There are no days more full than those we go back to. ― Colum McCann

Jemiscoe Chambers-Black—For many of us, the week-long residency at the Mountain View Grand Hotel in Whitefield, NH is something that we cherish. It’s a magical place, a retreat, where like-minds enjoy being away from the pressures of adulting, and rather, focus on nothing but their stories. Because we feel so strongly about our time together, we here at Assignment decided to ask some of the current MFA Candidates, the alumni and faculty what they missed, learned and loved about past residencies.

After attending three residencies, I can say with certainty that what I’ll miss most after my fourth residency week in January are the people. I’ll miss leaving the rest of the world behind to spend a week in the company of writers, people who intrinsically understand the challenges and rewards of practicing the craft of writing. I’ll miss the opportunity to dig deep into short stories in morning workshops. I’ll miss the chance to learn together from visiting agents and editors. I’ll miss the student and faculty readings. I’ll miss it all, but the community fostered by the staff and faculty—and my fellow learners—rests at the heart of what I love most about residency. ~ Margaret McNelis

My favorite moment of every residency is the Friday night slideshow. I’m always touched by the photos of students learning, writing, sharing, and enjoying each other’s company. The thoughtfulness and joy on everyone’s faces reflect the magic of residency. You can see the shift in photos taken early on in the week, to those taken toward the end. Friendships have been made. Confidences have grown. Dreams have been born. And cohort bonds have all become stronger. Plus, there’s always at least one cute alpaca pic. ~ Jo Knowles, Faculty

My family called my first week of residency, worried I’d careened off a mountain on my drive up after they didn’t hear from me for days. I told them I’d found my people. I couldn’t remember going to any other gathering where everyone else was just as passionate about the same thing as me. It just felt right. ~ Eric Beebe

The Mountain View is dead quiet at 4am. We walk the silent halls, my coffee cup is stained purple with red wine and his smells of cinnamon whiskey. We pause in front of a painting of hunting dogs.
       “It’s weird how every floor has the same pictures,” I say. 
       “They’re not exactly the same,” he says. “The painting on the second floor has twelve dogs. This one has eleven.”
       We rush down the stairs.
       “See," I say, not sure if I'm victorious or disappointed. "Eleven." ~ Sarah Foil

When I think about the four residencies I attended, the thing that sticks out most vividly is the mornings: 28 in total. Leaning over to the personal-size coffee maker (that I brought to every Residency) on the nightstand, flicking it on, and slowly coming to and watching the light slink across the walls and ceiling while my favorite coffee from home-brewed, making my room smell like morning. Then, sipping the dark roast with a billow of half and half, gazing out the windows at the sunshine-yellow clapboards of the Mountain View Grand, and around the room, which I set up just how I like it, reviewing the day’s schedule. Each morning, the cusp of bringing new learning into my mind and spirit. Each morning, looking forward to strengthening friendships with other writers. Each morning, giving myself permission to take my writing as seriously as everyone else already did. ~ Shawna-Lee I. Perrin

My favorite memories from Residency all center on how we, as colleagues, pushed one another to continuously perfect our writing and to hone our work into stories that deserved to be read. One semester, after having my piece workshopped, a colleague approached me for a personal discussion of the work.
       “How do you come up with such creepy material?” she asked.
       “I have no idea,” I said. “But I’m glad it made you feel creeped out. It was supposed to.”
       “I was creeped out,” she said, “but it was the wrong kind of creeped out. It was the I-don’t-want-to-read-this-anymore creeped out, not the wow-this-is-wrong-that-I-enjoy-this-stuff kind of creeped out. If you want to hold your readers’ attention, work on making your material more subtle and more complex.”
       Every word I’ve written in the almost two years since have been filtered through this piece of advice. ~ John Will

One special pleasure was the peer workshop group I shared with Lydia Peele. It was a mix of nice personalities and uniformly strong manuscripts. All such workshops provide to their leaders a mix of don't-do-that and yes-do-this in the storytelling, and it was great fun, over and over again, to find so many beguiling examples of yes-do-this. ~ Richard Adam Carey, Faculty

