Serialized Fiction: Ship Builders Part I


They call this town a seaport, at least the name is meant to be a goal.  Perhaps at one time they had called this place by such a name, but the keepsake is far from returning. Ice builds up during the extended winter season and doesn’t stay melted long enough for much boat travel, and only a few people “know the ropes,” so to say, of ship building.  The town is built along the only perfectly level ground for leagues, in a large valley of semi-fertile earth, lodged between a series of miniature mountains and dominating sea cliffs.  In all, the valley forms the shape of a half moon.

The geography of the town is quite an anomaly for the inland sea it’s nestled on.  It remains almost perfectly barren in comparison to the immense forests that cover the mountains and cliffs. Dark lagoons and streams stretch out in veins of water throughout the rocky grey soil of this topographic flatland.  Their edges are meshed with water weeds, limp spruce saplings, and peat.  Most of these waters have developed from a moderately large, very slow moving river that begins within a cave to the northwest of the mountain crescent.  This is the only cave out of the many others lining the crescent with water flowing from its mouth.  Occupants of the village refer to this cave simply as “the Cave”, being distinguished from the others only by vocal inflection.  

Waxy grey tones from the ground and delicate reflections of the pale sky in the water dominate the region.  Truly, the only natural lingering color is found outside the coastal crescent valley amongst the great forests of white pine, spruce, hemlock, and birch.  But even when looking at them from the valley, these colors are muted into a dull grey.The only other color seems to come from the steel and wood of houses. The materials have been assembled from the remains of old cities, which at one time I am sure were much more magnificent than this one.  The villagers foraged the materials and molded them into what they now call “huts.”  

Everything is faded--yellows, greens, and browns, with the only vibrancy coming from the richness of the grey hills and grey rocks saturated in the near constant rain.

The occasional pinkish red color emerges in the springtime, which just so happens to be the current time of year.  This color comes from tiny multi-legged creatures that fill the river and stream beds.  The creatures hatch inside of the Cave and migrate to the cooler waters of the outside world.

The sun has yet to peak through an endless parade of cloud cover, so displaying only a small torch of its existence.  This keeps the region colder rather than warm, especially in proximity to the cold sea. The villagers dream of warmer places, but only by boat are these lands accessible, past the seas of the North, and through the channels of some distant rivers.

With all that said, it is a fair region.  Fog always remains locked on the peaks of the mountain forests.  Everything is always wet.  But food is easy to find.  Much of it comes from the lagoons and the sea.  In fact, the caves offer plenty of nourishment.  The Cave in particular holds the most abundance of organisms and life, which it spews into its river.   


Ánde, a lifelong inhabitant of this region and now a middle-aged man in his later thirties, once thought about building a home for himself and his wife next to the Cave.  Their travel to it would have been easier than what it currently is, but one doesn’t build a home close to the Cave.  The journey to it is meant to be long and filled with stumbling over rocks and wading through tidal pools.  

Not the tallest by any means, Ánde is still tall for the standards in his village.  His hair is the color of the mountains, dark charcoal grey, like rough obsidian, and as coarse as horse’s hair.  His wife, Eva, has the same hair, only long, wavy, and delicate to hold.  Both of them have the grey in their eyes as well.  Ánde’s beard is thick, and is now beginning to show lighter shades of grey and white.  Wrinkles are beginning to sprout from the corners of his eyes.  These are signs of age, but everyone knew they came from the unfortunate stress of life in the valley.  Their skin should be darker, but it’s as pale as it could be in the faded sun.

Ánde had watched his wife Eva make her routine journey to the Cave this morning.  She left wearing her special cloak, made from a blanket she had stitched patterns from old into.  The colors of the stitching were fading, but she refused to patch them with any new string, as she was running low.  She meant what she had left for another purpose.

Eva had said goodbye to her husband before leaving him.  She graced his cheek with her lips and then smiled at him without making eye contact.  Ánde didn’t try looking into her eyes either, but instead let his hand fall away from her back.  

As frequent as these pilgrimages to the cave were, neither one of them enjoyed going, or the fact that they had to happened at all.  Ánde stood slouched as his wife left their hut, and watched her out a window as she walked.  He watched her awkwardly balance her body against the shifting soil.

Once gone from the village she made good pace following the well worn trail.  

