could take any wave that came his way.” Mr. Hamilton’s voice brings me back to reality. I try to concentrate on the conversation.

Mr. Hamilton shares Ken’s adventures of surfing. He starts with Ken’s first wave and hesitates at the tragic part: Ken’s accident. Mr. Hamilton’s eyes tear up, and I squeeze his hand.

“It’s okay, Mr. Hamilton, Ken has already told me about it. I’ve read the articles. You don’t need to share this part.” I give him a soft smile.

He puts his hand up in objection, “No, no, no. You don’t know the real story. I must share this with you.”

I sit back on the porch swing nod for him to go ahead. I look through the railing poles to observe Ken’s figure as I listen to Mr. Hamilton’s story of the accident.

“He took a magnificent wave. As he was about to escape from the billow, the lip of the wave slammed his head, knocking him off his board. The strength of the wave enveloped him and drove him head first into the coral reef. The lifeguards ran out to help him. When they brought his unconscious body out of the water,blood streaming out of his head from the gash, I never thought he would live.” Mr. Hamilton pauses to take a deep breath. “I thought Ken was dead.” His eyes shimmer with tears. I twist my engagement ring and thank God for Ken’s life.

I wish Ken never had to experience this part of his life. It ruined his fearlessness and left him with horrible symptoms that come and go. I think about the month after the accident--sometimes he couldn’t remember my name. He’s always tired now. He used to be the first one out of bed each morning, brewing the first batch of coffee. Now he naps during the day to try to fight off the fatigue and confusion that hits him by afternoon.

“He used to be brave and excited for where life would take him,” Mr. Hamilton adds, “but the accident ruined that. I believe if he swims out and takes a wave, he will remember his journey and all his success, all the medals he won.”

“Well, I think today might be the day,” I say, stretching my hand out to him to help him up. We walk towards the railing and Mr. Hamilton squeezes my hand in excitement. He can now see Ken swimming out into the ocean.

“Do you know why his parents named him Ken?” Mr. Hamilton asks while we wait for Ken to find the right wave.

“No, why?” I ask, eager to hear the story.

“Because ‘Ken’ means clear water. My daughter thought that it would be a perfect name for her baby boy. From the day he was born I could see it in his eyes, he had so much potential to be a great surfer. He could conquer any water he wanted to.” Mr. Hamilton smiles, his eyes glowing.

Ken floats in the water, the sun kissing his skin, and Mr. Hamilton keeps talking, about the Triple Crown, about the Mavericks Big Wave Surf, which he won at just seventeen.

As Mr. Hamilton continues his praise, I stare out at the ocean and notice a different movement in Ken. He’s sitting broadly on the board. I watch him shift his body, open his arms, and start swimming. Then I notice the large wave that he is trying to catch.

Ken turns his muscular body around, facing inland, and starts to swim toward us. Mr. Hamilton points out toward Ken and we descend the porch stairs to move closer, onto the sand.

“He’s going to do it!” Mr. Hamilton exclaims.

Ken swims faster and faster. He embarks on the wave, stands on his board, and sails through the barrel with a familiar confidence and control. Mr. Hamilton is ecstatic. My heart swells with pride for Ken, and I realize that this is the day that will change our lives forever. A feeling of relief washes over me. We can stop dwelling on the past and move on with our lives.

Ken clears the wave and throws a fist up in the air as he hollers in excitement. As he celebrates his victory, I notice his body rocking back and forth on the board. He slumps forward. My body tenses.

Ken falls sideways off his board into the waves. A lifeguard runs into the water, calling for others to help. I break away from Mr. Hamilton and run, burning the soles of my feet, and throw myself into the water. The waves splash over my head, making it difficult to reach Ken.

A large man pulls me out of an overpowering wave as it pushes me down. He carries me out and sets me on the shore. I look up and see a lifeguard’s bronzed, stern face looking down on me.

“Leave it to the professionals,” the man says in a deep southern accent.

He grips my arm so I can’t return to the ocean. His fingers dig into my sunburned skin, and I try to escape when he lightens his hold. Over and over again he stops me, and tells me to stay on the shore.

“Let me go!” I seethe, but in return he pushes me down on my knees. I am helpless on the scalding sand.

A few minutes later, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up and see Mr. Hamilton pointing toward a figure in the ocean. It gets closer and closer. Now it is so close to me that I can touch it. It’s Ken.


Written by: Kimberly Kupres
Photograph by: Blake Bronstad

Faerie Road

Posted on: May 24, 2016


A peculiar path wound through the fields behind Beaugenveu Estate. It was a long path that no one ever walked for fear of never walking back. Despite never being used, the grass on the path was always cut while the grass surrounding it grew vigorously. As was the way of Faerie roads.

The youngest Beaugenveu daughter, Alice, had grown up hearing horror stories about the Faerie road. She used to watch the path from her bedroom window night after night and wonder if what her nanny said was true. This sort of thinking was what drove Alice to walk the path one sunny, Sunday afternoon, and her cousin was either stupid enough or courageous enough to go with her.

"This is it?" Lena sighed. "I thought it would be more impressive."

"This is it," Alice confirmed. Lena gave it another disapproving look. Doubt crept up Alice's spine the longer Lena stared. "Come on. Staring doesn't do anything," she said, stepping onto the path. Lena was quick to follow.

High tendrils of grass swayed around the path like a green ocean. Like gleaming golden rays of sunlight, dandelions stood out against the green. The air of unease that had surrounded them slipped away with each step as the house grew smaller and smaller, leaving them smiling and laughing. Everyone was wrong; there was nothing scary about the path. Nothing at all.

The path stopped where the old family cemetery began. Both stared at the ancient iron gate for many moments before Alice spoke. "Let's have a look around," she breathed. Lena shrugged.

The cemetery was small with crumbling graves. "No one's been buried here since the path appeared," Alice whispered. "Said it was too dangerous."

They danced around gaping holes and fallen stones before coming to the center of the cemetery. A large brush cropped out of the ground and loomed over their heads. They stopped and stared at it for several moments.

"It looks like you can go inside," breathed Lena. A small fissure, more open in some places than others, ran between the two bushes. Beyond was darkness.

Alice nudged Lena in the back. "Go on then," she said. Lena stared at the gap, hesitant. "What are you waiting for? An invitation?" Alice laughed. Her cousin's mocking was not something Lena would put up with, so she brushed away the thoughts of danger beginning to cloud her mind and stepped into the bush.

Alice followed close behind and the two girls spread out in the small area. "How very mysterious," Alice laughed, looking around. Lena glanced around as well but her eyes stopped as they landed on a gentleman kneeling before a gravestone. "Do you think faerie-"

"Alice," Lena hissed. Alice quieted and turned to see what had disturbed her cousin. Her eyes quickly found the gentleman. He was watching them with eyes the color of silver and hair a glowing gold.

"Miladies," he greeted, slowly standing, brushing dirt off his opulent clothing. The unease Lena had felt before stepping in the bush washed over her again. There was something dangerous and also delightful about him. Lena wasn't sure which scared her most.

"I'm sorry, we'll leave." Lena grabbed Alice's wrist but her cousin wouldn't move. She was staring at the man as if he was the only thing in the world.

"You needn't." A shiver of terror raced down Lena's spine, and she tugged on Alice.

"We have to go." Alice didn't budge.

"In fact," continued the man. "I was just looking for a partner. I was on my way to a ball at my brother's kingdom." He smiled at Alice. "Do you like to dance?" A smile broke across Alice's face.

"Yes," she breathed, stepping towards him.

"Then come with me." He offered a hand and Lena pulled back on Alice, terror fully consuming her now. Alice kept walking, reaching for the man's hand. Lena felt her fingers slip from her cousin's arm, and she fought for grip. As Alice's fingers wrapped around his, she disappeared. Lena stared at where her cousin had just been standing with wide eyes.

"Would you like to come to the ball too?" the man asked Lena. His charm did not fight through her fear, and she whirled, tripping out of the bush.

Lena raced back to the path. Her pounding feet matched the frantic beating of her heart. Alice was gone, captured by a faerie. The path was just as dangerous as the stories said.

Clouds gathered with alarming speed and lightning shattered the sky. Rain began to fall in torrents and the world blurred until Lena didn't know up from down. She pushed forward, unsure of where she was, or where the path was, but determined to keep going.

Suddenly the rain dropped away as a canopy of leaves sheltered her. The forest unveiled itself around her, dark and foreboding. Lena jogged slowly down a random path, her waterlogged skirts weighing her down. She needed to get back to the estate, to tell Uncle Pete that Alice had disappeared, to send people out to find her. Could anyone be rescued from a faerie, though?

The forest was unfamiliar territory and somewhere in her heart, Lena knew she was hopelessly lost. She wouldn't let that seep into her mind, though. There was hope somewhere. There had to be.

A stick snapped behind her, and she whirled. She couldn't see anything through the murky light of the forest. Lena started on when a growl rumbled behind her. Again, nothing revealed itself to her. Lena remembered the hunt's master talking about wolves that lived in the forest. The thought continued to fuel her fear.

As if on cue, a giant wolf lunged from the shadows. Lena reeled back, screaming. Two other wolves followed the first. They slowly began to circle her. Ragged sobs began to rip from Lena's throat. She was going to die, in the middle of a forest, no one knowing where she was. She closed her eyes and waited for their attack.

