“Trespassing” by Emily Wortman-Wunder

Set of seamless textures with a symbolic image of wavesThe smell of the creek catches her as she goes into the house with the crinkly bags from Target. What is that? Julia pauses, lifting her nose into the gathering dusk. Water. Damp and algae and mud, even here in the cold heart of November. She strings the bags onto one hand to better crane her neck and smell, but then the dog rushes out, sniffing her feet and wiggling happily, and her son comes to the door worried about his spelling bee homework, and she is hungry, and her daughter hangs out the window and says, “I’m hunnnnngry,” and she hurries inside.

Just before bed she opens the front door and leans her head out. She can hear the creek sussing along at the bottom of the yard, but she can’t smell it anymore. The suburban street is quiet and it’s cold like a wall. She goes inside.

“What was it?” asks Jeff when she gets to bed. He has a pile of papers to grade stacked on the bedspread and he doesn’t look up.

“Mental vapors,” she says. “How’s the class doing?”

“Terrible,” he says with a grimace. “I’m beginning to think they would do better if I just left them alone.” He goes into a theory of teaching which says that students learn more with minimal teacher time—“it’s just a little self-serving but you can see the temptation to believe”— and Julia nods, chuckling appropriately, but her mind is lingering with the creek in its dark wet bed.

The next time she sees the creek is the next morning, driving the kids to chess practice listening to an argument between them about whether it is or isn’t fair that Spongebob Monopoly is for ages 9 and up. Her gaze lingers on it, as though it has told her a secret.

That afternoon when she picks up the kids, she takes them to the park on the far side of the creek. She pushes them on the swing (“Underduck!” screams her daughter happily. “Again!”), spots them on the climbing ropes and the slide, and tosses a tennis ball back and forth with her son, her ear tips burning with cold. He lobs it seriously, concentrating on his mechanics. He also critiques hers: “No, Mom, you raise your arm like this,” he says sternly, “You make an L. Keep your elbow up.”

She returns the favor of his seriousness and makes a real effort, but her mind keeps drifting toward the water. As soon as she can, she suggests playing in the creek.

It’s why they bought this house, after all: she thought they could better bear the affluent sameness of the suburbs if they had a creek at their back. Yet they’ve hardly done more than glance at it. She’d had fantasies of Will spending his days there, a kind of Tom Sawyer of the Denver suburbs, but the neighborhood kids avoid the water, and he takes his cue from them.

The creek is pretty and small, a rush of tea-colored water narrow enough to leap across. It slaps and sorts a long series of black-coated stones, and where the water slows there is mud. The banks are crumbly and full of silt, with weeds and shrubby things. She recognizes yucca, but little else. We’re not in Wisconsin anymore, she thinks, and has a moment of gasping homsickness, of missing their old house at the edge of the forest where the hedges blazed with fall color and the sky reached up an unbearable, unreachable blue. The creek babbles on.

She blinks and the kids are playing, a raucous game that involves slinging big hunks of algae into the weeds. They seem perfect here, uninterested in the geographic shift, as though there is no difference between the constricted suburb and the deep Wisconsin woods. Or like the suburb fits them best.

Her legs get cold and she keeps thinking she hears something upstream, some whisper or footfall. There’s a thin dirt trail along the creek; she leans sideways to see how far it goes.

She does hear something. She stands, with the sudden alertness of having heard her name called, except without actual voiced syllables. She checks back at the kids—still throwing algae—and steps forward, onto the path.

It threads its way along a narrowing bench just above the water. She has a vague sense of where it goes: uphill, through neighborhoods and office parks, occasionally plunging through an old ragged pasture that hasn’t been developed yet. It is like those fields, a remnant of a rougher past.


She freezes. The word is as clear as language, and yet it was not spoken. Come. She continues up the path, past her neighbors’ houses and then beyond, crossing the yards of strangers. She goes until she comes to a little waterfall, where the creek drops over a concrete berm and widens into a small pool. She drops to her knees, her breath warming the crumpled grass, and stares right into the water.

Here I am, she says.

The creek sorts its stones, babbling to itself.

I came, she says. It burbles.

Suddenly, surprising herself, she plunges her hand into the water. It is startlingly cold and she has a moment of electric dislocation as she watches her pale pinkish hand distorted against the dark slime of the creek bed.

