Reality seems hard to grasp in Jeff Ewing’s “Land of the Midday Sun,” this week’s New Voices story. Death itself may be out of reach. In this slightly off-kilter world, even the mundane takes on an unsettling quality. Disappear into Ewing’s “Land of the Midday Sun” below.
Sand flies swarmed up from the ground as he made his way along the curve of beach, shambled past a village of fallen sandcastles overtaken by the incoming tide. Small crabs scrabbled up the ruined walls, the brittle crenellations sliding out from under them the harder they fought. The sun had already baked a number of them, tiny burnt stars that would be light enough by sunset for the wind to carry off.
Jens could feel the snow accumulating, the wet flakes clumping on his shoulders—one more weight piling on. He lit a cigarette and let the smoke warm him as the feeble sun scooped along the horizon, grazing the line of trees at the edge of the sea. Far to the north, Suna was settling back into her family’s house along this same coast. “Just for now,” she’d said, “until…” Yes, until. And then—
He put off covering the last quarter-mile as he always did, standing in the gray melt at the side of the road where she used to drop him. Time had been messing with him lately. He lost track so easily, minutes slipping by without his noticing. Once close to an hour had passed while he sat holding a piece of toast. He’d taken the clock down and replaced the battery, thinking there had to be a mechanical explanation. When that didn’t fix things, he tried to blame Suna; but it had been there long before she moved home.
The sun crept sideways, clipping the treetops. When the bell rang at the school on the little hill behind him, he ground out his cigarette and made his way carefully along the trunk of a spruce that had fallen across the creek. A thin slick of ice coated the wood under his feet. On the other side, the only other tracks were those of some large animal—a dog probably, maybe a wolf. There were still a few around from the failed reintroduction at the beginning of the century. A fresh start to the new millennium, the boosters had said. Once or twice every winter someone spotted a holdover hovering on the outskirts of the new developments. They were thin and mangy, people who had seen them told the news crews, not terrifying at all. Even their howls, which had once echoed hauntingly through the birch woods, had thinned to whines that hardly carried past the highway. No one cowered in their huts. There was nothing to be afraid of anymore, it seemed, aside from each other.