The Gore and the Splatter [Excerpt]

Greek heroes and gods roam suburban America.

The goddess hiked her gowns and climbed as softly as she could the creaky wooden steps into his house. She had snuck into a home a million times, and the hardest part was carrying the shield through the door with it hitting anything, or not knocking overcoat trees or a vase. Or keeping on her helmet without its tall purple that got nudged off in low doorways. All of this and more had happened many times, and it was never not embarrassing; there were instances when people thought that she was not a god, but just an oddly-dressed intruder. She’d stopped wearing metal combat boots a hundred years ago and now she wore her flip-flops, though she made sure her father saw her in the boots when she was leaving Mount Olympus.

The Fixed Idea

A grieving writer, a jealous actor, and sudden eruptions of [mock?] violence.

"Alvin Lightman, though I did not yet know his name, was sitting in the front parlor, designated the 'lounge,' his long legs stretched out across a wicker ottoman. As he later told me, he watched my arrival circumspectly, from behind the traditional screen of an open newspaper. He thought I looked 'ghastly' but 'possibly interesting.'"

Indelible

After a drunk driving accident, a dangerous altercation ensues.

"Now Flint says nothing, and his lips sew themselves closed. His head jerks sharply, half an inch to the side. There’s no reading it. John has never been good at reading people. He reads reports and precedents, and those are the things he is good at. He reads labels and alcohol content and is good at ignoring those. Was. He can’t do that again. He wants to do that again. He wants the scotch his sister upended in the drain, the gin alongside. He should be thinking about the money, about the cost of those things, but money is beyond him right now. All he wants is moisture in his throat. Outside, the sky is still as dry as sand, a black blanket cut by threads of lightning. He misses the darkness, before the lamp came on, because the yellow light is too clean, too real. This moment is not at all real."

Distance

A family man visits his wayward, troubled brother.

"I've driven here after all these years to figure out—maybe for the first time—the person my brother is. My brother who I've known only in memory. And in two-minute phone calls and birthday cards and rumors. My brother who is sometimes kind and sometimes cruel. Kind when he brought me pizza after my accident, when, at two in the morning with an IV poking through my skin, we ate and laughed to the rhythmic beep-beep of the heart monitor. Cruel when he chased Tommy Gleeson—our autistic neighbor—down the street with a pipe, cornered him, and then stepped on his stomach until he vomited."

The Murders In The Rue Morgue

A Parisan eccentric and his friend analytically consider a horrific crime in this classic detective story.

"At the first dawn of the morning we closed all the massy shutters of our old building; lighted a couple of tapers which, strongly perfumed, threw out only the ghastliest and feeblest of rays. By the aid of these we then busied our souls in dreams—reading, writing, or conversing, until warned by the clock of the advent of the true Darkness. Then we sallied forth into the streets, arm and arm, continuing the topics of the day, or roaming far and wide until a late hour, seeking, amid the wild lights and shadows of the populous city, that infinity of mental excitement which quiet observation can afford."

Alligator Language

Family faults, loss, and discontent arise when a widower watches his grandson during a summer in Florida.

"In the calm that follows his tears, Fowler sees clearly how Mary, in dying, not only took herself away from him, but also widened the gap between he and his daughter and his grandson. Fowler would have to take on his wife’s best qualities — her patience, her unconditional love for people despite their flaws — in order to stop that gap from widening. This realization terrifies him — he doesn’t have that kind of strength — and as his heart beats fast with that fear, he notices the boy’s socks on the floor near the bed. He picks one of them up and uses it to wipe at his eyes. He blows his nose into the sock, breathes in the fabric’s sour scent."

Deep Sleep

A Bosnian immigrant in Chicago undertakes some ramshackle detective work.

