Funny In Five Hundred

Funny stories in under 500 words.

Three Brothers

August 10, 2017
This funny story is all that, and Dim Sum! Written by Susan J. Powers, this tale takes you on a ride to the Three Brothers Chinese restaurant, where our protagonist must prove herself a worthy chef. Susan's stories have appeared in numerous zines and publications. She's also a recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship and an IAC Grant, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Wanted love, needed work. Saw an ad in the Job Mart and answered it. Wanted, it read: Dim Sum Cook. Must have experience, good health, and must prepare such dishes as: Chak Slu Bow, Shrimp Har Gau and Stuffed Duck Feet.

I’d lived in China, worked in China, cooked in China for four years. I was the woman who knew Dim Sum cookery like the back of her tattooed hand; Stuffed Duck Feet was my specialty. I read the ad again - $495 a week, 1-1/2 for overtime - and prepared myself to meet the Three Brothers.

I showered, shaved my ruined head, put on my finest kung fu jacket and pants, then slipped my powdered feet into soft-soled shoes and called for a cab. The driver was a young man with an air of quiet confidence. Neat brown curls hugged the back of his ears. From the rear-view mirror I studied his eyes, twinkling eyes the color of ginger. When they turned their attention to me, I read their meaning.

“Whaddaya think?” I said. “I’m just some ugly kind of man? Listen,” I said, “under all this cloth, I’m not so bad.”

I explained about Chinese tradition, Dim Sum cookery and the Three Brothers. Which explained, I said, my need to disguise myself as a man. He laughed and I thought: this is a man who at least pretended to understand. He said his favorite dish was Shrimp Har Gau. I said, when we get to Three Brothers, wait.

Brother One bowed, admired my shoes and introduced Brother Two who took me on a tour through the kitchen. There Brother Three, knees bent, leaned over the sink dicing beans. “Does she keyboard?” asked Three, scrutinizing my tattoos most displeasurably.

“I’ve lived in your country,” I said. “I understand your customs. I make a tremendous Wu Gork, a really tangy Shrimp Har Gau.”

Three stopped dicing. “Must know Mail Merge,” he told Two.

“Forget overtime,” I said. “I love family business. Who needs overtime? Beef Meat Ball? Very delicious. I cook any Dim Sum you want. Are there other applicants?”

One turned and threw open the back door. Eight bald women dressed in kung fu outfits lined against a brick wall. The air stunk of decay and dog manure. Hunger growled in my throat, gnawed at my bones; my knees buckled to the floor. In the process of collapse, I promised to take dictation. One shut the door.

The fresh smell of Three Brothers slowly crept back to my nose. Fresh bok choi, scallions, pea pods; a savory pot of vegetable soup simmered on the stove.

The cabbie said his name was Mike. He took me to a costume shop where I bought some hair. He offered free love, free beer and free faith. He believed in Life with a capital L, and radial tires. Also, he said, he was not opposed to big tips.

He spent the night.




Photo by Japanresor on Unsplash, edited by David Gregory.

I'm Told That I've Decided to Become a Man

July 28, 2017
Time to grow up, everybody! This story is a funny tale about some good, fatherly advice, and was written by Douglas Collura. Doug lives in Manhattan and is the author of a spoken-word CD, The Dare of the Quick World, and the book, Things I Can Fit My Whole Head Into, which was a finalist for the 2007 Paterson Poetry Prize. He was also the 2008 First Prize Winner of the Missouri Review Audio/Video Competition in Poetry, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016.
My father sat me down and said in the mob enforcer voice he favored for our father-son talks, “It’s time for you to start making decisions for yourself and become a man, ding dong. Now, what do you want to do: go to work, or go to college?”

I could feel myself becoming more of a man by the second as I said, “Go to work.”

He smacked me. “What as? A traffic cone? You’re going to college.” Boy, I thought, this making decisions for myself and being a man stuff is tough. “I’ll give you another chance to prove yourself, oatmeal. What do you want to do this summer before you leave for college? Work and put money away, or sit around on your ass?”

I looked at his hand and said, “Work and put money away.”

He smacked me. “Good answer.”

“So what’d you hit me for?” I said, rubbing my face.

“You won’t become a man by lying, ying yang.”

“Then I take it back. I want to sit around on my ass all summer.”

He smacked me and said, “How predictable. I’ll give you one last chance to prove yourself, tree trunk. What kind of professional have you always dreamed about becoming after college?”

“Can you give me a hint?” I said, exasperated.

