Category Archives: Fiction

Short stories I have written and posted. Thank you for taking a look.

Short Story Published in Bodega

DublinAmong some great prose and poetry in the July issue of Bodega, I have a single unit of flash fiction, “All Good Things.” This monthly journal puts out consistent, constant writing, and I’m grateful to have a space in it.

This story is one more piece of historical fiction, set in Dublin. Strangely, like most of the fiction I’ve had published, it has mysteriously never been in a creative writing workshop.

-jk

Short Story Published in Longleaf Review

Guard TowerI’m honored to announce that I have a short story in Issue 4 of Longleaf Review, a relatively new and very cool online journal. The theme of the issue is aliens, just in time for the Halloween season, but the theme is broad. You can read my story “The International Congress for Kids Whose Dads are Commie Draft Dodgers,” among so many other great essays, stories, and poems. For me, this is one more historical fiction story, part of what I hope will amount to a manuscript for a collection. For now, though, I have a full, rich online journal to read.

-jk

28 Unexcused Absences Later

nigh

He skipped class for few days when flu season started, just to stay healthy, and a few days turned into watching every episode of Seinfeld. Ten weeks, when he finally left his dorm room after realizing his roommate hadn’t returned in weeks, he found that campus was dead empty. Garbage cans were upturned and trash was everywhere, and it wasn’t even football season. Posters were stapled to the bulletin boards encouraging students to get flu shots, and next to those were more recent-looking posters calling for military intervention in the university, only some of which were from Turning Point USA.

In the cafeteria, he heard rustling among the tables, the weeks-old bowls of cereal on the floor and ominously empty orange juice bottles. Another student hobbled out of the corner, limbs stiff, eyes glazed over. This student was wrapped in several layers of winter clothes, but still she was pale and had a terrible cough. He recognized all the symptoms: it was the flu. The infected student hobbled toward him asking for vitamin C, so he fled the cafeteria and went to find his 8:30 AM class.

He ran to his classroom, which was deserted except for a few stray backpacks and a desperate warning to get out scribbled on the whiteboard in red dry erase marker. Desks were upturned and a misplaced syllabus was on the floor. He picked it up and wondered if his professor would still give him a D even after missing 28 days of class.

A stack of in-class writing he found next to the computer detailed the gradual collapse of the university as the flu spread across campus. The President ran away as a faction of armed deans staged a coup to protect themselves from the infected. The football coaches drove off, and the business administration faculty barricaded themselves in their offices, armed with the elephant guns that all business administration professors are required to have at all times to protect themselves from the critical theorists. Chaos reigned: the tenured preyed on the adjuncts, the biological science majors feasted on the humanities students, and a rogue band of pre-med students took to finding a cure. They were holed up in the math building, the last place anybody would look for survivors, where they intended to make a break for it as soon as they had enough hand sanitizer.

The student stood in his classroom and wished he had skipped class again today. He started to feel a little chill, too, and his throat was starting to get sore. He went out looking for the surviving pre-med students, to see if they had any OJ or chicken noodle soup. He didn’t even realize he was coughing when he left the building.

-jk

Short Story Published in Waxwing

on-the-roadI’m honored to have my short story “Scouting Locations” published in Issue XIII of Waxwing, one of my favorite literary journals. It’s one of several historical fiction stories that made up my MA thesis at UNL. It’s about old Hollywood, among other things. But before you read it, you should read the other excellent work featured in Waxwing.

-jk

Coming Home for Christmas After the Boston Tea Party

destruction-of-tea

The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor, by Nathaniel Currier, 1846, Hand-Colored Lithograph

On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty checked their phones for messages about the plan. Some Tweeted about it as they crept on board the British ship; others posted Instagram pictures of the tea crates they dumped into the Boston Harbor, one after another. #coffeefromnowon. #revolution. #dumptea. Throughout the night, several Sons posted updates on the SoL Forum. Meanwhile, crate after crate of imported tea splashed into the salty, frigid water.

