KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Flash Fiction: 557 words

The Last Thing They Might Have Seen

by Katey Schultz

This was three years ago. I’m not asking for your sympathy. There were six of them along the roadside—dead on impact—and I know because I am the mortician who tried to put them back together. Every morning, the sun pushes its steady pulse across the Ozark Mountains as I drive past their roadside temple. Fake flowers for Miguel at the bend in Highway 17. Fake flowers for Raul in the same spot. Fake flowers for Eduardo, Manuel, Pablo. On the other side of the road, fake flowers for Mr. Burgess, rough silk petals blossoming in blues and purples like the bruises across their bodies, which would not come back to life.

The teacher, Mr. Burgess, was the easiest. His pale skin like a cantaloupe rind left too long in the sun. The migrant workers came to me in pieces: a lone ring finger with its gold band still intact. The head of the eighteen-year-old driver who did not have his license. Three torsos thrown from the backseat through the front window, rigamorted on my table in dance-like postures.

When Manuel’s wife came, she identified the ring and then she asked for his journal. I said what journal, and she told me the one he always keeps in his breast pocket. She folded into me then and grabbed my shoulders, tears bleeding onto my lab coat. I told her mañana. Come back tomorrow and I will have it for you. Later, I found it in the bag of items that had flown from the car.

Manuel wrote about the other men and their journey southbound through tobacco season, never staying too long in one place. Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee. A short stop in Louisiana, where the boss man kept two wives. There was something strange there in the tobacco barn. Each bundle of stalks dangled from the crossbeams like limp bodies, swaying, though the wind never stirred. Sometimes, a dark-skinned girl appeared and watched them work. She stood at the corner of the field, thin as a stalk of corn. Her hair reflected the sunlight like a beacon but whenever Manuel looked her direction, she vanished.

He tried to speak to her once. “Hermana,” he said. “¿Qué es la magia en el granero?” What is the magic in the barn? She dropped to her knees then and prayed in song. It was a long song and something from the Creoles. The other men didn’t seem to hear her, but the boss came out of his house and yelled at Manuel, pointing to the place in the field where the girl had knelt. The crew packed up the next day, acres of tobacco only partially strung.

Next, the men blistered through the Carolinas, topping and pulling fat, green tobacco leaves sticky with trichomes. Burley, Brightleaf, Perique. They used sickles and stringers, whatever was kept on hand. They talked while they worked—they would spend their pay on sopas, on a Mustang, on a new stereo system.

Miguel. Raul. Eduardo. Manuel. Pablo. Sometimes, if I clamp my jaw closed and swallow hard, I can drive past without incanting their names. But eventually, they come back to me. That ring finger. The way the gold band reflected the fluorescents in the morgue. A clean, white light like the last thing they might have seen.

Katey Schultz
Issue 1, Fall 2014

Grew up in Portland, Oregon; is most recently from Celo, North Carolina; and lives in a 1970 Airstream trailer bordering the Pisgah National Forest. Ms. Schultz earned an MFA in Writing from Pacific University and received the Linda Flowers Literary Award from the North Carolina Humanities Council.

Her first collection of short stories, Flashes of War, was awarded the 2013 IndieFab Book of the Year Award (Gold Winner for War & Military), as well as the 2013 Gold Medal Book of the Year Award for literary fiction by the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA).


1. Duff Brenna’s review of Flashes of War is republished here in KF-1.

2. Annual email subscriptions for 12 stories by Ms. Schultz are available as premiums for readers who wish to support KYSO Flash.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Learn more about Katey Schultz (includes links to author interviews on NPR Morning Edition and KBOO Community Radio)

(Women’s) War Fiction: Katey Schultz’s Flashes of War, review by Peter Molin posted under “Art and War” in the blog Time Now: The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in Art, Film, and Literature (2 August 2014)

What It Costs to DIY a First Book Tour, interview with Ms. Schultz by Ester Bloom in The Billfold (16 June 2014)

The Simple Power of a Damned Good Story, in which Nick Ostdick talks with Ms. Schultz about what makes a story worth telling, Fiction Writers Review (22 May 2013)

An Interview with Katey Schultz by Jessica Henkle in Bookslut (May 2013) in which Ms. Schultz discusses why and how she wrote a book about war in the form of flash fictions (of the collection’s 31 stories, 24 are flash)

The Quiet Kind, one of the longest stories (4984 words) in Flashes of War, reprinted in Serving House Journal (Issue 8, Fall 2013)

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