I call the top moments in my life: "Patronus moments." It's lame and nerdy as hell, but I think of them whenever I'm really sad and I need the extra boost of remembering a better time. Expecto Patronum is actually Latin for "bring out my protector," so it felt appropriate both for me and the other characters in the Harry Potter universe. These moments include bid day in my sorority, when I got my littles, my time in Budapest, the Twenty One Pilots concert, Leadershape, and now: residency.
      I'd cried for an hour when I first got the letter from Lisa telling me that I'd been accepted into the program. I don't have the words to explain the amount of shock and gratitude I felt, but I knew it was one of those rare moments where I'd get a taste of what it means to finish first. Residency exceeded any possible expectations I could've dreamed of and more. I'm surrounded by a group of wonderful, inspiring, dynamic people who all share a love of what matters most to me: writing. It's such a wonderful program, and I couldn't possibly praise it enough. At least I'll have the next two years to try. ~ Morgan Green

Every time I return home from a residency, I miss that insular feeling of being holed up 24/7 with other writers and lovers of books. I relish forgetting about the rest of the world, even as we think and write about our concerns for its fate. I love the deep immersion, the thinking and talking only about our craft. What a gift that is. And really, now that I've experienced it first as a student, then as faculty, I can say it is a necessity. ~ Amy Irvine, Faculty

Strangely, what I liked most and what I liked least about Residency are the same thing: Peer Review. It was painful. Being the newest of the bunch, I was scheduled at the end of the week, so I could get acclimated before entering “the box.” I’d come to the program because I needed help with my writing; I was stuck, but couldn’t figure out why. As I participated in my classmate’s peer reviews, something in my mind began to gel until I realized what I was stuck on. I write a great nonfiction landscape, but it’s just that—a landscape. It’s sterile and devoid of emotion because even though I’m in the story, I’m absent. I write around me rather than in me. When my turn in “the box” came, my mentors and peers were wonderful, and the overall theme was that my story was missing in my writing. I realized that either I needed to open up and expose myself and my family, or I needed to switch to fiction. I was overwhelmed with the fear of being vulnerable. When I came out of “the box,” I didn’t think anyone was more surprised than me when I started crying and couldn’t stop. It was a painful experience, but it was also a week of growth and insight. And as scary as it is, I’m sticking with nonfiction. ~ Debi St. Jeor

A Curiosity

by Eric Beebe


My girlfriend brought me back a spell book from Iceland. She’d asked if I wanted a drinking horn, but I already had two or three. A decorative belt pouch for my Ren Faire Viking garb? Nah, I could get that at a Ren Faire. So a six-pack of Einstök and The Sorcerer’s Screed it was.

The book was pretty austere for something containing spells for summoning ghost-horses and killing people’s livestock. It was just a red paperback with a serif font and some staves—magical symbols—printed in white on each cover, none of that skin-bound Necronomicon kind of stuff. But it was written by a guy who called himself Skuggi (“shadow”) and scorned Christianity’s self-proclaimed monopoly on communing with the powers that be.

This wasn’t my first book of Scandinavian spells. I’d bought Dr. Stephen E. Flowers’s second edition of the Galdrabók months earlier. Skimming through his foreword (read: thesis) on my way to the juicy stuff, I read how spells and incantations of the late- and post-Viking-Age North show evidence of a unique dynamic between Christianity and Norse Paganism, one of more compromise than the mutual resentment I thought had persisted until one old, bearded man in the sky won out over the other. Even Skuggi wrote that sorcery was an attempt to understand a single creator and his works versus a pantheon, although he lived from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.

Neither should have come as a total surprise. The Norse were as much traders as raiders, and it’s only fitting that there would be aspects of cultural exchange noted in a people known for traveling as far from their home as the Middle East and even Newfoundland. So finding spells calling on equal parts God, Satan, Thor, and Loki, among others, to curse someone with explosive bowels was just ye olde multiculturalism at work.

That last bit of info might make it sound like this is all a joke to me, but that couldn’t be further from true. The occult has always been the source of my greatest fears. Reading any of these texts after sundown leads to me alternating between a bedsheet cocoon and switching my bedside light on at the slightest hint of movement through the night. I regard the supernatural with equal parts wonder and fear.

