‘Brian Evenson’s five short-fiction collections and four novels are wonderfully difficult to categorize. Recognizable as literary fiction, but with strong undertows of horror and mystery, his style is all the more intriguing for defying classification. The stories in Fugue State will not disappoint, for Evenson extends his obsession with the uncanny and the unhinged that has won him a small but loyal following.
‘The cannibals, murdered ex-wives, and abandoned little girls who people these stories are not intended to titillate but instead point up Evenson’s chilling insight: that true terror stems from our dependence on language to communicate the murky stuff in our minds. He takes this Wittgensteinian despair a step further, suggesting that language is worse than inadequate—it is dangerous. In “An Accounting,” a fake messiah survives a harsh winter on the flesh of his companions, an act that is misinterpreted by his followers as a holy sanctioning of cannibalism. Evenson’s mostly first-person male narrators occasionally try written communication but quickly realize it is only a temporary solution. They likewise discover that the imagination, instead of providing solitary respite, becomes a prison that can—quite literally in one story—trap them.
‘What forms of expression does that leave? Zak Sally’s art (a series of title drawings and the fully illustrated story “Dread”) offers a possible answer. But while Sally’s aesthetic is appropriately spooky, his representations are resolutely literal (the outlines of a greenhouse for “In the Greenhouse,” the outlines of a box for “Invisible Box”). “Dread”—his chance to respond to the narrator’s growing fear of the oppression of language—fails to more than illustrate those very untrustworthy words.
‘Perhaps this is intentional, as added proof of the relentless pressure we put on words and images to generate meaning beyond themselves, a critique Evenson makes throughout the collection. “In the Greenhouse” finds a critic visiting an author, significantly named Craven, whose work, he has found, contains not a single original idea. They circle each other, “excessively formal,” the critic resisting Craven’s attempt to make him into one of his characters, to reduce him to a literary referent, until finally the critic gives in and they switch roles. Several of the stories explicitly address the violence at the heart of transactions between critic and creator, reader and writer, student and mentor, all of whom are bloodied by tussles around the intention, meaning, and interpretation of language.
‘The fugue state of the title story results from a contagion that makes one unable to derive meaning from words. The infected protagonist, when asked about his use of the term fugue state, replies, “It doesn’t mean anything. . . . I just wrote it.” He finds that it is “too much to force [an] image into actually meaning something as well.” Evenson’s is an immensely powerful collection, itself a little dangerous, and readers should take heed of the plight of Craven’s critic: The syntax of the sentences might rewire your head.’ — Ceridwen Dovey, Bookforum
Brian Evenson Website
Podcast: Brian Evenson reads from ‘Fugue State’
‘Fugue State’ reviewed @ The Los Angeles Times
‘Fugue State’ reviewed @ Open Letters Monthly
‘EXISTENTIAL MYSTERIES: FUGUE STATE BY BRAIN EVENSON’
‘Laureate of Violence’
‘FUGUE STATE: How Brian Evenson upends the conventions of realism’
Book Notes – Brian Evenson (“Fugue State”) @ largehearted boy
‘5X5: BRIAN EVENSON’
Brian Evenson interviewed @ Bookslut
FUGUE STATE: ART FOR SALE
‘Fugue + State: Brian Evenson
‘The short story equivalent of when Jon Stewart says ‘BOOM!’ on The Daily Show’
‘THE LAST BOOK I LOVED, FUGUE STATE’
‘Interview: Brian Evenson and the Weird’
‘A Sentence from “Helpful” by Brian Evensong’
Buy ‘Fugue State’ @ Coffee House Press
Reading Brian Evenson to my Toddler
Reading Brian Evenson to my 4 year old
&Now; Conference: Brian Evenson, 10/16/09
Brian Evenson introduces Samuel Delaney
Blake Butler on ‘Younger’
(see excerpt below)
Having been effected so much by Evenson’s work, particularly (if I had to pick just one) his last collection The Wavering Knife, which to me is among the top 5 of all text art objects on a sentence and style level of all time, I realized it would likely do me a lot of good to savor each this time, thinking about each piece on its own, rather than tearing through books in my want, as I often do, which will be a good test of self control, and hopefully be worth reading here as I go along.
As a matter then, of this being a book that isn’t out yet, I’ll do my best to keep from giving away the stories in themselves, but more in the manner they reflect, and how they propel, and will hopefully let this reviewing stretch into the book’s release in July, where others can join in as it comes.
