The Ransom of Samantha – by Merrill Markoe
Photos by Levi Mandel
This story originally appeared in our June 2014 fiction issue.
Samantha went to YouTube and clicked Make a Video Response.
“Hi,” she said after the countdown, making sure her copy of Masters of Despair: The Big Book of Philosophy was open to the quote by Schopenhauer about how ending your own life “can be compared to waking up after a horrible nightmare.”
“It’s me… I dissolved 40 Ambien into this bottle of Jack Daniel’s. In a few minutes I’m walking into the ocean. Don’t bother looking for me. It’s high tide. Fourteen-foot waves… Like anyone gives a fuck about me anyway.”
Then she clicked Upload.
She was still debating whether to wear her amazing vintage peacoat, because San Francisco nights were freezing cold, when she heard a noise and felt something wet over her nose and mouth.
“What the fuck?” she was saying, as everything went dark. How had she managed to drown without going to the beach?
The detective who showed up at 5 AM was not much older-looking than Samantha’s friends. (Not that Samantha ever hung out with clean-cut guys like this. Why should she when there were still heroin addicts in bands who needed a doormat?)
“Policy is to wait 24 hours,” Officer Stratton said. “A lot of times a kid’ll show up. Did you check her computer history? Her Facebook status?”
“No,” said Jen, feeling stupid about how she hadn’t wanted to violate her daughter’s privacy.
“Mind if I have a look?” said Officer Stratton, opening Samantha’s laptop. The first thing he saw was a YouTube announcement that a video had been successfully uploaded.
Bungalow 89 – A Short Story by James Franco About Not Sleeping with Lindsay Lohan
I was in Bungalow 89 of the Chateau Marmont, the old hotel where the stars stay. The hotel is tucked behind a wall, off Sunset Boulevard, just west of Laurel Canyon, right in the heart of Hollywood. Bungalow 89 is in the cottage area, apart from the main building, where the pool is. It was dusk.
Bungalow 89 is not famous like Bungalow 3 (Belushi) or Bungalow 2 (Rebel Without a Cause). It is only famous in my own mind, because it’s where I first met Gus Van Sant, and because I have been living in it for the past nine months while they do repairs on my house. When I met Gus here, he sat in the comfy chair in the living room and played a little red guitar and talked to me. It was back when he was casting the supporting roles for his film about Kurt Cobain’s last days alive. The role he liked me for eventually went to Lukas Haas, the kid from Witness, with Harrison Ford. Haas was one of the original members of the Pussy Posse, the group centered on the young Leo DiCaprio, back in the 90s, post-Titanic and pre-Scorsese.
Lukas Haas had a gay sex scene in Gus’s film. It was with Scott Green, the guy who talks about having to fuck a guy with a big cock in the Chinese-café scene in My Own Private Idaho. His monologue was probably based on at least some reality; he had helped River Phoenix do research for his young-hustler role in the same film. Which reminds me of a story Gus later told me about River in Portland, during preproduction. River was pulled over by the cops for wearing jeans with a hole in the front so big that his dick hung out.
There was a Hollywood girl staying at Chateau Marmont. She had gotten a key to my room from the manager. I heard her put the key into my front door and turn it, but I had slid the dead bolt and that thing—I don’t know what you call it; it’s like a chain but made of two bars—that kept the door from opening.
She said, “James, open the door.”
Across the room was a picture of a boy dressed as a sailor with a red sailor cap, and except for his blondish hair (closer to my brother’s color) he looked like me.
She said, “Open the door, you bookworm punk blogger faggot.”
Untitled (Beach), 2012, © Whitney Hubbs, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles.
How Kohnstamm Got the Beach House – New Fiction by David Mamet
Above: Untitled (Beach), 2012, © Whitney Hubbs, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles.
David Mamet wrote the screenplays for American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Wag the Dog, among many others. We’re honored to feature his writing in this year’s Fiction Issue.
It was near morning. Margaret and Mel sat, alone, on the couch.
“The weekend the power went out at the Bel Air may have been the most restful of my life,” Mel said.
“As you grow old, various things fade—appetite, I find, increases; but I think this places me in one of two camps.”
“What is the other?” Margaret said.
“They grow thin, as they age,” Mel said. “But both, I believe, find a diminishment of sexuality. Perhaps the thin, though, less. I don’t know. You would know, how would you know, you’re half my age.”
“Not exactly,” Margaret said.
“I am ten months your junior,” she said.