"Office 909 had a sign that read GREAT LAKES EYE and a black-and-white eye with long, upward-curling eyelashes. Pronek hesitated for a moment before knocking at the door--his fingers levitated, angled, in front of the eye. Pronek knocked using three of his knuckles, the glass shook perilously, then he opened the door and entered an empty waiting room. There was another door, closed, and there were magazines strewn on the few chairs, even on the musty floor, as if someone had searched through them all. The waiting room was lit by a thin-necked lamp in the corner, leaning slightly as if about to snap. A picture of an elaborate ocean sunset--somebody lit a match under the water--hung on the opposite wall. 'Acapulco,' it said in the lower right corner, 'where you want to dream.' Pronek stood in front of the picture, imagining Acapulco and all the pretty, tawny people there. It would be a good place to disappear for a while."

The Rights Of The Wronged

Small town acts of violence intersect with moments of despair and redemption.

"Roddy and I talked about it a couple of nights later in the lot of the Arby’s on route 15, and I told him that he was pretty damned lucky, after all. If he’d been cold-cocked by someone local it would have been all over the town in a matter of a week; since it was college kids who did it, all the locals could just say 'goddamn college kids' and forget it’d happened, and it wouldn’t come up again until someone got drunk enough to forget what they should and shouldn’t say. I don’t think I made him feel any better."

How To Tell A True War Story

Tim O'Brien's meditation on war and peace, reality and fiction, truth and lies. From The Things They Carried.

"You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a gunship, the illumination rounds, the white phosphorus, the purply orange glow of napalm, the rocket's red glare. It's not pretty, exactly. It's astonishing. It fills the eye. It commands you. You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not. Like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference—a powerful, implacable beauty—and a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly."

Dear Creatures/Imaginary Birds

Two shorts: 'Dear Creatures' examines a relationship and a chance observation; 'Imaginary Birds' examines place, potential creations, and identity.

"Some of you will leave, break through the walls to build more in someone else’s country, uninvited and entirely necessary. You will bring tablets to make the water drinkable, pieces of printed paper to explain your theories; scrawl pictures in the dust when words become too heavy in the mouth. You will wipe soot from leaves, soak oil from birds. You will weave shelters from torn branches with ends still weeping sap. You will build things up for others to break down."

How To Crow Your Head Off

A young boy with ringworm is sequestered in a children's hospital. Part of The Morning News' "Reading Roulette" series, featuring contemporary Russian writing.

"The sociology in our ward was as follows. Lousy Letuch ruled the roost, a bruiser whose surname was Letuchev, pretty violent and not serving a prison sentence only through some administrative error or because he was underage. His elder brothers, he related proudly, had all done a spell inside. He had a sidekick, a small—even smaller than me—but very strong lad of 11 called Vovan, who did all the dirty work for his boss; sorted out the parcels, beat up the contentious, and generally kept order."

Game

An aging hunter pursues a fantastical tigress.

"And now, I'm in Kumaon, making my way up and into the forest toward Pali. Whatever haunts me, I intend to find it. A ghost, a tiger, a woman, a hallucination. Maybe these tracks are left by the wind, but I pursue my old enemy today¸ and if she finds me before I find her, I deserve what she plans for me."

The Flight

A woman's communications and interactions with a potential criminal.

"The beaten man lurches to his feet and pulls out a shape, a gun, from his pocket–somehow it must have escaped the notice of the other men before. He staggers backward into the porticos and I can no longer see him. But a minute later I can hear him yelling in English as he storms up the stairs of my building, calling, 'Help! Help!' and hammering on doors. There are several banging sounds as though he’s fallen."

Baby Arm

Mannequin parts, violent sex, and a fight club for women. Not for the timid.

"A cou­ple months later, he comes over to my apart­ment in the mid­dle of the night because we've long aban­doned any pre­tense of a mutual inter­est in any­thing but dirty sex and he's hold­ing a fiber­glass baby arm, painted the color of flesh. "

Chico

Sketches from the violent, troubled life of a Middle Eastern man.

"The boy’s name was Mokhtar, but no one ever called him anything but Chico. I first got to know him when he was fifteen. He had grown up healthy and handsome. His pockets were always stuffed with money, and that was what was special about him. His life consisted of sitting in cafes, day and night, and he learned to drink alcohol and to sleep with whores. He was generous and goodhearted, but if he got angry he could be dangerous, and he often got angry when he was drunk. When Chico was seventeen his aunt died, leaving him her bank account, three houses and a bakery in the city, and a big farm out in the country. He began to give large parties, buying great quantities of food and drink for many friends, and spending even more on girls."

