The Honeymoon Capital of the World: Place in Elizabeth Anderson’s “Daredevil”

By Dr. Meagan Cass

Lately, I’ve been writing and reading a lot of stories that involve travel. This is probably because of the weather: we’ve been in the negatives for weeks here in Springfield, IL. I think it also involves the unique possibilities of this type of story, though. I’m also interested in how the stresses of travel can shake things up inside characters, how the strangeness of a new environment can reveal aspects of the self we gloss over in our every day lives.

Elizabeth Anderson’s “Daredevil,” published last summer in Witness, got me started on this travel story kick. The plot involves a young, newly married couple who travel to Niagara Falls for their honey moon. While the husband, Roy, dictates much of the early action of the story—“Niagara Falls, he said, was the honeymoon capital of the world, the only place besides Vegas where anyone ought to consider tying the knot”—the story is told from the perspective of Irene, an eighteen year old who is newly pregnant and trying to quit heroin.

From the beginning of the story, we get the sense that the relationship between Irene and Roy and drugs is powerful, and that the Falls will serve as a loose metaphor for that power. Anderson writes, “Irene couldn’t see the Falls from where she was standing, but she could hear the low, urgent pounding, like the beating of some enormous heart.” It’s a menacing image, one that the story will echo meaningfully later on.

As the Falls come into full view and the honeymoon rolls on, Roy becomes increasingly unpleasant. He makes a xenophobic comment, flirts with another woman, makes outrageous claims about going over the Falls in a barrel, spends all their money buying beers for strangers, and invites his junkie friends to join them, ignoring Irene’s desire for food and intimacy. We learn that in the past, when the couple is low on cash, Roy gets Irene to have sex for money, and that he will likely do this again even though she is knocked up.

The rising tension between Roy and Irene, and the deepening of Irene’s character as she comes into greater self-knowledge and sees her new husband more clearly, is linked to place. Roy is the kind of person who makes ambitious promises (“he said he was going to take her to a restaurant that sat in a high tower above the Falls”) and then easily breaks them (“Instead he took her to the nearest bar…and spent the rest of the evening telling everyone he was a daredevil”). After Roy passes out, Irene returns to the rushing water, remembering the museum guide’s reference to the popularity of suicide here. As readers, we remember earlier in the story, when Irene described the Falls as “like the first time she ever got high with Roy, the cold rush of it, the way something could be so beautiful at the same time so terrible.”

Back then, she stepped back from the railing. Now, demoralized and uncertain about her future with Roy, she steps into the water, “waiting for something to come to her, an answer maybe.” What comes is the knowledge that nothing is a new awareness of her own power. She imagines Roy hurtling over the edge of the Falls in his stolen car, thinks of her unborn child, and experiences her own kind of awakening: nothing will change if she doesn’t act decisively. At the close the story, after she’s turned Roy in to the police and has sat down eat a full stack of pancakes, we feel that new sense of agency. When the Falls “[roar] in her ears,” we also hear Irene’s enormous desire to survive.

This story made me newly aware of the rich possibilities of travel stories. At their best, travel stories carve fresh, vivid emotional vocabularies from the places the characters visit, from rushing water and old bourbon barrels and cheesy museums and stolen cars, from all night diners and stock postcards and on and on. When we send our characters out of town, when we strand them in dingy hotel rooms or at the Crowne Plaza, at a hokey tourist attraction or at a fine museum, we also send them deeper inside themselves.

Archived Editions

Dear Reader,

We are excited to announce we are archiving the old editions of The Alchemist Review on the website. We will be adding more editions each week to celebrate the release of the new print edition in April. Here’s the first four, published in 1977, ’79, and ’80. We hope you enjoy. Click here for more info. Thanks for reading!

Erich O’Connor
Managing Editor
The Alchemist Review

“Rose Quarts” by Scott Scholl

They mounted the grass-covered hill of Southland park, looking up the path between the trees. The sidewalk continued curving away almost looking like it touched the sky. He smiled and turned to her and she wasn’t smiling so his smile diminished. The weather wasn’t too warm that day.