Silence filled the forest clearing and Lean slowly gathered the courage to open her eyes. The wolves were gone. Lena felt her legs give out, and she hit the ground. Hopelessness filled her and she sobbed.

As she sat there, a hand patted her on the shoulder. "The ball would be much more fun than this." She looked up, finding the faerie man behind her. Lena nodded despite herself. "Come with me."


Written by: Cameron Mitchell
Photograph by: Kyle Hemmings

The Opposite of Fall

Posted on: May 19, 2016


Cara never got used to the uneven cobblestones. This city has been around since 753 BC, you’d think they would have mastered pavement by now. Her thoughts echoed in her mind as she navigated the narrow, sloped alley way. She couldn’t afford another fall. She gripped her messenger bag with one hand, while the other cradled the black knit scarf around her neck. The early morning chill in the March air already had soured her mood.

She emerged from between two brick buildings and noticed that the light above the Pastores’ door was on. I’ll have to remember to check on Signora Pastore tonight. Since moving to Rome eleven months ago, Cara and her husband had become close with their elderly neighbors, Signor and Signora Pastore. Signora Pastore joked that Cara was like the daughter she never had. Their two sons, now grown, had gone to live in America. Cara and Gregory’s presence balanced out their universe.

At the end of their vialetto, Cara exhaled as the sunlight touched her cheeks. Glancing at her watch, she realized that she could slow her pace—a rarity. Morning wasn’t her moment to shine. Though she loved her job, she had not adjusted to the schedule of nine-to-five work and doubted she ever would. Cara’s background in both art history and translation had made her the perfect candidate for her position. Her tiny office at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica was her sanctuary: by staring at documents related to old things, she could avoid thinking about new ones—or their absence.

                                                                                               ***

Gregory savored the smell of coffee in the morning. He carried a cup to his first class nearly every day and sipped it as his students meandered in. Though Rome reminded him of Manhattan in its aggression and masculinity, the eighteen-year-olds he taught did not carry the same frenzy in their bodies that their New York counterparts did.

Clapping his hands together once, he addressed today’s group of seventeen. The class reached capacity at twenty, but one thing Gregory’s Italian students did share with others around the world was the propensity of a few select people to be absent on days when quizzes were being given. “What did you think of the ending of The Dead? Was it satisfying? Did Joyce tie up the loose ends in the ways you expected?”

“Professore, what are these lose ends, as you say?” Alberto’s English was not as strong as that of the rest of the class. The class was to be taught in English, but Gregory often had to explain colloquial American phrases to the locals in their native tongue. Gregory sometimes marveled at his own situation—born and raised in New Jersey, but now teaching Irish literature to Italian undergrads.

“It is an expression, Alberto. Did Joyce give all of the information that you, as a reader, desired? This is something for you all to keep in mind, classe, as you do today’s quiz. In two pages, explore what Gabriel and Gretta can teach us about the nature of love. Begin now.”

                                                                                               ***

Cara’s cell rang just after lunch. The corner of the empty pizza box dangled over the edge of her desk, taking up more space than warranted by the single slice it had housed. Her notes were splayed in a fan-like pattern across her desk as Raphael’s La Fornarina eyed her curiously through her laptop screen. She hesitated just long enough before grabbing the phone. Only she would notice its multiple rings.

“Hey...” Her tone softened as she redirected her attention.

“So, I was thinking, how about I make that quinoa dish you like for dinner and we can catch a movie?” Gregory’s deep, calming voice had always had a slightly hypnotic effect.

“Uh. Yeah…that would be great. I won’t get home until seven though,” Cara responded.

“That’s fine. Your feast shall await,” he said with a laugh.

“Oh by the way, can you check in on Signora Pastore? I meant to see if she needed anything.” Cara’s mind drifted to their neighbor who recently had had surgery.

“Sure, see you tonight, love you,” Gregory replied.

“You too.”

He never asked why it took her an hour to get home when they lived ten minutes away and she finished at six. She never volunteered. Cara had been the nurturer until last fall, always giving and trying to please. Fate had reversed their roles. Grief is not an equalizer, but a reorganizer.

                                                                                               ***

At five after six, Cara left work and headed in the same trajectory as she did every day. At seven after six, Gregory knocked on Signora Pastore’s door. At six fifteen, Gregory’s phone rang. It was Cara’s number, but not her voice. Instead a woman said in broken English, “Signor, your wife has been injured. She promise she is okay, but we wait for you. Come to Chiesa degli Arcangeli.” Later, Gregory could not remember hanging up his phone, whether he said goodbye to Signora Pastore or running towards the church.

                                                                                               ***

Cara hadn’t seen the two teenage boys run up behind her. Their first meeting was one of physical connection. One slammed into her left side, knocking her to the ground. Her knees throbbed as she heard one of the boys laughing. Her palms stung. She remained frozen on the ground as they made their getaway. She began to weep, not only for this fall, but the one that came before, the one that took her future, their future.

Gregory dashed up to Cara and a middle-aged woman sitting beside her on a bench, handing her tissues. Cara started sobbing again when she saw him.

“Some kids pushed me and I fell. It caught me by surprise,” she explained. Gregory examined her wounds, and confident they weren’t serious, placed his arm around his wife. She rested her head on his chest, his chin nuzzling the back of her wavy hair. They sat wordlessly for an eternity of moments.

“She would have almost been here by now.” Cara’s whisper broke the silence. Michaela had been due on the first day of spring.

“I know, I know. . .” Gregory said softly, kissing the top her head. “Let’s go home.”

As they walked up the uneven cobblestone alley into the darkness, Cara noticed that Signora Pastore’s light was still on. A tiny green bud in the flower pot by her door stood like a sentinel, a harbinger of all that was yet to come.


Written by: Lauren Jonik
Photograph by: Jennifer Stevens

When Nothing Counts

Posted on: May 17, 2016


Gore wants to be a stuntman. Delilah wants to come with. Gore keeps telling her it’s not like that, none of the guys were bringing their girls. The policy is a strict No-Girlfriends-Allowed.

The two of them are on the Ferris wheel. It’s stuck again.

“I have to get out of here,” Delilah says, kicking the air as though it were water. “My mother’s driving me crazy. Bessie’s leaving for the convent next week and busy with her replacement sisters, so now it’s just me and Mother…you know last week, she dipped soybeans in bleach and had me hide them in every corner of the house? To kill off the critters, she said…but of course, critters don’t eat soybeans, so now they’re just sitting there, browning, these little rotten poison pills.”

Gore looks out over the fields. The line where the hills meet the horizon looks like it’s been drawn in by a paintbrush. The square red barns, haystacks singed orange, cows on trim green grass—all of it could’ve been inside a production studio. Brought to you by technicolor.

“I’ll make sundaes for us every day. You love my sundaes, Gore.” Delilah takes his arm and nuzzles it. “Sundaes with lime and coconut swirl for dinner, chocolate mousse for dessert.”

The boys in the carriage below are trying to get their attention. They’re banging against the glass with their fists. They’re making lewd signs with their hands. They’re thrusting their hips and wagging their tongues and waving their arms like monkeys.

“Oh, Gore,” Delilah says, her face now buried completely in his chest, “take me away.”

The fire department is assembled at the base of the Ferris wheel. Before the firefighters can begin their rescue, they must raise the ladder—before they raise the ladder, they must navigate the fire truck through the amusement park. Obstacles include: lake-sized patches of mud, roller coaster tracks, two adjacent tilt-a-whirls. Their biggest challenge is the crowd of booths near the entrance—inside these booths, pinstriped employees sit like puppets, looking up at the Ferris wheel as they spool cotton candy out of floss, dip hot dogs in corn batter.

Next to the firefighters stands Ms. Bristol, Gore’s teacher. Ms. Bristol recently advised Gore’s mother to hold him back until he could read at an eleventh grade level. When Gore learned of this, he walked straight to the fairground and played the high striker game until his arms went limp. It was a nice feeling, the hammer coming down. The bell shivering once it was hit. The puck rocketing up, speeding skyward, a ball of mercury in a fever-pitched thermometer.

Ms. Bristol was responsible for today’s last-day-of-school field trip. Over the years she’s chaperoned this event, she’s had to be counselor, arbitrator, nurse—now all she could do was wait, clutch her hands to the rim of her sun hat.

They should’ve closed the ride the last time this happened. The youngest Wilson boy had been alone on it, right at closing. For weeks after, he had nightmares of the circle detaching from its lateral support arms, rolling down the hill, gaining traction like some great hamster wheel. A rumor got around that, since then, the Wilson boy was sleeping with a blankie; the boys who beat him up are the same who, in the carriage below, are pounding heavier. Mouthing more aggressively.

This wasn’t the first time they’d taunted Gore, though their preferred target was his brother with the spine brace. If Gore’s father ever found out about the teasing, he’d show them. Gore’s father, a mechanic, could lift anything. One time he came home late and, arms swinging, scooped Gore in one hand and his brother in the other. Gore remembered his father’s fingers spreading under his ribcage, fitting into the trenches between the bones. When his brother started moaning about his back, and his mother begged for them to be put down, his father only raised them higher—almost to the ceiling, Gore stretched out every muscle in his body, testing his wingspan.

