Category Archives: Fiction

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

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

Campaign Trails: Debates

Continuing my policy of writing fiction about subjects I have no authority to write on, here is the second installment of my surrealist retelling the 2016 Presidential Election. Feel free to read part one, “Decisions,” to catch up.

Stage

Megan began introducing each candidate at the first GOP debate at 7:00 PM sharp, and by 7:30 she had only introduced the first seventy-three candidates. One by one they marched onto the stage, gazing into the mess of lights and wide eyes in the audience.
Getting on stage was, to begin with, not easy. Before being granted access to the stage, the candidates had to go through several checkpoints. First, GOP armed guards asked for each candidate’s GOP credentials and had them sign paperwork, at gunpoint, pledging support for their party’s nominee no matter who he or she (with the phrase “lol” next to the second pronoun) would be. Next, the Koch Brothers personally shook hands with each candidate and slipped them a red pill and a blue pill, telling them to make the right choice; the blue pill was, of course, wrapped in several hundred dollar bills.
Lastly, four NRA officials stood at the stage’s edge and asked to see each candidate’s weapon of choice. This was the last test candidates had to pass before being allowed to enter the debate, and it was often a difficult one. For instance, Ben made the mistake of bringing his water gun. He began quoting several founding fathers and later Albert Einstein to justify his choice. Unable to tell what he was actually talking about, the NRA officials decided to let him pass.
Donald was 366th in line. The stage was filling up with heavily armed candidates brandishing their fancy speeches, and Donald, as far removed from the party’s rules and regulations as he was, had not known to bring a gun.
“I never got that memo,” he told the NRA officials.
“We’ll have to kick you out for that. Rules are rules.”
“You can’t do that,” Donald said, thinking as rapidly as he could for a way out. “Ted told me not to bring it.”
“Ted?”
The officials turned to see Ted on stage leaning two AK-47s over his shoulders.
“He lied to you? Why would he do that?”
Donald thought for a second, and the answer seemed obvious.
“He doesn’t like me. He’s biased. He wants to win by lying.”
“But you still don’t have a gun. We can’t let you on stage without one.”
Behind him, the rest of the candidates waiting for the first GOP debate–about six hundred or so–grumbled and shifted their guns. Donald turned around and glared at them. Speechmakers, they were. Speechmakers with props. They had policies, plans, sketches, and verbal magic tricks. Donald didn’t even have a water pistol.
Donald was learning how this game worked, and found he didn’t like the rules. Immediately behind him was Marco, practicing a speech intended to make bricks fall out of people’s noses and then form into a short wall between audience members to highlight his immigration policy. He looked Donald in the eye and grinned.
“Hey, Don, forget something?”
“What are you up to?”
“Planning how I’ll win the debate.”
“How are you gonna win? You’re too. . .”
“Can’t think of a word?”
“Shut up.”
“Use your words, Don. Like this.”
Marco began reciting a talking point, just a little one, and its power made a brick fall out of Donald, but not out of his nose. Donald’s face turned a sharp shade of Republican red as the brick slid down his pant leg. Marco was not an experienced public speaker, but even he had the gift of turning words into actions. He recited another policy on immigration, and two more bricks fell out.
“You little rodent,” Donald snapped.
“What are you gonna do, little Don? You’ve never given a good speech in your life. We’ll whoop you out there.” Another brick.
Donald could not think of anything to say. It was true, he could not transform words into actions. But he was aware of a few actions he could easily produce without the need for communication. He leaned forward and punched Marco in the face once, twice, then once in the stomach. Marco fell down, but not before Donald could reach over and pull up the AK-47 he had slung around his shoulder. Swinging it over his own, he turned around and faced the NRA officials.
The NRA officials decided that they liked Donald’s style and let him on stage. Marco would still be allowed to debate (he brought grenades in his pants, a “nice touch” the officials thought), but spoke through a broken, bloodied nose.
Three hours after Megan began introducing the candidates, all of them were on stage, totaling 956. They were crammed shoulder to shoulder, ignoring the twenty-nine podiums. Megan glared at them all and wondered why they didn’t just have two debates, or three or four.
“Well, ladies and gentleman,” she said, “I’ll address the first question to you, Governor Perry.”
The hundreds of heavily armed candidates shifted on stage, rocking back and forth trying to maintain a comfort zone. Beneath them something cracked. They all heard it, even Megan. “Now, you’ve been very critical. . .” she continued. More crackling. A few pops, a few snaps. “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” asked Rick.
“Just that creaking. Any idea what that is?”
“I don’t hear anything.”
After that, the weight of the 956 Republican presidential candidates combined with the weight of their numerous weapons broke the stage. It collapsed in the middle, and the rest followed into the basement floor beneath the studio. Along with the fragments of the stage went the Republicans pummeling onto one another into the basement, until the room filled up. Then they toppled into one another, bodies upon bodies, suits upon suits. When the dust cleared and the mostly middle-aged men grumbled and moaned, the audience wasn’t sure if they should cheer or boo.
“Anyone ready to drop out yet?” Megan asked.
About one hundred candidates responded affirmatively to what turned out to be the first question of the first Republican presidential debate.


