1:1 - Sarah Scott

Posted on: January 28, 2016

Interviewed by Mark Killian
Welcome back to another edition of 1:1. Mark Killian here, standing next to a phone attached to a cement wall somewhere between America and Canada. I should be stirring maple syrup into piping hot tea and chatting with Sarah Scott at the moment, but instead, this interview will be coming to you live from a Canadian holding cell.

While I try to find her number, you take a gander some of my favorite Sarah Scott stories including Anderson Ridge, Someone Once Loved, Junum the Young, and her most recent piece, The Treaty of Niagara, 2015.



1:1000: Hi Sarah! It’s me, Mark. Thanks for answering.

SARAH SCOTT: Is everything okay? I waited at the coffee shop for two hours, but you never showed.

1:1000: Funny story, I’m in a holding cell on the US/Canada border, but don’t be alarmed. The Mounties have been characteristically polite, and best part is, there will now be a recording of our interview!

SS: What!?

1:1000: Oh it’s nothing. Just a little misunderstanding. Long story short, if your passport is expired, you shouldn’t borrow your friend’s and try to sneak into Canada–especially if said friend has a history drug-related offenses.

SS: Shouldn’t you call a lawyer or something?

1:1000: Lawyer, schmawywer! I promised you a 1:1 interview and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. So, without further adieu, what is it that you do for a living? Please say defense attorney.

SS: I’m afraid not. I work as a Senior Advisor–Major Project for a Canadian university which is basically a whole bunch of words that when strung together nobody ever understands at all. Basically I work with health researchers who are applying for large institutionally supported funding opportunities. I review and edit some sections of these grants and some sections I write.

1:1000: Have you ever helped someone raise their bail funding?

SS: I can’t say that I have.

1:1000: Shucks. Well, I'm not going to lie, that's not the easiest job description to understand, but it sounds important, which is important. Can you speak to some of the research you've helped push forward? If so, are there any projects in particular you felt really attached to? If not, I'll leave it at that.

SS: There is always such interesting stuff going on that sometimes the grants I'm involved with are more mind blowing incredible than any science fiction I have ever read, but the research isn't mine and not mine to talk about. What I love about my job is that it involves constant learning, constant exposure to new things. I could spend four months working on grants dealing with juvenile diabetes and then I spend the next four months discovering cryo-electron microscopy. To be playing a part in helping these amazing people secure funds for their research, to watch them go on and work towards changing the world–it's very rewarding, even if my contribution is microscopically small. I'm very lucky to have a job I love so much.

1:1000: Okay, I officially have career envy. That sounds INCREDIBLE, and meaningful. How often does the subject matter of these grants work their way into your stories?

SS: All the time. Never any specifics or anything, but the amazing science I am exposed to at work never stops inspiring me.

1:1000: Is that where your story Arcadia came from? This thirst for exploration?

SS: Yes probably in part. I wrote that when the Internet was buzzing with talk of KIC 8462852, the star they said was surrounded by alien megastructures. I guess I had space on the brain.

1:1000: That story piqued my imagination as well, but I didn't have the discipline to write something down (whomp whomp). So how did you find yourself in this career? Assuming I didn't sell my soul for the marketing industry, what would I need to do to find myself in your position?

SS: It wasn't a career I went looking for really. I think that is my style, I just get swept along and fall into whatever is waiting for me. I'm not a planner. I studied Anthropology and English literature. When I graduated I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted something different before venturing back into academia. I wanted to travel and explore the world and explore myself, but I had a little sister that I couldn't bring myself to be far from. I was 19 years old when she was born and I loved her so damn much, so I couldn't travel too far while she was young. I got a job at the university and did well so it led to another job, and another one after that, and so on and so forth until I ended up in my current position. At one point I contemplated leaving and moving to Italy, but I met my husband and then suddenly here I am...married, two kids, mortgage. My whole life is a happy accident, it is actually how I started writing fiction too.

1:1000: Emphasis on the happy! You've traveled, you've explored career options, and you ended up in a job you love, surrounded by loved ones. Makes me question life choices–present circumstances included. Speaking of family, I LOVE your stories on the matter. Anderson Ridge is a real standout for me. The way you handled the son's overactive imagination and the family hierarchy was just lovely. And your latest, Treaty of Niagara, is just downright hilarious! When you take a child's perspective in a story, is that you thinking back on your childhood, or more you trying to put yourself into your children's shoes? Additionally, how do other family members inspire your stories?

SS: It's interesting to me that you mention Anderson Ridge first. That story is way more connected to family, specifically my family, than is probably obvious. The story was inspired by my Grandmother and her brother. She grew up quite wealthy in North Vancouver. Her family had a logging business and she spent part of the year living a life of decadence in the city and part of the year in the bush. She was the lady who could teach you perfect table manners for having tea with the queen and how to bait a hook to catch lake trout all in the same breath. She was amazing. When she died, her brother told a story about watching his mother and sister in a log cabin in the bush. His story was beautiful and it stuck with me. I am a lot like my grandmother in many ways, and many of my fondest memories were with her. That story is for her.

1:1000: Your grandmother sounds film worthy, and your story does your ancestors proud. Is Treaty of Niagara equally biographical?

SS: She was the best grandmother I could have asked for and an amazing woman. And no, Treaty of Niagara couldn't be farther from my family. I wrote it while at Great Wolf Lodge with my kids. None of us like attention very much. Me, my husband, the kids, we are all shy, but you see people filming themselves and taking a bajillion selfies and the whole thing is so foreign to me. The quest for fame seems like such a strange thing, but we have these platforms like YouTube where anybody can have some shred of celebrity. The family in that story was nothing like my own, but I wanted to try to put myself in the minds of those people. I think maybe that is what I am always doing when I write, I'm trying to understand some perspective other than my own. It's the unsatisfied anthropologist in me trying to get out.

