Tag Archives: Short Fiction

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.


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.


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).


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).


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


Copyright Keene Short, 2015

Novels by Calgary Smith

More short fiction about Karl, who rediscovers his favorite childhood author and wonders why he ever read his books in the first place.

Bookstore October 21, 2011
So we all made it through post-midterms week without flailing around like a squid in soup. Dr. Corddry calls it suffering week. I guess all the professors go out to bars downtown on this Friday to celebrate the number of students dropping their class or something. I didn’t do too badly, but I really need to work on my grammar, according to Lindsey, in the Honors class. My paper was covered in red marks, like it was knifed.
I guess the thing to do on a Friday night for a typical NAU student is to go wander around downtown so I went downtown with Eddie and Abigail. We went out to this place called Heritage Square, where a bunch of hippies play music and sell magic crystals and beads and vortex passports. It’s a weird place on a Friday night.
We went into this tiny little bookstore that had classic volumes of books set up out front. At first, I didn’t think it was worth checking out, but I saw a first-edition copy of one of the great works of English literature, The Android City of Glariton 3 by Calgary Smith, sitting in the shelf. That’s when I had to go in and see if they had more Calgary Smith novels. Eddie and Abigail hadn’t ever heard of him. I was shocked! I thought everybody knew about Calgary Smith. He’s one of the greatest writers ever. I read almost everything by him back in high school. I almost got a signed copy of one of his other novels, Ginger Bates and the Crawling Brains, at a bookstore in Pocatello run by a drunk guy who plays guitar, but a goth from marching band beat me to it.
Anyway, we rummaged around the little bookstore. It was really compact, but the selection was pretty good. The guy at the counter sat reading a newspaper and drinking wine from a coffee cup. He had a big fat mustache and a perm, and looked like Kurt Vonnegut. He’s dead, right? I’m pretty sure he’s dead now. We looked at different books, and then found a door in the back that led to an alley sealed by brick walls with suspicious stains, and a door on the other end. There weren’t any cameras, but the door said “special patrons only.”
“We’re special,” Eddie said. “We’re very special patrons.”
“I dunno,” Abigail said. “We probably shouldn’t go in.”
Eddie said, “If Thomas Jefferson followed all the rules, where would we be now? Karl, I dare you to go in.”
“Are you living in the ‘50s? Who dares people to do things?”
“So you’re scared?”
That’s when I said I’m not scared of nothing, pushed the door open, and went into the place for special patrons only. Inside was this dimly lit room of bookshelves with all the super-secret rare first editions, editions with flaws, unauthorized reprints, and other books that looked more valuable than everything I’ve ever owned put together. We went in, and I found almost a whole shelf of used copies of Calgary Smith’s Ginger Bates series, and the Glariton 3 series. They even had a book I’d never been able to get my hands on, the cross-over novel he could never afford to publish because for some reason he went bankrupt at like a really early age and had to work in a coal mine or something. It was called Ginger Bates and the Rogue Spacecraft, which was published just before his death. I told Abigail and Eddie about it, and they read the first page.
“Whoa,” Eddie said. “He used the word ‘vigorously’ like forty-seven times in the first page.”
“His dialogue is really bad.”
“The hell are you talking about? This guy’s brilliant!” I said. I spent all of my allowance on his books and had them all lined up at home. Granted, I hadn’t read any for a while, cause I got into this other series, but I can’t remember the name, House of Thrones or Game of Cards or something like that.
“Karl, this is the worst writing I’ve ever seen,” Eddie said.
“Yeah, well, I guess you’ve never read any of your own papers, then.” I looked at the special patron books and saw a bunch of copies of John Steinbeck novels, some really vintage comic books, a copy of V for Vendetta signed by the author. If Calgary Smith’s novels were so bad, why were they here with all the good stuff? I grabbed the book from Eddie and read the first page. Then I read it again, then looked at the cover to see if it was the right Calgary Smith and not an evil twin with an identical name, then read the second page.
“Crap, you’re right. This guy’s terrible. Holy crap, my whole childhood is gone.”
“What about the comic books you used to read?”
“I guess I still have those. But still, I always wanted to be like Calgary Smith. What’s the deal? Was my taste really that bad? It’s not like I had a poster of him, but I was like really obsessed with this guy.”
I flipped through the book and found some notes in the margins. They were revision notes, I think. One note said “Plot hole 37, see page 109.” Somebody found 37 plot holes? At the very back, I saw a long paragraph about giving up on writing, and it was signed by Calgary Smith! That’s why it’s in the special patron section, because it has his own notes about how he’s going to give up on writing and live in a commune in the Yucatan with some escaped coal miners, or whatever he wrote.
“Well this is crap,” I said. “My favorite author turns out to suck, and then I find out he gave up on writing cause he sucked so much.”
Eddie and Abigail tried comforting me. It’s not like I was diagnosed with a terminal disease or anything, but I appreciated it anyway. We left the special patron section and wandered around the bookstore some more, and then to make me feel better they bought me this weird piece of local art at an art gallery next door. It was a little bust of John Steinbeck made of shells. I couldn’t tell it was him, but it was cool to look at. It actually looked like those aliens from that movie with all the aliens, whatever it was called, like Predator Vs. Predator or something. Anyway, that was my first time in downtown Flagstaff. I met like forty-seven hippies that night, too, and lots of hobos playing didgeridoos.
That’s my life now. I think I’m gonna start reading Autumn Bartlett’s copy of The Book Thief. It’s time I had a new favorite author. Good luck with your own Friday nights and creepy shell statues.


