5 Stories and Poems from Vashon Island Writers
In late 2020, !Attention! Artists at Work announced “The Literary Project,” a literary Flash Fiction/Prose Poetry Project by Island writers. !Attention! Artists at Work is an initiative by Open Space for Arts and Community designed to hire artists during the challenging economic circumstances caused by COVID-19. 31 artists participated in “The Literary Project,” 23 of whom were financially impacted by COVID-19 and compensated for their submissions.
Stories from “The Literary Project” are now available to view for free! We are releasing the entire collection five stories at a time for the next several weeks. This week features stories and poems by:
By John Sweetman and Seán Malone
Once Upon Rainier
By Kathryn True
Where we pulled on packs and unfolded maps to encircle a mountain
Where the early fall mist painted crimson the huckleberry leaves
And the bears lolled in their fields as if come to life from a storybook
Their white smiles stained in purple ecstasy
Where my friend and I undressed on a volcanic sand beach
Daring each other into turquoise waters ringed with ice
A dip so bracing we could not speak
Until our bright red skin warmed under a gracious sun
Where the blousy seed heads of anemones waved
Like the Suessian home of inhabited dust specks
We listened for the Whos
Ears to the ground, eyes to the cerulean ceiling
Where intricate veins of meltwater dropped into mossy pools
And late gentian bowed their velvet heads
Where we bathed our blisters
Idly tracing the footprints of elk and frogs
The Best Little Outhouse on the Rock
By John Sweetman and Seán Malone
‘Hey there! How deep do i gotta dig these holes?’ I asked John.
‘ dig ‘em ‘till ya run outta shovel!’ John answered.
‘Well how come you got the short shovel .! ‘ ..? i replied.
‘That’s ‘ cause i’m on the bottom side of the bank and you’re on the top of the slope!’ We had selected a location for the small structure based upon an incredible view and not for construction convenience.
John and i agreed to construct an ‘outhouse ‘for a close friend, Bill, who was formerly a high level Physicist and had been a designer of the first high powered laser to bounce a beam off the moon and back to earth.
Bill had grown up in the NW and appreciated local art as well as high tech innovations . As a result the outhouse project involved WIFI, satellite tv, an advanced potty, hardwood floors and fancy heat and ventilation. On the artistic side there was a double dutch door with a local stained glass window, a carved figurehead mounted below the roof peak and a hand tiled pull down table and other objects of local art.
We referred to it as the throne ‘ room’ because an antique bronze porthole was conveniently mounted next to the high tech incinerating marine potty and provided an amazing view down the steep hill to the Outer Harbour and Mt. Rainier.
John and i were into the project as we had negotiated a superb deal. We offered to work half as fast for twice as much per hour as anybody else. Actually we would have done the project for nothing and looking at the hours we spent that was more like what we got. Materials were the costly part. We used clear tapered siding cedar for the roof that we treated with anti moss zinc and we then covered the peak of the roof with bent 14 gauge pure copper sheeting, connected to a ground rod. One can never be too careful about potential lightning strikes in an outhouse. As it turned out lightning never struck but a large maple fell on the roof during a memorable windstorm but other than a small dent in the copper, there was no damage.
We enjoyed interspersing Bills selection of local art acquisitions such as custom tiles and a small heavy table into the high tech structure. For awhile there was a Spakowski water color inside but proved unsuitable in the small space.
After we finished the project, we stood back and admired our work and carefully affixed a small brass plate to the inside of the door.
The plate read:
Professional Outhouse Outfitters and Practice Society. (POOPS)
And from there we went on to design and build Bill’s Zen garden.. but that’s another story.
By Delinda McCann
Dorothy got caught up in a tornado. Alice fell down a hole. Lucy climbed through a wardrobe, and we stayed home. Still, our world turned as bizarre as any storybook. Like in the stories, it was our children who brought us through.
Normally, as we bustle about, the constant measuring of time and distance stitches reality together. When the virus came, everybody stopped traveling and hunkered down in their homes. Within weeks, reality faded. Our world dimmed to shades of sepia. Time stretched until a single day lasted a week or more. An omnipresent horror raised the hair on the backs of our necks. Something had slipped, or a door had opened, then closed.
We all felt it, but the Pender family was the first to see it. Watching the outside world through their windows, they witnessed a sickly pale-orange foam ooze up from the ground in their pasture. It grew, engulfing brambles, then moved on, leaving only rotted black slime.
During the long nights, the foam crept forward, leaving behind the bare carcasses of plants and animals. It traveled underground, oozing up miles from the Penders’ pasture. Some called it a fungus. Others blamed toxins from the smelter.
Sally Pender cried when she found the nest of a wren turned to black slime. Everybody grieved over the picture of a deer on Vashonites. Nothing remained of the animal except black slime, its head and white-rimmed eyes staring at nothing.
When the sun actually came out, it burned away the foam, but the orange menace would reappear at night, leaving a trail littered with the blackened bones of dead things.
We searched for ways to kill the foam. Rain made it grow. Acid turned it more red. It ate petroleum and thrived on Roundup.