John Adams live-tweeted the affair with considerable criticism, but a new hashtag surfaced: #sitdownjohn. Frustrated, he stayed inside while the protest unfolded. Several Native American pages posted their own frustration that the Sons of Liberty were dressing up as Mohawks, pointing out the inaccuracies and retribution the British might take against them, but the protest continued unabated. Some tagged King George in their posts.

The next morning, King George deleted his Twitter account, then reopened it again to post “Not cool” several times. The Sons of Liberty felt like they had accomplished a good shaming.

A week later, Sons and Patriots returned home for Christmas. The media expressed a disorganized uproar about the protest, with Loyalist blogs calling the Sons of Liberty terrorists and the Sons of Liberty tagging everything #donttreadonme and #goteabagyourself. Some Sons returned to divided families: a Loyalist cousin here, a Quaker moderate in-law there.

It was particularly awkward at the Adams Christmas Party. Refusing to yield his position, John spent the entire time standing up, while his cousin Sam spent his time in a corner liking and retweeting every post of a tarred-and-feathered British tradesman. John called it grotesque of him to like so much shaming; Sam told him to stop shaming him for his views. Sam pointed out that John defended the Red Coats after the Boston Massacre three years earlier, calling him out for defending people who killed Americans; John called out Sam for passively defending a whiny group of protestors. Meanwhile, Abigail Adams drank whiskey in the billiard room and thought very seriously about tarring and feathering both John and Sam. She was, after all, ashamed of both of them. They liked the shock and awe of sharing listicles reinforcing their stances, like preaching to two different choirs. “Ten Horrible Things King George Has Done in Ireland,” “Nine Ways the Revolution Fails at Intersectionality,” “You Won’t Believe the Feathers on This Loyalist Cuck.”

Abigail had visited a Boston general hospital weeks earlier after a tax collector she had befriended was tarred and feathered at the docks. She remembered the way the hot tar stuck to his skin, the difficulty of pulling it off, the way it stuck to doctors who tried to remove it, making him untouchable, unapproachable. He refused to speak to Abigail for her husband’s politics, and instead stared at the ceiling while doctors treated his burn wounds.

Sam called John a feisty little tea drinker, and John called Sam a caffeinated warmonger. They were on the verge of tarring each other right there at the party, and if they did, Abigail knew that she would pull the dried tar from both morons while they lay side by side, listening to each other’s crying. Even that, she posted on Tumblr passive aggressively, wouldn’t get them to meet one another halfway.

-jk

Legend of the Mountain Bro

Mountain

The U.S. has numerous legends and monsters: Bigfoot, the Jackelope, the ninth Supreme Court Justice. Some people laugh at these legends; others live in continual fear of them. But the legend most feared and laughed at is the dreaded Mountain Bro.

The Mountain Bro lurks in the American West. Self-proclaimed “witnesses” describe him as four to seven feet tall, usually in shorts and a plaid shirt with only the two lowest buttons buttoned, while others claim to have seen him without a shirt at all, but almost always in large sunglasses and a backwards ball cap. Hikers often report hearing strange shouts in the woods, apparently the Mountain Bro shouting “siiiiick bro” or threatening to punch a foreign-looking tree. Others report hearing the the sound of Call of Duty being played near campsites. Experts from the History Channel believe the Mountain Bro lives on a diet of vodka made from fermented forest animals.

The Mountain Bro is said to wander into neighborhoods late at night to charge his phone and update his twitter feed. #squirrelvodka. He sometimes leaves behind a trail of sweat and body spray that he naturally secretes. Like most urban legends and former presidential hopefuls, the Mountain Bro attempts to live under the radar, which is undercut by his twitter account and regular forest parties followed by morning hunts for burgers to cure his hangovers. #vodkawithsquirrels.

