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Burnt Tongues

Burnt Tongues

4.0 2
by Chuck Palahniuk (Editor), Richard Thomas (Editor), Dennis Widmyer (Editor)

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Transgressive fiction authors write stories some are afraid to tell. Stories with taboo subjects, unique voices, shocking images—nothing safe or dry.

Burnt Tongues is a collection of transgressive stories selected by a rigorous nomination and vetting process and hand-selected by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, as the best of The Cult workshop.



Transgressive fiction authors write stories some are afraid to tell. Stories with taboo subjects, unique voices, shocking images—nothing safe or dry.

Burnt Tongues is a collection of transgressive stories selected by a rigorous nomination and vetting process and hand-selected by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, as the best of The Cult workshop.

These stories run the gamut from horrific and fantastic to humorous and touching, but each leaves a lasting impression.

Some may say even a scar.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 09/29/2014
Twenty fictional vivisections shock, disgust, and unsettle in this hallucinatory anthology. The devastation of malicious gossip inspires attempted suicides and helplessness in Neil Krolicki's "Live This Down," featuring a miscarriage at a pool party. After a shower, readers will be thrown off balance by the paradoxical culpability and hope of an animal abuser's redemption in Chris Lewis Carter's "Charlie." Matt Egan's "A Vodka Kind of Girl" and Tony Liebhard's "Mating Calls" face the pain of relationships, while Jason M. Fylan's "Engines, O-Rings, and Astronauts" blurring lines between victim and victimizer amid the terror of school shootings. And flickering pumpkins leer at human frailty and (again) suicidal tendencies on Halloween in Terence James Eeles's "Lemming". Attacking morality, formula, and "political correctness," these acts of literary terrorism provoke, belittle, challenge, and confound, satisfying Palahniuk's demand for " a way of saying something, but saying it wrong." Irritating and uncompromising, they force readers to "read close, maybe read twice," as they slaughter sacred cows left and right. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“This is a book of spores. These stories, you breathe onto the page and they float up into your mucous membranes, their spiky edges lodging characters and voices in your head that shudder to life when you least expect it. Just when you think you’ve closed the book, it opens up all over again, inside you.”

—Stephen Graham Jones, author

"Burnt Tongues' 20 stories "are as eclectic as the authors themselves", said Titan Books, which has just acquired the book in the UK, with titles ranging from Zombie Whorehouse to Mind and Soldier."

—The Guardian

"Anyone looking for boundary-breaking tales that also pack a haunting, powerful punch will find hours of entertainment here."
— Carl Hays, Booklist

“Fans of transgressive fiction authors such as Palahniuk will enjoy this selection. . . .”
—Brooke Bolton, North Manchester P.L., IN, Library Journal Review

“Dark, subversive and disquieting fiction for readers ready to go all the way down. “
—Kirkus Reviews

“Within the covers of this wonderfully disturbing, squirm-inducing collection, you’ll find all the mortifying, self-inflicted scars you go through great pains to hide from even our closest intimates. . . . Sometimes you’ll want to avert your eyes or silently close the book, never to touch it again, but stay with it. There’s real soul and humanity lurking under all the fluids and scars, and you’ll emerge all the better for tackling it head on, albeit in want of a shower or two afterwards.”
—Dino Parenti, Pantheon Magazine

“The off-the-wall subject matter is balanced well with pathos and compassion, and the end result is a powerful bunch of stories that you won’t soon forget.”
—Josh Black, Hellnotes

