Josh Wodarz

Josh has a BA in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature from the University of MN, but more proudly talks about his MFA from Hamline. He lives with his unbelievably talented and fetching wife in St. Paul. His work has appeared at Paper Darts, and in the Skullduggery Publishing anthology of work by the Bitter Enemies, Decadent Selections.

Josh can be reached at josh.wodarz@gmail.com

The first chapter of my novel, The Tug of Water:

Mick pilots his black motorcycle along Norwich County Road C through the afternoon heat. Sweat pools underneath his leather jacket, making his skin itch. Another green road sign tells him it is two more miles until he reaches Charles-on-Norwich. Miles of the county road lay behind him; miles flecked with fields of corn, soybeans, and almost nothing else. His last stop was in a town that was nothing more than a gas station and a one-room town hall. Countless towns before that, he’d given up paying attention to what lay on either side of the road. All he saw were the road signs and whatever was directly ahead of him on the highway. Through the visor of his helmet, Wisconsin was another world; one to be explored and left behind as quickly as possible. 

He had left New York days ago, after he spent the three previous months staring at a small wooden box on his dining room table. The box needed to be given to Amy, and that meant he had to go to Wisconsin. He rode the motorbike all day and stopped near dusk at the first motel he could find. Riding west made him nervous and slipping into a bottle of gin each night until he fell asleep made him relax for a little bit. 

Every day at noon, he called Amy. He was supposed to tell her he was all right and still on his way, but when he called he could never say anything. He’d talked to her hundreds of times in the past months, but now he couldn’t even croak out a hello. He held an old silver St. Christopher’s medal, a medal he stole, in his hand and listened to her say “Hello?” to his silence.  She always knew it was him and would say, “Thanks for calling, Mick. I’ll see you soon,” each time. After he hung up he would tuck the medal back into his pocket and ride off again. At that last gas station, he finally spoke, mumbling into her answering machine that he’d almost made it to Charles-on-Norwich. 

Once silver and bright, the medal is now tarnished and dull. The carving of St. Christopher had always looked hideously deformed to Mick, a ghoulish patron saint. Every time he worries over the medal, running his thumb over it, the hand-carved lines and grooves fill with bits of grease and crud. The oils from his fingers stain the medal in tinged browns and greens. St. Christopher was buried under the detritus of his skin, becoming less deformed to Mick. Still, he would like to get rid of the damn thing, but he can’t - it just weighs down his pocket.

Mick’s tunnel vision stops drifting inward in time to catch the yellow diamond caution sign; a truck going down a steep grade. The trucks on those signs always look dangerously out of control to him, as if there’s nothing ahead for them but impending doom. That was probably how the sign was designed, to scare the shit out of truckers: “If you do this wrong, if you fuck this up, something really bad will happen to you.”

When the bike hits the top of the hill, Mick drifts into a bit of a hypnotic state, where he can see everything around him. He is positive he won’t remember any of it later. The road disappears beneath his front wheel for just a moment, the fork and wheel unleashed from the earth. He almost flies through the air. The sky is faded white-blue denim and at its bottom is a bed of lush green forests. Underneath the tree line is the south end of Lake Norwich, the long cylindrical lake that runs to the right of the road ahead. The lake is too calm, its dark blue water reflects the sky in a glassy way, a giant mirror solid enough to walk on. 

The road drops down the hill over a small bridge and off into the woods along the west side of the lake. On the east side, a row of houses on short stilts face the lake, fanned out in a slight crescent around the curve of the road. West of the road, a beach is flooded over. Only the clarity of the water and its shallowness gives hint to the sand that lies beneath. Picnic tables float, moored to their spots on the beach or grass by chains. Nearby, two boys play on a half submerged jungle gym that looks like a rocket ship. Tendrils of water snake out from the beach across the road, some reaching to the dirt driveways of the houses. The road is probably slicker than it looks.

The bike’s front wheel comes back down to the road and knocks Mick back into reality. A twitch runs through his arms and he jerks the handle bars, causing the front fork to wobble.  The damn bike is going too fast. Brakes make it wobble even more, and harder to control. The rear tire rises from the pull of gravity and inertia as the wheels try to stop spinning.  He eases off the brakes and downshifts. The motorcycle screams back at him, the engine is over-revved. Mick squeezes hard, forces it straight, but it won’t grip the road and he’s nearing the bottom of the hill. The front wheel hits the first patch of water on the road and it’s all over. The bike goes its own way, slipping out from underneath him. Then it’s horizontal and dragging Mick along with it. Mick feels his helmet crack and there’s a bright white flash in his vision for a split second. The boys are starting to run from the jungle gym towards the road. Don’t hit them. 

Mick and the bike skid along the road, still moving too fast, sparks flying from where the side of the bike meets the road. The road tries to jerk his right shoulder around, but he pulls it up. Loose bits of gravel and asphalt dig into his jeans, shredding them and revealing his skin. Pin pricks of tepid water soothe and sting his right leg. Mick lets go of the handle bars and keeps his right arm from getting ground up beneath the bike. 

Mick tries to pull his leg out from underneath the bike, pushing himself away from it. The motorcycle keeps going. Please don’t hit the kids. His momentum rolls him along the road and he starts fighting against the stupid physics of crashing. When he does come to a stop, everything is briefly fine, but his right leg starts convulsing with a searing pain. A dull crunch echoes across the road as the bike stops dead against a sign that reads, “Welcome to Charles-on-Norwich.” The ripples from the crash reverberate from the flooded road out into the lake. From where Mick lies, the middle of the lake still looks glassy, undisturbed by his arrival. The leg is fucked. The rest of him is numb. Would it be dumber to try to move, or not move at all? Mick’s body heaves with short breaths, trying to regain its wind. 

Both of the boys are shirtless and shoeless, one taller than the other. The small one heads towards the bike until the tall one grabs his arm and says something that Mick can’t hear. A low grinding sound drowns out everything else. Maybe the bike’s engine is still running. The boys step slow and cautious, bent over slightly, and peer at Mick. The tall boy has seen enough and runs across the road, yelling back to the smaller one, “I’m getting Dad!” 

The natives have come to welcome him. The smaller boy creeps closer, with his hand stretched out in front of him. He stops a foot away and leans over, intending to touch or poke or prod Mick. His body’s numb, but Mick knows he can move; he’s just so tired he doesn’t feel like moving. Fuck. Stay awake, need to stay awake.

"Caleb, don’t touch him!" the taller boy yells from across the road.

Caleb recoils his hand and stumbles backward making ripples in the water. Mick twitches and that left leg starts to scream in pain. A sharp shock in his bones. Hit his head. Broke his leg. Fuck. Stayawakestayawake. But it’s no use, he’ll pass out soon. 

"Feel like a god damned spaceman. The man who fell to earth," Mick mutters from inside the helmet. Then it’s all black.