Category Archives: Short Stories

The Outside

My friend, Jenna, always told me Triple Stacks was a secret place.  She said only people who grew up in Mankato know about it.  She went there a few years ago to get stoned with her friend James and another guy.  It was the most beautiful place in Mankato she said.  But it’s a secret.  And she would never tell me where it is.  She said I could go there — with her — if I sat in the back blind folded.

Today the temperature has to be in the sixties.  It’s a gorgeous November day in Mankato, similar to the 80 degree stretch of days we had in October.  How cunning fall has been this year.

I decide today is the day I will go outside.  In the little free time I have, I generally watch a little TV or read a book and tell myself that I just don’t have enough time to go outside.  Today that will change.

“Let’s go outside,” I say to Jenna as I sit on the loveseat and pop two bronchitis pills.

“Yeah, it’s gorg, we should,” she replies, not looking up from her computer screen.  She hasn’t left the couch since I went to the doctor almost two hours ago.

“Seriously, we need to do something.  All we ever to do sit here.”

“What’s a website that has stuff to do in Kato on it?”

“I don’t know, Greater Mankato Growth events?  Those aren’t the things I’m really looking to do though.”  I carefully fill a tablespoon with the codeine syrup the doctor has prescribed me.  I am terrified.  May Cause Drowsiness.  Alcohol May Intensify This Effect.  Use Care When Operating A Car or Dangerous Machinery. May Cause Dizziness.

“I know, I’ll call Nate.  He grew up here,” Jenna says.

I don’t know who Nate is, but fine.  She knows so many people.  I stick the spoon in my mouth and hope for the best.

After countless phone calls and internet research, we are traveling down 169-South on an adventure.  Jenna insists on using her GPS, whom she calls Bridget, but as she does not know the address, I drive aimlessly while Bridget sits on Jenna’s lap and continues to re-calculate our trip.

We turn left to continue on 169, and I notice an old sign that says “Wildlife Safari.”  It is a dark brown yet metallic looking sign.  The letters have been cut out leaving jagged metal edges behind.  The dirt road it points to doesn’t seem like it would be home to the greatest safari on the planet.  We giggle at the thought of it.

Jenna is taking me to the secret place she calls Triple Stacks, only she won’t tell me that’s where we’re going.

“We’re going to Triple Stacks, aren’t we.”  I’m so positive that it doesn’t even sound like a question.

“No, no, no.  Now it’s one of these roads on the left, but I can’t remember which one.  It’s by the Mankato Cycle Club, whatever that is.”

“You can’t guess what that is?”

“Well I don’t know what the hell a cycle is.”

I’m astonished, but I shouldn’t be.  Over the years I have had to explain to Jenna the definitions of many words.

  1. Swine
  2. Marlin
  3. Splice
  4. Domestic Partnership
  5. Arsenal

Her most amazing moment, though, came when I asked her what countries are north and south of the U.S.

“Well, Canada. And… South America,” she replied.

She took a family trip to Mexico roughly six months before I asked her that.

We pass a side road with a good tree on it.  I call them good trees.  The ones I like.  This tree looks older than the landscape itself.  It is black and hunched over the gravel path it stands along as if it is reaching to dig its branches into the ground on the other side.  I think to myself, that’s the road.

We drive past.

“Ummm… I think that last road was it actually,” Jenna says.

I find a side road, one with the extra black top on the edges so that it’s really wide, and make a u-turn.  Bridget says a loud, “recalculating.”  We make it to the road with the tree, and I lean over the steering wheel, mesmerized by the rickety branches.  That tree deserves a black and white photo of itself up on a wall in some art museum.

We finally make it to the “secret” spot, and I pull the care to the edge of the road.  Jenna turns off Bridget because we have arrived at our destination.  She was so much help.

“I hear a waterfall, and there’s a river or something,” I say.  “I know we’re at Triple Stacks.”

Jenna laughs and smiles.  “Come on!”

We walk down a path and reach a ledge.  It looks like we’ll be climbing staggered sandstone rocks all the way to the bottom.  Many rocks, I think.  Now that I’m standing, I realize I’m only feeling slightly dizzy from the medication, but my eyes probably make me look high as a kite.  Medicine always does that to me.  The dizziness aside, I’m only wearing old shoes that are so worn thin they may as well be socks.  Jenna has on clogs though, so I figure she’ll probably fall before I do, but I’m still terrified.

“I’m going to die,” I say as a jump down to the next rock.

“It’s okay, I’ll lead.  You’ll be fine.”

