The Collagist

25 articles
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Gentle Hands Will Save You

Scenes from an anger management facility.

"Mike began to curse his hands. Champion told him to calm down, that his hands were gentle, and that he was as likely brainwashed by this place as cured, something he would never admit sober. Champion suggested they try to escape; he was drunk enough, he thought, to just walk away."

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Even Quieter Than This

Nighttime mysteries of flower petals and animals.

"The streets filled with coyotes at night. Their cries pulsated into our sleep in such a way that everyone thought they were a dream and never mentioned them to anyone else. I slept in their sounds until the last few skirted back to hiding places. Under cars and in bramble thickets."

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Brotherhood

A fragmented story of a mysterious online networker of "workers" and "clients."

"Worse than the ones who smelt of wool and mould were girls who buffed their skins to marble, reeking of fruit liniments, tripping on tiny stilts, giggling like passive ewe, pretending to be air."

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The Private Fight

Current personal problems are tied to racial issues from years past.

"Helen Conley knew this story: When Maxwell Conley was sixteen and in high school, with a bad attitude like many of us have, two young members of the Black Panther Party saved his life. It happened because a recent veteran of the war in Vietnam woke up one morning believing he was still in the jungle. Adrenaline began pumping through his body at impressive levels. He didn't have a gun, but he found an oak baseball bat in the alley behind his mother's apartment building. He laced up his combat boots. He stormed down the street until he came to the high school. He kicked open the doors of the school, and came through the hallway breathing hard, fists clenched around the bat. It was seventh period. The hallway was quiet. Around the corner came Maxwell Conley, cutting class as was his custom. He was not sober. He was wondering why Kay Svenson wouldn't pay attention to him in art class. He was admiring his long curly hair in the reflection of the fire extinguisher case mounted on the wall. His Converse sneakers flapped open and his unwashed sock came through. The Vietnam veteran, only a few years older than Maxwell Conley, met him in the hallway, and wasted no time."

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Campaign

A peculiar dedication in a strange city.

"In the center of the square, the statue of our city's founder, astride his horse, appears to be newly buffed. His long calves, the thick rope of his braid, the gun in one hand and the basket of cherries in the other—symbolizing our affection for violence and fertility—all gleam. The cobblestones are liberated of their usual chaff and cigarette butts."

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Ex Machina

An online mystery surrounding animal abuse and porn.

"A different room, a different couch, but the rest of the room just as bare as the other. The couch is a futon, in couch form for now; it will be in its bed form but only much later. The camera's pushed far back enough that you can see the couch entire and you can see part of a window above it, the thick pebbly glass of the plastic-lipped pane. The Porn Star sits upon the couch. He is reading a magazine, right leg propped, wagging. The shoes he wears have fat black tongues and the laces that keep them on tight are bright orange. His pants are riding low on him, the chain on his wallet cascading the fabric. He's wearing a hoodie, the hood cinched in close and the sleeves of the sweatshirt tube down past his hands. He's reading the magazine, foot faintly wagging. There's a look on his face but it cannot be seen."

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We're Coming For Them

A study in building spaceships.

"Mostly, the spaceship builders did not come out of their trailers or houses, though our local guides claimed they didn't mind the occasional tour. They were so serious they could not see that others might laugh. Some of their grounds looked measured and neat; some were spilling over or scraped to dust. Most were single, a few married, some widowed or divorced. The married ones interested us most—what sorts of agreements had they come to? were the ships built for two?"

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But Are They Still Doing It?

A diagram of gossip concerning an affair.

"He called it love, said Ellen. He said he was in love, that's the word he used when he finally admitted it. I mean you expect the I-made-a-mistake speech, said Connie, the she-came-on-to-me speech, the it-was-meaningless speech. You expect him to say that it was just the one time, knowing that it was more, but you can ignore that. You expect him to say it was protected sex and that you don't have to go to the clinic to get some sort of test for chlamydia, said Ellen. But you will, anyway, said Sonya, and make him do it too just to rub his nose in it. But no, said Grace. He tells you that he's a new person, in love for the first time ever. What do you do with that? She told Sonya that as soon as he'd said it, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, she'd felt the room swaying."

