Maps of the Arctic give me vertigo. All that blank bright land feels like leaping off a rooftop. And it’s peppered with bland names that sound like death: Baffin Bay, Kettle Passage, Resolute Island. There were forty-two failed expeditions to find the Northwest Passage. Sailors’ teeth exploded in the cold as they searched for the Open Polar Sea, an imaginary body of water that haunted nautical maps for centuries. Some sailors died with these maps in their hands after cannibalizing their shipmates. But today, this sea is becoming a reality in these record-breaking days of fire and flood. Sooner or later, the map creates the world.

The rusty squawk of seagulls interrupts my jabbering brain. Dozens of them circle above this superstore parking lot, hunting for minnows, plankton, or whatever they eat. Something in nature is breaking. Overhead, a star-spangled billboard advertises the Eighteenth Annual Quad County Bible Study & Gun Show. A verse from the Gospel of Luke blinks in red, white, and blue: When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.

Maybe they had the right idea with the Northwest Passage, hoping to skip America altogether.

This is the ninth episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.