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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 14: August 2022
Microfiction: 437 words
By Kathryn Kulpa

Oregon Trail


I wonder if you’re afraid. If it’s dark where you are, the way it’s dark here most of the time. Smoke from the wildfires, smog from the volcano. Vlog. My friend Hope grew up in Hawaii and she said that’s what they call it.

I carry a postcard you sent from Silver City, New Mexico. An outrageously phallic rock formation in the middle of scrub desert. On the back, you drew a baby’s head, squiggle curl and a big grin: IT’S A BOY!!!

I had pictures of you once, on my phone. I kept it for a long time, but it had been months since I had a signal, and there was no place to recharge. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I know what you look like. You look like me.

Except I have a chipped tooth, and you have a burn scar on your right leg from when Uncle Dex took you for a ride on his motorcycle and didn’t warn you about the exhaust pipe, or think to check that you were wearing long pants and boots.

How I envied you that scar, that ride. When our mother saw your raw, peeled calf she slapped Uncle Dex so hard his lip split. We didn’t see him for a long time. And when we did, there were no motorcycle rides, ever.

Maybe you’ll think it’s funny that I’m riding a motorcycle now, coming to find you. I’m staying off the roads, keeping to the trails. The Oregon Trail: remember us playing that? We’d laugh because I’d always get YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY.

We’d laugh but I know it’s true. How easy it is for the world to kill you. A rockslide. A mosquito. Something smaller, something you’d never see. Don’t drink bad water, I whisper to you at night before I fall asleep. Don’t eat from dented cans. Don’t stray from the path.

What I mean is, don’t give up. What I mean is, don’t stop waiting for me.

I have my trail guidebook, my star chart. At the top of Pilot Butte, west of Bend, I could see for miles. It was a day when the wind blew from the east and the sky was all but clear and you could almost believe nothing was wrong. People can get through things, I thought. We have before. The Little Ice Age, even the big one. The Black Plague. The Dust Bowl. After a while disasters were only history. I looked down from the ledge and saw no fires, no smashed buildings, no riots. I saw trees and highways and mountains. I didn’t see cars.


—From All I’ll Carry, the author’s flash novella in progress

Kathryn Kulpa
Issue 14, August 2022

is a writer and editor with words in Atticus Review, Flash Frog, Milk Candy Review, Pithead Chapel, and Wigleaf. Her stories have been chosen for Best Microfiction and the Wigleaf Longlist.

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