By Taylor Gustafson
Snow has been falling for several hours when I decide to go wander through the streets. Cutting between the football stadium and the academic buildings, I soon find myself on the bike path, kicking up clouds of white powder that spiral in the wind behind me. My usual route leads south along the edge of campus, merging onto Lake Boulevard and continuing on until reaching Paul and Babe. All in all, it is set to be a typical night.
One would think that after twenty-one years spent in this state, snow would have little appeal to me. Yet I still find myself entranced by the glitters and sparkles of the miniscule crystals, refracting light in such a way that even the sickening orange glow of the streetlamps is made beautiful. Loping along with my head angled downwards, I come upon the first signs of other life and freeze.
Two sets of footprints, an hour old at the most.
The first set obviously belongs to a man. Thick boots, trumped only slightly by my own size thirteens. The other set is most likely a woman’s, lithe and petite, though I can’t be positive. They are both absolutely fascinating. Who are these people? What are they doing? I have to know, have to investigate.
My inner voice drops to a gravelly growl. I turn the collar of my wool coat up against my neck. Withdrawing the briar pipe I loaded with tobacco in my room, I ignite the bowl and put the stem to my lips, taking the first sweet drag. I’m Batman, Inspector Friday, and Sherlock Holmes all rolled into one. My attire complete, I continue on slowly, intently staring at the trails.
They walk with an almost identical stride length. The man’s set walk in a nearly perfect straight line. The woman’s track is more inconsistent. She kept up with her companion well enough, but her tracks come in close enough to his that they almost touch, then arch out to a distance of about three feet, only to come in close again. In this pattern the two sets form an almost helix-like shape.
Was this a first date? The signs of flirtation held back by initial awkwardness? Or perhaps they have history. They remember how close they used to be, but a gap has grown between them. Maybe affection isn’t reciprocated by one at all.
Where are they heading?
Thoughts like these continue for a good ten minutes. Once past the Carnegie Library, the tracks stomp through the depths of a snowbank and cross Bemidji Avenue. The tobacco burnt through, the ember in my pipe dies, and so, too, does my investigative spirit. To hell with this, I think. They’re probably just heading to the bars anyway.
Turning back I now notice three sets of prints. Two are familiar, but the third sticks out. Toes cocked out to the side, dragging the heels. What is to be inferred about these?
By Jennifer Von Ohlen
I pull out my chair and sit at a table with strangers’ coats. The grand total of people I know here is two, and neither of them are the bride or groom. Although my suitemate and her boyfriend swore that the couple wouldn’t mind, the look on the groom’s face as I went through the reception line makes me feel like the wedding crasher I was trying to avoid being.
My friend maneuvers her way to the table as the spice of pepperoni hits my tongue. The room is filled with bodies and voices as exchanges of, “How have you been?” and “Look how big you got!” bounce from one wall of the church gym to the other.
“What’d you think of the wedding?” my suitemate asks.
“Oh, it was redneck,” her past manager from McDonalds replies.
“It was classy redneck.”
I have to agree. Even as I eat off of a camouflage plate and wipe my mouth with a matching napkin.
“I want some alcohol if they have any,” declares the manager.
I doubt it. I sip some punch from a duct tape style Solo cup. The bride is only eighteen and her new husband’s twenty. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if her dad carries in a keg on his shoulders—
Scattered conversations can still be heard as the wedding party makes its entrance. The groomsmen, wearing black shirts and camouflage bowties, only express a third of the smiles radiating from the bridesmaids on their arms. The sparkling blue, strapless dresses make them stand out from the rest of the party, though they match the tablecloths perfectly. Each table has four tiny silver bells to replace the tradition of tapping the glass. I suppose that would be hard to do with Solo cups.
Everyone is on their feet hooting and hollering as the newlyweds come into view. She is wearing a snow camouflage wedding dress, and he completes her with his white suit and camouflage waistcoat and bow tie. They barely have time to sit before the little bells are ringing at every table.
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, that was the only free kiss from Matt and Liz for the entire evening. From now on, you have to earn it. Whichever table starts ringing the bells first, they will have to complete a challenge.” Not two minutes pass from the DJ’s announcement before a table starts it up again.
“Okay folks, this is what will happen. I’ve got two quarters and two people from this table are going to flip them. If they come up heads-heads, Matt and Liz will kiss. If it’s tails-tails, everyone at this table needs to find someone to kiss. If it’s heads-tails—”
“—everyone in the room needs to find someone to kiss.” My stomach suddenly feels like a truck-load of rocks was dumped in it. I can’t do that. I’d never do that.
My friend even looks worried. What has she got to be afraid of? Her boyfriend’s the best man!
On Star Island
By Dennis Staples
We travel against the wind. From the southwest shore of Cass Lake, the pontoon pushes against the small breakers and with each fall, water crashes into us. I am in the corner, hiding behind our tallest friend Steve and trying to keep all of our phones dry. Rico stands up and faces the waves, getting soaking wet from head to foot in lake water.
In nearly a half an hour, we reach Star Island.
Every place has its claim to fame: maybe an unorthodox statue of a lumberjack or a strange natural phenomenon. I grew up hearing about this island, in brochures and in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. It was the location of Lake Windigo, the lake-that’s-on-the-island-that’s-in-a-lake.
I want to find Lake Windigo, but when we first set out on Star Island, we are attacked by a swarm of wasps, and a sting makes one of my friends lose his hiking spirit. Instead, we spend most of the day and night with random camping activities: football, radio, and drinking.
