SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page

Ten Very Short Stories

Story by John Leary (Read author interview) March 15, 2007

Once there was a kingdom that had a good and wise king. The king was much beloved by all of his subjects. One day, the king went down into the royal cafeteria, and just as one of the cafeteria workers plopped some mashed potatoes on the king’s tray, the king pulled out a pistol and shot her. Then he shot the cashier. The king’s inner circle of advisors were very worried that this might be irrational behavior, though the king had never done anything like this before. The advisors decided not to take any action, to see if the king behaved. He did. For two years, the king behaved just as he always had, being wise and kind and level-headed. Then one day he shot the royal librarian right between the eyes.

You have a leaky pipe in your kitchen and the neighbor who you never really liked hears you talking about it to the postman and so the neighbor comes over and he brings a bunch of tools and starts taking apart your kitchen plumbing. The next thing you know, the kitchen floor is lost under eight inches of water and he’s standing there in the middle of it, rooting around in his now-submerged toolbox. You stand up on the kitchen counter, plug in the toaster to an extension cord, and toss it to him.

A man goes for surgery, something routine like gall-bladder repair. The doctor leaves a sponge inside the guy. The doctor promises it won’t happen again. They operate again to remove the sponge. This time, the doctor leaves two sponges and a clamp in there. The doctor promises it won’t happen again. They operate again to remove the two sponges and a clamp, but this time they leave three sponges and a tractor in there. The doctor promises it won’t happen again. Etc.

Gordon works for a company in Silicon Valley. The company is ruled by a savage CEO who spends his days terrorizing his employees. If he suspects they are disloyal to him, he fires them, finds a way to fire everyone in their families from their jobs, too. One day, Gordon walks into the CEO’s office and stabs him with a letter opener. Then he bashes the back of his head in with a three-hole punch. Blood shoots out of the wounds, rockets and rockets of blood. Soon the blood is up to Gordon’s ankles. The office door has mysteriously locked, and the blood is up to Gordon’s thighs. Gordon tries to email for help but the blood has shorted out the computer. The blood is up to Gordon’s chin. He screams for help. The CEO had a French secretary. Gordon is swimming, treading blood now, his face pressed sideways up against the acoustical tiles, gasping.

A line of shrimp fall off a conveyor belt. The shrimp are all made of US Dollars. One by one, as they fall off the conveyor belt, they catch on fire.

You bump into an old girlfriend on the street. You agree to meet for coffee the next day. You have conflicted memories of her, as your relationship, while passionate, did not involve sex. You meet for coffee and you both recognize that a spark still exists between you. After coffee, the two of you go back to your apartment. You sleep together. You give her Chlamydia, then lie about it. She dies.

A man likes beer. He goes to his corner pub every day and drinks a glass of beer. One day, someone from a town very far away comes to the pub and shoots the man in the face, by accident.

A group of ants are marching toward a fallen leaf that seems rich with nutrients. They will tear the leaf with their powerful jaws, the most powerful jaws in the insect kingdom, and carry the leaf pieces back to their anthill, where it will nourish the entire colony. A group of boys angle their magnifying glasses on the ants and cause many of them to burn up. Then the boys angle their magnifying glass at the house next door, where a woman is on the phone with a friend talking about truth as a necessary aspect of the memoir, and torture. Her house burns up.

You’re a kid and you wake up one night and look out your bedroom window and see your parents have lit torches on your front lawn and are performing some sort of pagan sex ritual. You go outside and ask them to stop. They tell you to mind your own business, and then it is too late – some of the neighbors come to interfere. Your father takes a pistol and shoots two of the neighbors, a man and a woman, shoots each one in the chest. You try to stop your father from shooting any more people but your mother grabs you and takes tent stakes from your Webelo pup tent and stakes you to the lawn through your pajamas. You can only barely lift your head to watch. A police car arrives and your mother blows it up with a grenade launcher. Another police car arrives, and your father kills both policemen inside. There is a helicopter overhead, a SWAT team, and a special operations soldier creeping through the shrubbery across the street. Your mother and father have built a reinforced bunker on your front lawn. You can only barely lift your head to watch it all.

A man walking through a beautiful mountain forest steps on a land mine.

You want to write a bunch of short pieces about the war in Iraq. You want them to be parallels, or allegories, or metaphors, something like that. You want to write a few that are about living things, and wonder. You want to write about green grass and suntans and people shaking hands without shaking their heads. But nearly everything you write has shooting or killing or blood or death. You want to write a story about a balloon that doesn’t end up popped and asphyxiating a seagull, or a rabbit that doesn’t get run over or child whose dentalwork doesn’t explode. You want to write something without the violence, without the blood. You want to write something with hope.

About the Author

John Leary was built to run heedlessly through the gumdrops.

This story appeared in Issue Sixteen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixteen

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

The Hybrid Flash: How to Dual-Wield Genre

Book Now!

The Hybrid Flash with Erin Vachon

In this webinar/workshop, you will harness the experimental power of hybrid flash. You will discover the intertwined history of hybrid and flash, and read published flash crossed with image, poetry, and creative nonfiction. You will learn the rules of each genre, so you know how to break them.