Slipping and sliding through moss and leaves, we manage to scurry down about seven levels of rock before I finally see it.

I don’t know why it’s called Triple Stacks, but it is beautiful.  It’s like a harbor that no ship could ever fit in.  The walls are almost entirely sandstone with ledges of some rock I don’t know the name of at the top.  It is in a horseshoe shape, with side-by-side waterfalls in the well.  The water flows straight off the ledge, like one of those infinity pools.  It collects in puddles at the bottom, flowing randomly toward the river in confusion.  It looks like I could get down and stand underneath the waterfalls and only get misted with water—if I had better shoes.

So this is what outside is.

“What river do you think that is?” I ask Jenna.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the Mankato River.”

Even after all this time, I can’t help but laugh at her.

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Untitled

The sound of the cigarette paper burning is like the sound of the soft wind blowing through the frozen trees on the cold, still January night.  The sky gray but tinted pink from the lights of the city.  You stare deep into the orange cherry and are reminded of movies from your childhood.  You don’t know which ones.  You don’t know why this memory is triggered.  Your stomach is pained from the sobs of the last few hours.  A rotting feeling deep down like you ate too many green grapes.  You try not to think about the phone not ringing, but it is a constant thought in your head no matter how hard you try to force it out.  The TV buzzes with meaningless entertainment about the unfortunate lives of others.  You know your life isn’t that hard.  You don’t have a drug problem.  But you’ve always wanted one.  For so many years you’ve dreamt of a life where you could blame your problems on an addiction.  Your problems can’t even be called that next to those of others.  You’re hurt, but by what?  Confusion and misunderstandings.  Maybe that’s not even it.  Maybe you’re just let down.  Your expectations were too high.  You saw something that wasn’t there, put too much pressure on him.  Maybe it was just a relationship in your head.  He didn’t even know how close you two had become.  You had built a life together.  A life in Los Angeles, Chicago, Vermont.  You had four kids together.  Though you’d always dreamed of starting with boys, your first was a girl.  Her name was Ava.  She had your murky blonde hair and his deep brown eyes.  Eyes almost black, always looking hopeful and wanting.  Eyes like a deer in headlights.  You text him, tell him he can talk to you, that the future of the relationship rests on him.  You hope the time apart will make him see how great you were.  Make him miss you.  You know the truth is he’ll leave you.  You’ll never speak again.  Or he’ll never speak again.  After some time passes, you’ll text him to see how he’s doing even though you promised him you’d wait for him to talk first.  He won’t respond.  You’ll be crushed, and it will be another difficult day for you to get through.  You’ll wonder if he even got your message.  So you’ll send another and quickly realize how desperate you look.  The depression will worsen.  And for what?  Two months.  Two months is nothing.  Yet you sit and wonder if this is love.  It’s not.  Your jaw hurts like it has for days.  You don’t know why that is either.  Why don’t you know anything anymore?  You’re cold.  You’re cold all the time though.  Even with the heater burning against your skin, the heat can’t seem to penetrate down to your bones.  They ache with the cold.  The cold that came too early this year and is certain to leave too late.  You hate this place.  You wish to be irresponsible.  You wish you could lie in bed for days and not be bothered by bosses and friends and coworkers.  You wish you could pick up and drive and stop somewhere and build a new life.  A life without anyone from the old one in it.  You could change your phone number, forget them, disappear.  You sense vibrations that aren’t there, convince yourself it’s your phone even though you know it’s set to a loud ring, so you check it, and disappointment settles over you.  You wonder what he’s doing.  You imagine him checking his phone, reading your message, and sticking the phone back in his pocket.  He’s already forgotten you.  You’re too clingy, too emotional, too needy.  And you’ll swear you’re not.  But who are you to say that?  How are you to know something about yourself that another could discover so easily?  You make quick assumptions about others, why can’t they make them about you?  Are you one of those people you hate?  Are you that girl?  Of course you are.  Just look at what you’ve written.

Apartment Living

“Why the hell did I ever let you talk me into this. Now I’m wet and crying!”

She quickly got up and ran to her bedroom window. Looking down, she saw a soaking wet overweight girl in tight shorts. The bean-pole of a boy she was with took a drag from his cigarette. He looked uninterested in what she was saying.

She walked back over to the couch and sat down. Someone was banging on the neighbor’s door downstairs. Then silence. Bang, bang, bang. Silence. Bang, bang, bang. Silence. Footsteps coming up the stairs. She figured it was the upstairs neighbors, but something about the drag of the feet on the steps made her stare at the front door. It wasn’t locked. Her heart raced a little as she stared at the door. She thought about getting up, but she was paralyzed. The footsteps stopped. Her heart raced harder.

