By John Christopher Nelson
I attended a residency in Dingle, Ireland, earlier this month. It was my first time outside of the country. Actually, I’d been to Mexico, but I grew up in San Diego and the journey to Rosarito didn’t require a passport. So I don’t count that. My official first time abroad included a visit with my peers to the Blasket Islands, located along the southwest coast of Ireland. They’re worth the effort for those who have never been and worth returning to for those who have. I haven’t seen anything as awe-inspiring in the States, and I’ve traveled around there a bit. The boat ride over, however, was harrowing. It’s not a long trip, but every moment counts for those given over to seasickness.
There is an abandoned village along the face of the largest island. Two of my peers and I ascended the hill beyond the village and discussed all number of things between our labored breaths. By then we had a few days of local pub use and were feeling easily winded. We discovered a crest fitting for a break where we laid in the grass, soaked in the sun, and looked into the Atlantic, endless in some directions, its waves sudsy against the edges of neighboring islands.
Off to the left, on a higher rise—the peak of the island—I spotted another structure and suggested we check it out. Continue reading
By Bret Nye
Imagine him there, his first few weeks on the job toiling at the cusp of adulthood, reckless and quick with the tires as he handles them, and then his later years, new bosses and new systems but old work, each day another notch in his skull. Under a film of smoke and a gray turret sky, he walks steel toe to pavement through the lot and into the mouth of the building. He passes through the turnstile and shines a badge to put a name to his face, crosses into the plant proper and immediately a flood of sick-smelling heat, a whir of machinery, metal terrorizing metal, sweaty bodies stationed among the clashing parts. He snakes through to the back of the plant, dodging forklifts as they whiz by, supervisor carts trailing behind, the recognition of the same 12-hour-shift look on everyone’s face.
Here they make tires. People standing in place applying strips of cured rubber to revolving spools to the molders and shapers of product to the treaders and finishers and finally to the warehouse where he puts in his time. He hops on his forklift and blurs through the hulking stacks, rowed to oblivion, chasing down competitor’s tires locked away in the cage upstairs to take over to testing. The competitive edge, he’s dangling right along it.
He drives up the beaten ramp and enters Warehouse 3. A profound silence greets him, emanating from musty rubber air and the near-dark created by dim overheads that haven’t been re-bulbed in twenty years. The constant worry that the tall, winding stacks of skids will come crashing down on him, or on any of the other warehousemen creeping among the rows like shades. He flies through the black and finally reaches Warehouse 4, loose tires spilled across the floor, empty and forgotten skids bent all ways, whole cities of cobwebs on the ceiling. He drives through to the deepest part of the room where it’s pitch black at six thirty in the morning and almost impossible to navigate without light. He parks his forklift and turns off the engine and waits for the rotten smell of exhaust to die.
Most people hate being up there in Warehouse 4. It’s hard to see and the place smells like must and rot. This is where all the broken tires go, the tires that were never made correctly to begin with. Most people hate being upstairs in Warehouse 4 because they swear they’ve seen ghosts roaming the stacks. They share tales of flashlights gone missing and cold air coming through in the middle of the summer when the rest of the factory is a hundred degrees. But he’s not afraid of phantoms; he likes the silence too much to worry. He settles into his seat and closes his eyes and thinks of her, working his mind until he conjures the softness of her scent, the sense of her body close. He gets up and walks around the tall dark columns, keeping his eyes closed and feeling the tires for the path. He thinks of a time when his oldest son was too young to know him. When he would whisper whiskey into his ear. His eyes pulse in thought but soon he feels a rush of cold from somewhere even deeper in the stacks and his gut tenses. He peers into the corners of the room, stalks the source of the cold air in the dark until his supervisor comes trundling by on his cart to tell him to get back on task. Continue reading
By Christopher Krull
Lance composed a new message so he could read his own email signature: “Senior Account Executive,” his title read. The “Senior” part had been added yesterday.
“Congratulations!” Lance spun around in his cubicle’s chair and saw Jan, the office coordinator.
“Thanks, Jan.” Lance replied. White khakis hugged Jan’s wide hips. A colorful necklace ornamented with plastic tropical fruits she bought on a recent Caribbean cruise hung below her wide face.