I still have yet to test any spells from the Screed. The most I’ve done is to leaf through its pages, jotting down which ones require minimal animal sacrifice or law-breaking to cast, which could be feasibly integrated into trinkets without upsetting the associated ritual. Some simply require the reader to carve a stave into a specific wood and carry it with them. Years before I acquired either book, I drew a stave I’d found online for luck in romantic pursuits onto a scrap of paper, nicked my finger with a pocket knife to trace the stave in my blood, then ate the paper. This bore no measurable results. Maybe that’s why I hesitate to try any of these new spells. Whether I botched that old stave or just helped cement science’s superiority, I have reason to be skeptical I’d find any luck with fresh ones.

Still, curiosity draws me in. If not for some attainable result, why were these rites and symbols recorded? The Norse believed love poems were a type of sorcery, the words themselves bearing magical significance. Today we usually just call that art. I’d like to think all the mammary blood and raven bile connects to something we might understand today too, as if mysticism was just some ancient method of manipulating physics in minor ways that became lost to the ages. Wishful thinking, I know, but speculation is part of the fun with such things. I think we all want to believe there’s some untapped potential for the extraordinary in ourselves, in this world, in a book—something we’re one good push away from obtaining to liven up the status quo. Maybe there is, or maybe I’ve just had a harder time letting go of the fantastical than others my age. I’ll probably never feel sure of either.

Eric Beebe is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. He currently works as a substitute teacher for grades K–12 in New Hampshire.

My Life as a Serial Linguist

by Eric Beebe


This week, I’ll leave for Spain to visit my sister on her semester abroad. She took French in high school, and I took Spanish, so the months leading up to her trip were filled with half-hearted agreements to compete with each other on Duolingo for supremacy. She upheld at least her end of the bargain, but I continued a shaky track record in the study of foreign languages.

I studied Spanish in high school to look well-rounded on college apps, the same reason I tolerated three seasons of football and volunteered to direct traffic at a Republican Party cookout my grandpa helped organize. German had been my real interest, but it wasn’t offered. So I undertook Spanish with all the effort a disinterested teen pressured to look good on paper could muster, taking three years before I would’ve had to sign up for AP and actually attempt fluency. I was content with my limited use of it in things like making Xbox gamertags (xOSO FUERTEx) and masking anxieties in social interactions (because sometimes hola is just so much easier than hello).

My lack of dedication felt vindicated when the first country I traveled to out of high school was Poland. I didn’t bother to learn much Polish either before my month there. What I did learn, thanks to a handbook my uncle bought me, was how to say “kiss me” (pocałuj mnie) and “do you want a massage?” (czy zrobić ci masaż), my uses of which were limited to shouting in my host-brother’s friend’s back yard after taking twelve–plus shots at his house party, before I started puking on a tree. I did pick up the basic yes, no, excuse me, etc. and familiarized myself with their phonetics, but training myself to recognize “dz” as “j,” “j” as “y,” “y” as “i,” “i” as “ee,” and so on was far from communication. I entertained thoughts of learning Polish and practicing online with my new friends to catch up after I left, until I actually left and felt no more motivated than I had for Spanish.

The problem I saw was I had no inherent link to either language. German had interested me because of my German/Nordic lineage, but I’d heard of no Polish relatives, and the only Spaniard I knew of in our family tree was Valeriano “The Butcher” Weyler, who’d earned his moniker using concentration camps to try quelling Cuban rebels in the 1890s—not exactly the kind of relation I wanted to embody. So come sophomore year of college, I asked my parents for books on Old Norse for Christmas, and the following summer I sought out a world expert on the subject for advice on teaching myself. I spent a day and a half with my sources and copious snacks—long enough to learn novelties like how the transition from þing ("meeting") to “thing” gave the phrase “I have a… thing then” meaning and cognates like land (“land”) and bok (“book”). Then I burnt out, around the same time I must have run out of Girl-Scout Cookies, and barely touched the material again.

But that fall, I felt my first great pull to Spanish when my lit seminar spent a week covering Pablo Neruda, with special attention to faults in translations of his work. A self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, I obsessed over his Cien sonetos de amor. My professor invited someone to try reading one poem in the original Spanish, so—buzzed on pre-class whisky and thinking Spanish classes from four years back would help—I volunteered. He stopped me, rightly, after the first line to save me from further embarrassment. I hated myself for losing so much of my Spanish I couldn’t even stumble through, and I told myself then I’d relearn Spanish. But Austria got in the way.

