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TWO FLASH FICTION STORIES BY MICHAEL PRIHODA

FIVE:2:ONE ISSUE 21
July 5, 2019
THE MIGRATION: FLASH FICTION BY STEPHANIE KNARR
July 9, 2019

Rejected Versions of “Cards Against Humanity” (From the Perspective of Lead Play-tester)

 

Cards Against Sean Hannity

Perhaps our best idea in the past decade, we really felt it was going places upon first introduction. “The fodder is spread across the fields,” as one Massachusetts farmer told us during an early round of focus groups, nodding his head sagely to a room of confused faces. Nonetheless, when we tried to solicit what might actually grace the cards of this version, we got only polarized ideas from both sides when, really, we had set out to make a partisan game.

 

Cards Against the MANatee

At first promising, in both its oceanographic and hifalutin anti-establishment sentiments, this one wound up becoming overly divisive, perhaps due to its playtesting and development focus groups happening right around Shark Week. As one focus group participant from Madison, NJ, stated, “You don’t f— with Shark Week.” Had they missed the point? Regardless, we were dead in the water on this one.

 

Cards Against Japan, You See

Robert, the one alt-right, militaristic fellow in the production and marketing division at the company, seemed set on a historical anti-Japanese version set immediately post-Pearl Harbor, before, you know, “all that internment camp hooey” took place. The company has since found Robert a nice position in the mail room sealing the acknowledgement letters for all the donations that never come our way while everyone hopes he gets constant papercuts on his tongue from all the letters he has to lick, imaginary or otherwise.

 

Cards Against Profanity

Originally envisioned as a summer church camp staple, the Presbyterians called it a “no-go, Joe”. Their proclamation caused more confusion than anything as Joe did not happen to be one of the company’s spokespeople in charge of round-tabling it with various denominational and nondenominational personnel. Many askance looks about the room did little to clear things up until finally, some brave evangelical soul declared the idea at least as questionable as Harry Potter, all from the basis of one proposed card, at which point we knew the idea was over.

 

Cards Against Male Vanity

While perhaps revolutionary in its design, play-testers reported being driven nearly insane due to each card simply being a mirror such that when one player went to judge the cards all he/she/they saw was he/she/their face reflected back umpteen times in the splay of cards. Early playtests reported various elaborate reactions to this, not limited to the player in charge of judging a round throwing the cards wildly and dashing to the nearest bathroom to see if that’s really what he/she/they looked like after four screwdrivers and half a bag of cool ranch doritos. Most times, the answer was yes. Meaning it was not so much the cards that were the problem, rather what they forced players to recognize. Not even to mention the hegemonic overtones in the game’s title, which more or less alienated the vast majority of employees in charge of marketing said product. Though in retrospect, Robert probably would have loved this one had he not already been relegated to the company’s nonexistent mailroom.

 

 

 

Abraham Lincoln’s Ghost

 

The Commercial Angle

His first thought upon realizing Abe Lincoln’s ghost was not a passing fad in his living room was to consider the situation’s commercial potential.

 

His second thought was that his front room would hardly do. But the first thought quickly eclipsed out the second.

 

Abe’s ghost sat with his hands planted firmly on his knees, straight backed like one of those Quaker chairs he sometimes saw on Antiques Roadshow of a Saturday night. He bet Abe would like Antiques Roadshow. Might even see something from his day.

 

Such long fingers, he noticed next. Alongside the sunken eyes, prominent cheekbones, and long beard. He was passable at least. And, for now, not so incorporeal that the general public wouldn’t pay money to see the Great Emancipator in person. Or, almost person.

 

He called the requisite channels.

 

Gettsyburg, the White House, Ford’s Theater.

 

Nobody took him seriously. (“I bet you read Brietbart in your spare time,” he’d yelled at the receiver following the most recent hang up.)

 

He called the state of Illinois, then the state of Indiana, even Kentucky because he couldn’t remember all the places that laid claim to Lincoln. Not even Indiana took him seriously, this coming from the state that had recently produced a series of pamphlets about the haunted locations one could visit around the state. It featured a vacationer’s mapping with spooky clipart.

