Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Caroline Mitchell

From the top deck of the steamship, he could see the lights of Memphis slipping past in the night. Foot steps sounded on planks behind him and he turned to see his hobbled father coming toward him.

“Are the celebrations not to your liking?”

“Seems a poor time to be whimsical. We’re a plague ship trapped on a river, traveling upstream, hoping against hope that the fever gives out before the rations do.”

Less than a month before, they’d departed New Orleans bound for Cairo, Illinois. A few of the crew had taken ill, then seemingly over night, half the passengers developed a fever. No port would take them, fearing yellow fever, and they were left to drift in the muddy waters of the Mississippi.

“An engagement is always a time for whimsy and happiness, boy.” His father lightly scolded. “And if we’re going to die of fever, why not with a smile? Besides, they made cake.” His father patted him on the shoulder, and headed back to the party.

He lingered a while longer on the upper deck, watching the lights of the city disappear in the black. Then he hurried down, hoping there was still some cake left.

Memphis Note
This is a different take on what actually happened to the barge tug
John D. Porter during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. Instead of a steamship full of people, a barge was refused entry into any port until yellow fever had burned its way through the small crew, killing three of them. For two months, they wandered the Mississippi, kept alive by a pair of doctors that came to their aid with supplies and medical care.

Rhonda Robertson

Eula stirs in her bunk. Something is wrong.

She rolls out, throws a crochet shawl around her shoulders and waits in the dark, listening.

She hears it again. Her eyes go wide.

She sprints through the galley, bare feet slapping against the planks, up to the main decks.

Leaping over sleeping soldiers, she heads forward, toward the engine room.

Rounding a corner, Eula slips down into the hot, humid guts of the boat, looking for the ship’s master engineer.

As she steps into the engine room, the roar of metal and fire gives her pause. It is like they’ve bound a monster in irons to power the ship.

“What are you doing down here, girl?” Comes a rough growl from behind her; the master engineer.

“Sir, my father built this boat. I was born on it. I know all her sounds. And the sound she’s makin’ right now? It ain’t good.”

“What are you talking about-” He’s cut off by a sharp metal ping that rings through the air.

“The boiler, sir. The monster’s about to burst its fittings.”

The master engineer looks at her and snarls. “Why can’t you be as good a cook as you are a mechanic?”

Memphis Note
Memphis was originally founded to be a center of transportation on the Mississippi River. The rise of cotton helped make it greater than anyone had thought possible. At its peaks, dozens of riverboats stopped in the Memphis port each day, transporting people and goods up and down the river.

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.