Round Midnight

By Dan Brotzel

‘Thanks very much for those updates, Peter and Iannis. Our next news and weather will be at about 12.30, as always.

‘So… it’s just gone seven minutes after 12, and you’re listening to Round Midnight, with me, Kevin Limina. And as usual, I’ll be guiding you through the graveyard shift with another lively mix of gossip, chat and opinion. 

‘And in this hour I want to hear your calls about… your ultimate emotional teddy bear.

‘“What do you mean by that, Kevin,” you ask? Well, I’m thinking of the story in the papers yesterday about that yachtsman who was rescued in the East Timor sea by helicopter, after drifting in his disabled boat for the best part of two weeks.

‘In one of the interviews, you may recall, he was asked what kept him going, as he drifted through those dangerous waters, sharks circling and drinking water running out. What was the thing he clung to in his mind as he fought off the despair, and the fear, and the hunger?

‘And his reply was very interesting, I thought. He said: The thing that kept me going was the thought of a nice cup of tea and a packet of Custard Creams.

‘Imagine that. There you are, in the most extreme and life-threatening moment of your entire life, and the thing that keeps you going… is a packet of humble biscuits.

‘So my question for you all is this: If you were at a low point like that, and you were alone and terrified and you didn’t even know how you were going to get through the next few minutes or hours, what’s the one thing that would keep you going?

‘Maybe you’re stuck in the air on a long-haul flight with awful turbulence. Maybe you’re trapped in a lift or, God forbid, hanging upside down in a malfunctioning rollercoaster. How would you cope? What would be your metaphorical cup-of-tea-and-custard-creams? 

‘I’ve had a few thoughts in already. 

‘Linda in Spalding has emailed. She says: “It’d have to be my husband’s unwashed vest. I always wrap it around me when I’m feeling low.”

‘Ew. OK, thanks Linda. A tad too much info perhaps. 

‘Oh wait, there’s a PS: “He died three years ago so it’s all I have left.”

‘Right. Thank you Linda. Very poignant. 

‘Now, who do we have on the line? Cassie in Aberdeen, is that you?’ 

‘Hi Kevin, yes it’s me.’

‘So tell us Cassie, what keeps you going?’

‘Well, it’d have to be the thought of listening to another edition of Round Midnight, with your silky voice, Kevin.’

‘Oh stop it Cassie!’

‘Well, it’s true.’

‘Are we related in any way?’ 

‘Not yet.’

‘Cassie! Carry on like this and I’ll be in big trouble…’

‘-But I do have a phial of blood around my neck manufactured from your DNA, so I can always have you next to my skin.’

‘Oh. I think I’m going to regret asking this but – how is it that you come to have my DNA, Cassie?’ 

‘Oh I’ve got lots of it. Wine glasses are the best. A tissue you dropped once. Toothbrushes in the trash, that kind of thing.’


‘Dirty laundry too, of course.’

‘Cassie? Cassie? 

‘Cassie’s gone. 

‘Probably for the best. 

‘We seem to have lost the connection there, so come in… Jenni in Nottingham!’

‘Hello, Kevin. Sorry about that last caller.’

‘Don’t you worry, Jenni. It comes with the territory. So tell me, Jenni, What would get you through a truly dark night of the soul?’ 

‘My dog Romeo.’

‘Ahh, that’s nice.’ 

‘Yes, he’s always there for me. He’s a Jack Russell. I love to get home from work, and see his little legs come skidding over the parquet floor, and then he jumps up at me and he can’t stop barking for joy!’

‘That’s lovely Jenni.’

‘And of course he’s a wonderful kisser.’


‘Oh yes. Better than any human lover.’

‘Thanks Jenni! I was about to say that it was refreshing to have such a normal response, but I’ll reserve that comment for now, if I may. Next up it’s Ricardo in Heligoland…’ 

‘Hello, Kevin! Top show, as always.’

‘Thank you, sir! So: Tell us.’ 

‘If I was trapped in the middle of the ocean…’


‘Adrift in a broken yacht…’

‘Yes, go on.’

‘With all the sharks circling, and nothing left to eat…’

‘Yes, yes, that’s the situation.’

‘What would keep me going is the thought of my Total Life Script.’

‘OK, I’ll bite. What is a “Total Life Script” then, Ricardo? 

‘It’s an AI-generated, 4D transcript of absolutely everything that anyone has ever said or thought about me.’

‘Private thoughts? From the past? Is such a thing possible?’ 

‘Not yet.’ 

‘Right. So how far have you got then, with this… project?’

‘I’m working on a prototype, and the tech is accelerating all the time. It’s my life’s work.’

‘And why would you need such a thing, Ricardo?’

‘So as to be able to operate with optimum effectiveness at all times.’

‘How d’you mean?’ 

‘Well, say I discovered from my Total Life Script that someone I fancied had confessed to a friend that they had feelings for me, then I could ask them out without fear of rejection.’

‘Is fear of rejection a big thing for you, Ricardo?’

‘Also, if someone said nice things about me, I would know to treat them more kindly in future. And if they were found to have thought bad things about me, then I would know to add them to my Shit List.’

‘Your “Shit List” being, of course…’ 

‘My Shit List is the full list, updated in real time, of all the people who have been nasty to me in some way or another. And these people, believe you me, will be paid back in full. Whatsoever shit they did unto me, they will get it back tenfold. On that you have my word.’

‘Would you describe yourself as a vengeful person, Ricardo?’ 

‘No more than the next corpse.’

‘So there you have it. And now, with the time just after seven minutes past midnight, you’re listening to Kevin Limina, here on Round Midnight.’ 

‘My thanks as always to Peter and Iannis for those updates. The next news and weather will be on the half hour, as usual.’ 

‘It’s my pleasure and privilege once again to be guiding you through the Witching Hour and beyond, with the usual mix of witty banter and irreverent comment.’ 

‘And my topic tonight is… Evil Eavesdropping. I’m thinking of course about that new Netflix series, Lady Troll, in which the lead character – played by the wonderful Kate Winslet – controls various people in her life by secretly intercepting their calls and messages and using that knowledge for her own mischievous ends. 

‘She manipulates her way to a promotion, lands herself various gifts and freebies, and even manages to stop another woman dating a man she fancies. Naughty stuff, but absolutely riveting!

‘So, on the back of that, here’s my question for you lot. Have you ever accidentally overheard something about you that you weren’t supposed to? And have you ever put that secret knowledge to use?

‘Magda from Horsham has emailed in with a corker for us already. “Hi Kevin,” she says, “Love the show.” Thanks you very much, Magda! “I’m always up late and these hours would be really ‘dead’ if it wasn’t for your dulcet tones.” Ha! See what you did there, Magda. 

‘Now what’s Magda’s story? Ah yes, here we are. “When I was in Year Eight at school, I was in the loo when two of my so-called best friends came in. They were bitching about me behind my back, and it turned that out they’d been copying my chemistry project. And managed to get a better mark than me!  

‘Hmm. Not very nice. So what did Magda do with this secret knowledge? “I sent anthrax spores to their homes. Never saw them again after that. Think they must have changed schools.” 

‘Wow: that anecdote got big on us very fast! Thanks for sharing Magda – that’s what this show is all about. Can’t really condone what you did there, of course, but I suppose I should congratulate you on your biowarfare smarts. To have obtained such materials at such a young age, and to have known how to handle them safely, is quite something. 

‘Assuming you did handle them safely, of course. Perhaps you’ll call in and let us know either way. 

‘And now it’s time for our first caller. And it’s… Robyn from Pipers Reach! Hello Robyn. my love! We haven’t heard from you in donkeys’!!’

‘Hello there Kevin. Lovely to talk you.’

‘So tell us.’

‘Well, it was when I was studying for the bar. I was an intern for one of the big law firms, and I sat with the defence team on a big case involving a serial killer. This was a notorious villain who was accused of murdering at least a dozen people in a series of brutal assaults in and around one of our great northern cities, back in the early noughties.’

‘Oh do go on! We are all most intrigued…’

‘Well I was just a teenager really. I didn’t look like a lawyer or anything, so I was able to mingle quite easily with the jurors when they were milling about. And I overheard a couple of them talking on the way out. One was saying that he could tell the suspect was a wrong’un and wanted to convict, but the other was saying that the accused seemed to have a really nice wife and she surely wouldn’t have stood by him if he’d killed all these people. She would have known he was guilty just by looking in his eyes.’