To kick off the book, then, is ‘Younger,’ a 9 page story that originally appeared in Conjunctions.
The tone is immediately surprising, perhaps, if not totally, in the hemisphere of Evenson’s past work, in that it does not utilize present action, and is more the reeling of a woman inside her body, looking for semblance in a defining moment of her life, a moment she can not figure out particularly why it is defining.
What is so amazing about this story is not what is said, perhaps, or even what is not said, but how things are said around other things, that then give illumination to both in the contrast, and by the leaping of implication and potential energy.
As in: in this story, moments loom. They are present, even given a frightening edge, but then allowed to bubble, to lock, and remain crystallized, beyond the idea of resolving, or even moving on from unresolved, a potent moment.
In a brilliant reflection of the actual propagation narrative of the piece, the woman attempting to figure out a moment in her childhood that she has not been able to move forward from even years and years later, the language of the story manages to trap the reader in that moment as well, gifting the reader not with the understanding of why that moment affected her, but how it felt to be affected in that way.
The result, then, is much more potent than the simple recreation of scarring childhood events, an awful thing that happened, etc., but a much more visceral and psychic kind of terror, which of course is the much more potent and everlasting kind, and in Evenson’s crystalline and ultimately visercal to the point of being in-brain sentences, resounds so much more than it would have had it simply walked on the brunt of its imagistic impact or brutal feat. It is a psychological study akin to the subtle moments I love most in Lynch and Poe, and other brooding masters.
If this story is any kind of indicator of what we’re in store for here with Fugue State, which I am beyond 100% steel that it is, this book will prove to be another monolith in black, cerebral and yet ultimately wholly enthralling fiction, another change in the game of what text can do.
For my favorite sentence, or at least most representative sentence, from this text, check out my sentence-based counterpart in post at HTML Giant.
from Rain Taxi
John Madera: The first time I read Fugue State, I was riding on a late night bus to New York City. And once again I learned that it’s unwise to read terrifying stories when all the lights are out save two tiny bulbs above your head. One scary moment hit me while I was reading “Wander.” I had zoned out from fatigue and came to the point where the harried company are in the hall and see “a hole brimmed with water, and through that hole came a bluish light and heat, and looking closer one could see the shape of a blinking eye.” At that moment, I felt—in a kind of faint echo of that episode of The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”—that if I turned to look outside my window, I would have seen that eye staring at me. This all brings me to my first question: why do you write scary stories?
Brian Evenson: The story you tell reminds me of a semester when I was in college when I was taking seven classes (all of them English courses) and working the night shift at a 24-hour taco place. Six of the seven classes met in the same room, so I’d just sit at the same desk as the classes flowed in and out around me. I was getting more sleep on the two days of the weekend than I was getting during the whole rest of the week and began genuinely to feel like a) I was going crazy (which I probably was), and b) the entire world was a hallucination. There were times, sitting in that classroom, when I felt like the desk itself was opening in front of me like a hole that I was about to fall into. Weirdly enough, all that didn’t scare me (though it’s probably good that my girlfriend at the time talked me into dropping the job). Instead, it fascinated me, and caused me to revise notions I had had about consciousness, about what it was and what it could do, and about what it had to do with me. On one level, many of my stories are attempts to investigate a consciousness that has undergone stress or trauma or collapse, because I really think that consciousness reveals things about itself in that state that it doesn’t when the armor is up and it’s protected. As a reader, I like stories that change me, that open me up in ways that I don’t expect, that worm their way through my armor and keep on working virally on me long after the story is over. I’m trying to reproduce that effect in my own fiction.
JM: Sometimes, when I reflect on how destructive our militarist, consumerist, sexist society is to most of the world, and how diminished the possibility there is for any kind of substantial change, especially when the post-industrial world may be likened to an elevator where, if one person lights up and smokes there, everyone leaves it smelling like an ashtray, I almost yearn for some kind of giant reset button, some terrible cataclysm, where almost everything is wiped away—a clean slate, a new beginning. It’s one reason why I enjoy post-apocalyptic novels, from A Canticle for Leibowitz to Dhalgren to The Road, and why I will watch any film with this theme no matter how schlocky, from Planet of the Apes to I Am Legend. This is most likely a residue of my evangelical upbringing, which was filled with stories of plagues, floods, and the like. What post-apocalyptic fiction teaches us, among other things, is that the idea that paradise ensues after the fallout is a fallacy on many levels. In Fugue State the post-apocalyptic theme serves as a backdrop for several of your stories, sometimes explicitly (“An Accounting,” “Wander,” “The Adjudicator”) and sometimes hinted at (“Desire with Digressions” and “Fugue State”). So what is it that attracts you to writing this kind of story? What stories, novels, and films in this genre have affected you deeply?
