Memphis Fast Fiction Home
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.