For a handful of seconds, a minute, even, the bracing cold water seems to run across her heart and she feels calmer and more soothed than she has in months. Then her hand starts to sting with cold and she pulls herself up, feeling self-conscious. Going back she is met by Will, his eyes wounded and worried. “Where were you?” he asks, looking past her.

“Not far,” she answers, bundling him into the kind of hug she tries to avoid in public, now that he’s a big guy of ten. “Get some hot chocolate?”

*         *         *

Over the next few months, Julia chats and laughs with the other moms at the kids’ school, and with the neighbors and checkout baggers and librarians, slowly starting to feel known and a part of things. They bought in the affordable neighborhood around the best school they could find, and Julia always feels a little shabby as she drops the kids off in their battered minivan. But everyone’s nice enough, she tells herself.

It’s not even the money she minds so much. It’s the way the land is an afterthought, a blank slate, an investment opportunity. Since she’s neither an investor nor a developer, it’s unclear how she fits in.

And then the kids are growing up. Will used to be her little devoted buddy. In Wisconsin, he would trot happily after her through the oak and maple forest, digging up turtles and Dutchmen’s breeches. Now he pulls the curtains shut and turns on the computer. He has begun to look pinched and wary. He has friends over, but they spend all their time closed into his room giggling over You Tube videos or playing Minecraft.

The creek is still there, whispering to itself as she crosses the bridge. She begins to notice an unsettled, unclosed feeling that seems to have been with her since they moved. Sometimes it’s a physical pain, a little unhealed lip of flesh within that catches on things. When the kids are out of the house and she’s alone, her mind wanders and she finds herself getting lost on errands, stopping the car to get out and stare at places where horses graze on shrunken hillsides of prairie grass.

She comes to feel she is living a double life. “Did I see you the other day?” one of the moms asks her at pickup. “Climbing one of those trees over by the athletic club?”

“Oh, I was looking for our cat,” Julia lies.

“We have a cat?” her daughter asks with joy; her son squirms, white and sick-looking, and won’t meet her eyes as she shepherds him into the back of the minivan. That night at bedtime he asks in a small voice why she was climbing a tree.

“Better view,” she says brazenly, and kisses him. She laughs to herself about where she got such a straight-laced offspring, but still. She feels like he ought to understand her restlessness. He can’t sit still either, unless he is staring rapturously into the screen of his iPod.

*         *         *

She talks it over with Jeff. “I just feel like he’s growing this shell,” she says. She doesn’t mention how bereft that makes her feel.

“He’s the new kid on the block,” Jeff says, shrugging. “It sucks, but we’ve got to keep reminding ourselves that it will get better.” Soon his fingers start again, rushing and tapping.

She gets it into her head that if she can just figure out the lay of the land, things will come into focus and she’ll be able to feel her way at last. Out on her runs she makes little forays into vacant lots and behind office buildings, trying to trace the patterns of field and brush and creek. Just after the holidays she’s climbing down a steep slope under the powerline and slips, getting mud all the way up to her butt. She laughs out loud, but feels like she’s made a faux pas at a party. She checks to see if anyone saw her and limps home.

When she opens the door, Will looks up from his work at the kitchen table. His face falls.

“Hey, bud,” she says, hugging him sideways, “How’s that whale report coming?”

“What were you doing?” he asks, voice barely audible, looking at his papers.

“I took a different way on my run,” she says, trying not to feel defensive. “Exploring. Don’t you ever do that?”

“It’s weird, Mom. Things—”

“Weird? What? The exploring is weird? Or the places?”

“Both,” he says in a tiny hot voice, curling into his homework. He refuses to say more.

That night at dinner, when she and Jeff ask how the whale report is going, Will throws himself onto a ball on the floor and screams, “Stop asking me that!

He screams and kicks the floor all through dinner and when they pull him into his room by his pant leg—the kind of thing that used to make him laugh, back in the farmhouse at the edge of the Wisconsin woods—he screams and kicks the floor in there. By bedtime his face is disfigured by crying and his voice is hoarse, but he still won’t let anyone come near him, not even to sit up companionably back-to-back, which has always been the best way to calm him down.

“Good lord,” Julia says to Jeff as she combs out her hair for bed. “Maybe he needs an exorcist.”

Jeff snorts with exhausted appreciation, but tomorrow’s Wednesday and meltdown or no meltdown, he’s got class, so the laptop is perched on his knees. “Or a psychiatrist,” he says, and his voice is serious, or it seems so to Julia, and she takes umbrage.