Return to the Library

More short fiction about Karl, who makes a shady deal to have his ban from Cline lifted.


October 16, 2011

          I have a lot of crap to talk about. It’s been kind of a weird week for me.
First, I got through midterms without jumping off the roof of Cline. So that’s good. I turned in all the papers and took all the tests and did most of the studying. Or enough of the studying. I don’t know how I did. That German test was brutal, but I think I at least got a B on it. Hopefully. If I did worse, I’ll just study harder or longer or longer and harder.
Secondly, my roommate Tom, or maybe his name is Tim (I’m still not sure, because he never really told me his name, and he never really speaks until recently) is still upset that his nine girlfriends broke up with him. He claims he thought they were all in an open relationship with him, but apparently they each wanted a long-term and committed relationship that involved weddings and honesty and things that Tim-Tom probably hasn’t even heard of. But anyway, Tim is upset about losing his nine girlfriends. I told him that he should stop whining, but he was too busy watching The Sopranos, and I’m hoping that doesn’t give him bad ideas. Or maybe it was Breaking Bad that he was watching. I get those two confused. All his exes apparently live in Cowden, so he has to be careful when going in and out of the building.
Third, I finally had my meeting with the Cline student employee librarian technician assistant worker that Eddie set up for me. I still had those two joints, and I met with this student who’s part of the lost-and-found people. She was this redhead with a walkie-talkie at her belt and a really big pocket knife in her hand when I met her. I had to wait outside the library to get in, but she let me in and showed these thug-like janitors who were glaring at me her ID. We went into one of the little closet study rooms in Cline that has a key and is soundproof and doesn’t have recording devices in it so far as I know. Just out of curiosity, I asked her about Maxwell, and she said she’d never heard of anybody named Maxwell.
I guess she was one of the lower-ranking lost-and-found persons. I told her the story of how I was locked out, but skipped the part about the obvious drug deal. She told me she understood, but that she didn’t have the authority to end my ban from the library without payment to a higher authority, so I pulled out one of the joints.
“All I have for payment is this,” I said. She took it and looked at it.
“Where’d you get this?”
“A friend gave it to me for my birthday. I think he traded some whiskey for it or something. Do you want to know who?”
“No, that would violate customer-gangster confidentiality. I think this will work. Besides, it’s not like you’re trying to cover up for a murder or anything. That would take way more joints.”
“So I can get back into the library?”
“Starting tomorrow at noon, the ban will be lifted. Or maybe around noon-thirty. It really depends on how slow things are going around here.” She wrote some information on a library card and handed it to me after she put the joint in her pocket. “And if you ever want to barter with the lost-and-found people again, you should really come to me. Don’t dig too deep looking for a new business partner. That’s my name and secret phone and the hours I work for lost-and-found and Cline. You get a first-timer’s discount, if you trade anything more than a beer.”
“Cool. Thanks,” I said. She left, taking the key to the room, which you have to check out from the front desk. I was supposed to leave a few seconds after she was gone. After she left, I checked the other joint in my backpack, then looked at the information on the library card. The name written down was Autumn Bartlett.
I couldn’t believe it for a second. Later, I checked the handwriting with the name in the book, and they looked pretty much the same. Can you believe it? Autumn works for the library and the lost-and-found people! She’s dangerous! She’s a criminal, and probably an English Major, too. What the hell am I supposed to do now?
To make it all worse, Maxwell is still missing. I don’t want to make any assumptions about Autumn or just assume that Maxwell is dead, but what if Autumn is the one who killed him? Everybody warned me not to mess with the lost-and-found people. I stole some random pot in the library, and now Maxwell is gone. He missed the Psychology midterm, and the herd of cynics hasn’t seen him at all. He must have “disappeared” in the construction.
I only just got back to my dorm to write this. Tim is sitting at his computer stalking his exes, one at a time I think, and I’m here panicking about going too far with the lost-and-found people. I think I might have to talk to somebody about this, but I’m too scared. So that’s what college is like for me. It’s the real world, where the librarians are criminals and people go missing and your roommate cheats all over the place. This is real-deal stuff. You can’t make this stuff up. How am I supposed to cope with all this? Just write about it? That’s only getting me so far, and that’s not nearly far enough.
Maybe the next step is figuring out what to do with Autumn’s book. Give it back to her? I have her hours at the library, but if I go to her, will she pop a cap in me for having her book? Am I gonna find out what happened to Maxwell by having what happened to Maxwell happen to me? This is college, I guess. It’s risky. Good luck with your own lives, but you probably don’t have to deal with the lost-and-found mafia and some Italian chemistry teacher who pops a cap in everybody’s face to pay for his psycho-therapy. Or however that show goes.