“It’s all about the ship,” Jan had told the office who gathered in the break room to heat their lunches. “The Admiral of the Seas – everything you need is on the ship. It’s like being on a different planet!” Lance removed his gaze from the plastic fruit adorning her sun-spotted cleavage as Jan spoke to him, “We’re going to have to circle-up later today so you can download me on your strategy for the Vydyne account.”
Lance sighed. His new title came with a 3.5 percent pay bump and new account responsibilities. Tight times meant even the office coordinator had to do revenue-generating account work. Lance nodded and returned to his blank message. The screen blurred and a brain zap came on. Brain zaps are most commonly associated with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) withdrawal syndrome. There’s no medical consensus regarding what causes brain zaps, which often are described as nausea-inducing electrical waves running through one’s head. WebMD informed Lance they were harmless when he first investigated the strange feeling that came on when he tried to wean himself from the antidepressant. Lance found the drug allowed him to accept what he did for a living and even perform better. Now off the once-a-day pill, he was unsure what coping mechanism might be needed to take its place.
Lance felt a pulse and stood from his computer. The cube farm was silent but active with other Account Executives glaring into their computer screens, most wearing ear buds. Their eyes occupied by the screen, their ears with the buds, Lance thought at some point in the near future they would have feeding tubes in their mouths, bed pans beneath their chairs.
A thud came from the drop ceiling above Lance’s head. Continue reading
By Margaret Kramar
“What was that?”
Lydia bolted up in bed, hearing the music again: tinny, distant, like Big Band music from the 1920s played in a darkened theatre. A radio maybe, but now it completely faded out. She strained to hear it. Nothing.
“Did you hear it?” Her husband didn’t answer, just breathed in measured cadences. He always seemed to be asleep when she heard it. But she knew that if Steve weren’t asleep, it wouldn’t have played. She sighed and nestled down into the covers, relaxing into his warmth, snuggling into the bedroom of the old farmhouse encircled by tall pines that reached way up into the heavens. Even in the darkness, the enchantment of these old green wizards was palpable.
Before they moved in, Lydia and Steve had rounded the curve of the road many times, hardly noticing the farmstead. It was only when Steve accepted the caretaker job for the summer camp on the grounds that they penetrated the interior. Following the path of the gravel driveway, a vast panorama opened up to them: verdant meadows, shining ponds, and tall gnarled oaks leaning together, whispering and murmuring their arcane secrets of old.
One building stood out alone from the others, silent in the moaning wind. The chicken house.
“We’re not getting chickens,” Steve read her mind. Continue reading
By Jeroen van Honk
There must have been someone, somewhere, sometime, who said that everything happens for a reason. Led by the hand of this convenient adage, and by the siren calls of invisible angels who trumpet my destiny, I will now scale the faithful stairs of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos at the fringes of the Unescoed heart of the ancient city of Córdoba. Made of large stone slabs, the Alcázar housed the Christian Kings, Isabel de Castile and Fernando de Aragon, after they drove the Moors out of their once-famed capital. What is left now is a calculated ruin, showing just enough grandeur to inspire awe and just too little to anchor the place in a tangible, imaginable version of history. The walls are still standing and the gardens stretch out endlessly. This contrast of grey and green emanates a certain simplicity here, bringing everything back to basics. Here, it is as if the human race once and for all is pitted against nature. From the grounds there is one spiral staircase, with tall, uneven steps, leading you up to enjoy the ultimate vista of the place.
Though unimaginable, since it is now a major tourist showcase, it is said that those who scale these steps can never again return to terra firma. At the foot of the steps there is only the insignificant warning sign stating that no more than ten people at a time are allowed to go up. At the same time it is impossible to know how many have gone before or how many are walking around up there. Never has anybody been seen to descend the stairs, though there are tourists who claim to have done it. They show pictures of the gardens taken from an aerial point of view. These don’t prove anything, however. As the legend grew, it has become a popular tourist pastime to put their cameras on self-timer and throw them in the air, or tie them to long, wooden poles. It’s a fascinating amalgamation of the decadently touristic with a fatalistic old-world curse.