Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Pat Guarino

The fire had sprung up in the store room.

The porters liked to steal away and smoke hand-rolled cigarettes amongst the boxes of dried goods. They’d been chastised for this several times, but obviously it didn’t take.

Frankly, the Lady hoped they all went down with the ship for this inconvenience.

After all, they’d only gotten through two courses at dinner.

Her Lover pulled her through the panicking crowds as she examined her teeth in a pocket mirror.

“Not so hard!” She squealed at the Spanish man she’d chosen for the season. “Why are you acting in such a manner? Surely there must be a lifeboat for the first class passengers. Find a porter and as him, would you?”

Her tall, dark Lover pushed her back against the wall so a family could pass them. “Madame, this is a shallow-bottom riverboat, lifeboats would tip her over. But, no worries, the shore is not far, the swim will be -”

“SWIM!” The Lady let out an ear piercing shriek. “Surely you do not expect a woman of my station to do something as base in her finest evening gown!”

“No,” he smirked. “I expect you to strip out of it.”

Memphis Note
Part of the reason riverboat disasters were so dangerous was that there were no lifeboats and very few things that could be considered life preservers. Everyone went into the water and hoped they could make it to shore. But the Mississippi River isn’t the sort of river you want to swim in. Strong current and undertows made the river almost as dangerous as the burning boat.

Matt Farr

The water had not risen high enough.

The river lapped at the shore, tantalizingly close to the hull of the Memphis Queen III. Those last few feet might as well be a million miles. If they cut her loose now, she’d rip her hull apart sliding into the river and never make it out of the harbor.

“I’m blaming the King for this, too,” my father growled as he watched the three tugboats attaching mooring lines to the hundred foot riverboat he’d built from nothing in our backyard.

Elvis had died the night before, and my father was taking his untimely passing as cause for all of today’s problems.

Out in the bay, the tug boats turned on their high-pressure water hoses. They were going to try to turn the space between the boat and the river into mud, and slide the riverboat down.

After a few minutes of deluge, My father raised the signal flag, waited for the crews to acknowledge then dropped his arm.

The tugs gunned their engines, the lines went taut, and nothing happened.

Then, like lovers separating post coitus, the riverboat slipped down the soaked ground and out in to the river, finally home.

Memphis Note
The Memphis Queen III is a paddleboat, modeled to look like the boats of the 1800s, hand built by Captain Tom Meanly in his backyard in south Memphis. It is a sister ship to the Memphis Queen II, a slightly smaller, but still notable boat, as it was the first all-steel vessel on the Mississippi. The Memphis Queen III is available for rental, and runs daily sight-seeing tours along the river.

Jamie Elkington

The fog pressed in on them, turning the open channel of the river into a claustrophobic nightmare.

The crew of the steamboat Mermaid were gathered on deck, peering out into the mist, straining eyes and ears for any sign of the shore.

“Lord, sir, I ain’t never seen it this thick before.” Said the boatswain, crouching to his captain’s side.

“Hush up.” The captain ordered. “Keep sharp, mister. We’ll make it through.”

The sloshing of the paddlewheel in the black water carried on until one of the crewmen yelled out, “There! In the water!”

Before them, eerie orange light sprouted from the water. Something was afire on the river.

“A wreck!” Came a voice in the darkness.

“Pikes to front! Clear a path!” Shouted the captain. A half dozen men scrambled forward, hoisting large pikes to guard front of the ship from flotsam.

A piece of smoldering wreckage floated past their port side. It was a broken piece of a boat hull, and there was something stenciled on the side.

As it drew closer, tongues of flame illuminated the lettering.

Mermaid, it read.

“Sir,” said the boatswain, a tremble in his voice. “I…I don’t think we made it through.”

Memphis Note
Memphis was one of the most important ports on the Mississippi River, and its harbor was always full of boats. But, travel on the river wasn’t safe. The average lifespan of a riverboat was five years, and they were lucky to make it that long. It is estimated that there are hundreds of lost wrecks between Memphis and Saint Louis. I imagine if ghost walked on water, that stretch of the river would be amongst the most haunted in the world.

Bill Boyce

He was headed back to work. Finally. The roads to the depot had been cut off by the heavy spring rains, and he’d spent nearly a week off from his job as the physical plant supervisor. Which was nothing more than fancy company talk for head janitor.

As he rounded the bend toward the front gate, something odd appeared in the corner of his eye. He looked over, and wondered if his drug days had come back to haunt him. Because, sure a hell, there was a huge old steamboat beached on the banks of the river, half-covered in mud and garbage.

His first thought was that maybe one of the Mud Island riverboats had cut loose during the storm, but from the road he could tell this was much, much older.

After parking his car, he walked out a bit, until the mud got to be too much. He looked up at it and whistled. It was gigantic.

Then, he looked over, and swore.

On a sign post, just past the wrecked hulk, was his company’s KEEP OUT sign.

The damn thing had washed up just inside their property line, which made it his mess to clean up.

Memphis Note
Somewhere on the banks of the Mississippi, just south of downtown, there is the wreck of a steamboat. It’s just within view of a maintenance access road, about a hundred yards past a razor wire fence. Depending on the river level, it might not even be visible at all. But, it’s there all the same. A piece of history, breaking down in the tide.