“It’s not that bad. It’s a tantrum, for Pete’s sake. He’ll get over it.”

“It’s been two and a half hours,” he says, and just like that, they’re in a fight.

She tells him to go do something about it if it bothers him that much and gets dramatically into her flannel nightgown and under the covers. “He won’t talk to me,” she says, which is close enough to true.

Forty minutes later Julia is almost asleep when Jeff comes back into the room.

He waits until he is settled into bed—a certain self-righteous sternness to his adjustment—with his laptop on his knees before saying, in a low and serious voice, “I think you need to lay off the trespassing.”

What?” says Julia, bolting upright. “I never trespass.”

“You know what I mean,” Jeff says, his face lit by the laptop. “We’re not in Wisconsin anymore.”

She glares at him.

“He says he’s seen you. You know, from the bus. And kids say stuff.”

Say things? What, does he want a mom who drives around in a white Suburban and a two-hundred-dollar haircut? Would that be conformist enough for him?”

“I’m just giving my observation,” says Jeff coldly. “Because that’s all he talked about.”

Later she tells herself that Jeff is right. The poor kid has a new school, new house, new state, new social world to negotiate, and here she is, the Weird Mom like a weight around his neck. She vows to stop.

The creek still glitters, black and inscrutable, between the frosty banks of its bed as they drive to school each morning, but she ignores it.

*         *         *

Winter stretches on and despite the laughing camaraderie of the PTCO committees at school and the playdates with a bit of wine and the book club she joined just to do something non-kid-related, she can’t shake the feeling that there is something else. It’s ridiculous, but there it is. Things keep breaking in the house and she develops a pain in her ankle—a bone spur? Tendonitis? A strained ligament? She drives along the streets and roads, raw with old snow and mud, and feels desolate and isolated and unsettled. Get over it, Julia, she tells herself. Pull yourself together. But the long burning ache never goes away.

And the creek. That holds the secret. She becomes more and more certain, even as snow and cold and kid stuff keep her inside. She starts needing the creek like a physical hunger.

When the kids go off on the bus one morning she blows off the PTCO meeting and walks the neighborhood, looking out over vacant lots and power line rights of way. She goes down along the creek and follows the trail defiantly, past the patios and luxury deck sets, until she comes to a fence. The creek slides away beyond.

*         *         *

Two days later she drops Annie at a friend’s house and says to Will, “Come with me.”

He groans, but he trots after her willingly, almost like he’d hoped she would ask. She leads him down to the creek at the park and then up the trail. He is a little pale, but he follows, picking his way along like he’s trying to keep his shoes clean. “Are we supposed to do this?” he asks, and she assures him that it’s a public trail. “I never knew it went this way,” he says, as they head up the creek on the little footpath. “Are we allowed here?”

It gets stickier when they get to the old pasture at the edge of the neighborhood and they have to cross a fence. She steps right over without hesitation and he does too, obediently, but asks as he does if this is okay. He glances back at the houses. “There’s no trail,” he says accusingly.

She shrugs and grins. The creek is talking through its bed, a deep long sinuous sound that is a like a party heard down the hallway in an abandoned house. They can’t stop now.

As soon as they descend into the creek and can’t see the houses anymore, Will relaxes. They pick their way up the open creek beneath the sky and from somewhere north Julia can hear traffic. Here at the bottom it is just the water, their breathing, and the sounds they make as they launch themselves from rock to rock.

“Mom,” he shouts suddenly, “What’s that?”

She whips her head around, wondering if he can hear it too, the way the creek seems to be calling her name. Instead he points at a little head with a triangular wake, paddling its way along the roots of the willows. “A muskrat,” she says.

He stops and watches it and she pauses too, rocking. She is so happy to be standing here in the winter sun with Will, but she can feel the creek continuing on like an unfinished thought, and it makes her antsy.

“Let’s see what’s up on up ahead,” she says to Will, and since the muskrat has gone under the bank, he follows without protest.

“I didn’t know there were muskrats living here,” he says in wonder. “I wonder what else is here. Are there beavers, Mom?”

“Beavers!” She has no idea. “I suppose there could be. Here, though? I don’t know.”

They go companionably through the field, the creek so far below the level of the ragged weeds that their heads are invisible. Only to them it feels like the opposite: the outside world of suburbs and traffic is invisible, and all that exists is the creek and the field and the far hazy tip of some tall building.

“See, is this so bad?” Julia asks. She pokes him teasingly.