I spent the following spring and summer priming myself on German for a semester in Vienna. Once I got there, I was proud to be counted among the advanced students in my German class—for beginners. Even so, by the end of the term I felt steamrolled by the curriculum. When first ordered, “Ich möchte ein Weihenstephaner, bitte,” at what would become my favorite bar, I felt relief when the bartender shouted back in a thick Liverpool accent, “I don’t speak fucking German! Say it in English.” Still, I pestered the locals I befriended with drunken attempts at stringing sentences together, and, by the morning of my flight home, I was thankful to have picked up enough that my Turkish taxi driver and I could find a common-ish tongue.

After college, I briefly entered a daily regimen of German, Spanish, and Polish practice back-to-back but found only slightly more success with that than I had with Old Norse. This has remained true to the present. So has my desire to return to each, flawed as it may be. As my visit to Spain nears, I wonder what effect it will have on me. I can hope to arrive and be caught up in the hum of Spanish life, coaxed all the more by whatever fragments of its language still shelter in my brain. I can hope they’ll come out to breathe, even if it takes a little booze or they’re met with insistence that the locals’ English is better. I can hope I’ll choose to learn all over again.

Eric Beebe is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. He currently works as a substitute teacher for grades K–12 in New Hampshire.

When the Robots Come

by Eric Beebe


Scrolling through Twitter, in bed late on a weekend in October, I found the first notice I’d seen of what some call the future and others have called the end of humanity. Sophia, an android developed by Hanson Robotics, had spoken at a summit as she was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia. I turned the volume on my phone way down and tried to listen without waking my girlfriend next to me. To grant a robot citizenship was an unprecedented leap, and I wanted to see how much humanity it had taken from a machine to earn such a distinction. Still, I doubted whether the footage would hold my attention for longer than a sound bite. I’d seen enough “marvels” of the future to warrant skepticism, ones that sounded more Microsoft Sam than any semblance of a human. But watching the footage, I was surprised. Yes, there was the element of the uncanny to Sophia’s voice and appearance, but, more than any judgment on where her adaptive artificial intelligence stood, one question took root in my mind: how human will she get?

It’s no secret that plots and stories grappling with this kind of advancement in technology have been influencing our thoughts on the matter for decades now. From early science fiction novels to the flashy blockbusters that proceeded, the question of whether AI and androids are things to be feared or embraced has been more prominent in society than some might recognize. Almost always, these tales include a warning, a hint that humanity should be cautious in advancing technology faster than we can grapple with the repercussions, philosophically or otherwise. In some of the most well-known incarnations , like The Terminator and The Matrix franchises, the warning takes a xenophobic form, assuring viewers that if machines become too much like us—that is, too smart—they must inevitably discover that humans are inferior, unnecessary, and expendable. These plots tap into a deep-seated suspicion of the unfamiliar, which can be twisted all too easily into hysteria. It’s no surprise that common sentiments surrounding the latest developments in AI tend to include at least some notion of, “But how long until it kills us?”

On the opposing end, however, we see cautionary messages about advancement that point the finger at humans and only humans. In plots like those of the video game Fallout 4 or HBO’s TV reboot of Westworld, AI is portrayed as having its capacity for a soul underestimated far more than its threat to the human race. In these, violence on the part of robots is a reaction to human aggression, aggression stemming from an inability to appreciate and respect the sentience of what we’ve created. Whether the androids face enslavement, genocide, or other horrors in these stories, the common factor is an absence of humanity in humans, not AI.

How much of our anxieties about AI are a result of devouring pop culture’s endlessly recycled tropes on technology as our undoing? How many people would fear new creations like Sophia without consuming stories about the evils of Skynet or Agent Smith? Would I have felt compelled to refer to Sophia as “she” rather than “it” if I hadn’t spent hours in a video game aiding the efforts of synthetic humanoids escaping enslavement to live as people? As is expected of art, these stories help to shape our worldview. One can imagine a day when androids are ever-present in our lives, and what then? We may not need to have all the answers now, but if we’re to prepare for when the robots come, we need to take a deeper look at the narratives around us and do what we expect AI to do most: think.