BE: It probably has something to do with my own religious background as well (Mormonism), and the way that’s become oddly fused with/complicated by an intense philosophical nihilism. I think there’s a constant struggle in me between a kind of relentless optimism and an exhilaratingly bleak worldview; in life I tend to default to the former, and in my work to the latter, and that somehow creates a very workable, albeit potentially schizophrenic, balance. But I think also it’s because my formative years in the late ’70s were a heyday for post-apocalyptic movies. There was a sense in general then, at least among my peers, that the world was ending, that the ecosystem was collapsing, that things were likely to break down completely. Then people were distracted by things like the introduction of the kiwi fruit and the frozen bagel and swoopy hair, and we stopped being people and started being consumers, and through the ’80s and a good part of the ’90s we seemed just to forget about these fears, to repress them. But those fears have started to surge back up again with a vengeance both in popular and literary culture. I think they were always present for me and have always been at the heart of my work.
Two movies that I watched when I was eleven (in 1977) have always stuck with me, though I’d guess if I went back and watched them again I’d probably think they were awful. One was Day of the Animals and the other was Damnation Alley. Around the same time I was playing Gamma World and watching the gas lines (the latter was a little earlier, when I was seven or eight, but it made a huge impression on me). Philip K. Dick was a big influence on me in terms of post-apocalyptic work as well, as were a lot of other SF writers, and I think that Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast did a lot to cement a certain worldview for me. Also David Ohle’s Motorman. More recently, I was impressed by The Road, which initially I wasn’t sure about but which worked on me for months after I finished it. But I’ve watched and read a lot of post-apocalyptic stuff over the years. Each of the stories you mention above tries to take on post-apocalyptic themes in a different way, playing with different genres and subgenres.
JM: Many of your protagonists are either trying to break down blocks in their consciousness, or they are struggling to maintain their identity, their sense of self, in the face of its fragmentation. These are psychological portraits without feeling like case studies. How do these kinds of stories evolve for you? When I read that Sindt had failed in his critical examination of Roger Craven’s work, its “concern with dislocation and possession, its insistence on postulating all human relations as a form of torture,” I thought it might have been a winking self-deprecatory jab, as it might also serve as an apt description of many of your stories in Fugue State. There are sisters’ fragmentary relationships with their parents in “Younger” and “Girls in Tents.” The narrator in “The Third Factor” finds himself “alone and adrift.” In “A Pursuit,” the paranoid, perhaps delusional, narrator admits that his own psychology is “a decidedly murky affair.” How much psychology have you studied? And where do your interests and allegiances lie? What schools of thought do you privilege over others, if any?
BE: I think my stories tend to evolve eccentrically; I never know exactly where they’re going to take me until I’m almost done with them—if I figure that out too quickly, I don’t end up finishing them. I’m very interested in the way that consciousness structures itself and also interested in the way that we, as consciousnesses (if that’s what we are), interact with the world, about what it feels like to be embodied in a particular situation. I never took a psychology class in college but have read a lot of psychiatrists and philosophers who deal with similar issues: Freud, Jung, Klein, Kristeva, Bachelard, Foucault, Ferenczi, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Deleuze and Guattari, etc. I’m also very skeptical of a lot of generally accepted notions about the structure of the mind—I’m not convinced, for instance, that there is such a thing as a subconscious, at least not in the way that Freud and others discuss it. That model leaves a lot to be desired. I find Deleuze and Guattari provocative and feel they move in a more productive direction, particularly in 1000 Plateaus. More recently I’ve been reading Thomas Metzinger, and find his models very compelling.
JM: What is the short story form for you? Do you find yourself working on them as separate entities in between novels? Do you begin stories without regard for what they are going to be until you’ve made a lot of progress within them—that is, is there a certain point when you realize, “This has the makings of a short story,” and then take it from there to completion? Or do you begin with the idea of a form?
BE: I’m always working on three or four things at once and usually have a few stories I’m working on as I’m trying to write a longer piece—a novel or novella. Some of them never get finished, and some get finished and then put into a drawer to be revised later and some actually work. I’ve got pages of notes of ideas for stories that I’ll probably never get around to writing, and which say things like “man looking for his brother so as to prove that he’s not him.” I once knew what I intended by that but no longer know. With most of these notes I no longer have any idea what I was actually thinking when I wrote them.
