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.

Emergency

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.”

“Address?”

“1353 Lake Shore Drive.”

“Where are you located?”

 Click.

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?”

 Click.

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.”

“Oh.”

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.

 “What?”

  “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?”

   “AM.”

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 

RECORD.

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.’

‘More?’

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. 

Birds

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.

The Old Mare

By Kimberly Ann Priest

About the Author: Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Slaughter the One Bird (Sundress 2021), Parrot Flower (Glass 2020) and White Goat Black Sheep (FLP 2018). Winner of the New American Press 2019 Heartland Poetry Prize, her work has appeared in The Berkeley Poetry Review, The Meadow, Moon City Review, and Borderlands.

A Midwestern Goodbye

By Will Musgrove

“Welp,” Friend One said, slapping his dining room table.

 Friend One stood. His chair squeaked across the linoleum floor. Friend Two remained seated, sipping the remains of his lukewarm coffee while staring out a bay window. Friend One whispered something to his wife, who was getting their kids ready for bed. She whispered something back, and he answered with a shrug.

“Remember that time you choked on that piece of steak, and I had to give you the Heimlich?” Friend Two said.

“I remember.”

Friend One put his and Friend Two’s mugs in the sink. Friend Two rose with a grunt. The two men tried to look at each other like they had as boys but could only see who the other had become.

“Remember how we’d get drunk and go steal lawn ornaments?” Friend Two said, hugging Friend One.

“I remember.”

They separated, and Friend One crept toward the front door. Friend Two followed, bombarding him with nostalgia. They moved so slow Friend One’s wife was able to get the kids tucked in and a bedtime story read before they made it to the mudroom.

  “Remember how we’d egg people’s houses? We were pricks.”

 “I remember.”

 Friend Two grabbed the doorknob.

“Remember—”

“I remember, promise.”

“Well, I should get going,” Friend Two said.

The two men tried again to look at each other like they had as boys but, like before, only saw who the other had become. Friend Two stepped outside. Friend One locked the door behind him. Friend Two ambled down the driveway to his sedan, remembering. His memories were so thick he could almost chew on their rose-colored, existential comfort like a piece of gum. Next to his sedan, he remembered something he’d forgotten to say to Friend One, but the house was dark. Friend One had gone to bed. 

Remembering, Friend Two hopped into his sedan and drove to a twenty-four-hour grocery store. As he shopped, he made idle chit-chat with the few other browsing customers. He bought a couple cartons of eggs and headed back to Friend One’s house.

 Splat.

Crouching behind Friend One’s topiary bushes, Friend Two heaved eggs at Friend One’s siding. After each egg exploded into a yellow and white glob, Friend Two raised his hand for a high five only to glance around and realize he was alone. 

 Splat.

 Remember when…

 Splat.

A light on Friend One’s second floor flicked on, and Friend One stuck his head out of his bedroom window. He could see Friend Two hiding behind his bushes, readying another egg. Friend Two could see Friend One’s silk pajamas, his balding head.

For the last time, the two men, straining, focusing hard, tried to look at each other like they had as boys but, like before, could only see who the other had become.

Friend Two chucked his final egg and retreated to his sedan.

As Friend Two fled, Friend One waved goodbye. 

About the Author: Bio: Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in TIMBER, The McNeese Review, Oyez Review, Tampa Review, Vestal Review, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove.

Urban Pastoral

Author Bio: J.R. Barner is a writer, teacher, and musician living in Athens, Georgia. They are the author of the chapbooks Burnt Out Stars and Thirteen Poems and their forthcoming first collection, Little Eulogies. They were educated at the University of Minnesota and the University of Georgia. Their work has appeared in online and print journals FlowAnobium, and Release. New work is available periodically at jrbarner.tumblr.com

Hot Breakfast

By Anthony Neil Smith

Too tired to keep driving. Too dark to see anything but headlights spiking our eyes like fuck. My wife had driven most of the way from Minnesota to Colorado. I can’t drive so far anymore, lulled to sleep like a baby. That left Priceline duty to me. Small print on my phone, shitty reception. But hey, it was a VIP deal. Those never steered us wrong, did they?

Once part of a popular brand, a tarp covered the original sign, with its new name sloppily painted across – Day’s Rest or Sleepy Inn or Blurry Blur, my poor eyes. It once had a hacienda theme.