1:1000: Well, I’m relieved to hear your children are nothing like the little monster in Treaty. I too am a little baffled by the families who care so much about their view count and social impressions. I also think it's funny that you made the children in Treaty more social media savvy than your own, but you left the parent kind of disinterested/burdened by it. I often wonder who is to blame in those situations, the children or the parents? Who is really asking for the recordings?

SS: Yeah that's a good question. I think I chose to present the parent child relationship the way I did because the other version of that story has been told. I guess I tried to imagine what I would do if one of my kids wanted to do things like that. Your kids have their own personalities and expose you to things you don't always have any interest in yourself, but you do it for them.

1:1000: Were you concerned at all that readers would think you were writing about your own family?

SS: I am ALWAYS concerned about that. I guess it's a hazard of writing. I worry that people will think the opinions of my characters are my own. I also worry that my family may think things I have written are about them. I think most writers borrow from real life at times. I have incorporated scenes that were inspired by an interaction with people in my real life into a larger story because I thought it fit, but that doesn't mean the story has anything to do with that scene from real life. I gave one of my characters my best friend’s name, because she has this crazy middle name, but the character had nothing else in common with my friend.

1:1000: Well, I think your anthropological approach to writing is brilliant. I try to do the same, but I sometimes fear the characters I create in the process are shaped by stereotypes. How do you keep that in check?

SS: I try to be empathetic. I think empathy is the thing which is most missing from the world. It is the role of the anthropologist to try and leave your bias at the door–to try to understand someone else's motivations from their perspective, and I try very hard to do that. I imagine that there are times when I do this better than others. We are only ever capable of truly seeing through our own eyes, so I try to be aware of what my perspective brings to an assessment of people and situations and I think the challenge of understanding others is a good challenge to engage in, not just for the sake of art, but for the sake of humanity.

1:1000: Agreed. Empathy seems to be in dwindling supplies these days, especially amongst BORDER AGENTS. Speaking of nations, are you a Canadian national?

SS: Born and raised!

1:1000: How does Canada influence your writing? Writers are often identified by the part of the world where they write, so what makes a "Canadian" writer?

SS: I grew up in Toronto and spent all my childhood summers in Vancouver with the aforementioned Grannie. I now live in Hamilton. I think all these places and lots of other amazing parts of Canada have influenced my writing. I want to write stories that capture the beauty of these places and the people who live in them. I also read a ton of Canadian authors, so that influences my writing as well. I started reading Margaret Atwood at 12 and have gobbled up every drop of her work since.

1:1000: Canadians always seem to be so happy with their motherland. Lucky! Assuming this little legal matter doesn’t get me permanently barred me from your wonderful country, what’s the one city I HAVE to visit?

SS: One city in all of Canada is hard to pick...It would depend what you are looking for, but since I miss the place so much right now, I will say Vancouver. Spend the day on white rock beach for me.

1:1000: That sounds much more pleasant than where I’ve spent this day. Anyway, of all the countries you've traveled to, which have inspired you the most?

SS: I have traveled most frequently to Italy since I have family in Tuscany. The beauty of Tuscany is breathtaking. It makes you want to write–to find the words that are strong enough to take a piece of that beauty home with you. But, I think visiting Paris has influenced my writing more than any other place I have travelled to. It was the first city in Europe I visited. I was 11 my first time there and I didn't have any words that were big enough to capture the awe I felt. I think that trip did so much to shape me in ways I may not even fully realize.

1:1000: Parlez vous francais?

SS: Oui. bien sure je parle Francais.

1:1000: Once again, I’m stricken with life envy. So, Carmen Sandiego, what's a the top of your travel bucket list?

SS: The top of my bucket list would definitely be traveling from one end of Canada to the other, from Victoria, British Columbia all the way out to St. John's Newfoundland I would take the train wherever possible.

1:1000: Enough with the patriotism already!

SS: I would also love to see Petra in Jordan.

1:1000: Thank you! Have you been on any America escapades?

SS: A few trips down to Florida and into Oregon but that's about it.

1:1000: Well that’s a few more ventures than I’ve taken to your turf, but enough about travel. Let’s talk about your audience. Every writer writes with someone or some group of people in mind. Who are the readers that fuel you? Your husband? Your sister? Your best friend? Do you ever share your stories with your children?

SS: I never really write for the kids. I make up bedtime stories for them, but I don't write them down. I started writing to entertain myself. I had a three-week-old baby and a broken knee and I would have gone stir crazy without something to do, so I started writing. Before finding 1:1000, pretty much all of the writing I had done was for HitRECord, an online community that I accidentally became a part of, and that inspired me to start writing. Recently though, I have taken my writing to new places and that causes me to consider audience more than I had in the past. I suppose I don't really know who my audience is, and maybe that is missing from my writing? But maybe I like it that way? Maybe I want whoever stumbles across a story of mine and reads it to take away whatever they choose? Maybe I don't want to orchestrate their response too much and just hope that they have one?

1:1000: Well, and I mean this in the best way possible, thank goodness you broker your knee, and I hope the only thing that lingers from that injury is your passion for writing.

SS: Let’s just say I won't be running any time soon, but I am glad I discovered writing. I can't imagine my life without it, and it's only been 2 years.

1:1000: You could've fooled us.

SS: Ahh shucks...thanks.

1:1000: Any final things you'd like the world to know about you or your writing?

SS: Nope. Just thanks for reading.

1:1000: Lovely. Well in that case, I'll let you get back to your family and whatever you are currently writing at the moment.