‘I see. And so you…?’

‘Yes. I relayed this information back to the legal team. Next day they put the wife on the stand, and she made an impassioned plea for her husband’s innocence. She even mentioned the eyes thing! She didn’t have any facts or evidence, but she was very convincing.’

‘And that swung it for him, did it?’

‘Oh yes. Case dismissed! And I got offered a job.’

‘And just so we’re clear, Robyn. Do you think your eavesdropping helped to save the skin of an innocent man, or…’ 

‘Oh absolutely not. He was guilty as hell. You did say Evil Eavesdropping.’ 

‘Yes, yes, I suppose I did. Right, who’s next? Come in Gaynor in Bingley! Hello, Gaynor my love. And how are we diddling this fine night?’ 

‘Diddling along very nicely, thank you, Kevin love.’ 

‘Now what’s your story?’ 

‘Well, this was back in the day when I worked for a big pest control company. I was in HR, and I overheard this temp, Angie her name was, crying on the phone how it was her littlun’s fifth birthday and she was desperate to buy him a new bike. But her husband had just left her for the next-door neighbour and she didn’t have two quid to rub together, poor lass.’

‘Oh, poor lady! But I fancy you had an idea, Gaynor?’

‘I certainly did. I organised a whip-round and raised almost two hundred quid from everyone in the office. Went round all the different departments and everything. People were so kind. And this woman was just a temp and all.’

‘Oh Gaynor, that’s a lovely thing to do. And did you present it to her yourself?’ 

‘I certainly did. She bawled her eyes out. Made it all worthwhile.’ 

‘I bet it did.’ 

‘At the time anyway.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Well, it turned out the whole thing was a massive con. The woman didn’t even have a son, the sleazy bitch.’ 

‘Oh I’m so sorry to hear that Gaynor. Someone really took advantage of your trusting nature there.’

‘Oh it’s OK. I took her out that night with a claw hammer.’



‘Just time for a quick call from Cassie. My self-styled “Number One Fan”! Watcha Cassie!’

‘Hiya Kevin love. Absolutely adoring Tonight Show as always!’

‘Thank you, my love! Now what have you got for us tonight?’ 

‘Well, your topic of the hour reminds me of when I called the show and I was put in the queue to get on. While waiting to go on air, I happened to overhear one of your production assistants describe your delivery style that night as “even cheesier than usual”.’

‘Hmm. Are you sure, Cassie? I’m looking through the window but all I can see are lots of people shaking their heads.’ 

‘Oh I’m sure they’re all denying it now,’ says Cassie. ‘But the person in question was called Gareth and he had a slight Welsh accent.’

‘Oh yes. Gareth. That does ring a bell. Haven’t seen him around for a while though.’

‘Well, no, you wouldn’t have, Kevin love. That’s because I had him followed for three months, found out a couple of rather embarrassing secrets about him, and blackmailed him into joining an enclosed order of non-conformist monks who don’t believe in the internet, are confined to a remote monastery in the Warwickshire countryside, and only allowed to speak for 5 minutes a day.’

‘Wow. Cassie. I don’t know what to say.’

‘Aw, you’re just too nice for your own good darling! Well, there’s quite a good little gag you could make about radio silence.’ 

‘Oh God. 

‘OK. Moving swiftly on… I’ve got a text here from Bazza in Bedford.’ 

‘“Love the show, Kev,” he says. “Listening online.

‘“This segment reminds me of the time I hid behind a stack of sugar in the back of my parents’ corner shop. Heard my Mum plotting to kill my Dad with the bloke from the pub on the corner. 

“Unfortunately they heard me cough. The man came round and kidnapped me. I’ve been stuck in this caravan for about 4 years now.”’ 

‘Quite the story there, Bazza! Does your mum know about the caravan? In any case, thanks very much for tuning in and hope you can get out soon. Or find peace, or whatever.

‘Now… it’s just gone seven after twelve, and you’re listening to Kevin Limina. My thanks as always to Peter and Iannis for the news and weather there. 

‘Now as always, I’m here to guide you through the wee small hours, with another fantabulous cocktail of anecdote and observation, insight and opinion. The next news is on the half hour, as always, but in the meantime let’s turn to our question of the hour: Is romance dead? 

‘Why do I ask? Well, there was a survey on this last week, and 60% of people said yes, romance is alive and well. 

‘The over 55s are the most romantic age group, by the way – perhaps because they’ve got the most money! Well, some of them. And the UK’s most romantic region is Humberside, believe it or not. 

‘But although 60% is a big number, and that’s great to hear, this also means that 40% of you don’t really believe in romance, or don’t see it in your lives. 

‘So I want to hear what you lot think. Is romance still a thing? Do you still make a point of doing romantic things? And if you’re not attached right now, do you still have hopes of finding the one?? 

‘Dave from Welwyn Garden City emails: “Romance is still very much alive in our house, Kev!

‘“When we went on our first date, my future wife said that she liked that Springwatch programme. So every year, I trap and stuff another species of British wildlife for her. 

‘“She’s got that many now, she’s had to build a special extension to house them all. They whiff a bit after a while, especially as I can’t always get all the guts out. But it’s the gesture that counts, isn’t it? 

‘Good Lord. And there’s more! “My wife’s a great joker. She always says she can’t wait to get me in there too, in between the red deer and the Aberdeen Angus…”

‘Thanks Dave! Great story. Now a text just in from Jilly in Stafford. “Who says romance is dead? says Jilly. “My girlfriend and I celebrate every anniversary by watching a video of the first ritual sacrifice we ever carried out together. The couple that slays together stays together. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

‘Wow. All sounds a tad sinister. Let’s hear from someone who’s going to lighten the tone for us now. Hopefully. It’s… Janine from Buxton! Come in Janine!’

‘Evening Kevin.’

‘Evening Janine. Now I understand that you and your boyfriend Barry have an anniversary celebration every single week. Is that right?’ 

‘That’s right, Barry. We met on a Friday, and so we have a celebration every Friday night. Crack open a bottle of prosecco and curl up with a nice takeaway and a romcom.’

‘Oh that’s lovely.’ 

‘Yes, and we celebrate lots of other anniversaries too: First Fight-and-Make-Up Night, First I-Love-You, First Car-Bought-Together Day. First Flat-Warming.’ 

‘Lovely, Janine.’ 

‘First Diagnosis.’ 

‘Great! Ok, so…’

‘First Hair Loss. First Colostomy Bag.’


‘First Cremation.’

‘Enough Janine – thank you! And it’s swiftly over now to Gordon in Preston. 

‘How are you doing this evening, Gordon?’

‘Good, thanks, Kevin.’ 

‘On you go.’ 

‘Well, when I first met my partner Aaron, he came out with this line of French poetry: Entre deux coeurs qui s’aiment, nul besoin de paroles. It quite took my breath away.

‘Er, could you just roughly translate that for us, Gordon?’

‘Oh, it roughly means, When two people are in love, they have no need of words.’

‘Very romantic. A very classy chat-up line. And how long have you been together now?’

‘Twenty-seven years. And he’s not said a word since.’ 

‘Awww. How sweet. Well, sort of. Uh-oh! Look out everyone – it’s Cassie from Aberdeen!’

‘That’s right, Kevin. Your Number One fan.’ 

‘Oh you’re so sweet.’ 

‘Nobody loves you better, Kev.’ 

‘That’s what I’m afraid of!’ 

‘Not now I’ve taken care of them all, anyway.’ 

‘Oh. I did wonder why my fan club disbanded.’ 

‘It’s just you and me now Kevin. We’ll never be parted now.’

‘Ooh Cassie. You send chills down my spine.’ 

‘I should hope so.’ 

‘So: dare I ask Cassie? Are you a romantic? Have you found the one?’

‘Oh Kevin! How can you even ask? I love you so much darling, I’ve even started looking like you.’ 

‘Cassie, I’m sure you look a lot better than this plump, greying old timer.’ 

‘I look exactly like you, darling. It’s incredible what they can do with surgery.’

‘Now I know you’re joking this time.’ 

‘Getting the flaky bald patch right was the hardest bit. That and the varicose scrotum.’  

‘I’m going to have to stop you there if I may, Cassie, because it’s just coming up on seven minutes after 12. Thanks as ever to Peter and Iannis for the news and weather. 