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The Lady

A mysterious figure appears to early settlers in Wisconsin.

"t would make sense to Tellie later, after she'd hear it at the mill, after she'd race back the four miles in her bare feet to the home of the family where she'd just that morning left her babies, that it had happened to Adele Brise in the woods. The Lady, the Queen of Heaven, showing herself."

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A Modest Book Proposal From Pete Maynard, Author of M__y Dick

On literary mashups, double entendres, and questionable choices.

"Maybe you’ve heard of M__y Dick? I would bet you haven’t read it, and I bet I’d win that bet because I’d be leaving nothing up to chance. Here’s why: nobody has read M__y Dick. Scratch that. Nobody but me has read M__y Dick, because there’s only one copy in existence and it’s right here in my apartment, right here on this very desk I am writing to you from. That was the whole point. M__y Dick was just for me, for my own self-improvement. Of course, that didn’t stop them from talking about it, which was fine at first, and then it was not."

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Lost Dog

An aging man, a dead wife, a peculiar dog.

Once more at five o'clock, just before five o'clock, the dog engaged in its unaccountable behavior. And then, the next day, again. And the day after that, again. And still he had gotten not an inch closer to understanding why. Would he ever? Perhaps a sound so high-pitched he couldn't hear it. Something shifting in the clock maybe as it prepared to chime the hour. Or the dog was somehow seeing something that wasn't actually there. Or maybe he was simply watching the dog go mad.

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Dream House

An island house; a series of apparations, dreams, and mysteries.

"Sara put trances on Leigh in the middle of the night, while Leigh was sleeping. Leigh knew but didn't tell Mum or say anything about it to Sara. All three had terrible secrets they kept safe. They kept them safe for so long and so devotedly that they were no longer secrets—they were alternate ways of navigating the world."

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Devotions

Memories of the magical, enlightened daughter of a religious leader.

"It was in this moment that we began to wonder when her father might sense these happenings and descend upon us; when we turned to look, he had only just begun his approach, had only just caught sight of his daughter. He betrayed no surprise but drew himself up, preparing to mete judgment, and quickened his step as though eager to commence the necessary violence—"

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The End of History

A woman grapples with the abundance of her accumulated "content"—data, ideas, memories.

"What she wants to discover is a framework for her content, where it will be contained and even put to a good use so that she does not feel she has more than she can manage. There are the lyrics of songs—usually only the chorus—that repeat when she is awake and when she is asleep, occurring in her dreams to different melodies, yet still filling her head with their words. There are actual objects that fill the place where she lives: tables, chairs, the rind of a grapefruit, many plastic bags, dishes with food congealed to their surfaces. There are surfaces, and there are memories of surfaces—the glittering one of the pond where she swam with a man she no longer sees."

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Tampa (Excerpt)

In this excerpt from the novel Tampa, a pedophile prepares for her first day of teaching middle school; NSFW.

"The early start time of Jefferson Junior High was one of its main allures: seven thirty a.m. The boys would practically be asleep, their bodies still in various stages of lingering nocturnal arousal. From my desk, I'd be able to watch their exposed hands rubbing across their pants beneath the tables, their shame and their half-inflated genitals arm-wrestling for control."

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The Apartment

A weary tenant gets lost in his vast apartment complex.

"The fourth floor is the same as the third. I again turn left outside the elevator, but take fewer steps before again realizing my error. Turning around, the numbers climb: 418, 420, 422. I put my key in my door and it slides all the way in, and I pause, surprised, though unsure why I should be. I can feel the door respond to me opening it, but then it stops. I've never once locked that deadbolt when leaving the apartment. Sometimes I lock it when home, inside the apartment, though just as often I don't. The door itself locks automatically when I leave, and the apartment building is locked as well, so I've never stopped and taken the time nor precaution for the extra lock of the deadbolt. I try my same key in the second lock—it fits, but won't turn. It won't unlock, but I knew it wouldn't. I stand still and silent, listening, wondering again if someone inside heard me trying to let myself in. I try to think of as simple an explanation as possible, should someone open the door, though who might that be? Who else would be in my apartment, why would they open the door?"

