We’re so pleased to present the first piece of fiction for Short Story Month, “Creation Story” by Portland, Oregon, author Katie Chase. Chase’s work has been called brilliant, nuanced, fraught, and mysterious, and this piece, which appears in her debut collection from A Strange Object out May 10th, is each of these things. A city burns every year the night before Halloween, a girl walks a dead mall with her friends, and a sister comes to understand her brother.
“All his life, my brother must have felt that same flickering heat of a city set aflame inside him.”
The last time the city burned, my brother didn’t stay for cake. Soon as we finished dinner, he pushed his chair out from the table and came back smelling of cologne. “I’m going out,” he announced.
Dad glanced at Mom, who tried to keep her face from falling. She’d already pushed the candles in. Black cake showed in rings where each had plunged through the vanilla, like soil under snow. I’d been playing with the plastic lighter, but now Dad took it, tossed it down beside the stack of paper plates. “Out where?” he demanded.
“Out.” Daniel scowled and drew his hood over his head, his parting gesture anytime he left the house. Dark fuzz lay like a shadow between his nose and lip. Around his neck a gold chain glinted. He’d told Mom it wasn’t real, but I knew where he’d gotten it: at a pawnshop. The TV was on in the next room, and on the screen a news reporter wearing puffy gloves stood before a bungalow where flames licked out boarded windows. They cut to a helicopter shot of black smoke billowing from a forsaken factory I remembered seeing from the freeway.
Every birthday of my brother’s life, the city burned and our parents bade us stay in. When we were little, we made masks out of cardboard, painted to look tribal and fierce, and wore them watching from the window for suspicious activity. Specifically: people on foot, people with no business being here, darting stealthily between trees, carrying battered cans of gasoline. Our house was in a suburb seven miles from the city limits, and though we’d kept the cordless with us on the carpet, a girlish twin to Daniel’s bat, we’d never had to dial 911. The next night we could celebrate; the next night was Halloween, and we’d be giddy, the neighborhood ours again. We roved the streets as rowdy bands of shiny, store-bought superheroes, clutching clean pillowcases full of loot.
This was what I thought of as tradition, but how long had it been like this? There was a gap between us of five years, a space that could have accommodated the birth of other siblings. In recent years Daniel sat sulking in the living room, sneaking out for surreptitious smokes, and I watched the street alone. Now he was sixteen, one step closer to adult. Looped in his thumb was a clinking new set of keys.
“Don’t go anywhere stupid,” Dad said, meaning south, into the city.
“There’s only stupid places to go,” Daniel muttered and banged out the door.
As Mom got up to watch the car back out of the driveway, I swiped a swoop of frosting from the cake. That afternoon I’d helped her bake it, piped the border on myself. More for us, then, I thought. By the time Mom returned, bolting the lock, Dad had punched the volume up and turned his chair.
Without looking at Mom or me, he said, “We should never have gotten him that car.”
“Can I light them?” I asked.
To read the rest of “Creation Story,” click here.
“Creation Story” is excerpted from Katie Chase’s recent story collection Man & Wife, out May 10th from Austin publisher, A Strange Object. To learn more about Katie’s collection or to order a copy, click here.