Writing: the american dream

Found this short story I wrote in an old journal.


Mr. & Mrs. Eldred Whipple of Grand Oak Falls, Nebraska saw the flashing banner while checking their e-mail.

Be on a Reality TV Show!

Eldred clicked it by accident, and then six new browser windows opened in quick succession. He blinked at the flurry.

Myrtle fetched her reading glasses. Eldred turned on the desk lamp. They squinted at all the rules and regulations.

Winners Flown First-Class to Hollywood, CA!

They couldn’t print the forms so Myrtle copied them, word-for-word, on the Underwood typewriter. Then she and Eldred sat around the old iron stove and asked each other the questions. The forms were eighteen pages long. The questions were designed to tell the producers what type of people they were, and whether they’d be interesting to watch on TV.

How long have you and your partner lived together?

“Do we count the years I was out in Korea?” Eldred said.
“I think probably,” Mildred replied.

What is the most difficult thing you and your partner have accomplished together?

“Filling out this damn form,” Eldred snorted.

Myrtle wrote their answers in the blanks in her careful, looping script.

“Go ahead and finish mine,” Eldred said, shrugging into his slippers and heading off to bed.

What one thing would you change about your partner?

Myrtle’s pen hovered over Eldred’s form.

“I wish she let me help out more around the house,” she wrote.


They came in from chores a few nights later and Myrtle noticed that the forms were still sitting on the kitchen table.

“When does it have to be postmarked?” she asked Eldred.

They raced into town in the old truck. The post office was almost closed. George Simmons had just shut off the porch light.

Eldred blocked the front door with his truck.

“Eldred, you old sumbitch,” George said.

He took the envelope from Eldred’s hand and tossed it behind the counter, towards the mail bin. Then he bolted the front door, took up Lenny’s leash and led the old hound to the truck.


There was no response from Hollywood in the next day’s mail, nor the next.

Eldred and Myrtle watched network television every night after chores. Excited announcers promised the new season of reality television, new twists and fresh ideas for America’s viewing enjoyment.

Myrtle looked up from her cross-stitch. “Isn’t that the one we applied to?”

The announcer promised that “you’ve never seen reality as extreme as this.” He said it was “the ultimate in reality competition.” He said there would be roadkill eating, bikini marathons and the hourly elimination of contestants. He said it was a reality show without the cumbersome trappings of reality.

The Whipples were very excited.

“You’d think we’d have heard something by now,” Myrtle said.
“That’s how these things work,” Eldred said. “They’ll probably show up on the porch any day now, cameras and all that, and then we’ll be on TV.”

Myrtle started wearing her hair in curls all the time, even when doing chores.


The first episode was a two-hour special that aired on a Tuesday night. The Whipples weren’t on it.

George Simmons found the Whipples’ application sitting on the floor behind the mail bin. He didn’t tell them. He didn’t want them to know what an incompetent postmaster he was.

He set the envelope on a shelf back with the dry goods and stared at it through his entire lunch, every day, one hand idly scratching Lenny’s head. Lenny didn’t judge him.


Incredibly, the Communist Chinese attacked Grand Oak Falls, Nebraska.

They dropped paratroopers into cornfields by the thousands. Their plan was to start in the center and spread outwards, like chocolate syrup in a glass of milk.

Every one an only child, every one armed to the gills, every one bent on corporeal destruction without regard for individual self-preservation. They began by burning the wheat fields.

The sky bronzed with ash. The Whipples woke to an apocalypse.

Eldred pulled on suspenders and straightened his bowtie. Myrtle hurriedly pulled the curlers from her hair, tossing them anywhere.

George Simmons was reading Page 14 of Myrtle’s application for his own pleasure when he heard a thronging. He looked up. Pulled up his pants and exited the bathroom. Stepped on Lenny’s tail. Lenny turned his arthritic neck and bit George in the calf.

The Communists had overrun the store. The dry goods were gone. The wet goods were wet. The walls had collapsed into the street.

The town was aflame.

Regimented ranks of AK-47 muzzles marched over the cornstalks. Eldred and Myrtle stood proudly on their front porch. Napalm rained on their livestock. Burning flesh filled their lungs.

“It’s a shame, in a way,” Eldred said.
“Shh,” Myrtle said.
“Take me three weeks to rebuild that shed,” Eldred said.
“We’re going to be on TV,” Myrtle said.

The Communists arrived at the Whipples’ front porch.

“Would you like some juice or milk before we begin?” Myrtle asked them.

The Communists in the front ranks traded a glance.

“Don’t mind her. Welcome to Grand Oak Falls,” Eldred said. “So, what do we do?”
Myrtle leaned close to him and whispered in his ear. “I think our reactions are what make good TV,” she said.

Eldred nodded. He took three steps down the front porch, socked a Communist in the jaw, wrenched the AK-47 from his grip and mowed down a dozen of the suckers before they piled on him like linebackers.

Myrtle grinned. Her cheeks glowed. They’d probably use this footage in the promos.

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