First Place Winner – Alternate History Contest: A Tub in Memphis

Editor’s Note: The editors at FewerThan500 are pleased to announce the winners of our Alternate History Flash Fiction Story contest. The contest attracted almost 50 entries from all over the world. The editors reviewed the entries based on a set of eight carefully chosen criteria and selected the top three stories for cash prizes. We welcome reader feedback on our selections.

By Robert Lackey

Charlie struggled up the boarding house stairs, his head pounding like the jackhammer in Alka-Seltzer commercials. He and Skeeter had rolled a tourist the night before and split almost a hundred dollars. They hit the strip joints, slipping two-dollar bills into sequined bras until the money ran low, then drank from twisted paper bags until morning.

He fumbled with his keys at the door for 6-B, then abruptly dashed green-faced to the common bathroom down the hall. He bumped shoulders with the man from 5-B, coming out. Then he crashed to his knees before the commode, grabbing the edges.

“Asshole,” the other man said.

Charlie shuffled back to his room and slept until late in the day. He woke up desperate for the bathroom, but found it locked.

“Let me in! I gotta go!” Charlie yelled, banging the door.

“Wait your turn, asshole,” 5-B said.

“C’mon man, I dying out here,” Charlie pleaded.

“Piss in your pants,” the man snickered.

Charlie went into a rage, kicking and banging the door with all his strength. To his surprise, the old enameled door splintered near the latch and sprung open. The man inside was standing on the edge of the tub, leaning over the commode at the window sill. He spun around to face Charlie, but the rifle he was pointing outside caught on the window frame. His shoes slipped and his feet went into the air in front of Charlie. The rifle slipped from his hands as he fell and clattered outside the window. His head slammed down hard against the edge of the commode with a sickening thud. Charlie knew it killed him.

“Oh shit,” Charlie said, then closed the door and raced back to 6-B. He lit a cigarette, pacing in the center of his room. Then he went back to the bathroom to check the dead man’s pockets and found only his room key. Closing the bathroom door again, he let himself into the man’s room. Charlie found a wallet on the dresser, an envelope containing five thousand dollars, and photographs of Martin Luther King. He also found a brand new suit in the closet.

He took it all to his own room and got dressed. He slipped the envelop into his new suit pocket, then flipped through the man’s wallet. He found another forty dollars and a driver’s license.

“James Earl Ray,” Charlie read in a whisper. “Asshole.”

Charlie packed his meager suitcase, tossed the man’s keys and wallet on his body and casually walked down the steps to the sidewalk. He turned down the first alley toward Mulberry Street, where a large crowd of people was standing quietly in front of the Lorraine Motel. Charlie slipped among the crowd for cover. Many around him stared in silence up at the motel.

He asked a young black woman nearby, “What’s going on, sweetie?”

She gave him a radiant smile, her face glowing, “Reverend King just gave the most inspiring speech he’s ever made.”

Robert Lackey has had two previous pieces published by FT500 and another by Flash Fiction Magazine. He has also written a collection of short stories and four novels. He created his first fiction at age four, telling his Pensacola neighbors that he rode the night sky on a white horse killing alligators. Editing back then was much more tolerant. For him, flash fiction is gingerly fitting a water balloon into a box barely able to accept it, without breaking the balloon.

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