SS: Good timing...I now have a two-year-old and a five-year-old climbing on my head.

1:1000: Now I kind of wish you were more into social media so I could see this adorable scene.

SS: It's half adorable and half torture...they have all these sharp angles...tiny little elbows and knees...

1:1000: Speaking of torture, there’s a man in a Mountie hat heading my way, and it’s not Pharrell Williams. Wish me luck!


The 2015 Treaty of Niagara

Posted on: January 26, 2016

The child may be small, but she is mighty. Mighty from the day she was born, entering the world not with a wail, but with a roar. You want to admire the force of her -- to call it strength of character - but the truth is that her ferocity has always overwhelmed you.

Saturdays have become dangerous ground in your home. Too many hours unscripted, not enough activities in the world, and playdates are so fleeting. Your husband hides in the garage while you preside over the day’s activities. You are in attendance at a royal court; one made of glitter glue and pipe cleaners.

You feel her watching you from across the craft table and you know it is best – safest – to avoid eye contact. You concentrate on the badge you are stitching onto her Girl Guide uniform. This one – the Modeling badge -- will be affixed above the Social Media Literacy badge and below the Make-up Application badge. You flinch as the pin suddenly stabs through the dark blue material piercing your finger. The purple marker across the table is still clutched in the soft pink fist but it is no longer moving. The stillness sends shivers down your spine.

“Mommy?” Sweet as syrup. Don’t look up.

“Yes Muffin?” You are squinting at the needle and thread -- all your attention on that task.

“I was thinking we really need to step it up with my YouTube channel.”

“Ya think?” Needle goes in, needle goes out. You avoid the big blue eyes framed in doll-like lashes. You know those lashes are fluttering violently in your direction.

“My subscribers need something…more.”

Another stitch, and only a few more before you are finished with this badge. “Like what?” You know it’s a trap, but there’s no way to avoid it. The question had to be asked or you risk the accusation of being a non-attentive parent. There is no worse thing than appearing to be a self-absorbed mother. You would be shunned from the home and school committee meetings, invites to Jungle Jam Indoor Gymboree would be withdrawn. The shame would be unlivable.

“I thought Great Wolf Lodge could be a super way to get some new content for my fans.” Butterfly flutters, chicklet smile.

“Great Wolf Lodge?” You say it with your voice tight, your eyes squinted as though you have never heard of such a thing. What is this place of which you speak -- this abode of wolves and greatness? The ruse isn’t working, she knows you are false.

“I thought a week at the lodge would be the perfect thing to bump up my views.”

“A week?” There is panic in your voice that should have been hidden. You glance up and see that she heard it too. She shines a beaming smile straight at you, curls cascading over her La Senza girl T-Shirt. She knows she has you. You stare hard at the fabric in your lap. The One Hundred Subscribers badge is coming loose and so you dive on it with your needle and thread. “Maybe just for one night,” you suggest non-committedly but she has you on the run and she knows it.

“I couldn’t do any less than four nights.” Sticky, sticky, honey bees buzzing round her voice like nectar.

“Maybe two nights.” God, can you stand it? Two whole nights with deep-fried foods and mixed drinks in plastic cups. Hysterical moms, always either overweight or weirdly thin and dads with tattoos hidden under blankets of back hair that they have given up waxing.

“Three, and we need a themed suite.”

“Three nights. No suite. One MagicQuest game.”

“Done.” She smiles. Pearly whites peek through petal lips, and she launches at you. “You are the best Mommy in the whole wide world.” Arms around your neck, rosy pillow cheek squashed against your face. She smells as sweet as she sounds; strawberries, peaches, licorice kisses.

“I will let Daddy know and we can set something up,” I say.

“Don’t wait too long,” she says. “We want to get on it before we get too close to Christmas. I can’t have my Great Wolf Lodge vlog interfere with my seasonal toy review

She pulls away and swishes the waterfall of curls over her shoulder. “I will be in the kitchen if you need me. The lighting is better there and I have to record a quick thing on side pony tails before dinner. They’re the ‘it’ hairstyle for grade three girls this fall.”

She caps her marker and snatching her smartphone from the table, she disappears. You return your focus to the badges on your lap. The Cleanliness badge is beginning to fray at the edges; you had that one at her age too. It sat on your Girl Guide sash above your Telephone Courtesy badge and Leg Warmer Appreciation badge. You lost all of the badges of course, and the Girl Guide uniform, too. They disappeared with the rollerblades you used to love, sometime after you traded in your New Kids on the Block posters for Nirvana pictures torn from magazines.”

She is in the hallway now, her hair pulled to the side of her dangerously symmetrical head, golden strands, strawberry tinged, wrapped in a purple kink-free elastic band. Her arms hug the oversized teddy bear to her chest. The fluttery lashes return for the finale as you hear her voice, molasses, gumdrop, candy floss.

“Don’t forget to like this video. Thanks for subscribing and leave your comments down below.”

Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll

Edie's Reflection

Posted on: January 21, 2016

It rained all day Friday through most of the morning on Saturday, finally turning into a slow drizzle that had ceased by early afternoon. Edie had spent most of her Saturday morning with her forehead pressed against the window, staring at the world through rain droplets running down the other side of the glass and watching her breath fog up the surface.

“If you’re bored, you could always read a book or play with some of your toys,” her mother called from the office down the hall. Edie didn’t respond. Not purposefully, but because she didn’t hear her mother when she called. She was too busy focusing on each individual rain drop that hit the window pane and joined the many rivulets cascading down the glass. She wasn’t bored. There was too much excitement and wonder right in front of her. Rain had to be one of her favorite things in the world. A close second was the world outside after a good long rain.