Library Journal
In this collection of transgressive fiction selected by novelist Palahnuik (Doomed) from his fan website, a group of amateur authors and Palahnuik readers have submitted stories, which, according to the introduction, "run the gamut from horrific and fantastic to humorous and touching, but each leaves a lasting impression." From teenage suicide to pranks gone horribly wrong, from the pain of purgatory to classroom shootings, this is definitely not for the faint of heart. The book's introduction, which seems to serve as warning, is spot on; these curious stories will stay with you long after you read them. While many of the selections are humorous and fantastic, a few—one featuring bestiality and another with zombie rape in particular—could cause some issues in a more conservative readership. VERDICT Fans of transgressive fiction authors such as Palahnuik will enjoy this selection, but it is certainly not for everyone.—Brooke Bolton, North Manchester P.L., IN
Kirkus Reviews
Twenty stories of embattled brothers and twisted sisters hand-selected by Palahniuk and two comrades from his online community The Cult. Transgressive fiction is a much broader label than many readers realize, encompassing everything from Hubert Selby Jr.'s gritty Last Exit to Brooklyn to Alissa Nutting's much-debated Tampa. Palahniuk (Doomed, 2013, etc.) is arguably the most capable modern practitioner of the style and certainly its most visible champion. "We return to troubling films and books because they don't pander to us—their style and subject matter challenge, but to embrace them is to win something worth having for the rest of our lives," he proclaims. "The difficult, the new and novel establish their own authority." That said, these creative endeavors remain mostly male and uniquely grotesque, inhabiting their own peculiar orbit in the universe of American lit. Many are about self-harm, resembling some of the stories—like the infamous nausea-inducing "Guts," for example—from Palahniuk's Haunted (2005). In Neil Krolicki's "Live This Down," a clique of teenage girls find themselves humiliated after a botched suicide attempt. There's also the disgruntled retail clerk in Richard Lemmer's "Ingredients," scarred inside and out after a dare goes wrong. Other stories, including Matt Egan's "A Vodka Kind of Girl" and Brandon Tietz's "Dietary," explore the fear and loathing between women and body image. Almost always there's a tendency to examine the dichotomy between the damage we do to our bodies and the strange secrecy of our inner monologues. That's certainly true in Phil Jourdan's "Mind and Soldier," about a disabled vet, and Keith Buie's "The Routine," recounting the sins of an overworked graveyard shift pharmacist. Some stories are subtle, like Chris Lewis Carter's "Charlie," recounting the cycle of animal abuse. Others are not—see the casual zoophilia of Brien Piechos' "Heavier Petting" and the collection's closer, "Zombie Whorehouse" by Daniel W. Broallt. No, it's not a metaphor.Dark, subversive and disquieting fiction for readers ready to go all the way down.

Product Details

Medallion Media Group
Publication date:
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5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Burnt Tongues

By Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas, Dennis Widmyer

Medallion Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Chuck Palahniuk
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60542-734-8


Live This Down

Neil Krolicki

You pour the one part bath salts into the two parts pesticide, and how long you've got depends on which website you trust. Corine hits play on her iPod, and we're not supposed to make it past song six. Her Cruel World playlist. From her phone, Dana sets her Facebook status to: "Dana is sooooo out of here." She taps out her final Tweet: "XOXO, All is forgiven ... Just kidding." Line one of Corine's final blog entry says: "Feel terrible, everybody. Blame yourselves." This is the opener we voted in; of the two runners-up this one was the most, like, melancholy.

You didn't know what any of these sites said until you chose Japanese to English and clicked translate. Even then it was mostly a mess to read, but we got the gist. This recipe, the Internet said it's proven and reliable. It made this way of killing yourself sound like a compact sedan, which makes sense because Japanese people invented this whole deal. Japan is way chill about suicide. You lose your job, all your money, can't feed your kids, and everybody's cool if you want to sit in your car while it's running in a closed garage. If you want to shoot yourself in the mouth or jump off, like, a really tall building. Or if you want to mix up a couple chemicals that shouldn't be mixed and lock yourself in a room with it. They're way fine with that. It's honorable and stuff.

We were never down with the whole bullet or building thing because then everyone at your funeral can only cry around some fancy vase with the neatly packaged, burned-up you inside. Your mom and stepdad only have to look at a photo of you from a sixth grade dance recital in a pretty frame. No one was going to get off that easy.

The anchor chick reporting on Japan's Detergent Suicides a few weeks ago, she didn't give you a step-by-step, but she gave you enough to Google. "Hundreds of Japanese citizens taking their lives by mixing this brand of bath salts (shown top right) with this brand of lime sulfur-based pesticide (shown bottom right)."

Cops in Japan would pull down one how-to site, and five more would pop up. From the country that builds all the little gadgets that make your life easier comes this way to make your death easier, too.

Easy. Peasy. Japanesey.

So, way, way before you get to mixing, you're snagging your mom's Visa number and booking a killer suite on the highest floor of the Ritz-whatever downtown. You're telling the dude at the front that your parents are checking in later tonight and it's totally fine if he gives you the room card. You and the two friends with you are just going to hang out. Watch Pay-Per-View.

In the room, you jump on the four-poster bed. You open the curtains and take a sec to look down on everybody before you start pulling the yards of clear plastic out of Dana's suitcase. P.S. This next part takes longer than you think.

One of us stands on the back of the luxury porcelain toilet, holding the edge of this shower curtain stuff up to the ceiling in the bathroom. The other tears off an arm's length of this silver tape with her teeth and smacks the edge down. Overlapping and taping long sheets so it covers everything: the inset quartz sink, the diffused glass light fixtures, the marble flooring.

Everything but the eighteen jet tub.

