Tag Archives: short story

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.


28 Unexcused Absences Later


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.


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.


The Life and Times of a Short Story

short-story-draftThe young short story begins with a bang as the author manages to write six thousand words in several non-continuous sittings over the course of two weeks, though the author will later describe it in workshop as a single moment of creative pure truth. The short story matures with each passing workshop, experiencing growing pains, expanding and then suddenly being cut by a thousand words repeatedly, and not just because Rick from workshop said it “felt a little novelish.”

Still young for a while, the short story has a weird look. The story has a lot of split endings and wears a tight title that leaves little to the reader’s imagination, which the author is unaware of for several weeks because the author is too busy trying to understand Rick’s workshop submission, which involves a duck and how great New York apparently is.

Eventually, the story graduates from college with a sense of completion: the story has a clear beginning and ending and a fitting title. The story is submitted to four small literary journals. Like many American short stories, this story waits confidently for six months while resting in the back of the author’s hard drive with several older, wiser short stories.

After the first four rejections, the short story wonders about getting a better title, or if there was something wrong with the cover letter. The author polishes the story a bit with a quick makeover and pedicure to work out the typos and plot holes, then sends the reinvigorated story out to five journals. The short story’s determination is palpable.

But palpable determination is not enough, because after five more rejections, the story spirals into a mid-life crisis and gets two new characters and a new ending and then loses five hundred words after going to the gym. The short story feels better and is sent off to seventeen journals, six of which have already rejected the story as politely as is possible in an email. Meanwhile, Rick from workshop has been coasting on his one probably accidental publication in The New Yorker.

Seventeen rejections later, the short story finally decides to retire out of frustration. The author sees the potential in the story, but understands the difficulty in publication and ultimately thinks that better stories are waiting to be written. The author could dwell on the story for ten more years, but several new ideas have emerged in the author’s imagination, so the short story quietly goes back into a file on the author’s computer, solemnly labeled “Short Stories,” and is never heard from again. But the story lives on quietly in the author’s memory, and the memory of Rick from workshop who said it was pretentious and overwritten, but his characters are all just watered down versions of himself, so he can go lick a brick.


Invite List of the Men’s March


Protestors in Flagstaff, AZ, Winter of 2009, who just so totally accepted (without complaint or whiny over-dramatic public display) the election of Obama, courtesy of Lost Compass Photography.

To begin with, organizers would disagree about who to invite. Percolating through social media spontaneity, the Men’s March would draw folks who (apparently unable to cope with the emotions they felt at the sight of women moving forward in a linear direction expressing a desire to not be assaulted) would want to band together and reclaim their long-lost manhood.

Robert Bly would be there of course, but because Manly Men © have been defunding the humanities for so long, nobody would actually know who he was, and he would sit in a corner shirtless beating a drum, alone.

There would be a substantial debate about inviting women. Sarah Palin, Kellyanne Conway, Michelle Bachman, and other female meninist allies would show up, but would be accused by a few marchers of preventing men from enjoying their bro-friendly safe spaces.

Glenn Beck would show up and, within ten minutes, begin crying. Even though his tears would be patriotic and cowboy-like, a few hardliners would dismiss him. Attempting to recover their lost ideal manly hair-sweat manhood, organizers would publicly invite Nick Offerman, only to realize that he attended the Women’s March, thus disqualifying him. Organizers would desperately tag alt-righters with questions about which men they would invite to help recover America’s manly bearded manhood.

Ernest Hemingway? dead. Evel Knievel? dead. Charlton Heston? dead. John Wayne? dead. David Foster Wallace? dead. Elvis Presley? probably dead. George Washington? very dead. Freddie Mercury? queer and dead. Muhammad Ali? Muslim pacifist and dead. Johnny Cash? advocated for Native Americans too often and dead. Roger Goodell? too many penalties. Nick Offerman? feminist. Robert Bly? poet. Clint Eastwood? old Hollywood elite. JFK? dead cuck. John McCain? living cuck. Mike McCarthy? did you even see the Falcons game? All the oldschool manly male beer-stained men would be either dead or somehow disqualified. Organizers would realize this too late, but could easily tweet photos of the Women’s March and call it the Men’s March as a convenient alternative.

In the end, the number of men fitting the standard would be thirty-seven. Those in attendance would chant about being persecuted by society’s trends, like all the feminists not in congress, not passing laws requiring men to father children even if they don’t want to. They would complain about the woman who is not President and who was never recorded bragging about grabbing men by the purifier. Marchers would lament their dead sense of manhood in a prolonged circle-jerk of one another’s angst (but not in a fun way).

There would be many issues marchers would not discuss. Mike Pence would not mention mental illness among men or alcoholism or drug abuse. Franklin Graham would not mention institutional poverty or suicide rates among men, boys, and gay youths in particular. Piers Morgan would not bring up the consequences of concussions for football players or the fact that male rape victims tend not to be taken seriously. From the start organizers would be unconcerned with men as a totality. They would not care enough to lobby for men who are gay, foreign, disabled, or suffering a mental illness. Instead, they would see only themselves reflected in a wilderness of mirrors as they marched, self-consciously alone.


Coming Home for Christmas After the Boston Tea Party


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.


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.


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.”
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.