[Flash Fiction Friday] Keelan Ellis presents “Mix Tape”

Hello Internet! Welcome Keelan Ellis to this week’s edition of Flash Fiction Friday! In her piece, we face a mystery of what happens when two students uncover a curious mix tape. Who is Matchstick?


Mix Tape

by Keelan Ellis


“I can’t believe you roped me into this. Like you need another extra-curricular. Are you ever satisfied?”

Marley stared into the open door of the storage room. Utility shelves crammed full of a motley assortment of junk lined half of the walls, and the other half were covered with floor to ceiling stacks of cardboard boxes. There were tables in the middle, covered with crates full of ancient electronic equipment, random cords and plugs, dusty boxes of lighting gels and many other unnameable junk. Under the table there were more crates which held brittle manila folders containing yellowed mimeograph paper. Anyone who looked in this room would recognize it immediately as the school’s junk drawer. Here were the things that no one was willing to take responsibility for throwing away.

Milo stood behind her, peering over her shoulder. “Mr. Fisher did say it would take all day. He said he’d be back to help us later.”

As co-editors of their high school newspaper, The Sentinel, Marley and Milo were the only people who’d volunteered for the task of clearing out this room for the staff to use. When their teacher had told them it was being used for storage, neither of them had pictured anything like this.

“Are we even supposed to be here by ourselves?” Marley asked. Milo only shrugged and rolled one of the large garbage cans, lined with an industrial sized bag, into the room.

“I’ll start with all this broken shit from the nineties,” he said. “Why don’t you see what’s in those boxes over there.”

Marley heaved a sad sigh but picked up a box cutter anyway. The boxes, as it turned out, were old student files, each one marked with the words ENTERED IN SYSTEM. “Why would they keep hard copies of files from the…” She looked into one of the folders. “Jesus. The nineteen-seventies. I’m taking these out to the dumpster.”

“Fine by me,” Milo said.

She loaded up a hand truck and wheeled them out, then made ten more similar trips. As she removed the stacks, the walls began to be revealed. To her surprise, they were covered in graffiti. Mainly permanent marker, but also spray paint, oil paint and even White Out. There were poems, movie quotes and song lyrics. Names of students long graduated sat alongside Emily Dickinson, Bob Dylan, Morrissey and the Dread Pirate Roberts. She and Milo moved the rest of the boxes out of the way and stared at the wall. Marley took some pictures of it.

Marley started on the shelves next. There were a lot of old mostly empty paint cans, all of which had long since dried out. Everything was coated in an inch of dust, and they were both sneezing constantly. Milo was clearing out a huge old wooden desk that had been pushed into a corner. He pulled one of the drawers out completely and dumped it on the surface. “Oh cool! A real mix tape!” Marley dropped the paint can she was holding and walked over. Milo had taken the tape out of the case and was looking at the sleeve. “There’s music from a lot of different decades, but the latest seems to be from the eighties.”

“Excellent sleuthing, Sherlock. Isn’t that pretty much the last time people made mix tapes?”

Milo ignored her and started reading off what was on the tape. “The Smiths, ‘Reel Around the Fountain.’ Sam Cooke, ‘Bring It On Home to Me.’ Janis Joplin, ‘Me and Bobby McGee.’ Sinead O’Connor, ‘Troy.’”

“I don’t know any of those songs,” Marley said.

“That’s because you’re a philistine,” Milo said. “I wonder if there’s a tape player in here somewhere.” He started hunting around.

“It’ll probably be warped,” said a voice from the doorway. Mr. Fisher had arrived. “They don’t run the AC when students aren’t here and it gets pretty hot.”

“Oh,” Milo said, disappointed.

Marley rolled her eyes and held her hand out. “Let me see it,” she said. She pulled up Spotify on her tablet and had a twenty song playlist ready in about two minutes. She started it playing and said, “I don’t see why old people think mix tapes were so great. Big deal.”

“Whoever made this tape probably spent hours on it,” Mr. Fisher said. “Plus, there could be other things on it that aren’t listed, like snippets of old comedy records and stuff like that.” He smiled, and the word ‘inscrutable’ popped into Marley’s head. It was definitely a secret kind of smile. Then again, she did have kind of a huge crush on Mr. Fisher, so it was possible she was reading things into it. “A friend of mine–well, I guy I knew, anyway, in high school, he used to do stuff like that. He put all kinds of cool stuff on his tapes.”

“Well, this one was definitely made for a specific person,” Milo said. He was looking at the sleeve again. “There’s a note inside. It says, ‘Dear Matchstick–Alright, I’ll jump first.’”

Mr. Fisher’s mouth literally dropped open, like they say in books. Marley had never seen that happen before. He quickly snapped it shut when he saw her looking at him, but it was too late. “What?”

He shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “Let me see that.” He frowned as he looked at it. “No way,” he breathed. He snapped his head up. “We need a boom box or something. There must be one.” He started looking all over the shelves and in crates, finally coming up with an actual tape player–the kind you see in old movies where cop says they’re going to record the interview. Mr. Fisher slid the tape in and pressed play. He’d been right. The very first thing on it wasn’t a song, it was dialogue from a movie. It started with the line that had been written on the tape jacket: Alright, I’ll jump first.

No.

Then you jump first.

No, I said.

What’s the matter with you?

I can’t swim.

Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.

And then it went straight into what even Marley knew was a Beatles song. Here I stand, head in hands, turn my face to the wall…

Mr. Fisher had a very weird look on his face, like this wavery smile. “You went to school here, right? Do you know who this Matchstick person is?” Marley asked.

He nodded. “They called him that because he blushed really easily. He was on the newspaper, as a matter of fact, back in ‘89.”

“Oh! Was this the newspaper room back then?” Milo asked.

“Yep,” Fisher said. “Then some kids started using this room to smoke in during school hours, and got the club kicked out. After that they just started putting everything they didn’t know what to do with in here. I guess they figured twenty-five years was long enough to punish us.”

“Us?” Marley asked.

“I meant the paper,” he said.

“You’re blushing,” Marley said.

“Okay, time to get back to work, you guys. I don’t want to be here all day. You can certainly put your own music on if you don’t want to listen to this.”

“Wait! If you know who Matchstick is, do you know who the tape is from?”

Mr. Fisher smiled. “I might have an idea,” he said, and then walked out of the room.

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