Set in Mercer, Wisconsin, where tensions over Native American fishing rights are escalating, JERKWATER is a story about the racial tensions churning just beneath the surface of what often appears to be placid, everyday American life.
CHAPTER ONE: SHAWNA
There were spots in the lake where the anchor never hit bottom. The murkiness always fascinated Shawna. She knew it was only tangles of muskgrass and pondweed down there, but a part of her couldn’t help but imagine strange, never-before-seen creatures dwelling among the coontails and duckweed. Like Wisconsin anglerfish. Or some rare breed of dwarf whale. And maybe the lake was bottomless, like in those stories her mother used to tell her where Nanaboozhoo was always stumbling and laughing his way through the world.
Shawna dug around inside the cooler. Her journal was peeking out from under a tin of sardines. Ever since the day her stepfather had taken her mother away from her, the journal had become a sort of artificial limb for Shawna. Or maybe an artificial organ, a somewhat bulky and awkward replacement for what had been her heart.
“It’s not the world’s fault you’re lonely,” Shawna said out loud. It was something her mother used to say. The words came to her like that sometimes, like ghost ships sailing across the years, reminding her of who her mother had once been: a strong woman who’d been haunted by demons. White demons. Shawna picked up her journal and was sitting with her hand hovering over the page, waiting to take dictation from a dead woman, when she heard the muffled sounds of voices on the water. Then there was the echo of oars being worked in their sockets and a tackle box being slid across a metal hull. She lay flat on the ground, peering through the reeds, and spotted a man rowing quietly toward the island. There was a little boy in the boat, too, a little lump of a thing bundled up in a too-big camouflage coat and looking barely old enough to handle the pole he had dangling over the edge. Then, just as she thought they might row past, the man dropped anchor about forty feet out.
Shawna lowered her head and wondered about her boat, if they could see it. As she lay there frozen, she noticed a turtle sunning itself on one of the larger rocks near the island. It was an ugly thing with a head like a wrinkly old penis. The shell, though, was beautiful, almost like the yellow undercoating and the elaborate black hatch-marks were trying to make up for its unflattering head.
“You want me to do it?”
“No. I can do it.”
“Then take this one. He’s nice and fat.”
Shawna couldn’t see their faces all that well, but it was definitely them. It was like they were all in the same room together, the walls made of the mist still clinging to the lake. There was the crack of a can opening. Soda maybe. Or beer.
The room became hushed, and Shawna watched the two figures hunched over their rods, waiting. For the man, the waiting seemed like a kind of forced meditation, like something he wasn’t all that interested in but that came with the territory of fishing. As for the boy, he didn’t seem to want to be there at all. That much Shawna could tell without seeing his face.
“Here.” The man handed the boy something. “Eat.”
“When we get back can we–?”
“Quiet. You’ve got a bite.”
Shawna watched the boy’s bobber. There were little ringlets pulsing out from it like sonar. Then nothing.
“I think he ate my worm.”
“Maybe. Reel it in a little.”
The boy slowly reeled his line in, letting it stop every few feet or so. Then the bobber suddenly disappeared.
“Okay, okay. Let him take it now. That’s it.”
“Can I reel him in now? Can I?”
“Did you set the hook?”
“I don’t know.”
“Give it a little tug. Not too hard now.”
Shawna could see the boy yank on the line, lifting the pole over his head.
“Jesus, you’ll be lucky he still has a mouth left on him.” The man went about getting his net ready and leaning over the side of the boat as the boy pulled the fish closer. “See, I told you this was a good spot. Didn’t I tell you?”
The man lowered the net into the water, but when he brought the fish up, it didn’t appear all that big to Shawna. Maybe a bluegill or sunfish. She watched as the boy reached into the net and was sprayed with water as the fish flipped and arched about. The man put the net down on the floor of the boat, no doubt stepping on the fish to keep it from flopping about, then ruffled the boy’s hair before carefully pulling the fish from the net and placing it on a stringer. Shawna figured they’d probably go home now, but the boy went back to staring blankly out at the water while the man began casting a bright yellow lure closer and closer to the bank of the island. Shawna guessed he was going for Muskie now since they were known to hide in weed beds. Ojibwa called them maashkinoozhe. Or “ugly pike.”
“Can we go soon?”
Shawna knew all too well who they were: Peyton Crane and his little boy. She’d made a sort of hobby over the past year or so of casually stalking them. Lately, though, it had become less casual. She noted the day and time in her journal next to the others.
