Primal Instincts Manifest in Modernity
By Loreen Niewenhuis
Have you ever been driving along, seen a jogger and been suddenly gripped with
the desire to run them over? That’s the Hunter Instinct. There is something about seeing someone running that makes us instinctively track them, plot a course of
intercept, and almost feel our teeth sinking into their neck or hindquarters to bring them down.
Ever been in an angry crowd where you fear for your life as it surges first one
way, then another? This harkens back to the Pre-Stampede Herd Instinct we all
have. When danger looms, it is often in the best interest of the collective to
stampede, out running threats, even if we trample a few of our own in the process.
Have you traveled to a city far away from home for a conference and seen people
all charged up sexually, separated from their mates, ready to mount anyone who’s willing? That’s the Mixing Up the Herds Instinct. Genetic diversity
is one of the keys to specie’s long-term survival. We are programmed to
disperse our genes when away from the home herd.
Ever been in a happy crowd? Like
waiting in line to get into the big game where everyone is smiling and shuffling along, talking about the event? You get this sense of elation and connectedness as the spark of excitement crackles from one person to
the next. This goes back to our ingrained feelings of Being Part Of A Herd Instinct. We feel protected and connected to each other in these groups.
You know the feeling you get when you’re standing outside your vehicle
pumping gas? That feeling of vulnerability that makes you look around continually? That’s the Watering Hole Instinct. It’s
where the prey – you – puts its head down so that it can get a drink of water, but worries about what the risk
of putting its head down will cost. Same thing at the gas pump. We are programmed to watch out for predators creeping up on us and, in the most primitive part of our brain,
worry about crocodiles in the gas tank.
Blended families often fail to gel. This
is due, in part, to the Preserve Your Own Offspring So That Your Genes Are Passed On Instinct.
If a male lion defeats the lead male of a pride, the first thing he does is eat all of the cubs of the previous male. The lionesses rarely interfere with this carnage.
Then, the lionesses go into heat and the new male mates with them. See,
it’s not the survival of the species that they are concerned with, but rather the survival of their own genes. That’s why it’s often difficult to get along with your step-kids, only
it’s not legal to eat them.
Have you ever seen a group of women dancing together at a bar? As they swivel and gyrate on the dance floor, men slowly congregate in a circle, standing, watching, sipping
their drinks. Occasionally, one man will walk through the dancers, scattering
the women for a moment. This is the Lion-Zebra Instinct. The men are assessing the women for the one they can take, the weak one whom they can conquer. Not for sustenance, but for sex, a need as primal as the need for food.
Many men have not been equipped with another set of behaviors with which to woo a mate so they use the lion-zebra construct. The smoother, more evolved ones actually use words in this ancient pursuit.
Are you able to glance up for a second and quickly identify if the bird circling
above is a predator or scavenger? That’s
the Small Prey Instinct. There is now proof that ancient man was hunted by large
birds in Africa. A modern study of the hunting habits of African eagles was recently
published. The paper described how the eagles pierce the skulls of monkeys with
their thumb-like back talons, then hover while their prey dies before returning to tear at the carcass. Scientists examined the monkey remains and produced a description of the pattern of damage done by the
birds, including ragged cuts in the bones of the eye sockets. Two-million-year-old
fossilized bones of a child had been found several years ago surrounded by the ancient bones of small monkeys. When scientists re-examined the eye sockets in all of the fossilized skulls, they found ragged cuts there,
probably made by talons. Even the small child had died in this manner, so parents
of long ago were wise to look up and assess the threat on the wings above.
Loreen Niewenhuis originally pursued a life of science. While taking a break from this work
to raise her young sons, Loreen began writing fiction. Her short story collection, Scar Tissue, was a finalist for the Flannery
O’Connor Award. She has always felt connected and drawn to Lake Michigan, so she decided to explore the lake fully by
walking around it. The fascinating account of her journey, A 1,000 Mile Walk
on the Beach was published in 2011 by Crickhollow Books. Loreen’s novella, Atlanta, was also published in 2011 by MSR
Wherefore Art Thou, My Ronald?
By Nahum Finkelstein
We have a no-holds-barred
friendship with Ralph and Phyllis. We can and do talk to them about anything and everything, but we don’t ask about
Ronald. There’s no point in it. What could they say that we do not already know: that they had not heard from, or of
him; that they did not know where he was; and that they accepted that their ignorance, though not blissful, was the best defense
against the attentions of the bailiffs and the police investigators.
So why ask? It would only
bring them pain.
Nor do we do anything about
trying to locate him ourselves. What would we do with the information, if we had it?
Why destroy their shield of ignorance, and why expose ourselves to involvement and extortion?
Yet we have been helping
them find Ronald for over thirty years, if you can call our present looking the other way “looking for.”
Ronald was no more than
seven years old when we received the first frantic call, “Is Ronald with you?” I cruised the neighborhood with
Ralph, until we came upon the little boy, safe and sound. After that, the calls came at irregular intervals, and the search
and find developed into a routine. We always found him, sooner or later. He always
took the tongue-lashing without flinching, and served out his punishment with equanimity. He never explained his flight or
excused his behaviour. We worried about his future. He was a nice kid and a good friend to our children.
He dropped out of school
when his chronic absenteeism made him unwelcome. Our worries grew—but then we heard the reports of his first employers. Paeans of praise. Charming, hardworking, dependable. A super salesman. Thank goodness!
Ronald was not the bad penny we had feared but a golden sovereign in the wrong pocket.
Nonetheless the desperate
calls resumed, directed now to Ralph and Phyllis. “Where is Ronald?” Only now it was not only Ronald that was
missing, but goods and perhaps cash. The appeal was always ended the same way: “He’s such a lovely boy. He is
like a son to us, not a stranger in the business. We would not want to call the police in — you know we have every justification
—but he’s a good boy … maybe, just not for our type of business … just make good our losses. We’re
sure he’ll come right.”
So Ralph and Phyllis paid
up, and we sympathized. It was true. He was a charmer. Always respectful and
warmly affectionate towards us, whom he had known all his life. He had so much going for him that he must come right …
Then came the call from
Christine. “Where is Ronald?” When Phyllis said she was not sure, he had not been in touch for some weeks, the
voice on the other side of the line became hysterical. Christine was an au pair, from Belgium, and she was pregnant. Ralph
and Phyllis helped the girl return home and kept touch with her and their Belgian grandson over the years.
When Ronald reappeared,
he introduced Linda and announced that they were going to marry. The marriage showed all the signs of being successful: Ronald
appeared to have settled down under the influence of his level headed wife. Their joint business showed he was doing well,
and he adored the daughter that soon arrived on the scene. “You see,” we said to our friends, “He has come
Another frantic call. “Where
is Ronald?” asked Linda. She had not seen him since the insurance company had denied Ronald’s claim, after fire
had destroyed their store and its stock of used office furniture, and now bailiffs had possessed the contents of her home.
From now on, it was the
bailiffs and sometimes the police who knocked on Ralph’s door and demanded “Where is Ronald?” With some
difficulty Ralph and Phyllis convinced first this and then the others that they truly did not know where their son was.
And indeed, he had disappeared
without trace. We wondered how a person could vanish in a country as small and a society as intimate as ours is. How could
it be that none of their acquaintances had even glimpsed him in the street, or seen him at a pavement cafe?
Ralph and Phyllis have come
to accept that their son is lost to them. They console themselves that they have not lost all the joys of grandparenthood,
as they have access to, and have accepted responsibility for, those of his offspring they know about. They could have consigned
Ron1ald into the “What was, was” folder of their memories, were it not for the demands—“Where is Ronald”
that come, every now and then, from yet another frustrated detective, debt collector or woman, demands that allow them to
track the progress of their son from afar. We must also accept our loss.
Nahum Finkelstein, a native South African,
made his home in Israel thirty years ago. A scientist cum engineer by profession he has published widely in the scientific
and technical journals. His short stories have appeared in Calligraphy, Pens on Fire and Scratch
Anthology, and as an EBook; his non-fiction in newspapers and magazines in England, South Africa, the United States as well
L.A. to Breakfast (Novel Excerpt)
By Chad Rhoad
I was at the Waffle House
when I got the first phone call from Kat that I had received in nine years.
