Tag Archives: Flash Fiction

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

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

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.

London, 1945

Some flash fiction set in London, late November, 1945.

Umbrella 2Because his favorite pub was closed for repairs, Simon hobbled into a new one, closing his umbrella and dripping puddles onto the hardwood floors. The room was mostly empty, but warm and dry. He set his hat and coat on a rack and leaned the umbrella against the wall, next to four other identical coats and hats, each one drier than the last. Four men sat at the bar drinking a pint and reading copies of the morning paper. None of them spoke or looked up, not even when the news correspondent on the radio described the mess of Poland and Germany and France. It was only when Simon hobbled toward the bar, leaning on his cane for support, that he realized he had forgotten a key element in his post-war life: a newspaper. When he sat down, he leaned the wooden cane next to him and ordered a pint from the barkeep, a gaunt woman with a fat scar on her left cheek.The four other men turned to look at him, each head tilting slowly to the right.

“Forgot my paper,” he mumbled.

One of the men looked back at his own paper, but the other three men, none of whom had completely dried off yet, glared at Simon for several seconds longer, then returned to their reading. The barkeep placed a dark beer in front of him, the foam sloshing over the top and down the side as she set it down.

Simon drank idly and listened to the static-ridden BBC radio from the corner. Radio was only so helpful in describing the ugliness of warfare, Simon thought, but he did not need any help remembering.

“Excuse me,” he asked as the barkeep passed. “Could you switch to something else? I think the London Symphony might be on this evening.”

“The radio?” she asked. Simon was caught off guard by her Russian accent. At the same time, the four men turned once again and glared at him. The one furthest on the left folded up his paper and left two grimy pound coins on top of it, got up, and walked out with his coat, hat, and umbrella.

“Why do you want me to change it?” she asked.

“I just. . . I’d rather listen to music.” Another man got up and left, leaving two more pounds atop his folded, wrinkled paper.

“You don’t want to hear the news?”

“No. I can only handle so much of it.”

When he said this, the last two men stood up and left in the same fashion as the others. The woman paused, then walked toward the radio at the other end of the bar, collecting the pounds two by two as she went. As she turned the dial, static flooded the pub, slowly giving way to more news, more static, and finally an old recording of the London Symphony Orchestra performing Edward Elgar’s cello concerto. It was somewhere in the second movement. Simon closed his eyes and finished the beer in three gulps.

“One more, please?”

“Very well, then.” As she poured him another pint, he squinted in the dark, gray light at the scar beneath her eye. “What?” she asked.

“You’re from Russia, are you?”

“Yes, I came from Russia. Why?”

“Just curious.” Simon took a sip. “Before or after? If you don’t mind, that is.”

She folded her arms.

“I was a soldier, just like you,” she said. “I was in the Red Army. I came here while it was ending.”

The music thrummed against the rain, which grew louder as it shifted direction and pummeled the windows and the door. Taking another sip, Simon paused, closed his eyes again, and listened to the orchestra interrupted by brief pauses of rusty static.

“You are very different,” the barkeep noted. Simon opened his eyes.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You won’t listen to anything about the war or read anything about the war, but you feel free talking about it. Why is that? If you don’t mind, that is.”

“Oh. I don’t know. I can’t help it, sometimes.” He gulped half the beer. “Do you ever talk about it? I imagine the Red Army is much more interesting than just an old British infantry division.”

“Before the war, do you know what I used to do? I was a musician. A clarinetist.”

“You were?”

“Yes. I played all over the country. Then they came and told me I had to fight to save the motherland. So I went and fought. I was in Leningrad for some time.”

“Well, I’m glad you got out of there. I could never play. I was a terrible musician. I still love to listen, though.” He drained the last of the beer and stood up. “Thank you for listening. It’s getting late, though. I need to be off.”

“I’m closing up soon, anyway.”

As he stood up, he dumped a pile of pound coins around the empty glass like presents beneath a tree. He reached for his cane; she collected the coins and picked up the glass. The concerto continued to rise and fall, to lean forward and pull back like dancers. She pulled off her dusty white apron as he slid into his nearly dried coat and hat. Looking around, he turned on the axis of his cane.

“My umbrella is gone. I. . . did one of them take it? I don’t suppose you have a spare?”

“I only have mine.”

“Oh. Thanks anyway.”

“Wait a moment.”

Putting on her own coat and hat, the barkeep stepped out and tossed her own black umbrella to him while she turned stools up onto the smooth wooden top of the bar. She switched the lights off and finally did the same to the radio. Together, they stepped outside; he opened the umbrella while she turned around and locked the door, before they walked up the street. She took the umbrella as Simon limped forward, frowning as she opened the umbrella and swung it above their heads.

“Did you ever play Tchaikovsky?” he asked.

“Oh, yes.” They walked slowly and Simon’s cane clicked against the hard cobblestone with every other step. “I haven’t thought of music since the bombing.”

“Tell me about Tchaikovsky. About music before the war. If you don’t mind, that is.”

Around them, rings of rain slid off the umbrella as they passed empty pubs and shops together.

-JK