“First letter’s an ‘L,’ second letter’s an ‘A,’ he handles divorced people’s property, and he makes a lot of money,” he said.

“That’s easy,” I said confidently. “Landscaper.”

He smacked me twice. “I hope you’re starting to figure things out, soap dish.”

“Yeah, I’m figuring out what manhandled means,” I said, rubbing my face.

“The more you’re handled, the quicker you become a man,” he said. “I was younger than you when I learned that lesson. Just a kid, back when I’d invented a game the other kids loved to play. It combined aerodynamics, knot making, and an interest in the human form. That’s right. I’m the one who invented: Let’s Tie the Smallest Kid to a Rope and Swing Him around Naked. I was so proud, right up until the day the smallest kid escaped, and I found out that I was the second smallest kid. I was betrayed by my own baby. That’s when I realized no matter how many hands are smacking you, they’re all somehow your own, and I started to build the calluses of a man.”

“Gee, dad. That’s a beautiful life lesson,” I said. “If I promise to smack myself every once and a while, can I go?”

“Believe me, when I go, you’ll miss every smack.”

“I’m trying to picture that.”




Gumball

July 21, 2017
What's the cost of a gumball these days? Don't worry, Patrick Bernhard's got you covered. This funny story was written by Patrick Bernhard, a native of the Chicago suburbs. Patrick received his BA from Oberlin College and his MFA from Northwestern University. His work has appeared in Wilder Voice. He currently teaches English at College of Lake County.

Jonas “Gumball” Peters froze in front of the refrigerator, unable to proceed; fishing around in his pocket, he produced a quarter and swallowed it, allowing him to tug the fridge handle. Gumball groaned as he looked inside, subtracting another quarter from the roll in his robe and sending it tumbling down his throat before grabbing the cup of plain yogurt. Yogurt retrieval cost him a dime only a week ago. He recalled his youth, when ten minutes on roller blades meant a reasonably clean penny.

This wasn’t the only recent upcharge: taking a shower, formerly a twenty-five cent affair – dandruff shampoo included – was a whopping six-seventy-five as of last night, with everything from soap bar deterioration percentage to teaspoon spills of conditioner to adjusting the temperature of the water a mere three degrees requiring payment. After gulping down the triple dime charge for thirty seconds’ worth of towel drying the previous evening, Gumball decided to restrict his showering to once every two days, to combat the effects of inflation. However, due to how pricey breakfast was already looking, Gumball considered amending his personal shower edict to once every four days.

Gumball palmed the yogurt and smacked his lips but avoided licking them, figuring he’d rather put that two penny charge towards spoon selection. Gosh, he thought, even the formerly rock-bottom saliva rates would have him feeling like a tollbooth in no time. Perhaps he would avoid using a spoon and take discount slurps from the yogurt container. The quarter that it cost to open the yogurt down his gullet, Gumball then lowered his lips to the container and took long slurps in order to avoid the dreaded slurp repeater tax. One he allowed to go on for too long, which led to a plain yogurt-lined windpipe and a spasm of coughing, which he would have to purchase on cough credit. Dropping the yogurt during the coughing was thankfully free.

When Gumball opened his eyes to the mess of the yogurt spill on the linoleum, he wanted to swear but knew profanity fares alone would send him to the poorhouse. He angrily reached for his roll, but it too had found the floor during his coughing fit, and bending down was fifty cents. Gumball pictured his trusty coin change maker belt, slung over the headboard of the bed he learned this morning would be too expensive to use for more than a couple hours a night, unless he could start swallowing rubies.

He had just enough quarters in the roll to make it to his belt, though leaps and vaults were several bits down the hatch and sprinting was a lavish expenditure. Gumball used his complimentary daily “Yes!” when remembering the emergency fifty-cent piece still in his pocket, but after choking it down and squatting to retrieve the roll of quarters, he froze. Reaching for salvation was now costing thirty-five cents a pop, which he did not have.

Still squatting, Gumball decided not to worry. That was too expensive.




Fixer-Upper

July 19, 2017
This funny story was written by Jessye Scott, and Jessye wants you to know about this new important app! Jessye graduated from the Florida State University, where she worked as the poetry editor for The Kudzu Review. Her work has previously been featured in The Quotable, The 2016 Scythe Prize, and WFSU’s Fresh Picked Prose. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.
Our app describes itself as “powerful photo editing software;” this may be over-the-top for $3.99, but the 4.5-star rating will convince you to splurge.

You purchase the app and, while waiting for it to download, finish your $14 bottle of chocolate wine.