I have water, but it isn’t long into the evening before the alcohol is brought out. For the rest of the night, everyone but me drinks to various stages of inebriation, from just slightly giggly, to crying, to falling backwards into the lake after growling like a bear.
In the morning we can only laugh.
Not long before noon, I decide my adventure needs to be complete. Everyone is too hungover to join, so I set off into the woods by myself. With the confidence-assuring statement from a friend that the lake is “somewhere that way,” I walk the trails with no doubt I’ll find it. I keep a watch for wasps and luckily I find none.
I do find the lake though, with instinctual navigation skill. Well, that and Bing Maps on my Nokia Lumia 920.
I stand at the edge of the fabled lake and just stare. It is much bigger than I expect and nothing more than I expect. Just a lake. Rustic. Ancient. Calm.
I make my way back to the campsite and find Autumn sitting at the shore. Our pontoon left to drop someone else off back in town, and we are waiting for its return. Autumn has an idea to prank her grandmother. She calls her and, in a false-whiny voice, pleads for her to rescue us from Star Island.
“We’re abandoned,” she says.
Her grandmother tells her there is nothing she can do but swim to us.
In the hour that follows I receive a phone call from our friend’s mother. The pontoon broke down in the middle of the lake and drifted back to town.
We really are stranded on Star Island.
By Nick Adams
Because I’m on foot, I travel light. The wind is far stronger than I planned, and it cuts through my inadequate layers with ease. Baggy long johns creep off my ass and slinky down as I high-knee through white powder. I shiver as I sweat, and I count as I step.
With a bucket grip in my left hand and a Pabst pounder in my right, I am harnessed to the sled and shouldered with the fishing rod case. My eyes squint over my mask and below my low-drawn hat as horizontal flakes of fury home in on any exposed skin.
I count numbers until I forget which one comes next and then start over. I reaffirm my righteous intentions as I lip sync each digit, escaping the reality of this trudge from hell. I imagine being in the lazy or normal scenarios with each burning step outward. And it helps remind me—
Someday, I won’t remember about that one time that I watched that TV show because it didn’t mean anything. My grandkids will never ask me about the time that I got 47 kills on Call of Duty because what noteworthy act has ever been performed playing a video game? And another minute fucked up in someone’s basement would only promote the hollowing blur that already stretches through my mind.
I remind myself that I don’t need to follow my peers on these motionless endeavors. I tell myself that a sub-zero day of numbness on ice is still more than a cozy day in front of a flashing screen, numb in different ways.
And I will myself across the frozen lake.
I place the red, white and blue beer can into the automatically-forming cup-holder known as snow. I remove the sled harness from my waist and set down the rods. I scan the landscape, which could pass for an infinite snow-covered field. The lone life-form exposed to the blue winter tint is me. But out here, in all of this, I feel everything but alone. I am living out and breathing in my very own real-life adventure.
Frozen Flip Flops
By Jennah Kelley
We’re ditzy in the crisp snow. We laugh to keep from screaming in the bright snow. Our skin almost blends with the stark snow. Denim jeans might as well be iron-plated pants when it comes to the rays and vitamin D that would otherwise brush on our pasty, pastry skin tone, offering butter glow rather than our glaring radiance in the snow. We wear sunglasses over blues and greens and flippy-flops in the loud snow. We sit on towels damp that become ever more cold and unwelcoming in the still snow.
Was Tricia’s idea, I’m almost positive. Anything this sadistic, adorable, hilarious, clichéd/original, and awesome / “why?” had to come from her convoluted and dastardly delicious brain. A college experience, she says. Unforgettable bonding, she says. We have to, she says. So we take frozen bathing suit snap shots in the snow, because she says.
Why do I have a black swimsuit? This did nothing to help my afore-complained complexion in the photographically unforgiving snow. Thank God for filters. Photos will be layered with effects, reapplied and overall professionally faked before anything is sent, shared, or posted. Only pictures on MY phone so I can have control complete over anything sent, shared, or posted.
There is a sense of novelty while we sink deeper into the drift behind our rental, melting into the chill. It’s silly, really. Doesn’t improve my life at all, really. Frostbite or hypothermia generally aren’t high on the list of musts. Not many girls love the prospect of getting into a swimsuit in the months between October and April. Winter weight is a real threat and a merciless taskmaster. But as I’m looking over at Tricia looking back at me, we still share something. A moment?
We break up our time into factions, fractions, increments, holidays, deaths, births, anniversaries, breakups, first dates. For a college student, it’s a semester. Everything about your life revolves around class, test, quiz, paper, presentation. When your world is ordered and scheduled to the academic calendar, it’s easy to feel like another pair of glasses behind a computer screen.
Sometimes you need an adventure. Sometimes you have to break up your life with a 2 A.M. trip to Walmart in PJs or a prom dress trip to Hardees. Have something beside the A+ paper to look back on. Always take pride in your work and your grades, but leave them where they are and move on to the next class, grade, paper, teacher, semester.
You won’t remember those a year from now. You will remember the crazy. You will remember the cold. Remember the warm. Remember the laughter, love, pain, tears, fights, makeups, move-ons. You’ll remember your adventures.
Taylor Gustafson grew up in Cloquet and has no idea what he’s doing; Ron Swanson is his spirit animal. Jennifer Von Ohlen grew up in Cokato, Minnesota, and is pursuing a degree in creative and professional writing at Bemidji State. Dennis Staples is an aspiring writer, full-time day dreamer, and casino worker. Nick Adams is majoring in English and minoring in humanities at BSU; he likes to write when he’s not out there living. Jennah Kelley is a student of life, BSU, her mother, and writing.