Fiction Pick of the Week: "Other Gods"

A tornado causes physical and psychological turmoil in a religious community.

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"The next morning, I ran through the streets in my pajamas, screaming for somebody, anybody. I finally found Daddy standing at the edge of the detention pond behind the church. It was full of all sorts of stuff: cars, tree trunks, gas grills, hot water heaters, and two bodies. The bodies were naked, and I didn’t recognize them at first. But then I saw their faces. It was Brother Mack and the second Hillyer girl. They were facing each other, impaled by a metal post from the chain link fence, pushed together like two pieces of chicken on a kebab."

Fiction Pick of the Week: "The Sinner and the Saint"

A newfound faith wreaks havoc on a relationship.

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"I broke commandments left and right, several more than once. Coveting neighbor’s wife (well, neighbor’s husband)? Check. Taking the Lord’s name in vain? Big fat check. Lying? Too many times to count. But that was before I met Augustine. He’d made me better. Almost good (I still had a filthy mouth). That’s how I defined Love now. How could I ever see it another way? How could I ever see it with anyone else?"

Lithium Tetrachloroalum and Other Servants of God's Will

Religious mysteries surround a strange young child.

"'And of course the one book she had arrived with onto the stoop was none other than a New International version of The Holy Bible, which sparked the longest conversation the girl and I ever had. One afternoon while her alleged father was in the basement workshop of his, tinkering. I sat there flipping its pages and heard her clonking down the hall. Now, was I looking for notes or marginalia? Arguments? So I see the souped-up red lights and then there she is, sitting on the floor in front of me with a banana in one hand and a stuffed doll in the other, suspicious narrow eyes. Asking whether I was a Catholic. I am indeed, I told her, which she answered by affirming, me too. Which gave me pause, cautious not to trigger and witness again her version of tears. Well, I said, technically speaking, that isn’t true. Not until you take your first communion. And at this point she stared into my own face in a way I couldn’t describe if you gave me a full week.'"

The God of the Living Room

Struggling with sobriety, a man considers faith in all its complications.

"Wishes pour out of me, spilling onto the couch like blood from a bull on an altar. Big wishes for the whole of humanity—world peace and things like that— then, medium wishes—a better job, a wife, kids even, which I’ve never, ever wanted before, and even small wishes I laugh at but still mean—the Cubs in the Series, for example. I wish to hate booze, wish that my stomach would catch fire and burn me to death from the inside out if I ever take another drink. I wish for a better life, for a new me, for a better spirit. Without knowing exactly what that means, I wish for a better spirit."

The Ceiling

Horrifyingly astute reflections on a series of murders.

"The bank clerk gave John a pinched look as he pulled out his calculator, checking if she’d paid him the correct interest when cashing out Mother’s savings bonds. (She had, to the penny.) He sensed her subtle gloat. John didn’t care. He’d ended two people’s pain that day, single-handedly. Was SHE ever that kind?"

Thank You For the Light

On F. Scott Fitzgerald's birthday, a repost from 2012:In this previously-unpublished Fitzgerald story, a saleswoman wants a cigarette, and perhaps encounters something more profound.

"Smoking meant a lot to her sometimes. She worked very hard and it had some ability to rest and relax her psychologically. She was a widow and she had no close relatives to write to in the evenings, and more than one moving picture a week hurt her eyes, so smoking had come to be an important punctuation mark in the long sentence of a day on the road."

The Names [Excerpt]

Scenes from a scary faith healing session.

"The one to be delivered shook at the apostle’s touch, recoiled from his voice. His boots stamped the floor, wrung more sweat free from his jumping body. It was darkest bluest winter and the one was dressed for the weather, had kept his coat on the whole dance. The look in his eyes, the exhaustion, the fear, his and not his. He named some of his demons at sentence length, readying his voice for story, but the apostle stopped him."

The Minister's Black Veil

A classis psychological work on Hawthorne's 210th birthday.

"The cause of so much amazement may appear sufficiently slight. Mr. Hooper, a gentlemanly person, of about thirty, though still a bachelor, was dressed with due clerical neatness, as if a careful wife had starched his band, and brushed the weekly dust from his Sunday's garb. There was but one thing remarkable in his appearance. Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil. On a nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin, but probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things. With this gloomy shade before him, good Mr. Hooper walked onward, at a slow and quiet pace, stooping somewhat, and looking on the ground, as is customary with abstracted men, yet nodding kindly to those of his parishioners who still waited on the meeting-house steps. But so wonder-struck were they that his greeting hardly met with a return."

Ambassadors in Exile

A driver and passenger engage in uneasy political and social discourse.

"Darshan could all too easily picture Malik at prayer while on the job. He saw every detail--head bowed, eyed shut, both hands clutching the wheel as a laundry list of requests was whispered towards heaven: a new carburetor for the engine, a new dress for the wife, new sneakers for the children. Each and every petty need enunciated like a brave but modest child, the requests a thing of beauty in their humility, a delicate song of worship and desire that would only come to an end when Malik veered slightly into the opposing lane and plowed directly into the headlights of an oncoming sixteen-wheeler."

Conversion

A deaf boy and his mother take part in an odd religious community.

"My mother wasn’t always this way. Before the accident we never even went to church, never mind twice in one day. Then my dad had to go and wrap his car around a tree and mumble some crazy shit about angels and white tunnels while he’s dying. It was just bad luck that brought us here. My mother Googled churches in the area, and it’s no surprise which ranked number one on the search results page."

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."

On the Far Side Of the Sea

A long, philosophical courtship between a wealthy man and an intelligent woman.

"She looked up. Man and manservant were circling the property. They picked their way slowly, gazing down, grimly. She had not seen anyone move like this; it was the walk of people in a graveyard who knew all the buried. He was wrong. For him it was a test of devotion. Her devotion had nothing to do with it. She craved that man’s face and hands, her sweetest concern was what he would say next, the air she liked best had the damp of his breath in it."

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—"