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Last Known Position

James Mathews

Publication Year: 2008

Most of the nine stories in Last Known Position were written upon James Mathews’ return from combat deployment to the Middle East with the D.C. Air National Guard. Life under fire provided the author with both dramatic events and a heightened sense of observation, allowing him to suggest the stress of combat as the driving factor behind extreme yet believable characterization and action. Military experiences and settings cause certain human elements and truisms to emerge more profoundly and dramatically. These stories portray desperate characters driven to make desperate choices. Always on the edge of a dark and unpleasant reality, Mathews’ characters survive by embracing fantasy, humor, violence, and sometimes redemption. Each story bears its own brand of hopeless quirkiness. Four teenagers on an army base steal a grenade and are stalked by a parade horse. A drifter returns home to rob the grandparents who raised him. A national guardsman faces a homicidal superior officer in Iraq on the eve of war. An elderly man worries that his wife’s new house guests are unrepentant cannibals. Always tense, sometimes ridiculous, and never dull, Last Known Position brings the reader to places unknown before and unforgettable after.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction

Half Title

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Title Page

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pp. ix-x

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1. Grenade

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pp. 1-24

Trace Mullins stole an M67 fragmentation grenade from his father—the post weapons range instructor who, according to Trace, had “a whole closet full of stuff ”—and we all spent one Saturday afternoon in the dugouts behind the Officer’s Club pool deciding what we were going to blow up. ...

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2. Roar

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pp. 25-56

Clay Hamilton stood where he always stood at dusk—every dusk, it seemed to him, for the last ten years—staring into the open freezer door of a gas station mini-mart, the present establishment known improbably as Big Bart’s Belly Barn. ...

3. The Fifth Week

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pp. 57-63

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4. Last Known Position: 2,000 Feet Above the World and Descending

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pp. 64-82

It was while jogging the scarred mountain road above the town of San Luis, Argentina, that I came upon a boy and his horse. Judging by the skid marks and stench of burnt rubber, the two had had a very close encounter with a very large truck. ...

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5. Strong Arm

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pp. 83-97

“Henry J. Lippman!” a gruff, smoker’s voice bellowed across the stretch of empty tables in the Iron Kettle Restaurant and Bar. “I’ll be shot and stuffed if that ain’t Henry J. Lippman!” ...

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6. Seven Rifles at Dawn

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pp. 98-123

I noticed three disturbing elements in Captain Moore’s appearance as he swept through the front flap of the operations tent. The first was that he was mentally unhinged and the second was that he was quite irritated. ...

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7. Man Swallows Goldfish while Sleepwalking, Chokes to Death

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pp. 124-138

My wife’s family cornered the market on strange death. They invented the concept. They hold the freaking patent. To look up my wife’s family tree is to see twisted branches filled with decapitations, puddle drownings, impalements, accidental hangings, circus animal attacks. ...

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8. Cannibals in the Basement

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pp. 139-166

My wife invited them into our house, the cannibals. There were three of them. Charlie and Tom were brothers, two squat men with phlegmatic, darting eyes that always appeared desperate to escape the clutch of their faces. The leader was Reginald. ...

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9. Our Deepest Sympathies

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pp. 167-175

The boy watched the khaki-colored, government-issued sedan cruise slowly past him. He was seated on the curb just outside of the Officer’s Club Pool, shaded by the awning. A light blue towel lay draped across his shoulders. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413724
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412529

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction