Short Story (flash fiction) of the day, Gator Butchering For Beginners by Kristen Arnett

Flay everything open. Pry free the heart. It takes some nerve. What I mean is, it’ll hurt, but you can get at what you crave if you want it badly enough.

—-Kristen Arnett, Gator Butchering For Beginners

Alligator, Robert Tabak, Frisco, Texas

Sometimes fiction is about one thing but really about another thing. Today’s flash fiction is obviously about butchering an alligator but even more obviously not about butchering an alligator.

Also… when it comes to butchering an alligator – what is it like to be a beginner? More importantly what it is like to not be a beginner – to be, for example, the person that writes the instructions?

Gator Butchering For Beginners by Kristen Arnett

from Electric Literature

Kristen Arnett

Short Story of the day, Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders

Afterward, our protestations of love poured forth simultaneously, linguistically complex and metaphorically rich: I daresay we had become poets. We were allowed to lie there, limbs intermingled, for nearly an hour. It was bliss. It was perfection. It was that impossible thing: happiness that does not wilt to reveal the thin shoots of some new desire rising from within it.

—-George Saunders, Escape from Spiderhead

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, New Orleans

Trying to get through the isolation by reading more. Another short story today – a very good, if more than a little harrowing.

Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders

from The New Yorker

This story is touted as a famous example of dystopian fiction. It’s a peculiar type of dystopia… a personal hell… maybe a penance, maybe deserved. Still, even under those circumstances the important thing is that some humanity and some sympathy for your fellow man remains. Still remains. Even if it doesn’t do anyone any good.

Excellent read. One plus – it’s definitely not safe for work.

Short Story of the day – Button, Button by Richard Matheson

While she was stacking dishes, she turned abruptly, dried her hands, and took the package from the bottom cabinet. Opening it, she set the button unit on the table. She stared at it for a long time before taking the key from its envelope and removing the glass dome. She stared at the button. How ridiculous, she thought. All this furor over a meaningless button.

Reaching out, she pressed it down. For us, she thought angrily.

—-Richard Matheson, Button, Button

The button on the Maestro’s shirt – detail from “The Storm” a mural on Ace Parking Garage at 717 Leonard Street, Dallas, Texas

Sunday, I came out into the living room to eat some eggs that I had scrambled with a few beans and some sausage. The television was on and a series of old Twilight Zone episodes were playing from the Syfy channel. Right when I sat down I Sing the Body Electric – which was written by Ray Bradbury and adapted into a short story of the same name (I was familiar with it) was on.

(2 minute preview)

I love the old anthology television shows – Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits… especially Alfred Hitchcock Presents. First, it’s fun to spot famous actors – Twilight Zone was the Law and Order of its time. I Sing the Body Electric had Veronica Cartwright in it.

But what I really like are the stories. So many of these were written by famous and extremely skilled short story writers. I am amazed at the work.

Sure enough, the next episode was Mute, by Richard Matheson. He was an amazingly prolific pulpy writer and you have seen his work everywhere (probably best known for I Am Legend – made into several movies) – he wrote sixteen episodes of The Twilight Zone alone.

I looked for a copy of the short story Mute online, but couldn’t find one. I did find another Richard Matheson story however:

Button, Button by Richard Matheson

This is a famous story – the basis for a shitty Cameron Diaz move called The Box.

It was also made into an episode of The Twilight Zone – this time the 80’s incarnation.

 

The ending of the television is very different than the short story – not sure which I like better… at any rate, Richard Matheson wasn’t happy the Twilight Zone Version and used a pseudonym as the author. So read the story and watch the show. Which one do you prefer?

Actually, in looking around, I found something that I really liked… probably the most realistic take on the story.

This is Funny or Die’s version, which is genius:

 

 

 

Joy Cannot Fend Off Evil

“But, in the end, joy cannot fend off evil.
Joy can only remind you why you fight.”
Jeff VanderMeer, Dead Astronauts

(click to enlarge)
Mural, Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas

OK, it was Monday, the end of work, I was so very tired, I didn’t have my car with me, I had to get clear across town, if I really wanted to go there, it was cold, it was raining, it was dark,  I thought about not going, I would get back home so very late, here’s how I would have to travel:

Work Shuttle – DART Red Line – walking downtown – Dallas Streetcar to Bishop Arts – Walk to Restaurant – eat a hamburger – Walk to BookstoreWild Detectives Book Club discussion of Dead Astronauts – Walk to Streetcar – Streetcar downtown – walk to DART station – Red Line to Spring Valley Station – wait for bus – DART bus 402 – walk home from Belt Line and Yale

Maybe I shouldn’t have gone, today is the next day and I’m tired I didn’t get enough sleep last night

 

But I realized I had to go because the book was so difficult and so WEIRD that I had to find out what the others thought about it. Also, I had fought my way to the end of a tough read – I had earned the trip and the meeting.

