Short Fiction: 'Persecuted'

Commentator Jeff Ryan reads his short story "Persecuted, Banished, Shot."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The legacy of a deceased Connecticut Yankee haunts a high school class studying "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in this next item. It's a short, short story by Jeff Ryan.

JEFF RYAN:

(Reading) On the first day of reading the new novel, Ms. Million(ph) tried to get the sullen seventh-period class to say something, anything about the book. The kids at Hartford Union High School in Hartford, Connecticut, could not care less that the author was a former resident of their town.

Ms. Million looked to Tamika(ph) at last. She was a suck-up who never had anything much to say. It took a long time to say it. Tamika suggested that maybe it was about racism. `Brilliant deduction,' Ms. Million thought to herself. The next day, Tamika wasn't in class. Her mother had called the principal to say an old man with white hair had threatened to prosecute Tamika if she didn't transfer to another class.

The only person to speak on the second day was Kurt(ph), a lazy genius who probably read the novel in third grade and was passing off his thoughts from back then. Kurt said the moral might be to view people how they act, not how they look. He was out the next day, too. He was suspended for two weeks for beating up a janitor who Kurt said he mistook for a ghost.

The third day, Beth, a quiet but bright student, defended the book's peripatetic style by saying the change in relationship between the characters was the plot arc, not their journey down the Mississippi. As Beth was attempting to define the plot, a ghost in a white linen suit walked through the blackboard and shot at her with a pepper gun. `I warned you,' the ghost ridiculed Ms. Million, `persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted. Persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished. Persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. Would you please stop trying to study that pudding-head of a novel.'

BLOCK: Jeff Ryan's story is titled "Persecuted, Banished, Shot."

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is NPR National Public Radio.

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