For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

“Railroad Incident, August 1995”

David Means


He would reenter the so-called world in a half hunch, with his knees bleeding and the sky overhead showing the first hints of morning; all insect life in the brittle weeds having fallen silent, there would only be behind him and down towards the hill a powdery hum of the conveyor belts drawing stone at the tail end of the night shift. In his pain certain natural opiates would have kicked in, chemicals that sustain the body in times of great trial and allow forced marches of one sort or another—great mass gatherings of the uprooted shuffling up dust that can be seen from jets passing, the ill-fated regions of Rwanda or wherever—those abuses of such extreme measure that we hold them out as testaments of a raw ability to survive physically against extreme odds: barely standing and barely crawling, he works his way thoughtlessly down towards a crossroad where, eventually, through good fortune and timing a kind old man in a Oldsmobile Cutlass will pull over, hitching up his sagging tan pants and tucking the tail of his white dress shirt (he's the Reverend Simpson of the Alabaster Salvation Church of Haverstraw, on his way to prepare himself for his morning duties), to greet this staggering vagabond.

We read it in Assorted Fire Events.

Originally published in Harper's: July 1997.