Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Patrick Woods

When I quit Memphis, I knew most of my acquaintances must’ve thought my rather sudden love of the secessionist movement a rather strange turn of character.

Sadly, the reality was one of cowardice and not patriotism. I’d run up some rather serious gambling debts in the weeks before the Union took the city, and I doubted my debtors would be so lugubrious in seeking repayment once marshal law lifted.

I petitioned the Provost Marshal for a pass out of the city, claiming I had a sickly mother in Alabama that desperately needed my care. A pass was granted, and I left the next day, believing my troubles behind me.

Some time later, I came upon a wagon of men traveling along the same road. They said they were refugees fleeing the tyranny of Union occupation. Jokingly, I professed to be a kindred soul, and they promptly offered me passage on their wagon.

Once I’d settled into a free space, the men around me struck into a Confederate fighting song I had never heard before.

And promptly followed it with ten more.

A sinking feeling grew in me that I’d escaped one bad situation by leaping head-long into the next.

Memphis Note
Special Order Number 1 was issued when the Union forces took Memphis during the Civil War. It established marshal law, and gave a window of time for men to either take the oath of loyalty to the United States, or petition for pass to leave the city. Several less than scrupulous people took this as an opportunity to flee various forms of debts by escaping to the other side of the Union lines.

Ian Sterling

“Sir! Could I interest you in the finest musculature diagrams, strait from the colleges of Paris?”

He drew out the last syllable as long as possible for maximum effect. The fat businessman passed without a sideways glance.

Shrugging, he turned back to the teenaged boy squatting on the steamer trunk filled to bursting with material of a most lascivious nature.

“There are three secrets to this, my young collaborator. First is to appear to the gendarme as simple merchants, hawking our wares at fair market prices. But, in the same breath you drop in key words to make sure the clientele don’t miss out on a worthwhile opportunity.

He swung his arm out. “Second, pick a place with steady foot traffic, like this idyllic park, from which to work. Makes even bad days bearable.”

Up the street, a group of men were walking toward the pair.

“Ah! Watch and learn!” He said, bounding out to meet them.

“Gentlemen! Might I interest you in select medical texts taken from a Sultan’s private harem? They are guaranteed to be both educational and inspirational!”

Not one stopped.

“Finally, never get discouraged,” he said to the boy, “Because, in the end, sex always sells.”

Memphis Note
Pornography has never not been around. But, it wasn’t always so readily available, or entirely legal. Memphis’s history is filled with stories about eager and often prosecutions of smut dealers. In days past, sexually explicit material was forced to masquerade as medical or educational in nature. The city had no problem legalizing prostitution, but a picture of a lady with exposed breasts could get you locked in a chain gang for a month or more.

Caroline Mitchell

“Hello?” She asked into the dark.

Something in the back of the cluttered shop made a noise; shifting in the shadow, sending a mess of junk showering down to the floor in a great din.

“Whaddaya want?” Bellowed a shrill voice from the endless refuse.

“I…I’m here to apply for the internship?”

“What?” The voice shouted back immediately. “What’s that?”

“The summer internship.” She called in return. “For the Delta Dirt Museum?”

More junk rattled as something moved around out of view. “And just why would you be asking about that?”

“I figured it must be something special. You didn’t have an email address or a website or a phone number or…well…anything.” Her voice trailed off at the end realizing the desperation she was admitting to.

“Electrons. Hrmph. Hurt my teeth.” Said the strange gopher man as he popped into view. “But, determination. That, well, that is something special.”

“I hear it’s not really dirt in your museum. Well, not literal dirt, but metaphorical dirt. Secrets, and things like that. Unfettered truth.”

He slunk out of view, and there was a pause. “And why would you want that?”

“Because,” she called back, “It gets too easily buried.”

Memphis Note
There is no greater truth to life in Memphis than if you weren’t there to witness and testify to something happening, than it absolutely, under no circumstances, did it happen. Which, of course, makes any sort of museum keeping an absolute nightmare. Beyond the physical record, there is barely any personal truth to be had. We’re just all too good at telling circumspect reality.

Laura Jean Hocking

“Piss,” Jack said aloud in the alleyway to no one but himself.

He considered swearing again, something stronger, but held his tongue. His employer, the widow Mrs. M.E. Conway, abhorred any sort of profanity, and though she wasn’t with him, he felt it unwise to risk.

Skulking onward, Jack attempted reasoning how exactly he was going to spin his story to the Widow Conway. The fact that he had spent the most of the night gambling at Joe Wetter’s establishment was intractable. As was the unfortunate nature of nearly ever penny belonging to the Widow. Money he was not supposed to have in the first place.

“Piss,” he said again.

Jack was already on thin ice after she found him drunk on her deceased husband’s brandy. In addition to her hatred of profanity, the Widow Conway was also a vehement adherent to the Temperance movement. She had been most cross with him. Now, he feared, this newest infraction might strain her good graces to the breaking point. And what was a gentlemen like him supposed to do if he was turned out in a place like Memphis?

Jack really didn’t have any choice, did he? He would have to lie.

Memphis Note
With the exception of Jack, all of these characters are real. Joe Wetter did run a gambling house in the 1880s, and it did take $600 from Mrs M.E. Conway’s personal secretary during a night of gambling. We know this because the secretary ratted Wetter out to Conway and her dear friend Judge Hadden, who had Wetter arrested on embezzlement charges when he refused to return the money!

Andrea Olson

From the penthouse of his skyscraper, he looked out over downtown Memphis.

The windows ran the length of the building, giving him an unfettered view of the happenings below. This was, quite literally, his only window to the world since he began this self-imposed exile.

From this height the people below appeared to him as little more than ants. He had to remind himself that they were so much more than that. That he did what he did for all of them.

He sighed, and placed a ringed hand on the window. The lightning bolt ring he always wore clinked against the glass.

They’d convinced him that he’d be worth more to the city dead than he was alive. And they’d been right. Millions in tourism, millions more in franchising and merchandising. All of it funneling back into his city.

Faking his death had breathed new life into his home.

While he felt the method of his death had been something of a fiasco, they assured him that no one would question something so normal and so embarrassing as dying mid-crap.

It was an embarrassing death he could live with if it ensured the survival of his Kingdom.

Memphis Note
Elvis as the self-sacrificing agent of prosperity for Memphis. The man was generous enough as it was, I bet he might’ve faked his own death if he knew people’s lives would be bettered by it. Maybe this isn’t a fiction at all.