Sometimes a story will start from those notes or from a fleeting thought or in response to something I’m reading or listening to. Other times, I’ll simply sit down to a blank page and try a few starts at random until something clicks. Still other times, I’ll have a mood or a character name or something else in mind and I’ll try to tease something out of it. It’s a very random and organic process for me and never works in exactly the same way twice.
Brian Evenson Fugue State
Coffee House Press
‘Brilliant…Evenson manages to capture madness with a masterful tone. The specific genius of Fugue State rests in subtlety, in Evenson’s ability to maintain suspense, dread and paranoia through utter linguistic control.’ — Time Out New York
’19 satisfying and surreal stories…packed with subtly hilarious sentences.’ — Cleveland Plain Dealer
‘Brian Evenson is one of the treasures of American story writing, a true successor both to the generation of Coover, Barthelme, Hawkes and Co., but also to Edgar Allan Poe.’ — Jonathan Lethem
‘The stories in this collection will thrill, unsettle, and captivate. Like lanterns in dark rooms, paper boats carried down on subterranean waters, they lead the reader into mysterious and perilous territory. Read at your own risk.’ — Kelly Link
‘Illustrated by graphic novelist Zak Sally, Brian Evenson’s hallucinatory and darkly comic stories of paranoia, pursuit, sensory deprivation, amnesia, and retribution rattle the cages of the psyche and peer into the gaping moral chasm that opens when we become estranged from ourselves. From sadistic bosses with secret fears to a woman trapped in a mime’s imaginary box, and from a post-apocalyptic misidentified Messiah to unwitting portraitists of the dead, the mind-bending world of this modern-day Edgar Allan Poe exposes the horror contained within our daily lives.’ — Coffee House Press
Years later, she was still calling her sister, trying to understand what exactly had happened. It still made no sense to her, but her sister, older, couldn’t help. Her sister had completely forgotten—or would have if the younger sister wasn’t always reminding her. The younger sister imagined, each time she talked to her sibling on the telephone, each time she brought the incident up, her older sister pressing her palm against her forehead as she waited for her to say what she had to say, so that she, the older sister, the only one of the sisters with a family of her own, could politely sidestep her inquiries and go back to living her life.
—-Her older sister had always managed to do that, to nimbly sidestep anything that came her way so as to simply go on with her life. For years, the younger sister had envied this, watching from farther and farther behind as her older sister sashayed past those events that an instant later struck the younger sister head-on and almost destroyed her. The younger sister was always being almost destroyed by events, and then had to spend months desperately piecing herself together enough so that when once again she was struck head-on, she would only be almost destroyed rather than utterly and completely destroyed.
—-As her mother had once suggested, the younger sister felt things more intensely than anyone else. At the time, very young, the younger sister had seen this as a mark of emotional superiority, but later she saw it for what it was: a serious defect that kept her from living her life. Indeed, as the younger sister reached first her teens and then her twenties, she came to realize that people who felt things as intensely as she were either institutionalized or dead.
—-This realization was at least in part due to her father having belonged to the first category (institutionalized) and her mother to the second (dead by suicide)—two more facts that her older sister, gliding effortlessly and, quite frankly, mercilessly, through life, had also sidestepped. Indeed, while the younger sister was realizing to a more and more horrifying degree how she was inescapably both her mother’s and her father’s child, her older sister had gone on to start a family of her own. It was like her older sister had been part of a different family. The younger sister could never start a family of her own—not because, as everyone claimed, she was irresponsible but because she knew it just brought her one step closer to ending up like her mother and father. It was not that she was irresponsible, but only that she was terrified of ending up mad or dead.
The incident had occurred when their parents were still around, before they were, in the case of the mother, dead and, in the case of the father, mad. There were, it had to be admitted in retrospect, signs that things had gone wrong with their parents, things her older sister must have absorbed and quietly processed over time but which the younger sister was forced to process too late and all at once. The incident, the younger sister felt, was the start of her losing her hold on her life. Even years later, she continued to feel that if only she could understand exactly what had happened, what it all meant, she would see what had gone wrong and could correct it, could, like the older sister, muffle her feelings, begin to feel things less and, in the end, perhaps not feel anything at all. Once she felt nothing, she thought, knowing full well how crazy it sounded, she could go on to have a happy life.