The girl who checked me in looked at least eighteen but small enough to wear a kid’s t-shirt, Rainbow Brite-y or anime. Faded and ripped in a couple of spots. Grime under her nails. Short and dirty blonde. Friendly, even flirty, as my wife waited in the car. 

At the tail-end of Covid restrictions, there was still a plastic divider between us, but she easily bypassed on the left hand side, dealing with me directly, maskless, no hand sanitizer in sight. She handed me key cards with wifi info, local food delivery options – all two of them, one a Domino’s – and at the bottom: Hot Breakfast, 6:30am to 10:00 am.

love hotel breakfasts, and I’d had a two-year pandemic drought. Even little boxes of Froot Loops and unlimited coffee, I’m happy. Better was muffins, cinnamon rolls, fresh(ish) orange juice. Best of all was hot scrambled eggs, hot sausages or bacon, hot biscuits. Hash browns or American fries, either was great. Colorado seemed a hash browns sort of state. I was very much looking forward to the next morning. 

I’m no hotel snob. I’m no stranger to Super 8 or Meh 6. I’ve picked out some real winners on kitsch value alone. I know well the odor of citrusy-sick disinfectants hiding smoke in non-smoking rooms. I’ve held many remotes with the batteries duct-taped into the back. 

And still, this place.

We parked in the creepily empty lot.

I whispered about the girl to my wife.

“Has to be meth.”

“Tell me later.”

“But look at her when we pass by.”

“Stop it.”

But the girl wasn’t at the front desk this time.

On the way to the elevator we passed the breakfast room. The lights were off and there was a rope across the entrance, a sandwich board sign attached. It had a drawing of a fried egg on it, and a piece of paper with Hot breakfast! written in bold black Sharpie, so I didn’t bother to read the rest. 

The elevator was miles from the desk. Our room was on the second floor, but the elevator was the only way up. The tile in the hallway grew wetter the closer we got to the elevator because it was so near the indoor pool. You know the way a hotel pool smells when chlorine reacts to all the piss, spit, snot, and sweat in it?

On the second floor, we followed the signs and walked more miles from the elevator to our room, on a mezzanine overlooking the lobby. The same lobby we’d started this trek from ten minutes ago. 

“Fuck!”

Scared the shit out of us. A shout like that, no warning. No follow up. Some man on our floor shouting “Fuck!” as we walked by. 

My wife turned to me, wide-eyed. 

“But…hot breakfast.” 

Here was our room. 

The door was already open. 

Imagine, right? As soon as you discover the door to your hotel room is already open, you cycle through fear, then anger, then self-righteous anger, then maybe more fear thinking someone’s installed hidden cameras in the bathroom. 

I found the switch. Inside, even though the air smelled like betrayal – or, really, smoke trapped in twenty-year old carpet – nothing was out of place. Nothing to indicate this was anything more than a mistake. Housekeeping didn’t close the door all the way.

What do you do? 

I shrugged. “It’s prepaid.”

And we were exhausted. 

And hot breakfast!

For our first post-Covid vacation, my wife really wanted to visit Mesa Verde in Colorado, where ancient indigenous tribes carved entire cities into cliff sides, then abandoned them, mysteriously, left for modern people to rediscover later and turn into a National Park. It fascinated her, because before meeting me, she’d been an archaeologist, traveling the Midwest digging up arrow points and other Native American relics before big bad developers built malls or wind turbines or another Casey’s gas station – the Starbucks of the prairie. 

In a few days, we would arrive, only to be told we should’ve gotten a reservation way ahead of time.

The rest of the evening was dull. Loud kids ran up and down the hallway. I watched one of the alphabet shows on CBS (FBI, NCIS, CSI). My wife fell asleep reading her Kindle. My CPAP mask drove me nuts. The hotel pillows sucked. 

Didn’t matter. I had a hot breakfast waiting for me.

I’m a creature of habit. At home, I wake and head downstairs, feed the pets, and immediately start the coffee. Pop Tarts in the toaster oven, or a cup of dry kid’s cereal – Honey Smacks, Corn Pops, Count Fuckin’ Chocula – for breakfast. 

Me. A nearly fifty year-old man.

I want the fastest possible tasty thing taking no effort on my part. 

