Issue #80

Fall 2021

Exam Questions for the Story That Killed Its Readers

by Matthew F. Amati

  1. Pick the word that best describes the tone of the story:
    1. hainted
    2. cantilevered
    3. tricksy
    4. you have no memory of the story, but the scent of petroleum lingers in your nostrils
  2. Why did the milkman’s father follow the fata morgana across the border into Zanzibar? Would you have followed? Would you have brought your nephew? Your sister's nephew?

  3. Summarize the value of your life in three short, inarticulate sounds. Sounds are to be made in the back of the throat. Examples – a pained, barking "Pi! P'eh! P'ah!" Blood, spittle worth extra points.

  4. Why did the babies on the throne of fire laugh at the inventor? What might the fat one represent? The dead one? The one whom the author described as “herbaceous?”

  5. Where is that wind coming from? Is there a door open?

  6. Draw your father in the square below. Do not leave out his cold, cold eyes.

  7. In your view, does the setting in fog-shrouded Indianapolis affect the protagonist’s actions? Choose one answer:
    1. Only when he tries to breathe
    2. Yes, also no
    3. [shivers]
  8. Since reading the story, do you see a pale man loitering in the corners of your vision? Is he waving a set of keys?

  9. Speculate about the author. On second thought, don’t.

  10. Diagram the following sentence: "Hark! The thunk of a can-opener salesman on the battlements!"

  11. Pick three of the following story elements and discuss what they might symbolize:
    1. The limbless child
    2. The saltshaker
    3. The skull
    4. General Sheridan
    5. The feeling of unfounded optimism
    6. The can of teeth
    7. The dog
  12. Are you more like air or more like the sea? Tell your answer to the pale man.

  13. What themes does the author reinforce via repetition of the following words:
    1. Rum
    2. Fear
    3. Grapes
    4. Pain
    5. Octopi
    6. Dust

    Final question. Choose: A skull with a candle inside. A corridor. The spare and laughing winter wind.

    Author Bio


    Matthew F. Amati's work has appeared previously in Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, and elsewhere. He has appeared four times previously in The Cafe Irreal, most recently in Issue 78. You can find a lot of his stories linked here: