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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 4: July 2020
Flash Fiction: 749 words
By K. Alan Leitch



“That’s not how it looks to die!”

The criticism made Janine Ambrose relax her hands limply around her own throat. It wasn’t just anyone telling her she was doing it wrong; it was Marcus Minota, their director. President of Performing Arts was the school’s title for him, but among themselves they just called him Drama Queen.

“It has to be absolutely convincing,” Marcus scolded her again. “You have to look absolutely like you’re dying.” His voice crushed any other sound in the studio, except for some tinkering from Blair Damascus on top of his ladder.

Squatting in a semicircle, the other performers looked on without taking sides. They all wanted a role in the play Marcus had written, and the quickest way out was to argue with the Drama Queen. A few glances around brought her no support, so Janine tried to handle Marcus on her own. “I don’t think you know any better than I do what death looks like.”

I don’t know—” Marcus leaned forward to gasp, as if the word had blocked his airways. “I absolutely beg your pardon, Ninie, but who is the Performing Arts President?” Without waiting for an answer, he reviewed his resume for her. “I’ve been honored in school, at the community theatre, and even by the Civic Centre. I’ve won award after award for my acting, so I think I should know what it looks like to die.”

“Your audiences know,” Blair said from high above them.

Marcus flung an arm toward the ceiling. “Thank you. You see? Even our techie mascot can recognize who here has the best grasp of theatre.” He pronounced the word in that grating way of his, with an “at” in the middle: thee-at-er. “But all right, Ninie—”

“My name’s Janine.”

“—let’s be absolutely sure, shall we? Let’s take the matter to the group.” Circling to gather his minions, he asked, “How many of you think that Ninie should die clutching her saggy little neck?”

“I like her neck,” Blair objected, then hid his face behind the spotlight he was hanging.

The others responded this time, because Marcus willed it. Millie Litman said, “She’s poisoned, so maybe she should hold her stomach, instead.”

“Why not?” Marcus snapped. “Let’s just pick a body part. Maybe she could hold her femur, or her va—!”

“She could reach out to Lisa for help,” Stanley Fish interrupted, and Marcus turned a glare on him. “You know, ’cause Lisa plays, you know...her mother.”

A light at their feet turned crimson, as Blair struggled to attach a gel. “Are you suggesting,” Marcus simmered, “that Lisa perform for them both?”

“Well, no,” Stanley backpedaled, “but...her Mom...”

Blair grunted, holding the weight of the light on one shoulder while working a screwdriver. “Why doesn’t she just fall over?” he forced through the effort. The red gel fell away, and hung beneath the light by one screw. Aware of their attention, Blair looked down on them from behind a white, shining beam. “That’s what people do when they die, right? There’s no performance.” Pushing the gel with an elbow, he added, “My Dad just sort of...stopped. He didn’t perform at all.”

Janine let her saggy neck carry her gaze to the top of the ladder. Deepened by Blair’s proclamation, the silence around them became something more.

Only Marcus failed to muster any respect for it. His face was red without the help of a gel as he stormed toward the ladder. “Techie, what makes you think that your tragic life has anything to do with my script? Drama is absolutely always performed. The bigger the event, the bigger the performance.” To demonstrate the vastness of his acting, Marcus flung his arms into a rung of Blair’s ladder. “And what event could be bigger than—”

Sitting in a circle as they were, none of them actually saw the spotlight land on the President of Performing Arts. They heard a crash, and turned together to find him lying beside the light, but even Janine had been giving audience solely to the boy who was up there alone.

Into a new kind of silence, Blair whispered, “Whoops.”

The arrival of paramedics was drama that stopped the whole school, but it turned out that Blair had been right. Marcus only moved to arch under their paddles, and the only sound he made came from their monitor. Even the Drama Queen hadn’t given a performance.

Really, the biggest events were all in the props.

K. Alan Leitch
Issue 4, July 2020

has slept in the Borneo jungle, sailed a catamaran through a hurricane, set a record for collecting Monopoly games, and written about it all. An author of Young Adult (YA), mysteries, and speculative and literary fiction, he writes from his home in Australia. More than 20 of his short stories are published in venues such as WOW: Women on Writing, The Compassion Anthology, Writer Advice, Gathering Storm Magazine, Stringybark Stories, KYSO Flash, Ink & Sword Magazine, and Sheepshead Review.

His novel awards include Textnovel, Serena McDonald Kennedy, The Write Launch, Strange Days Books, and Book Pipeline. A Blue-Collar Provo Conspiracy, his novel Crimes of Convenience has placed in the top ten of the 2017 International 3-Day NovelContest. And his YA mystery Too Much Information has placed in the 2018 Eyelands Book Awards and 2017 Book Pipeline Contest, surpassing 1,974 other published and unpublished novels.

Find links to Leitch’s stories at his blog: Words from K. Alan

And ’Gram, Tweet, or Tumble him [at]KAlanAuthor

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

In Deep, flash fiction by Leitch in KYSO Flash (Issue 11, Spring 2019)

Weak as Tissue, YA Flash Fiction runner-up in WOW: Women on Writing (Fall 2018)

Too Much Information, Chapter 3, YA Mystery Novel chapter in The Write Launch (March 2018)

Meet Fall 2015 Flash Fiction First Place Winner, K. Alan Leitch in The Muffin (22 March 2016)

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