Fiction Inferno: The literary magazine that burns you up


Max E. Keele


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hese little bitty stories are called Flash Fiction some places, Sudden Fiction other places, and even goofy-assed things like Fictionarinos. I just call 'em like I see 'em: Very Short Fiction. That is, something like a short story only shorter, something like a prose poem only prosier, something like a joke only THEY AIN'T NECESSARILY FUNNY.




This is the part where it gets weird. Twelve unicorns came down to drink at the public fountain. Three of them had broken horns. Two were bleeding from many wounds. Four wore garlands of blackberry bramble. One carried an exhausted monkey. One danced skittish, as if the ground burned white. Last, the smallest unicorn sang a cruelly beautiful, lilting ballad about war and hate and sweet tender fiddleheads. None of them seemed able to continue. I arrived at my usual time, poured a glass of whisky, and sat down to read. "Do you fucking mind?" I shouted. "This was a quiet, peaceful place before all you goddamned unicorns showed up!" But they just looked away, and in truth, they seemed more at home there than I.


A Cheer to the End of Time

The Clock ticks, three strokes to midnight.

"A toast, then," he says, with the last of the confetti drifting about his head like snowflakes unwilling to concede the spring. "To the End of Time!" Champagne sparkles and hisses.

"The end," they all murmur, as one, but without enthusiasm. No one drinks but a single symbolic sip.

A grin splits his face; he tosses his drink in one great gulp. "Oh come now. Surely we've gotten past this maudlin nostalgia." He smashes his empty glass to the floor. They twitch as if slapped by tiny hands. "Drink, you fools! The end will come whether you are sober or not!"

The Clock ticks, two strokes to midnight.

This they ponder, with all the puzzlement their dying brains can muster. And one takes hearty swig. Then another. Until the entire room is immersed in the tsunami chorus of a trillion tired swallows. And then explodes with a trillion shattered glasses.

He laughs so hard that his fuliginous top hat cants to one side, a drunken, ruined obelisk. He drinks straight from the rarest bottle left in the universe. "Okay!" His shout soars to center of everything.

The Clock ticks, one stroke to midnight.

The crowd looks to him with a sudden new expectation that surprises all: hope. But he only shrugs, indifferent and alone.

The Clock ti


Look What I Found

There it was, just lying in the street. No name on it or nothing. So of course I grabbed it. I ain't proud and I ain't dumb. You just don't see these things lying around for the taking all that often, you know? It was kind of dirty, so I brushed it off and shoved it into my shirt. Right up against my gut like that it was all warm like and a little bit well, throbby. But felt kind of good, you know? So I just humped it back to the crib, looking over both shoulders the whole time. Did anybody see? I started thinking up stories to tell if anybody asked me about it. You know, like I was just taking it back to the rightful owners, or, sorry I thought it was mine, or, what's it your business? Wouldn't you know it? Not more'n a block from the crib, I run into the guy that lost it. Oh I could tell it was his, all right. Like there was this big damn hole in his manifestation, you know? So he says kind of lost like "You seen anything belonging to me around here?" and I says "Fuck off asshole" and just try to blow past him, but he grabs my arm and says all whiny "I know you have it; give it back to me," and I says "Let go of me, shithead, or I'll break your fucking spirit," and then he doubles up and starts crying, and then I killed him and went home. I mean, nothing personal, you know? Just finders keepers, that's all. And I think I need it more than he did. You know?



We made camp at 27,000 feet in the midst of a squealing biter of a blizzard. No one doubted that this would be our last respite, that tomorrow we would battle to the top of this big pointy rock, or die in the attempt. Someone, Dave I think, suggested a round of nude Twister. It was a blast! Now it's safe to say that we all know the meaning of love just a little more clearly. When the morning light first stabbed up from the eastern edge of the world, we shouldered our gear and moved steadfastly up the peak, the deadly mountain that would never feel quite so barren and cold again.



When his quarter came up, the killer was sucking the life from a bloody mary. He took his cue, and walked to the table, silent and grim. He aimed for the balls, held his breath, and pulled the trigger.



His nose struck the concrete with a familiar, friendly "plop." He returned to his bunk and wrote in a cramped hand: Room, twenty by twenty feet. Unchanged from yesterday.