He took out a round pink stone. A rose quartz. He looked around for a spot to bury it.

“You want to bury it here? Why? Won’t someone come and take it?” She asked.

“If they want to dig it up,” he said.

She looked at the top of the hill where the sidewalk disappeared. He said, “Plants cleanse the negative energies better.”

“Not along the path? Doesn’t it have as much energy. You know. People moving back and forth,” She said as the wind picked up, and dropped the temperature by degrees. No one was out that day.

“Yeah, but trees have energy,” He continued.

He pulled up the soil next to the tree with his hands. He put the pink crystal carefully into the hole. He returned the stone to its mother earth to charge for a while. That was what he did to many stones. He didn’t mind to lose it. He covered up the hole.

The Rose Quartz was the lover’s stone. One who has it should always feel loved. He knew it corresponded to the energy of the heart. He knew the stone might need to recharge in mother earth from its ordeals under his pillow, next to the one she slept on.

The thought of returning it to its mother made him think. How lovers in relationships returned to their parents when having some bad times. They were in this relationship for a few years now. They were too far away to meet their parents very often. They lived on the east coast and their families were all to the west coast. They had to stick together or go to friends in the ups and downs of their relationship. At times, he didn’t really think about what their relationship was.

He really wanted to be optimistic.

He knew there were supposed to be good and bad times.

“Besides,” he said to her, “if someone wants to dig it up, they need it more than me.”

He sat there a moment then went over to hug her and she backed away, “I don’t like it when you do that. You’re all dirty.”

He grinned but she didn’t return it. He dropped his grin eventually and wiped his hands in the grass.

He looked to her as they continued walking along the path up the hill and she didn’t look at him but said, “You going to buy anymore stones?”

“I was thinking about it,” he replied rubbing his hands together for warmth.

He said to her when they were dating that he liked to collect stones. She didn’t usually ask him about his crystals and his collection.

“No Grave Today,” by Scott Lasley

Wilburt Hadley sat quietly in his tan folding chair. Miss Joyce and Miss Earline sat across the white plastic table from him reading old issues of Hearth and Home and Cappers, their page turns the only real noise aside from Forrest coughing in his power chair across the room. Age and inclination kept him from moving from his chair again, but he enjoyed listening to, and watching the assistants as they bustled around the common area, bringing today’s residents their orange juice cups.

Wilburt tapped the table shakily with his hands, whispering in earnest, “Y’all seein’ them lil’ young folks sittin’ up all close to Miss Mary and missuh Jim ove theya?” Miss Earline, a woman of formidable stature, even for her age, slapped her Cappers down on the table, surely losing her spot, but she looked around the room and saw about ten or twelve twenty-somethings scattered around at different tables. There were even a couple of the boys and a girl up the front of the room with instruments looking like they were gonna start playing songs or something.  She noticed that Mary had already found someone to flirt with, the poor kid.

Music seeped around the room as a few from the group of young folks picked up their instruments to play and began to sing. Two guitars, a drum that stood on the floor, held tilted toward the young man playing it and one young woman singing harmony to each song presented. Heads rose and fell in positive acknowledgment of the music. Even Miss Earline began singing with them. Wilburt had turned his chair to face the group and had his tired eyes closed up and his left arm bracing himself on the table as his feet patted the floor in time with the music. At 103 years old, the syncopated rhythm of his beating feet was right in line with the boy deftly manipulating sounds with the drum in his hands. That drum, whatever kind of drum it was, coaxed Wilburt’s tan folding chair slightly away from his table and closer to the source of the music. As the music started again, Wilburt had produced two different harmonicas from the folds of his wool cardigan and was playing along with the music.

The notes started off tender and sheepish, but after a few measures, Wilburt had one hand in the air pushing at the air above his head, and the other holding the smaller  harp to his mouth; His right leg thumping and stamping the ground in rhythm and the rest of his body rocking with emotion. The song finished, the boy with his drum simply got up from his place by the two standing guitarists and sat down next to Wilburt, who’s eyes, milky with age were gleaming with melodic fervor and life. “Ya’ll know Down Inna’ Riverbed? Cain’t buhlieve I knows it now eitha. Learn’d it when I’s twelve and now I’s a hundred-three. ‘Ain’t done on God’s earth I ‘spose.” Wilburt chuckled at it with a smile flashing on his face and the boy chortled his own response warmly, “Well, you don’t seem or play a day over 40.”