When the rain did stop, she didn’t hesitate for a second. She ran for the door, reached up for the knob and pulled it open, only stopping to heed her mother’s words to put on her rain jacket and boots.

When she stepped outside the whole world smelled new and fresh, like the laundry her mother would pull out of the dryer and put in the hamper. Sometimes, when her mother wasn’t looking, Edie would jump into the hamper and feel the warmth of the freshly dried clothes and breathe in those clean smells.

The green grass of Edie’s front yard had turned into a bit of a mess. She stomped through puddles of dirty water. Bloated bodies of earthworms had floated to the tops of the puddles and Edie did her best to avoid those ones. She made her way to the sidewalk and looked up. A blanket of light grey clouds covered the sky. There were little slivers in the blanket where the sun did its best to peek through and shine down onto the earth.

One of the slivers of sun shone down onto the street corner next to her home. Edie and her family lived on the corner of 11th and Spring Street in a neighborhood that mostly consisted of older couples without children. Most of Edie’s parents’ friends wondered if Edie was ever restless or lonely living on a street with no children. Edie always thought it was a strange question. Then again, she never really liked being around other children very much to begin with.

She skipped to the street corner and stopped in her tracks when she looked down and was greeted by a mirror image staring up at her. The corner of the sidewalk had cracked and caved a while ago. Edie always had to be careful running around this corner. She’d tripped and fallen on the jutting sidewalk before, scraping her palms and cutting her knee. Today, the rain had filled up the space to make a little pool. There was something about this puddle that was very different from the puddles in her front yard. The reflection was practically crystal clear.

She crouched down and examined herself in the pool of water. The reflection was so strong, she could barely see the sidewalk and dirt beneath it. She could see the green street signs for 11th and Spring behind her, except in the pool, the sign read Gnirps instead. This struck Edie as odd. Why was the G capitalized in the reflection? She looked up at the sign above her. Only the S was capitalized. She looked back down, noticing that her reflection was still looking up at the sign. She let out a little gasp, and her reflection looked back at her with a casual expression.

Edie sat still and studied her reflection in the pool, doing her best not to blink. She didn’t want to miss a thing. The reflection stared back at her. She tried to get it to do something else by catching it off guard. She would move her head back and forth, stick out her tongue, or jump around in circles, but the reflection did the exact same things that she did. She grumbled to herself, knowing perfectly well that she had seen something extraordinary, but was unable to recreate that magical event. It almost looked as if the mirror image wore a smug expression of victory.

Edie wondered about what this discovery could possibly mean. Had she found some parallel universe right beneath her feet? Had it always been there, and she was present for the freak accident that brought the two worlds together? Had it wanted to be found? How far did that world underneath her go? How would she get there? Was it as easy as stepping into the puddle? Would she even want to visit?

Eventually, Edie’s curiosity got the best of her and she stretched out her arm and lowered it slowly to the pool. Her mirror self followed. Her palm and fingertips touched the surface of the pool. She flinched. She didn’t feel the cold, wet surface of a puddle. What she felt was another palm touching hers. She remained shocked and frozen for a moment, wondering what she should do next. Her reflection watched her. The other Edie had a much more menacing expression on its face, an expression that seemed to dare Edie to pull her hand away. In the distance, Edie heard her mother call out for her.

Edie hesitated for one moment more, then pulled her hand away from the puddle. The reflection’s hand shot up from the pool and grabbed her wrist. Edie opened up her mouth but no scream came out as the reflection’s grip tightened on her wrist. The reflection grinned. Edie pulled back with as much strength as she could muster and broke free. She fell to the ground a couple of feet away from the puddle. The hand shrank back into the water and disappeared under the surface. She got up and ran to the house as fast as she could. When her mother asked what was wrong, Edie lied and said she’d tripped on a sidewalk crack. She never went outside after a rainstorm after that day.

Written by: Quentin Norris
Photograph by: Tiffany Melanson

The Sleeping Dragon

Posted on: January 19, 2016

My brother, Lynn, was only one year old at the time. His first birthday had just passed. The first snowfall had arrived that afternoon and blanketed the fields and meadows surrounding the farmhouse. Night came early. Its black cloak settled over the white blanket, muffling sound, forcing whispers in deference to the silence.

My grandfather threw a log on the ebbing fire then took his place in his rocker. He motioned to me to join him. Lynn had gone to bed early. It was just the two of us. I crawled onto his knee, settling into the crook of his arm. The new log spat and flared; its flickering light danced on the walls and filled our faces with a warm, orange glow.

“Shall I tell you about the sleeping dragon?” my grandfather asked. “I think you’re old enough now.” He pushed the rocker so it settled into an easy rhythm.

And so the story began...

“The legend goes that even before the discovery of fire, the hole was there. No one could remember a time when it wasn’t there. It is there now,” he said. I looked up at him. “True.” He crossed his heart. “It’s in the north meadow. You’ll find it some day when you go exploring. No one knows how deep it is. It breathes a warm mist, keeping the cold air away. It even melts the snow and warms the ground. Ancient men believed it was a living thing--a sleeping dragon confined to the depths of the earth with no means of escape. And so, it sleeps.”

“Don’t it ever wake up?” I asked, a little scared. I’d only heard about dragons in fairy tales.

“No, no. It just sleeps and breathes,” he said. “Sometimes though, it burps.”

“Burps?” I sat up.

“Sometimes near the hole, it smells like rotten eggs.” As we rocked back and forth, he looked me in the eye. “But I figure the dragon just suffers sometimes from indigestion. Some of the ancient peoples believed the hole had magic powers, so they threw dead animals into the hole, hoping to appease the sleeping dragon. Whether that kind of thing works or not, no one knows. Seems people down through the ages have always been a little crazy. What do you think?”

