Douglas Watson: “The Messenger Who Did Not Become A Hero” from One Story #177, 4/8/13

Art by George Fuentes

Art by George Fuentes

There was a messenger who was stuck working for a no-good King. That the king was no good had been proved by numerous studies. His intentions may have been good, but results-wise, he was not good. The delivery of kingly services to subject/consumers had grown markedly less efficient since the death of the old king. Also, the new king was not really handsome enough to be a king. He was duke material at best, according to the studies.
For a distinguished messenger nearing the end of his career, it was embarrassing to be working for so mediocre a king.

If you started out writing a fairy tale that turned into a humorous version of Les Miz, morphed into the Odyssey, and finished off with The Death of Ivan Illyich and tied it all together with social satire, you might end up with something like this story. Of course, you would never do such a thing. But Douglas Watson would.

Watson first came across my radar when I read his flash, “Life On The Moon,” on the Tin House blog, and couldn’t add it to my Online Fiction Sampler page fast enough.

But this is not a love story.
It is a philosophical story with a surprise ending.

Our non-hero messenger (with a passion for good coffee) does, however, fall in love. He also joins a revolution, un-revolves eight days later, heads for Sumatra and doesn’t quite make it. He does discover the benefits of self-employment, and eventually… well, you’ll have to read the story.

I suspect there are many philosophical references here that just go past me; my knowledge of philosophy begins and ends with Sophie’s World. But I’m sure there’s something very deep and analytical here about messaging; your own, vs. someone else’s. I’ve been rather obsessed with messaging over the past week or so, but come on, it’s right there in the title. This was a great story to run into right now.

In his One Story Q&A, Watson describes his approach to narrative distance:

I think it’s a way of trying to fold my own self-consciousness about the act of writing into the product itself—you know, like: Now add three tablespoons of self-consciousness. Beat until almost smooth. Melt the protagonist over medium heat. Add a dash of conflict and just enough sugar to make the reader care about the character. Mix well and bake for a million years in the Oven of Remember, This Whole Thing Is Kind of a Joke! Let cool before serving.

That’s the attitude.

New Additions to “Online Fiction, Etc. To Read And Love” page

I’ve added four more wonderful online stories to this page – enjoy!


Watson, Douglas – – “Life on the Moon” – from Tin House blog’s Flash Fiction Fridays. A new version of “the grass is always greener.”

Iskandrian, Kristen – – “Phonics” – from Tin House blog’s Flash Fiction Fridays, 10/21/11. Perhaps the roots of a very specific brand of hate.

Hempel, Amy – – “The Orphan Lamb” – from Harper’s, September 2010 (found on Page 11, lower left). A jaw-dropping micro about what love is all about.

Short Story

Beams, Clare – “We Show What We Have Learned” from Hayden’s Ferry Review #46, Spring/Summer 2010 (sorry, this is no longer online). Zin encountered this in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2011,” and fortunately it’s available online. A teacher falls apart – literally – and imparts an important and unforgettable lesson.