Doing all this prep work to make a condom of the bathroom with three girls sealed up inside, this is a total bitch. But if you aren't planning on killing a hotel full of dogs and cats, if you're not shooting for a mass evacuation with every guest yakking violently all the way to the hospital, then the airtight bubble thing is pretty crucial.

Taped to the outside of the bathroom door is Corine's sign with the clip art skull that says: "Poison Gas—Do Not Enter!!!" So any housekeepers letting themselves in tomorrow morning don't go opening this bathroom without those rubber jumpsuits with built-in gas masks. Dana says we should have typed it in Spanish, too.

The handles are too small for Corine to get her fingers through, so it's Dana and me lifting the heavy jugs out of the roller suitcase and tipping them into the tub. The label has pictures of ants and beetles, all with bright red circles around them and slashes through the middle. Corine starts turning the boxes of bath salts over the tub, shaking the pellets until the first box is gone. Then the second and third. We suck in our last clean breath before Corine pokes the jets-on button. Then she hits play on the iPod, speakers on either side, with the same thick finger.

You've seen Corine on the Internet, and if you haven't you don't go to Watson Middle School. Only there everyone calls her Pussy Lover, not Corine. The video you saw online, the one that got posted and re-posted and e-mailed and forwarded times a million, Corine's always said it's fake. To the lunchroom table of jackasses laughing and licking their lips she screamed, "It wasn't what you think! I would never do that!"

But they'd chant: "Pussy Lover! Pussy Lover!" A whole lunch period doing slurp sounds and meowing.

This is why Corine eats lunch off campus on the stack of newspapers waiting to be recycled at the Safeway three blocks from anyone who'd call her anything. Away from anyone who'd see her three roast beef sandwiches, her sack of Doritos, four chocolate snack cakes, and diet soda.

The kid outside Corine's house that night with the video camera was filming his buddies chucking rolls of toilet paper over her roof. Knotting it up in her trees. Spreading white-tipped matches on her lawn so the next time it got mowed there'd be a fire. With the night-vision setting that made everything green and glowing like an X-ray, he shot them pumping mustard into her door locks. Recording every giggle as they slid the garden hose into a basement window well and turned it on. It was when he zoomed in on them smearing white shoe polish on her living room window that he caught Corine inside at that exact wrong moment.

Even Corine admits that the video really does look like she's lying on the living room couch without a shirt or a bra. That you could be looking at two sets of glowing Persian cat eyes hovering around her bare rack, with their little sandy tongues darting, if that's what you wanted to see. But she's only holding Sheeba and Sam-Sam. There's no peanut butter or syrup involved, like everyone says. There totally isn't. A girl can hold her cats, can't she? What's on that video is misleading. It's a lie.

This is the defense Corine's sticking to, even with the tub in this bathroom fizzing and bubbling like those little packets of six-hour energy boosters do in water. Only the tub jets aren't churning up guarana or taurine or caffeine. It's hydrogen sulfide gas. There should be a science credit in this for me. You think of it oozing over the tub in thick waves, like the dry ice clouds that crawl over a punch bowl at Halloween, but it's not like that. You sort of only know it's doing anything because the air starts to taste like you're rolling a nine-volt battery around in your mouth.

Dana leans over the tub for a sec, then jerks back. She says, "Ugh, it's doing something," batting at her eyes all fast. Fanning her adorable little nostrils poked in her cutesy nose, bolted to her perfect stupid face.

Pick any trophy from the glass cabinets just inside the school doors—track, soccer, basketball, state champs, national champs—and you'll find the name Dana Vecchio engraved under all the little gold people frozen in sports poses. Coaches from the high school showed up to her games, and they'd tell her what her future would be. Dana and me, we never even talked till after this last winter break when her entourage suddenly had a lot more openings.

The boy Dana tied herself to since first semester had this party. He's the guy whose parents will go on weekend trips without hiding their liquor because he's got a lot of As and touchdowns. Being with him, being seen with him, this upgrades Dana to queen of the sports parasites. So here she is partying like a queen should, downing hard lemonades and slippery nipples until her bad-idea meter doesn't even blip when jock-number-whatever tells everyone to pile into the hot tub outside.

The recommended capacity for this hot tub, whatever it was, they were over it by a lot. Dana says it was a mash of bodies in bras and underwear, sloshing out buckets of foamy chlorine water while they passed around bitter shots. And there the whole time, smashed right up against her in the bubbling tub of feet and tits, was her guy, with smiles and Jäger.