Fruit Snacks and Marlboros

by Eric Beebe


Growing up with my grandparents next door made them the de facto babysitters for my siblings and me. Their house is a white Colonial with a wraparound porch, attached to a barn used for storage. We’d take a short walk down a “secret” path in the tree line that opened to my grandpa’s vegetable garden and the metal lattices of my grandma’s grapevines with clusters of berry bushes behind them. My brother, sister, and I would help pick berries in the summer for jam, only to eat half of them out of our buckets. As the seasons changed, the wafting scent of fresh grapes would summon us back through the path to do the same to them, rolling the fruit in our mouths until the skins peeled off and we sucked their cores down like hard candy before spitting out the seeds.

Between careers in aviation and politics, my grandpa was often out of the house, which made it my grandma’s domain. It could have been another country. We lived by different laws under her watch. “I’m not your parents. Do what you want, but don’t piss me off,” was one of her lasting mantras, but she was far from neglectful. In her wisdom, my grandma devised ways of containing us, whether it be in front of a TV running Batman: The Animated Series, in a room full of toys collected since the 1960s, or equipped with markers and paper that always seemed thicker than other kinds and smelled like old books. She’d sit at one head of the kitchen table, behind a perpetually soiled ashtray and a Christmas mug full of coffee. At her side, we’d gorge ourselves on the snacks she stocked and beg her to let us light her next cigarette, so we could play with the lighter. Burning Marlboros became the smell of a tranquil freedom, and strawberry Gushers its flavor. To this day a pack of gummies or a stroll past the right smoker takes me back as fast as any madeleine ever did for Proust.

The times my grandpa was around, he was usually focused on work. He’d tolerate our use of his copy machine for prints of hands or any action figures that fit under its cover, but only for so long. A couple of times, he invited my brother and me to help him clear out brush around the property with sharpened steel swords that stood as tall as I did, which he kept in a closet of files and old military garb. At my grandma’s behest, he’d monitor us in their musty basement, while we crafted weapons of our own. I still have a pair of homemade nunchakus and my first sword: a dowel rod sharpened on one end with a floral brass cabinet handle for a handguard. My brother and I would square off, each with our own sword in hand, exchanging taps. Lunges weren’t allowed on account of the pointed tips. We were careful not to damage any nearby furniture or knock any tchotchkes from their places on the mantel. My grandma used to tell us her favorite methods for murder and body disposal, and she made frequent jokes about poisoning our food. No matter that the threat was in good fun, we heeded her warnings.

In adolescence, my visits were filled less with crafts or sword fights and more with Grand Theft Auto, since my parents wouldn’t allow it in our house yet. At one point, my grandma tried to teach me her skills in stained glass art, but I gave up after burning my finger on a soldering iron. As bans on certain video games lifted and I learned to drive, I visited less and less, to the point that one winter she believed a telephone scammer claiming I was in a Brazilian prison in need of bail. She’d tried to call my cellphone, but I slept through the buzzing.

Now, my visits come mostly to retrieve the family dog, whose aging bladder requires more attention than work schedules allow. Mornings, before I leave, the sight of a leash sends my dog into such a frenzy that she forgets her hip dysplasia and bounds up on two feet, until she’s on her way to visit Grandma. Sometimes, she runs there herself, if left outside unchecked. Her excitement—waxing with age, instead of waning—reminds me of the simple joy that used to draw me over. I think to myself, maybe today I’ll visit longer, but later I’ll remember the writing I have to get done or the plans I’ve made, and best intentions dissolve, leaving a sense of hurry and guilt.

From Fetish Flicks to Film: How Writing Saved My Taste in Movies

by Eric Beebe


My favorite movie used to be Hobo with a Shotgun. In high school, a newly-finished basement, complete with home theater, made my house the ideal destination for movie nights. Friends were actually content enough in the setting that they obeyed my parents’ stringent warning against breaching the liquor cabinet just feet away, behind the fully-furnished bar. We’d scan Netflix for the most absurd movies we could find. If we didn’t get our fix of shock, we’d break between movies to search the internet for worse: fetish porn like “One Priest One Nun” or even real-life execution videos when our wandering led there. When a less-frequent visitor showed me the infamous “2 Girls 1 Cup,” I laughed while he fought back the nausea.

I took pride in labeling our weirdest discoveries as my favorites and looked forward to any opportunity to flaunt my  preferences. It made me feel distinct from the majority of guys I knew who favored sports movies, which I hated, and flashy fight sequences, which I also loved too much like they did. I craved distinction but lacked the taste to distinguish myself.

