Supernaturally tinged stories from William T. Vollmann, author of the National Book Award winner Europe Central In this magnificent new work of fiction, his first in nine years, celebrated author William T. Vollmann offers a collection of ghost stories linked by themes of love, death, and the erotic. A Bohemian farmer's dead wife returns to him, and their love endures, but at a gruesome price. A geisha prolongs her life by turning into a cherry tree. A journalist, haunted by the half-forgotten killing of a Bosnian couple, watches their story, and his own wartime tragedy, slip away from him. A dying American romances the ghost of his high school sweetheart while a homeless salaryman in Tokyo animates paper cutouts of ancient heroes. Are ghosts memories, fantasies, or monsters? Is there life in death? Vollmann has always operated in the shadowy borderland between categories, and these eerie tales, however far-flung their settings, all focus on the attempts of the living to avoid, control, or even seduce death. Vollmann's stories will transport readers to a fantastical world where love and lust make anything possible.
William T. Vollmann
Penguin Books Ltd
LISTENING TO THE SHELLS 1 In the dimming living room they were drinking slivovitz and water out of fine crystal glasses, and everyone was laughing and smoking American cigarettes until a shell fell twenty-five meters away. The women jumped. Another shell fell slightly closer and the women screamed. Then the people sat silently smoking in the last light, their smoke nearly the same color as the drinking glasses, and presently began to laugh again, leaning over their hands or spreading their fingers; they stubbed out their cigarettes in crystal ashtrays, and the poet who loved Vesna even suspected that finally he had found life. But Enko the militiaman sat glaring. Now it was dark, with echoes of the last light fading from the bubbles of mineral water just within the glasses and from the women's pale blouses, and they sat in silence, listening to the shells. When a shell approaches closely, you may well hear a hiss before it strikes. Once it does, you will be deafened for a minute or two, during which time you are not good for much except to wait for another shell. Meanwhile you see what they call the big light. After that you can hear the screams of children. Vesna's best friend Mirjana had had two little boys, and a shell killed them both. A shell had sheared away the tree in front of Vesna's apartment; the smash had been so loud that she was certain she must be wounded. Mirjana said: Marinko has a car but no petrol. Do you know where he can get petrol? Ask Enko, said Vesna. Enko said nothing. Smiling brightly, Mirjana tried to light another cigarette. The match-flame trembled between her fingers and went out. Vesna leaned toward her, so that they could touch their cigarettes together. People still had plenty of tobacco at that time. In a couple of years they would be smoking green tea. Vesna said: It's quiet now, thanks to God! In the corner sat Enko with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and his police ID clinking on its neck-chain. He had pulled off his bulletproof vest, which was leaning against the wall in easy reach. Every now and then his hand touched the grip of his gun in the holster; then he swigged from the crystal glass and took another drag; finally he pulled off his now ridiculous sunglasses, his head turning rapidly as he listened to his comrade Amir, who leaned forward as if anticipating something, all the while touching his moustache with a ringed forefinger. No one else could hear their conversation. Enko's cigarette burned steadily between two fingers as he raised it again, tapping his foot, and his face was young and hard. 2 Amir rose, gazed out the window into the greenish darkness, then went out.- He knows how to get American whiskey, Enko explained. Vesna said: Enko, can you tell me where Marinko can buy some petrol? Who's Marinko? Didn't you meet him? I thought you did. He's Mirjana's cousin. Enko locked his bleak eyes on Mirjana. He said: Where are you from anyway? Look, I'm Sarajevan, just like you. Great. Now what part of town are you from? Her children are all killed, Vesna explained. From now she has none. Who the fuck cares? said Enko. What do you need petrol for? My cousin wants it. I don't ask him his business. Enko laughed.- Sure, he said. I can get him as much petrol as he wants. He'll be grateful to you. Gratitude doesn't do much for me, said Enko. 3 When Amir came back with the whiskey, he informed Enko that there was a lost American journalist at the Holiday Inn. At the Holiday Inn, journalists were smoking quietly around marble tables in the dark. Across the river a machine gun chortled like a night bird. Enko found the lost American and quickly uncovered his particulars: He had no idea what he wanted, and he could pay a hundred fifty Deutschemarks per day-not nearly as much as any televi
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