Digital Darkness: When We Can’t Turn Away From Death Online
The author’s long-running relationship with the grotesque.
The author’s long-running relationship with the grotesque.
Three brothers, imprisoned and hunted by a cruel knight.
"Who am I? I do not know how he changed our names. But in this world of lions and giants and the blinding shine of armor, I am called Joyless, as if it were a name."
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."
A mini epic of murder, theft, and nature in the Old West.
"He trotted down the steep slope and across the range, passing monuments of salt cedar and sagebrush and croppings of bouldered limestone and sandstone. Everett marched on, glancing back to the pass like clockwork. His vision began to blur and he mistook shadows of dashing clouds overhead as armies of villains bent on doing him harm. He crept on as his headache worsened and soon he forgot his sentried errand. He kept low to the ground and stopped himself twice from collapsing completely, bracing himself on passing man-made edifices of rock and earth. His limp had worsened and he stumbled upon wreckage of some wrecked wagonette and used a long timber from the wagon-bed as a crutch until it snapped in half ten minutes later. The sun was hot and without his hat or coat he felt the full effects of it on the nape of his neck."
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."
A Japanese photographer examines the scene of the St. Valentine's Day massacre; a story from the author of The Black Hour.
"Was it the worst I’d seen? I turned to the camera, viewing the scene anew. Four men lay in a row, as though they had been tucked into a large bed. One slept at their feet, face down. The last hunched on his knees at a round-backed wooden chair. Blood ran toward the center of the room. Later that day when I returned to the newsroom, I would release the image from the machine in my hands, like a dragon from a cage. The city would see the blood, black, and no one would remember that someone—call him Togo or call him Fujita, the name will not be printed—had stood in the dust of men’s bones to face the dragon so that they did not have to."
A mysterious stranger in the woods; horrific escalations.
"When we were eleven Billy Jacobs told us he had seen three people standing at the edge of the woods. One was the redheaded man–or someone who from a distance resembled the redheaded man, a sicker, thinner incarnation of him. The three held big glass bottles as they waved to Billy. One let a cigarette fall from his mouth and the others shrieked with laughter. They stumbled away and were gone."
Sex, potential violence, and human awkardness convene on an isolated shore.
"A slight breeze brings slight relief from the heat and a taste of the saltwater lapping against the hard sand. He’s been here many times. Though he has no desire to kill a bird, he loves this place, this lonely beach at the edge of this lonely lake too shallow for boats and too lifeless to attract fishermen. He loves the sand bugs and the sharp edges of the sand grass. Especially he loves the deep shade beneath the willow trees, and the sound of the cicadas’ music in the sun."
A man heads to Key West in a quest for sobriety.
"At the piano a black man in dark glasses set the tempo with hands the size of catcher’s gloves. He never looked down at the keys. Instead he seemed to be staring straight at Daniel. It was unnerving at first, but soon Daniel got used to it. Perhaps because he was sober, it seemed as if he could hear all the notes. He didn’t miss a moment. He smiled at the piano man. He nodded his head when the piano man did a whirling riff and clapped when he finished a mind-boggling solo."
An unsettling dialogue between a woman and her jilted lover.
"Her face is turning pale, her freckles darkening. Don’t feel bad now. Dismiss that urge to hold her, to comfort her, to make her feel safe. She is the girl you love, but not. She is the girl who will break your heart. Who broke your heart already, and will do it again."
An Arizona family unwittingly approaches the cusp of tragedy.
"He looks up at me quick and decides to be pleased. Usually he won’t look at a person direct. He says eye contact is counterproductive to comprehension and communication. He’s got any number of ways to justify himself, that’s for sure."
The second part of the Donna Tartt excerpt.
""When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."
A new counselor takes a job at a faltering Florida high school.
"The others at the table were talking about summer break, how it had gone too quickly, how the last thing they wanted was to be back at school, at this school. They complained about the heat, the giant mosquitos, the rain—the constant rain—and joked about how wrong it was to be so pissed off already when it was only the first day. Andrew, at the end of the table, nodded and smiled while he munched on a Cuban sandwich, trying to find an in, some common ground."</p>
Iraq, ten years later: Sectarian assassins, posing as bodyguards, are baffled by an egg-laying rabbit. Translated by Jonathan Wright.
"The rabbit had been with us for a month and I had already spent two months with Salsal in this fancy villa in the north of the Green Zone. The villa was detached, surrounded by a high wall and with a gate fitted with a sophisticated electronic security system. We didn’t know when zero hour would come. Salsal was a professional, whereas they called me duckling because this was my first operation."
Two men take different paths during the Spanish Civil War.
