content by

Terry Bisson

Fiction and Excerpts [4]

Fiction and Excerpts [4]

The Cockroach Hat

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

Sam Gregory woke up one morning and found, to his dismay, that he had turned into a big cockroach. “Oh, no,” he thought. He had some idea of what was happening because of the Kafka story. He hadn’t exactly read it, but he had heard all about it back when he was in college. Sam’s roommate, Cliffe with an E, had taken a course called Shape Shifters in Modern Lit, thinking it would be an easy A, like the video games he played in the Student Union, taking on all comers, or Eco-Alternatives. Instead, it required a paper, and Cliffe felt betrayed. Sam said I told you so (the wrong thing to say) and Cliffe suggested he shut the fuck up. That only made things worse and soon they weren’t speaking at all. Several times, they almost came to blows.

Instead, they became the best of friends.

Here’s how that happened: Cliffe’s girlfriend was a Conflict Resolution major, and she suggested they go bowling blindfolded (neither of them bowled) in an effort to change the subject through creative misdirection while she monitored the experiment for credit. They even rented the shoes. It might have worked, too, but she didn’t know how to keep score, plus they had forgotten the blindfolds, so they played the pinball machine instead; there was just one, between the Men’s and the Ladies’, a leftover from some previous universe of bells and flippers.

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TVA Baby

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

I’m a TVA baby. My father was a Yankee, from Michigan I think, one of those educated engineers who came down here to dam up the rivers and bring electric lights and indoor plumbing to the bedarkened South: FDR’s potlatch. Then they all went off to the War and some returned and others didn’t. It’s Destiny that decides such things.

I fly a lot. I slept through the take-off from Nashville and woke up just in time to hear the man in the seat next to me say, “There’s the Mississippi, Ned.”

“Ned,” the Ned he was talking to, was a boy of about eight in the window seat. I was in the aisle seat. I looked over them both, out the little oval window, and saw a long lake laid out like a coonskin, running north and south, with skinny legs of muddy water extending east and west.

“That’s Kentucky Lake,” I said. “Or Barkley, not the Mississippi.”

“Excuse me?” he said.

“Kentucky Lake is the Tennessee River,” I said, “dammed up by TVA. Barkley Lake is the Cumberland. Both run into the Ohio here, only twenty miles apart. We’re still a hundred miles east of the Mississippi.”

“Who is he?” asked “Ned” the kid.

“Some nosy A-hole,” said the man. He was about forty with a flattop and an OpryLand tee shirt.

“I was just trying to be helpful,” I said. “You got it wrong. It’s against the law to mislead children!” It should be, anyway.

“Can I help?” asked the stewardess. “Please don’t shout.”

“Sorry,” I said. I almost never shout. “I’m a TVA baby. This ignoramus in the middle seat is so ignorant that he thinks Kentucky Lake is the Mississippi River!”

“I am a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy,” he said. “On vacation, and I do believe I know a lake from a river.”

“I can see how one could make that mistake,” I said. Though I couldn’t help adding: “Though I am dismayed to learn that a US naval officer could be so ignorant as to the geographic layout of the country he is supposedly supposed to defend.”

“Don’t pay any attention to him, Ned,” the man said. ”He’s crazy.”

I hear that a lot. I wanted to kill him. I usually carry a gun for just such occasions, but they are no longer allowed on commercial flights, so I rammed the heel of my hand upward into his nose and drove the bone into his brain, such as it was.

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Catch ‘Em in the Act

Lou was almost thirty. He had a job and an apartment, but he was lonely. He didn’t have any friends. He didn’t know why; he just didn’t.

So he did what everyone who is lonely does: YouTube and eBay. One day it was eBay.

“Say, look at this!” he murmured. Lou often murmured to himself.



Catch ’em in the Act!

BUY IT NOW: $19.95

Brand New in Box.

Batteries Included.

One to a Customer.

Shipping, $4.99

That didn’t seem like all that much. The shipping wasn’t bad either. That’s usually where they get you. So Lou did what every lonely person with PayPal does. He clicked on BUY.

Four days later, it came. It was about the size of a cell phone, with a little viewscreen that folded out to one side.

It only had two buttons: SHOOT and PLAY. Not a lot of features. But the price was right.

Lou pointed it at his cat and looked in the viewscreen.

There was the cat. The picture in the viewscreen was black and white, with a little Date&Time display at the top. It was even grainy, like a real surveillance video.

Cool! Lou pressed SHOOT.

The cat took a crap in the corner, and then left the room, looking like a criminal. But cats always look like criminals.

Lou pressed PLAY. There it was again in the viewscreen: the cat, the crap, the corner, in grainy black and white, with Date&Time at the top: 04/18/2008/8:44 p.m.

The cat slunk off and the screen went blank.

Lou hit PLAY and watched it again.

“Cool,” he murmured.

*   *   *

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