 

I asked the group, “Would you have finished this if you weren’t in a reading group? If there weren’t other people shaming you into plowing ahead and getting to the end?” Everyone (and I mean Every-One) replied enthusiastically “Hell No!”

 

What do I think about difficult books? What do I think about WEIRD books? What do I think about books that stretch the envelope of what text can do? What do I think about books that play with illustration and typography in odd and confusing ways? (think House of Leaves)

 

I did say that, usually, I judge difficult and WEIRD books… in the end… by an emotional connection. I don’t care if the plot makes no sense I don’t care if there is a conventional resolution I don’t care if the theme is obscure(d) – but I prefer it if I have some kind of emotional connection or some sort of inner payoff at the end

 

With Dead Astronauts there was some (but not a lot) especially in the Sarah section and at the very end. Was there enough? Is Batman a transvestite? Who knows

 

Now, the next big question is should I read more VanderMeer? (I did really like The Situation – a protoBorne novella)  Should I read Borne? (set in the same world as Dead Astronauts but different – the people in the group that had read it said it was character-driven) Should I read Annihilation?( I saw the movie without knowing it was from a book and thought it was very cool) Should I read the whole Southern Reach Trilogy (A guy sitting next to me said he really liked Annihilation but the sequels left him cold because they resolved too much of the mystery of Annihilation)

 

So Maybe I’ll read Annihilation and skip the rest of the Trilogy. I think I will read Borne.

 

But first… I have to read L’Assommoir – Have to keep troopering through my Zola project – and then, in March there’s another Wild Detectives Difficult Book Club project – we’re going to tackle The Brothers Karamazov (about six weeks of work)………………….

So little time, so many books.

 

 

Short Story (flash fiction) of the Day, The Jungle Banshee by Jim Gibson

The oven was thick with grot and whenever you opened it to get your food, it would flood the room with smoke. I’d long ago taken the battery out of the fire alarm to stop that fucker going off whenever I made anything. And then it was back up to my room, to my games.

—-Jim Gibson, the jungle banshee

Old School Video game inspired graffiti, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Today’s bit of flash fiction is the jungle banshee (not sure if it should be capitalized or not – I like how it looks without caps) by Jim Gibson at 3AM Magazine

the jungle banshee

In the last thirty-odd years I’ve only had two jobs. I only remember once going on an interview and not being offered a job (it turned out they were interviewing me simply to gain information on the company I was working for). But, then again, I never spent that much time shut in playing video games. Of course, Pong showed up my freshman year of college and it cost a quarter and a quarter was a lot of money then. I remember you could get a pint of milk from the dorm vending machine machine for a quarter – I remember that because it was faulty and thought nickles were quarters – for a nickle you’d get a milk and a dime back (which you could take to the front desk and get two nickles for two more milks and two dimes… in theory you could be rich, especially if you could find someone to buy all that milk)… but I digress. I guess my point it that it was tough to get addicted to video games if all you could do was play Pong for a quarter. Pong was fun and in 1974 it was pretty amazing – but it wasn’t exactly addicting.

By the time video games became addicting I was grown and old and had kids and my memory was fading and my fast-twitch abilities were shot. I guess I was lucky.

When I was young people played Poker, Monopoly, or Chess. I did play a lot of chess, but I would get a headache if I played too much – it was never what I’d think of as fun – it was too serious. As I became more than a fairly good chess player I had to quit because it was stressing me too much. I never had enough money to play poker. And Monopoly – well, you couldn’t get addicted to that – that’s like getting addicted to watching paint dry.

The guy in the story has a video game problem. Or maybe it’s something else and the video gaming just falls into the hole.

It’s surprisingly affecting – I really feel sorry for the guy and wish him well. Probably more than I would if I knew him in real life. And I guess that’s a sign of a good story – if you care more about the character than you would if he was actually a real person.

 

 

Short Story (flash fiction) of the Day – The Tired Day by Benjamin Woodward

And in an empty parking lot, Louis, a junkie, dropped his syringe before the heroin could enter his vein, saving his life, if only temporarily.

—-Benjamin Woodward, The Tired Day

Downtown Square, McKinney, Texas

 

Today we have very short piece of flash fiction –

The Tired Day by Benjamin Woodward

from Craft.

I enjoyed this simple little piece of unique fiction. Like all good flash fiction it asks many more questions than it answers. Maybe I liked it because I feel like that all the time.

The Author’s Note is interesting too – he talks of writer’s block and bringing abandoned work back to life.

Short Story of the Day – Chili’s Menu, by Cormac McCarthy by Justin Tapp

“They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.”
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Transcendence, on the first night.

Today’s “short story” isn’t really a short story… it’s a satirical Chili’s Menu, written in the style of my (right now – though he has competition) favorite author, Cormac McCarthy.

From McSweeney’s

So, not really fiction… I’m not sure what the literary term for “literature written in the form of a fast-casual chain restaurant menu” is… whatever it is, this is it. And I enjoyed reading it.

If you don’t get where it is coming from, you haven’t read enough Cormac McCarthy. And you need to rectify that.