Friday, February 21, 2014

#FridayFlash - The High Temple of Unstuff

The High Temple of Unstuff
Johanna Large, Staff Writer

Billows Height, Iowa.

When you think of Iowa, you think of primaries and presidential caucuses every four years. You think of football and the Iowa State Hawkeyes. You think of rolling hills and the Mississippi River on the east, the Missouri on the west. What you don't think of, however, what you probably wouldn't even imagine in your wildest dreams, is a colony of naturists who pride themselves not in what they have, but in what they don't have.

Jim King, senior editor of The Standard, looked up from the news copy.

"Wait," he said. "They're not South Dakota?"

Sitting across the desk from him, Johanna shook her head. "No, I finally found them in Iowa, about thirty miles across the state line."

Jim nodded, but frowned. "And they're really a bunch of naturists? Not paramilitary?"

Johanna raised her eyebrows and rolled her hand, as if to say, It's all in there, just keep reading.

Jim nodded again and returned to the copy.

"People are always clinging to stuff," says Marcus Sleighton, founder and leader of the group. He uncrosses and crosses his legs, and conspicuously scratches a delicate itch down below. "Out here we like to be different. We have no religions, no god and no heaven." He raises an eyebrow then and adds, "And certainly no hell."

Marcus came to the United States back in the 1980s with only himself and his wife, and smiles when he talks about the commune, about where they've been and how they've grown as a group, starting with only him and his wife and now reaching more than three hundred.

At the commune, there are many things noticeably missing. There are no televisions, radios, or newspapers. As a group, outside of weekly excursions into town for necessary supplies (the only time anyone wears clothing it seems) they are completely isolated from the rest of the world. "Being alone," Marcus adds, "just us and nothing but the surrounding nature to cherish, it helps the group to grow closer together."

One of the members, Lisa Whitlow, talks about how she joined the community. "For years, I could never find my place in the world," she says. "Everywhere I went, I always felt like I didn't fit." She looks out a nearby window, a smile on her face. "Here though, I'm just like everyone else. Here, I don't have to put on anything. They love me for who I am."

Jim stopped reading again.

"So Lisa Whitlow isn't being held against her will?"

"It appears that she's happy right where she's at," Johanna said.

Jim rolled his eyes.

"It takes all kinds to make a world. Her parents will be disappointed, and they'll probably disagree with us."

Johanna shrugged, and Jim kept reading.

In the commune, there is strong evidence of the bonds and community they proclaim. In every building, and even in the bathrooms, one can easily spot pictures of Marcus and his wife with inspirational slogans, like "Believe in Yourself" and "All Things Are Possible." Every morning, before a breakfast of granola and yogurt, the group joins together to recite their mission statement and sing "Imagine."

The group is fighting a lawsuit from the nearby community of Billows Heights. Town Council Chairman, Mark Littleton, tells how he wants the community to relocate. "The town doesn't need this kind of reputation," he says. "If they wan't to live like the day they were born, they can do it somewhere else. We don't need our young boys and girls wandering over there, being exposed to... well, overexposure."

In addition to their lifestyle, the group has seen opposition of a different sort. It has been accused of terrorist activities, burning buildings and shooting out windows, but Marcus refutes it all. "Really? Look around. Show me where the guns are. See if you can find any evidence of hate. I guarantee you, you won't find it."

True to his word, there is nothing in the commune that suggest the group hates anyone. "Love is the answer," one member says. "All we need is love," another adds.

"We're not looking for any trouble," Marcus says. "We just want to be left alone, to live our lives the way we think best."

And what about that? What about living without clothing in Iowa, where each winter it snows.

Marcus just smiles. "With the way things are going, climate change and all, in ten years Iowa will be the new Florida."

Finished with the copy, Jim looked up at Johanna.

"Good stuff," he said.

"Thank you."

"I'll send this over to the copyreaders, and it should make the weekend edition."

Johanna nodded.

"I can't put it on page one, though," Jim added. "It reads more like it belongs in the Lifestyle section."

As Johanna stood to leave, Jim stopped her.

"I'm sorry to hear about your sister. Have the authorities found any leads yet?"

Tears filled Johanna's eyes. "Not yet." She pointed to the copy. "At least the Whitlows know their daughter is safe."

Johanna left.


In the parking garage, Johanna approached a brown Ford pickup with South Dakota plates. The driver rolled down the window.

"Well," Marcus said. "He buy it?"

"Every word. He thinks you're just a bunch of wacky nudists in Iowa." Johanna wiped away more tears. "About my sister..."

Marcus nodded. "As I promised, we'll release her just as soon as the story hits the news stands. When is that going to happen, by the way?"


"Good. Go home and expect to hear from your sister then."

She didn't move, so Marcus showed her the pistol. "Seriously. Go on home."

As she turned to leave, Marcus started up the engine and put the transmission in gear. He shook his head. His group would take care of the loose ends by Sunday, he knew. It was a shame, though. Johanna might have made a nice addition to the resistance. If he'd only had the time to work with her.


  1. South Dakota, of course! A good bite for my breakfast. Nice use of fonts, too.

    1. It's a place like the Bad Lands that lends to groups like this, isn't it? So far out of the reach of just about anything. I've actually heard of a naturist community existing in Iowa. Not that I've ever been, mind you, but just knowing that something like it exist in Iowa strikes my funny bone. I guess I'm a little off that way.

  2. You had me fooled here Stephen, all the while I'm reading I'm thinking "Just let 'em be, to live their peaceful existence, they aren't bothering anyone else."

    Nice turn around at the end. :)

    1. This piece evolved for me over 24 hours. I had started out intending it to be a comedy, but then something took over while writing it, and I saw a completely different ending. Thank you for the compliment.

  3. Oh another nice twist! Not what I was expecting at all.

    1. Thank you, Helen. As I noted to Steve, the piece took a twist for me as well before I finished it. If I had more time, I probably could have polished it better, but I'm glad it worked just the same.

  4. I was expecting *oome* kind of twist, but a kidnapping for a favorable review wasn't what I was thinking! Great job. You've really captured the cult vibe with this.

    1. Thank you for the feedback on the "cult vibe." I wasn't sure how far to go with it before the story became too crazy. I wanted just enough crazy to make it interesting. :-)

  5. It's not a bad manipulation scheme. Media attention is what it takes to spin the wheels. Creating controversy is all.

    Strong piece, I did enjoy the article layout and the issue it regarded, but I loved how the end played its part - flipping the whole concept of the story. I hope her sister comes back to her alive and well. Great story, Stephen.

    1. Thank you, Cindy. I am glad you enjoyed the ending and how it turned everything around. The questions posed to Johanna by her senior editor now make more sense. I hope her sister makes it home safely, though a part of me has some serious doubts.

  6. Interesting piece, I like the play between the news paper piece and then the reality.

    1. Thank you, Jon. I am glad you liked the twist of fate between the lies of the new and the real story underneath it all.