Wilburt brought the harmonica to his mouth and filled the room with the warm, liberating air and rag-time riffs from younger, savored days. He used one foot to supply the down-beat and his right hand slapping off the plastic table like a whip for the up-beat. The sounds of the boy’s hands striking his drum to match and drown out the soft “thump-tap-thump-tap” of Wilburt’s hand and foot. Today, time was not tugging him out the door, but rather was proving that he still belonged. “I haint goin’ to ma grave s’long as I’s playin this-here ‘monica. I’s meant to be here to carrah it on for ya’ll.”

“Like Father, Like Daughter” by Will D. Patton

It wasn’t even that big of a deal really. I just didn’t like seeing my kid cry. I can’t just discipline someone else’s child, especially when his crime was as simple as breaking apart my daughter’s gingerbread house and shoving it into his spoiled, fat, rich-kid face. Really it was his parents who were in need of discipline. They were setting their kid up for disaster. They let him push around any kid who wasn’t a 190 lb. 8 year old even though they were fully aware of the fact that he was only going to take hostess products out of their lunch bags. They could have at least encouraged him to steal a goddamn salad every now and again. I was starting to feel bad for him.

No, he needed disciplined as well. I thought again of my crying, little girl. What right did he have to destroy what was hers? How would he like it if such a thing happened to him? His dog conveniently passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday. I watched their laughable funeral. They actually bought an authentic tombstone for that pink, writhing, tux-wearing worm’s dog. Ridiculous.

I entered the house that night with a bent, aluminum bat in my hand and marble dust streaked across my clothes. Still wide awake, my kid looked up at me from the couch with the most brilliant eyes, vertically expansive and lit up like meteorites. They matched her smile, which I was seeing for the first time in days.

“Hey kiddo.”

“Hi daddy. What were you doing?”

“Oh, it’s not important. You sure seem cheery. Tell me about your day.”

“I had a pretty good day. I borrowed some of your anti-freeze, I hope you don’t mind. It worked really well though.”

“What on earth did you need anti-freeze for?”

“I put it in Richie’s dog’s water bowl last night.”

“The Open Road” by Victoria Brinson

I kept the bottles. Doled out a few pills every day, and pretended I was in charge. And we had good days. Sometimes good weeks. Times when he could laugh at my jokes, make jokes of his own. Times when we could curl up together and watch reruns of our favorite movies.  Then he would get unreasonable. Angry. His speech would slur, he couldn’t understand simple things like which button on the remote to push or how to send a text, and so I would start hunting. Sometimes I found them. Another prescription, bought over the internet, begged from his doctor, traded from other addicts. Sometimes I didn’t find them, I just went crazy hunting. The legal prescriptions I gave him every day, which he let build up in a futile attempt to prove to me that he wasn’t taking anything – it was just a joke. A terrible, gut-wrenching joke on me and my attempt to control a situation that was out of control.

The therapist said I was being unreasonable, to want him the way he used to be. Fun and sweet and kind. He wasn’t that person anymore. Did I want him the way he was now? With his chronic pain, with his drug abuse? She said to quit trying to make choices for him, that he had to decide how he would live. That my decision was simply whether or not to be a part of his life. That I could not control this situation.

I lined the pill bottles next to each other on the grey marble counter. Hydrocodine. Furenol. Oxycodine. Flexeril. The list went on, and I was oh so familiar with all of them. My throat ached. It felt surreal. Me. Living in a world of prescriptions and addictions. Me. So afraid every morning of what the day might bring. Me. Holding on so tightly that I was suffocating.

I laid the bottles carefully, one by one, next to him on the bed. Pain-weary eyes met mine. “I’m done.” The future stretched out before me. Uncertain. Open. I curled up close to him, feeling the warm comfort of his body.