“Sounds crazy to me. No wonder the dragon burps,” I answered. He laughed.

“Yes. Would give anybody heartburn. But still the dragon sleeps and breathes to this day.”

I stared into the lick of flames that curled around the sizzling log as long as I could. My eyes closed to the hissing of the log’s boiling sap trapped inside it. I dreamt of a hole in the ground and the warm, fetid breath of a sleeping dragon.

When I was twelve, my grandfather sold the farm. When the town built right up to its northern border, he’d felt the pressure to sell. He figured he was too old to stand in the way of progress. Neither my father nor his brother were interested in farming. They’d left the farm to pursue their own careers. For the sins of the parents, it was the grandchildren who felt the loss.

The farm was our home, our adventureland. We scouted the creek, meadows and woods that made up the the farm’s one-hundred sixty acres. We used to climb in through the shattered windows of an old, rusty Model A Ford that sat down by the creek and pretend we were gangsters running from the law. Lynn was five years younger than me, so I had to watch out for him. It was my parent’s mandate. But no matter what we did, my brother and I always ended up at the hole.

My brother knelt on the warm ground by the hole and stretched his back and neck as far as he could over the edge to look down into its dark throat. I crouched down beside him. The hole breathed in and out. On exhale, a sour puff of mist rose out of hole. We felt it on our faces and leaned back away from its edge.

“What do you suppose it is?” Lynn asked.

“Don’t know. Grandpa says it’s a sleeping dragon.” Lynn looked at me wide-eyed; then looked back at the hole.

“I heard those Nevitt boys, next farm over, tossed their dead dog in there. How long you think it’s been here?”

“Forever, Grandpa says. Don’t matter. It’ll be someone else’s soon. Come on, let’s go.”

We walked across the meadow and through a stand of giant oaks to catch the path back down to the farm. We came to the fence that bordered the meadow and stepped out into a clearing. I put my hand on my brother’s chest to stop him.

We both stared at a dead deer. I advanced cautiously. My brother trailed behind. It was a full grown doe. It had tried to jump across the fence but had misjudged. Its leg had gone through the top hole in the fencing, and the top and bottom wires had twisted around its ankle, trapping its leg forever--to the end. The ankle was worn down to the bone. Though the doe had struggled and yanked and pulled, the wire held firm. It had starved and died, held by fear, the desire to escape, and two thin pieces of twisted metal.

“It must have been scared,” Lynn said.

“It just wanted to get away, but progress held on tight,” I answered. “Let’s give it a proper burial.”

Together we freed the doe’s leg from the wire mesh and dragged it back across the meadow to the hole.

“Think it’s deep enough?”

“We’ll find out. It’s like a sacrifice to the sleeping dragon,” I answered.

We pushed the deer carcass over the edge and watched it disappear into the darkness; then we headed back home in silence. We never spoke of it again, each placing the day’s memory in a special, hidden place only brothers shared.

In the years that followed, the town paved its way across the farmland and became a city. I got a job with the city highway department. I was supervisor on the night crew. One night, we were called out on an electrical fault.

I stood around the hole with my colleagues, hard hats in place, heads bowed, watching the progress of the John Deere backhoe. As soon as the backhoe hit a limestone crevice and the sour smell of rotten eggs hit my nostrils, I knew where I was and what was about to happen. If legend could be believed, one metal dragon was about to awaken a sleeping one.

Written by: James Shaffer
Photograph by: Matthew Wiebe

Cloud Painting

Posted on: January 14, 2016

The day Ada and I ride up to The Lookout is transparently clear. The Lookout is a large hillside that faces and guards over the town of Southmeadow. It’s totally a make-out point, but Ada and I visit it because it’s the best place for cloud-watching and stargazing. The air is fresher and sweeter up here, and there’s a tempting sense of freedom that calls to Ada on the days when her mother is drowning in a boozy swirl.

My excuse for leaving is to accompany Ada, because the first time we came up here, she had shown up on my doorstep, soaked to the bone from a storm, and commanded, “You’re taking me away from here.” The Lookout was the place I took her, and it continues to be our escape whenever she feels her blood sing.

I park my parents’ old Volvo underneath a low-hanging tree, the only shady spot on The Lookout. When we stop a few feet from the edge of the hill, I drop to my butt and lie back, folding my arms beneath my head, but Ada lies perpendicular to me and rests her head on my belly, the weight of it warm and comforting.

There’s a patch of my stomach exposed from where my shirt has ridden up, and her hair, draped across it, tickles my skin. It’s nut-brown, short, and bobbed. I pull one arm out from under my head and card my fingers through from root to curly end. I can tell it’s been recently washed. It’s soft, softer than I thought it would be. Discretely, I pull a strand up towards my nose and take a tiny whiff. Cranberries.

The dull roar of an approaching plane brings our attention to the sky. We watch as it emits a stream of cloudy condensation.
Ada points towards the moving speck and traces its path with her finger. “Sometimes,” she says, “I like to imagine that I can paint the sky. The stars, the clouds, the sun. I hold up my finger and follow them like this, and it’s like my own creation. Makes me feel like I’m God, or something.”

She doesn’t look at me when she says this, concentrating on using her finger as a paintbrush. I move my hand from her hair, strands sifting through my fingers, and place it on top of hers. I cover her finger with my own, and the two of us trace over the plane’s flight path all the way across the sky, until it’s out of sight. When we can no longer see it, Ada intertwines her fingers in mine and kisses my knuckles. The quiet is comfortable, but after Ada’s confession (and that’s what it felt like, a confession, something secret she has been holding close to her heart), I feel like I need to share something personal of my own.