“I was cleaning
and throwing out some old stuff and I found something you might want to see,” she said. “Do you have time to stop
by today? If the fiancé will allow you to.”
Ah—a strike at my
masculine sense of independence. No doubt that will elicit a response.
“Yeah. I’m eating with J.A. going over some stuff. I’ll stop by on my way home.”
“Great. See ya.”
Needless to say, but still
saying it, I hadn’t been to Kat’s house in years. I apparently made a wrong turn or two and had to call her to
get to the house. Dirt roads are all the same. Pine trees and clay driven on until it’s flat. Before I knocked on the
door I heard something on the TV inside and Kat laughing heartily. I knocked.
“Come sit down.
This is hilarious.” She was entranced by the TV. “Oh wow,” she said. “No beard. You look like you
did in high school. Here,” she pointed at the Tv. “Look at this.”
A grainy VHS was paused
on the TV and lines flickered over the scene. It was us in high school. Kat, Ray and I were in the drama club together and
did a, if I dare say spectacular, rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ray and I had football and Kat had her mother,
so we didn’t have the lead roles, but I remember it being a lot of fun. I played Bottom and Kat was Flute. Ray was Peter
Quince. Kat was watching the final act in which we, as the acting troupe, were performing the play of Pyramus and Thisbe for
the Duke and Duchess at his wedding. I, Bottom, was Pyramus, and Kat, Flute, was Thisbe.
I sat next to Kat on the
couch and looked around the house. A lot had changed. The living room was a bright blue color and the carpet had given way
to hardwood floors, with a Persian rug under the coffee table. Deep, nearly black, blue curtains hung behind the entertainment
center and trapped the room inside itself. None of the fall sun made its way into the room, aside from a sliver that snuck
in on one side of the curtain and hung a line of white light against the wall in the hallway.
“You want something
to drink or something?” She stood and moved toward the kitchen.
“No. I’m fine.”
I don’t have anything. I haven’t been to the grocery store.”
I felt the weight of her
body as she sat down next to me. A warm sensation engrossed me and a chorus of R&B singers crooned sappy lyrics in the
back of my mind. This whole thing was too familiar. I remembered the times in junior high and high school when I would come
over to the house and Kat and I would sit on the couch in the same spot, probably same couch, and watch TV. Kat’s mom
would either be out at the Moose Lodge or playing cards with her friends in the kitchen. Kat would let me hold her hand, and
sometimes even put my hand on her leg. Anytime I tried anything other than that, she pushed my hand away and quietly said
my name. We would talk about things that happened at school, or if Kat’s mom wasn’t home, we would talk about
her mom. Even then, Kat was aware of the problem, and somewhat responsible for her mom. Sometimes, Kat’s mom would yell
from the kitchen for Kat to get her more beer or get chips for her friends.
We got closer when her
mom wasn’t there. The first time we had sex was during one of those nights. Kat hadn’t done anything like that
before, but I had. Actually quite a few people had with Carina, and I was one of those guys. Anyway, Kat called me one day
and told me her mother was going to the lodge and asked if I’d come watch TV with her. She sounded upset when she called.
We sat on the couch, much the same way we were sitting watching the VHS tape of the play, and watched TV. Kat was crying.
She told me that her mother was drunk before she left and she was worried about her driving. This wasn’t the first time,
but it was the first time Kat said something to her mother about it. Kat said her mother yelled at her—told her to mind
her own fucking business. I maintained as tough an exterior as I could, remembering my dad anytime Mom cried. Kat leaned her
head into my chest and sobbed. “I want to go so bad,” she said. “So bad.”
Now, there were many times
in my stage of abundant hormones that I tried to turn innocent television viewing into a high school sexfest. During nearly
every commercial on most nights, I would kiss her on the cheek. And during nearly every commercial Kat would smile, lean away
and pat me on the knee. After nine months of dating, I turned this into ritual. Honestly, I wasn’t that good at sex,
so the fact that she turned me down was somewhat of a relief.
She kept her head buried
in my chest and hid her face from me. When she looked up at me she made my heart hurt. Her face was red and swollen and her
eyes were wet. I could see the hurt in her even if I couldn’t relate to it. Watching someone hurt isn’t easy.