Construction in the Rain

More short fiction about Karl, who worries that somebody might bury him in the construction on campus.

October 12, 2011

It’s 72 degrees out and the snow is all gone. The other night we had like twelve feet of snow! Anyway, guess who got banned from the library? Some librarian woke me up Thursday morning where I’d slept next to a window on the second floor, and I tried explaining that it wasn’t my fault that I was there, that it’s really their fault for locking the doors before I could escape. But I got kicked out and banned. I still have the drugs, though. I figure I could use them to bargain my way back into Cline. Or maybe I could bribe the janitors into letting me sneak back in.

                A lot happened in the past few days. Firstly, Thursday night, I was sleeping in the Cowden lobby because my roommate Todd, or maybe his name is actually Tom, had one of his nine girlfriends up there, and I looked into this kitchen they have down in the lobby. There, I saw the person in the gorilla suit wearing an apron and baking cookies. They smelled delicious, but I didn’t bother to think about them too much. I didn’t want the gorilla to catch me, so I ran off and slept outside Lindsey’s office, which smelled like incense and tea.

                The next day, I found out that Maxwell is gone. His herd of cynics can’t find him, and haven’t heard from him for a few days, so now I’m starting to think that the lost-and-found people made him “disappear” in the construction going on around campus all the time at every imaginable point. This is really bad, especially for the herd of cynics. Without Maxwell, they don’t know how to be cynical. They’ve all been happy and positive lately. It’s horrible!

                We’re in a weird part of the semester, I think. Dr. Corddry came to class in clown makeup again, Dr. Flugstadtbahnhofplatz or whatever my German professor’s name is keeps swearing whenever something goes wrong, and my Psychology professors told the entire class that even if we get a hundred and ten percent on the midterm, we’re still probably going to fail the class. My rhetoric professor, Dr. Jerry Mathers, gave this long speech about how we’re never gonna learn to write good if we don’t pay attention to his comments, and that he’s our lord and savior, or something along those lines. In the middle of class, he took somebody’s paper, took out his lighter, and burned most of the paper, saying that the F the student got was for fire. The only cheerful teacher I have is Lindsey, and she’s a hippie, so of course she’s gonna be happy. She can just meditate at a commune in the Yucatan, and she’ll be fine.

                This morning, I found out that Tom’s nine girlfriends all found about each other when he got their names confused, and now Tom is extremely single. Apparently our RA Harington has put extra security on our room because the nine exes want revenge on Tom, and might try to use me to get to him. Maybe they’ll kidnap me or bribe me or something like that. But according to Harington, the nine exes don’t really like each other, so they’re having trouble working together to get revenge. They can’t agree on who should throw the water balloons or who should buy the lighter fluid or who should catch the scorpions or who should put them in the water balloons. So at least Tom is safe for now. Not that I condone having nine girlfriends, and not that I think he should get away with it, but I don’t wanna get hurt in the crossfire, or stung in the crossfire, I guess.

                All day, I’ve been hiding up in this lounge area in the Student Union where janitors and Student Union workers keep passing me. I’m sure they’re all part of the lost-and-found people. I don’t think they’re on to me. I still don’t know for sure what happened to Maxwell, and I don’t want to make any assumptions about what happened to him without any evidence to back them up, but I’m afraid I might end up murdered just like him. So I’m just quietly minding my own business and writing a paper for Dr. Corddry’s class about how Shakespeare predicted the colonization of the Yucatan in The Tempest, and another paper about Cannery Row.

                Out of all the books I’ve read in college, I think Cannery Row is my favorite. John Steinbeck writes really weirdly, I think, but the way Lindsey explained it was cool. She has this weird hippie way of making old literature by dead people actually fun. Steinbeck goes on and on about how the Row is an ecosystem and everybody is related like in the ocean, and there are predators and prey and other species all trying to survive on their own, even though stronger species keep getting in their way. I think NAU is like that. It’s a kind of ecosystem. I said that in class during a discussion, and everybody looked at me like I was high, cause I never talk in class. But I think NAU is like this crazy ecosystem. Maxwell and the herd of cynics are like a school of fish, and the gorilla is like a migratory killer whale, and the lost-and-found people are like the sharks, and everybody is interdependent. I wonder where that puts me in the food chain, but it’s probably pretty low. Maybe I’m just caught in the middle of everything.

                Or maybe not. I guess I could be wrong. But that’s where I’m at right now. Midterms are terrifying, the gorilla has moved into Cowden, Maxwell is gone, Tom’s nine exes want to murder him, and I still have Autumn’s book in my backpack. I need to find a way to get back into the library.

                Good luck with your own school of sharks.