“We can be real adults together, Gore.”

Gore looks at Delilah, startled. Reality’s pretend, he wants to say. A real-life stuntman had once come to the auto body shop, and that’s what he’d said. Gore could tell he was a stuntman just from his muscles—the man could’ve lifted a whole Chevy if he wanted to. While Gore worked on the car, the two of them talked. The stuntman had lots of advice, about Hollywood, about agents, about executing a perfect backflip. At one point, the stuntman tossed some nuts and bolts on the ground like jacks and said, When nothing counts, might as well take a risk.

Delilah draws a heart on the corduroy of his pant leg. “Let’s have a baby, Gore.”

Gore leans forward and presses his hands against the glass. He’d done higher. The fences were around ten. The willow tree in the school ground was about this height, so was the telephone pole. The window of the silo had been even higher, though that leap had ended badly.

He looks back at Delilah—Delilah looks real pretty and plush, there, facing the sunset. They’d been an item for so long, he’d forgotten how nice her features were. Those soft creases on her lips. The rosebuds under her cheeks. Was it the light, or had she started wearing makeup?

The boys below had fogged the glass and, in the cloud, drawn two stick figures—one small Gore-boy, one small Delilah-girl—engaged in something obscene.

Gore looks out and stands. He takes a small step forward, pushing his weight against the glass door until it opens. Wind rushes against his face and neck. He reaches above to steady himself and slings one leg over the sill, then another. Positioning his feet squarely below his shoulders, he tenses his calves for impact.

Last step, Gore thinks, is to close your eyes—close them tight enough to see little stars behind your lids.

“Watch me, Delilah.”


Written by: Frani O'Toole
Photograph by: Siyan Ren

Refuge

Posted on: May 12, 2016


Naamah stood atop the city wall, gazing out over the hills and the sea. She was twelve years old, the age of gifting. She waited for her mother to summon her.

The night before, she had a dream that a giant egg cracked open and the yolk spilled out, flooding the land and many cities. She saw people drown in rivers of gold, reaching for the sky as they cried out to God. Naamah was frightened when she awoke; she wrapped herself up in a blanket to find comfort in sunrise. Dreams are important, but Naamah could not bring herself to tell her mother or father, for she also saw them die in the dream.

“Naamah, the Ziz requests your presence. It’s time to go,” her mother said, hands resting on Naamah’s shoulders from behind.

“Mama, has Jubal returned from the Ziz?” Naamah asked. Her half-brother had ventured out to receive his gifting some weeks before.

“He returned last night, but he is overcome. Your father says that he has been consumed with crafting strange objects from string and bone. He has not revealed the nature of his gifting to your father or his mother.”

They held hands as they descended from the city wall and approached the small caravan of traders that would lead Naamah part of the way to the Ziz.

“My gift was given by the Leviathan, so I cannot tell you the nature of the Ziz, but she is known to be kind to those who come to her with an open heart,” her mother said.

Naamah’s other brother, Tubal Cain, helped her into a cart. Naamah noticed her father, Lamech, in the distance with his other wife, Adah. He looked away from Adah for a moment and locked eyes with Naamah, offering a smile and a nod before disappearing into their home. She tried not to be jealous of Adah, who possessed most of her father’s attention now that she was pregnant.

Naamah watched Tubal Cain and her mother embrace, then he climbed into the cart with her, taking the reigns.

                                                                                                   ***

It took three days to reach the trade town by the sea. Tubal Cain was an artisan; he created beautiful figures from copper and iron. People came from far and wide to purchase his animal renderings and statues of the Great Creatures. Their family lived well because of him.

The caravan came to a stop on the northwest side of town where they would pitch their trade tents. Naamah hopped down from the cart and gazed out over the sea, at the mountain on the other side of the harbor.

“Are you taking me to the Ziz, brother?” Naamah asked.

“No, you will go alone,” he said.

“But how will I know where she is?”

“You’re looking at her. She is the mountain, Naamah,” Tubal Cain said with a hushed voice of reverence.

Naamah looked back at the mountain.

“The Ziz knows you are here. She will come to you, but you must meet her halfway.”

Tubal Cain led her to a small boat with a single oar and held her hand as she stepped inside. She took the oar in her hands and watched the ripples form on the surface of the water, dread setting in.

“Mother’s blessing from the Leviathan extends to you. You will be safe.”

Tubal Cain gave the boat a shove and Naamah dipped the oar into the water and made her way toward the mountain.
                                                                                                   ***

The Ziz, the great bird of heaven, stood in the middle of the sea. What looked like a mountain was her body, and she extended ever upward past the clouds. She could not see the great bird’s head. For a moment, she felt dizzy and grasped the sides of the boat to keep from falling forward.

Then, the Ziz lowered her head from the canopy of clouds. It seemed to take hours for her to dip down toward the sea, the tip of her beak touching the surface of the water and rocking the boat with waves. Her eyes were the size of wagon wheels and the feathers of her orange crest blocked the sun. There was a voice that resonated in Naamah’s chest. The tears fell from her eyes and she smiled, her heart full.

“What is this sound, this beauty welling up inside my soul?” Naamah asked the Ziz.

“I give you the gift of song,” Naamah heard the Ziz say. “You will sing of creation and of heaven. You will sing of dreams and of what will come to pass. You have already seen, have you not?”

Naamah recalled her dream, the golden flood drowning cities.

“You must sing to one who is coming, to one whom you will love. He is not yet born, but you will hear his cry soon.”

Naamah thought of Adah’s swelling belly, and the jealousy dissipated. A feeling of love and responsibility took its place.

“When will I give him the song, holy one?” Naamah asked.

“When he is gifted, but he will not come to me nor will he receive his gift from the Leviathan or the Behemot. His gift will come from on high, but you must sing it over him.”

The sky began to shift from blue to orange to a deep, dark pink before violet spread a blanket of night and stars.

“I will lift you up to the throne of the Creator, and I will teach you to sing.”

The Ziz took Naamah into her beak with care and lifted her head from the sea up toward the sky. Naamah felt her soul tremble within her, felt songs begin to well up in her throat. She could feel her half brother’s song growing like a vine from her heart as images of the great flood played behind her eyes. Naamah closed her eyes, feeling heaven envelope her with a sacred chill, and the first note of that song left her lips. The first note would be his name.

“Noah.”


Written by: Natasha Akery
Photo by: Anthony Delanoix

The Disappearing Heart Technique

Posted on: May 10, 2016


My boyfriend’s been dead for two months. Perhaps the hardest part of it all is the fact that he left so much behind for me to deal with, yet took nothing of me with him. Love notes, clothes, the vision of him in my bed. Sharing a bath towel because we loved having each others’ smells on us. I was blindly, foolishly, and debilitatingly in love with him, and now I have no idea what the fuck to do with myself.

It hurts too much to think about the happy memories, because I know they’re never going to happen again. I try to focus on the struggles, the arguments, with the hope it will make moving on easier. Even when I force myself to consider all of his flaws, I think about how much I loved those, too, and how I wish I’d expressed that to him better while he was around.

I hate that I’m haunted by him, but he cannot be haunted by me. I find myself wondering how this happened, or rather, did it happen at all? How is it that we were together, here, kissing, laughing, talking, only two months ago, and now we’re not? Did I dream it? Was he ever really here? Have I simply woken up?

I made him a mixtape for his birthday. I had no idea what to get him. I made him a card to go along with it that said:

“Happy birthday, Peter -

I made you a mixtape.

I don’t always know what to say to you, but I know how you make me feel, which is so many things. I hope when you listen to it, you’ll feel all the things I feel, too.

Love,
Tamara”


He wasn’t a romantic person. His gestures of affection were quiet and simple, yet they were observant of my needs. When he read the card, he didn’t say anything. He had a small smile on his face, and he walked over to me and held me. I loved him so deeply in that moment. I’ve had trouble remembering what he smelled like. I think maybe it was something sweet… with that hint of saltiness that comes from all burly, heavy-lifting men.

A few weeks after his birthday, I took the ferry to ________ _________ to see him. When I walked into his house, the birthday card I’d written him and the mix tape were sitting in the same place they were the last time I’d been there. “Did you get to listen to the mix tape yet?” He said no. That was the last time I went to his house. I rarely ever took the ferry before we started dating. In retrospect, I think the only time I ever rode it was for when I was going to see him. I’m not sure I’d ever be able to ride on one of those again without instinctively feeling like I would eventually be arriving at his house.

When I think about the last time I saw him, at my apartment, I think of all the things I would have said and done differently had I known it would have been the last time I was going to see him. We argued that night, although the reason for the argument has disappeared from my memory. I think it was just tension that had built up over time, finally combusting from something as stupid as not being able to agree on what movie to watch. It’s hard to make peace with the fact that this was our last moment together.

I’ve felt so heavy in my heart since then and have let it weigh me down. I’m tired of my eyes being swollen from crying all the time. I really thought it would be easier for me to move on from this if I convinced myself he was dead, but all it does is romanticize a remarkably unromantic relationship.

