orion_mk3 – http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (link to this month’s post)
MamaStrong – http://writingofme.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
pyrosama – http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Turndog-Millionaire – http://turndog-millionaire.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Alpha Echo – http://aprilplummer81.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
LilGreenBookworm – http://themayhemofwritingsahm-style.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Domoviye – http://lets-get-happy.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
writingismypassion – http://charityfaye.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
kimberlycreates – http://www.kimberlycreates.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Suzanne Seese – http://viewofsue.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Diana Rajchel – http://blog.dianarajchel.com/
Ralph Pines – http://ralfast.wordpress.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Alynza – http://www.alynzasmith.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Literateparakeet – http://lesliesillusions.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
in_one – http://quirkythomas.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Tomspy77 – http://thomaswillamspychalski.wordpress.com/ (link to this month’s post)
Inkstrokes – http://drlong67.wordpress.com/ (link to this month’s post)
kiwiviktor81 – http://storygenerator.net/ (link to this month’s post)
This is FICTION.
Minnesota is its own winter nightmare. Just being here tests the soul, forces you to face fear daily, and can make a quest out of an ordinary action like getting from a parked car to a workplace.
I am tempted to simply post a picture of what I see outside my window. I live in Minnesota. I don’t even live in the bad part of Minnesota, where there’s isolation, lousy wireless access and living conditions that swing halfway between bear hunting and bear hunting you. Even so, it’s life threatening at this time of year, a walk down the block can hobble you for life if you forget that second or third layer, and every year we lose some bodies to the cold. Anyone who lives in Minnesota, from the lifelong natives to the outlanders like me, retreats inward around January. Oh, we say it’s to detox from the holiday parties and because of the new fiscal quarter. The truth is, it’s too cold to smell the death on the air, but we can still feel it. We retreat indoors and knit and write and fight with our loved ones, grieving for the people dying, people we don’t even know we’ve lost. Minnesotans are a cold lot, and they don’t welcome in strangers, often cleaving to the people they’ve known since high school with the occasional college exception thrown in. But while they refuse to acknowledge or include their outlanders, they still feel them, and on some level recognize them as part of the mass organism that forms this society of sunlight and snow.
It’s been especially bad the last two years. The bad economy and police restrictions have pulled tighter, tighter, tighter every year – now some of the homeless can’t even rely on a garbage can fire, and every shelter has had to resort to a lottery system. Remember, the house always wins.
Especially when you don’t have a house.
I knew these things, just like I knew that the people standing out on street corners with signs saying things like “hungry, please help,” or “need money for the bus,” are, for the most part, really just gathering untraceable cash for things decidedly not food. Restaurants don’t lock their dumpsters in this city, and while giving someone shelter was sometimes too much to ask, people feed each other here. Even though the food shelves are getting wiped clean, and malnutrition abounds, no one is actually starving. No one who goes out on the street with a sign about it, anyway.
The abandoned gas station just outside of northeast Minneapolis had clearly already had its tenants. One of the boarded-over windows hung out at a crazy angle: a scrawny kid or group of kids could easily climb inside. The pillaging opportunities were pretty good. While people evicted from homes were generally forced to take all their belongings with them, when a business goes under, all the flotsam usually gets left behind. Those television images of the disappointed business owner packing box after box right down to the fake plants in the lobby is fiction. The fake plants are left to molder until the rats eat it or the roaches make it a luxury resort. Kids would loot the place for 3.2 beer and candy; the enterprising (or addicted) might find uses I was better off not knowing for the over the counter cold medicines and caffeine packs marketed to truckers.
I went during the day, mostly just looking for a place to bury a jar – one of the byproducts of my spiritual practices – where the snow-minded natives of the area would not freak out. It had been my experience that the “mainstreamers” of Minnesota were among the most superstitious in the world; most found tarot cards terrifying (rather than cardboard) and explaining that I was burying a bottle of urine and nails because my neighbors imagined that I threatened them so I was using this superstition to counter the morass of superstition cast upon me, drawn from a religious culture that tromped on without outward verification, was just not going to fly if I had, say, elected to argue my tax dollars allowed me to bury the bottle by a tree in a public park. Best not to tweak the natives; they already got pretty damned hostile with any of us from foreign tribes. While the park police had developed a sense of humor about me over the years, this situation was already too delicate for me to try to expand those limits.
I had a flashlight to peer inside, and a pipe that could double as a makeshift crowbar to poke around the property. I’d already developed a plan if a passing police cruiser wanted to know what I was doing. I’d say I was “considering buying the property,” and that the “real estate agent hadn’t returned my calls, so I was looking for myself.” I saw to it that I looked white, and dowdy, with the high-waisted mom jeans and a baggy t-shirt with no bra beneath. I switched out my actual wedding ring for a faux-gold one I kept for situations where I wanted assumptions made about me to fall in a certain direction. My winter gloves would be enough protection from surface disease, although a rat could easily bite right through the cloth. I made a note to myself to avoid touching any rats.
None of the drivers on this edge of the city gave a damn, apparently. I managed to wiggle the board off and flash my light around with impunity. The interior was more or less as I’d predicted: the previous owners had left a lot of crap behind, and the broken cooler doors and candy wrappers dotting the floor showed where either drunk teenagers or desperate adults (or some combination) had descended on the place for its carrion. A flashed my light around the corners, and saw some predictable scurrying – mostly rats. Roaches needed a place with consistent heat and humidity, and the furnace was long dead at this place.
Someone had spray painted above the wall where signs extolled the pleasures dispensed in now long-gone coffee makers (probably sold, one of the more expensive and financially salvageable items of a gas station shut-down) “Fuck the pigs!” I grimaced at that; it suggested that anyone I might encounter would be oppositional, defiant, looking for a fight. This was probably not a space I could share and use in peace.
Still, it looked like no one was there, and that would do fine. Chances are that anything I left here would go undisturbed forever. Abandoned establishments with gas lines didn’t get demolished as a general rule.
I didn’t see it the first time, probably because on my first look there wasn’t enough air circulating to cause movement. And in the dead of winter, smell doesn’t play much of a role.
I came back with my reusable bag, filled with the things I figured I’d plant beneath one of the carts in the emptiest of the coolers. No one was likely to move one of those things for years. That’s when I saw it, the slight swinging motion above the cash area from the corner of my eye. I turned to look. At first my brain did not fully report – or accept – the vision before me. Maybe it was just a banner that fell, gravity finally ripping away the plastic from the nail over years; perhaps a opossum adapted its lifestyle.
What registered first was the shoes.
Opossums don’t wear shoes.
At last, my mind put it together, and then all the details came in full force. It was a white man, well over six foot five. His feet were 12 inches off the ground. He hung by a sturdy cable, and as I allowed the flashlight to follow up from the track marks I could see on the inside of his arms all the way up to the ceiling, I could see where someone (him?) had punched holes in the ceiling to ensure there was proper length for someone of his height. The story told itself.
My flashlight drifted down again, over his face.
I knew his face. I knew it well.
We hadn’t spoken in six months. Six months ago, my confronting him about his alcoholism had caused him to throw me out of his life. Six months ago, he’d been afraid of needles.
And abandoned gas stations. Especially this one. I realized that I found it today because on some subconscious level, I specifically heard him mention it.
I gathered my bag and scrambled out, ignoring the skittering noises of the local rodentia. Of course I had to call the police. I did from my car, using my rehearsed lie about “possible property purchase” when I spoke.
A blizzard came up as I drove home, obscuring all but two feet of the road in front of me. The nightmare of last winter had become this winter’s bad dream.