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prai s e for a mb e r s pa r ks “Sparks’s story collection swirls with a Tim Burton-like whimsy… Modern fables in which epiphanies replace moral lessons and tales unfold with Grimm-like wickedness.” —publishers weekly, on May We Shed These Human Bodies

pr ai s e for rob e rt k lo s s “Kloss is descended from the Faulknerian line of American prose rather than Hemingway’s, which is the rarer and infinitely more interesting one. This novel, The Alligators of Abraham… is the King James Bible dreamt by Cormac McCarthy, written by Faulkner, edited by Terrence Malick, and set in America’s tragic brother war.” —word riot, on The Alligators of Abraham

pr a i s e for mat t k i s h “Don’t mistake this gorgeous and wholly original book for a blow-by-blow comic-book-style retelling of Moby–Dick… Let it sit on your coffee table as testament to what all of us human beings can do if we stick with it.” —oprah.com, on Moby–Dick in Pictures


amber sparks

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robert kloss

the DESERT PLACES Cur bside Sp l e n d or • c h i c a g o • 2013


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This room: the dying glow of candles, the shadows of screws and knives and bolts and hammers hanging from the ceiling, from the walls. Had you a mother she would have smelled like this, of milk and dank and blood and mold. And the withered, white-haired


men in single file who marched through the entrance, black robes and white robes and red robes. They called themselves ministers and judges. They wore beaded necklaces strung with the symbols of their god. They crowded over you, breathing and sneering. Brown-toothed, sour-breathed, muttering in aged prayer-speak. They read from dusty, ancient books, in languages extinct or dying. They asked you the name of the god you worshipped and you replied, “Myself.” They thrashed you with whips, with cat o’ nine tails, the metal studs lashing you to blood and ragged flesh and you told them the soul was a myth, a rumor, a breath of air only. They tied you to the wooden rack and stretched you until your arms pulled from your sockets and your vertebrae disassembled and you told them you had been witness to the birth of the universe and known the stars as they flickered into light and you said, “There was no voice in the void, no voice but mine.” They shut you in the iron device and closed the doors, how the spikes swung through your throat, your chest, your groin, and you laughed and gurgled blood and you said you would gladly recite every murder committed, every corpse devoured, every head smashed, every wife made a widow, every daughter made a meal, but you would not repent what had been as natural as breathing. 8 • spar ks

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And when all devices were dulled and bent, and the men ragged and exhausted, they released you from your bonds and led you back to your cell. There they offered you their book. And they told you to reflect upon your misdeeds and to ask the Almighty for the strength to repent. And you smiled unto them with a mouth of blood and teeth, for you were learning the masks of men. You told them you knew already the words of their book, written in stone and painted with ash. And so they bolted the door and they drew up plans to brick over the door. And in the gray and lightless cell you did not weaken nor did you age. And when you thirsted you drank of your own black blood and when you hungered you fed on the filthy straw and dust. And when they opened again the door the men you had known were long dead. And now new men stood before you in the same robes, the same pointed hats, the same fanatic eyes and thin wan lips. And they muttered prayers and held trinkets and idols and seemed to shield their eyes from your gaze. And in whispers, frightened voles, they bade you come forth and so you did. And in the room you had known, a peasant now lay trussed to a plank. His neighbor had 9 • t h e de sert p l ac e s


accused him of murdering goats and drinking their blood. And to their questions asked he answered in expressions of innocence, of fidelity to goodness and faith. And the ministers asked you, “Is he speaking the truth?” and you laughed and you said, “He lies,” and so they thrashed him and stretched him and cut him. And only when the man fell lifeless and yet bleeding did you say, “Now he speaks the truth.” And through the years then they brought you out and bade you stand before some peasant man or some woman, in rags and dirty brow, bound and screaming. And each time they asked you said they were untruthful. And each time they died you affirmed their honesty. And to you this was just, and was easy, because the souls of humans always lie. And when you hungered, they fed you these used up, sainted bodies. And so you fed upon their ecstatic, tortured ends. But then came the night you wearied of your wall of bone and skull. Then came the hour you longed again to stretch your timeless limbs and see again the greater part of the world. Then when those men and ministers, judges and authorities, dreamed they did so with you looming over 10 • spar ks

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them. And they inhaled the rankness of your exhalations and dreamed valleys of fire and brimstone. And they dreamed their childhood villages torched by marauders, the bellies of their mothers slit open, guts strewn, their brothers and sisters raped, their fathers gouged in the throat, stripped to nothing, and dragged through the streets until they were little more than heaps of blackened meat. And you watched them weep and gnash their teeth. And they dreamed they committed their book to the flames. And they dreamed the worship of nameless beasts. And when they opened now their eyes they saw the glint of oblivion. And with thrashing and screams you hauled them to the world to come.

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amb e r spar ks is the author of May We Shed These Human Bodies, released by Curbside Splendor in 2012. Her work has been widely published in print and online and you can find some of it at ambernoellesparks.com or follow her on Twitter @ambernoelle

robert klo ss is the author of The Alligators of Abraham. His short fiction has been published in Crazyhorse, Gargoyle, Unsaid, and elsewhere. He can be found online at robert–kloss.com.

mat t kish is the artist behind Moby–Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page and has illustrated The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. See more of his work online at spudd64.com.


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Robert Kloss and Amber Sparks have written an ambitious, brutal myth of the world; they amplify the grotesquerie of The Bible, forging an aesthetic that is modern and ancient, moralistic and parapornographic. It turns out the Grand Narratives are not over just yet, but now they sound like “choirs of rabid dogs.” —johannes gorans s on , author of Haute Surveillance and Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate

This hybrid text by Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss explores the evolution of evil in worlds both seen and unseen, and features full–color illustrations by Matt Kish, illustrator of the critically acclaimed Moby–Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page. The history of human progress, Robert Kloss and Amber Sparks remind us is the history, paradoxically, of its destruction. Luckily for us, they render this destruction in language as hypnotic and primordially beautiful as that which our ancestors once drummed into the dark. — cl aire hero , author of Sing, Mongrel and Dollyland


The Desert Places