Word Riot started as the literary section of an eclectic music magazine, Communication Breakdown, in March 2002. Communication Breakdown faded away, but Word Riot expanded into its own magazine. We still like to think of ourselves as having a punk rock/DIY ethos and have purposefully maintained a small, dedicated staff to accommodate that.
We publish flash fiction, short stories, creative non-fiction, poetry, interviews, reviews and experimental writing. Our writers like to look behind the curtain and see what the wizard is up to. Many of the stories take place far past the frayed edges of decent society. There's a wander lust, a longing in many of the characters who people the site.
Mike Young's "Ten Gallon Bucket of French Fries" was a perfect fit for Word Riot. The characters are kind of lost, kind of looking for an escape from boredom. The language has a certain gritty, lyrical quality that is very representational of the type of work we're looking to publish on the site.
Nominated Short Story: "Ten Gallon Bucket of French Fries" - Mike Young
Review: by Sharon McGill
“You won’t stay fun,” says one of the geriatric denizens of Insert Hills in this short, bittersweet piece by Mike Young. The warning proves ironic as the adolescent narrator of Young’s story doesn’t seem to have any fun visiting his elderly aunt in this “dying folk’s community.” Insert Hills is a place that prohibits just about everything enjoyable: garden gnomes, teenagers, surprises and life. It’s the last stop for its residents, a place so boring it’s “enough to make you believe in infinity, or euthanasia,” and the perfect setting for this portrait of loneliness suffered by young and old alike.
Voice is the story’s most compelling feature; Young’s clipped sentences and disjointed chronology convey the aimlessness of his main character well. “Ten Gallon” feels less like a continuous narrative as clips from the narrator’s distracted mind. Snapshots of his activities at Insert Hills flicker by, like the moment he escapes his aunt and meets Mary and Kerry, a sister and brother the narrator “nearly punched” for their rhyming names. Young renders their first meeting succinctly, shadowing the narrator’s playful self-deprecation with an almost terrified sense of turmoil:
"Mary and Kerry broke some noise ordinances when they saw me. They were visiting their grandfather, and were famished for physical contact with the young and the spry. I was a wee fat lad, but I'd do. They ran up the driveway, waving and yapping. I felt like a raccoon. Their eye light was intense."
The trio returns to Mary and Kerry’s grandfather’s house to get high and celebrate Kerry’s “trophy,” a ten gallon bucket of Burger King fries. Young’s brief paragraphs ably reflect the mood of the narrator’s pot-brilliant musings as he decides to “just ruminate”—chew on both his random thoughts and the contents of that extraordinary bucket of fries. Like most drug-induced philosophers, the narrator’s mind wanders from the banal to the profound; the “symbolic” potential of the fries quickly morphs into the sense of death around them, the “hint of flowers and the loitering idea of coffins.”
Young’s story hits its humorous high when the three characters finally decide to take their fries for a drive though Insert Hills. But their youthful hijinks seem less like fun than an act of desperation, much like spontaneous behavior of the narrator’s aunt in getting the attention of a male neighbor. Despite the main character’s veneer of youthful apathy, anxiety underscores his thoughts and actions, a fear reflected in his aunt’s petty self-obsessions and the dire warnings of the community’s other residents. This more earnest sentiment highlights the story’s deeper, more frightening theme—a sense that this is it, this is life: a clean street amid acres of loneliness and only the occasional, wild bucket of joy.
Sharon McGill received her MFA in fiction from Penn State University. She has short stories appearing most recently in Opium, Hobart and Redivider, book reviews published or forthcoming in Bitch Magazine, The Indiana Review and New Letters, and is a co-founder of Monday Night. Her personal website is sharonmcgill.net.
Thanks for visiting Five Star Literary Stories and reading about this short story.