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Authors: Owen Egerton

How Best to Avoid Dying

BOOK: How Best to Avoid Dying
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PRAISE FOR

How Best to Avoid Dying

“This is a serious book, no question, about matters of faith and love and mortality, yet it is also playful, sardonic, silly, chatty, and sometimes curt. And while this work is clearly reminiscent of the best of its kind, in a strange and intoxicating universe that includes writers from Vonnegut to Barry Yourgrau, Egerton's take is all his own.” —
Rain Taxi

“Rarely do stories complement each other so well as in this bizarre collection, which is at once darkly tragic, hoarsely satirical, exuberantly hilarious, and deeply moving. Egerton's art is driven by a playfulness which rings throughout all these gems, but it far from undercuts the serious. The variety of genres in this volume, from traditional short stories to blistering flash fiction, fairy tales to self-referential annotations, are all peppered with an abundance of moods and attitudes. The stories strike you with horror, form lumps in your throat, and make you smirk.” —
Curled Up with a Good Book

PRAISE FOR

Everyone Says That at the End of the World

“A brainy, often riotous, ultimately moving
Cat's Cradle
for our time peopled with reluctant seekers of spiritual nourishment who might have stepped from the pages of Flannery O'Connor.” —
Kirkus

“People at the coffee shop were actually staring at me—I don't think they fully believed that a book could make a person laugh that hard. Egerton has written a expansive novel that is generous enough to cover the end of the world, and the beginning, and a good number of the key points in between, and filled it with warmth, intelligence, wisdom, and humor—a personal and universal cosmology that made me laugh and think and feel and laugh some more. I think this is a future classic, and people will be reading this book decades from now. I know I will.”
—Charles Yu, author of
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

“In this expansive, funny, touching epic—part travelogue, part quest narrative—Egerton offers up a Texan love letter generous enough to include even the nutria.”
—Amelia Gray, author of
Threats

PRAISE FOR
   
The Book of Harold

“A lively and beautifully crafted novel about the anguish of belief.” —
Kirkus

“I love every word that Owen Egerton writes or utters and
The Book of Harold
bumps my admiration up to a new level. It takes a brave author to attempt satire these days. But it takes Owen Egerton to make it the wise, hilarious, finely-observed, and, ultimately, compassionate ring-tailed delight that
The Book of Harold
is.”
—Sarah Bird, author of
The Gap Year

“Only Owen Egerton can create a new religion around a former computer salesman and make you want to up and take a pilgrimage to Austin with the rest of the Haroldians. Egerton has the gift of walking that fine line between hilarity and heart with grace. Follow.”
—Elizabeth Crane, author of
All This Heavenly Glory

“An engaging exploration of everything ridiculous, horrible, and beautiful that humanity has ever been given or invented about religion.”
—
The Hipster Book Club

HOW

BEST TO

AVOID

DYING

Copyright © 2014 by Owen Egerton

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Egerton, Owen.

[Short stories. Selections]

How to best avoid dying : stories / Owen Egerton.

pages cm

ISBN 978-1-61902-364-2

I. Title.

PS3605.G47A6 2014

813'6—dc23

2013026635

Cover design by Matt Dorfman

Interior design by Tabitha Lahr

SOFT SKULL PRESS

An imprint of COUNTERPOINT

1919 Fifth Street

Berkeley, CA 94710

www.softskull.com

Distributed by Publishers Group West

10
  
9
  
8
  
7
  
6
  
5
  
4
  
3
  
2
  
1

For

Nathan Altman

a friend and a writer who died young

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“God's not ready for you,” the walls say.

“Fine,” I reply, “because I'm not ready for him either.”

“But keep working on your death song,” warn the walls.

“Oh, I will. I work on it every day.”

—Albert Huffstickler

Working on my Death Chant

CONTENTS

Spelling

Waffle

Cold Night Alligator

Pierced

Christmas

Holy

The Martyrs of Mountain Peak

Tonight at Noon

Challenging, Repulsive, and Awesome

Licorice: a story for John Erler

The Adventures of Stimp

Four Tiny Tales Concerning Transformation

Lord Baxtor Ballsington

The Beginning of All Things

The Fecalist

Arnie's Gift

Heart Thongs for jesus

St. Gobbler's Day

Of All Places

Lazarus Dying

Goodnight

Lish

HOW

BEST TO

AVOID

DYING

SPELLING

“Your word is
ambrosial
.”


Ambrosial
?”


Ambrosial
.”

“Can you use it in sentence?”

“The talented chef prepared an
ambrosial
dessert for the party.”

“A-M-B-R…O-S…I-A…L”

“That is correct.”

“Yippie!”

The crowd cheers. Sally always says “Yippie.” She says it's her “calling card.” Pretty crappy calling card, if you ask me. She's also big into building the drama. Pausing, sweating a little. Like
ambrosial
. Easy word. She knew it straightaway, but she has to add some tension, as if the Pit weren't enough. She's only eight, a year younger than me, and already a showman. You grow up fast in the Bee.

Only five of us left. Sally, Peter, Wilma, Shaka and me. Always more girls than boys near the end. We're just better.

No one has missed in a while, which means the words will get harder. They like to have a miss every five people or so, so even if this is only round four, they'll add some round five words to spice things up.

Peter stands up, walks to the Spot. He's got nice dark hair and green eyes. He can be really funny too. He peers out into the darkness, knowing there are thousands watching in the arena, more on television. He swallows. And from the darkness comes the voice.

“Your word is
pulchritudinous
.”


Pulchritudinous
?”


Pulchritudinous
.”

Peter coughs.

“P-U-L…C-H…R.” He pauses. This isn't for show. That's not Peter's style. He's in trouble, so he's taking his time. Once you say a wrong letter, you can't go back “I-T…U-D…” Oh, man. He's sweating up a storm. Oh, man, oh man. “I-N-O-S.”

“Bing!” The wrong bell.

“No. P-U-L-C-H-R-I-T-U-D-I-N-O-U-S.”

The audience gasps. Peter looks sad for just a moment, then smiles at the hidden crowd, does a cute little shrug and an exaggerated bow. He told me he'd do this when he goes out. Wants to be remembered. The crowd laughs at his spunk and gives him a round of applause. Then the Pit opens beneath him and he falls.

God, the smell is awful. Like rot and poop. We spellers can't see inside the Pit, but we can hear him land with a kind of splat and then the crunching starts. Slow. The audience can
see. There's a wide window below the stage with a perfect view into the Pit. They always gasp and ooo and ahh. Surprised each time. Peter screams for a little longer than most. Then the Pit closes and they call for the next speller.

I'll miss Peter. I liked him. Not in a boyfriend kind of way. Just a friend. No time for boyfriends. Too much studying. I want to be the world's best speller. America needs me. Ever since we lost Hawaii to Korea in the Spelling Bee of the Pacific, we've been the laughingstock of the world.

Wilma is wearing a pink flowery dress. She's the prettiest girl in the Bee, especially since Sue went out in round two. But, like Coach says, “Looks don't spell.”

“Your word is
Polywomack
.”


Polywomack
?”


Polywomack
.”

“Can you use it in a sentence?”

“No.”

“Origin, please?”

“American Council of Nu-Words.”

They usually don't bring in Nu-Words until round six. Poor Wilma. I hate Nu-Words.

“Could you repeat the word?”


Polywomack
.”

She's buying time. She's trying to decide if the Nu-Word is spelled like it sounds or if it has some silent letter or trick or something.

BOOK: How Best to Avoid Dying
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