—-But her older sister couldn’t understand. To her older sister, what the younger sister referred to as the incident was nothing—less than nothing, really. As always, her older sister listened patiently on the other end of the line as the younger sister posed the same questions over again. “Do you remember the time we were trapped in the house?” she might begin, and there would be a long pause as her older sister (so the younger sister believed) steeled herself to go through it once more.
—-“We weren’t trapped exactly,” her older sister almost always responded. “No need to exaggerate.”
—-But that was not how the younger sister remembered it. How the younger sister remembered it was that they were trapped. Even the word trapped did not strike her as forceful enough. But her older sister, as always, saw it as her role to calm the younger sister down. The younger sister would make a statement and then her older sister would qualify the statement, dampen it, smooth it over, nullify it. This, the younger sister had to admit, did calm her, did make her feel better momentarily, did made her think, Maybe it isn’t as bad as I remembered. But the long-term effect was not to make her feel calmer but to make her feel insane, as if she were remembering things that hadn’t actually happened. But if they hadn’t happened the way she remembered, why was she still undone more than twenty years later? And as long as her sister was calming her, how was she ever to stop feeling undone?
—-No, what she needed was not for her sister to calm her, not for her sister, from the outset, to tell her there was no need to exaggerate. But she could not figure out how to tell her sister this—not because her older sister was unreasonable but because she was all too reasonable. She sorted the world out rationally and in a way that stripped it of all its power. Her older sister could not understand the effect of the incident on the younger sister because she, the older sister, had not let it have an effect on her.
—-For instance, her older sister could not even begin to conceive how the younger sister saw the incident as the single most important and most devastating moment of her life. For her older sister, the incident had been nothing. How was it possible, her older sister wanted to know, that the incident had been more damaging for her than their mother’s suicide or their father’s mental collapse? It didn’t make any sense. Well, yes, the younger sister was willing to admit, it didn’t make any sense, and yet she was still ruined by it, still undone. If I can understand exactly what happened, she would always tell her older sister, I’ll understand where I went wrong.
—-“But nothing happened,” her older sister said. “Nothing. That’s just it.”
And that was the whole problem. The sisters had played the same roles for so many years that they didn’t know how to stop. Responding to each other in a different way was impossible. Every conversation had already been mapped out years in advance, at the moment the younger sister was first compelled to think of herself as the irresponsible one and the older sister was first made to be a calming force. They weren’t getting anywhere, which meant that she, the younger sister, wasn’t getting anywhere, was still wondering what, if anything, had happened, and what, if anything, she could do to free herself from it.
What she thought had happened—the way she remembered it when, alone, late at night, she lay in bed after another conversation with her sister—was this: their mother had vanished sometime during the night. Why exactly, the younger sister didn’t know. Their father, she remembered, had seemed harried, had taken their mother somewhere during the night and left her there, but had been waiting for them, seated on the couch, when they woke up. He had neither slept nor bathed; his eyes were very red and he hadn’t shaved. Somehow, she remembered, her sister hadn’t seemed surprised. Whether this was because the sister wasn’t really surprised or because, as the calm one, she was never supposed to appear surprised, the younger sister couldn’t say.
—-She remembered the father insisting that nothing was wrong, but insisting almost simultaneously that he must leave right away. There was, the younger sister was certain, something very wrong: what exactly it had been, she was never quite certain. Something with the mother, certainly, perhaps her suicidal juggernaut just being set in motion—though her older sister claimed that no, it must have been something minor, a simple parental dispute that led to their mother going to stay temporarily with her own mother. And the only reason the father had to leave, the older sister insisted, was that he had to get to work. He had a meeting, and so had to leave them alone, even though they were perhaps too young—even the older sister had to admit this—to be left alone.
—-Her older sister claimed too that the father had bathed and looked refreshed and was in no way harried. But this, the younger sister was certain, was a lie, was just the older sister’s attempt to calm her. No, the father had looked terrible, was harried and even panicked, the younger sister wasn’t exaggerating, not really. Do you love me? the younger sister sometimes had to say into the phone. Do you love me? she would say. Then stop making me feel crazy, and just listen.
So there was her father, in her head, simultaneously sleepless and well-rested, clean and sticky with sweat. He had to leave, he had explained to them. He was sorry but he had to leave. But it was all right, he claimed. He set the stove timer to sound when it was time for them to go to school. When they heard the timer go off, he told them, they had to go to school. Did they understand?
—-Yes, both girls said, they understood.