The air was cool and danced freshly in her lungs.  Her posture was rigid.  She held her cloak with an arm on her torso, keeping its hem from touching the ground as she climbed over the boulders along the path.  There are no large trees in the valley, only grasses along the water's edges and shrubs deformed by the more often than occasional wind.  The grey sky was open in a wide expanse above her.

Tiny, fast-running streams, snaked around, across, and along the trail. The water was cold and Eva gasped every time she had to put her feet in to cross one.  Her wool socks were soaked in her boots and made a squishing noise that mixed with the sound of the shifting rocks every time she stepped.     

After many hours she finally saw on the horizon the large lagoon that rested in the front of the Cave.  

Tiny, dull-yellow flowers were beginning to bloom across the unique semi-barren landscape.  Their flowers point downward with their leaves forming a waxy-marbled mosaic of green and brown.  When picked, their stalks expelled a creamy, milk-like liquid.  

She came to the lagoon’s edge and took a small jar from her bag.  She used its smooth, dark green contents to make marks on the left side of her face.

She began painting where her left eyebrow met her eye socket, then painted a trail following down the edge of her nose along the path of her cheekbone and ended the mark at the corner of her jaw.  

Next she painted a stroke along the left edge of her hairline.  

Then she made a mark from under the center of her left eye and straight down to her jaw.  

Finally, from the bottom of her nose, she moved to the left corner of her jaw to meet the end of the first mark.

Eva placed the jar back into her bag and washed the cream off of her hands in the lagoon.  She paused and looked at the incredible distance between the lagoon’s edge and the Cave in front of her.  Though it was far away, its entrance was enormous, being many hundreds of feet across, and dwarfed Eva immensely.  The lagoon’s size was misleading because, at it’s deepest point, the water only went up to the average person’s shoulders.

Eva quit staring and began her slow approach through the water, taking tiny steps into its cold temperature that was left over from the ice melt of winter.

Eventually the water grew deep enough that it came up to her waist.  Her limbs moved slowly against the resistance of the dark water.

She gasped, not knowing that she was holding her breath.

It was frigid.

She hesitated.

The rocks at the bottom of the lagoon were covered with sharp, shell-like creatures. However the leather boots, Ánde had found her, kept them from slicing open her delicate pale skin.  At this distance from the entrance the creatures were distributed sparsely, but the further inward she walked the more dense they became.  Eventually they overwhelmed even the rocks themselves.

Eva began to shiver, but walked purposely and held her walking stick above the water, which had risen to her lower chest.  She had reached the deepest point in the lagoon.

She was now at the physical entrance of the Cave, and it was here she noticed that the water had begun to warm up.  Even the air around her picked up in humidity, which her lungs enjoyed.  A gentle fog wafted from the cave to touch her skin softly.

Finally she walked fully into the Cave’s blackness.  It sucked in all light and hid the Cave’s contents from all outside observers.


Hours went by.


Finally, Eva exited the Cave.

The right side of her face had received green marks to match her left side.  Her skin was paler, and she held a palm sized stone in her hand, one that Ánde had carved for her.  It was in the shape of a boat.

She swam back to the lagoon’s edge and slowly crawled out of the water, on her stomach, just as some of the pink creatures do, trying to save her endurance for the trip back.




Jonathon Engelien

    I grew up in the valley of Central Wisconsin, in an area straddling a post-industrial world and seemingly untamed wilderness.  The harsh winters of the Upper Midwest, the liturgical display of seasons, and the economic and social decay of the region fostered my interest in survivalism and post-apocalyptic imagery. 

    I create in the framework of an idea I call Apocalyptic Nostalgia. I defined it as: The comforting and painful longing for the past and a destructive future, both as a means of understanding as well as coping with the present.  My artwork converges both the realities of nostalgic, comforting materials, with harsh, apocalyptic, and yet to happen sensibilities.  My artwork blurs the lines between fiction and reality.  It offers a setting for the viewer’s suspensions of disbelief, with the goal of intrinsic thought and meditation.  The work straddles the real and the unreal as it pretends to exist and come out of a post-apocalyptic world.

    Apocalyptic Nostalgia relates or depicts the natural world and/or human experience in it.  It is concerned deeply in paradoxes, with ideas such as survival, human endeavor, camaraderie, identity, individualism, community, vastness, intimacy, longing, rest, contentment, loss, safety, danger, hope, hopelessness, future, past, myth, reality, sacred, secular, longevity and destruction.