 

“Just you and me, Abe,” he said. Not getting a reaction from the ghost. Not even a finger wag or a mumble of the lips in the shape of “Four score” and so on. Wasn’t turning into the kind of day he’d imagined, all things considered. By the time he made it back to the kitchen, his breakfast tea was cold and his toast soggy. Whole lot of good Abe Lincoln’s ghost showing up had done him so far.

 

 

The Social Network Angle

Okay. So if nobody wanted to capitalize on the mass-market appeal of Lincoln he’d have to think outside the box. The idea came to him before lunch but after the daily mail had been shoved through the slot. What had the world never experienced before when it came to Lincoln? Twitter, obviously. He could make Abe buzz with a fierce Twitter game. If only Abe would provide some material. The handle practically wrote itself. There was no Abe Lincoln parody account yet.

 

Come lunchtime, the ghost hadn’t said a word yet.

 

 

The Desperate Entreaty Angle

It seemed like such a golden opportunity. He couldn’t understand why it was all going wrong. One day Abe Lincoln’s ghost shows up in your living room. Unannounced. Without explanation. The day before: nothing; same old life. The day after the day before: the ghost of Abe Lincoln sitting on the couch, hands on knees, beard stoic, cheeks sharp enough to separate wheat from chaff. It seemed plausible to think this was his form of winning the lottery. Striking the vein of gold that comes down the chute once in every man’s life.

 

“Say something,” he pleaded. “Anything. Tell me what to do!”

 

He almost convinced himself that Abe’s lips moved. But the more he stared, the more he knew the ghost wasn’t giving itself up.

 

“Just a bit of the Gettysburg,” he entreated. “Not my fault you didn’t make Rushmore. Or did you? Not my fault I can’t remember.”

 

Was that a finger twitch? No. Just the induced illusion of motion where none took place.

 

 

The Girlfriend Angle

His third thought that first day, which he quickly squashed in favor of considering the commercial viability in marketing Abe Lincoln’s ghost to a populace hungry for historical Americana, had been along the lines of self-inquiry to his mental state (i.e. was he crazy?). He returned to it some days later as he considered inviting his girlfriend over to see if she could see Abe’s ghost.

 

Maybe something about the situation would change if she saw Abe Lincoln’s ghost. Maybe she could get a rise out of Honest Abe. He hadn’t told her about the ghost yet and he didn’t mean to. She could see for herself.

 

She came over the next night. He made sure to have all the lights on, not just the lamps, so there would be no mistaking the ghost as a trick of the shadows.

 

He misapprehended each noise and creak while he prepared dinner as the ghost finally coming alive. Each time he checked he was disappointed at how Lincoln Memorial the ghost remained.

 

They ate dinner and moved to the living room. He tensed as she entered, waiting for her to exclaim at seeing the ghost.

 

He kept waiting. She sat down on the couch directly opposite where the ghost took up the armchair.

 

Her eyes met Abe’s vacant stare. “Cool,” she said.

 

Then, “Is it accurate?”

 

“Accurate?”

 

“Does it have the, you know,” she said, waving a hand about the back of her head.

 

“Haven’t checked,” he mumbled.

 

He checked now. Reported to her that everything seemed normal. Meaning not bored by the bullet from a single-shot pistol handled by John Wilkes Booth. Or was that abnormal?

 

They considered this for a while, looking at Abe’s ghost every once in a while.

 

“Think he just moved?” she asked at one point, her intonation teetering around a question mark but not quite landing, like a pigeon that found something amiss about its favorite telephone wire.

 

“Bit disappointing, isn’t it?” she said.

 

“Depends on what you expect from the past,” he said.

 

They considered this for a while. Mentally shrugged at approximately the same time, wondered how long he was here for. If this was just another passing fad.

 

 


Michael Prihoda lives in central Indiana. He is the founding editor of After the Pause, an experimental literary magazine and small press. His work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net Anthology and he is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Out of the Sky (Hester Glock, 2019).