Something was slid across the hull of the boat. “Here, have a pretzel. We’ll go back soon. I promise.” Peyton stood up in the boat, and Shawna got her first clear look at him. He was wearing a brown flannel jacket and a camouflage baseball cap, his dumb brown hair sticking out the back like burnt straw. The beer belly pushing out against his flannel made him appear older. And pregnant. Shawna smiled to herself. If that were true, ninety percent of the white men in town would be knocked-up.
Shawna watched as the turtle, apparently having had enough of all the commotion, waddled off his rock and into the water. The turtle reminded her of a story her mother used to tell her about the world being flooded and Nanaboozhoo sitting on a log searching for land. In the story he tried to swim to the bottom of the lake to grab a handful of earth so he could create a new place to live, but the lake seemed bottomless. A loon, a mink, and a turtle also tried to reach the bottom, but all of them failed. Finally, a little muskrat tried. The muskrat didn’t survive, but when his lifeless body floated to the surface, they found a ball of earth still clutched in his paw. Nanaboozhoo put the ball on the turtle’s back and with the help of the wind from the four directions, the dirt grew into an island which is now North America. Ever since then, Ojibwa have revered the muskrat for his sacrifice, and, also the turtle for literally bearing the weight of the world.
As Shawna daydreamed about the turtle down below holding up the island, she heard something clatter in the branches overhead. There, not a foot away, was a lure with a treble hook swaying and glinting in the sunlight.
“Jesus H. Christ.”
Peyton stood up and began yanking on the snagged line, rocking the small boat back and forth so that the boy was forced to set his pole down and grab the oars for support.
“Shit if I’m going to lose another lure to a goddamn tree.”
When he eventually gave up and began reeling in the anchor, Shawna pulled the lure down and set the line between her teeth. It took a few bites but soon the lure came free and the line went slack. Shawna could see the boy staring intently at the island, and, for a brief moment, it seemed like they were staring at one another. Almost like the boy had seen what she had done but had decided to remain quiet.
“Look. It came free.”
Peyton turned to see his line lying limp and flaccid on the water, and Shawna thought she could see a smile spread across the boy’s face.
“You promised we could play video games, ‘member?”
Peyton stared hard at the island, like the thought of leaving the lure there somehow meant the island had won.
“Yeah, I remember alright.”
He then worked the boat around with one of the oars and began rowing them back across the lake. Shawna rolled over on her back and studied the lure in the sunlight wobbling its way through the leaves. It was a simple lure. Wooden. Handmade. She wondered idly if Peyton had ever caught anything with it. Save Two Walleyes – Spear A Pregnant Squaw. Too Bad Custer Ran Out Of Bullets. She remembered the protests and the bumper stickers on the boats from when she was a girl. She remembered, too, the hate white people had spewed at her relatives as they tried to dock with their boats full of walleye. “Ignorance,” her mother had told her, “is a dangerous thing. But now at least you know its face.”
She turned the lure over in her hand, her fingers tracing the lines of the treble hook, pushing the barb gently against her thumb. She found herself thinking about the ceremonies the Plains Indians used to have where the boys pierced their skin with hooks and suspended themselves from chains as a rite of passage. She rested the lure against her shirt, brushing the metal back and forth across the cotton. She wondered how much pain a person could endure. She wondered if enjoying it would somehow invalidate it.
Just as she was imagining her own skin being pulled and stretched, a moth landed on her knee. A gypsy moth. She recognized it because she always thought their floppy antennae made them look like little flying rabbits. They were hated by both whites and Chippewa alike because they were destroying large swaths of Wisconsin forest. It was one of the few things both agreed on. Shawna shooed the moth away, watching as it flitted up into the tree to work its mayhem, and rolled over onto her stomach before tossing the lure into the cooler.
She watched the now tiny boat as it docked along the southern edge of the lake. The poor kid didn’t stand a chance. Whether he wanted to be or not, he was a racist-in-training. Half the kid’s heart was probably already polluted, and by the time he reached high school, his insides would be entirely black. And what was worse was that things would continue on like that, the kid growing up, having his own kids, and then infecting them. And on and on and on. Like a cancer. Or like a gypsy moth making its home in the family tree. There was nothing for it to do but spread disease.
About the Author
Jamie Zerndt is the author of THE CLOUD SEEDERS, THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY, and THE ROADRUNNER CAFE. His short story, “THIS JERKWATER LIFE”, was recently chosen as an Editor’s Pick in Amazon’s Kindle Singles store. He received an MFA in Writing from Pacific University and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with his son.