"I got a feeling you two are together and you’re keepin’ it a secret”
Summer/Autumn – New Fiction by Ben Brooks
Twenty-one year old Ben Brooks was recently touring with Tao Lin and was named one of the best young writers by our global editor, Andy Capper. Andy wrote and asked Ben for a piece of fiction, and Ben sent this story, which Ben said is 100 percent true. But we are of the “it is fiction if the writer says it is fiction” school. That is, we are of the “most writers who write about themselves just lie about it, and claim they made it up in their big brains” school. We also asked Ben Brooks to write a bio and he sent us this: "Ben Brooks was born in Gloucestershire, which is in the United Kingdom, in 1992. He is the author of Fences, An Island of Fifty, The Kasahara School of Nihilism, Grow Up, and Lolito. He was long-listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize and some other things and he has had like three girlfriends and other stuff.”
I’m 18 and hiding from school. Ellen is 42 and in an office. She moved to London three years ago. She’s from Portugal. Her job is writing computer code. Her husband is in jail.
“Why is he in jail?” I type.
“Oh, me too.”
“What? How old are you?”
Ellen writes about wanting to sit on the faces of the men she sees on public transport. She writes about wanting to be choked, and demeaned, and elbowed in the eyes. She says that her dad was calm and quiet, and that after he sat in them, chairs smelled of pine needles.
We spend afternoons writing emails and evenings on instant messenger. Ellen talks about her colleagues and her boss and how she feels. I invent several girls and a web of anxieties to go with each of them. It doesn’t matter. We talk to be listened to.
When we start to trust each other, we admit our actual ages and exchange genuine pictures. Nothing changes. School ends. She’s promoted.
She reads my first books and says that she likes them more than other books. Each one sells under a hundred copies. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want a job and I don’t want university debt. I’m not getting taller. I can’t grow a beard.
“Why don’t you move here?” she says. “There’s space. There’s too much space.”
“I don’t have any money,” I say. “I don’t have a job. I wrote a CV, but I didn’t know what to put so I just put ‘Wall Street.’”
Alienable – New Fiction by Yuko Sakata
This story by Yuko Sakata was supposed to appear in the Guccione Archives Issue, but it didn’t because that issue is all about Bob Guccione, and this story doesn’t mention him at all. But Yuko has such a good, light, honest touch that we had to share this one with you. Yuko received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s published one story prior to this, in the Missouri Review, and it won the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Yuko was born in New York, but she grew up in Osaka, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and she’s also a dancer, a choreographer, and a translator. Still, when we asked if we could interview her, she said she didn’t really think anyone would want to read an interview with “a novice.”
The illustration above is by Joana Avillez—you might remember her Eloise Moves to Brooklyn column. Joana was born, raised, and is still living in New York, and she has a BFA in painting from RISD and an MFA in the Illustration as Visual Essay program from SVA.
In a ground-floor cafe of a midtown office building, my friend and I sat next to the floor-to-ceiling window over some coffee. Not that there were any seats away from the windows; the sleek white café was encased in two stories of glass panels on three sides. I was not at all comfortable being on display like that, but Jay had his day job in the same building and this was the easiest place for us to meet. Pedestrians drifted past on the other side of the glass, some still wearing winter coats, some already in light jackets, uncertain of the in-between weather.
My friend was trying to console me after an unpleasant breakup. He said he felt responsible, because he was the one who brought us together.
“No, you weren’t,” I said. “We met at Amy’s when she had that party. You weren’t even on the same continent then.” Jay was a musician, and in Portugal on a month-long residency at that time.
“But you wouldn’t have gotten together if you hadn’t both known me,” Jay said. “I was the catalyst.”
It was true that Jay had been the icebreaker in our conversation. But in general, Jay liked to claim responsibilities for things.
The boyfriend I had lived with for the past two years had just moved out, after we had a conversation about the possibility of marriage and family. That is, I wanted it to be a conversation, though it ended up being an argument. At first he tried to evade the topic through his artful digressions. When I persisted, he accused me of misleading him, claiming that early on we had confirmed our mutual disdain for the institution of marriage and for the idea of delivering any more children into this messed up world. I reminded him that I never had a strong feeling one way or the other about marriage, which was different from having a disdain for it. As for children, I had simply been undecided.
“It’s fine, I don’t mind not getting married,” I said. “But I’m now pretty sure I want a child. My parents are getting old.”
“What do your parents have to do with this?” he said. Then I saw fear in his eyes. “Don’t tell me you are pregnant.”
“No, I’m not.”