Our loading screen is bright pink and has a nice, familiar logo that tested well with key demographics. You might recognize it as Garamond, which you’ve loved ever since a college professor declared it a "sexy font."

Now select the intended picture: one of you and your boyfriend, taken at last year’s company Christmas party. The picture is truly a fixer-upper; your eyes aren’t too squinty and his smile isn’t completely forced, but it’s still a first draft. Love, like many things, is never as pretty in reality.

First step: corrections. Slide the scale between 1 and 10 until you like what you see. Brightness gets a 7. Saturation drops down to a 2. Clarify earns a respectable 5.

Filters come next. Focus on making your skin tanner and your hair blonder. With a filter called “Persephone” you’ll look as though you’ve just returned from a trip to Florida. Raise that shit up to a 9. It gives your boyfriend a faint orange tint, but everything comes with a price.

Soon, you’ll start to see more flaws. Why does your face look so asymmetrical? Is that the hint of a triple chin? This is when you discover our premium features—including noise reducers and blemish removers—all for an additional $1.99.

That’s how they get you, you say, shaking your head and authorizing the purchase.

The noise reducer reminds you of those JCPenney family portraits your mom insisted on every Thanksgiving. You’re not sure what it actually does, but somehow you look prettier. After sliding the scale up and down, you decide to leave it at a glowy 4.

The blemish fixer promises to remove the period-induced red bumps around your chin. It zooms in automatically, highlighting problem areas you hadn’t even noticed, and with a few taps your face is dewy and golden.

When you’ve finished, upload the picture across all social media. Write a simple caption like “happy anniversary, my true love xoxoxo.” Add a heart emoji for emphasis.

Go to your bedroom and crawl into bed, where he’s already sleeping soundly. Your parents still don’t know that you’re living together out of wedlock, but that’s a conversation for another day. Put the phone on your nightstand.

You used to sleep with several night lights; it reminded you of falling asleep during movies. He can’t sleep with any light, so now you do without.

Compromises make you both happy, you think.

But tonight, you turn away and look over at your phone, where the notifications from your social media post are illuminating the screen and your corner of the room. And you’re still thinking about that perfectly edited picture, peacefully drifting away into dreamland, when he begins to snore.




It's Nothing

July 14, 2017
This story was written by Alan Berger, who has written and directed two films on Netflix. It's a funny story about a super-duper hypochondriac husband who gets what he wants.


It’s nothing, she said to her super-duper hypochondriac husband for the billionth time. And yes, that’s billionth with a major capitol B.

I think I have this.

I think I’m getting that.

Look at my eyes.

Glaucoma, followed by a coma.

It looks like herpes!

Have you been cheating?

Sorry, never mind.

What if I do go into a coma, and they think I’m dead and they bury me alive, and I wake up? I want to be cremated, but only if I’m really dead.

You do know I’m claustrophobic!

You’re a phobic alright.

What did you say?

I think that I’m going deaf.

I said I love you

Oh.

I think I have a fever.

She put her lips to his forehead.

It’s nothing.

Get the thermometer. The rectal one!

I’ll get the biggest one on the planet.

What did you say?

I said I love you God damn it.

Oh.

It was so cute at first. The imaginary maladies, and she was in a place where she needed a man that was needy. It became like babysitting. She would not verbalize to him thou.

He couldn’t take it she thought.

He is so very weak.

Still she loved him.

One night when he thought he was having an asthma attack, even thou he didn’t have asthma, he went into the night alone to get some fresh air in the middle of the dirty city they lived and loved in.

He was waiting to cross the street to get to a bench in the little park he wanted to freely, get some free air in.

The light was red and he waited in back of a woman who he first thought was too loudly speaking on her cell phone.

After a few more overheard words, he realized that she was taking to herself.

A bus was coming by and the woman stepped in front of it.

Still, in her soliloquy heading from stage struck to bus stuck.

He saw her future and leaped out and pushed her out of the way.

He was not that lucky, as the bus ran him over.

But he wasn’t dead, even thou it sure as Hell looked like it.

In the hospital, he was plastered from head to toes. Tubes out of his mouth, dick, nose, and ass, and if that was not enough, throw in some comical traction.

His eyes were covered too but thru his bandaged ears he heard his love crying as she was sitting next to his deathbed.

He mumbled something through the tubes in his mouth to her.

What did you say darling?

He whispered to her in the most positive whisper he was able to accomplish.

“Don’t worry sweetie, it’s nothing.”