A Good Man Is Hard To Find

A family, headed to Florida, encounters a gang of criminals in this grim classic.

"The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy."

Jacksongrad

A prison camp, inhabited by dentist-philosophers, murderous baseball players, and other colorful figures.

"Shortstop: Evelyn Roak, surgeon, supplied human fragments to a delicatessen, and was undone by scandalous amputations."

Story Of A Story And Other Stories: A Novel [Excerpt]

Metafictional entanglements and sexual violence in a lost 1970s novel from Stephen Dixon, published this year by experimental publishers Fugue State Press.

"When he was here two winters ago he wrote a short story about a writer who came to a similar village to get over a woman in New York who had stopped seeing him. In the story and real life she was an actress portraying an actress on a daytime television soap opera who was in love with a writer of soap operas who couldn't give up his wife for her. One night, in the story and real life, she told Paul she couldn't see him anymore as she was in love with and thinks she'll be marrying the actor who plays the writer on the show."

Extreme Cruelty

A murderer fights off vengeance seekers, including God.

"I sundered Him, and He rejoined Himself. I interrupted Him, and He resumed Himself. I adjourned Him, and He reconvened Himself. I perforated Him, and He performed holy acts of closure. I peeled Him, but He only laughed—the old fox!—and could not be tricked into repealing Himself in order to end up sitting among the superannuated gods."

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."

Las Casas

Two under-the-influence friends discuss a history of human violence.

"...for years and years they would do this, it’s all in the Las Casas, and for years and years Spanish soldiers were just like falling over themselves, they couldn’t believe it, just completely climbing over one another, trying to get out of their boats and get to their swords fast enough to get a quick, easy lead-off beheading of a holy tribal king without even thinking that maybe it might violate, oh, I don’t know, the entire Christian moral code or, that whole thing aside, that it might go against just obvious, timeless, and basic human good versus evil restraint, you know, something like that was around even with cavemen, the totally simple idea that maybe needlessly causing excruciating, savage, horrifying, life-ending pain to another being, to a brother, to somebody like yourself, might not be the thing you should do. They found their heaven and they turned it into a hell. On purpose."

The Existence Of The Opposite

Three women bribe a Red Cross driver for a ride to a battlefield to identify the lost men in their lives.

"They climbed into the back of the Red Cross truck, carrying small bags of lunch and the knickknacks they hoped to bury. The interior smelled of disinfectant, of cigarettes. The metal seats offered only the ache of ice. Underneath their unwashed winter coats, they wore clothing for the dead -- Carmen in Savic's favorite dress, the one he always begged her to wear without a bra, and now much too thin for this cold; Marina in jeans and a sweater, wearing her brother's skiing cap and a large cross around her neck, folding and unfolding her spotted hands; Gisele bundled up, zipped up, buttoned up with all the clothing she could wear, not a bit of wife showing."

They Take You

Life and death envelops a polygamist family.

"Walker Getty led us to the candle with thirteen flames, which he said symbolized our family. Twelve small candles circled and bowed to one large flame. Hiram lit the large flame with a butane lighter, and one by one we wives lit one small candle with his big candle. Six candles stayed unlit, Walker Getty said, until the Lord saw fit to bless Hiram with more."

Arabella Leaves

A story about a young woman's history of drug addiction.

"They had met just before the holidays. She was still shaky from rehab, having jagged days, nightmares, humongous cravings. She hadn't felt that bad in years, not since after the accident, when she was sixteen and went through the windshield near dawn after a long foggy night at the clubs on Sunset. Then she had stayed in a coma for weeks. (Her mother always talked about it in this dramatic voice, 'Arabella was in a coma for weeks, she came back from the dead.') It was cozy enough for her, she was feeling no pain, just morphine and voices and a sense of almost being where she belonged. In a coma was fine with her. Coming out of it was a bitch."