The paleontologist carefully scrapes sedimentary rock from the petrified skull of his remote ancestor. "Strange creatures," he thinks. "Remarkable that something so primitive could have eventually led to intelligence." With much reverence, he places the skull back into its box, and rolls on stainless casters to the next specimen.



The pregnant pagan raises her dagger high over head with both hands. All the lambs died this year; crops withered in the ground. Something must be done.


Genesis, Act II

He sweltered in humid solitude for three months inside the bunker, sustained by dry crackers and a smug satisfaction in his cleverness and good fortune. On the morning of the day he could first safely leave, he fancied himself an Adam, but by noon he knew the truth. The whole of Eden was, of course, quite dead.


An Ugly Scene

Harry's truck screamed to a stop at the head of the drive, completely blocking my escape.

Harry's wife stood naked in the doorway of their mobile home, her hand still making small good-bye waves while her face froze into compressed layers of nausea and fear.

Harry's dog lay dead and spastic on the pavement and a bloody skid mark ended inculpate beneath my right-rear tire.

Harry mechanically reached for the double-barrel shotgun that always rode in the rack behind his head.

The sun penetrated a black and evil cloud. Cold rain came bleeding down.



The crab has got a grip on his brain; he's dying. He remembers:

Lying awake and wide-eyed in a dead girl's bed. The smell of dying flowers. A procession of dolls, and a stuffed bear with accusing glass eyes. Feeling buried in a huge satin comforter, in a dead girl's bed. Clutching a dirty lump of Playdough, straining on tip-toes to see into the coffin. His grandmother holding him up for a better look. The face of his cousin's corpse, a mask of clay.

He remembers a museum, a mummified Anazazi princess with a face like hammered clay. The dried roses that surrounded her.

Seeing his own reflection in the glass.


The Old Story

The deadman walked briskly through the unpaved streets, a cold, clear, fullmoon wind pressing against his back. He twisted his fingers into the thin hair that grew like sphagnum over his shoulders. Ragged clumps pulled free, tangled with twigs and roots, fell from his taloned fingertips, leafy and wistful. The deadman trudged into the village, pushing his pale shadow before him.

The leper woman stood in the street's heart, blocked the deadman's path. She picked chunks of skin from her cheek and flipped them away with disgust. A piece of rot stuck beneath one polished nail; she scraped it out with another nail, but the finger came apart like over-cooked chicken. Fragments of the leper woman drifted gently to the street.

The deadman moved his mouth to speak, but his black and bloated tongue barely pulsed with the effort. A tooth dislodged, hung by a thread of flesh, dangled among the mangy hairs on his chin.

The leper woman's eye bled an alkaline tear. Her mangled heart erupted with an old familiar pain, like a sausage stuffed to the bursting point with rich memory. She opened her arms to him, and sorrow oozed from her breast.

They embraced, and their desiccated bodies collapsed together in the moonlight, to dust.


The Fabulous Fleece

Hey. From up here, I can see Peter's house. It's that camel-shit colored affair out past the synagogue. Maybe I should call him up here and tell him. On second thought, these drunken guards would only beat him to a pulp. They're deep in a crap game and getting surly. I'm mostly worried about the two I paid off; if they get too drunk they'll blow it, and this whole deal isn't going to work at all.

Look at all the sheep that came for the show. Without them, none of this would be possible. Or necessary. The idiots fall for even the simplest slight-of-hand. No really, they're gullible as hell. I call them sheep, right to their faces, and would you believe it, they've come to be proud of their sheepness. To the sheep, sheepness is a pious thing.

In India, I learned to play the sheep, to take advantage of their need for a shepherd. I deceived them into accepting philosophies they otherwise couldn't have fathomed. And all through a series of cheap, well-attended Brahmin tricks.

It sounds pretty cruel to defraud fools of their faith, but I deeply believe that I have raised their collective consciousness, at least a little.

And then, there's this damned nuisance: forced to pull the biggest hoax of my bright career just to stay out of jail. Of course, it's the fascist's fault. Authoritarian governments tend to be paranoid, and that asshole Pilot has good reason to be afraid of me. I'm only glad that he's such venal bastard. The bribes cost me a fortune, but Pilot set most of this up. Without Pilot's help, those nails might be real.


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