As for the “love notes”, it was just one little post-it that said “I LOVE TAMARA” because I asked him to demonstrate his handwriting, and he asked me what he should write. No clothes either, except a shirt he outgrew and had completely forgotten he’d given to me. Such small things that meant everything to me, while the birthday card I wrote him was probably tossed in the trash long ago.

I thought his gestures of affection were quiet and simple, and observant of my needs, but I never understood why he would squirm anytime I touched him. He usually humored me, but always made it a point to tell me how obligated he felt having to simply hold my hand in public. He never listened to the mix tape I made him either. It was a quiet enough gift to feel so incredibly sentimental to me at the time, but simple enough to convince myself now that it was just a piece of shit gift.

In a way it does feel like he died. It doesn’t seem like the person I was in love with exists anymore, but perhaps he never existed at all. The last time he contacted me, he told me he missed me and thought about me, but needed to think things over. Four days later, a seemingly disconnected phone line and a social media profile that has apparently vanished. There was never a goodbye or an explanation; he truly ceased being in my life. I find myself shaking my head during the day, in a way that says “Damn, how did I let this happen?” I’m fascinated by the prospect of caring for someone so little that you can actually make yourselves completely disappear from one another.

It still hurts, obviously, but less because I miss him, and more because I’m disappointed in my judge of character. I willfully opened the gates and welcomed harm. I’m beginning to learn the benefits of bitterness while suffering the repercussions: Skin thickening, heart hardening.

I never liked riding that fucking ferry anyway.


Written by: Rebecca Lee
Photograph by: Marshall Blevins

Just Let Go

Posted on: May 5, 2016


October 1972

Heck Hansen gripped the wheel so tight that his knuckles were as white as the snow swirling around him. With visibility down to mere feet, he was driving more on instinct and adrenaline that anything else. Despite the freezing temperatures, sweat soaked into the band of his Stetson and dripped down his forehead. The wind whipped down Rabbit Ears Pass in frenzied gusts, hitting his beat-up pickup truck head on with the ferocity of a boxer swinging for a knockout. Heck knew he should turn back, that his chances of making it up and over the pass in weather like this were slim to none.

But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

The call had come early. Too early. Sarah wasn’t due for another six weeks. It was one of the main reasons they had decided he should hire on with the C-Bar for the fall round-up. The timing seemed perfect. The wages he earned would be enough to pay for all of the hospital bills and see them through the winter in their little place near Stagecoach. As rough as three weeks away would be during her final trimester, if it assured him of the next four months at home, it would be worth it.

Heck tried to keep his mind on what little he could see of the road ahead, but his thoughts kept drifting back to the past few hours. He had been riding nightwatch, making lazy and slow circles around the herd. The cows were restless. Heck figured it was because of the full moon, so bright it cast long blue shadows on the ground. He heard the chatter of coyotes off in the distance, eerie and beautiful, but they were too far away to be a threat. He stopped on a rise, admiring the immensity of the land. It was then he spied the dust trail, kicked up by a truck hightailing it towards camp. Deep in the pit of his stomach, Heck knew the truck meant something was wrong. There was no other reason for anyone to head out here at night. He put spurs to his horse and raced back, choking on fear the whole way.

When he got there, Mr. Carson, owner of the C-Bar, was standing around the fire with a few of the hands. Heck swung down from the saddle.

“We got a call from the hospital in Steamboat, Heck. Your wife’s gone into an early labor, and she’s having complications. Grab your gear. I’ll drive you back to your truck so you can head out,” Mr. Carson said.

“Is she okay? Is the baby okay?” His words laced with fear, Heck didn’t recognize the sound of his own voice.

“I don’t know, son,” Mr. Carson replied, putting a fatherly hand on his shoulder. “Get whatever stuff you need.”

The cowboys offered prayers and words of encouragement as Heck quickly packed his things.

“Watch out,” said Tell, a grizzled old cowhand who had been herding cattle in Northern Colorado since the Depression. He looked off towards the mountains, and the clouds gathering behind them. “There’s a storm moving in. Pass could get tricky.”

Tricky it was, but Heck plowed on, his resolve as firm as the bunched up muscles in his forearms. He searched for any discernible landmark, but his headlights showed nothing but a white blur. Even the moon, so full and bright earlier, had been erased from his view by the storm. Exhausted and afraid, he inched along.

His tires found the ditch on the side of the road before his eyes did. Heck threw the truck into reverse and tried to back up. The tires spun wildly. He got out and assessed the situation. He tried to dig out the right front tire but the snow was already building up in drifts. He knew he was stuck. Heck grabbed his gear out of the bed and climbed back into the cab. He shook out his bedroll and climbed in, and piled his saddle blankets on top. The wind howled and raged. Sleet and snow battered the window above his head. Sprawled across the bench seat, quivering with cold and fear and exhaustion, he thought of the ocean.

Heck had only seen the ocean once, seven years back. That once had been more than enough.

Fresh from high school, and unsure of what he wanted to do in life, he had tramped across the land, hitchhiking and hopping trains, and seeing what there was to see. Drawn West by the summery sounds of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, he ended up just north of LA.

Hypnotized by the mighty expanse of the Pacific and the slow undulations of its waves, he was taken by surprise when the undertow sucked him in. For three long minutes--minutes that felt like forever--he struggled, tumbling end over end as he searched for blue sky and sun. The waves, thunderous cascades of churning white water, crashed down on him. His lungs burned. His limbs ached. And then, just when he thought he couldn’t survive another second, he felt someone grab him, pull him to the surface, and swim him back to shore.

The lifeguard hovered over him.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I … I think so,” said Heck.

“That was a close one,” the lifeguard said. “Now this might sound weird, but if that happens again, don’t struggle. When you get stuck like that, you lose your bearings and sometimes you’re fighting the whole time to go the wrong way. So instead, just let go.”

Heck thought of the lifeguard’s words. He closed his eyes and let his exhaustion overtake him. He dreamt of the ocean, of tremendous waves that battered him, that pulled him under. But in his dream, when the water pushed him down, he let go, and was lifted out of the water by a giant invisible hand.

Heck awoke six hours later to sunlight, stillness, and a silence so profound it resonated in his soul, like the voice of God himself. The storm had passed. He climbed out of his truck. The snow had drifted into a giant wave that engulfed the passenger side. He looked around. Beartooth Peak sat off to his right. He had almost made it to the top of the pass.

A faint rumble cut through the quiet, growing louder by the second. Heck watched as the plow truck worked its way up the road. When it pulled up next to him, he could barely hear the driver over the roar of the diesel engine.

“You Heck Hansen?” the driver yelled.

“Yes.”

“Climb on in. There’s a woman and baby girl anxious to see you.”


Written by: Ben Cook
Photo by: Samuel Zeller

The Gum Wall

Posted on: May 3, 2016


An amusement park can collect a horrifying amount of chewed gum over the course of a season. Sure, the regular cleaning crew would scrape off whatever they saw, or more likely, whatever they felt like, during their early morning shifts, but there was always more. This realization hit Dan hard when he pulled the short straw and wound up on gum duty on his last day of work for the year. Dan’s manager handed him and Antwon two long handled metal scrapers and two buckets and ushered them out of the supply closet and into the weak September sun.

“We should start on the wall,” Antwon said as he took off towards the Thunderstorm.

Dan grimaced, “Why? That’ll take forever.”

“Exactly. Better now than three o’clock when the sun will be hitting us right in the face. I had gum duty last year, trust me.”

So Dan trusted him and they went to the edge of the park where the old wooden rollercoaster sat. They hopped over the railings that normally divided riders into a twisting line and went to the front. At some point in the now distant past someone decided to stick their chewing gum to the wall that divided the line and the loading zone, and it started a trend that was still going strong. When Dan rode the coaster for the first time as a scared ten-year-old, his older brother had told him it was like a wishing well. You made a wish and then stuck your gum on the wall. Dan eagerly complied, making a wish that he wouldn’t puke from fear. Now he felt like puking at the thought of all of the chewed gum he was about to get involved with.

“Well, dig in,” Antwon said, expertly scraping the pieces on the far end so that they dropped in his bucket with a tinny plunk.

Dan joined in, trying to mimic the technique, but still having to pick some off the ground with his gloved hand.

“You know these are people’s wishes we’re throwing away, don’t you?” he asked Antwon.

“Yeah, so I’ve heard.” Plunk, plunk, right into the bucket.

“Kind of makes you feel bad, doesn’t it?”

“Nope. If they’re making me work like this, I don’t care if they don’t come true.”

Dan stopped. “Do you think they won’t come true if we scrape them off?”

Antwon rolled his eyes. “No, I think they don’t come true because it’s gum.”

“So you’ve never wished on gum?”

“No.”

“What about on a penny in a fountain?”

“Nope.”

“A shooting star?”

“Listen man, I make my own luck.” Antwon continued scraping, each piece making less and less of a sound as it hit the growing pile in his bucket.

Dan scraped too, but with less enthusiasm. He looked down to the edge of the wall. A dab of neon orange stood out, right as the wall gave way to the platform. He had put it there three months ago. That night, he hung around the park after his shift with his friend Josh. Dan managed to talk him into riding the Thunderstorm three times in a row. Most of it had to do with Marissa, the girl who worked the control booth. On the first two rides he couldn’t catch her eye. But on the third time through the line, he stuck his gum to the wall. Sure enough, when he was loaded into his seat and looked her way, she had seen him. He smiled. She smiled back.