At a hotel, I get up, put on yesterday’s clothes, and race to the breakfast room before those loud kids and their comatose parents wreck the joint. Same in Colorado, too. Woke, stretched, blew gunk out of my nose. I jiggled my wife’s foot on my way to the bathroom. 

“Get up. Hot breakfast!”

I wet my hair down because my CPAP mask gives me an effortless Johnny Rotten every day. I stepped out of the bathroom to find my wife still in bed, cocooning in the comforter. 

“Hot breakfast,” I said.

“I bet there’s not. Because of Covid.”

“But they said, remember? They said hot breakfast.”

“I’m just saying.”

I sat on the edge of the bed, hands hanging off my knees. 

She said, “Why don’t you check it out? If there’s hot breakfast, text me. If not, come back to bed.”

Alright, then.

Back down the hallway, bracing myself for another “Fuck!”

None this time. 

Down the elevator, the pool’s morning chlorine dump burning my nose. Almost slipped in wet patches. 

I rounded the corner to the breakfast r – 

It was dark. 

The rope still in place.

No eggs or sausages. No kids or sleepy parents. No TV blaring Fox News. No one hogging the waffle irons. 

Instead, there was a card table with a tray half-filled with hardboiled eggs in plastic Ziplocs. A woman in men’s jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, her hair a mullet, sat in metal chair. She took an egg from a stack of crates up to her waist, dropped it into a bag, zipped it, and placed it next to the others. 

She looked up. “Yeah?”

I glanced at the sandwich board I’d passed over the night before. 

Hot breakfast! Until further notice, our breakfast buffet is closed due to Covid-19. We offer you a complimentary breakfast bag and a hardboiled egg.

The woman waited, egg bag in midair.

“Can I have…a breakfast bag and some, um, light roast?”

“Some what?”

“Coffee. Plain coffee.”

She got my coffee first. The cup was half the size of my usual first mug every day. “Sugar? Milk?”

“Sure.”

“How many?”

“Three?”

“Three?”

“Three’s good.”

Another trip for sugar packets and little milk cups. I didn’t ask for Splenda and half-and-half because I’d interrupted this woman’s day enough already. 

She walked behind the buffet divider and pulled out a paper bag, scotch-taped closed, and passed it over.

“You want the egg?”

The egg. 

“No, thanks.”

I don’t like hardboiled eggs. My wife doesn’t like hardboiled eggs. No one really likes hardboiled eggs.

She sat back down, picked up an egg, and dropped it into a bag.

On the way up to the room, I peeked in the bag. 

A tiny blueberry muffin, plastic-wrapped. 

A small tub of strawberry yogurt. 

An apple.

The elevator opened to my floor. I dumped the bag in the nearest garbage can, then poured the coffee on top. 

In the room, I climbed back into bed. Slid in behind my wife, spooned up close and wrapped my arm around her.

“Told you.”

Later we went to Sonic. 

I can’t find the receipt for that hotel, or its name, or the name of the town it was in. I don’t remember passing it on our way home a week later. If I really put some effort into retracing our steps, I’d still never find it again, like the island in LOST

Our next hotel outside of Mesa Verde promised hot breakfast, too. All you had to do was microwave one of their frozen breakfast burritos. 

Heaven.

About the Author: Anthony Neil Smith is the author of numerous crime novels including Yellow Medicine, All the Young Warriors, Slow Bear, and The Butcher’s Prayer. His short fiction has appeared in Cowboy Jamboree Magazine, Exquisite Corpse, Bellevue Literary Review, HAD. Juked, and many others. He is a professor of English at Southwest Minnesota State University. He likes Mexican food, British beer, and Italian crime flicks from the 70s. 

Roots

By Bethany Jarmul

I’d left it all behind—the sun-faded trailer and asbestos-filled house with broken-teeth windows at the entrance of the dead-end street; the man with pit-stained tank top, cigarette hanging from the corner of his lips, cat purring around his legs; the dogs, one or two in each yard—barking, howling, whining; the rusted cars—some in spots, others all over; the smell of burning wood and the distant gunshots in the woods; touching our neighbor’s house with my fingertips and ours with my toes; hills so steep you can scrape the bottom of your car on the cracked asphalt; neighbors that know when your mail piles up, lawn mower breaks, when you’re sunbathing or laughing or fighting with your sister over a borrowed sweater found balled up beneath your bed; the way the houses start to peel or grow moss or lose their shutters; the Appalachian Mountains as both beautiful backdrop and formidable, omniscient jailers.