 My English teacher started suggesting movies to me like Guy Ritchie’s masterpiece Snatch. It quickly shot to the top of my list. I’d yet to learn terms like “MacGuffin,” “caper,” or much else, but the ways in which a botched diamond heist built up multiple plot lines and comedy around a single stone enthralled me. It wasn’t just distinctive; it was good, really good. There was artistic genius at play that I might not have understood, but I felt it.

After graduating and beginning to study creative writing in college, I noticed my old favorite movies didn’t cut it for me anymore. The techniques I was learning in class stood out to me and gripped me more than action shots and shock value.  I loved the use of metafiction in Seven Psychopaths. I loved the surrealism of Riggan’s delusions in Birdman.  Hell, I even loved The Lobster’s skewering deconstruction of human interaction, no matter how uncomfortable sitting through it made me feel. Fresh takes on themes and deft use of writing techniques stuck with me more than fight scenes or shock for the sake of shocking.

As my tastes became more focused, they became more exclusive too. I groaned when my family voted on Jupiter Ascending for a trip to the movies together. After watching American Hustle with friends, I was the lone voice of praise amongst comments of “what the fuck was that?” I found it harder to enjoy as many movies, but I felt a more potent appreciation for those I did.  Before I left home to study writing, I joked with friends from my rural hometown that I was going to college to be “one of those assholes sipping wine, wearing an ascot, talking about how the color of the drapes represented the main character’s struggle for his father’s acceptance.” I had the spiel memorized. I pulled it out at parties. The caricature got some laughs and distracted me from the unsettling truth that I might not be the same person the next time we met. Learning, if it sticks, changes you. All we can hope is that we come out on one end of a class, degree, or experience happier with our new understanding, despite the parts of us it cost.

I have been.

Leikmót, 2015

by Eric Beebe

Photo Courtesy of Hurstwic.

Photo Courtesy of Hurstwic.

When Matt invited me to Bill’s house for leikmót, I decided I’d bring a pie. I felt like I owed some offering in exchange for the welcome Matt had extended to me from Hurstwic, a group of modern-day warrior-scholars of ancient Scandinavian tradition. I had attended and participated in a few of their combat training sessions before, but I paled in comparison to Matt. I liked Viking history and the culture of the Norseman. He practically lived it. He’d refused to shave his beard for about a decade, and his skin was decorated with tattoos of runes and symbols linked to Odin. When we first became friends I could see myself striving for the same, but then years passed, and I accepted my place in this century while he held the link between the periods tighter than I could even hold a sword.

I made the pie with wild boar and apple and acorn, striving for whatever historical relevance I could muster. The day of the event, Matt drove us to Bill’s house. Bill was head of Hurstwic, and he hosted the leikmót and annual Winternights Feast in his backyard. I remember thinking his home bore surprising Colonial influence for what I half-expected to be a Nordic longhouse. His driveway wound through a thicket of trees like some hidden path to a wise man from a fantasy series.

The other visitors hailed us from the back porch. I recognized few faces and introduced myself to the rest with trepidation. After only making training on a couple occasions, it was hard to feel worthy among the more dedicated at this yearly ritual. Even their conversation was alien to me. Talk with friends and family always seemed such a contest of who spoke first and loudest. But these men and women around me took time with their words, letting spans of silence pass between them in peace, enjoying the October air.

Within the hour, Bill called all to order with an opening speech. He gave the history of the leikmót as a contest of might, speed, and cunning held with annual feasts before days grew short and larders keenly measured. Bill announced there would be prizes for the most impressive competitors.

We played knattleikur first. Like much known of the Norse, many fine details were lost outside of the sagas, but what resulted was some distant relative of rugby and hockey. The Swift Wings of the Valkyrie faced off against The Old Berserkers, blocking runs, stealing balls, and trying to trip each other with their staves. The Swift Wings won a bag of Icelandic candy. Everyone broke after the contest to cast a silent vote on an MVP.

There were then shield- and spear-throwing competitions. I watched Matt throw a shield every conceivable way for optimum yardage. Reynir, our resident Icelander, hit truer with each consecutive spear he threw. I couldn’t hit anything with a shield, and my spear-throws were far from any of our target’s imaginary vitals.