—-“And one more thing,” the father said, his hand already reaching for the knob. “Under no circumstances are you to answer the door. You are not to open the door to anyone.”
And after that? According to the older sister, nothing much. The father left. The sisters played together until the timer rang, and then they opened the door and went to school.
—-But that was not how the younger sister remembered it. There was, first of all and above all, the strangeness of being alone in the house for the first time. There was a giddiness to that, a feeling they had stepped beyond the known world, a feeling the younger sister never for a moment forgot. A feeling which made it seem like not just minutes were going by, but hours.
—-“But it was just a few minutes,” her older sister insisted.
—-“Like hours,” said the younger sister. “Not actually hours but like hours.” —-All right, she conceded, not actual hours—though she knew that when it came down to it, there was no such thing as actual hours. But for all intents and purposes she had already lost her sister, once again had rapidly reached a point where she could no longer rely on her sister to help her understand what exactly had happened. But she kept talking anyway, because once she had started talking what could she do but keep on?
—-The point was, time slowed down for the younger sister and never really sped back up again. There was a giddiness and a sense that anything could happen, anything at all. There were only two rules: the world would end when the timer rang, and under no circumstances were they to answer the door. But within those constraints, anything could happen.
What did they play? They played the same things they had always played, but the games were different too, just as the girls, alone, had become different. Her older sister, as always, went along with what the younger sister wanted to play, playing down to her level, but this time anything could happen. The small toy mustangs they played with dared do things they had never done before, cantering all the way across the parents’ bedroom, where they gathered and conferred and at last decided on a stratagem for defeating the plastic bear, which, once bested, was flushed down the toilet and was gone forever. The two girls watched with sweaty faces and flushed cheeks as the bear disappeared: anything could happen. The younger sister pulled herself up on the bathroom counter and opened the cabinet and used the mother’s lipstick on her own lips, something she was never allowed to do, and then used the lipstick to paint red streaks on the horses’ sides, bloodied from where they had been gashed by the bear in battle. The most injured mustang limped slowly away and found a cave to hide in. He lay down inside it and hoped that the cool and the dark either would help him get better or would kill him. At first the cave was just the space under the couch, but the mustang wasn’t getting better, so the younger sister stuck him in her armpit and called that a cave and held her arm clamped to her side. When, later, she reached him back out, the blood had smeared off all over inside the cave, and the horse was miraculously healed and allowed to return to the pack.
—-“It’s not called a pack,” her older sister told her over the telephone. “It’s a herd.”
—-But the younger sister knew they had called it a pack, that anything could happen and that pack was part of it too. They had known at the time it was a herd but they had called it a pack, and they had said it wrong on purpose. They were building a whole world up around them, full of things more vivid and slippery than anything the real world could offer. Just because her older sister couldn’t remember didn’t mean it hadn’t happened.
—-And the sisters had become mustangs as well, had joined the pack as well—couldn’t she remember? They took the two biggest rubber bands they could find and stretched them from their mouths over the back of their heads like bridles. They took old plastic bread bags their mother had saved, and filled the bottoms with paper napkins and rubber-banded them to their legs and then slipped shoes over their hands. And suddenly it wasn’t just pretend but something was happening that had never happened before. Couldn’t she remember? It was ecstatic and crazed and like they were fleeing their bodies—it was the only thing like a religious experience the younger sister had ever had, and she had had it when she was six.
—-And then suddenly it all went wrong.
They heard the timer go off and ran to turn it off but they were still wearing shoes on their hands and neither of them wanted to take the shoes off, so they tried to stop the timer by trapping its stem between two shoes and turning it, but the timer stem was old and too smooth to turn like that. So while the timer buzzed on, the younger sister had neighed at her older sister and together they had cantered to the dining-room table and taken a chair, supporting it between them with their hooves, and brought it to the stove. The younger sister stood on it and leaned over the burner, feeling the enamel warm in one spot from the pilot light, and turned the timer off with her teeth, by twisting her head.
—-That was, the younger sister knew, the sign that the world had come to an end, that it was over, that now they had to go to school. Only it wasn’t the end, for as soon as the timer was turned off, the doorbell rang. It froze both of them and they stood there, bread bags on their feet and shoes on their hands, and kept very still and very quiet. They were not to answer the door, their father had been very clear about that. But they were also supposed to go to school. How could you go to school when someone was at the door, ringing the doorbell, trying to come in?
—-My older sister, the younger sister thought, will know what to do.
But her older sister was standing there not doing anything. The doorbell rang again, and still they waited, the younger sister nervously rubbing her hooves together.