Bernie got a text message from Hillary while he muddled his way through the summer heat in Georgia campaigning door-to-door.
“Wanna debate or something?” read the message.
Confused, he texted back, “Am I invited?”
“Nobody else wants to run. I heard you were thinking about it. We need a few more good candidates,” she replied.
Bernie blushed. Somebody was finally acknowledging his campaign. He texted back “Yes!” then added several more exclamation marks. He had to follow up with “Can I get a ride over to it, though?” and went back to work knocking on doors for support, swimming in the new validation but ultimately wishing Hillary would become the nominee early on. He knew he couldn’t make it far the way he campaigned, and knew she was a good candidate. Hillary, for her part, privately wished it would be Bernie, or Joe, or Elizabeth, or anyone else. But almost every Democrat she texted responded with support for her campaign and a casual dismissal of the Presidency: “No thanks.” “Not in my lifetime.” “Have you seen Obama? He looks like he’s 90! I’d rather stay young.” She wanted a more diverse pool for voters to choose from, but was glad there would be more than one candidate, at least.

-jk

 

Campaign Trails: Decisions

To celebrate the 2016 Presidential Election, I’ve elected to write a series of short stories retelling the campaign. I hope you enjoy it.

flag

One cold day early in 2015, Bernie awoke to a surprise: the fancy new digital clock, the kind that told the date, told the wrong date: January 12, 1942. He fumbled for his glasses and looked at the calendar on the wall, which also said 1942, and had a portrait of FDR instead of the snowy field he recalled for January.
Bernie grumbled out of bed, shivering. He knew it wasn’t 1942; he still had his smartphone. But the fact that the smartphone said “January 12, 1942″ was worth considering. He tried fixing it, but the year wouldn’t budge. Increasingly excited, he pulled a map of the US out of his desk drawer. 1942: FDR was President, the Nazis had invaded Soviet Russia, fascism was hurting the world. We had to stop it. He took a blue marker and drew a line on the map southward from Maine, planning his strategy. And FDR had vision, real vision. Bernie thought he knew what it all meant.
He put on his black trench coat and pork pie hat. He drank black coffee, smoked a cigarette, and caught a bus to Maine. He had to start somewhere, and he figured the best way was the old-fashioned way. He would begin in Portland, Maine, working southward to Florida, then northwest into the South, then westward into the Midwest, and in a year and a half, he would end his journey in Portland, Oregon. Naturally, due to budget concerns, he would go on foot.
It was cold in Portland, so Bernie buttoned his coat. He started on Brighton Avenue, hoping to work his way door-to-door southward. He could hear the jazz music of the early ‘40s in his head as he knocked on the very first door.
“Hello,” he began when it opened. “My name is Senator Bernie Sanders. I’d like to tell you about Democratic Socialism, and I’d like to be your candidate for the 2016 Presidential Election.”


John was delivering a speech on public school policies to a group of Ohio teachers when, in the heat of his modest passion for the subject, everything around him turned black and white, like a 1950s sitcom. He looked around; he was pleased. People looked cleaner, sharper, richer. The police sirens that had been outside stopped.
“Now this is beautiful,” he said, and the audience agreed.
“It’s a shame,” said an elderly lady in the audience, wearing an apron and pulling a fresh apple pie from her purse for a snack, “that so many Americans these days don’t have this. . . this. . . oh, fiddlesticks, what’s the word, Mr. Kasich?”
“Gee, I don’t know,” John said. “But I sure know it’s a good feeling. I wish I could share this feeling with everyone.” He paused, smiling.
“It’s time somebody did something about that,” he said. “We can make this country. . . good again? Not good. Better.” He remembered hearing somebody say something like that recently, using a bold, daring word. John was neither bold nor daring, but he had heart. He wanted this for America, this simplicity. He hadn’t noticed that most women and all people of color had vanished from the room while giving his speech; all that mattered was his sense of American. . . better-than-goodness? Who had said it the other day? Make America better than good again.
“Sure sounds like a good idea,” he said. “Maybe I. . . well, shucks, I really can do it. Maybe I can make America better than good again.” He paused. “And that’ll be my campaign slogan! You know what, folks? I’m going to run for President to make America better than good again!” They cheered pleasantly.


