Fiction Pick of the Week: "Other Gods"

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

"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."

The Simon

A woman buys a life-like, anamatronic man named Simon.

"She found the little velvet bag, dropped two tokens into his neck, and went to the computer while he booted up. She searched the website, but there weren’t any programs for what she wanted. Apparently, there were rules, the first of which stated that a robot may not injure a human being. Not even a little. Not a butter-knife nick or a cigarette burn or an intentional pull of the hair. She bought the phrase “I hate you” and a package described as brooding that looked close enough to anger. She stuck the USB drive under his arm and waited for the green light."

I Can See Right Through You

Vampire movies, sex tapes, aging, and complicated relationships: new fiction from the great Kelly Link.

"It’s not much fun, telling a ghost story while you’re naked. Telling the parts of the ghost story that you’re supposed to tell. Not telling other parts. While the woman you love stands there with the person you used to be."

This Ain't No Party

An uneasy relationship between two people squatting in a crime scene house.

"But that guy was gone. In between the fourth and fifth beer at the bar, he disappeared in a haze of yellow and heat. Someone’s joke. A crack of broken glass. Tony and the guy out the door. Maybe in the back alley. And then it was all Tony Disco sidling up to me at the bar, his arm warm against mine, his breath like juniper. And now here he and I were, slumped on a dead woman’s couch."

Irina

In a series of diary entries, a woman explores her terrifying relationship with a vampiric count.

"The first thing I saw this way was me. I was in bed beside him, and began to drift into sleep. When my eyes closed I saw myself, dozing. My hair was silver and gold on the moonlit pillow and my mouth was smeared with his blood. I opened my eyes and he was leaning over me, studying me. I asked him what was the matter."

This Must Be the Place [Excerpt]

A series of memories and addictions from various years.

"I come here after my shift at the record store and sit around at picnic tables outside, scribbling into notebooks while drinking shitty coffee and waiting for my girlfriend, Velvet, to get off work so we can go get high. The crowd here is varied: AA people alongside art people and punks alongside dirty Deadheads and downtown casualties. There are many open mic poetry events, usually outdoors at dusk. One night I decide to read. I go to the mic and drop weapons. I go to the mic and read about Kuwait City and southern Iraq. I go to the mic and read about prostitutes and hashish and drinking homemade wine made out of grape juice in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I go to the mic and curse over and over again. Nobody claps. Nobody moves. I am not asked to read again."

The Adventures of Eagle Feather

An excerpt from Goebel's novel: a man's strange world of peyote, addiction, family, and conflicting identities.

"I dropped tobacco from a cig I took apart and kept the loose stuff in my palm, and I circled the tree counter clockwise, like the turn of the earth, and dropped the tobacco staring up in the tree and praying, like an old wide-faced (I)ndian showed me to do in rehab in the snow in Minnesota around a big oak tree, horses in the field of night, snowflakes falling like drunks, like a dream, stars holy above, and as I finished dropping the last speck, finishing a circle around the ponderosa, praying for the old man in the Upper East Side to have, there it was, standing up in a rich grass, by its quill, right out of the ground. Get it? EAGLE FEATHER. This is a wild trip."

Avenue B

A meeting of men interested in underground grindhouse and fetish films.

"Tanasco had introduced the group to GrindTube, a video sharing service created by unknown users that was similar to some of the cheap porn tube channels. Eddie had never heard of it before. Categorically, GrindTube allowed viewers to choose from a wide variety of links, from ‘slasher’ to ‘animal’ to ‘body fluid’ to ‘cadaver.’ Registered users could upload videos up to twenty-five minutes in length to the server. Unregistered users could watch videos freely, but one had to register in order to upload and share. Since many videos on GrindTube contained potentially offensive content, the splash page greeted users with a warning label that they should be at least 18 years old before entering. The video quality was average to good, but not high definition."

Still Life

A man, a woman, and a child negotiate their uneasy triangle in the days and weeks following 9/11.

"His briefcase sat beside the table like something yanked out of a landfill. He said there was a shirt coming down out of the sky."

What Have You Lost? [Excerpt]

An excerpt from Luna's as-of-now unpublished novel: a look at discontentment in Portland.

"I wasn't sleeping well, is the thing. I would go to bed at midnight where Tom was nearly always already asleep, and I'd lie awake until one or so when I'd finally fall asleep, only to wake up at 5 a.m.—always five am, like a bell clanging—seized with some unnamed panic. Panic gripping my throat, tightening my chest. Like waking up mid-heart attack morning after morning. I would get up, pull on my clothes, get out. Our apartment got so small and close like that, the walls closing in on me and I would need to get out. Just to breathe, to settle myself down some. Miles I would walk, winding my way past rain-faded hulking warehouses and auto shops and lumber yards and then I'd push past them, just me and the trucks and the highway sounds and the river."

These 13 Certain Things

A flight attendant's love affair.

"Only now, in filling up the legal yellow pads with her memories of Will bent over his maps and her black panties drying on the towel rack and those broken glasses and the plane roar that wakes her up at night, does he seem more lost then her. She wasn’t a bird, not a bit like one. Birds were sharp, had metal in their brains which told north and south apart."