She stared at me for a few seconds. Then, leaning in to me, she kissed me on the lips. She held her lips there for a long
time, and then leaned back and kissed me again. We kissed for a while. We had made out before, but I was always the one in
charge, not her. I felt more heat between us this time. She ran her hand along my chest and my heart beat faster. Hers did
too. Her chest heaved and her breath quickened. I felt the moisture of her tears on my face. The tears were cool and her face
slid over mine. Occasionally, she moved her mouth next to my ear and whispered, “I love you, Jazz.” I fumbled
“I love you, too.” But she was much more in control than I was. After what I thought was only a few minutes, but
what was more like half an hour, she stood up. I stayed seated on the couch. She leaned over and took my hand. “Follow
me,” she whispered. And I did.
Kat put her hand on my
leg to balance herself and then moved it to grab the remote to the VCR.
“I found this in
some stuff I was cleaning out in the back shed.” She pointed the remote at the TV. “I haven’t seen this
Ray was frozen and flickering
on the screen. Kat pressed play and Ray jumped to life. He looked like a 12-year-old boy. “If we offend,” he started,
“it is with our good will.” He waved his arms wildly as he spoke and a bright smile swallowed his face. The smile
barely held back laughter. Someone in the audience yelled out his name.
We were in the school
auditorium, which held about 150 people. Judging by the murmuring around the camera, the place was full. The camera was sitting
somewhere near the middle of the basketball court with the audience in metal folding chairs around it. The view was of the
stage, which was a rectangle cut into the cinder block wall of the gym. A SHS banner hung at the top of the screen and part
of the basketball goal was in the shot. We could barely make out who was who because the camera zoom was drawn out to fit
the entire stage onto the screen. Cardboard props made the stage look like the inside of a castle with two students I didn’t
recall as the duke and duchess on a cardboard throne painted a gaudy gold color. Microphones ran down from the ceiling to
just above the heads the actors. The age of the video showed in the sound. Intermittently, the tape dragged and squealed.
I almost didn’t
recognize myself when I walked out onto the stage. I was thinner and more vibrant and my chest stuck out farther than I remembered.
The smile on my faced almost rivaled Ray’s.
“O night, O night,”
I roared with misplaced teenaged confidence. “Alack, alack, alack, I fear my Thisbe’s promise is forgot.”
A girl in the audience
yelled out, “We love you, Jazzy. Go Mules,” and shrill female screams filled the auditorium for a few seconds.
I laughed and stuck my chest out farther.
“And thou, O wall,
O sweet, O lovely wall, that standst between her father’s ground and mine.” I didn’t remember being that
into the play, but my voice resonated and echoed off the gym walls while I stabbed my arm out into the air in front of me
and made strong gestures that brought alive my words. Lysander, Demetrius and Hermia and Helena sat off to the side.
And then Kat appeared
on the other side of the wall. “O wall, full often hast thou heard my moans for parting my fair Pyramus and me.”
And the high schoolers in the crowd clapped for her, too. Her chest heaved in between her speaking. “My cherry lips
have often kissed thy stones,” she smiled to the audience. “Thy stones with lime and hair knit up in thee.”
Kat was staring intently
at the TV with her back straight in erect posture. Her eyes were focused and there was an intimate half smile pinned on her
face. She rested her hand on my leg without taking her intention off of the TV. I felt her fingers against my skin. She kept
watching the old tape. I continued strutting on the stage.
“I am thy lover’s
grace,” I said, head aimed to the ceiling. “And like Lemander I am trusty still.”
Kat laughed at that and
squeezed my knee. I was excited and power-filled on stage. Kat was passionate and thoughtful.
“Not Shaphalus and
Procrus was so true,” I said. Someone screamed in the audience again.
“As Shaphalus to
Procrus, I to you,” Kat replied with a wide smile.
We sat and watched the
end of the play. After the final scene, the cast came out on the small stage and took a bow. Ms. Rogers, the Drama Club sponsor,
came out for her bow as well. Some members of the club presented her with a bouquet of flowers. Ray and I sneaked up behind
her and dumped a bucket of Gatorade on her. A hush grew over the crowed, and then they exploded with applause and laughter.