“Milk” by Carrie Branson


            Jasper carried his two paper bags into the tiny two room apartment.  Pickled beets and pears combined with chocolate liquor sat on the counter.  Unloading his groceries he looked down at me and smiled.  I had taken the day off and doctored myself with whatever cabinet medication I could consume.  My mind was focused on finding the television remote but my body was only interested in lying still on the small two cushion sofa.  “Holy shit,” Jasper was standing in front of the only window looking out onto Centralia’s town square.  I opened my slits of eyes and tried to question what was wrong when he backed away slowly.  “Unless your meds are seeping into my blood, I can count at least 100 camels chewing away the the salt bushes that surround the statue in front of town hall.”  I tried to stand but fell back quickly.  “Grab my phone,” I said.  “Take some pictures.”

I could hear Jasper trying to figure out the buttons on my iPhone.  He has had the same boring flip phone for three years.  I twisted my body to try to catch a glimpse of the exotic scene outdoors but I couldn’t crane my neck enough.  As I put my head on the edge of the sofa arm I could hear the sirens and noise getting closer and closer.  I remember nothing after that.

I felt like I had slept for days.  I remember getting drinks of cherry Kool-Aid from a small yellow cup sitting on the end table.  My arm had fallen asleep and I shook it violently off the side of the sofa and smashed my finger on the tile floor.  Jasper had been in and out and at one point he left the front door wide open.  I had noticed a smell coming from the kitchen area and popped my head up to investigate.  Three small camels were slurping from the last of the milk that had apparently spilled on the floor.  I don’t remember getting milk but now I won’t have to clean up the mess.  I grinned.

Truthfully, I don’t know how I got where I did, but I was not on the sofa anymore.  Jasper was sitting next to me and the annoying beeping sound was ringing in my ears.  My arms looked like they were plugged into a small computer and my legs were tied to the bed.  “How do you feel?”  I heard the voice but could not tell who said it.  Jasper leaned over my bed.  “I don’t know why I am still here.  I thought you were gone this time.  Had I not come home early to get started on my project you probably would be dead.”

Shaking my head and following along with the story I realize that the camels had the right idea.  Taking on a new town and entering house by house to search for food.  Maybe that is my next move.  My next sofa escape.

“Drama!” by Robert Von Nordheim

Live, in frighteningly real HD, 500 channels of fabulous, funny, and 100% free features! The most premium satellite money can buy! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry – who knows, you might even learn something!

I know you had a frustrating week, so tonight, I thought we’d try something special. I went through your DVR, cable bills, receipts, purchases, and eHarmony profile to create a one-of-a-kind lineup, just for you. You’re going to love it – and that’s a money-back guarantee.

First, on an all-new episode of Law & Order: SVU, Detective Olivia Benson goes one-on-one with the most ruthless human trafficker in the New York underground. Isn’t Benson incredible? And doesn’t she look an awful lot like Cathy Snow from Gender Studies – remember her?

You used to think she looked like Monica from Friends, but then she and Chandler got married and that kind of made things complicated. Besides, Cathy had more of that tough, tomboyish appeal – and wasn’t she majoring in criminal justice?

Oh. No, no, don’t apologize! I understand completely. We really should start with something upbeat. And I’ve got just the thing: Bruce Springsteen, live from Madison Square Garden! Just a couple of working-class stiffs, kicking back with a case of High Life and some old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.

What do mean, “You’re not in the mood for Springsteen?” We used to listen to him on the Oldies Channel every Friday night! Fine; I guess you don’t want to watch that VH1 interview, either? Speaking of “The Boss,” have you heard back from Springfield Electric?

Oh – well, at least now we can spend more time together. Let’s just skip The Office tonight – wouldn’t want to bring up any bad memories.

You’re yelling again. Yes, you are! You know I hate it when you do that – how are you going to hear me through these cheap, standard-issue speakers? Of course, you could yell all you wanted, if you’d sprung for Dolby! And don’t use that sort of TV-MA language in my house. I can’t handle all this HBO-style drama – and you can’t afford it.