“This stuff isn’t going to fall off by itself,” Antwon said, staring at Dan.

“Right, sorry.” Dan renewed his efforts. His body removed gum, his mind replayed the summer. He had meant to talk to her, but all he managed was an occasional “Hi, how’s it going?” She was always on her way somewhere and he never had anything to say that could keep her in the same spot.

Now his time was almost up. This was the last day for the seasonal crew. As the gum piled up in his bucket he thought up things to say to her, but none of them sounded like they would lead anywhere. He could ask her about her fall semester, or music, or he could just up and ask her out. But then again, his one piece of luck was about to be scraped into a bucket. Dan tried to maneuver his way in front of Antwon, but as the hour wore on they ended up shoulder to shoulder at the edge of the wall. He eyed his orange piece.

“Hey Antwon, how exactly do you make your own luck?” He asked, nervously eyeing his scraper.

“I dunno. Whatever it is I really want, I go after it. Maybe I have to scrape gum to get there, but that’s the price you pay for having dreams, man.” He reached in front of Dan and dislodged the last of the pieces. Dan watched as the little blob of orange fell into the bucket and disappeared among the others. “Come on, I bet we can get Kiddy-Land before lunch.”

Although Kiddy-Land seemed like it would be worse, the regular cleaning crew had obviously paid it more attention, so Dan and Antwon arrived in the staff room early. As he grabbed his lunch bag from his locker, another crew came in. Dan looked up and saw Marissa. He fumbled around for a moment, giving her time to get her things. When she walked past him, he called out to her.

“Hey, Marissa?”

She turned. “Yeah? Dan, right?”

He smiled. “Right. Hey, are you busy after work today? I was going to go out and meet some friends downtown. Do you want to come?”

She hesitated, looking over at the girls waiting for her. “Uh, no, sorry. I’ve already got plans.”

“Oh. Another time, maybe?”

“Yeah, maybe.” She turned and left, faster than she normally moved.

Dan looked down at his lunch, feeling more like puking than eating. A hand clapped him on the back.

“That was rough,” Antwon said, in a laughing kind of condolence. “Come on, let’s eat.” Dan followed him back outside. They sat at the edge of the plaza, Dan keeping his back to the rest of the crew. He sighed a lot and Antwon worked to keep him cheered up. Maybe it was his jokes, or maybe it was just the crisp early fall air, but by the end of lunch he was ready to get back to work. Maybe one morning scraping gum wasn’t enough to get the kind of luck he wanted. But just in case, he got a piece of gum out of his pocket and stuck it in his mouth, chewing it into a perfect, sticky blob.


Written by: Leslie Martin
Photograph by: Jennifer Stevens

Life is a Winding Road

Posted on: April 28, 2016


On a backcountry road, the hills make my stomach go up and down, and realize that's how my life’s been for the past seventeen years. My life has always been a colorful catastrophe. I can hear my parent’s voices in my head, always trying to tell me what to do with my life. My mom’s voice--Turn your life around. Make something of yourself! You know what you are? You’re my biggest regret. I sit at a stop light, and in that flash second of the light turning from red to green, I realize I have the biggest decision to make. I can turn around right now and go home without anyone noticing I am gone, or I can go straight, down the path I choose for myself.

I am trying to decide, when I hear someone honk and say, “Come on lady! Move your car!”

I yell back, “Give me a minute! I haven't decided!”

“I don't care, just drive,” he says. Do I drive or let him go around me? Is this a sign that I should just go? I step on the gas.

It’s been three hours. I wonder if my parents will notice that I am gone, or even care. The voice in my head replays the argument my mother and I had before I left.

“Are you ever going to become an adult?”

“Are you ever going to become an adult role model I can look up to?”

What would it be like if there were auditions for adulthood? You could either have a call back or not make the cut, which would mean you would have to wait for another production of “life.” I probably won’t make the cut, because my mom didn’t rehearse the lines with me. If I tried to explain my relationship with my mom, it would sound like a cliché lifetime movie. My mother and I have a love/hate relationship: she tries to love me more and I try to hate her less.

Sure, my mom and I have had three or four mother-daughter moments.There was one time we went on a really fast roller coaster to the point where I thought we were going to be sick. In the end, we did get sick, but it was worth it. Another time on a family vacation, we went swimming in the ocean, and came out with seaweed all of over us. But all of that was before she found out that I was going to be the biggest disappointment in her life.

My dad and I don’t really talk. I think I make him uncomfortable. I don’t think he knows what to say to me or how to deal with me when I get myself into what they like to call an "anxiety headache situation." Whereas I like to call it "enjoying my youth," they interpret my every move as proof I don't give a damn about what I do with my life. But they don’t know the real me. I am very organized and responsible when it comes to school--all my binders are on point. When it comes to my boyfriend, Jess, I make sure I make time for him, but not so much that I get behind and stray from my academic studies. I make sure all my college apps are in on time, and I still manage to make time to relax without stressing too much about my grades. But they don’t think I am responsible in my studies, because I am not bringing home the grades they want to see, and I don’t compare to their expectations. So she makes subtle comments that make me feel like shit.

My mom has always told me she would be proud of me in anything I do ... as long as I come home on the honors list and get into an Ivy League school. They always wanted me to be the perfect child who they could brag about to all their friends. Some people might think my parents just want more for me than they had in their own lives, but they had everything. They graduated from Cornell and became well-known lawyers. The day I come home with an acceptance letter from Dartmouth, they will be proud to call me their daughter, but until then, it’s like they’ve disowned me.

When I was growing up, I would see my friend's parents tell them they loved them or hug them goodbye on their first day of school. I’ve never heard my mother or father say "I love you," not to each other or to me. On my first day of school, they wouldn’t even walk me inside. They told me they had to get to work and I would have to go in alone and, "have a good day, see you at 2:30." I was like, "Okay great, I'm only in kindergarten, but I guess I will try to figure out when 2:30 is."

I get so jealous of my friends and their families, talking about stuff they did in school and actually being interested in each other's lives. When my friends come over for dinner, my parents interrogate them about their futures and then make disappointed comments..

Once my friend Julie was over, and my dad says, “Julie, have you started thinking about where you want to go to college, or what you want to do when you graduate?”

Julie says, “I haven’t given it much thought...maybe doing some courses online and then traveling the world a little bit.”

My mom chimes in, “That’s what you want to do with your life?”

Julie’s face turns bright red and she says, “Well, yeah. My parents think it’s okay.”

Under my breath I say, “Wish I knew what that felt like.”

My parents roll their eyes and say, “Stop being so dramatic.”

I stop and grab some gas before I keep driving. I turn around to grab my wallet and see my small carry-on bag on the back seat, with not many clothes in it and not many toiletries. I had to pack lightly, because I needed to leave quickly this morning. Even though I ran away and don’t know what I am going to do, all I know is that there is no way in hell I am ever returning to that place I used to call my home. The day I packed my things, grabbed the car keys, and drove was the best day in my entire life.


Written by: Jen Meltzer
Photograph by: Fabrice Poussin

Before the Light

Posted on: April 26, 2016


He looked at the tree-covered mountains, worn down and rounded over millions of years. In one of the valleys was the house. He could not remember when he had last been there. His mother never spoke of the place. It existed on the receding edge of recollection. He did not know if the old house was even standing. His feelings, however, were another thing. They were sure.

“Caleb, if I’m reading this map right, the house should be in the valley on the other side of this ridge.”

The early autumn air was brisk and the wind prickled goosebumps on any exposed skin.

“Let me see, Ruth.” Caleb looked at the map and returned it to his sister. From his pocket, he took the copy of the information from the plat book and the directions the old-timer had given them in town.

“The path should be below us,” he said and started down the slope.

Ruth followed. Both slipped and slid down the slope, sometimes holding onto the pines to check their descent, until they arrived at the valley floor. The mountain’s arms, the ridges cradling the valley, and the trees blocked the sun. The sky was but a ribbon of blue. Caleb and Ruth were bathed in twilight.

Ruth looked around. “It’s kind of spooky down here. How far do we have to go?”

“A couple miles. We’d better get a move on it.”

“Why are we doing this? You never mentioned this until Mom died.”

“To you.”

“So why am I here?”

“Because you’re all the family I have.”

Caleb took off and Ruth followed.

The trees were old, their trunks broad, their limbs gnarled. Leaves were turning from green to yellow, crimson, and brown. In another month or two, they’d all be on the ground, and the trees would be naked skeletons. And come spring, there might be somewhere the sap would no longer flow, winter’s icy hand having taken away the life.

Caleb had no recollections of the forest, only those vague shadow-memories of the house, and the knowledge that his mother never talked about it. Ever. Neither did he have any memory of his father; his mother never talked about him, either. He only knew Ruth’s father. When he looked in the mirror, he saw nothing of his mother. He could only assume he was looking at some semblance of his father.

Even though she never spoke of him, Caleb had a feeling his mother had loved him at some point. For he’d often caught her looking at him, and the look was soft and tender.