Kat paused the video with Ms. Rogers frozen in orange liquid. She stood up.
outside.” She walked to the door, opened it and walked out. The screen door snapped closed behind her. I walked to the
doorway. Kat bent over to brush the sand off of the steps, and before she sat, she looked back at me and smiled. She turned
her head without turning her body, so her eyes weren’t focused directly on me, but it was the first smile she had given
me since I’d been home that seemed to hang on natural pleasure. I thought about those nights in the old horse carriages
of the saw mill when we’d lie on the soft ground and watch the steam rise from our bodies. She sat, wrapped her arms
around her knees and took a deep breath. Her backed heaved up and down. The steps were small, and I eased beside her, our
bodies touching again. We just sat there, the two of us, and watched the sun set over the pine trees. I listened to her breath
rise and fall and I could feel her heartbeat in against mine. In the forest across the road, a bird made a long, slow whistle.
Kat bit her bottom lip, not hard, but it signaled some thought. The moment caught me and I slid my hand from my knee to hers.
She focused on it for a few seconds, then moved to me. Her eyes fixed on mine, but not into them, just at them. This is the
closest I had been to her in years. I often imagined this moment during out late night phone calls. Her eyes were sullen,
but strong and somewhere there was a constrained vibrancy. Something inside that couldn’t come out. I wanted say anything.
I looked as deeply inside her as I could. I wanted to feel her. I had spent so much time on the phone with her, thinking about
nights at the carriage houses, and prom nights, and weekends, so much time thinking about those times, that the real Kat intimidated
me. I could feel the heat emanating from her body and I wanted to simultaneously hold her and preserve her for all eternity.
I, of course, could actualize neither. The VCR in the house resumed playing and applause erupted from the video.
Kat turned away, back
to the whistling birds in the trees. I reached in my pocket for a cigarette. Cellophane crumpled as I pulled the box out.
The lighter snapped and I took a long draw. Kat eyed the cigarette.
“Mind if I get a
drag of that?” She asked already leaning toward me.
I grasped the cigarette
between my two fingers and leaned my arm in her direction. Instead of grabbing the cigarette, she leaned over and took a drag
while I held it. I felt her lips against my fingers.
“When did you start
smoking?” I asked. “You used to hate these things.”
“I still do.” She blew smoke out in front of her face. “Just not all the time.”
Then she took the cigarette out of my hand and stood up. I lit another.
“You know, Jazz,”
she said with a contemplative glance into the sky above the trees, “we haven’t seen each other since we broke
I imagined this day would
come, too, I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to be there when it did.
“No,” I said.
“No, we haven’t.”
She laughed. “I’m
not going to rehash that. That was a long time ago, and a lot has happened since then. Ten years is enough time for both of
us to form impressions of what happened.” She walked over to the swing set in front of the house and sat facing me.
“But I do want to ask you one question, and I’ll leave it at that.”
“I’m not necessarily
as concerned with what the truth is as much as how you answer it.”
“Now, this is how to ask a question.”
“Why did you really come home?”
I’d be lying if
I said I knew what look I had on my face after she asked that. And, you know, out of all the questions she could have asked,
out of all the answers I had prepared in my head, that was the last thing I thought I’d hear. I managed a laugh that
I think sounded confident. “Well—I don’t suppose I know precisely. I mean, there are a lot of things.”
She started swinging.
“This is my hometown.
My town. You know I always thought I could do anything. Well, I started doing anything, and I realized I wanted to do anything
here, to reclaim my town, and what’s mine. I guess—to become what I feel like I should be—could be—started
out to be.”
She had her eyes closed
when I looked back at her. Her head was turned sideways at an angle and she smiled an innocent but sentient smile. She blew
I walked over to her and
began pushing her. She didn’t say anything for minutes. She just kicked her legs back and forth and tilted her head
back in the breeze. The chains on the swing squeaked as Kat swung in the air forward and backward. Each time I touched her
on her back and pushed her into the air. Her back arched to gain more momentum. She never looked at me, just kept her eyes
closed and smiled that satiated smile. The swing squeaked.
completed his MFA in creative writing from the University of South Carolina. He is a commissioning editor at The History Press
in Charleston, SC. He has presented his work at The New Voices Conference in Atlanta, GA, and at The Shark’s Parlor
in Columbia, SC.