Flash Fiction
I built a despair ray. I thought I could make
some money. My first efforts proved that I could
make a rat morose at ten yards and give him the
blahs at a hundred. I moved on to larger test
subjects only to find that cats were incapable of
despair and dogs were much too susceptible, as
they began to whine even before the ray was on.
And so rats remained my standard.

When I felt I was ready to show my ray, I figured
I needed to test it on human subjects or no one
would buy it. On a sunny day I went to a park
and spotted many young couples kissing under
shady trees, men playing football, and family
barbecues. With my big box despair machine
they must have thought I was a hot dog man. I
shot the ray, and immediately the couples
sobbed, the men lobbed the ball like stones, and
some of the families started cutting themselves
with plastic steak knives. I turned the ray off. I
miscalculated—a rat’s capacity for despair far
outweighs that of a human’s. Afterward some of
the parents came up to me. “You speak English,
right? My kid needs ice cream. HELADO. Now!
Understand?” I hit the switch again and gave
them a double scoop of despair.

I’m not a real scientist, of course, so it took a
while for some science journals to take me
seriously. Once they understood my terminology
that a Scottonian scale relates to the intensity of
the despair and the Duncanization is the chemical
process that affects despair, the science world
embraced me. The media became mildly
interested. I exhibited the ray on rats, who I
knew could take it, and even went on a talk show
and made the host sob for two full minutes until
producers yelled turn it off. The host composed
himself, but his eyes were angry. He asked me
why the heck did I build a despair ray. I said
money, of course.

It turned out the government was very interested
in despair and paid me for the design and
wanted a modified despair ray to target certain
colors of people. Senator Carson guaranteed me
it wasn’t about race, the army just need to make
some brown people sad. Real sad. He went on
about how it wasn’t a race thing even more I
think because my further testing on park goers
had exposed me to the sun, making my winter
beige almond-meat skin turn to the color of an
old Mexican lady’s coffee table. I didn’t believe
the government, but I made the ray for money,
and so now I had money. I also had Goth
despair ray groupies, who were either
overweight or too skinny, and also the senator’s
daughters. Clownwhite and Gloomdusk Carson
were nice girls, especially after I gave them free
hits of despair, yet I didn’t feel I reached my goal.

I made the despair ray to be happy. I thought
money would do it. At night I brought the ray (my
new pocket ray) to all the water supplies of the
city. It was cold by the open reservoirs, but my
happiness was worth it. A full hour at each spot
and the Duncanization of the water was
complete. Everyone in the city would despair, not
just some brown people the government didn’t
like. I would be the happiest man in the world, or
at least in this city and no one would ask me
about despair, only how I got so goddamn happy.

Scott Russell Duncan describes himself as a lingerer and a lurker.
He’s seen a president eat enchiladas, escaped being held hostage
by nuns, fled Mills College with an MFA, and makes his lair in
Oakland. Scott’s ancestors are Californio, Hispano, and Texian, so
he’s half white guy and Mexican. His novel in progress is The
Ramona Diary of SRD, a fictional travel diary reclaiming the
mythology of Chicano California, which has much to do with a 19th
century book named Ramona. Chapters appear in the 2012 summer
issue of Border Senses and the fall 2012 and 2013 issues of Label
Me Latina/o. See more at
by Scott Russell Duncan