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.”


“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.


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.”


“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.”


“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?”



“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.


“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.”


“Moving on to step two.”


“Excuse me?”

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

“All of the steps?”


“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... “


“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.”


“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

Backseat Feminist

Posted on: April 5, 2016

It’s a scary word and always has been, but I don’t know why. Most men fear it because one day they got together and decided it means something else entirely. It scares them, perhaps because they feel threatened, and for a moment I am glad. I am glad they feel the threat I feel every night walking to my car alone, or on afternoons when a letter carrier knocks on my door unexpectedly and my heart lurches, because for that moment, I am in danger. For that moment, I am reminded I am a woman. And the moment when I say the word, they get to feel like me.

The creaking Volvo rumbles and roars as I try to pick up bits and pieces of the conversation happening between the men seated in front of me. One of them belongs to me and the other does not.

“Honey, could you speak up please? I can’t make out what you’re saying up there,” I say with invitation as I dry my sweating palms on my skirt pleats.

“We’re just talking about Grandma, babe,” my husband says over his shoulder without letting his eyes leave the road or his hands leave the wheel.

“About that comment she made about the pill,” his brother laughs. “She’s hysterical.” He slaps his knee and faces forward in his seat.

I lean forward to become part of the conversation. “Did you know it wasn’t even invented until the 1960s?” I speak loudly so I am heard over the motor’s gravelly voice, but I can’t help but feel that I’m yelling when I shouldn’t be.

“Birth control?” my husband asks.

“Yeah. It was really the beginning of the feminist revolution. Sexual awakening and all that.”

“Well that makes sense,” my brother-in-law chimes in. “Before that, women were too afraid of getting pregnant. They used to be driven by morality I guess.”

I clench and unclench my jaw. “We still are. And it takes two people to get pregnant by the way.”

“I never said it didn’t. Stop putting words in my mouth.”

I sit back in my seat and decide to leave this battle for another day. A road trip to my in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving is neither the time nor the place to get in a family argument.

“Wait, James is right,” my husband says. “Back in the good old days, women weren’t as promiscuous because they had the consequence of pregnancy, but once the pill pretty much gave them free reign, it turned into free love and that whole movement in the 60s. Isn’t that what lead to AIDS?”

“Oh my god,” I grumble.

“What?” James challenges. “No, say what you have to say.”

“I don’t want to have this argument.”

“Roy and I are just trying to have a discussion with you. It’s not an argument.”

“Fine,” I consent. “You can’t really think the creation of the pill lead to the outbreak of a worldwide epidemic.”

“Whoa, now I never said that,” Roy says, taking both hands off the wheel and back-pedaling like his life depends on it. “I never said they were causally related, just that the correlation cannot be ignored as it all began in the same decade and in the same population.” His experience in academia is apparent; it’s as if he is making a presentation before his peers and has just realized his mistake. The vernacular shifts and the verbosity shows through his best intentions.

“The pill let women claim their sexuality for the first time,” I say. I feel myself climbing on the soapbox, but I can’t help it and I don’t want to. “In the centuries prior, women weren’t seen as having sexual desires but as wives whose primary role was to produce children. People found the idea of a woman enjoying herself ghastly. Even sinful. Suddenly, women were almost granted permission to enter into sex for no other reason than to have a good time, just like men had been doing for a thousand years. No strings attached.”

I step down from the box feeling good about myself, but it isn’t over.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Roy says. “The pill caused women to be more promiscuous.”

“Promiscuity existed long before the pill did.”

“Yeah Roy, what about prostitutes?” James says to this brother, thinking he’s agreeing with my point. “They’re as promiscuous as it gets.”

“You both keep forgetting there are two halves to this.”

“Who, men?” James balks.

“You never alluded that men became more promiscuous when the invention of the condom came about, which was around the sixteenth century by the way.” I slump back against the vinyl bench seat with a thump, resisting the urge to cross my arms and let my bottom lip protrude. I want to ask why they aren’t listening to me, but what I ask instead is, “Why does this have to be ‘us versus them?’ Aren’t we on the same side here?”

“With bra burners?” James laughs.

I sigh. It’s clear I am getting nowhere, and I notice Roy has fallen strangely silent. “Why are we even talking about this?” I ask.

“You brought it up, Anna.” James jabs the air with an index finger.

Only I didn’t. But instead I say, “You’re right. I don’t know why I did. See, this is why I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“We can talk about this stuff while keeping a level head. You’re the one who turned it into a fight about your rights.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

I’m left in the backseat of an old Volvo driven and directed by two stubborn men. A woman who, in an argument about feminism, is the one apologizing.

The irony doesn't escape me. Instead, it brings prickling tears to my eyes, hot and stinging, and again I try to hide what I am. I let one tear after another fall down my face and pray they don’t turn around in their seats. They never do. If they see me, I will appear weak; if they know they will laugh. I am being too emotional, I am overreacting.

I make excuses for myself, but most painful are the excuses I make for them. 

Written by: HG Reed
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

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