But his mother was gone now, and Caleb was free to explore his past. That was why he was in the forgotten valley searching for a house lingering on the edge of memory.

“I envy you, Ruth.”

“Why?”

“Because there are no secrets.”

She nodded her head. After a time, she said, “Must be tough. Not knowing.”

“Yeah. It’s like not knowing who I am.”

“How’s finding this house going to change anything?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know if it will change anything.”

“Well, I hope you will still be you.”

Caleb smiled and put his arm around her, giving her a sideways hug.

“Seriously, Caleb, what will knowing the past do? It can’t change anything. What is, is.”

“I have to see. I have to find out what I can. It’s like there’s this big hole. It’s like those old maps where the western United States or the middle of Africa was left blank. There’s a blank spot in my life. I need to fill it in.”

She shrugged. “I don’t know that feeling. I just hope you don’t change.”

“I won’t.”

“But you don’t know that. What if you learn something really awful? Something you can’t live with,” Ruth said.

Caleb hadn’t thought of that. So intently was he focused on knowing, he’d never thought he wouldn’t want to know--that he might be sorry he’d dug up the past.

“You know what Gram always said.”

“Yeah. You look long enough, you’ll find a horse thief, and who wants to know that?” Ruth said, giggling.

“The difference is I have to know.”

“For your sake, I hope what you find is good.”

Caleb never thought it would be bad. He’d always assumed it would be good. What if it wasn’t? What if, as Ruth was saying, it was something he didn’t want to know? Something his mother had protected him from for his own good?

The narrow valley floor was darker now. The sun was beginning its descent towards evening and then the night. Ruth took out a flashlight from her backpack. It made little impact on the dusky gloom.

“It needs to get darker before the light can make a difference.”

The path rounded the end of the mountain’s arm. They were entering the valley where, according to the plat book and the map, the house should be.

This valley was wider and the light was brighter here. Caleb thought of the psalm with its valley of the shadow of death. Answers. Soon. He’d have them soon.

The valley was something like a box canyon. Up against the mountain was a grove of trees. Caleb looked around, but there was no sign of a house anywhere.

Ruth pointed. “Must be in those trees.”

They walked to the grove and entered it. In the center, Caleb found stones, barely visible, laid out in a square. There lay what was left of a fading memory. In the silence of the stones, lay his answers.

“No,” he whispered, and ran to where the house had been. Caleb turned in circles, arms outstretched, as if to touch what was no more, then fell to his knees.

Ruth kneeled next to him and put her arm around him.

He looked at her, his eyes wet. “Now I’ll never know.”

“There’s nothing here for you. Maybe there never was.” After a time, she said, “Let’s go home.”


Written by: CW Hawes
Photograph by: Samuel Zeller

Hunting Party

Posted on: April 21, 2016


Sunset Cloud loves the way they look, all the different colored wrappers spread out in the snowy glade. You never know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of the brightly-colored coverings. Generally, the bigger containers have more good stuff inside, but not always. Sometimes they have only one human and a bunch of inedible things, but that one human is often the sweet, melt-in-your-mouth kind. Sunset Cloud stays away from the smallest containers, the cramped, only-come-up-to-your-shin ones. They’re inevitably filled with the stringy, beef-jerky humans. She hates those. Old Treebreaker likes those the most, says they keep his jaw strong, but more likely it’s his constant talking. She likes a little fat with her meals. Good for her coat. Alpenglow says her hair shines like the river in the moonlight. Maybe she'll invite him for a swim in the moonlight when the thaw hits.

Treebreaker pushes closer to her. She growls at him, showing fang as she does. "Sorry," he says, continuing past her. She grabs his arm, her claws like daggers on his dull, gray fur. She remembers when it was as bright as the leaves of the aspens before the snow, but that was a long time ago when she could still walk under her mother's legs and her feet were smaller than a human’s. Now she’s the tallest in the clan, and her footprints draw spotters from all directions.

"Don't move.”

He stops, head hung, eyes downcast. She pities him, his strength leached away by the last hundred years. She knows it will be her one day. The more cubs she bears, the more she feels the passing of time and the weight of mortality. So she fights it the only way she knows how--y ensuring that the name of the Sunrise Clan Sasquatch of the Middle Mountains will go down in legend. For too many years the Sasquatches of the Western Water Clan have been preeminent among clans. They hold records for both the closest encounter with humans and for the number of encounters. And don't think they don't brag about that at every gathering. She's getting tired of hearing how they've found the perfect time of day and lighting to show just enough to keep the humans coming back but never enough for absolute proof. And the Western Water Clan is wasteful, too. They eat almost none of the humans they find, preferring to play with them instead. They get the humans all hopped up and excited and then just let them go. Of course, they can live on loggers and bear alone. Food’s a little more scarce here.

Sunset Cloud’s expectations for tonight are sky-high. The last path she made, over rocks and through piles of fallen pine needles with the occasional enormous print just clear enough to get hopes up, was a work of art. The humans started entering the glade an hour or so ago, after a two-day walk from the nearest road. Humans walked slowly and ponderously in the snow. Nightfall forces them to stop and settle. Tomorrow, they’ll get up early to look for her. She counted eleven containers, all bright colors. She could see a few of the humans moving around, doing whatever it is humans did.

A loud shuffling from behind her announces Alpenglow’s arrival. Snow falls from the trees with a soft pitter-patter as he slides to a stop behind her. Muted as the sound is, it still attracts the attention of at least one of the humans in the clearing below.

She grabs Alpenglow, pressing him deeper into the shadows. "Quiet,” she hisses.

He peers around her shoulder. "So many. Are we going to get one tonight? I hear it's easy when they are in their dens. The bears do it all the time."

"That’s why bears get hunted," Sunset Cloud answers.

His mouth opens in an O of understanding, and he nods. He’s not the brightest squatch, but he’s strong and good-looking. She probably should have left him behind on this trip, but the nights are long and cold this time of year. A little company makes them warmer and brighter. His red hair feels silky under her hands as she pats him reassuringly. "Don't worry. We’ll get one tomorrow. After we play with them for a while."

Alpenglow hugs her, smiling, and she leans into him. He’s almost as tall as she is, his feet almost as large. Maybe he would be a good father for her cubs. If she’s lucky, they’ll have his looks and her brains. "Back to the cave," she says. "I'll meet you there after I lay some more tracks."

Alpenglow leaves with a nose nuzzle, Treebreaker with a grumble. She ignores both of them, caught up in the fantasy of knocking the Western Water clan off their high perch. As the sun slips behind the mountains, a flash of light catches her eye. Two humans are watching her from across the snow. The game is on.

From the other side of the glade, the man and he woman watch her go. The man drops his high-powered binoculars. The woman looks through her scope a little longer.

"Should we go after them?" he asks.

“There’s three of them, two of us.”

“But we have guns.” He points his rifle upslope.

“One of them is ten feet tall,” she says.

"Good point. I just can't wait to show up to the BRFO Conference with an actual capture. Screw those Washington guys and their unfocused videos."

“Tomorrow.” She smiles. What he lacks in planning, he makes up for in enthusiasm and looks. "Don't count your sasquatches before they're caught," she cautions.

They head back down to the tents. “I hate winter camping," the guy complains.

“I bet we can find a way to get warm.”

“Now you’re talking,” he grabs her arm, hurrying her.

She looks back up the hill. Tomorrow.

Written by: Amy Wasp-Wimberger
Photograph by: Michael Ken

Gone Fishing

Posted on: April 19, 2016


I remember the night that myself and Blue Louis took some time out with a bottle in the abandoned petrol station before the bad times, after being freaked out of a bar by beefy rednecks, flannel shirts so stiff with sweat they were like insect shells, thin but hard and keeping all their whisky-squished innards in.

Didn’t help that Louis - Gods bless him - was all decked out like he was fresh from the jazz joint in a beat-up snazz suit and green fedora with cigarettes stuck in the band. He always had those damn cigarettes shoved in there like the press photographer in a Bogart noir. Didn’t help that I had ripped jeans and mussed blond hair and was street-skinny, like a cheap angel of the lanes bestowing miracles by the hour.

‘What brings you here, boys?’ That’s what one of the big guys says to him, and let's not forget that Louis is dark dark dark and you can see Mayan pyramids in his cheekbones, and these guys were moonshine brewers like you get out here with their terrible fucking fear of the dark.

‘Uh…I work for a paper.’ Tryin' to keep that cigar-smoke voicebox of his nice and smooth and easy.

‘Oh? There a story in these parts?’ A couple whiskeys slid over the sticky toffee bar to us. Some hulker in a shady corner mutters something as Louis pays up and the others around him chuckle like their mouths are full of gravel, and I start to hear banjo music in my head.

'He gone fishin.' One grizzled guy with a grey beard like a big smokey tongue flopping down from his lips nods at me. 'Caught a pretty one.'

And I hear the word ‘faggot’ and that's when I start praying, Oh sweet and holy Jesus let us get the fuck out of here before we get torn in two down by the river somewhere. I'll give you kind deeds and clothes for the needy and Oh holy mother of God, I'll find you some real gigantic fresh red roses, you know, the ones you like and Oh Saint Jude who watches over lost causes I'll take out that ad in the paper for you, just get us outta here or make us fireproof.