‘You’re listening to Kevin Limina, and this is Round Midnight, with your regular round-up of cheery chat and heated debate. 

‘As always, I’m here to guide you through those darkest hours before the dawn that never comes. 

‘And my question for you tonight is one that’s always fascinated me: What’s your idea of hell?

About the Author: Dan Brotzel is the author of a collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack and a novel, The Wolf in the Woods (both from Sandstone Press). He is also co-author of a comic novel, Work in Progress (Unbound). Sign up for news at 

October on the Prairie

By Margaret Rozga

The purple asters still hold their color.

A west wind urges, frees, shakes loose,

sweeps gold maple leaves from their branches

and rains them down to earth after taking them

for a spin.

You  ask if I still believe

the arc of the moral universe

bends toward justice.

The moral universe. Is it contained within, or bigger

than the unmodified universe? What of the 130 years

this prairie was broken and farmed? What of the 50 years

now of restoring prairie? How to do that math?

I seem to have brushed up

against wild parsnip. A blister

above my right ankle.

I cover it and keep going.

Yes, I believe. I try

not to confuse mine with the larger moral universe

its arc still bendable if, when, we lend our hands,

our voices to urge, coax, free, wind, pull it earthward.

About the Author: Margaret Rozga served as inaugural artist/scholar in residence at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee at Waukesha Field Station in 2021 where she hosted Write-Ins and poetry workshops open to all. She curated Our Field Station and the Earth, a campus exhibit of the year’s work. As 2019-2020 Wisconsin Poet Laureate, she edited the chapbook anthology On the Front Lines / Behind the Lines and co-edited the anthology Through This Door: Wisconsin in Poems. Her fifth poetry book is Holding My Selves Together: New & Selected Poems (Cornerstone Press 2021).  

Home for the Summer

By Leah Kindler

The last summer that my heart is all the way home, I do the kid things. Sara and I lose sight of the sun behind the laundromat and our slipping towers of soft-serve. We sit there until half the people we know have walked past the stoop. We lay out our entire summers and watch them sink in the horizon. I let Maggie shave my head a second time on the driveway while their little sister watches and their grandma laughs. I catch a ride to Milwaukee and memorize all the streets named after states and presidents. I get swallowed in the sway of concert crowds. My sleep schedule buckles under morning shifts so I gift afternoons to my bed. Over pho, my dad debates leaving town like all my friends and their parents. I numb my ears, bathe Oak Park in rosy hues, wonder if I still want to leave for college. I chase girls at the last minute with no intention of loving them half as much as I could. I say “she” in the past tense and it’s all too clear who I mean—girl, closeted, of Italian ice-stained tongues and a July basement. In pictures, she sheds her hair and smiles in the lopsided way I used to cry about. I think of my own shearing, how the anger slipped from my face like a curtain. I keep calling this my last summer like I’ll never see June rains tiptoe over my roof again, or shake out the beach into my bed again, or beg Dad to turn on the air. Like I won’t love coming home so much more when it’s not the only home anymore, 

just the original.

About the Author: Leah Kindler (she/her) is an Illinois-based poet and essayist with a BFA in creative writing from Emerson College. She has previously been published by the Academy of American Poets, Invisible City, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @leahliterally.

Two Poems by David L. Stanley

About the Author:

David L. Stanley, B.Sc, M.A., is a teacher, poet and author, voice-over actor, and speaker. His work has appeared in national magazines on topics from professional bicycle racing to men, depression, and suicide. His first book, Melanoma, It Started with a Freckle was hailed by Prof. Tom Foster of How to Read Novels Like a Professor as “harrowing, insightful, technical, and hilarious.” Stanley’s second book, co-authored with Willie Artis is From Jim Crow to CEOthe Willie Artis Story, available via AUX Media. His latest book is Rants & Mutters, an essay collection.

David Stanley has read his sonnets to audiences at the Dad 2.0 Summit; North America’s largest gathering of dads and brands. His poetry has been featured in blogs and literary magazines. He is the narrator of 40 audiobooks on subjects ranging from Alzheimer’s, bicycle racing, the NBA, to mountaineering. 

Stanley travels to speak on melanoma awareness, fatherhood and life, and The Art of the Pitch. You can find him on twitter @DStan58.

An Interview with John Kropf

By Megan Neary

John Kropf’s Color Capital of the WorldGrowing Up with the Legacy of a Crayon Company is a feat of in-depth history blended with personal and family memoir. He tells the story of the rise and fall of the American Crayon company, which was founded by his relatives shortly after the civil war. This story of one innovative company offers insight into the early, exciting days of the city of Sandusky, Ohio, as well as a picture of how and why the factory closed down and Sandusky became a member of the so-called rust belt. Paired with the history of this company and Kropf’s family are stories of Kropf’s own life- from the joy he felt at sticking his head into a bin of crayons and breathing in their unique scent, to his later return visits to the city as an adult. Each chapter is named for a color- a color that can be found in a box of crayons and a color that stood out to Kropf as he recalled and wrote each story. The book is educational, entertaining, and colorful, much like the crayons that play such an important role in it. 

Kropf is an attorney by trade, but a writer at heart. He said, “I always thought, you know, being an attorney there’d be more security and it would be kind of a safe route to take and I’ve really enjoyed the career I’ve had, but I’ve always nursed this sort of inner artist, you know, there’s this secret life I feel like I’ve lived. Some people paint, some people are musicians, and I feel like I have this Walter Mitty fantasy that perhaps I could be a writer.” He’s kept a journal since he was eighteen and published various short pieces, including one on this site, called Hard Hat in an Information Age. He’s also the author of Unknown Sands, a travel book inspired by his time living in Turkmenistan. 

He said he was inspired to write this book when  “I was reading about how in Sandusky they were demolishing [the American Crayon factory] and I thought that was really marking the end of an era for me and then at the same time I had both my mother died and my sister died and they were sort of the last family connections to that company and I just thought I had all these stories that I wanted to share with somebody. I thought they’d be interesting, at least, everyone seems to like crayons, so I wanted to tell those stories.”

“I had put together sort of family stories that were pretty broad in their scope… then during Covid I had a lot more time at home to really narrow it down and when I finally found a publisher through the University of Akron Press they really helped me a lot to kind of narrow the focus and they said let’s just focus, you know, on  the crayon stories and the crayon company.”

“I added the color chapters, I don’t know, fairly early on. I was worried it would sound hokey but I thought the stories really cried out to have a chapter named after a color sort of associated with something in that story.”

“For me I was fortunate I had a lot of papers and correspondence that was handed down through my family that I got to look through that helped me to understand what was going on in the company at the time.” 

“In Ohio all kinds of intellectual, industrial forment was going on. You had the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison’s from Ohio, you had all kinds of automobile start up companies…

 You had the railroads were first sort of started in Northern Ohio. The start of this company was part of that innovative spirit. It was basically members of my family experimenting in the kitchen to try to come up with a new formula for chalk which then led to the crayons. We often think of Silicon Valley, you know, in the late seventies, early eighties as people being innovative in their garages, you know, Steve jobs and so on creating PCs, but there was quite a bit of this spirit going on in the late 1800s.”

“As I was thinking about these stories I guess I have a tendency to kind of sympathize with or understand, you know, in certain eastern cultures there’s this tendency for ancestor worship and I kind of understood that because i had all of these, I was very very fortunate I had all of these artifacts from the family that had been preserved and handed down and having them all around me they were all talking to me in a way, they were all telling me stories in a way and I think the longer i was away from my hometown… I thought I don’t want these, what I consider really interesting stories, to be lost, I want to be able to tell them to a wider audience.”

Once he had written the book, Kropf turned his attention to getting it published. He had experience with this process, having published the book Unknown Sands, a travel book about living in Turkmenistan. He said,  “I really zeroed in on small independent presses or university presses that I knew might be interested and were in that region and I was not with an agent so that made it a pretty clean relationship there. And university of Akron, it just so happened that they’re doing a series on Ohio history and culture and this fit into that series and I was just really fortunate that it worked out well and it’s probably not your traditional book from an academic press…because it blends personal memoir with history so it might be a little bit of a hybrid so I’m just really thrilled that they took it on.