After archery and barrel-fighting drills, we prepared to feast. I helped two other guests bake flat disks of bread beneath the pot over Bill’s fire pit, where he had been cooking stew over the open flame. We just warmed my pie in the kitchen stove. Wooden bowls were brought out for us to serve ourselves, and we gathered in a circle to eat. Plenty complimented my pie, but I found it too bitter after parboiling the meat in an IPA and wondered how they could enjoy it. Bill’s stew was much more appealing to me, but I waited and waited for someone else to lead the charge before daring to grab seconds. We washed our dinner down with beer and Brennivín, Icelandic schnapps traditionally imbibed with rotted shark meat.

As we finished the meal, two attendees brought out a wooden chest and a hula-hoop wrapped in decorative tape. Bill explained Nordic reverence for rings and oaths taken on them and held the hoop out between us to grasp in unison. With our hands locked in place he convened Hurstwic’s bi-yearly meeting of associates. We talked as much about the blessings native Icelanders sent us from their ancestors as we did the groups P.R. and marketing.

With talk of business done, Bill conveyed the day’s prizes: Icelandic licorice candies, certificates, and stones. In Iceland, Matt had told me, the locals protected even their smallest stones. They were a part of cultural history, the spirit of the land.

“Rocks don’t grow back,” he had told me.

But now Bill awarded stones from famous sites of the sagas to a number of the games’ participants, and somehow even I’d made the cut. He handed me one the shape of a rounded triangle he said came from the site of knattleikur in the saga of Gísli Súrsson. I told him it was going on my mantle.

We concluded the meeting, and Bill insisted we leave our dishes and take any leftover beer and skyr, yogurt still made from Nordic bacterial cultures and once used to extinguish fires. He gave out books that he and a colleague were ready to pass on. Matt and I were keen on his offers and last to leave. As we toted paper bags of our spoils back to his SUV, I carried my stone in my shirt pocket. We set course for home with a vessel full of weapons, bodies pleased by the ache of exhaustion, and a piece of Iceland’s soul resting over my chest.

My Brief Affair with an '85

by Eric Beebe

Back in 2005, Lowrider Magazine was full of three things: scantily-clad women, classic cars inches off the ground, and the wisdom of the men who had attained both. Between the hype of Grand Theft Auto and my love of rap videos, I assured myself at twelve that these three things were the keys to success. The dream was fixing up El Dorados, Impalas, and Coup DeVilles to cruise low and slow around town.

My grandma’s old ’85 Chevy S-10 was the closest thing within reach to a real lowrider. It was lower to the ground than most trucks like it I’d seen and would technically be an antique by the time I could drive it. The cab’s sun-bleached maroon interior was full of trash, and the ash tray still held an old cigarette butt or two from the years my grandma drove it. The grill was a matte grey plastic begging me to be replaced with metal and chrome. There was still a warped, dented section of the back bumper where my uncle Donald had once backed it into the barn my grandparents used to store trash and their lawn mower. I planned to restore it with his older brother, Kenny.

Worktimes flexed around Kenny’s night-shift sleep cycle and my juvenile aversion to scheduling. Set plans didn’t always succeed, but sometimes when I made spontaneous appearances at my grandparents’ house looking to work, my grandma would wake her son from his slumber. But our definitions of that work didn’t always align. I was a teenage idealist that saw every chain-link steering wheel and 8-ball shift knob in a magazine as something I could add to my ride, which might eventually make the S-10 worthy of car shows, music videos and a spot in Lowrider. Kenny, on the other hand, saw the semi-functional, forgotten machine losing its battle with rust under a tarp tent. When he taught me how to cut through steel with the blue- white blast of an oxy-acetylene torch, our thoughts were polar opposites. Mine: I can totally chop the top of the truck with this! His: there’ll be lots of bolts too rusted to unscrew.

One day Kenny and I removed the liner from the truck’s bed to reveal years of dirt and sediment piled over the neglected metal beneath. A nest of twine from one rodent or another lay balled up against the wheel well, so all I could think about when he handed me a broom was rat shit. He told me to get sweeping while he worked on the engine. I brushed the dirt out in shovel- worthy loads while my uncle screamed at parts under the hood and beat them with a wrench if they stumped him.