And Sand: The Girl In The Seaside Hotel is the story of a young girl and her
family living in Hermosa Beach during the late 1950s, the so-called
“Gidget Era” of surfing.A
formerly grand old hotel becomes the setting for the girl’s growing obsession with
solving the mysterious disappearance of another girl 21 years earlier in the
hotel’s basement swimming pool.After a
friend goes missing too, the detective from the original case, now nearing
retirement, is called in to help solve the two cases, which may or may not be
had been a large crowd in the ballroom that Saturday night, as a well-known
jazz orchestra had been playing.As many
as 300 people.None of the girl’s
friends reported any suspicious incidents or encounters before the girl went
missing.Irene Young did not have a
steady boyfriend or local family, and lived with another young woman in
Hollywood, a woman who hadn’t been at the hotel or ballroom that evening.
friends had tried to report her missing much earlier that morning, just after
2AM, with a mildly frantic phone call, but the police had just assumed she’d
just probably gone home in a taxi-cab or with a friend or someone else she’d
met there at the hotel.And besides she
hadn’t been missing the required 72 hours for a formal report.Still, a police officer was eventually sent
over just after daybreak, really just to placate her friends. It was all more
or less routine until the shoes and necklace were found.Then detectives had arrived to ask questions.
were no obvious signs that any physical violence had occurred down in the pool
area, but it couldn’t be ruled out either. Eventually every room in the hotel had been searched for any sign of
violence or evidence that Irene Young had been there.Nothing was found to indicate she had.She had simply vanished.
one of the newspaper stories that Nell found had included a few of the
witness’s first names and last name initial. These were the names of Irene’s companions that had been interviewed by
the police. There was a Joey F, a Clark S., and a Lois J.And one of those names was a Virginia W.That’s just like mother’s maiden name, she
thought.Worsham!Nell had never heard of a Joey F., but there
was Uncle Clark and Aunt Lois.How could
this be?It couldn’t be coincidence,
could it?Sherlock Homes didn’t believe
in coincidence.Nell didn’t know what to
think.Or what to do.
Edwards is a retired telephone employee, who took two years of college as an
English major at Rio Hondo in Whittier, California, from 1966 to 1968.Edwards is a Vietnam era Navy veteran, a
motorcycle enthusiast, surfer, taiji practitioner, and dreamer.He is an Indie author with two novels
completed, and working on a third.
high hopes of conquering Hollywood, the novel’s main character goes to Los
Angeles to study directing and screenwriting. On the way, she ends up at a
roadside bar that uncannily links the destinies of the main characters, who had
given up everything to follow their dreams. What’s in store for the young
rebels in Los Angeles? Does your dream have another side, one that’s just as
enigmatic and invisible as the far side of the Moon?
be honest, I have no idea what cinema is and why it’s so magnetic…Also, I don’t know what it’s like to be
called a ‘great’ director. I only just jumped out of the plane and am waiting
for my parachute to open.In the
meantime, I’m just looking at an illusion of how my life should be.Maybe I’ll see the light as soon as I hear
the clapperboard and ‘Action!’ But it’ll all be meaningless if people aren’t
inspired… My name is Connie. I came from New York on a long journey in my old
car. Maybe, on the other side of the world, a little girl is going to bed who,
just like I used to, dreams of becoming a filmmaker. And every time, closing
her eyes, she holds a camera in her hands and mentally goes over her movie’s
screenplay… why am I a director? I think I’ll be able to answer that when I
become one. Now I’m just one more student who is just dreaming of becoming a
filmmaker and is still falling asleep, just like that little girl.The main thing is to not lose faith…”
the age of 11 Konni has been writing books. When she came of age she moved from
a small abandoned town to Moscow where she exchanged the dream of “becoming a
director” for the profession “doctor.” Now at the ripe old age of 21 years old,
Konni is enjoying the acclaim of The Lonely Hearts Bar and working on her next
Doe’s Circus, one of the last of its kind in Australia. Travelling across the country all year round, thousands of humans visit to revel in the tradition of Dagwood dogs, dodgem cars and the weekend prime time show.
Yet for the animals locked away in the small confines of the petting zoo, the circus is a neon-lit, human-infested nightmare.
Tormented by the ringmaster and his gang of tyrannical showmen, two pigs, a rooster and a sheep devise a plan to accomplish the impossible―escape the circus.
About the Author
Michael Batchelor, born 1991, is an Australian author based on the Gold Coast, Queensland. He graduated from Griffith University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Communications and in 2015, published his first novel, The Red Chilli.