He shrugs, unwilling to concede but a smile slides through. “I thought it would be something else,” he says finally.

Then they get to the end of the pasture. The creek is louder here, insistent, falling messily from a culvert above their heads. Julia starts to haul herself up the muddy bank and Will hangs back. “Isn’t it time to go home?” he says.

“Not yet.” She grunts as she kicks herself onto the top. They’re just getting to the part of the creek she’s never been able to figure out and she can feel the unknown territory in her mind like a gravitational pull. We can’t stop now, she wants to tell him, but seeing him heading toward a sulk she doesn’t bother.

They’re in among offices now, in plain view of the plate glass windows. It’s Sunday, so the parking lots are empty, but Julia still feels self-conscious as they bypass the sidewalks and angle across the landscape like they own the place. The whispering has returned, a deep urgent ache just beneath the surface of the day.

She can feel Will withdrawing and she chucks him on the shoulder. “When we get home we’ll have hot chocolate,” she says in apology. He glares.

“We’re figuring it out,” she explains to him. “The lay of the land. This is the creek that runs past our house: doesn’t it make sense to know where it’s coming from?”

He frowns but seems to accept this, smoothing out a little.

The creek drops under a decorative footbridge, skirts a firehouse, and then slams straight into a double culvert carrying it beneath Quebec Street. The passing traffic makes the culvert vibrate. Julia hesitates a moment and then ducks into the drier of the two tubes.

“What?” gasps Will in disbelief. He goes in under duress, clutching his elbows.

On the far side of Quebec, the creek’s character begins to change. They pass through the scrim of offices and enter another old field, a darker one, more serious, with scattered trash like mattresses and broken armchairs blown in from the interstate. The creek broadens, spreading out through cattails and muck. Will steps in a boggy spot and sinks his foot to the ankle, coating his shoe with gray mud. He shrieks and rears back as if struck by a snake; she hurries back to make sure he’s okay and sighs when she sees the mess. She sighs again when she realizes what this means. She throws one glance in the direction of the creek—we must be almost there, she thinks, swallowing her impulse to just keep going—and then yanks Will’s shoe off to dump the water and wring out his sock. The water is icy. They’ll have to go back. She says this even as part of her thinks blackly that if he was just a little older he could do it, wear the wet sock and warm himself by walking.

“Here,” she says, trying to get the shoe on. She’s being rough and Will has gone silent, staring at the creek as though there is something under the water. “Hey bud,” she adds, and he shakes himself, coming back. He pushes his cold foot into the shoe and they turn toward home. She only looks back once.

*         *         *

“Where’d you guys go?” Jeff asks later, after everyone is warm and fed and the dishwasher shucks and hums in its little nook under the counter.

“Up the creek a bit,” Julia answers, leaning her head back into the couch. She doesn’t want to talk about it; just thinking the word creek makes her restless, unsettled, unfinished.

“Will seems better,” he says. Will was quiet at dinner and stayed away from his electronics—not so much to engage as to stare into space. Lobotomized, she thinks privately. But she nods.

“We were feeling so unconnected,” she says. “We needed that.” The words feel like a lie in her mouth and she gets up to remind Will to brush his teeth.

His room is warm and clean and he’s standing at the window with his back to her. It’s so familiar, this room, and yet strange: it’s his, where he’s trying to set out the boundaries of himself, and there’s part of it that isn’t accessible to her even if she reaches out and moves it with her hand. There’s his beloved iPod, kept on its own shelf just above his bed. His books, each series kept carefully in order. His matchbox cars, sorted by color into boxes. It is all so careful and so organized and yet she feels it is missing something of him, of Will, of the eager, goofy boy who used to tag along with her on hikes. Is he better? She can’t tell.

“Bud?” she asks, and he jumps and closes the curtain over the night.

“Why did we pick this house?” he asks, scowling. “Everyone says this is a dump street.”

“But it has the creek,” she says. Her cheeks sting. Those spoiled little brats at his school—

“I hate the creek,” he says, but his face struggles with it. “There’s something wrong with it.”

“Stop walling yourself off,” she snaps, surprising herself. “You’re becoming a real suburban brat and it makes me sick.”

*         *         *

Over the next few weeks she keeps catching herself being spiteful. Whenever she finds him playing video games she sighs with irritation and makes him turn them off. He invites a new friend and she tosses them outside. “Play out there,” she tells them, and practically pushes them out. Then she watches them wandering desolately within the confines of the yard, throwing wistful glances at the door and making half-hearted stabs at playing with Will’s foam dart guns.