“So,” I start, “when I see planes, I think about all the people on it, about who they are, where they’re from. Sometimes, I even conjure up imaginary faces and backgrounds for them, and I just think about those many lives, all connected for one small, weightless moment. You know what I mean?”

I have her attention now, but I can’t read the expression in her eyes, and for some reason, that dries my mouth.

“Nolan?” she asks.


“Have you been watching Lost again?”

It takes me a minute to realize that what she said wasn’t profound in any way, and I feel oddly relieved. “Hey, it’s not just because of Lost! I do think about that when I see planes. Sometimes. I do!” I emphasize when she shakes her head, hair drifting back and forth across my chest.
“Nolan, Nolan, Nolan,” she chants, but cuts off with a squeal when I lean down and blow a loud, wet raspberry into the crook of her neck. She tries to roll away, but I wrap her up in my arms and hold her tight to me. With her this close, the cranberry smell is so strong it almost makes me dizzy, and those curls are soft against my cheek.

Suddenly, I realize I don’t want to ever leave. I want to stay right here, with Ada, on The Lookout, forever.

“Come on,” she sighs. “Let me up.”

Begrudgingly, I loosen my grip and she stretches out, then rises to her feet. She bends over far enough to offer me a hand, and I’m overwhelmed with exhilaration, like I want to take it and launch off the ground and up, up, up into the air, catching up to that plane we drew in the sky. My veins are vibrating beneath my skin. It feels new. It feels good.

“Hey,” she asks as she pulls me up, smiling slightly. “Do you think when you’re creating stories for the people on the plane, there’s someone on the plane creating stories for all the people down here? Like, some stranger, thousands of feet above us, looking down and sketching out an imaginary life for you and me?”

She’s still smiling, but there’s an eagerness in her expression and a brightness in her eyes that tells me that whatever my answer is, it’s very important to her.

I’m still holding her hand, and I give it a small squeeze. “Yeah,” I say, smiling back at her, “I think there is.”

Written by: Allison Sobczak
Photograph by: Skyler Smith

A Bloodless Year

Posted on: January 12, 2016

Unseasonal snow in these parts. Bleached flakes trace the outlines of the dead trees. Victims from the summer fires. Scorched winter wonderland. Home to a slight breeze and a body. Woman. Throat slashed. Why always a woman? Pretty. Thin arms lying there at grotesque angles. Dirt and blood and snow.

I thought we were going to get through a year with no murders. No blood. I was wrong. Karina says that it’s time to go. You’ve done your bit, she says. Let it go, she says. I flip open my phone and dial her number. She doesn’t answer. Umm, something came up, I tell her recorded voice. I’m out past Black Jack Springs. I pause. There’s a body, I say. And then, It’s snowing. For a moment I forget I’m talking. Anyway, I say, don’t wait up. Okay. Goodbye.

Jackson comes up from the house. Cold, he says. El nino, must be. El what? I ask. El nino, Jackson says. He’s very young. Probably not even thirty. El nino. You don’t know what El nino is? I shake my head. The woman’s body is still there. For some reason I expected it not to be. Karina is right. It’s time to give this up.

Jackson says, The old man up...shit, sorry. The elderly man up at the house…

Jesus Christ, I say, I’m old with or without him. It don’t matter. Now stop faggot tapping around and get to the point. What did he say?

Says he saw headlights, Jackson murmurs.

What a pussy he is. Feelings hurt. Young cocks go thumping around with emotion and forgiveness. Expression this and that. Not one of them can handle a stern voice or eye contact, much less something more. Something real.

What time? I ask. About three in the morning, Jackson says. Bullshit. That old fart is in bed by nine, I say. Well, that’s what he said. Says he got up this morning to feed the cows. Found the body. Called it in.

I see two cows on the horizon. Thin and distraught. Silhouetted against the winter sky. Gray on gray. Sinewy meat. Diseased. Thank god Karina got me off that stuff years ago. It gives you cancer, she said. They pump them full of chemicals. Slaughter them by the hundreds. Cutting machines. Nothing done by man no more. Everything machines. In the end the only thing human will be art. And this shit. Machines never solved no murder.

Phone rings. A number I don’t recognize. 512. Austin number. No answer but they leave a message. Who was that? Jackson asks.

Last day of the year, I say. Forty years of this shit and they get me on the last day of the year. Huh? Jackson asks. A bloodless year, I say. No murders. One goddamned time I would have taken a bloodless year.

Really? Jackson says. You’ve never gone a year without murders? Jesus. That’s fucked up. It’s not like this is Chicago, you know what I mean?

Karina and I in church. It was during the summer fires. The whole sky was dark with smoke. Noon. No rain for weeks. Preacher said, these fires will cleanse us. He said, it is God’s way. To make something new from something old. Karina saying Amen whenever they ask her to. You see it in the big cities, Preacher continued. See it in the New Yorks. The Los Angeleses. You see it in the Chicagos, he said. Like Sodom and Gomorrah before them, these places have turned their backs on God, and for that He will punish them. And he will do the same to us. Even here in Texas, he will do the same to us. Unless we accept Christ into our hearts. Into our homes. Our families. And when we do that, he will protect us. Each and every one of us. He will protect.

Another phone call. Unknown. 512. Austin. Another message.

Can I help you gentleman? A young woman. Beautiful. Sandy blonde hair. Jackson’s age maybe. Dressed like a rancher. Cowboy boots. Brown. Blue jeans. Checkered shirt underneath a Carhartt coat. Also brown. Freckles on pale skin. Rosy cheeks from the cold. Perfect teeth. Strong jaw. Pursed lips.