"We each took a shovel, cursing the officer and the soldier whose question put us in our position, but before we dug a hole big enough for three corpses, another truck came from the bullring to the cemetery. This time, four of the Moroccan regulares sat on the tailgate. They shared a cigarette and joked with one another while bodies jostled heavily behind them. So we began unloading the dead. I hesitated touching their hairy forearms or muddy ankles, their bare feet or damp armpits, moist from fear. Their clothes and skin were soaked through, and their blood was warm and slick, making them difficult to handle. For many, their bowels had released their grip in death, and we worked while trying to cover our noses with a shoulder. Most of the bullets had entered their chests, though some destroyed their jaws so that their mouths swung open across a shoulder. What should we do about this one? a soldier asked, pointing at a still-blinking rojo. Blood clouded his eyes, and he breathed with his mouth open. Flies grazed at the corners of his lips. A bullet had sheared a hole through his trachea, which wheezed with each breath. The commanding officer glanced down, then turned away. He’ll be dead by the time you finish digging his grave, he said."
Three generations of women endure the trials of a turbulent Nigeria.
"Almost a year into their courting, the war comes. Her people are Biafra loyalists, his people think Ojukwu is a fool. On the night of their engagement party only her people attend. And when she goes by his house the next day she discovers he has left the country."
A childhood evening in a barrio.
"Now they’re bossing all the kids around. Just because they have the nicest soccer ball in all of Cuatro de Marzo, they think they can slave-drive the other kids to make the soccer field, to carve it out from the dirt street. They think they can practically reinvent the game. The ball is pretty nice. Nobody knows exactly where they got it, but they never let it out of their sight. They take turns guarding it, sleeping with it at night. It’s the same kind the Guadalajara Chivas use, one that looks official—all red, white and blue with their coat of arms on the side."
A mental disorder in which the protagonist believes he is a tree.
"There are a lot of things though that one doesn’t experience as a tree. For example music. Maybe trees feel the vibrations, but I don’t remember anymore. When I was young my mom put me in piano lessons. I begged to go to them actually, but I was horrible. Before the lesson I used to have to sit and wait in the hallway of the music school and from the different rooms you could hear the different instruments being played badly, but from my position in the hallway, it sounded like they were all coming from the same room. A cello screeching as syncopation to an out of tune violin with a piano clank-clanking along. It was beautiful and what I enjoyed more than anything else. Music is one thing that I’ll miss, when I become a tree again."
An act of terror at an art museum.
"When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."
An uncle sets out to find his wayward niece.
"I pick Jerry’s and I’m right. A couple of old people are hanging out outside the pizza place and next to them groups of highschool kids. I see Sara. She’s sitting on a mailbox, leaning over a guy, her back to me. The sharp outline of her spine showing through her tank top and she doesn’t look like she’s been eating. She’s a good looking girl though, I can tell. An old Ozzy Ozbourne song plays from the open door of a Lexus next to them."
A relationship is explored via memories and lists; a mental breakdown ensues.
"I thought the standard things like dates and flowers could keep us normal. But it was the subtle derision in your smile that made me want to smother you in your sleep after I said things like: It aches sometimes—how life seems so long. You thought therapy could keep us sane so you made it an ultimatum and flushed my Seroquel down the toilet."
A complex look at an act of small town violence.
"There wasn’t time to think about it, though, because Jim had already opened his car door and was running up the concrete incline toward where the two men were sleeping, and there was two of them and one of him, so I kicked off my slides in the floorboard and grabbed hold of my blackjack and run up the hill after him."
An aging wrestler reflects as he prepares to wrestle an old nemesis: a black bear.
"Emperor Jones Number Two vs. Dave 'Warthog' Ferrari in 'The War 2 Settle The Score' was the main event of that evening's Wrestling Road Show. It was the only match on the card that featured any animals. Times were changing, Friar had told me. The draw at the gate had been better than Friar expected; he'd sold more than a hundred tickets in advance and there were now twice that many people crammed into the small gymnasium. When commissioning the gym, the Legionnaires decided to have a stage built at one end, for medal ceremonies or other such honors. That was where Friar had his ring set up. Normally you work in the round, but this set up had it's advantages for a promotion like Friar's. It was easy to bring animals in and out and people wouldn't get too nervous seeing how they had to be wrangled from their cages when it was done behind a curtain."
“Violence, being instrumental by nature, is rational to the extent that it is effective in reaching the end which must justify it.”
A man returns to his small hometown for a temporary substitute teaching job.
"I went away from this place and I lived somewhere else. Years passed. When I came back, it was all the same. It had been years, but the place was the same. I started teaching at the school I went to as a boy. It was a substitute gig. The original teacher needed surgery and she would be out for three weeks. There was a little girl there in the 5th grade class and she was so shy she could barely speak. The other 5th grade teacher told me that the little girl’s mother was on drugs. She told me not to get close to the kids like that because they never made it through the school year. They always ended up moving or just disappearing. She told me that she had been to a funeral just a few weeks earlier for a student’s mother who had overdosed."