Michael’s greatest joy is to share his stories and ideas with the world.
A finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition.
McDowell, an arrogant, selfish, uncaring surgeon–except with his three children whom he ineptly tries to council as they come of age–loses his career, wealth, respect, and fame when his grandson goes on a killing spree and then fails in a suicide attempt living in a vegetative, brain-dead state. When the boy dies under suspicious circumstances, McDowell is convicted and jailed for second-degree murder. He escapes to become a fugitive pursued by authorities, an investigative TV reporter eager to interview him before capture, and his daughter who is trying for a retrial. McDowell’s family members struggle to find meaning in their lives but each is thwarted at every turn by their father’s reputation. McDowell keeps on the move to prevent his capture and establish a new life. He is forced to gingerly reenter society at the lowest levels and with each new acquaintance, he must learn a new sense of humanity to survive.
The sky cleared briefly before daybreak. The sharp bitter winds eased somewhat, but the negative forty-degree temperatures penetrated to the bone. Hiram McDowell lifted the flap of a one-man tent to look in on Erick Woolf, who turned his head, his beard tinged in frost-white from his labored breathing; Woolf lifted his goggles, his pale blue eyes opaque with fatigue.
“You ready?” Hiram asked.
Woolf shook his head “no,” trying to smile but his face remained motionless.
Hiram took off his outer gloves, freed up an oxygen tank from Woolf ’s backpack, and placed the mask on Woolf ’s face. Woolf rallied after a few minutes of oxygen.
Within half an hour, with four other climbers, Hiram and Woolf started for the summit. Woolf ’s fatigue slowed progress and after an hour they soon fell behind the others. The wind gusts increased. Woolf sank into a sitting position a few yards from a slope of snow and ice.
Hiram steadied himself on a steep vertical. For a few seconds, the visibility improved, but he saw no one.
“Go,” Woolf called to him, his voice husky dry. “I can’t do it.”
With only slight hesitation, Hiram waved his agreement. He had only two hours or less to summit before their oxygen supply ran low. And Woolf was too weak to go on; the rest would strengthen him. At the summit, Hiram took photos and, for a few minutes, absorbed the satisfaction of his achievement and the awe of the view from the highest point on earth.
Winds picked up and snow and haze decreased visibility as he began his descent. He pressed on. After an hour, he stumbled onto Woolf a few feet from where he had left him.
“Get up,” Hiram yelled over the howling wind.
“Help me. In the name of God,” Woolf pleaded.
Hiram gripped Woolf ’s parka to help him stand, but Hiram was too weak to lift, and Woolf fell back.
“Rescue,” Woolf moaned, drifting off into semi-consciousness. Rescue from base camp was impossible until the weather improved. And they were in the dead zone, too high for helicopters.
Hiram freed Woolf ’s remaining oxygen supply and attached it to his own pack.
“Don’t leave me, Hiram.” Woolf coughed.
Hiram backed away and started down. Climbing ropes aided him for a few hundred yards. Near a rock crevice familiar to him, he stumbled on the half-buried lifeless body of a facedown climber. A candy bar and water were in the inner jacket pocket. Near the corpse’s outstretched arm, a glint of silver stopped Hiram. From hard snow and the ice-solid fabric of a frozen glove-hand, he freed a silver crucifix that he pocketed for identification and to send to family. He plodded ahead. The storm abated and he felt the muted exhilaration at knowing he would not die.
On return home after his miracle survival, Hiram dreamed of immortality. He determined to climb every peak above 8000 meters in Nepal.
About the Author
William H. Coles is a literary fiction writer, winner of multiple awards including the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition, The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and others. To learned the art of writing fiction in courses and workshops from more than seventy-five authors, editors, and teachers. He and created storyinliteraryfiction.com, a website with resources for fiction writers, illustrators, and avid fiction readers and works of fiction. The site has had over two million visits in the last three years. He was an ophthalmic surgeon specializing in ocular-injury repair and reconstruction, a professor and chairman at SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine, a Regent for The American College of Surgeons, president of the Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology. He plays jazz piano, was former President of the Gibbes Art Museum in Charleston, SC, and has lectured internationally on mechanistic biologic ophthalmic research, ophthalmic surgery, jazz, and valuing antique Georgian and federal furniture and art at Emory University. He won a Mayor’s award for contributions to historic preservation in Charleston, SC. and the Conrad Berens Award for best film on a medical subject. He lives and writes in Salt Lake City, Utah.