Since travel became perilous, we huddled in family groups. Sally Pender thrived. She loved playing board games with Dad and laughing at his jokes. She spent hours on the internet chatting with friends. Her brother, Danny, stood at the window in his room, looked at the dark world and thought dark thoughts.
Separated from his friends on his birthday, Danny’s roiling anger deepened. He fled to the beach and hurled rocks into the bay. Above the tideline, the orange horror sat dissolving the seagrass. He kicked sand on it, then he found a broken bucket, filled it with seawater, and threw it on the foam. The foam popped, steamed and dissolved into a thin vapor. Danny texted Sally. Get the other kids and buckets and come to the beach.
Sally mobilized her classmates. Throughout the rest of the day and night, the island reverberated with the sound of bucket after bucket of seawater dissolving the foam. Perhaps, it was the coming and going from shore to forest that night that stitched time and space back together. Color returned. The night lasted only eight hours. In the morning, we went outside, hugged our children, and watched the sun rising behind Mt. Tahoma.
When We Were Over, She Looked Down at the Dust on My Windowsill
By A Norling
When we were over, she looked down at the dust on my windowsill.
After the fight. Before leaving my apartment.
She walked to the window furthest from the front door and blinked her eyes down at the windowsill without any submissive tilt of her head. Her way of saying all the wrongs I’d caught her in were meaningless if they were being accused by someone who had not kept her windowsill clean. If we were cartoons, she’d have added the gesture of scooping up dust with a fingertip, blowing it across the room and into my face. A cloud of my wrongs to cover up hers.
But we were not cartoons, and we were not angels or aliens as she’d led me to believe for five years. We were two young women who had shut away the world outside ourselves in order to receive the daily dose of importance that kept us living in a country neither of us had any desire to be alive in.
Laughing seemed kinder than screaming at the time, so I laughed,
(I don’t need you the way you’ve taught me I do) and hid under my hat.
I moved to a house with eight windows, two skylights. “I don’t normally rent to young people,” the new landlord said, but granted me the house under the condition I maintained all windows as clean as they were when I got there.
By Anna Shomsky
Faded yellow signs warn of a bend in the road. Ahead, kids are waiting under a run-down solar panel bus shelter. They are projecting holograms of the planets on the leaking ceiling, battling Jupiter against Saturn, Earth against Mars.
I pick up a hitchhiker. He climbs in and tries to place a cup in my cup holder, but it contains two mason jars, one full of sea glass, another full of broken taillights.
“You can move those.”
He lifts the jar of sea glass and turns it in his hands.
“You go beachcombing a lot?” He asks.
“Yup. I’ve got jars and jars of sea polymers at home. I use them to make art.” With some polishing, sea polymers, spent sequestration canisters, and bottle caps make for distinctive jewelry.
“Ever find any shells?”
I point to the clamshell hanging from my rear-view mirror. He reaches up to touch it, then pauses. “May I?”
“I once found a bone when digging at the beach as a kid,” he says.
“I once saw a sea star.”
The sea star I had seen was a sea sunflower, with some 20 legs blossoming from its orange core.
My clamshell has a hole, put there by an intrepid moon snail. I’d love to find a moon snail shell. I would love for the clouds to clear so I could see the moon.
I drop the hitchhiker off at the shop, a massive building containing hardware, luxury and discount water dispensaries, solar cells, phone card minutes, carbon sequestering sticks, lawn flamingos, obsidian wind chimes. All of life’s necessities.
In the early evening, I see the hitchhiker again. He’s at the beach with a dog.
I approach with my pail of found objects. I’ve collected cartridges from illicit fireworks. They’re frayed at the end, with little twists of burnt plastic blossoming outward like the legs of a sea sunflower. I’ve found the bottom of a glass bottle, smoothed over by a century of tides. I’ll combine them to make a wind chime.
I pick up a stone by his feet. It’s made primarily of silicate, but bits of plastic are fused to it. They’ve seeped into the pores, making the rock smooth.
I hold it out and the hitchhiker investigates.
“Remember when we could find mother of pearl?” he asks.
“I’m not quite old enough for that,” I say. “But I remember when those still worked.” I point to the abandoned carbon sequestration blocks, the false trees standing three stories high, cracking and crumbling.
We walk along for a while in silence, taking turns throwing driftwood to his dog.
Eventually I ask, “Need a ride home?”
He lives in the abandoned greenhouses, where he’s propped plywood against the ivy-covered metal frame.
He’s hung a rain catcher by the entrance, a series of overflowing copper cups carved to look like blooming lilies. He takes one and places it to his lips, drinks the bounty of the Earth, and slips out of sight behind the brambles.
About the Authors
Kathryn True is an island-based freelance writer and naturalist. She is active in an island haiku group and seeks inspiration among trees and from the Salish Sea. She can’t get enough of bird’s nest fungi.
Anna Shomskey’s writing has appeared in Women on Writing and on the Post-Culture Podcast. She wrote and produced the radio show Whispers of Vashon for 101.9 KVSH. Her short stories have been published in the anthologies Island Stories and Chicken Scratchings. Anna has a Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and has taught ESL for fifteen years.