Skeptics, scientists, professors, and particularly pretentious grad students doubt the existence of the Mountain Bro, but the evidence is overwhelming. For instance, the Mountain Bro has, on multiple occasions, filmed himself doing the cinnamon challenge and posted it to his Instagram account to prove his mountainliness. These videos usually end with the Mountain Bro getting a cinnamon-flavored bloody nose and passing out in the woods. #godblessamerica. Despite these bro tendencies, scientists and enthusiasts alike have somehow failed to acquire a dead Mountain Bro, which is in no way proof that he’s not out there.

Researchers and alarmists from the Discovery Channel, a wellspring of endless knowledge, have concluded that the Mountain Bro is most likely a regular bro, or a member of a growing cult of mostly college-age white males with rich parents. Bros, of course, wander in large herds in and around American universities pillaging bars, burning things down, and trying to prove their brohood by juggling weights and smoking tacos. 1 out of 55 scientists believe the Mountain Bro wandered away from his pack in a counter-cultural revolt against the high standards brohood requires, but because no proof of the Mountain Bro has yet surfaced, research is ongoing, and probably will be for however many seasons NatGeo can get out of Mountain Bro Men: Real Bros Looking for One Rogue Bro. For now, take precautions while going into the woods. Even if the Mountain Bro is resisting brodom, he may still be as dangerous as urban bros. Consider yourself warned.

-jk

Short Story Published in Circa

sparks upI’m pleased to announce that my short story “The End of Akrotiri” has been published in Circa, an excellent online journal of historical fiction. The story is about life in a historical Bronze Age Aegean site called Akrotiri before it was destroyed during the eruption of Thera in the 1600s BCE. I would be honored if you took a gander at it, and please check out the other stories I have the privilege of sharing this volume with.

This story is also a taste of what I intend to be my Master’s Thesis: a collection of short historical fiction stories set in different moments of cataclysm and transition. I want to explore varying forms of intimacy between people and places as ways of transcending climactic turmoil. But these are all details for my committee. For now, just enjoy a gentle, loving story about a volcanic eruption that killed everyone everywhere.

-jk

P.S. I listened to “All Used Up” by the wonderful Utah Phillips and “Funtimes in Babylon by Father John Misty while writing and revising this story. Neither of these songs have anything to do with ancient Greek volcanoes, but they did put me in the right mood for writing about the end of the world.

Writer Seeks Characters

newspaper

March 3: Aspiring writer seeks three to four characters for minor literary endeavor, entitled Untitled Novel. Characters must be diverse, original, and snappy. Villains always appreciated.

March 9: Writer seeks one to two sympathetic protagonists to balance the fourteen unsympathetic villains who answered prior ad. One must be fluent in Russian. Quirks and comic relief are highly valued.

March 10: Fourteen unused unsympathetic villains seek good writer. Willing to die violently; highly skilled in diabolical laughter, fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, etc.

March 15: Lonely protagonist seeks sidekick and/or love interest. Must have agency, thorough backstory, and moderate comic relief. Static characters strictly prohibited.

March 22: Writer seeks spare subplot involving a gun. Alternative subplots acceptable, but must end in the death of an unexpected love interest the writer doesn’t know what else to do with.

March 25: Postmodern short story seeks ironic resolution for a plot involving fourteen unsympathetic villains. Violent deaths are acceptable, but must be meaningless.

March 29: Writer has unused Chekhovian subplot available, after finding a stray Deus Ex Machina in the shed.

April 9: Hastily killed-off love interest seeks new story, preferably one with a less obviously Freudian subtext and better dialogue.

April 11: Writer has unused Freudian subtext available. Writer also requests to be given a break, Marsha, the dialogue wasn’t that bad.

April 15: Postmodernist writer seeks editor and agent for polished fourteen-villain ironic story.

April18: Protagonist seeks new writer who doesn’t kill off characters just to fill a few chapters.

April 20: Struggling writer seeks copyright lawyer for advice on a recently run-away protagonist.

April 25: Escaped protagonist looking for work, has experience with romantic subplots but prefers complex internal conflict.