When it comes to getting a book out in the world Kropf said “part one is writing the book which is a really consuming process and then the second is finding a publisher and then the third, which I’m in right now, is really trying to get your book noticed, you know, get it marketed and get people to pay attention to it. It sort of feels, you know, like you have this child you’ve raised and you send this child on out into the world and you want everyone to like your child and take notice and that’s sort of where I am now.”

When it comes to future publications, he said “I have some other family stories I think might have some literary value on my father’s side of the family. I have my grandfather who was in World War 1 and he was in something called the balloon observed corp and he was actually, they had a small group of soldiers that went up in these balloons four, five thousand feet up in the air and they looked down, you know, in France they’d look down at the lines of the Germans and report back what they would see and it was a highly dangerous specialty to be in in the army because these balloons were frequently shot down and the parachutes that they had were very primitive, early parachutes and they didn’t always work and I had his diary from that time. I’ve donated it to the Smithsonian but I’ve kept a copy and I’ve thought there might be a book in there somewhere.”

About the Author: Megan Neary is a Co-founding editor of Flyover Country, a teacher, and a widely published writer of fiction and criticism.


By Gary Duehr

I am an emergency. My name is Bernie Smith, my colleagues at HR Block used to call me St. Bernard, like the hospital on the South Side, because I was always trying to save someone a few bucks. I still live a couple blocks from the hospital, near where the Dan Ryan Expressway split the old neighborhood in half, in a post-war cottage. It’s nice, white brick, with a long narrow backyard like a bowling alley. Just five minutes from the Red Line El, though with a bad leg I don’t get around much anymore. 

You wouldn’t know it, chatting with me in Billz Coffee on the corner, how extraordinary my life has become at the age of 72. I make a point to be polite, yes ma’m and no sir, with a firm, quiet voice like I’d use with clients. When I look in the mirror, I see myself 30 years ago, reddish hair swept to one side, fair skin, a veil of freckles across my nose and forearms where I got sunburnt as a kid, tall and a little bony—my wife, Jennie, who died three years ago, said I reminded her of some 1940s cartoon character.

 I started having visions a year and a half ago. They came like dreams, every week or so, in that haze when you first wake up in the morning, rubbing my face and looking out the window at our gnarled crabapple tree. In each one I saw the same tall glass building with balconies, a glittering shard in bright sun, behind it Lake Michigan’s boiling gray expanse. The address was 1353 Lake Shore Drive, I could see it etched in marble above the revolving doors; it was on the Gold Coast, a stretch of luxury condos and Gucci and Nike stores north of the Loop.

The first time, I saw a fire break out in the upper stories, belching smoke into a crystal blue sky, so real it looked like the TV news. It shook me. The next day I heard about a big fire in a condo downtown, and I wondered if there was a connection. So when I had my next vision of a bomb being planted at the same building, I called 911 to make sure.

“This line is being recorded. Do you need police, fire or medical?”

“Police, I think. Maybe fire too.”

“What is the emergency?”

“It’s happening right now. 1353 Lake Shore Drive. I saw two foreign-looking guys in a van leave a suspicious black bag outside the lobby. Please send someone right away.”

“Where are you located?”

I hung up. When I didn’t hear anything about a bomb on the news, I figured I may have prevented a tragedy.

The visions started to come more often, every few days, and all about something awful happening at 1353 Lake Shore Drive. Drug trafficking on the loading dock, a would-be jumper teetering on the roof, Lake Michigan’s waves crashing in. Why that address, I don’t know. But I began to feel like the building’s secret guardian, keeping watch like a security guard. It became my building.

“This line is being recorded. Do you need police, fire or medical?”

“Medical. A middle-aged male looks like he’s had a heart attack on the 5th floor balcony. I can see him slumped over in his deck chair. There’s no one with him.”


“1353 Lake Shore Drive.”

“Where are you located?”


My public defender, Will, says I have to stop. The police finally tracked down my phone. Will insists there is no 1353 Lake Shore Drive. At the beginning, every time a ladder truck would roar up or patrol cars and an ambulance with sirens blaring, they’d block the road and drag their hoses, axes, and stretchers into the lobby of the nearest high rise, 1350, where they’d confront an exasperated security guard behind his counter who’d start to yell at them before they could say a word. After logging more than a hundred calls, the 911 Center taped up warnings by the phones with a Google map of the area: THERE IS NO 1353 LAKE SHORE DRIVE. DO NOT DISPATCH.

I understand what Will is telling me, when we sit together in the cafeteria after a court hearing. But it doesn’t make sense. I can see the building like it’s standing right in front of me, its black iron balcony railings, the gleaming reflections of sky and clouds in the windows, the address in a fancy script above the front door. And the trouble plays out like a movie in my head with bone-chilling screams, closeups of desperate faces crying out to me. I can’t resist.

 “This line is being recorded. Do you need police, fire or medical?”

 “All three. Everybody. It’s terrible, terrible.”

 “What’s the emergency?”

“A big construction crane next door has toppled over. There are hundreds of people trapped up there. The whole thing might collapse. The boom woke me up, it sounded like a huge explosion.”

“What’s the address?”

“1353 Lake Shore Drive.”

“I’m sorry, sir, could you repeat that?”


Will is a nice kid, right out of Loyola, with soft brown eyes behind his wire rims. He listens to me go on, then explains what the court order means. They can’t send me to prison, and the evaluations come back normal so hospitalization is out, and they can’t make me take medication. But they can hold me in contempt if I keep making 911 calls, fine me, detain me for a few days. He says they can’t charge me for being lonely and a little crazy, otherwise the jails would be full. But he pleads with me to stop, for pete’s sake, Bernie, stop. You’re causing everyone a lot of trouble.

I tell Will I’m sorry. I feel bad that he has me for a case. I know I’m difficult. Once I accidentally broke my phone, and I started to miss my court appointments. The 911 calls stopped for a while, but because I’m on assistance the judge was forced to give me a new phone, which everyone found painfully ironic, including me. 

I told Will my theory of where my visions come from. My real first name is Joseph, Joseph Smith, which is why I go by my middle name Bernard. I was born in Carthage, Illinois, down by the Mississippi, where the Mormon founder Joseph Smith was killed by a mob that dragged him from his jail cell. Growing up I heard all about my namesake, how he had visions of an angel who led him to upstate New York to dig up golden plates, the Book of Mormon, which tells the story of an ancient American civilization where the Garden of Eden is in Missouri. Crazy stuff, we used to laugh at it as kids. There’s a plaque on the site of the old jail we’d use for BB practice.      

But what if some of the same spirit has gotten into me, stranger things have happened. I didn’t ask for this, any more than Saint Francis of Assisi or Catherine of Siena did. I was raised Catholic by my mom, so she told me the stories of the saints on these playing cards. Inside I’m scared, terrified, but I don’t share this with anyone, including Will. I’d tell Jennie if she was here, she’d help me figure it out, but now there’s no one. It’s fallen on me. What if it’s all true, and I’ve been chosen to save everyone? They need me. I can’t let go.

“This line is being recorded. Do you need police, fire or medical?”
 “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. Please help.”

“What’s going on?”

“Please don’t hang up. I can see an enormous cloud of locusts in the sky over Lake Michigan, it’s so dark it’s blocking out the sun. They’re buzzing like a hundred airplanes, and they’re headed straight for a high rise.”

 “What’s the address?”

  “1353 Lake Shore Drive.”

About the Author: Gary Duehr has taught creative writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Journals in which his writing has appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His books include Winter Light (Four Way Books) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press).

This Isn’t Meditation, It’s Simulation

By Wendy BooydeGraaff

About the Author: Wendy BooydeGraaff’s fiction and essays have been included in The Shore, X-R-A-Y, Miracle Monocle, About Place, and elsewhere. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, she now lives in Michigan, United States.

Field of Dreams

By Connor White

Short played with the buttons of the voice recorder, hitting fast-forward, rewind, fast-forward again, scrubbing through the last movie recording until he queued it exactly where the film concluded. He stood the voice recorder on the concrete floor of the storm shelter. I was laying on my stomach on the bunk above him, worrying about the winds. We were getting close to our last can.

 “Okay, movie time,” Short said. “Whose turn is it? It might be yours, Tall.”

 “I forget,” I said.

 “Well, lemme look at the list.”

 Short got up and found his spiral notebook on the desk. He flipped through to the last page of entries.