Ted stopped kissing babies’ foreheads at campaign rallies once his curse began to spread. He froze in frustration when the forehead of a Midwestern mother’s infant sprouted a starchart of the Zodiac constellations, spreading slowly down the baby. He knew, from his own tattoo-like curse, that it did not hurt. The real problem was that it glowed in the dark. First the stars glowed in bright shining obsidian on the baby’s skin, and then lines grew to connect the stars. Within seconds, the baby’s body was a pudgy, giggling map of the sky.
“You’ll want makeup to cover that up,” he said as the mother gaped at her child. “Sorry. I still have your vote, though, right?”
He moved on to the next patrons in the crowd, frowning but still positive.
It started when he was thirteen after a family argument. His father cursed him, citing the verses of the Old Testament in which Noah cursed Ham for stumbling in on him drunk. A young Ted had always been a misfit, struggling to fit in a dominionist church that he felt suffocated his social standing. One night, he declared himself free of his family’s deathgrip in order to go to a popular kid’s birthday party, so his father cursed him, making the Zodiac constellations appear across his body. He hid it with makeup and conservative clothes, but lived in continual fear that his sweat would reveal the markings.
If he could win the White House, he could prove that he was more than a misfit. But now that his curse was spreading, he refused to even shake voters’ hands, which was immediately suspicious among conservative voters. To win the nomination, he would need a scapegoat from the GOP, somebody even worse than a perpetually awkward man covered with infectious Zodiac tattoos. Fortunately, there would be plenty to choose from.


Hillary slumped into an armchair and made up her mind then and there: she would not run for President.
Instead, she wanted peace. She had just returned home from the Senate where she spent thirteen days listening to a prolonged character assassination attempt. Each day, a GOP leader stood before her and made fabulous accusations about her and Benghazi, and at the end of each lecture, the GOP armed guards let her speak a few words. When she did, calmly, the GOP leader of the day coughed and sputtered, and his (always his) face turned a deep shade of blue. They never choked to death, but briefly lost their ability to speak when she disproved them with a few easy, cutting rebuttals. Such a talent took decades to cultivate. The problem she faced were the sheer numbers of people trying to dismantle her not even as a politician, but as a human being. It was nearly impossible to keep up.
Now she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Such endless cruelty, and the GOP armed guards condescending her more than usual when she went in and out of the Senate. Enough, she thought.
And then it happened. A bird rested on the windowsill across from her and pecked gently at the glass.
“Not again,” she mumbled, rising sorely to open the window.
The bird met her long ago. In college it brought library cards for sources that helped her research papers or scraps of newspaper articles about successful social movements. Here it was, again, a little bird looking up at Hillary with round, eager eyes.
“What?” she asked. It scratched its feet back and forth. “Run?” It nodded its head. “No. I’m sorry. I need a break. Please.”
The bird shook its head.
“Why?” she asked after a moment. “Why me?”
The bird’s neck bulged, and it coughed up a newspaper clipping. She unrolled it like a cigarette and read, “Secretary Clinton Pushes Back Against GOP Military Occupation of Congress.”
“You really think I should?” she asked. The bird nodded vigorously, and choked up another clipping, a list of GOP leaders who declared their candidacy. She knew each one; many of them were present at the Senate hearings, and she knew how to silence them. The bird began hopping up and down.
“Dammit,” Hillary mumbled, pacing around. “You really think I can?” Nodding. “Do you know the ugly things they’ll say about me?” Solemn nodding. She sighed. “Fine. I’ll run.”


Donald was about to make the announcement, but stalled, pacing back and forth backstage. It was all too much, the crowds, lights, cameras. So many distractions, so many possible ways to mess up. panicking, he called his mentor, a public speaking professor from his Ivy League days.
“I’m, uh, I’m. . . I’m scared,” he said in a hushed voice into the phone. “I don’t know, even, like, what am I even supposed to, y’know, even say out there?”
Professor Huntington cooed for him to calm down.
“It’s okay, Donald. Just breathe. You know what to do. How do you give a speech?”
Donald recalled his training.
“Be confident,” Donald recited, “show them your confidence, and use lists.”
“What are you going to list?”
“Things I’m great at. Things I’m spectacular at.”
Calmed, he hung up.
Donald breathed in, told himself he was wonderful, he deserved this, he wouldn’t let anybody take it away from him. He’d seen politicians use speeches to move people to tears, laughter, enlightenment. He had seen politicians make flowers grow from listeners’ heads. He had once seen Nancy Reagan tell a joke that made everyone in her audience each sneeze an entire cup of Earl Grey tea. Bill Clinton famously made doves fly from his saxophone at his inaugural address. Jon Stewart had made the sun shine out of people’s ears. Donald, however, had never once accomplished such feats with his speeches. They stumbled along, barely arriving at a conclusion.
But he went on stage to announce he was running for President, to prove you didn’t have to know such verbal magic tricks to win. He could not impress anybody with any fancy speeches; instead, he did the best he could with the only real skill he shared with the other candidates: self-commercialization.

-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