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Midnight Shift

Story by Brett Biebel (Read author interview) March 2, 2020

Art by Josh Withers

Old boyfriend used to work the overnight at Hy-Vee, and I’d meet him in the parking lot around dawn. Sometimes I’d bring an Egg McMuffin and coffee, and sometimes it would just be chewing tobacco and Kit-Kat bars, and then we’d drive on up to the place Buddy Holly died and talk about insects. We’d talk about moths. He would tell jokes about purgatory and our pal Buddy having to listen to the crickets for eternity, and then we’d grab fistfuls of dirt and lob them at each other real soft. We’d stick them in our pockets. Let them gum up the washer in some laundromat down by the cemetery, and this one time we took a couple of pills he said he stole from a priest and just laid there. Closed our eyes. He said his grandad always told him he didn’t have no ambition, but the truth was he had all kind of plans, and one of them was to fill these old mason jars with bed bugs and then drive on up to Minneapolis. He had a map of downtown, the suburbs, all the Fortune 500s. Figured he could get into some law firm or investment group at the IDS, maybe ride the elevator in Accenture Tower. He could find the Target building or Best Buy or even one of them upscale housing complexes overlooks the ballpark and just open them jars in the lobby. Just let the freaks run free. He figured he needed maybe five, six jars to make it worthwhile, and he’d already started a collection. Made friends with an exterminator. I must have been high because I told him I wanted in, and we could be like Robin Hood or Bonnie and Clyde, and he scoffed. Kicked dirt at my face. He said I could talk tough, but this was real shit, and some folks would even call it terrorism, and I said, yeah. Maybe. Probably. But then I found his hand, and our fingers interlocked, and I told him I meant it, that, if they call it terrorism, it’s only because the assholes got the means to complain.

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Notes from Guest Reader Krys Malcolm Belc

I’m always curious to see how much writers can do on one page. I love the speed with which Brett plunges us into these characters’ small world. And yet in that smallness there is an expansive, generous look into their future as well. This microfiction accomplishes one of the most magical things I think this form is capable of–using a small series of finely tuned details to open up an entire world in a single paragraph. Brett’s piece lends itself to multiple readings of its alluring characters and its deft sentences.

About the Author

Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Chautauqua, the minnesota review, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere.

About the Artist

Find more of Josh Withers’ photography at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Seven
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Important

The SmokeLong Quarterly Comedy Prize 2021!

This competition is no longer accepting entries. The long- and shortlists have been published on the blog. The four winners of the competition will be featured in Issue 74 of SmokeLong Quarterly coming out near the end of December.