“We forgot to pen in John Carpenter’s The Thing, which was two nights ago; 28 Days Later; our triple-feature of Friday the 13th parts 1, 2, and 3; The ExorcistNight of the Creeps. . .”

“Which one was Night of the Creeps?”

“Directed by Fred Dekker who also directed Monster Squad, which you listened to a month ago. In the zombie classic Night of the Creeps, Tom Atkins, who plays Detective Cameron, is holed up in the Kappa Delta Sigma sorority house with all the sorority sisters dressed up and ready to go to their formal dance, he looks out the window at the zombies in tuxedos staggering toward the house, cigarette betwixt his lips and says, “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is, your dates are here.” Then one of the sisters astutely asks, “What’s the bad news?” The camera pushes in, emphasizing the revolver in Cameron’s hand, held at the ready as he says through gritted teeth, “They’re dead.”

 “Oh, right.”

“Then we had: Tales from the Hood; Army of Darkness, obviously preceded by Evil Dead 2Ganja and HessThe BlobIn the Mouth of MadnessCarrieThe BabadookInsidiousSigns.

 “I guess it’s my turn.”

  “Any movie in mind?”

 I listed my favorites. Fantasies like The Lord of the RingsThe Princess BrideThe NeverEnding Story, then more of the realist dramas like Serpico and The Godfather. Short had never seen The Godfather, but he’d seen all ten Friday the 13th movies, and, Short liked to point out, if you included Freddy vs. Jason and the remake of the first film, that made the count twelve. There was some overlap in the films we’d seen, but not much. Mostly from dates we took to a matinee. It had been a long time since we saw a movie.

The night before, after we’d finished a quick session of fooling around, Short began to cry. He was feeling claustrophobic. We both were. That night he’d told me the story of The Ring and got nostalgic for the night he’d seen it in theaters with his first love, Henry. He hid his face in the crux of my arm and wept.

“I’ll never watch a film in a theater again,” he said. “I’ll never sit in the dark and watch the triangular rays of light dance from the projector, lighting up all the particulate floating in its beams. No one will ever make another horror movie. There’s no one to make them for.”

“On our next run, we’ll look again for working players. Anything—VHS, DVD, hell even Laserdisc. Eventually, we’ll find one. There’s gotta be horror movies you haven’t seen. They’re out there. You haven’t seen them all. And someday we’ll watch them.”

“How many DVDs could possibly be in the radius of the shelter? We’ll never get far enough to find them. The winds won’t allow it.”

 “We’ll try.”

I thought more about the films I had seen and recounted the titles for him. Short had an encyclopedic knowledge for horror movies. He could recite half the lines, even giving the camera cues. He remembered what the characters wore, how they styled their hair, the color, contrast, and intensity of the lighting in each scene. I couldn’t even remember the name of the main character half the time. 

 “Have you ever seen Field of Dreams?” I said.

  “Nope, is it good?”

  “I can’t believe you haven’t seen it. And to think, you’re from Sioux City. It takes place in Iowa.”

 “Would I like it?”

 “I think so.”

  “What genre?”

 “It’s a horror movie.”

  “You’re kidding?”

    “No joke.”

    “It’s not a Children of the Corn ripoff is it?”

    “Completely different.”

   “Do you remember enough to tell it?”

   “I’ll try.”

 Short grabbed his tape recorder. He recorded every movie we told each other and carried it with him in case other memories came back to him. In case we couldn’t remember the details later on. When we’re old, he meant. He wanted to preserve the accuracy of the tellings while we still remembered, so we could play them back when we no longer did. It made me slightly shy to know my voice was being recorded. Though, unlike Short, I didn’t think that we’d make it far enough to suffer senility. When I listen to the tapes, I curse myself for sounding timid and unenthusiastic when Short sounded so exuberant. I’m embarrassed by my embarrassment. I enjoyed telling the stories, I really did. I just wanted to do a good job.

“A farmer in Iowa plows over acres of his corn to build a baseball diamond—”

“Tell me about the characters first before you dive into the plot. I wanna fall in love with them so I can feel their calamities.”

 “The aforementioned farmer, Kevin Costner, is the son of a washed-up, triple-A baseball player.”

“The character’s name is Kevin Costner? Like Waterworld Kevin Costner?”

“Just a coincidence.”


I closed my eyes and conjured their backstory. The type of backstory that Short could appreciate. Something horrific.

“When he was still in diapers, Kevin lost his mother to a stampede at Ebbets Field—”

“Is this a Slasher?”

“It’s a Haunting.”

“The mother? She comes back doesn’t she?”

“Do you want to keep fast-forwarding, or do you want me to tell you the story?”

“I’m sorry, go ahead, I’m liking this so far.” 

“His father never recovers, blaming the sport for the loss of his wife. Each night at bedtime, his father recounts horrible stories of lives ruined by baseball. The tale his father always circles back to is the tragedy of Shoeless Joe Jackson, banned from the league after his team, the Chicago White Sox, are caught fixing the World Series by throwing the game in exchange for kickbacks from underworld bookies. Kevin is eighteen when he flees Brooklyn. He never sees his father again.”

 The LED lights flickered and went dark. The solar batteries had run out of power. A whistling came through the seam in the tornado shelter’s doors. The wind was picking up outside. It had been blowing for eleven days straight. Not the longest storm yet, but getting there. 

For hundreds of miles in every direction was flat land. Nebraska farmland. No forests or high ground to block the winds. No bodies of water to divert the pressure systems. When the winds ripped across that barren landscape, the air filled with dust, a grey cloud of debris that blocked out the sun. Power was hard to conserve when the winds lasted that long. Night and day, it was pitch black in the tornado shelter. We turned on the lights only when it was time to eat. Once the winds finally subsided, we had an opening of clear weather to go scavenging the nearest townships for supplies.

The winds carried a disease. Scientists from the CDC said on the news that it might be a fungus that survived in the upper atmosphere. Buoyant in air, never resting on the earth. Microorganisms that by evolution or by design floated like microscopic balloons. The winds pulled them to earth to infect us. And when they did infect an organism, no water could enter its cells. At least, that was the suspicion. They never found out for sure. It wasn’t long until there were no scientists left.

Birds were the first to drop. Then desiccated animals began showing up around the country by the millions. Deer, squirrels, raccoons, dogs, any animal caught out in a storm. Once infected you can drink all the water you want, but it just passes through on the long slide out the other end. Not a drop absorbed. Death comes by dehydration.

It took some time for it to affect plants. A disease that infected plants and animals alike? The botanists and epidemiologists said it wasn’t possible. First, they thought it was a simple drought. But then farmers noticed that the water from their irrigation was running off the land. The roots of their crops weren’t sucking up any water. Hectares of farms and wild vegetation began to dry up overnight. And soon nothing grew. It stopped raining altogether. Above the prairie now is an endless, uninterrupted sky. Not a cloud in sight. 

It was summer when it started. Before the winds, May through September was muggy in the prairie. Oppressively humid. People complain about the humidity of the south, but they’ve never experienced Iowa and Nebraska humidity. The Corn Sweats, they called it. A phenomenon whereby the corn stalks that blanketed the land transpire an excess of moisture. But now the land is dry. 

It rains over the ocean still. One of the last reports we heard before the silence was of a hurricane approaching the East Coast. Maybe we can make it out to the coast someday. It would be nice to feel rain again. Though the rain might carry it, too. That’d be a nice way to go—a walk in the rain on a hot summer day.

In the dark, I lay back in bed and listened to the winds and the revving of a gear from Short’s flashlight, charged by a hand crank. Finally, after much effort, a bar of blue light sparked to life.

“Want me to keep going or are you ready to sleep?” I said.

“Just a few more minutes,” Short said.

“Trying to put as much distance as possible between him and his father, Kevin moved to Iowa and married a strawberry blonde named Annie. They had a daughter. He became a farmer, growing corn for pig farms. Financially, they were getting by, happy even, but the winds shifted for the little family. One day Kevin heard a voice call to him from deep within the corn. Initially, he dismissed it as a trick of the wind. He ignored it for weeks, but the voice kept calling to him. Like the sirens, it drew him near. He resisted, but the harder he fought it, the clearer the voice became. 

It said, ‘If you build it, he will come.’

An almost sexual urge overtook him—an impulse to rip each stalk of his corn from the ground by its roots. He hungered for it. One afternoon it was too much to resist. 