I’d left it all behind at 18 when I accumulated enough scholarships to attend an out-of-state college, a few hours north, a state away, far enough to feel like I’d escaped. I’ve visited my parents a few times each year, but each time with a rubber-band ball of dread bouncing in my gut, lurching up my throat with each pothole that I hit or swerve to avoid. 

I’m 30 with a family of my own, we’re visiting my parents for the July 4th holiday. The next town over, Stonewood, West Virginia, where my mother grew up, is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a festival. We’re at the festival, sitting at folding tables inside the local fire station—me, my husband, and our two-year-old son who is enjoying a purple-grape snowcone. My mother is nearby chatting with someone. 

“Bethany, I want you to meet Willa Jean. I taught with her at Norwood,” Mom leads an older woman over toward me. 

Willa Jean—I’ll soon learn—is 88. She wears glasses, sunspots, make-up in the creases around her mouth. She smiles wide as she talks, standing so close that I can see her nose hairs when I look up at her from my seat. 

“You know, I went to Norwood from 1st through 9th grade. Then, I taught there for 30 years. And I didn’t even go to college until after my kids were in first and second grade. When I went to Fairmont for college it was 99 dollars per semester!” 

“Wow!” I say, realizing she’s lived her entire life in this tiny town. 

“I have my great grandkids over every Sunday and feed all of them.” 

“How many do you have?” my mom asks. 

“13,” she says. 

We chat about her children, grandchildren, community activities. I cut off a few of those rubber bands on the ball inside my gut. 

 “I see her out-and-about all the time,” my mom tells me after Willa Jean leaves. “She’s 88, but she doesn’t let that stop her. She always says, ‘The Lord has been good to me.’ She’s volunteering here cleaning off the tables all day; bless her heart.” 

More rubber bands dissolve. 

As we explore the festival, the smell of pepperoni rolls and kettle corn hangs in the humid air, clings to our clothes and the sweat under our arms. In my suburban, near-city life, I’m accustomed to seas of unfamiliar faces. Here, my mother stops to greet an acquaintance or friend every 10-feet, getting pulled into conversations, greeted with handshakes or hugs. 

My son sees a booth selling cake and cookies. “Cake. I want cake!” He runs over and reaches toward the table. 

“No, no. We’re not buying cake,” I say. 

One of the young men who is working the booth says, “Would he like a cookie?” and pulls out a bag of peanut butter cookies. “Here, reach your hand in there and grab one. You can have it for free. It’s our snack.”

My son reaches his hand in and grabs two.

“Oh sure, you can have two.” The man smiles. 

I thank him, feel the ball in my gut shrinking to the size of a marble. 

During the rest of the weekend we splash in a blow-up pool, hang out on a deck with neighbors and sip flavored water, swing on the porch swing, read books, sit in the sun, discuss theology with my dad late into the night, light sparklers. 

On our way home, the ball of dread is gone. I turn to my husband and say, “Something was different this time. I don’t feel the angst that I used to feel when I went back home.” 

Home—I hadn’t thought about it like that for years.

Porch-sitting; pepperoni rolls, hoagies, hotdogs with chili sauce, blackberry cobblers with vanilla ice cream, apple juice popsicles; neighbors who watch you grow, strangers who offer cookies, share stories; fireflies and firepits and fireworks; bare toes in mossy grass, sunshine and shade and splashing in the creek; folksy fiddle music that plays between my ears long after the musicians are gone; $10 in my pocket for a festival meal; the earthy smell after a rain, earthworms emerging from warm soil, robins feasting; being known by a place and the people of that place, feeling that place reverberating in your chest, soaking into your pores, pickling your heart; growing deep roots—I’d left it all behind. 

About the Author: Bethany Jarmul is a writer, essayist, and editor. Her work has appeared in The Citron Review, Brevity blog, Gastropoda, Literary Mama, and Sky Island Journal among others. She earned first place in Women On Writing‘s Q2 2022 essay contest. She lives near Pittsburgh with her family. Follow her on Twitter: @BethanyJarmul.