Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Blake Palmer

Bobby Jenkins was a precocious kid. He was reading years ahead of his grade level, dressing himself, keeping his room clean, but his feet still didn’t touch the floor as he sat at the kitchen table, eating the oatmeal he’d prepared.

“Hello.” Said the pale girl sitting opposite of him.

He looked up and waved. He didn’t talk with his mouth full.


Bobby nodded. “Arbitrary grab from the cabinet.” He’d learned that word this week.

“Your house is nicer than what we had. Before the Yellow Fever took all us.”

Frowning, Bobby scolded her. “I told you, if you’ve got to stop talking like that if you’re going to keep coming around.”

Tears welled up in here eyes. “I know. I just miss my family.”

“You could go to them,” Bobby nudged, gently.

“But I’m scared! Scared to leave my home. Even if it is your home now.”

His mom walked into the kitchen, still putting on her ear rings. “Who are you talkin’ to, kiddo?”

Bobby looked up. The chair across from him was empty.


His mother looked at him curiously for a moment, the mussed his hair.

“C’mon, time to get to school.” She said.

Memphis Note
The Yellow Fever epidemic dotted the city with graves, both hidden and marked, single and mass. It is inescapable that was as time wears on, something will get put atop them. And when that happens, who knows what gets stirred up.

Shawn Wolowicz

My momma wasn’t like anyone else’s momma.

She knew things, different things than most people. It was on account of her being born in the tropics.

Each year, when it got hot enough to sweat, momma’d put out a bolt of cotton gauze and shears with a funny jagged edge. She’d make tents for each of our beds and we’d spend the rest of the summer camping in doors.

The servant boy would be sent out to do the shopping, but only after momma was sure he’d rubbed a stinky salve on his skin, to keep the bugs away. I’m sure the men in their stores didn’t much like the way he smelled, but they probably forgave it for the custom he brought with him.

They’re magic, she told me when I asked about them, they keep the sickness away. And sure enough, none of our family never got sick. Least not the same ways everyone else did.

Sometimes it could be scary, watching the streets empty, smelling the smoke and quicklime on the wind, but momma kept us safe from the epidemic.

We stayed in that house year after year, all because my momma wasn’t like anyone else’s momma.

Memphis Note
Yellow Fever shares a lot of similarities to malaria; seasonality, method of transmission, even some symptoms. It also vulnerable to some of the same simple prevention methods, like a mosquito tent. If this had been widely known in the 1870s, Memphis might be a completely different city today.

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.

Shane Adams

The passenger cabin was filled with refugees, grateful to finally be returning home. His sister slept against his shoulder, her forehead flecked with sweat. Thankfully not from the immolation of fever, but rather the stuffy heat of the train car.

As the train rattled onward, he looked out the window. The open country passing by was starting to look more and more familiar. They weren’t far now.

His thoughts drifted to their father. To him bribing the station agent so his children could have the last seats on the last train, their hasty, panicked good-byes and then the impenetrable, crushing silence that followed on the heels of quarantine.

They had both written letters. It was how they passed the time at first, until his sister’s questions about home became too much to bare. Sometime he’d hope that they’d gotten through, even though he knew the post had not run in Memphis since before they’d left.

Shifting against his shoulder, his sister mumbled something in her sleep. He brushed a damp bit of hair back from her face. Then closed his eyes, and allowed himself another hope.

That their father would be waiting at the station to welcome them home.

Memphis Note
The yellow fever outbreaks of 1878 emptied out the city. Nearly two-thirds of the population evacuated in August when the disease first struck. Of those that remained, eighty percent would fall ill, and more than a quarter would die. The combination and the mass exodus from the city, along with the return of the fever the following summer, caused the state to revoke Memphis’s city charter. Which it would not regain for a dozen years.

Diana Owen

She steps away from the scuffed metal eye piece of the coin-operated tourist binoculars with a confused look on her face.

“I have to admit, this isn’t what I imagined when you said you were going to use our money to haunt downtown.”

Another member of his grant board steps in behind her, peering into the glasses.

“How did you do this, again?”, he asks, aiming the lenses toward the downtown skyline.

The artist takes a deep breath, readying his tech speech. “We took old maps and historical records, matched them against modern survey data, and built up a digital 3-D ghost world inside of a computer. Then, using augmented reality software, we overlay the past as a holographic projection through the glasses.”

“I see smoke.” Says the man at the glasses. “Where’s that coming from?”

“Dial’s set to the 1870s. The Yellow Fever. Probably burning bodies, maybe a riot. Key events are built into the program. Set it to the 1860s and you can watch the Battle of Memphis, if you wanted.”

“How exactly is any of this haunting?” Questions another board member.

“There’s nothing more haunting than the past, it’s the stuff ghosts are made of.”

Memphis Note
Everything described in this story is technologically possible right now. We can use augmented reality to create an invisible world around that is filled with ghosts from the past. And with everything that Memphis has been through, you could stare through those glasses for days and still not see it all.