The corn called to him, ‘If you build it, he will come.’ 

He ran for the shed and mounted his cultivator. While his neighbors looked on from their fields, he drove into his crop, bursting with ecstasy as whole streaks of vegetation were churned under in one continuous spiral, a whole-body orgasm that pulsed through him, aching for desolation. The feeling was too good to stop. He would have kept mowing over his crop until nothing was left, if the engine hadn’t sputtered to a stop, empty of gas.”

Short’s breathing had turned heavy.

“You awake,” I said.

“Yeah, but I’m fading,” Short said.

“Is the movie putting you to sleep?”

“Just tired. I’m digging the movie. Finish it tomorrow?”

“Sure hun.”

The recorder clicked off.

Short shook me awake. 

“It stopped,” he said.


  “The winds, they stopped.”

 “How long?”

I sat up and dangled my legs over the side of my bunk. Short was hustling to get his clothes on in the dark, knocking into things.

 “Short, when did it stop?” I said.

 “I don’t know. While we were asleep.”

 “Have you looked out yet?”

  “I just woke up like you.”

  “What’s the time?”

  “Ten after five.”

  “Morning or night?”


Short cranked up his flashlight and shined it on our map. The town’s stock had dried up. Each house, each store, each boarded-up restaurant we systematically searched, and after coloring in their little blocks on the map, we never stepped in them again. The time had come to make a run for the neighboring town of Stantzville to our east. It’d be a risk. A necessary one.

“Okay, let’s move,” Short said.

The whole world looked like an attic left abandoned for half a century. A fine layer of dust settled on everything. Mixtures of ash and dirt and dead cells. It made a cloud if you shuffled your feet too much. The remains of every living thing that the winds had touched, turned to dust, scattered about by storms. After the Prairie Fires, the land had turned gray. 

Our bicycles were tuned-up as best as we could get them. We carried a spare air pump, but we didn’t have any spare inner tubes left. A week before, I had popped my front tire. We used our last spare to replace it.

We made good time riding to Stantzville. Before we searched the houses, we decided to check the stores. There was a good chance a can could be found, rolled under a counter or fallen behind some boxes during the runs on the supermarkets. 

Short wanted to try the Casey’s General Store since it was right on the corner. Its windows were shattered, so I wasn’t optimistic. While he climbed inside, I went to examine a mound in the street. With the sole of my shoe I brushed away the dust covering it. 

The body lay facedown. I turned it over to see if it was anyone I knew. The corpse was lightweight. Only skin and bones and clothes. Preserved like a mummy. The towns were small enough that occasionally we recognized acquaintances and, once in a blue moon, friends. A stranger, a man wearing a tattered black leather jacket with chrome studs pinned in the collar. A button in the shape of Australia read, G’Day Mate. Another pin said, Stay Free.

It’s funny, in our isolation, corpses were a welcome sight. Like running into someone you knew at the store. Short would call me over and say, “look who I ran into.” And there would be a friend of ours mummified in their living room. We once found a woman we knew, Ruth, dead in a bed that wasn’t hers, with a man who wasn’t her husband. The nightstands beside the bed displayed an assortment of vibrators and dildos and lube. You might think it’d be grim to witness, but it was comforting to see that she’d had some fun before the end.

“Clear,” Short called as he climbed through the window.

We rode to the main strip, aiming for the Hy-Vee. I stopped at the window of a realty office. Signs in the windows gave details of local sales. A craftsman home, 3 Br, 2 Ba listed for $280,000. A ranch, 2 Br, 1.5 Ba listed for $230,000. 

“You on the market,” Short said. “Come on let’s hurry.”

“Wait, look at this one,” I said. “Rustic country home, 2 Br, 2 Ba, on 3.2 acres nestled in an old apple grove. Well water, septic tank, and in-ground storm shelter.”

“It’s got a storm shelter?” 

“Yup. It’s east of here, too. Right off of Prairie Du Chien Rd.”

“You still dreaming of heading for the coast?”

“Why not? We got nothing else to do? We could do this.”

“Do what?”

“String together a chain of storm shelters.”

“It’ll take years, maybe decades.”

“What else do we have to do?”

“We’ll talk about it.”

“What’s there to talk about?”

“It’s dangerous for one.”

“We’re in danger already.”

“It’s more dangerous. It’s best to stay put while we—”

 “Hold it.”

 What I’d thought was a feature of the landscape was moving. Short turned to face what I saw. On the sidewalk was a person. A figment of imagination covered in dust. We hadn’t seen another person in a year. The figure trudged toward us. Their limbs were thin. A dress strap hung off one knobby shoulder.

 “Holy shit,” Short said.

 “I thought I was losing my mind,” I said.

 The figure came closer.

 “Stay back,” Short said.

 “They might be starving,” I said.

We quickly backed up as the person hastened their shuffle, trying to reach us. There was still so much we didn’t know. We knew the winds carried the infection, but person to person transmission? Still, I felt for that emaciated soul. They were isolated, starving, dehydrated. How long had it been since they’d seen anyone? Maybe they weren’t sick. Just starving to death, like us. Short stumbled into me and nearly fell. 

 “We gotta move,” he said. 

We turned and ran for our bikes as the figure broke into a labored jog. Short started to ride off, but I stopped and turned around. The person had fallen over in the street. A haze of dust clouded the spot. 

 “Short, wait a sec,” I said.

They weren’t moving. If they were still breathing, it was incredibly shallow. The skirt of their dress had flipped up past their naked hips. The skin stretched tight over their bones. Tendons and muscles strung underneath the skin like poles in a tent. I got close and nudged them with my toe.

 “Don’t touch,” Short shouted.

  He rode up alongside me and grabbed a fistful of my shirt and dragged me a safe distance away.

 “Are you crazy,” he said.

 “I’ll put on my mask and gloves,” I said. “They need help.”

  “Don’t bother, they’re dead.”

   Short was right. They weren’t breathing. 

 “Let’s go to Hy-Vee before it gets too late,” Short said.

The Supermarket was picked clean. Most were since the run on stores during the first wave of deaths. The places we typically found cans were in the loading areas, in the break rooms, and in the back offices. I found a can of peaches stashed behind a crate in the loading zone. Short found a cup of Ramen in the break room. We searched the cabinets and drawers in the back office.

 “So what happens after Kevin mows his crop down?” Short said.

 “Doesn’t it wear you out?” I said. 

“Wear me out?”

“Look at the state of the world. After all the terrible shit you’ve seen? Don’t you want to hear about something nice for a change?”

  “I just like creepy stories.”

   “But why?”

 “I don’t know, it’s fun to get scared and survive. It used to be that I’d watch a truly terrifying movie, typically, a midnight showing, and on the way out of the theater they’d lock the doors behind us. I’d be scared out of my wits walking back to my car alone in the empty parking lot. But once I was inside with the doors locked, I was happy. Horror movies make it easier to return to life. Your life can be all fucked up, but you’re happy to return to it.”

  “What about now? There’s no movie worse than this.”

  “Good horror movies also make you realize that you live in a horror movie.”

   “I already know I live in one.”

   “It’s not so bad. Oh damn, a Snickers bar!”

   “Where’d you find that? Is there anything else?”

 “It was next to the keyboard on the tray. We never check there. We’ll eat this tonight when we watch the rest of the movie.”

We’d have to save the rest of the building for the next trip. It was getting late, and we couldn’t be caught out after dark. The winds had a tendency to start up at night. We returned to our bikes and started riding. 

I was staring ahead, watching for debris in the street that might puncture a tire. On the horizon, the sun shone bright. I had to squint my eyes against it. It took me a moment to realize I was seeing in color. The street was divided. Ahead of me was technicolor, while the street behind me was black and white. The signs on the buildings across the street stood out in stark, neon relief. My brain wasn’t processing the divide between grayscale and color. Short skidded to a stop.

 “Turn around,” Short said. “Go back.”

I braked. The dead branches of the trees were swaying. Dust blew off the roofs. The colors of the town were being unearthed by the winds.

 “Oh god,” Short said. “Ride Tall.” 

We pulled on our masks, spun our bikes around and pedaled. Colorful signs showed behind us. The dust rolled across town like a freight train miles long.

 “We’re cut off,” Short said.

  “Head for Prairie du Chien,” I said.