In the back of her mind she recognized that the wind was picking up and the rain was getting louder. She remembered reading the weather. Severe thunderstorms most of the night. It had been a miserably hot day for May. About 92 degrees with 89% humidity. She hated Minnesota.

She couldn’t see light from the hallway through the keyhole anymore. Something was blocking it. She thought about the times she had easily broken into her apartment with a credit card because she had locked her keys inside. But somehow none of her friends could ever figure out how to do it. They told her it was impossible because the doorframe blocked the latch. She told them they had to wiggle the card, but they said wiggling won’t make the card go through solid wood. She had always meant to show them how she did it.

She was even more conscious of the rain now. It sounded like the kitchen window by the back door was open. She figured rain was getting in, but what really worried her was that her plant might be uprooted from the wind. A crack of lightning flashed out of the corner of her eye. Then a loud roar of thunder.

She realized the sound had distracted her. She could see light through the keyhole again. She got up and walked the fifteen feet to the kitchen to shut the window. Sure enough, there was water on the floor. She checked the plant, then realized it was completely down pouring now.

Just as she turned to walk back to the living room, she noticed the back door was slightly cracked open. Well not open—it was ever so slight. Most people wouldn’t have even noticed, but in the year she lived there she had left the door locked with the chain on and never opened it once. The whole apartment was old— floors slanted and soft in some places. Nothing lined up. The door frames were uneven to the ceiling so people always thought her pictures were crooked. She could never tell what way was straight. The doors still had antique handles. The latches had clearly been added more recently. They were simple latches, just above the handle. A small gold knob controlled the mechanism, which just barely caught on the other side. She had always thought if a person pulled hard enough they could either force the latch open or simply break the door enough to get in. A chain sat just above the latch though, and that gave her some sense of relief for some reason. Her building was on a heavily traveled road in town, so she never really worried for her safety. Looking back at the latch, she could see it was not sitting in the hole of the piece on the other side— instead it was pushed up on the edge of the metal. Now just a slight push would open it.

She took a quiet step back and bent down to look through the keyhole. Light. She gently reached for the latch and turned it to push it back in place. She looked up and saw that the chain was still impossible to open. For a moment she had forgotten. Whoever installed the chain had attached it incorrectly, so the chain could never be taken off because it did not reach. When she first moved in she thought about asking the landlord to replace it for fear that she wouldn’t be able to get out if there was a fire. Now she was thankful for her laziness.

She walked back to the living room and sat on the couch again. Still light in the keyhole. She looked out the window and saw it was getting darker, the rain so intense she could barely see past the droplets on the window. The thunder roared louder, the lightning bright. The storm must have been right over her by now.

She heard someone coughing downstairs. Then creaking in the floor as someone walked in the apartment above. Another creak. Was that one from upstairs? She looked at the door, still light. But she saw she still had not locked it or put the chain on. Why hadn’t she done that when she came back from the kitchen? She stared out the window and listened to the storm intensify. The wind was picking up. It made the blinds shake back and forth. She hated how drafty all of the windows were. The charm of old houses was one of her favorite things, but there were always apparent downfalls.

She moved closer to the window to look down at the street. It was raining even harder now. There was another flash of lightning, then darkness. The power had gone out. She felt her heart beat harder. No light through the keyhole. She stared at it for a few minutes, taking notice of her heavy breathing had become, but remembering the hallway light was out too. She got up the courage to lock the door. As she walked the mere ten feet to it, each of her steps made the floor creak loudly. She suddenly felt more confident for some reason though. She reached out and switched the lock on. There was a loud metal click. Then she slid the chain on. The sound of metal dragging on metal sounded louder than normal. She waited by the door for a minute. Somehow, she could not shake the feeling that there was someone else standing just as still on the other side. She bent down to look through the keyhole. Darkness.

She walked back over to the couch and lit a candle. She picked up a book and began reading. After getting through a chapter, she paused for a moment and thought about how silly all of this had been. She continued reading. Soon the rain turned to a drizzle and the worst of the storm seemed to be over.

After about an hour of reading, the power came back on. She read a little while longer, and then decided it was time for bed. She stood up, shut off the light and walked the five feet to her bedroom. She changed her clothes and crawled under the covers. Just as she was nuzzling her head into her pillow, she heard it. The short shuffle of footsteps and loud metal click.