When she finally relents and calls them inside, they drop the guns in the snow where they stand and bolt for the door. “Jesus,” she mutters. Will doesn’t look back but she can tell he hears, a certain way he both deflates and amps up, calling too loudly to his friend that the zombies on this game are the sickest ever, they are the boss, aren’t they so sick?

I need to let him be who he is, she tells herself sensibly, and then is blindsided by the fury that descends on her: why can’t they let me be who I am? None of them do, not Jeff, not Annie, certainly not Will—she shuts the thought down quickly, but the bitterness permeates everything.

School is crazy again, working up toward spring break, and the kids are both in sports; between practices and games they don’t have a minute extra. It’s suddenly obvious why the kids around here never go outdoors: in order to be outdoors, you have to have idleness, and no one here is idle. She feels chastened, like she’s finally noticed something obvious. They aren’t in Wisconsin anymore.

In between, like background noise, she still hears the murmuring of the creek. It makes her intensely irritable and she wishes she could turn it off. At the same time, whenever she sees Will turn away from it deliberately, for a split second she flares with anger.

One afternoon when she’s made him play with Annie she overhears him teasing. “The creek is annngry, Annie,” he says, his voice sly and mean. Oh, Buster, you are so busted, Julia thinks, but is stopped short by the next thing he says. “It talks to me,” Will whispers, “It says, ‘I’m going to get you.’ It says ‘I’m going to get that little girl, too, your sister. I’m waaaatching you.’ You can go ahead and tell Mom, Annie. But she won’t care. She likes the creek.” Annie comes to her in tears, but won’t repeat what Will said. Julia wonders what other secrets they have been keeping from her.

After dinner Julia goes down to the edge of the yard. It feels strange to be listening to the water after so many weeks of pretending it doesn’t exist and she watches herself with a distant and clinical eye: just another woman picking her way down the garden path in the dark. Only this one has a certain eager catch in her step, an illicit hastiness.

Then, at the fence, she is hit by a wave of longing so intense she can’t tell whether it comes from inside her or beyond her. The creek seems to be rising up above its own bed, something in its babble grasping and raw. Its loneliness reaches up out of the muddy banks, a rusty clutch of misery, and it is like she has unexpectedly caught sight of her own reflection. She backs away.

That weekend the fields are too wet for games. When the clouds lift mid-morning, she heads out and starts hacking brush from the hillside. It’s all weeds, cocklebur and knapweed and prickers and thistle, and the creek in its little bed seems innocent again. She makes Will help her instead of playing on his damn iPod. She threatens to take it away. “How can you just pretend we don’t even have a creek?” she asks, ripping at weeds, her voice pitched a little too high and a little too loud. “I would’ve killed for a chance to live next to a creek like this. I would’ve loved it. I would’ve been out here every day. It’s like you don’t even know how to play.” She feels him watching her, baffled and abject.

“Mom, that’s not true,” he says miserably, and his voice cuts her to the quick. Still she cannot let it go.

“How isn’t it?” she asks bitterly, and behind her he is silent. After he leaves she stares at the ground in self-loathing, then goes inside without putting anything away.

*         *         *

That night a late spring storm moves in, howling up the creek, making the trees overhead shriek and clack. It comes with snow—two inches, then five, then more rain that washes it all away. The creek, swollen with melting snow, roars in its bed, huge torrents that seem to slam against the bank, almost straining the foundations of the house. Julia pauses as she chops carrots for dinner, wondering if she should be worried. But she leaves a window open; even though the sound unsettles her it makes her feel alive, to have this beast roiling and cracking just outside.

Meanwhile, the kids are worked up. They are fighting over everything; she asks Annie to set the table and Will to pour the milk and they argue over who gets to stand in front of the silverware drawer. “Don’t use those forks,” Will says archly and Annie hisses at him. Then there is a scuffle in the dining room. Annie screams that Will is throwing everything to the floor. “You’re doing it the wrong way,” he yells.

Julia tells him to cut it out and he throws the forks on the floor again. “You hate me, just like it says,” he sobs. “You love Annie but not me. Maybe I will just go—”

The creek roils and strokes just beyond the window.