  “That’s the opposite direction of home.”

   “The real estate listing.”

    “The one with the shelter? I don’t know, it could be padlocked shut.”

    “There’s nowhere else to go.”

 The winds were building around us. Dust devils were spouting from every direction, gray funnels that twisted across the landscape. We rode to Prairie du Chien and cut down a gravel road. We found the house from the picture. 

 Branches were cracking and falling from the dead trees surrounding the property. The winds grazed us. I could only hold my breath for so long. We were panting from exertion. We had to try to get into the shelter quick.

Built into a hill behind the house was a set of storm doors. Miraculously, they were unlocked. We dragged our bikes inside and slammed the doors behind us, latching them in place. The winds got louder as they increased in speed. Updrafts pulled on the doors, trying to suck them off their hinges. 

Short got his flashlight out and found an old Coleman lantern on the shelf, still filled with fuel. He found the matches and lit the lantern, placing it on a small wooden table against the wall. 

The shelter was small. No beds. Only a couple chairs and a small table to play cards at. It smelled of mildew and rodent droppings. Built for the threat of tornadoes, long before anyone had ever heard of the winds. 

“See any food?” I said.

“There’s a water jug,” he said.

Short unscrewed the cap on the jug and gave it a sniff. He took a sip, shrugged and handed it to me. The water tasted of plastic, but my dry throat welcomed it. The storm might last for weeks, but at least we wouldn’t die of thirst.

“Dinner and a movie?” Short said, shaking the Snickers bar at me.

“Field of Dreams or something else,” I said.

“I wanna hear how it ends.”

We pulled chairs up to the table. Short placed his tape recorder between us and pressed 


When I play back the tape, I can hear the crinkle of the Snickers wrapper. His hands working excitedly, but carefully. I can almost make out his voice when he said, here, and placed my share on the table, bundled in half the wrapper. It’s one of the parts I always rewind to listen to.

On the recording I say, “Kevin told Annie about the whole Black Sox scandal with the Chicago White Sox, and his father’s mission to steer him away from baseball and avoid another tragedy. Annie knew the project was important to Kevin. She sensed that he was exorcising some sort of demon with it, and so she was supportive. But she was also worried. They used up their life savings on the construction. Most of their crop was plowed over to make way for the baseball diamond and stands and facilities, and the income from their remaining corn couldn’t cover their mortgage payments. Annie was happy to give to Kevin’s obsession, but he had put their whole future at risk. Kevin had complete tunnel vision in regards to building the field. When she tried to bring up her concerns, he would snap at her.

One night, when Kevin was in a good mood, Annie attempted to convince him to slow down on construction, arguing that maybe they didn’t need the metal halide lights on fifty foot poles to illuminate the field for night games. She was arguing her point to Kevin as he painted lines in the dirt of the diamond, when a man emerged from the corn. They thought he was a neighbor, stopping by to see the progress, but as he came closer, they noticed the leather mitt in his hand. The stranger was dressed in full vintage Chicago White Sox uniform.

The White Sox player came near but didn’t dare cross the newly painted lines, the borders of his world. He introduced himself, Joseph Jackson. Shoeless Joe Jackson. His father’s idol who broke his heart. Joe was right in front of them. Real as day. Annie saw him, too. 

‘Where’d you come from?’ Kevin asked.

‘In there,’ Joe said, pointing to the corn. ‘And there’s more of us.’


But before he could press him further, Shoeless Joe turned and walked back into the corn and disappeared. Kevin and Annie stood there dumbfounded, watching the border of the corn for hours, waiting for movement. 

Annie relented to Kevin’s insistence that they invest in lights. Right when they finished wiring power to the lamps, Shoeless Joe emerged again from the corn, joined by a team of players. The lights sparked on, and the team began their practice. Kevin and Annie were in shock. They watched from the bleachers as the ghosts practiced pitching and hitting and catching. Dawn approached and practice ended. The ghosts returned to the corn. The sun had yet to crest the horizon when the voice returned saying, ‘Ease his pain.’ Shortly thereafter the bank threatened foreclosure.”

“Can we take a break from the story for a bit,” Short said.

“Sure,” I said. “You good?”

“It’s just a headache. We haven’t eaten much today besides sugar.”

The recording is choppy from that point on. Years of dust have worn it down. The gears have stretched the tape, and sometimes it comes off the rollers, and I have to respool it centimeter by centimeter, turning the gears with the tip of my thumb. 

What wasn’t recorded was our panic the next morning. 

 Short couldn’t sleep. His headache got worse, and he started having diarrhea. The water he drank hours before passed right through him. He pushed me away and shouted at me if I came near to hold him. He feared infecting me. In the corner of that shelter he tried to sleep, shifting and rolling and changing positions, trying to get comfortable, but his headache was too severe. 

We were trapped there by the winds. For a week, the winds blew. I wanted Short to see daylight one more time, but by the time it was safe to go outside, he had been dead for several days. 

I listen to the recording of Field of Dreams once a week. I have to limit myself. There are only so many listens you can get from a tape before it breaks. But I have the others, Les DiaboliquesOldboyThe OmenThe Strangers, all the spooky movies that Short loved. 

I like listening to Field of Dreams the best. He was so pleased to hear a new one. And it made me happy to be able to creep him out, at least once.

It’s scratchy, but the tape continues like this: 

“Kevin and Annie don’t lose their farm. Thousands of people heard the voice too and were drawn to the field. The travelers thought they were going mad, like Kevin and Annie did, until they saw the lights of the field. They came in lines of cars down the county road and paid good money to watch the ghosts play their game. Each night, rain or shine, the ghosts played for cheering crowds. Kevin and Annie kept the games running, but it wasn’t always enough. Occasionally, the corn needed an offering. 

The Field of Dreams was growing thicker. It needed food. Shoeless Joe convinced Kevin to kidnap a Sportswriter to feed to the field. So he did and brought the Sportswriter to meet Shoeless Joe. When the Sportswriter saw Shoeless Joe, he was caught in a spell. Then Joe led the bewitched man into the fold of the corn stalks, and he was never seen again. 

Soon, the Field of Dreams needed more. It was dependent upon Kevin and Annie to feed it, to maintain its lawn, to rake its dirt, to paint its bleachers, and to keep spectators coming. It would never let Kevin enter. That is, until he was no longer useful. 

Kevin grew tired of the field and tried to put an end to it. He filled his fertilizer cart with salt and spread it over the finely manicured grass of the outfield. He flooded the diamond and tried to burn the corn, but the Field of Dreams fought back. One night, the field lured their daughter into the stalks. It consumed her like it did James. On the same day that it took their daughter, it forced Kevin and Annie to mate. The Field of Dreams needed their progeny. Someday Kevin and Annie would be too aged and frail to take care of it anymore. It forced Kevin and Annie to beget more children. Their children would inherit the upkeep of the field. They would inherit its shackles.

Kevin and Annie tended to the field for the remainder of their natural lives, feeding it offerings whenever it was hungry. They had many more children. Some they sacrificed to the field. The others, they taught the art of its maintenance. The family was enslaved to it. As long as they were still able to deliver it food, it would never let them go.”

When I finished, Short said, “I’ve heard so many people talk about Field of Dreams. I thought it was supposed to be trash like It’s a Wonderful Life. One of those flicks boring-ass families watch together once a year. But they share my taste.”

There was a faint, mechanical click and the tape went silent.

About the Author: Connor White is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His work has appeared in The Southern Humanities Review, Monkey Bicycle, Postscript Magazine, Clarion Magazine, The Des Moines Register, and Guesthouse. His novel excerpt “Waking Up” was recently shortlisted for The Masters Review novel excerpt contest, and he also has an essay forthcoming in LitHub on the power of storytelling in the criminal legal system. 


By Charles K. Carter

About the Author: Charles K. Carter (he/him) is a queer poet from Iowa. He holds an MFA from Lindenwood University. His poems have appeared in several literary journals. He is the author of Read My Lips (David Robert Books, November 2022) and several chapbooks. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @CKCpoetry.

An Interview with Donna and William Burtch

By Megan Neary

Ohio-based siblings William and Donna Burtch have written a captivating biography of their ancestor, William Gould “W.G.” Raymond. The book’s cover gives a glimpse into the complexity of Raymond’s life, reading “W.G. The opium-addicted, pistol toting preacher who raised the first Federal African American troops.” The Burtches do a superb job of examining this man’s complexity, his flaws and his virtues, to give the reader a three-dimensional view of Raymond. Raymond’s story and that of his troops have largely fallen through the cracks of history, making it particularly encouraging to see new light shone on these individuals’ contributions to the union. 

