Kate Folk

I wrote the first draft of “Shelter” in 2015, when I was shifting from writing stories set in Iowa, where I grew up, to stories set in San Francisco, or coastal California, generally. I’ve lived in San Francisco since 2008, and at this point, it feels like the default backdrop for my fiction. When I return to Iowa now, it’s as a visitor, like Reese in “Shelter.” Mark grew up in the area, but Reese is from California, and she’s quicker to chafe at their new home’s limitations. Mark and Reese reflect flip sides of my complicated feelings when visiting my home state: Mark’s gauzy nostalgia and Reese’s restlessness. Banal surfaces can mask disturbing realities, though, and the locked room in the basement becomes a fixation for Reese. The house increasingly seems to possess a sinister agency. Reese becomes attached to it, as though its flaws are an extension of her body, loathed but deeply personal.

The shelter itself is taken from real life—a concrete-reinforced room in my parents’ basement, ostensibly for use as a storm shelter, though who knows what the original builder intended. I was always intrigued and creeped out by it. Unlike the story, the real shelter locks from the outside, which makes it even creepier. My parents use it to store random items: a case of wine, an old typewriter, the bass guitar I briefly tried playing as a teenager. Maybe even a Shop Vac. I texted my mom about the shelter while I was writing this, and after messaging with me, she couldn’t sleep. She said it must have been a mistake, building the shelter with the lock on the outside. “Tornado wouldn’t be stopped by it. Honestly, seems like the perfect room for holding a prisoner.”  She said they don’t have the key for the shelter—they never have. “It’s weird but can’t do us harm,” she wrote. “Right?”—Kate Folk

Editor’s Note: Kate Folk’s story collection, Out There (Random House), which includes “Shelter” from ZYZZYVA Issue 114, will be published on March 29.


In the basement of the house in Iowa that Reese and Mark were renting for summer, there was a concrete vault, eight-by-five-feet, presumably built as a storm shelter. Reese stored the house’s Shop-Vac there, along with a box of Carr’s rosemary crackers and a crate of wine shipped from their friends’ vineyard in Sonoma. Beyond
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