“Go where?” asks Julia, but just then Jeff comes in, looking irritated, and says no one should say one thing more until they eat. Will makes a ludicrous face at Annie and mouths, “This is all your fault” and Julia tells him to go to his room, right now, I don’t care, immediately, or I will take away your iPod for a fucking month. He shrieks like an animal.

“You, too,” Jeff says to her. “Not another word.”

She bites her lips closed and turns back to the half-made salad. She is shaking with fury. The creek is louder than ever; it tears at the hillside like it wants something, like it is demanding to come in. Julia slams the window shut.

“Just get the dinner on the table,” Jeff says, and grimly comes to help her get the lettuce into the bowl, the carrots sprinkled, the pasta dished out. The silence between them is so intense and heavy that they do not notice the absence of Will until it is too late.

Jeff springs to the front door so quickly that he knocks over a chair. As if, thinks Julia, but there is a pit of dread at the bottom of her stomach.

“Where is he?” Jeff whirls around wildly and that’s when they see Annie standing behind the door, shrunken and terrified.

“Where did he—”

“He didn’t even let me,” Annie says in a tiny voice. “He said I was too little. He wouldn’t let me.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” says Julia. “He didn’t mean—” But she breaks off. She has no idea what Will meant, or what Will is doing, and she senses they have set forth into something new and terrible.

She takes a coat but Jeff refuses one, brushing her aside to plunge into the storm. She follows numbly, her head buzzing.

The roar of the storm is enormous and her head turns toward the immensity that is the creek even as she follows Jeff down the front sidewalk. He is a black shape against the gray sky and then he is a stooping shape, a turning shape; he tosses something to her. She thinks it is a softening until she catches what he has flung into her hands: Will’s glove, soaked and muddy.

“Don’t just follow me,” he says, and it feels like the last thing he will ever say to her. She watches him flail into the dark, shouting Will’s name.

The glove’s sodden fabric is even wetter than the sleet pouring from the sky. She puts it in her pocket like her own self-loathing and heads down the hill, toward the creek.

She picks her way between the houses toward the swollen water. Light glints back in weird places, the water sickeningly high and fast. Would he even go this way? she starts to ask, turning back to go after Jeff, but the rain hits her face like a wall. Just look anyway, she tells herself in Jeff’s voice. Bother yourself to fix what you goddamn broke.

She goes on, choking with fear. How can he be out in this? Was he even wearing shoes? Her panic plugs her directly into the night and these feel like equivocator questions, like deep in the stupid sweaty part of her brain she is trying to negotiate the dimensions of her failure. Bottom line: her boy is out in this. She drove him there. Does she even deserve to live?

Deep in the trees where the creek pours, something slips away, white and wet. “Will!” she calls, bounding forward. But the thing has vanished. Twigs and prickers catch at the fabric of her clothes and the knees of her pants are so wet that they pull at every step she takes. The ground is treacherous where the creek is eating it away and the creek itself roars through its bed like an interstate highway. Or like oblivion.

The night is striped with long bands of light from her neighbors’ houses, where inside the families are warm and whole, feeding themselves on the fat of the land. Over the storm it seems she can hear them chewing, swallowing, whispering to each other, their immense self-satisfaction like grease running down their backs. Meanwhile, she is a monster, a wretched thing howling in the weeds.

The street emerges from the rain. She has made it to where the creek crosses under Maple Lane, and she comes unsteadily up into the light of the mercury vapor lamps. A commotion up the block catches her eye: someone comes flopping across the street and connects with a small and reluctant shadow hovering in the lee of a parked car. Jeff. And the shadow is Will: she watches Jeff strip off his sweater and wrap it around Will, and the joy runs through her like water. She calls out to them, waving, but between the rain and the dark they do not notice. They turn and leave her, walking back toward the house. I should go to them, she thinks, but does not move.

Instead, when they have passed out of sight, she crosses the street and peers up the hungry roar of the creek where it pours out of the vacant field, and beyond that offices, and beyond that the enormous broken prairie beside the interstate, where the creek begins. In the dim light of the streetlamp she can see that the sleet has begun to collect on the grass beyond, pale and translucent. No Trespassing, says a new sign, and she reads it with relief: no one will hold her back this time. She slings one leg over the rail and then the other.

IMG_0339Emily Wortman-Wunder lives in south suburban Denver, where she explores the meaning of place in a world that often tries to ignore it. She has published fiction and nonfiction in Seed Science Magazine, High Country News, Terrain, and West Branch, among others, and has fiction forthcoming from the Nimrod International Journal.