Serialized Fiction: Ship Builders Part II


"I wrote this story a few years ago as a reflection on infertility and the landscape along the North Shore. I was so intrigued with the idea of not being able to leave behind your own legacy. It was the North Shore that I felt was a good place for this setting, just based on its history of shipping and industry. I took freedom in dramatizing the landscape, but kept true to the mysterious, dark, and beautiful imagery that this region evokes."
-Jonathon Engelien


Night came quickly.  Her bones were stiff and frozen by the time she dropped down the steps to the door of her home.

Ánde greeted her with a smile from his seat on the floor.  His bones were also stiff and tired.  He’d spent the day carving a large boat out of a fell tree he and his neighbor Erik had found in the valley over the nearest ridge.  They would often go to find these logs, spending weeks at a time in search of them.  

Erik was a shipbuilder as well, though neither he nor Ánde had sailed one successfully.  The past few years had been the most productive in both of their lives when it came to shipbuilding.  Many attempts and models were carved out and practiced on, but none birthed success.  Some of these failures did at least float, a milestone for both of them.

Ánde motioned to his wife to hurry in from the cold.  Eva’s clothes felt mostly dry, but her tunic was still dripping.  She hung it on a hook by the hearth of the fire pit. The light from it was intense and made the hut dance wildly.  

Crouching beneath the low hanging ceiling, she made her way to sit down on a few blankets next to a small board they used for a table.  The couple proceeded to eat a dinner of mainly a frigid, hardy kelp, and a stew Ánde had put together from traded stale bread and a kind of cheese they obtained from the valley’s livestock.

They remained in silence until it was time for bed.

They got up and cleaned themselves and changed out of their clothes.  The two of them wore nothing and stood at their own respective sides of their bed--the only place in the hut that was tall enough to do so.  Their white bodies glowed in the dull saturation of the now faint and calm light of the fire.

Ánde's eyes appeared heavy.  Eva noticed this as he looked down at the floor.  

The moment felt sad, as if something had lost its meaning.  

Ánde used to stand taller, but as of late his shoulders always appeared slouched.

The blankets felt warm.  The top one was newly found in an abandoned shelter on one of Ánde’s log finds.  The material came from the fur of some exotic animal, and was rough to the touch, like many of the other blankets they owned.  Someone had delicately sewn lovely patterns into it, and when he wasn’t so exhausted, Ánde would run his fingers over the stitching.

He found his way through the layers to Eva and pressed his cold body to her back.  He placed his jaw on her shoulder and with his hand he rubbed her arm up and down, producing some heat.

A chill went down her spine at the touch of his bristly facial hair against her skin.  She turned her head around and kissed him and he proceeded to place his hand on her stomach, rubbing his rough thumb against the delicate skin.  She turned back and for a few moments they remained still.

Finally he sighed.  And she let out a weak breath.

She twisted her head again to kiss him.

Neither of them made eye contact.

She turned back around.

Still in their embrace they fell asleep before either of their bodies felt warm.  



* * * * *



Ánde woke up to shouting.  The voice was from their neighbor Erik, who lived with his wife Ina, in a shelter roughly twenty yards from Ánde and Eva’s own.  


Ánde rolled over, trying to ignore his friend and the profane words he kept shouting.

He knew Erik was never physically abusive to Ina.  It was always a certain event that caused these angry outbursts.  He knew this same event must have happened again as this was the only thing that drew such erratic emotions from Erik.

Erik’s shouting grew louder and Ina was crying.

Finally, Ánde heard him leave his hut and stomp through the rocky terrain.  In a hoarse and dirty voice he yelled back, “Fuck it Ina!”


* * * * *



Later in the morning Eva left again for the cave.  

Ina had asked her to take the journey in her place.  The morning’s drama with Erik had left her desperate and too weak to go herself.

With Eva gone, Ánde found time to continue carving out his new boat. He worked in the space between his house and Erik’s, which both men used for their work yards.

On one of his breaks from carving, Ánde looked up from his boat and saw bloody bed blankets hanging from Erik and Ina’s roof.  They waved heavy, but also delicately in the soft wind.  This was the sort of display Erik had put up a few times over the last year.  Ánde had assumed he was led by desperation to evoke such visible shame on his home.

The day drove onward and Ánde grew bored with carving the inside of his boat.  He began to smooth the outside and finely  work the grain into decorative embellishments.  It was a premature task he ignorantly jumped to as the boat was so far from being finished, but today didn’t feel right for hard labor.  


* * * * *



The next day Ina and Eva went to the cave together due to the insistence of Erik that Ina should go in person.  Eva decided to take a different route from the normal one she took, and stuck to the flatter lands directly next to the seashore.  

Ina was very weak.  Eva gripped her friend’s hand firmly as they walked.  They slowly climbed over the large obstacle course of boulders and dunes along the path.

They forded the many rivers and the streams together.

Ina had to rest often, and Eva would sit next to her to brush her long, straight brown hair away from her face.  Her skin was translucent and revealed blue and green veins beneath its surface.

Eventually they came to the Cave.  A group of deer eating along the waters looked up at the approaching woman.  A few of them could be seen with the soft beginnings of new antlers.  They lingered for a few minutes, staring at the woman, before discreetly running off.

The sky shone with pale grey light through the cloud cover.  Eva painted with her finger the dark green cream on the left side of both her face and then Ina’s.  Unlike her trip from a few days before, she used the milk of the pale yellow flower to cover the green lines with a series dots.    

Afterwards they waded through the water slowly and entered the cave.


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.