The Johnny Carson Show

Gary V. Powell

Kenny wouldn’t shut up about Johnny Carson, the same Johnny rubbed shoulders with Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, the same Johnny hung with Bob Hope and Ronnie Reagan.

Jimbo, the younger brother always took care of Kenny, said, Crazy, man.

Except Kenny radiated genius. Certified, bona fide genius. He’d written Mensa, taken a test, and received a certificate.

            Mighta been a fake.

Idea was, Jimbo holds a cement block in front of his head. Kenny stands across stage with a thirty-aught-six. He shoots, and the cement block explodes—distance, fire power, and selection of ammo precisely calculated to assure Jimbo’s survival.

Simple physics.

Tried it first time in their old man’s back yard. Jimbo felt like he’d been tapped on the forehead with a ball peen hammer. Nose bled and ears rang. No big deal.

These days, they’d post to You Tube, maybe go viral. They’d seek crowd funding through Kickstarter, maybe perform with Cirque de Soleil.

Those days, they went on the road, supper clubs and bars. Jimbo in debt and no construction jobs to be had, Kenny raving about Johnny and Ed.

Chippewa Falls, Cedar Rapids, Vermilion, Cheyenne. Places like that.

Before Vegas, they added a second act.

Kenny climbs a ladder, drops a bowling ball onto a board balanced across the bridge of Jimbo’s nose. Same principle—distance, wind resistance, and the weight of the ball all gauged to prevent injury.

They took Old Vegas like Ali taking Liston, like Kennedy taking Marilyn—Circus Circus, The Sands, Caesar’s Palace. Added a leggy blonde to the act, later became Kenny’s first wife. Her job—blindfold Kenny before he fired the thirty-aught-six.

Johnny got wind of them from Vegas. Doc Severenson’s band played the same stage where Jimbo and Kenny brought the house down. Doc to Johnny, These guys are crazy, or maybe genius.

Night they appeared on Johnny’s show Ed McMahon shook their hands in the hall.

Carnac the Magnificent predicted the future. Steve Martin danced and played banjo.

When Johnny introduced the Brothers Nowinsky from the west side of South Bend, Jimbo ACTED nervous, like he might die, like was there a priest in the audience in case he needed last rites. Kenny joked with Johnny, asked if he’d like to stand in for Jimbo.

Johnny dragged his cigarette, gave the audience his classic pan.

Doc’s drummer played a roll while Kenny paced the distance. The leggy blonde tied the bandanna around Kenny’s head. He goofed for the camera before taking aim, like WHERE’S JIMBO. The cement block exploded. Jimbo dropped and laid there twitching. The audience gasped. Kenny ran across stage, knelt beside his brother, brushed flecks of cement from his face.

Asked about that priest.

Johnny shrugged and punched out his cigarette. Ed motioned offstage.

Before the paramedics arrived, Jimbo sat up grinning. All part of the act, folks.

They took it on tour to Hawaii and Japan.

The Japanese loved them, just loved them.

Kenny went on to invent some medical device, made gazillions. Married, divorced, married and divorced again, he lives on a yacht and sails the world. Grows his fingernails long and remains out of touch.

Once or twice a year, Jimbo, a retired construction worker, shows it to his grandkids, a grainy black and white eight-millimeter. Grainier every year.

Got it on tape. The Johnny Carson show. Crazy Uncle Kenny.

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Gary V. Powell’s stories and flash fiction have been widely-published in both print and online literary magazines and anthologies including most recently the Thomas Wolfe Review, Fiction Southeast, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Best New Writing 2015. In addition to winning the 2014 Gover Prize for short-short fiction (Eric Hoffer Foundation), his work has been nominated for Best of the Net and has placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest  (2013), and the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is available through Main Street Rag Press.

Thunder Snow

Gary V. Powell

Slipped out at halftime, planning to return before the end of the game, no one’s parents the wiser. Rode in Mike’s dad’s Impala out County Road 30 past Detweiler’s farm, turned off at the lane, and followed it to where the cornfield ended and the trees began—the corn long picked, the remaining stalks thrusting jagged through soil softened by a late January thaw.
Up front, Tracy’s best friend Suze had her tongue in Mike’s ear and her hand on his thigh. Tracy figured Dennis wanted the same or more from her. Mike’s buddy who needed a date—she hardly knew Dennis outside of Chemistry class.

He’d pawed her all night.