—-They waited awhile for the doorbell to ring a third time. When it did not, her older sister leaned close to her and whispered Come on. But they had taken only a few steps when they heard not ringing but a hard, loud knock: four sharp, equally spaced blows right in a row. And that stopped them just as much as if someone had yanked back on their bridles.
—-It was like that for hours—for what, anyway, seemed like hours. Her hands were getting sweaty in the shoes. Her feet in the bread bags were much, much worse, the napkins at the bottom of each bag grown damp. Her mouth, too, hurt in the corners because of the rubber band. Her older sister took a few steps and the younger sister, not knowing what else to do, followed. Her older sister, she saw, had taken the shoes off her hands without the younger sister noticing and had gotten the rubber band out of her mouth and was now creeping very slowly past the door. The younger sister followed, trying not to look at the curtain-covered window beside the door, trying not to see the shadow of whatever was on the other side, but seeing enough to know that, whatever it was, it was big, and seeing too, when the knocking started once again, the door shiver in its frame.
—-In their bedroom, her sister helped her get the shoes off. They had been on long enough that they felt like they were still on even once they had come off. The rubber-band bridle got caught in her hair so that her sister had to snip it out with a scissor, which made the bridle snap and raised a red stripe of flesh across her cheekbone and almost made her cry. The rubber bands holding the plastic bags to her legs had left purple grooves on her calves, and her feet were hot and wet and itchy. She dried them off on a hand towel and put her shoes on while her older sister stood on a stool by the bedroom window and tried to see out.
—-“He’s still there,” she said.
—-“What is it?” asked the younger sister.
—-“I don’t know,” said her older sister. “Who, you mean.”
—-But the younger sister had meant not who, but what. She wanted to climb on the stool beside her sister and look out as well, but was too scared.
—-“What do we do?” she asked.
—-“Do?” said her sister. “Let’s play until he’s gone.”
So they had begun again, with the plastic horses again, only this time it was a slow negation of everything that had happened before. Before, it had seemed like anything could happen; now all the younger sister could think about was about how they were trapped in the house, how they couldn’t leave, how they were supposed to leave but couldn’t. The mustangs were just ordinary horses now and could no longer move their plastic legs but simply stayed motionless as they were propelled meaninglessly across the floor. The bear was gone for good and she and her sister weren’t horses anymore, just two trapped girls. Everything was wrong. They were trapped in the house and she knew they would always be trapped. The younger sister kept trying to play, but all she could do was cry.
—-Her older sister was comforting her, telling her everything was fine, but the way she said it, it was clear nothing was fine. Everything was hell.
—-“What is it?” she asked again.
—-“He’s probably not even there anymore,” said her older sister. “I bet we can leave soon.”
And, to be truthful, it probably was soon after that, though it didn’t feel that way to the younger sister, that her older sister went back into the bedroom and climbed up on the stool again and looked out and said that it was safe now and everything was fine and this time seemed to mean it. They gathered their books and their lunches and opened the front door and darted out. The whole street seemed deserted. The older sister, who hated to be late, made them both run to school, and the younger sister reached her class even before Mrs. Clark had finished calling roll. When you looked at it that way, almost no time had actually passed. When you looked at it that way, as her older sister in fact had, really nothing at all had happened.
But for the younger sister there was less of her from there on out. Part of her was still wearing shoes on her hands and a rubber band in her mouth and was somewhere, sides bloody, looking for her pack. And part of her was still there, motionless, trapped in the house, waiting for the door to shiver in its frame. She was still, years later, trying to figure out how to get back those parts of her. And what was left of her she could hardly manage to do anything with at all.
“So what do you want me to do?” her sister finally one day asked, her voice tinny through the telephone. “Play mustangs with you again?” And then she laughed nervously.
—-And yes, in fact, that was exactly what the younger sister wanted. Maybe it would do something, it was worth a try, yes. If her sister would only do that, perhaps something—anything—could happen.