Belong

A woman's sexual, educational, and career developments; NSFW.

"She spent many an hour in the presence of those adult models during various parties. Gin and tonic in hand to ward off the bong and tabs of Ecstasy and acid, she sat in a side chair listening to indie rock bands (Morphine was a favorite) or death metal as the mood struck surrounding male minds, and she studied the women. The pictorials always ended with the women’s legs spread or mouths wide open with questing tongues, although faces were not a necessity in certain periodicals. In the spread-leg scenario, the women used long, pointed acrylic fingernails, usually painted a harsh red or cotton-candy pink, to open themselves for optimal viewing. The effect, to Susannah’s eye, was that of a newborn marsupial ripped from the pouch and pinned for display like a reluctant specimen in a Victorian curiosity cabinet."

Women of Ernesto

A group of female lovers take on a singular identity.

"We live in the most coveted spot on campus: the first in a row of bungalows at the top of a wooded hill. The yard is pine needles and dirt. The walls are red brick and thick like Collins’ skull. Between us, we’ve read Wuthering Heights 23 times. But we are sure Collins lied about her number. Watching Veronica Mars with sub-titles is the most reading we’ve ever seen her do."

Cutting Teeth [Excerpt]

Parents, children, and complications convene at a vacation home; an excerpt from Fierro's debut novel, out this week.

"Michael pulled her into his lap, and she stayed, even though it made her feel small, and these were surely not people who appreciated PDAs. Tiffany had learned quickly that the urban sophisticates admired subtlety over all else. Anything loud, lewd, or lascivious should be filtered through irony or irreverence."

Three Aerogrammes

A series of one-sided international love letters.

"I want to frame those first three months I was in Paris with you, and that month last year in Morocco. I want to hang it next to the wooden clock on the wall above my bed. Those hot nights of waiting, talking, making love with our words on Rue D’Aboukir. Waiting for you to return to my fourth-floor apartment with ice cubes for the Martini Rossato and the loud love making that would follow next to paper thin walls where I could hear the neighbours cough. Paper-thin walls never mattered in that hotel room in Morocco. Calling out 'Oui', bent over the bed and the knock of the chamber maid on the door."

Thank You For Disappearing

Two friends find solace in sexual escapades while struggling with their own fragile connection.

"The four of us ended up in the bathroom—Darlene and Viktor in the claw foot, me and Illia in the shower. I tried to tell my guy he had the same first name as a favourite figure skater, but language was restricted to bodies only. Still wet, the Russians left scrambling to the airport. Dar and I woke hours later, a tangled two, and walked out of my bedroom to a small balcony that overlooked a maze of alleyway garages. We recounted the day and the night before, before she left."

Jeff

A bartender contemplates architecture, gender identity, and sadomasochism.

"But Penthouse 808Ravel has promise. Shag carpet. Doors that shut heavily. Porridge doors thicker than mush. I have sexual feelings about Penthouse 808Ravel. Ligature feelings. Relational feelings, knots, bandages."

Triangles

A woman struggles in the wake of her infidelity.

"Sherry hadn’t known anyone at the party. It was outdoors in someone’s back yard. She had a lot to drink, and pretty soon people and trees were practically indistinguishable. The boy had talked to her. Everybody at the party went to a school different from hers. She wore an ecru smock with an apple embroidered on the pocket, and was very pleased with the way her hair looked. Until the boy started talking to her, she felt exceedingly awkward. They drove to a park in her car, where the only witnesses to the uncomfortable and meaningless sex were medlars and lindens and Japanese maples."

The Breakfast Table

The evolution and deterioration of a marriage, told through interactions on/around a piece of furniture.

"Often, at the breakfast table, he reads a magazine from one of his many subscriptions. After a long article, he’ll lean across the table and open the window. Whenever this happens, it’s best if the blinds are unbound, so that the wind, clueless of human grief as it is, may work its way through their lofty protection. And often, when this happens, he’ll look out the window and think of himself as another person. Often, he’ll be walking beneath an umbrella in a foreign country, down some unrecognizable street, one which he can’t identify; or he’s standing on the stern of a fishing boat, one just recently bound by a rope, dark and wet from the sea, to an ancient dock in the Mediterranean, his body slowly rocking, coursing, in a semi-circle of moonlight, calming him to the point that he even forgets what he’s forgotten, and it’s all real, and actually moving, alive within the maternal ebb of the ocean; or he’s in another home, a shack in a forest, and never knew his own life: his job or wardrobe or wife, as he lies back in a cold, twin-sized bed, which keeps only himself, and the darkness, and the quiet; or he’s just a ghost, dancing in the hallways of his home as his wife stumbles through, drunk and mourning, with his absence everywhere, and then counting the strands of her hair as she does her single load of laundry for the week, consisting of only her nightgown, the jogging pants and old t-shirt of his that she relaxes in while spending her evenings at home, her seven pairs of flesh-toned underwear, and work uniform, for the job she had to find after his passing in order to both support and occupy herself—all the while at the breakfast table."