Editorial intern Jason Chenette on today’s bonus stories: In this pair of short-shorts, Michael Alessi explores the inherent dangers of brotherhood through video game worlds. At just over 100 words each, these stories pack a lot of extravagant death and introspection both into a space that’s shorter than Mario without powerups.
For work my brother and I go outside and break blocks with our heads. We get a running start and headbutt the cubes of brick into smaller cubes of brick and money comes out. I pretend I’m my brother and he pretends he is me so neither of us feels anything and we never age. After a while the rubble looks like the hills that look like the clouds in the sky that never move. Or maybe they only move like us—in the same direction at the same speed forever. We find a line of turtles and they die at our feet, fizzling out of their shells into effervescence, as if to applaud us on being human.
The Doom Game
The goal is to die in a series of rooms until there are no more rooms or ways left to die. In his first room, my brother collapses with a summer sausage tucked in his throat like a second tongue. Then a sawmill accident. Then he drowns at his own birthday party, caught in a riptide while his mother feeds seagulls the sodden cucumber slices she picked off his sandwich. I’m stuck growing old in my first room, worrying about all the death I’m not having. I’m running out of rooms, my brother brags. A shark just ate me. Time slows down, but there is nothing smaller for me to grow into. I feel like I’m dying, constantly, but I’m not. Finally the door to my room opens and my brother steps inside, his pale spidery hands twirling a pipe and scythe. This is my room, he says.
Michael Alessi’s work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Pinch, Mid-American Review, New Delta Review, the minnesota review, and other journals. He is the recipient of the first annual Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Short Fiction, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and the 2016 Pinch Literary Award for Fiction. Raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, he lives in Chicago where he serves as the managing editor of Fifth Wednesday Journal. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Old Dominion University.