Exquisite Corpse: Lit Crawl Austin 2015

Slice took part in Lit Crawl Austin last weekend. There was mischief. There were antics. And there were smackdowns. All with a literary spin. Plus, a generous amount of alcohol was thrown into the mix. In short, it was a blast.

We joined forces with PEN America to host an Exquisite Corpse reading. If you’ve never heard of one, here’s how it works: One person writes the first few paragraphs. We send the final line of those paragraphs to the next writer, who continues the story. Then the writers come together to read their collective tale, without knowing where it began or where it will end. The only direction we offered: Because Halloween is just around the corner, write something spooky.

Here’s that hilariously morbid tale, penned by these phenoms: Marisa Accolla Marchetto, Sarah McCoy, Keija Parssinen, Neal Pollack, and Sung J. Woo.

Neal Pollack kicked it off with this:

It was a world without restaurants. The government had banned fine dining. There were no food trucks, or carts, or stalls, or casual communal table burger joints. The grocery stores stayed open all the time, but they didn’t sell anything ready to eat. All the food was fresh and delicious and people had to cook it themselves.

Coffee bars sold coffee. Marijuana bars provided a THC fix. There was chocolate and juice and milk and cheese, sold at a premium, individually wrapped by quality purveyors. Beer and wine and spirits existed, of course. We were not animals. But going to a place, sitting down, ordering off a menu, and being brought food by a chipper young person who was “here to take care of you today” could not happen, by law. If you wanted to eat out, you had to go over to someone’s house. Invitations happened rarely, and in secret. If word got out that someone was serving a dinner for more than four, the line would stretch around the block, exactly the kind of thing the restaurant ban was trying to avoid.

People had been eating too much. They had spent all their money and had grown huge. The restaurants had fed them, and demanded too many resources. So, gradually, violently, the restaurants disappeared. This idea started in Germany.

Sarah McCoy stepped in next, with this:

This idea started in Germany—when I was working the summer at the Ritter Sport Museum. One of those work-study student exchange deals. My then-boyfriend, now- husband came over to visit, and it was every bit the Willy Wonka fantasy. Drunk on cocoa confections and seeing lederhosen-ed Oompa Loompas, we’d mused, “What if we lived here one day? What if we became expats and moved?”

Fast forward ten years and the doompety-da idea had taken root. My husband’s IT company had an office in Freiburg. “Why not?” we asked ourselves. We saw it every night on House Hunters International. It was a 30-minute TV show, not even a full 60. How hard could it be if people were doing it in half an hour, right? We DVR-ed the marathons and studied until we’d convinced ourselves that it was now or never. “We don’t have kids so this is the time. We must go, ja?”

So we put in for the transfer, ended our lease, bought plane tickets, and before we could say Auf Wiedersehen to the mailman, we were standing at the edge of the Black Forest with our German relator. House-hunting! Just as we dreamed.

“Ist over here,” she said.

We’d asked for a home with character, charisma, true German spirit, and stainless steel appliances, of course. We weren’t medieval.

She led us under the forest canopy down a narrow wooded lane. The home was too large to be a cottage, too small to be a manor. Its dark timbers held up a thatched reed roof where I couldn’t help noticing a buzzard perched, cawing and flapping his wings madly at our approach.

“Ist ein Heidenhaus, a farmhouse.” The realtor grinned too cheerfully for the setting. “Owned by ein family for nearly hundert years.”

“A family farmhouse, how lovely,” I said in my best House Hunters show voice. I could tell from my husband’s silence that he was not embracing the wanderlust spirit. “What kind of crops did they grow?” The woods were dark and the soil boggish. Potatoes, maybe. Turnips?

“Schweine,” said the realtor. “Pigs for der Metzger—the butcher.” The buzzard continued incessantly overhead as we reached the door. “A slaughterhouse,” said my husband. “How cozy.”

Sung J. Woo was next in line:

“A slaughterhouse,” said my husband. “How cozy.”

I took a seat on the bench by the door, crossed my legs, placed my purse on my lap, and turned away from him.  I sighed, loud enough and long enough for him to hear.

He leaned our rolling suitcase against the white-tiled wall.  “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” I said.  “Just be happy.  Or if you can’t manage that, just not be miserable.”

He walked up to the four-poster bed in the center of the room.  Spiked onto each post was the head of an animal: cow, pig, lamb, deer.  They looked real because they were, crafted by expert taxidermists who’d created art out of flesh.  Not surprising, as I was paying six hundred a night for our Slaughterhouse Suite.  It wasn’t the most expensive room at the bed and breakfast – that honor belonged to the Manson Mansion, the honeymoon cottage by the lake.