Ma’am? Jackson says. Panting like a dog. My grandfather owns the land, she says. And the house. He said ya’ll were down here. He doesn’t know the days of the week, so there’s no telling what he said to ya’ll. I didn’t know if I could help. I’m Elise.

Phillip Jackson, he says. Detective. And this is…

Landry, I say. Marcus Landry. Firm handshake. Eye contact. Slight smile. Fuck me eyes not seen since my youth.

Can I invite you up to the house? she says. It’s freezing out here. Hot coffee?

I look at the body while Jackson says, That would be kind of you, miss. For some reason, she never remarked on it. Never even looked at it. Blue face. Lost eyes. Dried blood like a necklace. It could almost be her twin. Same blonde hair. Same build.

We walk up the hill to the house. The cows scatter. Snow falls. I dig my hands deeper into my coat. My blood is too thin for this weather. Karina came from North Dakota. Long time ago. She would laugh at me. Call me a wimp. My Karina. I smile. Jackson is talking up ahead.

You go to school there in Austin? he asks. Yep, she says. Senior. Go Horns. I come out every weekend to see Papa, but it took me so long this morning. Roads are terrible. Ice everywhere. Wrecks everywhere. We’re just not used to this weather, you know? Don’t have the equipment. Salt, or whatever. People don’t know how to drive in it. So dangerous.

My phone rings. Same number. Like lightning I am hit. Karina. My Karina. She is heading to Austin today. Doctors appointments. Icy roads.

Hello, I say. A pause. A voice on the line. Is this Mr. Marcus Landry? it asks.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Michael Ken

Sixteen Years

Posted on: January 7, 2016

Twelve hours earlier, James woke to find Catherine’s arm draped over his back. Lifting just his head from the pillow so as not to wake her, he turned to find her face inches from his. Early morning sunlight filtered through the blinds. Patches of light lined the end of their bed – no, her bed. In her apartment. Catherine stirred. She looked much younger when she slept.

James’s free hand found the wrinkles alongside his eyes. One, two, three of them. He knew what Catherine would say if she were awake. She would tell him she loved them – that they made him the James she knew. He knew she loved him, partly because she told him, but mainly because he felt it. He counted the lines with his fingers again.

Catherine awoke and pulled his hand down so there was no barrier between their faces. “Stop that,” she said.

James grinned. “Morning to you, too.”

She moved his arm over her head and pressed up against his body. “I like them.” Catherine laid her head on James’s chest and closed her eyes again.

He forgot her age whenever they spent time together – save for those few moments when Catherine would play with her hair while concentrating, or the way she didn’t quite know how to embrace his many compliments. But those moments were scarce. He’d watched her surpass her twenty-two years when she squared off her shoulders, walked into a room of his colleagues, and held her own in conversation. James loved their late evenings when they dissected their favorite novels, characters, relationships. He never felt their sixteen-year difference, even the night he recounted his messy divorce. Catherine’s eyes never flicked away from his face as he spoke. She was present. And he loved her for it.

James tried not to touch his smile lines, as she called them, again.

“Stop thinking about them.” Catherine was watching him.

He forced a smile and kissed her forehead. “I’m thinking about you.” And he was.


James was still thinking about her. He pulled the collar of his fleece tight around his neck against the cold, northern rain. With his free hand, he forced one of his suitcases into the car. Night blanketed the street outside his own apartment save for the harsh glow of the hanging lights above. They made the slick pavement sparkle beneath his boots. James’s phone vibrated in his pocket. It was Catherine, for the second time this evening. James tossed his phone into the trunk and headed back for his messenger bag. His fingers hovered over his bottom lip as he remembered their morning. His mind elsewhere, his legs carried him into his now empty apartment he’d called home for a few short months. James wanted to believe that Catherine would give him her usual disapproving look now, but he knew better. She would tell him he wasn’t being selfish, but it’s all he felt when he was alone. Catherine should be with someone who would experience things with her, not someone who had gone through the steps already.

Leaving was the best way. He needed to make it a clean break, for her. James pushed the nauseating feeling aside, shook his head, and began his final walk-through. It felt like the apartment was holding its breath along with him. The kitchen was bare. The bedroom seemed much smaller without any furniture. James poked his head in the bathroom and stopped. On the counter, next to the sink, was a lone bobby pin. James picked it up. He ran the delicate metal through his fingers as he checked his office and living room. Holding the bobby pin between his teeth, he took the last two bags and headed for the car. He angled them into the backseat.

The engine revved to life. James directed the vents at the driver’s seat and waited for the car to warm up. He never needed to use the heat in any of his previous vehicles. The weather in Arkansas didn’t allow for much short of air conditioning. It was something Catherine never understood. Even now, Catherine preferred to use a collection of fans to cool her apartment rather than purchasing an air conditioning unit. She put any additional income to paying off her student loans. James rubbed his hands together in front of the vent. Temperature aside, Catherine’s apartment was light years ahead of his first one. Ahead, even, of the one he was leaving now. James didn’t have a way with creature comforts. Catherine was more put together than James was at that age. He’d followed her around on his first visit to her place. He remembered hiding a smile while he watched her straighten a jar of honey on the microwave between a box of tissues and her collection of corks. James had wondered how many corks he’d have if he’d started collecting at twenty-one. He dismissed the thought, again. This was the right thing, for her. He was sure.

James spun the knob to defrost as fog took the edges of the windows. He knew it would only take him a full day of driving to get back home. Rather, it would only take him a full day of driving to get back. James removed the bobby pin from his teeth and slid it onto the sleeve of his jacket. Backing out of the parking space, he chanced one more look at the apartment building. He saw shadows of him and Catherine dancing in the moonlit windows of the living room and dodging flying bacon grease while they made breakfast in nothing but their skin. He remembered the flowery smell of her shampoo as she swept her hair into a bun and secured it with a few bobby pins. James touched the one on his sleeve. He was bringing a piece of home back with him.