'This?' Louis looks at me like he's never seen me before. 'Stupid kid was tryin' to jump the trains. Like the old hobos.'

'Lose your life that way, son.' One of the werebears says, and the others start nodding and talking, remember when so-and-so stopped off at the railroad shack and when the train pulled up they saw something between the carriages and God above there was a leg caught up in there.

Louis shakes his head like I'm a dumb dog. 'Right? Coulda found himself landing both sides of the state,' and because these lumberdicks are rough and tumble types he looks like he's gonna cuff me round the head for a second but I see him think the better of it because let's not forget in this unbreathable place that Louis is dark dark dark.

'Huh, that's a bunch of starry-eyed crap, hopping the trains these days. You runnin' away from something?' Same guy looks me over intently, like he's trying to figure out if they need to turn me in. This place looks like it still has Wanted posters up on the walls and I'm busy winging sweet nothings up to the vaulted ceiling above this one and its golden inhabitants.

'Nossir, trying to find a job in the city, where's he's goin'.' They look up-and-down at my torn jeans and laugh.

'And you, paperboy?'

Lou shrugs like he isn't sweating blood right now. ‘Just passing through. Gotta be back in the office Monday.'

We downed our gulping whiskeys that could fireball the germs off your lips and backed out of the joint slowly, like it was full of wolves who’d leap if you moved too quick. Soon as we were out the door we whirled our bootheels away down the dust track back to the car, shrieking the banjo duel music at each other. Louis jammed it into first and pulled away from that Ol’ Boy freak circus fast as the wheels would turn. Picked up an amber bottle at some no-hope trailer and blazed out into the desolate desert road.

Hit an old gas station, looming out of the darkness all squat and skeletal. Parked up and rolled a special smoke and sat watching the stars. There’s really no light out there, see, it’s like the nicotine yellow stained sky you know in the city just peels away, and there’s all this universe underneath it. It was like when you see reflections in a lake or a puddle and wonder if you could fall through it into the reflection world. I turned my head to watch Louis all strung out along the sand like a big cat.

I believe I said something nonsensical and beautiful about the universe and the microscope of God out here and the stars being our atom-selves. He shook his head and said:

‘You know, if it had come down to pig-squealing time, I just want you to know that I woulda gone first.’

‘What the fuck, Lou?’

He turned, and in that totally unselfconscious way he had of touching other beings he stroked my hair and my star-stoned face.

‘Because I love you, man, you’re my best friend.’

I thought about this a moment and said:

'But I woulda seen what was coming, I mean, thank you for your consideration and all but...No, no...That wouldn't have helped me at all.'

At some point in that long galaxy gaze we passed out. Comes to something beautiful when you wake up in an old petrol station in the arms of your best friend still wearing his green fedora. The rest of the way we played I Spy and the sand and the scrub and the sky all began with the same S.


Written by: Natty Mancini
Photograph by: Daniel Charles Ross

The Commute

Posted on: April 14, 2016


The transit driver gets back onto the car carrying a leather, sand-colored briefcase in both hands and raises it high above his head. “Does this belong to anyone?”

Almost all the passengers in the lead car look up. A young red haired lady sitting in the seat ahead of me takes her earbuds out and looks quizzically at the passenger sitting next to her.

“What did he say?”

The man looks up from his reader. “I don’t know, something about the briefcase.”

The woman turns as he passes her. Our eyes meet.

“He’s asking if the bag belongs to anyone,” I say.

She shrugs, turns around and replaces her earbuds. The driver walks through the aisle, still holding the briefcase over his head. I can hear him ask the same question as he enters the second car.

The driver returns, carrying the bag like a football under his arm. He adjusts his Port Authority cap. He raises the bag high over his head again. “Last call.” No one even acknowledges him this time.

“Come on, already,” a teenage girl shouts.

The driver returns to his seat, places the briefcase at his feet, and puts the car in gear. My eyes follow his every action. That is a beautiful bag. I slouch in the hard pew-like seat and try to get a quick catnap before the rat race begins.

“Nice bag, huh?” The man sitting next to me interrupts my plan. He removes his glasses off. “I was shopping for bags online about two weeks ago. Saw one just like that, you know, the saddle bag look.”

“Yeah.” I nod, hoping he’ll take the hint.

“Yep. It cost almost twelve hundred dollars.” He replaces his glasses and returns his attention to the newspaper in his lap.

I turn my head. “I believe it.”

“Who would leave a beauty like that?” He picks up his newspaper. Our conversation is over.

I can see the bag clearly from where I sit. It even has locks on the two buckles. Who would leave a bag like that? I wonder what’s in it. Maybe it’s full of hundred dollar bills from a bank robbery. Nah. It’s probably stuffed with important documents. The person who lost it is probably going to get fired or hung out to dry. Or both. No, with a bag like that, she’s the boss. Maybe somebody’s carrying their lunch. Trying to look important. Nobody would forget an expensive briefcase like that one. The motion of the train brings me out of my thoughts. Everyone else has returned to their business. One fellow traveler opens his newspaper. The headline, in bold print, erases the grin on my face. Suicide Bomber claims the lives of fifteen in an Iraqi marketplace. I can read it from four seats away.

Wow, that’s crazy. People just going about their daily lives, and all of a sudden their world is ripped apart – dead. I take another look at the bag. It could be a bomb! I push that thought away. But it’s a stubborn and persistent demon. It could be--no one would just forget an expensive bag like that! The bag was heavy, you could tell by the way the driver held the thing. You couldn’t miss that. What if it is a bomb? I swallow hard.

The first terrorist bomb attack on an American public transportation system. I read last week about how the transportation systems and seaports are the most vulnerable spots in our security. This is crazy!

The tie around my neck is suddenly too tight; my lips are parched. I can smell the odor of my fear seeping through my new white shirt. My sound of my heart slamming against my ribs is like the ticking of an old clock in a room at night. All the other passengers are in their own world. It’s a bomb. At the next stop, I’m getting off this train. I’m going to stand right by the door.

"Next stop, First Avenue Station. First Avenue Station, Next stop," the automated voice announces.

First Avenue Station, the first station underground in the inbound direction. Underground, that’s a great place to set off a blast. Got to get off! Wait... wait, if I stand by the door I’ll be nearer the blast. Gotta get off before the train enters the tunnel.

Think!

I stand and pull my handkerchief from my back pocket to mop my forehead. My fingers do a tap dance on the cool metal handrail. The car approaches the tunnel to the entrance of the First Avenue Station.

Think, Alan! Think!

I pull the stop request wire violently.

"Stop Requested. Stop Requested,” the automated voice sounds out.

Everyone is oblivious to the danger. The train isn‘t slowing!

Perspiration showers down my face. An older man wearing a shabby, two-button polyester blend sports jacket opens his mouth to speak.

A monstrous roar drowns the man’s words; a blast so loud I grimace in pain. The shock wave somersaults me like crumpled newspaper. I crash into the lap of an older woman; my legs swing around and catch the side of her face. I can feel the crack of her neck. My eyes snap open.

Parts of arms and legs tumble through the car like ten pins. Screams are cut off in mid shriek.

Blood splatters paint the windows and walls of the car.

The world is black.

Then bright.

“Sir, sir? He’s conscious.”

The nameplate stitched on the navy blue shirt reads Acosta.

“Sir, I’m an EMT. Everything is just fine. We have managed to stabilize all your vitals. It’s nothing really serious. You had a minor panic attack.”


Written by: Charles Stone
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Standardized Education

Posted on: April 12, 2016


“It’s a simple twenty-seven step process, Ms. Dean.”

“Un-huh.”

“None of the other employees in your sector are having any issues.”

“Right. Sorry.”

“We value your contributions, Ms. Dean. You’ve served this institution faithfully for the past seven...?”

“Eight and a half.”

“...eight and a half years. But surely you realize that as part of our continuous improvement process we need to collect exemplars demonstrating actual improvement. It’s quite simple.”

“You’re quite simple.”

“What’s that?”

“Yes, it’s quite simple, I said.”

“Right. Yes. Quite right. As I say, we need to actually be improving to show continuous improvements. And a day like you had yesterday is clearly detrimental to our longitudinal data. So how do you see us moving forward?”

“I feel certain you see the path forward more clearly than I do, and you’ll be delighted to tell me all about it.”

“Just so, Ms. Dean, just so. But we do value your input.”

“Right.“

“To move forward Ms. Dean, first we must move backwards! A full review is in order.”

“Of course it is.”

“Let’s rewind all the way back to the morning of November twelfth when you took step one. Do you remember?”

“Who could forget such a momentous occasion?”

“Ms. Dean. I do have to point out that at times during this conversation your tone has been less than enthusiastically cooperative.”

“Has it? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Yes, well, in fact it has.”

“Well I’m sorry you interpreted my tone as less than enthusiastic. Perhaps a coffee?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Ms. Dean. What would you like?”

“One cream, two sugars please.”

“How terribly neglectful of me. I do apologize.”

“I accept your apology. This coffee is excellent, by the way.”

“Wonderful, Ms. Dean. Now, returning to step one.”

“November twelfth!”

“Yes, November twelfth. On that morning, what were you to do when you entered the Centre?”

“Log in to the platform.”