“Good mattress,” he said, pressing down on it with his hands.

I got on it from the right side, and he on the left, our default positions.

On the ceiling was a single light dangling off a meat hook, an old fashioned bulb made of clear glass and filament that gave off a warm, zigzagged glow.

“Happy birthday,” I said.

“Thank you.”

I didn’t want to say it, but I had to.

“Except you don’t sound thankful.”

“What would you like for me to sound like?” he asked.

“Jesus Christ.”

“Why don’t you tell me, my dear beloved wife, exactly how I should say these words, so they’ll match up exactly to your specifications?” he said.

Then Keija Parssinen stepped in:

“Why don’t you tell me, my dear beloved wife, exactly how I should say these words, so they’ll match up exactly to your specifications?” he said.

They continued in this fashion, the barbs so familiar they no longer broke the skin. In fact—and he hated to admit this—their bickering had gone beyond hurt and taken on a romantic sheen, had become a Tarantella of sorts, equal parts courtship and death-throes theatrics, so that, whereas he used to plead for peace, he had now started to relish the routine. He had only to match his steps to hers, to offer a counterpoint to her pointed point, and they could continue like this for decades, thrilling at the friction produced by their incompatibility, using it to mount towards the ecstasy that usually eluded long-married couples like them.

But she had something else in mind, entirely. The goading and ridicule she heaped on him was meant to produce a schism, and eventually, a break. She didn’t have the nerve to end things, so she tried to make herself cruel enough to be left. Yet here they were, another day begun with hearts thrumming from conflict, and he seemed to almost enjoy it. Oh, dear god, she thought. She’d prefer to be married to a Sadist, someone who at least took a stand on something, even if that something was the small of your back.

Marisa Acocella Marchetto wrapped it up:

She’d prefer to be married to a Sadist, someone who at least took a stand on something, even if that something was the small of your back.  

But she didn’t marry just any Sadist. She was much too stylish for that. She married a fashion forward Sadist with a Shoe Fetish. Her beautiful, elegant cross-dressing husband had a preference for only the very best, most exquisite footwear. How they loved to play dress up in their matching Louboutins!

And yet, there was a pair he had closeted away that she knew nothing of. A pair of size 14 heels that were actually fashioned with 7-inch stiletto blades. Shoes that were not made to walk on any kind of hard surface. He saved them for a special occasion, and tonight was the night.

Using their 600-thread count black Frette silk bedsheets that he had previously cut into ribbons, he blindfolded his wife, and then tied up her petite hands and feet to their four-poster Poltrona Frau Volare bed. He paused, looked back at her flawless porcelain body, and then vengefully, purposefully, step by step, walked all over her. Stilettos on skin. Defiling her. Piercing her perfect flesh as her screams went unheard. What was a study in crisp black and white a la his favorite artist, Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet, the French realist painter who rejected Romanticism, was now splattered with red, so very Jasper Johns.

Off the bed now. He slips off his stilettos. Eyes on her. Transfixed. A smile cracks his face. His masterpiece. Such an exquisite, exquisite corpse. 

Photo Credit: Trish Johnson

Marisa Acocella Marchetto is a cartoonist for The New Yorker whose work has appeared in The New York Times; Glamour; and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications. She is the author of The New York Times bestselling graphic novel Ann Tenna (Knopf), Cancer Vixen (Knopf), and Just Who the Hell Is She Anyway? (Crown). Her graphic memoir Cancer Vixen was named one of Time’s top ten graphic memoirs, and a finalist for the National Cartoonists Society Graphic Novel of the Year. A founder and chair of the Marisa Acocella Marchetto Foundation at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai, she lives in New York City.

Sarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas. Connect with Sarah on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page, Goodreads, or via her website,

Keija Parssinen is the author of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis and The Ruins of Us, a Michener-Copernicus award-winning novel. Raised in Saudi Arabia and Texas, she is a graduate of Princeton University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote fellow. Currently, Parssinen is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tulsa. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and son.

Neal Pollack has published nine semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the cult classic Neal Pollack Anthology Of American Literature, and the novels Jewball, Repeat, and Downward-Facing Death. His tenth book, a science-fiction action comedy about space gentrification called Keep Mars Weird, will be published by Amazon’s 47 North imprint later this month. He lives in Austin, seemingly against his will.

Sung J. Woo‘s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and KoreAm Journal. His debut novel, Everything Asian (2009), has received praises from The Christian Science Monitor, Kirkus Reviews (starred review), the Chicago Sun-Times, and won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award (Youth category). In 2014, Everything Asian was chosen for Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.