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Humint

Mysteries and complex memories envelop an unhappy suburban marriage.

"So Kendall started it, and once the ball of change got rolling, it gathered velocity. No going back. Things were starting to happen. One morning on the brick patio, Kendall was in sweats after finishing his workout. The look suited him: athletic but not excessively sweaty. In the distance, the heavy haze was like a scrim in front of the cityscape. It would mean a smog alert when they turned on the news. Behind him was the dry swimming pool, a long, inset coffin with a sturdy mesh cover that looked like a rectangular rug laid over the yard. She felt a recklessness bubbling up in her. He was her husband, yet not. Something about him coming home a stranger was cutting her loose, changing the plan."

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Sky Saw [Excerpt]

Cerebral horrors from the inimitable Blake Butler.

"The tone had been appearing on the air for weeks. Its tone contained all possible timbre: every sentence ever crammed into each blink. Sometimes the tone would last for several hours, sealing the air against all other motion. It always hurt. It made Person 1180's blood go numb. It made the books fall off the bookshelves and land opened to certain pages, though when she tried to look the words would melt or disappear. No one could say what made the tone or where it came from. Tax dollars were purportedly at work."

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Born Again

A trio of addicts--a man, a woman, and a prostitute--venture into Las Vegas to find a dealer.

"At the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard, we are swallowed by a cheery, comforting crowd of good mothers from Wisconsin and fathers from Minnesota, out as late as they ever have been. It is a sea of gaping purses. Flip-phones are holstered to belts, tucked under big bellies. Half-drunk gallon-sized tubes of ruby-red beverage crowd the trashcans and I have no qualms about picking one for myself and gulping it down. The liquid is warm and syrupy, but under it all there is the low burn of rum, a small relief. Deborah has powdered her nose and is eyeballing the frat boys on the periphery. Only Shelly is looking lost, still sweating around her underarms, her eyes bugging and the space under her chin, dipping up and down, swallowing nothing."

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Birds With Teeth

Two nineteenth century paleontologists, once friends and colleagues, become bitter enemies.

"But years ago, there was room for friendship. They talked for hours at Haddonfield, grinning in helpless academic passion and exclaiming at their own twin hearts. They ate breakfast together on a heap of rock in the marl pits, black bread and coffee as the sun swam into the sky. Cope in shirtsleeves, a boy's face, looking more like Marsh's son than his contemporary."

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Five Miniatures

Five provocative fragments from the author of this year's acclaimed experimental SF novel Ivyland.

"If, as the present suggests, we are fated to spend ever more time in virtual realities, funneling ourselves into the abstractions of code, then so too will human savagery fold into this nonspace. Murder will be wiping a hard drive with minds on it. Infoterror and thoughtwar the apocalyptic threats."

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Now Is The Time For Us To Be Sweet

Not exactly Valentine's Day: an English professor in Chicago, lost in grief, begins dating a student.

"I can't even figure out what it is in Eric, why he sometimes reminds me of my old boyfriend. It's something in the way their faces shift, but I can never pin it down to a feeling or a cause. It surprises me right out of sleep."

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Mercy

A woman reflects back on the end of her relationship with Sergei, a Ukranian.

"I was hugged and examined by Sergei's parents. I realized that I was being sized up for something, which was frightening, and that their response was that of instant, teary approval, which was far more frightening. With watery eyes and pinched lips they whispered 'precious' and called me 'gorgeous,' while the roundest of the official-types on stage began to sing."

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Un Active Volcano

A minimalist exchange set inside a volcano.

"There is nothing to do but drink beers and stare up into the black and so that is what we do. "