April 30: Aspiring writer seeks runaway protagonist. Please come back, Harold.

May 1: Postmodernist writer seeks complex internal conflict for new protagonist.

May 16: Writer seeks runaway protagonist, promises to try harder this time, really he will.

May 18: Seriously, Harold, I created you. What am I supposed to do now?

May 23: Postmodernist writer seeks good journal for a metafictional buddy/love story entitled “Marsha, Harold, and the Writer.”

May 30: Writer seeks three to four characters to collaborate on revising an old plot; is willing to work with characters closely; is willing to let the characters move the plot along.

June 2: Unused plot devices, tropes, and schemes available, no charge.

-jk

Instructions for a Camping Trip: An Interactive Short Story

I love camping, so I wrote a short story (in the form of an instruction manual) about it.

shadows

Step One: Pack matches, a tent, sleeping bags, pads, pillows, snacks, beer, camera, books, flashlights, water, knives, and then proceed to follow directions from printed maps, a GPS, and a passenger’s memory of “shortcuts” from five years ago.
If you make a wrong turn, proceed to Step Two.
If you miraculously make all the right turns, proceed to Step Four.

Step Two: Following one of several misleading directions, you find yourself in a condo development several miles off course. Find the nearest dirt road back to the freeway.
If you make it back to the freeway, proceed to Step Four.
If you find yourself in a deserted farm with fifteen scarecrows all facing you, proceed to Step Fifteen.
If you stop and ask for directions, proceed to Step Three.

Step Three: After finding the right directions back to the freeway, having asked between one and thirteen grizzled old farmers holding shotguns and potted daisies, you get back on track two hours late but determined nevertheless. Proceed to Step Four.

Step Four: You pull into the campsite, pay the grizzled old camp director holding a shotgun and a potted daisy, and proceed to set up the camping equipment.
If the tent you brought is not broken, proceed to Step Seven.
If the tent you brought is broken, proceed to Step Five.

Step Five: Use everything in your car to fix the tent (clamps, chairs, knives, potted daisies, etc.). Proceed to Step Six.

Step Six: After fixing the tent, you find yourselves exhausted and take a nap. Missing an hour of daylight, you wake up and realize
that someone forgot the bug spray and you are surrounded by bees (proceed to Step Sixteen), or
that you all brought and used bug spray but it inevitably failed and you are nevertheless surrounded by bees (proceed to Step Seven).

bees

Step Seven: You set up all camping equipment, including a bee trap fashioned from a plate of syrup well away from your tent, and you proceed to make a campfire.
If you succeed on the first try, proceed to Step Ten.
If you fail on the first try, proceed to Step Eight.

Step Eight: Nobody can get the fire started.
If you put your heads together and manage to build a successful fire using old copies of Dan Brown novels, proceed to Step Ten.
If you insist on starting the fire the way you saw that survivalist on TV do it involving a shoelace and several ounces of beer, inevitably failing, proceed to Step Nine.

Step Nine: You all give up and decide to camp without a fire, end up freezing, and drink what little alcohol is left for warmth. Proceed to Step Sixteen.

Step Ten: The tent is up, the fire is going, and you are all sitting comfortably in a circle making s’mores and drinking frosty cold beers. You lean back, gaze up at the stars, and
realize that you are insignificant but stranded beautifully on a fragile planet, and that it is your responsibility to care for your world (proceed to Step Eighteen), or
realize that you are insignificant, which induces an existential crisis causing increased alcohol consumption (proceed to Step Nineteen), or
fall backward in your chairs and wonder why you went camping in the first place (proceed to Step Eleven).

Step Eleven: Annoyed at camping in general, you all pull out your phones to see which celebrities have started dating each other, but discover there is no service in the woods.
If this frustrates you, proceed to Step Twelve.
If you return to toasting marshmallows, proceed to Step Thirteen.

Step Twelve: Your unquenchable desire for modern technology drives you to wander into the woods holding your smartphones into the air hoping to find a signal. Proceed to Step Seventeen.

Step Thirteen: Somebody pulls out a harmonica and plays a soulful rendition of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” Proceed to Step Fourteen.

Step Fourteen: You realize that a desire for luxury is the last chain enslaving humankind to capitalism, and that if we all lived a minimalist’s life together in a commune and devoted ourselves to art and human companionship, the corporations would all go extinct and we would open up the doors to Heaven on Earth. Proceed to Step Eighteen.

Step Fifteen: Now stuck countless miles from any sign of human life, you all get out of the car and proceed to argue. Proceed to Step Sixteen.

Step Sixteen: Furious at one another for your collective insensitivities, self-centeredness, and refusal to accept responsibility for your mistakes, you use all the camping equipment to kill each other. Proceed to Step Seventeen.

Step Seventeen: You are all eaten by coyotes. The End.

Step Eighteen: After waking up to the sound of birds and running water the next day, you feel spiritually and socially invigorated and return to the plastic confines of civilization with a renewed sense of meaning and a deeper understanding of the divine, determined to be a better person to the world as a whole. You then sell all the pointless crap you’ve spent decades accumulating, give the money to charity, and finally start playing music again. The End.

Step Nineteen: Having had too much to drink, you sob about the terrible state of the world, the wars, the power that big business has over you, how expendable you are in the scheme of things, the fact that Unfriended was ever produced in the first place, and wander around the campground despondent and terrified.
When the camp director finds you, he
uses his shotgun to “motivate” you back into your tent for a night of silent introspection (proceed to Step Eighteen), or he
uses his shotgun to “motivate” you out of the campground entirely (proceed to Step Seventeen), or he
kindly offers you bread, water, and painkillers, then proceeds to teach you about Zen Buddhism, which you diligently listen to as long as drunk people can before falling asleep (Proceed to Step Eighteen).

Campfire

For more information on camping, consult your nearest grizzled old farmer.

-jk

Copyright Keene Short, 2015

Flash Fiction: Train Tracks

I’m attempting to do forty creative things (stories, poems, music, art, photography) for Lent. Here is one of them, a short short story.

Train TracksThe chainlink fence delicately rattles. There is nothing in the distance, but the rattling persists like a stick dragged through broken glass. Then, in the distance, we hear it, the horn calling from the right. It’s coming. The fence shakes violently. At last, it spills into view, the bright lights on the front forming a trio of eyes glaring at us as we scurry up the gravel slope to the tracks. The train soars closer.
The all-consuming noise enthralls us. We dig in our backpacks for the ritual sacrifices: an action figure, a light bulb, a marble chess piece, and a platoon of plastic army men. We assemble them facing the train, the unstoppable bringer of death. We line them up on the bright steel tracks, then scramble back down the hill to watch the storm, the explosion, the apocalypse. The train blares its horn once more as we shiver in delight at our violation of the rules. We have been rebelling like this ever since we first discovered how easy it is to get away with it.
Moments before impact, one of us asks whose action figure we used. For a moment nobody speaks, but soon we realize it does not belong to any of us but to one of our old brothers. We look at one another, then take the hill once again, prepared to ambush the rumbling tracks like soldiers emerging from their trench. Amidst one last blast from the horn, an air raid siren before the bombs fall, we stop two feet in front of the train as it eviscerates the entire army we set up. It crumbles the chess piece, it pops the light bulb, it mows down the platoon of army men, and flattens the action figure. We do not turn our attention away, even after the last traces of our sacrifice have vanished. We stand and watch wheel after wheel glide past us where the toys had been.
After the train passes, we stand sullenly around the hallowed battlefield. An atomic bomb has just been dropped. A tornado has just hit. There is not a trace of the army men. We find some glass fragments from the light bulb and a single arm of the action figure. We pick it up and stare at it in horror. Just one severed red arm gnarled at the shoulder. What more can we say? We bury it and begin working on a good lie.

-jk

Photo and story copyrighted work of Keene Short, 2015.