“And did you log into the platform?”

“Yes.”

“Immediately?”

“Perhaps I took my coat off first.”

“It takes...let me refer to the spreadsheet here...nineteen minutes for you to hang up your coat?”

“It has a lot of zippers. And straps. Also a buckle.

“Really?”

“Yes. And I may have ducked into Mr. Brickelhurst’s workstation across the hall for a quick work-related convo.”

“And what topic would this work-related convo with Mr. Brickelhurst have featured?”

“I don’t recall.”

“Ms. Dean, you are aware, are you not, that our most recent quarterly data roundup revealed that work-related consultations with non-supervisory colleagues were responsible for a 19.7% loss of productivity company-wide? Parallel-level co-workers rarely have answers to work-related questions, and that type of conversation, ‘convo’, as you so charmingly termed it, amounts to a mutual head-scratching session with nothing to show for it. I suggest, as was clearly bulleted on page nineteen of the QDR, that you restrict such ‘work related convos’ to supervisors only.”

“Noted.”

“Moving on to step two.”

“Arrrgh!”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, swallowed coffee down the wrong pipe. Are we going to go through all of these?”

“All of the steps?”

“Yes.”

“Well that was the notion, Ms. Dean. A thorough review. Do you have another idea?”

“How about we skip on to the most interesting ones?”

“Define interesting.”

“The ones where trouble is most definitely a-brewing.”

“I see. You want me to leave off reviewing the routine steps you executed adequately and move on to the catastrophic, is that it?”

“I’m sure those steps are clearly noted on your spreadsheet.”

“Indeed they are, Ms. Dean. But will we miss something, I wonder? Some sort of precipitating circumstance or series of actions that may reveal themselves in the steps leading up to the really glaring screw-ups?”

“Let’s start with the glaring screw-ups, and then at the end, if we feel there are any loose ends, we’ll go back through all the steps and apply the full rigor/tedium treatment.”

“I’m not sure... ”

“I’ll buy lunch. Off site.”

“Really? Fair enough. Let’s see here. Ah! Step nineteen. That was a real doozy!”

“Oh, yeah. I remember step nineteen. Total recall on that one.”

“I mean, to think that after seven years...”

“Eight and a half.”

“Eight and a half years, you could still mix up where the electrodes attached!”

“I know, right? What a dingdong! That was so my bad.”

“I think we can both agree that the misplaced electrodes were the start of the cascade of incompetence and damage that continued...oh where are we? Yes! From steps nineteen through twenty-four.”

“Yep. All of those were unequivocally terrible.”

“The scrambling of the geometry port... “

“Unfortunate.”

“The reversal of the levels dial—third instead of fifth and fifth instead of third.”

“More bad luck.”

“And now we’re left with level five products who can’t tell a rhombus from a trapezoid!”

“A real humdinger.”

“It’s going to take months to sort them back out. Expensive months. Months in which our stakeholders were expecting to receive dividends, not to endure the continued investment of time, energy, and money.”

“A humdinger, as I said.”

“I mean, after all that, what you did on step twenty-seven almost makes logical sense.”

“That’s what I was thinking at the time.”

“Turning the scrambled products loose in the sensory deprivation pit may have seemed like a solution to the disastrous events of the morning. But you do realize the sensory deprivation pit is for special circumstances only, and your clearance level does not authorize you to make that call?”

“I do realize.”

“I’ve heard you and some of the other non-supervisory employees refer to the sensory deprivation pit as ‘Recess.’ I’m sure you understand this is inappropriate.”

“Your face is inappropriate.”

“Sorry?”

“Quite inappropriate, I said.”

“Well, Ms. Dean, I’m glad we’ve sorted this out. I’m scheduling you for a two-hour retraining session, and then we’ll expect you back in the workstation, continuously improving away. Now where shall we meet for lunch?”


Written by: Heidi Nibbelink
Photograph by: Matt Crump

Nights in the Hollow

Posted on: April 7, 2016


Remember the night the fire nearly escaped us? Of course you do. Britt Myerson almost turned the whole park into an ashtray, bottles of lighter fluid crumpled in both hands. “Xiuhtechuhtli! I praise you!” Pyro bastard. Did you hear he’s in real estate now? Makes a killing. Maybe the rest of us backed the wrong horse. God-wise, I mean.

I take my kids down there every now and then, to the hollow, to see how many trout or bass we can catch before someone succumbs to screen withdrawal. You will be happy, I think, to know that our summer left permanent marks on the place. Remember when that volleyball player – someone’s cousin – casually mentioned that she wanted to hear OutKast and Jason Zapp lept up, announced he had the CD in his car, and proceeded to drive his Grand Am down the tiny dirt trail until he got it wedged between two trees?

They have a “NO AUTOMOBILES” sign at the trailhead now. The Zapp Rule. One day I heard a woman say “Like anyone would ever try to take a car through here!” I let the remark pass, uncorrected.

Nowadays, ten guys would whip out their phones and, I’m sorry Ms. Jackson, the party would receive an eternal jukebox; effort-free music for as long as anyone desired. Where’s the chivalry in that? I understand that it’s dumb to get your car stuck in a tree, but when’s the last time you were so passionate about something that you’d drive through the fucking woods for it?

Impulses need time to linger, to shapeshift into longing.

After he struck out with the volleyballer, DJ Zapp took refuge in that goofy old song he loved, the one that was in the car rental commercials recently - ommaway, ommaway - and he stomped around the fire pretending to play a flute, masking the sting of public rejection. You perched on a stump, performing spasmodic karate moves that I later realized were precise replications of the real music video. Why and when had you possibly seen that video?! Everyone was dying laughing, like they always did. You had all the reference points, had always seen the movie, heard of the band, knew all the words. How I ached for your approval.

People were fighting and fucking, pissing and puking in the brush, smoking bowls in the shadows. The whole year went like that, one bonfire to another, alliances forged and forgotten, all of us together, always, like a reality show without the cameras. “Where’s the party at tonight?” Everyone asked that, and everyone got the same answer. Sports heroes and sensitive hippies from the Montessori, come on down. A party for every stoplight in a one stoplight town.

Right before the cops came, I was on my back in the tall grass past the far side of the lake, throat syrupy thick from one too many Big Gulps filled 50/50 with Mountain Dew and the cheapest vodka on the market. Wolfsbane? Wolf’s Breath? I drank so much of it that its name disappeared down the memory hole, though the snarling silver wolf on the label stayed with me.

I don’t remember how I got there--maybe Xiuhtechuhtli was looking out for me after all--but Gabi Giroux and I were side-by-side, staring up at infinite sky, probably thinking we were the first teenagers to discover the joys of alcohol and astronomy.

“Isn’t it majestic?” she said, sarcasm and sincerity blending like peanut butter and chocolate, like Wolf’s Breath and the Dew.

When the police Maglites started cutting across the trees, she said “Cops are here” as matter-of-factly as if they were just another carload of invited guests.

She inched closer and put her head on my shoulder and continued talking, now in a whisper, about PJ Harvey’s Brooklyn rooftops and Joan Didion’s Hollywood parties, about her secret sketchpad teeming with savage caricatures, about the conventional sterility of our parents’ lives, about how much we hated our hometown (which all of our friends, family, teachers and casual acquaintances knew) and how scared we were to leave (which we’d admitted to no one, including ourselves). A thistle pierced the small of my back and my Big Gulp-battered bladder cried for relief, but there was no chance I’d betray our location, or give Gabi any cause whatsoever to think I was restless. I wanted the sun to die and the cops to live forever, humdrum Highlanders searching the hollow for underage drinkers as Gabi and I grew old together in the prairie grass.

Instead, satisfied with their taming of the teenagers, and no doubt restless to return to their speed traps, the cops abandoned us. I’m not sure whether they even handed out any tickets. Someone said they snatched a loaded cooler as “evidence.” I wouldn’t be surprised. Gabi and I kept talking for a while, but I was already on alert, already feeling the ache of absence. Soon enough, the four dreaded words: we should get back.

Some survivors had already straggled back to the campsite, defiantly feeding fresh logs to the flames. Others, like Gabi, decided to quit while they were ahead, and took their trashed but ticket-free selves back to town. You don’t want to make small town cops drive out of their way twice in one night.

That’s when you had the bright idea: let’s walk home. Let’s cut through the fields, trek to town, buy sausage biscuits at the Quik-N-EZ, and salute the sunrise. Everyone else balked, but I was ready. This was my night. I could have done anything.

Things got heavy during our walk. No more karate-dancing. You talked about the “horrible banality of family trauma.” You even cried a little. You got angry. Were people just needing to unburden themselves that night, I wondered, or was there something particular about me?

I steered myself toward the latter interpretation. I never knew where I fit in, and now here was the answer. I’d be the co-conspirator hiding in weeds and tromping through pastures, the omnipresent shoulder, the last guy standing.

I was giddy and greasy-chinned as we settled onto a bench in the park, two wolves with four biscuits, snickering as a morning jogger side-eyed us. Remember that?

I don’t remember any of this. You sure it was me?

Of course it was you! Who else could it have been?

I don’t know.

I mean, I could have sworn. It’s always been you in my head.


Written by: Adam McKibbin
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll

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