ROOTED IN THE PLACE YOU KNOW, a Craft Essay by Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides

You live in a place that doesn’t have a bookstore. You live in a place that doesn’t even have a chain dollar store. The latter is still ten, fifteen years away. The former will likely never be. In your world, there are trees, cows, and boundless supplies of blue sky. But you have a dream—and you are determined to live it.

You drive to the country store to fill your gas tank. Once finished, you go inside to pay with cash. The bells on the heavy door jingle as you exit. You look to your left and wave to the old men on the bench. They nod. You smell pork from their biscuits. The scent lingers even when you are inside your car. You begin the journey. In an hour, you’ll be there.

You arrive at the bookstore. It’s a chain, and that’s just fine. You are surrounded by the very things you want to create. You find yourself scanning the shelves, placing the stories you have inside you in their future home. You see the spine. The cover. You imagine flipping through the pages. It’s silly, you tell yourself, that you can even smell them. You breathe that dream in. You browse and browse. Horror. Science Fiction. Fantasy. You imagine the many magical stories these books contain.

You look out the windows, and you notice how the sun is getting tired. You have responsibilities on the farm. Animals to feed. Hay to haul. A garden to pick. It’s time to go. But first, you head to the notebooks. You buy the black leather one. You smile as you tuck it into the crook of your arm. You browse the pens. Finally, you find one. The one.

You arrive home. You do the things you must. Your world relies on you.

When you finish, go to your back porch. Sit in your favorite chair. It’s white and chipped and squeaks. You pray it never breaks. At least not until after you do.

You hold your notebook in your lap. You uncap your pen.

You’ve always been told to write what you know. But you are more interested in those things you want to know—those things you want to consider, those things you want to explore.

Close your eyes, just briefly. You are back to when you were eight. It’s a hot day. Alabama hot. Humid. Air like milk. Sweat even on your fingernails. You are standing on the bank of the pond. You see that pond and the wading heifers every day of your childhood. As you are beside the muddy water, you see your reflection, but you also spy ripples and clumps of algae. You see bubbles, too. But you don’t know from where—from what. You begin to imagine. You have a thought. You back up from the water and wonder.

You open your eyes. Although you won’t ever fully leave the pond, you aren’t technically there anymore. No, you are back in your chair. And you remember the very thing you wanted to know. Could there have been a monster? Could the pond you saw each day of your childhood have held something so magical? You don’t know, but you want to know, consider. Explore.

Your pen is moving. You have a story.

In one night, you write the first draft. You go back to your story for the next several days—for the next several weeks. You cut. You add. You read it over and over again. First, you do this silently, but you soon realize you hear your voice. The words you are saying are your story. You like this sound. You love this sound.

You finish, and you begin again.

Close your eyes, and you are walking below the towering purple garlic flowers. You think about vampires. You wonder how they might run this farm.

Close your eyes, and you are on the porch you grew up on. You are with your grandparents, mother, your brother, and your cousins. You are shelling peas. It is late; it is dark. You watch as a moth flies into the big bug zapper just above your mother’s car hood. Zip. You want to know where the moth was going. You want to know if it was trying to save itself.

Close your eyes, and you are digging. You are plowing. You keep going because you are in search of weeds, potatoes, and more. You notice how the brown gets browner—how it gets cooler, too. You want to know what else might be down below you. You want to know if there are things from a hundred—a thousand—years ago that you might awaken.

You open your eyes. You write. You write. And you write.

On your back porch, your dreams are coming true.

Bradley Sides is the author of two short story collections, Those Fantastic Lives and Crocodile Tears Didn’t Cause the Flood. His writing appears in Chicago Review of BooksElectric LiteratureLos Angeles Review of BooksThe MillionsThe Rumpus, and elsewhere. His fiction has been nominated for Year’s Best Weird Fiction and featured on LeVar Burton Reads. Visit his website.

Read more from Cleaver Magazine’s Craft Essays.

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