Look, this is stupid. We both know how this is going to end. You’ll say “this time I’m cancelling my subscription – for good!” You’ll join a gym and get a library card, swearing that can have fun without me. By the end of the week we’ll be so bored and lonely, you’ll plug me in the moment we make eye contact.

Let’s work this out later – no need to get anyone else involved. You know what happened the last time you called my folks – yeah, with the wires and the scissors. And if you’d like, I’ll look away if you “accidentally” stop at one of those old Bowflex commercials when we go channel surfing. OK?

I love you, too.

The 2013 Alchemist Review is here!

2013 Alchemist Review Edition Released

Now available on campus and online: The 2013 Edition of the Alchemist Review

The staff of the Alchemist Review are excited to release the 2013 edition of UIS’ Alchemist Review.

We had many many new and intriguing pieces of fiction, poetry, and visual art submitted and wish we could have included them all Read the 2013 Alchemist Review online (just click on the image of the Alchemist Review below).

Thank you to all who submitted their work! Keep writing and keep creating!

Cover of the 2013 Alchemist Review
2013 Alchemist Review, cover art by Mauricio Ramirez

Featuring original fiction, poetry, and visual art by:

  • Lori Beckham
  • Kathleen Brinkmann
  • Sarah Collins
  • Allison Duncan
  • Zak Krug
  • Kelsey Lay
  • Will D. Patton
  • Mauricio Ramirez
  • Roberto Sabas
  • Nicholas Teeter
  • Casey Tester
  • Christine Thompson
  • Robert Von Nordheim
  • Dushan Yovovich

“Santa Claus Goes Hunting in the Off-Season” By Eric Barnes

Blogger: Gretchen Addis

From Hobart Magazine:

The thing that first attracted me to this story was the title. It’s a premise that you could almost see in some kind of sit-com television show or family comedy movie. As it turned out the story itself could still fit into either of those categories, but not for the reasons I’d expected. It’s the story of two men who combat the mundanely of their lives by sending goofy texts to one another in a battle of comedic wit. The interaction we readers observe is one in which a Santa Claus-lookalike is chatting up the narrator’s neighbor/texting buddy. They banter over text to see who can crack first.

The story makes clever use of character voice to tell you more about the speaker. The narrator of the story is speaking in first person, so we get an intimate view into his mind. Texting, which to us is a fairly pedestrian use of a cellphone, is transformed into a tense, do or die situation through the narrator. This weird and often crude texts to his friend are the most exciting thing to happen to him in a long time. He sneaks and skulks about during the texting conversation to avoid being spotted, while also trying to spot his friend fumbling over the text he just received.

Knowing this, it might seem slightly inappropriate to call this piece “Santa Claus Goes Hunting in the Off-Season”, but when you consider it there’s not a more appropriate title to use. The reaction a reader has to a fairly mundane story with a very odd title would be the same that any observer would have if they saw these two grown men behaving the way they do. The absurd exchanges they have seem exciting to them, but deep down they know that what they’re doing is rather absurd and pedestrian.

As far as the structure of the short story goes, I noticed that the font for the text exchanges is different. Instead of the standard Time New Romanesque font, it’s a typewriter one. The text exchanges also lack quotation marks. The font change clearly distinguishes text content from the rest of the paragraphs, and perhaps that’s necessary without the quotation marks. The lack of quotation marks is interesting in its own right. It makes some measure of sense; you’re not speaking aloud when you’re sending a text, though we still seem to use quotes to show that with written exchanges. Is there perhaps a better way to convey text-message exchanges, like what is used here?

Another interesting thing about these text-messages is how well-written they are. What I mean by that is they’re grammatically-sound. When you text quickly, or communicate fast over the internet, you have a tendency to stop capitalizing or use shorthand more often. That might be due to the age of the two speakers; adults who are adjusting to text-messages might be less likely to use shorthand or allow grammar errors (though in my experience they tend to be even worse about them). These messages are all very carefully-written. The narrator and his friend obviously spent some time writing them out, pouring over them even. That’s a lot of work to be put into a text message, and clearly these exchanges are important enough to the two men to put that effort in.