Art doesn’t so much mimic reality as morph, stretch, and bewitch it. The so-called rabbit holes, the night thoughts, the stray bits we dismiss, the teeming multiplicity of various “realities” – in the coming months, the Action Books Strange Fiction Series will showcase texts that delve into such zones. The world is always waiting to be more haunted.

James Pate




Letter to My Relatives


Hi everyone!

My existence is still a huge surprise. Do you feel it too? Tell me I’m not alone. When you see me again – which won’t be for a long time now, because I’ll be missing from this world – be sure and tell me I’m not alone. Every minute feels urgent and empty like I need to be somewhere else before I get there, like time has been denuded of its conventions and it’s so ugly we’ll be dead for the rest of our lives. We hang from the Yggdrasil from our broken necks. The US wants us over there, to accessorize its murder count. I’m in their confidence and they’ve offered internal peregrinations like you wouldn’t believe. France is so small and mangy and cowering it’s not like we could even improvise a life. As I’m sure you can understand, I’m more than a little twitterpated by the disproportionate opportunities to further stimulate my malaise. For once, I’m overcome by the seething fertility of it all. I look in the mirror and my face is this blank cartouche. But underneath the names are there. I’m all the fucking names. I’m about to get milk-reared back to life by a country-wide hernia of fake tits.

Expect no more communications for years. Emails, texts, phone calls, DMs: there are no safe methods left to improvise contact. Know that we are well and experience no more linguistic deficits than your average French quidnunc. We don’t dissect the brains of living people, but if we did you’d see how ours are imbricated with folds of familial love. We’ve expunged all trace of cheerless lunacy, our hermeneutic impostures are in exemplary order.

You must be wondering what’s going on, but don’t worry: it’s the quintessential human experience. And if I seem furtive and imprecise at any point, do not be alarmed: we have not controverted any natural laws to effect this escape. It was with the most profound agnorisis that we were forced to concede the difficulty of doing such a thing. But we have plenty of time for all that. Not all giraffes struck by lightning die; some remain erect and tall as ever, their bodies on fire for weeks or months, illuminating the plains at night with the brightest yellow flames.

I was recruited by the DEA in Miami in 2003. I became one of a handful of French nationals sent back to infiltrate drug and money-laundering networks across France. With my company as a cover, I was able to ingratiate myself with nightclub owners from Paris to Perpignan, from Nantes to Nice. I became this gourmand of coke and champagne, of 16-year-old girls pollinating their pussies with the seed of middle-aged money-types with dyed hair, gold Rolexes and symptoms associated with hypertension. As it was, nobody could know of my secret life. My life a gallimaufry of unwanted Gallic secretions. So that’s the real reason we came back from Miami. If we’d been that scared to vaccinate the kids we’d still be sloshing around in our mothers’ amniotic fluid. LOL. These official activities could not recuperate our finances. As you know, Emmanuel and Bertram helped us improvise this money. Impecunious aristocrats make this ferociously ugly spectacle. In my daydreams: Allosaurs eating each other to extinction, all comestibles suspiciously psychoactive somehow, we become gourmands sucking avocadoes from a can. Do not go doomscrolling for my supposed misdeeds. Do not sully my oeuvre with media-friendly apothegms. I am not the kleptoparasite they simulate.

Everything went according to plan till the information got too much. I will have to testify against dangerous men: international drug-traffickers who would make humus with my head as soon as stroke my dogs. The trial will be in the US next year or the year after. But we are in danger and must leave now. My cover has been compromised. We are new people now. Xavier and his family have ceased to exist. They will live where the weather is warm and the music is good. Their Frenchness will disappear. We are Americans now. With no option to repatriate the dogs, we gave them away, and cried while our steaks went cold. The children have been made to understand, but they are scared of their own ghosts, and our commiserations evoke only petulance and tears. They do not yet comprehend how it is possible for anyone to grieve for themselves this way.

We are relying on you to dispose of our lives. We know we can count on you to rid us of ourselves. 70% of it can be dumped at Ecopoint. Divide the rest among you as you see fit. Sell the cars and send the money (minus your expenses) to Christine. I have left the keys outside in the gas meter. You will need to jiggle the key in the lock to get the door to open. Nothing about our old life was ever a good fit. Bertram should arrange with Cédric to recover and store the good furniture, which are Hodanger family heirlooms. Ignore all letters from this time on. Cancel the electricity, gas, telephone, water, internet and water contracts: the paperwork is on the living-room table. Tell our friends we are gone.

Inform Véronique and help her spread the word to the rest of the Ligonnès family. Tell the kids not to be alarmed when my lot do not reply to their messages. And that’s about it. Remember to say whenever possible how we’ve emigrated to Australia. We hope to be dead for less long than most. We hope to make contact again within a few years. Emmanuel will be our sole contact; all correspondence will go through him.

Of course, we have only love for absent families. Take good care of each other. Be French for us. We will have so many stories to tell when this is all over. You will believe the future when it arrives. And ask yourselves, did you ever see me kill a single thing? Did I even once strike you as murderous?

Goodbye everyone, for now





Gary J. Shipley is the author of numerous books, including The House Inside the House of Gregor Schneider (Cloak), Bright Stupid Confetti (11:11 Press), Terminal Park (Apocalypse Party), 30 Fake Beheadings (Spork), You With Your Memory Are Dead (Inside the Castle) and Warewolff! (Hexus). His monograph on Baudrillard, Stratagem of the Corpse, is available from Anthem Press and Cambridge Core. More information can be found at Thek Prosthetics.