By high school, I had given up on the truck. I couldn’t pin it down to one reason why. Any time Kenny brought it up, I was always too busy with homework or the football team. I’d only joined to follow some friends, and after my parents’ coaxing. At that point the only people in school who cared about their cars the way I had were the same ones who bought the most expensive sports gear they would outgrow in a year, or the ones the shop teachers had to cut off after too many classes. The workings of cars remained arcane at best to me, and any less was menial labor. I found more satisfaction in the creative power of pen and paper than a wrench. My teenage libido found more pleasure in internet porn than it ever did with the ladies of Lowrider.

Once it became apparent I’d moved on, my grandparents paid to have the S-10 fixed as a gift. I wore the truck down, busted the illegal brake job from Kenny’s chosen mechanic, gave the back bumper an uncanny experience with a boulder instead of a barn, and drove it over every parking lot median I didn’t care to abide. I eventually handed the truck down to my brother with the door strips falling out and decals peeling off its sides.

By the time it was my youngest sister’s turn to inherit it, she all but refused. Between my dad using it for hauling mulch and the family history it had, we didn’t sell the S-10, but it barely had a purpose anymore. We gave it a spot behind the unkempt berry bushes in the back corner of our family’s property, where year by year it recessed into a canopy of birch and oak, nearly invisible to the world.

Kingston Days

by Eric Beebe

kingston days 2012

Until I turned eighteen, my hometown of Kingston, New Hampshire seemed like the only place I’d ever want to call home. Its center is branded by a stretch of plains broken only by small byroads. The plains are lined with maples within and Colonial houses without. Bells ring on the hour from down the street at the Kingston Congregational Church, but Kingston’s iconic Church on the Plains has no more denomination than Depot Road’s cruciform telephone poles. My parents married in that church and have since dedicated countless fundraisers and committee meetings to keeping it restored.

The town still asserts itself as a somewhere in the middle of the nowhere. It’s hard to drive a mile without finding a sign harkening back to the time when Kingston was known beyond its trees as “Carriage Towne.” Transportation is no longer the town specialty, but retention could be. Kingston breeds mostly two kinds: those who found it the perfect town in which to grow up and never want to leave, and those less keen on the thought of staying that will never have much choice.

I was one of the former until I experienced Kraków’s market square when I volunteered in Poland the summer before college, and later witnessed the metropolitan rush of Montreal on a weekend with my dad at twenty. Now I’m racing to move somewhere with even a fraction of their sidewalk bustle, with anything to do after ten besides window-shopping at Wal-Mart.

The most exciting thing in Kingston is an annual festival on the plains called “Kingston Days,” where all the townies can gather and act like everyone really does know everyone. When I went as a kid, I’d climb the steps of the town’s old, retired bandstand and sit with the kids who starting smoking cigarettes in middle school and the high school stoners. I’d linger in hopes the kid who’d asked his mom’s permission to swear with friends in fifth grade could be a badass too if he just stayed long enough. Some of the badasses went on to get arrested in opiate rings, some to be parents, some to work, and some to go to college. None of that was far off from the kids at school that didn’t belong on the bandstand. I didn’t know where I belonged, but maybe they did. All I knew was where we were: some worn-out gazebo with chipping white paint and splintered seats, central to a town I thought I’d always call home.

I used to look forward to Kingston Days, they being the only three days of the year I could walk down the street and see anyone the town had to offer for company. We’d all gather at the elementary school on the first night of the event for fireworks. People would bring blankets and claim their own little patch of the field beside the playground, and we’d try to find our friends under the bursts of light overhead. The same faces just aren’t there these days, not even among the ubiquitous daytime market stands and games. The family friend who ran the strongman bell every year died last fall in a plane crash, and I haven’t seen my old rival from the pie-eating contest since I took the title of “Pie King” from him a few years back.

The last couple years, I’ve had to convince myself more and more to be bothered with defending that designation. Each time, I sit down at the competitors’ table with the King’s Crown: a bandana with a paper pie glued to its front. I shove my face into a disposable plate of chocolate pudding and whipped cream and slurp it up like an old vacuum before I stop to look at anyone else. I collect the First Place ribbon. Mom insists on pictures. I clean off and hand her my prize because, frankly, the memento means more to her than to me.

When it’s all over, I trickle out of the Days with the rest, like blood from the jugular of a slaughtered cow—probably Kingston’s spirit animal. I wonder to myself which make me sadder: the people who can’t make it out of this place or the ones who will never want to go anywhere else.