I had the opportunity to sit down with the Burtches and discuss their work with them. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Megan Neary (MN): How did you learn about this story to begin with?

Donna Burtch (DB): I’ll tell you the real genesis for it was family conversations in Pennsylvania years ago. Our mother and her sister were really close and my aunt, our aunt, had this manuscript of W.G.’s that he wrote in 1892. So we had heard the stories in the conversations with our relatives and in, probably, 1986 we got a copy of the manuscript…. We all read it and thought there’s so much unique stuff around this guy’s life and we would like to know more. Well, you know, life gets in the way, we had careers, I had children, we went through the whole lifespan of what you can do and it takes you off track of writing…. I started doing genealogy, too, maybe ten years ago and [W.G.] was in part of the family tree. So, of course I got some more scoop on him through my ancestry research. … And so, every once in a while, we’d talk about him. Well then, it was right around Thanksgiving we started having conversations…. Our original plan was to try and create a documentary. … The most exciting thing was we were able to see pretty quickly that everything we researched that [W.G.] had talked about in his own notes was true. You know, we were able to pretty early on corroborate this stuff, so that gave us a lot of encouragement to keep going. 

William Burtch (WB): We both said one of the best life experiences we’ve had is researching this book and writing it and corroborating it. W.G. Raymond widely fell through the cracks of history … so it’s gratifying that we can bring this man’s story out 160 years later and find a receptive audience for it and we have. It’s remarkable and just makes us feel so glad that we took the time to do it. And it was just an interesting story that kept unfolding for us and amazingly the writing just worked out well. We just divided it up by life stage and then we’d share each other’s writing and by editing between us it became just sort of our voice. Because the risk you run obviously when you co-write something is just that, that you’re going to get two very different voices and it won’t jive, and by doing that we were able to make it essentially one voice. … So, it’s been just a remarkable ride for us. 

MN: What was the process like to get it published?

WB: Yeah, it was interesting. We’ve learned a lot. It’s been a real crash course in the publishing industry, which, as you know, has gone through a remarkable, really, sea change over the last few years due to technology and so forth. We wanted to go the traditional publisher route for a variety of reasons, but mostly just for access to a certain distribution. Our motive all along has been to get W.G. Raymond’s story told… so we wanted to go traditional if possible. … So, we knew we’d have to reach out to agents, but, that being said, we knew there were also a small number of publishers that will still look at a manuscript and they tend to be university presses, smaller independent publishers. So, what we did is we covered our bases. We were reaching out to agents, and we were reaching out to those publishers that still accepted manuscripts concurrently and we got encouraging feedback from all those channels. We got some interaction with agents that wanted to read the full manuscript and we responded to those and we had different questions back and forth but there wasn’t anything really concrete happening. We were hopeful, and, at the same time, we got some feedback from traditional publishers, including Kent State University press, that were interested. … Sunbury press,  who is a small independent press in Pennsylvania, they specialize in history. Notably, it was baseball history in the beginning. That was their niche. But then they expanded into regular history and biographies and autobiographies and that’s why we had targeted them. And I’ll step back a minute and say that we were very targeted in our approach… we didn’t just shotgun to anybody, and we think that helped us and it was time well-spent. … Our main goal, we always felt like it’s less important how big or how well known the particular publisher, than it is just to get us to have the book in our hands because we knew that we would do a lot of outreach. So, we were excited, and Sunbury, as it turns out, really appreciated the manuscript and that meant a lot to us. We felt that it was important to them and that meant a lot to us. …. We’ve also learned that publicity, as publishers are doing less and less of it, they’re pushing more of it on to the authors, for budget reasons. It’s so competitive, so we’ve had to learn a lot about publicity and outreach and so forth, but it’s been a wonderful experience. We’ve learned a lot and we’re just so happy that we had the opportunity to do this.

MN: It seems like it went pretty quickly.

WB: It was an unusual time. You know, it was covid, we were all trapped at home. Research on the internet is so much easier now; everything fell together. I had lost my wife three years ago in November and it was, this was somewhat of a salvation too, because being alone all the sudden… it just helped me fill the time in a creative way and an engrossing way. And that helped so much with the mourning process as well. It’s just strange everything fell together with the timing so we were able to write it quickly. It’s not a real long book; it’s barely over a  hundred pages, but his story, he’s a very interesting man and we didn’t want to fill it with minutia. We wanted the bigger headlines because we had some– he had some pretty big moments and we really wanted to focus on those and let his autobiography, even though it’s 160 years old, speak for itself. …We wanted to focus on the things that fell through the history, that fell through the gaps, so that’s why it’s only one hundred some pages. But we feel like it’s a hundred, hopefully, impactful pages. 

DB: The weirdest part of it—I think it’s true for both of us—but in going back 160 years and looking at the dynamics of what Washington D.C. was like and then what the president was like and what these major players were like and then you fast forward 160 years and you realize things haven’t changed very much. Like, the opioid addiction, you know, and WG himself had a ten-year battle with full-blown addition. Race relations … divided country … that was one of our takeaways. It was strange that the story, in many ways, though the backdrop was different, the storylines could be from today’s time.

WB: The risk of a lot of, any history book, really, is is it relevant to today’s reader. Is it providing something new and is it relevant? Can they relate to it? And… it’s just remarkable how the headlines could literally come from today with the challenges we’re facing as a country. …This is very relevant to today and it’s important that people understand, you know, it’s easy to look at any given time and think, wow, things have never been this bad. I mean, the world’s falling apart and that’s why the study of history is so important because it gives perspective and you learn 160 years ago—guess what? We had racial tensions; we had drug addiction; we had an incredibly divided country with people shooting at each other. … You go back, and you say, what lessons can we learn, having dealt with this 160 years ago? How are we dealing with this today? And so, hopefully, that’s resonating with different readers and the feedback we’re getting seems to say that it is. And that makes us feel really good. 

DB: There were so many times in WG’s life when things happened, as they do in any of our lives, and it was largely a story of kind of rebuilding and forging on. In some ways, of kind of redemption. So, that was another element that drew me, was his personal challenges 

WB: It’s a wonderful thing at this stage of life and there’s a message for your audience, or your readers. I mean, clearly, we’re living proof that’s it’s never too late if the stuff’s in you. It’s just a matter of accessing it and getting it out and that’s the joy of it—it’s discovery every day.

MN: Is there anything else you want to add?

WB: A good part of our story has to do with African Americans enlisting heroically on the streets of Washington D.C., which, at that time, was a wild place. … It was right on the cusp of the north and the south. … It was a very wild town and, as you know, there’s a lot of talk of the 54th, as there should be. The 54th of Massachusetts regiment, which was founded and authorized by the governor of Mass. And the movie, Glory, was made in the late 80s. … That was always my take on African Americans fighting in the civil war, what I sort of saw in the movie, Glory. But, in doing this book, we saw that there’s so much more, so many more stories that, as we said, fell through the cracks. … Importantly, though, were the troops that he [WG] raised in Washington. He got authorization directly from Lincoln to do this (WG did), and he set about raising these troops and recruiting and hundreds came forth. And these had been escaped slaves, freed men, different backgrounds. And they came forth to fight. And they trained on the streets of Washington. And they took terrible jeers and, you know, horrible abuse from the crowd. There were supporters of course, too. But, you know, it was tough. And WG himself almost got shot in the head in a recruiting meeting because people were so opposed to this. And that story is important in a lot of ways because it didn’t obviously have the benefit of dramatic productions and so forth, but it was very real. And these people were very real, and they were signing up, and it was before they had real sponsorship or support from anyone. So, probably, the most rewarding thing for us from this journey is to get their story out there, and to make sure that people are at least aware. As important and heroic as the 54th of Massachusetts were, there are others as well that had heroic stories that just were lost. … If nothing else comes out of this whole thing, you know, we take great comfort in knowing at least we’re getting that part of the story somewhat told.

About the Interviewer: Megan Neary is the co-editor-in-chief of Flyover Country. She is a teacher, writer, and editor living in Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared in a variety of literary journals and newspapers.