Written by: Erin Davies
Photograph by: Daniel Charles Ross

New Year's Reservations

Posted on: January 5, 2016

Scott mashes the red button on his screen and tosses his phone on the couch, careful not to hit his best friend.

“What are your resolutions?” he asks, and Dollar replies with a look that says, “I’m a dog. I have no goals beyond eating, sleeping, shitting, and–until you had my testicles removed–fucking.”

“We’re not so different, you and me,” Scott says, and occupies the open spot on the sofa.

Scott’s phone begins to buzz but he reaches for the remote instead. He knows it’s his sister, Debra, calling him back, and as far as he’s concerned, she can take her unsolicited advice, roll it up nice and tight inside one of those ivy-league diplomas she prominently displays in her study, and shove it up her even tighter twat. Bitch.

He tries to watch John Mulaney’s latest stand-up, but he can’t. Debra has made his brain uninhabitable to humor at the moment, which is really inopportune, because he managed to land a five-minute set at The Laugh Factory tonight and he needs some inspiration. He also needs her kids to stop watching Veggie Tales–or whatever the fuck they’re into these days–so he can login to her Netflix account. Little shits.

Scott’s thumb and pointer finger shoot up to his beard and a eureka moment chugs to life like the engine of his 93’ Toyota Camry. He grabs his phone, brushes off his missed call notification like a fly on a sandwich, and opens up his Jokes document.

“My sister can fuck herself,” he types, grinning at the sight of his words and the thought of how they will sound reverberating around the comedy club. “You laugh, but I’m serious. She has two kids, both born from a turkey baster and a bottle of pinot noir. And she wonders why I refuse to go to her house for Thanksgiving.”

Scott laughs until he realizes that joke will only eat up approximately thirty seconds of his set, laugh break included. He looks at Dollar and Dollar looks back at him like, “I’m a fucking dog. When’s lunch, btw?”

“Honestly,” he types, “those kids are such pieces of shit, you would think she had an anal birth. (Pause for laughter.) And they’re just like her. The first time I saw them I said, ‘Debra, they have your eyes,’ and she said, ‘You don’t know what my eyes look like,” and I said, ‘Yes huh,” and she said, ‘What do they look like?’ and I said ‘Judgmental.’”

Scott laughs again. His confidence builds with each cutdown of his younger sister. He becomes drunk on defamation of character and continues typing, uninhibited by Jiminy Cricket.

“Today, she asked me, ‘Have you made any New Year’s resolutions?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and she said, ‘What are they?’ and I said, ‘To be a better uncle,’ and she said, “And how do you intend to do that?’ and I said, ‘Stop visiting.’”

Scott laughs so loud Dollar looks at him like, “DUDE, shut the fuck up. And feed me.” Scott returns the glare like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator–the first one, when he’s the bad guy–and his thumbs continue crawling across the screen like the fleas on Dollar’s belly.

“I think the only living creature more entitled than my sister’s children is my dog, Dollar.”

At the sound of his name, Dollar springs into what he would consider action. He props himself up on his front paws and lifts his ears, listening for a one-syllable, four-letter word that starts with an “F” and ends with the first letter of his most worthless appendage.

“Why did I name him Dollar, you ask?”

THERE IT WAS AGAIN, his name. Dollar sits up even straighter and bends his hind legs like he’s preparing to either take a dump, rub his a-hole on the cushions, or jump over the armrest.

“Because that’s how much I’m selling him for. Any takers?”

Scott laughs and Dollar howls, collapsing back into his sleeping position. “That’s right, buddy, Scott says, ”there are no friends in comedy.” Dollar snarls back like, “No shit, that’s why you’re so lonely,” and Scott says, “Zing.”

He goes to his phone’s home screen, finds his stopwatch app, and recites the insults that poured out of his fingers.

“ONE MINUTE, FIFTEEN SECONDS,” Scott yells and Dollar gets up all like, “THAT’S IT, we’re done here.” Scott hears his paws scrape against the faux-wooden floors until they reach the bedroom. If Dollar had opposable thumbs he would slam the door, but he doesn’t, so he just jumps into his doggy bed and plugs his ears with the pads of his feet.

Scott looks around the living room for more family pictures–aka targets–but his lack of interior decorating skills and sentimentality comes back to bite him. Rapid-fire round; Scott goes to Debra’s Facebook page and begins picking apart her photo albums like a buzzard on a zebra carcass.

“My niece is so ugly, Jared Fogle wouldn’t touch her.”

“My nephew is so fat, I get HIS hand me downs.”

“My sister is so pretentious, even her farts have accent marks.”

“Their Christmas postcard was so bad, my mailman walked into oncoming traffic.”

“Their smiles are so fake, they look like Tom Cruise’s new family.”

“She posts so many pictures, even the NSA blocked her.”

“She is so desperate for attention, she changed her last name to Kardashian.”

“She is so pleased with herself, she has a permanent handprint on her upper back.”

A red notification bubble pops up in the top-right corner of his screen, clogging his stream of quips like a knot in a garden hose. He clicks it, and it reads, “Debra is attending your event, Laugh At Me With The Laugh Factory.” “FUCK,” Scott screams and squeezes the backspace button of his Jokes document so hard he nearly breaks his phone. “Dollar,” he yells towards the bedroom. Dollar sprints down the hallway, too dumb and hungry to realize this is probably another red herring. “It looks like you’re my muse tonight.”

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll

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