Mike cut the engine and Suze unzipped his pants. Dennis crushed Tracy against the passenger-side door, his breath a pillow across her face. When she tried to wriggle free, something hard stabbed her in the kidneys. Dennis said, “Where you goin?”
All day, she’d snuggled into the embrace of a false spring, the air prematurely warm and soft. But, now, fallen leaves borne on a sudden gust of wind skittered across the Impala’s hood. Grit scatter-gunned the windshield. A farm girl raised on fresh eggs and weather forecasts, Tracy knew—a cold front moving in, hard and fast off the big lake.
Dennis worked inside her sweater, fingers like icicles. He managed a knee between her legs and wedged a hand down her jeans, poking and prodding like a man searching for a quarter lost under the seat. An old song “American Pie,” played on the radio, but Tracy didn’t get that song anymore than she got what Suze saw in Mike or Dennis in her.
Thunder drum-rolled through and around the car and grabbed her by the throat. The lightning flash that followed illuminated Dennis’s face. Not the Dennis always clowning in class or the Dennis throwing popcorn from the high-rise bleachers, but a scared-shitless Dennis.

He retreated to the other side of the seat and curled up against the door. Thunder crashed again, and in the next lightning flash great chunks of snow blew wild—thunder snow.

Mike groaned loud enough to be heard over that stupid song. Suze giggled and wiped her hand on the car seat.

Tracy eyed Dennis, balled up and trembling, head in his hands. “What’s wrong?”

“Thunder. It scares the hell out of me.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No. I can’t help it.”
She scooted next to him.“Really?”
“I hate it.”

She lifted his chin and stared into his eyes, his fear igniting a surge of confidence.

“I love it,” she said with a fierceness that surprised her.
A blast of wind rocked the car and she forced herself onto his lap
“Don’t. Get off of me,” Dennis said.
But Tracy didn’t. Instead, she mashed her breasts into his face. “What’s wrong? I thought you liked my boobs.”
“Stop. You’re smothering me.”
She laughed before nipping his ear. “Thunder snow,” she hissed.

“Thunder snow, thunder snow, thunder snow.”

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Gary V. Powell is a stay-at-home dad to a thirteen year-old son. His stories and flash fiction have been widely-published in both print and online literary magazines including Bartleby Snopes, Carvezine, Thrice Fiction, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, MadHat Lit, Blue Fifth Review, and Best New Writing 2015. In addition to winning the 2015 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, his work has placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is available through Main Street Rag Press. His first collection of previously published short stories, Beyond Redemption, is available at Amazon.com.

Solstice

Gary V. Powell

So convinced were our neighbors that the world, as we knew it, was about to end that on the morning of the summer solstice they donated their personal property to charity, abandoned their comfortable, four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath-with-family-room home, and relocated to the backyard tree house I’d helped Drew build earlier in the spring.

There they maintained vigil.

This evening, while enjoying a bottle of wine on our screen porch, my wife and I scented hickory smoke from their campfire. I’d accompanied Drew’s wife Hillary when she’d purchased the wood that fueled that fire from an old blind man in Mooresville who also believed, in his own way, that the End Times were upon us.

“They’ll freeze come winter,” she said.

“If they last that long, or the world doesn’t end.”

“The world’s not ending.”

“It’s as likely as not.”

“If it ends, it ends. So what?”

“They believe there will be a new world order,” I told her. “They believe they’ll have more say the next go-around.”

“More say,” my wife repeated the words and finished her wine.

That morning, on my way to the office, I’d heard on the radio that 35,000 people gathered at Stonehenge last year to celebrate the solstice. They watched the sunrise and stayed awake throughout the longest day of the year to better attune themselves to the rhythms of the natural world, to embrace the season’s waxing and waning, and to reconnect with the cycle of birth, growth, death.

I poured more wine and shared this information with my wife.

“Hippie shit,” she said. “A few months, we’ll go to work in dark and come home in dark”

“I’m just saying, thirty-five thousand souls.”

She cocked an eyebrow. “Souls?”

Twilight faded to darkness. Candles placed in the unscreened windows of Drew’s two-story tree structure flickered across the way. Later on, as stars filled the sky, we heard chanting and music. Shadowy forms danced on Drew and Hillary’s lawn. Jacob, the seven-year old, and his sister Molly held hands.

The music swelled to a tantric rumble.

“They’re naked,” my wife whispered. “I hope they’ve got bug spray.”

A squad car turned onto our street, rollers flashing.

My wife rose from her chair. “I’m done. I’ve got an early meeting. Are you coming?”

“Not yet.”

I felt an obligation to see this through. I was no Believer, but I wouldn’t have minded a little dew between my toes, a little starlight on my bare ass.

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Gary V. Powell is a former lawyer and stay-at-home dad to a thirteen year-old son. His stories and flash fiction have appeared most recently at Bartleby Snopes, Literary Orphans, Thrice Fiction, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Camroc Press Review. In addition to winning the 2015 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, his work has placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is available through Main Street Rag Press. A self-published novella in three stories, Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons, is a prequel to Lucky Bastard.