Three days from The Weird Years
by Ryan Ridge and Mel Bosworth
The Day the Missionaries Came to the Door
I spied them through the peephole and thought, okay, let’s have some fun. “One second,” I said, and then I went out the back door and circled to the front. I took my phone from my back pocket and began an imaginary conversation, a loud one. “Yeah, so what?” I said. “What does that mean to me? I don’t care about any moose. Well, this isn’t a normal situation.” I didn’t know what I was planning to do and that’s when I lost sight of where I was going. I tripped on an exposed tree root and landed chest first onto the pointed hat of a lawn gnome. It pierced my heart. The missionaries saw the whole thing go down and came running over, dark robes flowing in the breeze. They sat me up against a tree trunk and told me to press hard on the hole in my chest. One missionary sat with me while the other phoned for help. The one who phoned for help said they’d meet the ambulance at the end of my driveway, and then they took off running. I looked at the missionary who stayed behind who was now holding my right hand since my left hand was pressed to my chest. I said, “I know you.” “I don’t think so,” they said. “Sure I do,” I said. “You’re Tommy Pinata.” “No,” the missionary winced. “That’s not me.” But I was certain it was. I remembered the red hair and freckles. The Wiffle ball bat. Our cruelties as children. I said, “It’s you, Tommy. I remember. We were real bastards to you when we were kids. And I dated your sister for a little while when we got older. Come to think of it, I wasn’t very good to her either.” I held my heart, and he held my hand. The blood came through my fingers in great whooshes. I said, “I’m sorry, Tommy. I’m sorry for all the mess I made.” He reached beneath his robe and took out a candy bar. He peeled the wrapper back with his teeth, then he put the end in my mouth. I didn’t have the strength to bite and chew, but I tongued it for a while. It tasted delicious. He took the bar out of my mouth. “My favorite,” I said. “Your sister used to give those to me.” Then I asked, “How is your sister?” Then I asked, “Will anyone remember me?” Then I asked, “What’s on TV tonight?” Then I died in the missionary’s tears, though to me they felt like raindrops.
The Day the Corner BAR Was Closed
Dean lost his shit. He pointed and said, “My office!” I stepped into his office and closed the door. He said, “I’ve lost my shit. I can’t find it anywhere. Where is it?” I had no idea. I laughed and said, “What?” He said, “Don’t laugh. It’s serious.” He smacked his open palm on his desk. “This is the last straw, Crenshaw. Your colleagues all despise you and now this. It can’t continue. It won’t. You won’t.” I said, “I don’t know anything about any of this, and I’m not Crenshaw. I’m Schrodinger. Crenshaw doesn’t work here anymore. Hasn’t for a while.” “Well,” Dean said, “that makes two of you. Pack your stuff and go.” Tobin from Sales, a renowned eavesdropper, tripped through the doorway, laughing. Dean said, “Something funny? You’re laughing at this man’s misery? I fire him, and you think it’s hilarious? You’re a terrible salesman and a worse regular man.” He smacked Tobin across the face, and Tobin laughed. He said, “Oh, you think that’s funny?” “Yes,” said Tobin, kicking Dean in the balls, and now Dean laughed, too. “Why are you guys laughing?” I said. “None of this is funny.” “To keep from crying,” Dean said. “Same,” said Tobin. Then they laughed and laughed and laughed until they were crying laughing. Then they were just crying, and I mean sobbing. I said, “Hey, it’s all right. It’s okay.” Dean shook his head and said, “Every day is a nightmare. I need a drink.” “Me, too,” Tobin said. “I’ll join you,” I said. We went to the corner bar, but the corner bar was closed. A sign on the door said: “Closed for business due to my health. Thanks for the memories and the money, but mostly the money. –Karl” The note prompted Tobin to sob. Dean followed suit. I even teared up, too. It’d been an emotional day. “Group hug,” I said. We stood there on sidewalk hugging and crying until an old guy in a wheelchair rolled and up and said, “Looks like you folks could use some booze.” “The bar’s closed,” I said. “Says who?” the guy in the wheelchair said. “Says Karl,” I said, pointing at the note. He shook his keys like a tambourine. “I am Karl,” he said. “Come on. You can cry into your beers in here.” At that moment, Dean tripped and fell into the street and got hit by a bus. It was a school bus. He was dead. The bus driver got out and attempted CPR in vain. “School’s out forever for him,” Karl said to the driver. “I never liked that guy,” Tobin said to me. “Me neither,” I said to him. “First round is on the house,” said Karl to us. “Right on,” a nearby homeless person said. He parked his shopping cart next to the door and followed us inside. For a solid hour, I managed to approximate happiness.
The Day You Crowdfunded a City
You said, “There’s a ghost town for sale on the internet. It’s only a million dollars.” “That’s out of our range,” I said. “Not if we crowdfund it,” you said. I shrugged. You got to work, and by noon the fundraising page had been shared nearly three thousand times. In just a few short hours you’d amassed nearly two hundred thousand in cold cash. Donors ranged from likable cousins to total strangers with deep pockets. This was getting serious. I went to the corner cowboy store to pick out a cowboy getup. A few leathery sharpshooters with small, hawk-like eyes haunted the place. I told them I needed it all from hat to boots to pistols. As the proprietor took my measurements, I noticed a quiet soul crouched in the corner, his lower lip bulging with what I assumed to be tobacco. My suspicion was confirmed when his narrow chin jutted forward and he arched a dark brown rope into a brass spittoon. The clumpy juice tailed cleanly through the center of the rim. “Nice shot,” I said. He pinched the brim of his hat. “Much obliged,” he said. I stepped behind a red curtain and stepped out of my old getup and into my new ensemble. It felt good. When I stepped out from behind the curtain, the men in the store had faded, and they began to flicker like broken computer screens, the insides of their outlines popping with brilliant, cinematic footage from vintage westerns: rickety wagons churning up dust, buxom women in ruffled dresses sipping from tiny teacups, jagged mountains of red rock roasting beneath wide open skies, polished six-shooters sliding into well-oiled holsters, and straw-haired children daydreaming on wooden fences near pastures of steers lazily grazing. The proprietor came back into focus as he wheeled a full-length mirror in front of me. I blinked hard, and then I blinked again. I gasped. I looked so awesome I took my breath away. I felt the room lift with ethereal enthusiasm. “We’ve been looking for you, son,” said the tobacco slinger, rising from his crouch. “The world has been looking for you.” I was getting emotional, and I felt like I needed to cry, and then my phone vibrated with a text from you that read: “We got the ghost town!” I stuffed the phone into my back pocket and slipped my six-shooters from their holsters. My chest swelled with a mighty wind, and I let loose a long and glorious howl. The store joined in and then the store filled with smoke and pistol reports as we sent celebratory bullets tearing through the ceiling. We’d all be ghosts soon. I couldn’t wait.
Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight, and co-author with Ryan Ridge of the short fiction collection Second Acts in American Lives. His work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Tin House, New World Writing, Santa Monica Review, Melville House, American Book Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Western Massachusetts.
Ryan Ridge is the author of four chapbooks as well as five books, most recently, New Bad News(Sarabande Books 2020). He has received the Italo Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, the Linda Bruckheimer Prize in Kentucky Literature, and the Kentucky Writers Fellowship for Innovative Writing from the Baltic Writing Residency. His work has been featured in American Book Review, DIAGRAM, Denver Quarterly, Passages North, Salt Hill, Santa Monica Review, and Southwest Review, among others. He is an assistant professor at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where he co-directs the Creative Writing Program. In addition to his work as a writer and teacher, he edits the literary magazine Juked. He lives in Salt Lake City.