—-But after so many years, so many telephone conversations burning and reburning the same paths through their minds, so many years of playing the same roles, how could she ask this of her older sister? She knew her role enough to know she could never bring herself to ask this of her older sister. Not in what seemed like a million years.
p.s. Hey. ** JM, Hi, J. Yeah, for sure. ** David Ehrenstein, Yes, RIP Mardik Martin. We’ve been losing one great talent a day for three days in row now. Enough already. ** James, Hi, James. Thanks. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed in my entire life. Big congrats on finishing your novel! Me too, or, I think I hopefully have, but I need some trusted feedback before I’m sure and celebratory. I’ve never shown this particular trusted reader a novel by me in advance before, no. Madrid, very nice. I’ve never been there, just to Barcelona, which I liked very much, but which I think is a very different kind of city. Or so I’m told. Love back. ** Bill, Ha ha, cool. I haven’t seen ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ either. I remember wanting to. I’ll find it. And, speaking of the devil aka Evenson … ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Everyone, A double header from Mr. Erickson today. First, his take on Seth Price’s REDISTRIBUTION here, and, secondly, the YouTube playlist of the post-punk video program he recently presented at Anthology Film Archives for those (most) of us who missed it. Here for that guaranteed fun galore. Oh, right, Rarefilmm.com is a bootleg site, I knew that, I must’ve had my head somewhere else. Well, actually a number of the artists I’ve included in my gigs get reviewed on Pitchfork, for instance, so that kind of music isn’t so far afield as to be an utter stranger to usual listeners. The past equivalents of the kinds of music I like existed much more rarely, especially in the electronic realm since the evolved tech made it possible for anyone who wants to make out-there music to do so at home. And noise is a result of an evolution in music. It’s post- what came before, and that’s its beauty and also a reference point that helps one to understand its impetus and reasoning and form, in many cases. There’s music that wants to up the game but also be widely accepted and that tries to play with and within what the artist thinks what will be borderline acceptable, and then there’s music for which, say, support in The Wire or TinyMixTapes and slots in adventurous festivals or a gig at Cafe Otto or whatever is a high water mark. So, yeah, things are all over the place, I guess. ** Sypha, I never saw ‘It’, part 1, so I’ll wait to see that. And everyone I know who’s seen ‘Part 2′ says it’s very, very, VERY long. What did you think? ** Armando, Yes, RIP Mr. Martin. I’m good, working on stuff. And you? Right, I know, death death death. Hopefully today will be all-clear on the deaths-that-matter front. Today, me? There’s a gigantic transportation strike here today, and the metro is totally down, so most of what I planned to do is moot now, but I do have to meet with Zac about something whose deadline is today, so I guess I’m going to be taking a very long walk. I think that will likely use up most of my day. And your day? ** Brendan, Got it, B! Thank you, thank you! I’ll pore over the treasures and booty as soon as nasty deadline is out of my hair later today. ** _Black_Acrylic, Ha ha. You know, I have this possibly bad habit or decision making thing where I try to avoid examples that I think will be too obvious and will upset the balance of the whole thereby, and I will admit I deliberately skipped Laura’s scream, partly because when I was searching for candidates, practically every other image I found was of her screaming, and I went all punk about that, ha ha. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, man. That was a true cornucopia of screaming right there, thank you. Yeah, the TV project, dear god, but I think there’ll be a multi-month break at least coming up before too long, oh please. I don’t know about whether incandescent lightbulbs are still popular here. I think, without actually knowing, that we have incandescents in my apartment? Huh. I will no doubt like the video you shared, and I will find out for sure that/if I do very shortly. Thank you for the thoughtful sharing, sir. ** Keatnam, I like ’em too. Manatees. And it just seems they’re always in trouble. Which adds to their likability, I guess. Yeah I dug/dig the sounds, man. They’re not bad, wtf! Or everything is bad. That makes more sense. Yeah, like I said to Sypha, I haven’t seen 1 or 2. I guess I should? I don’t know. I guess I could see them on plane, although planes don’t seem to like to show passengers horror movies. Which seems weird. Anyway, I’m an ignoramus. I saw the old Tim Curry one. Huh. ** Misanthrope, Yeah, do they? Like I said to somebody above, I don’t I’ve ever screamed. I can’t imagine why I would have. I think I just go into shock instead. Self-puiblishing is a lot more legit than it has been before. I read self-published lit a fair amount. And, you know, a number of indie presses are actually presses that publish books with the financial help of the author, so that’s almost like self-publishing but with a tonier outlay. You mentioned bandcamp, it’s the same thing but in book form. I don’t think people have a prejudice against people who post their music on bandcamp. Practically half of what I listen to is self-“published” bandcamp stuff. If one believes that the unique and individual and new voice/writing is inherently innovative, anything and everything remains totally possible. ** Okay. I thought I’d throw the blog’s little spotlight on this excellent older book by the excellent Brian Evenson. Be with it, please. See you tomorrow.