This is what made her stupid for him, this smothering attention. The way he smuggled her into his basement bedroom all those times so he could suck on her neck. The way he was always so careful on top of her and the way he offered to mop her down with a warm, wet towel after he'd pulled out on her stomach. He's a big believer in the honor system: "The more on her the better." Dana's bar for chivalry is pretty low.

Yes, it was the shots. Yes, it was the hard lemonades. But Dana says when her man started sneaking his fingers into her underwear, she didn't care that they were both smushed up against everyone there with them in that hot tub. Making out. Totally getting it on.

Until somebody screamed.

Until some guy said, "Aww, Jesus!"

Then smiley boy wasn't kissing her, and she opened her eyes. All around her in the water was a cloud of crimson, thick enough to tint the light underneath red as Valentine's Day, blossoming out.

Some girl yelled, "Oh, my God!"

Her boyfriend's fingers pulling really quick out of her makes a bigger explosion of red, with stringy webs of chocolate syrup and pearl globs floating up and sloshing into the tub filter.

Her wet teammates try to mash their way out, splashing rust-colored water on one another. Red bits gushing all over them. Inside their eyes. Inside their screaming mouths. Fingers clawing and drunk bodies falling over the edge to the frozen concrete.

Everyone inside the house, packed into her boyfriend's shower, his parents' shower, his little sister's shower, they gag and spit and knock heads fighting for the water nozzle.

Outside, by herself, Dana's in a half-empty tub of chlorine water and blood. Crying. It's not nice to laugh.

The next day, Dana's gyno-doc will call this an inevitable miscarriage. For serious, I'm not making this up. But it was anything but inevitable to Dana, who had no idea she'd been drinking her baby retarded and Down syndromey for the past twelve weeks. Didn't know she was sending little kidney bean Dana's birth weight farther down into the gutter with every toke and beer bong she hit. Now, her doc doesn't say any of this was the reason her mommy parts cleaned house, but she doesn't say it helped, either.

Dana's name on those trophies doesn't mean much after this. Maybe there's some number of state championships you can win to make everyone forget about the time you shot chunks of your undercooked kid all over them but probably not.

As the death cocktail rumbles in the tub, Corine pulls out her phone. Wants to take a picture of the three of us together before we're not together anymore, but there's no way. Not with me. She says, "Sorry" and "I'm totally sorry." Those cruddy little phone pics, they can ruin lives. Ask my ex-boyfriend Trevor. Ask everyone he knows.

Trevor would drive down from the high school at lunchtime to pick me up in his topless Jeep. I'd pull myself in by the roll bar really slow so everyone watching, every girl who wasn't dating a more mature guy like me, could boil in jealousy for a sec. Behind the sub shop, I let him kiss me with tongue, let him go up my shirt. I'd smell the breakfast sausage and syrup on him as he leaned over me in the seat, fishing for my bra hook. The varsity wrestler in him was always pushing for the panties, and I'd have to say, "Eeeeeasy, killer." Pulling his fingers from my zipper, I'd have to say, "Gear down, big shifter." He'd feed the pink head of his boner through his jeans, and I'd have to say, "Pump the brakes!"

Enough times of "respecting my boundaries" and Trevor stopped showing up for lunch. Stopped taking me home after school. I'd be stuck on the piss bus with all the bitches smirking at me like someone who didn't know they were dumped. This wasn't okay.

He didn't answer my texts until the one with the picture attached. When I held my camera phone to my bathroom mirror reflecting me in the first stages of slutty: glossed-up pouting lips, tousled hair, and some midriff. You know, classy.

Trevor texted back: im not convinced.

Slut bag: Phase 2 meant losing my shirt completely and popping the top button on my jeans.

Click. Send.

His text said: UR getting warmer.

The next part is not my smartest move, true, but it was firing off some pictures of me, minus a bra, with my jeans pulled down, or it was back to going out with guys at my school. Back to movies at the mall and hanging at Cinnabon and our parents driving us everywhere. I mean, come on.

Click. Send.

So, the last thing I want to happen is what happens first. These pics traveling like they tell you STDs travel. Trevor giving them to two friends, who give them to two friends and on and on. Until a mostly naked, porned-up me pushing my chest together is on every guy's phone at the high school I'm going to next year.

P.S. Carrying around a topless me in your phone, e-mailing it to your entire contacts list, plastering it online, this is called child pornography trafficking. It's a felony.

This is what the cops tell every dude, packed in and chained to all the seats inside a bus with steel mesh over the windows. Every guy who got pulled from fourth period and herded onto this long blue tanker with the sheriff's seal on the side, waiting outside the doors of the high school. Cell phone companies have to tell the cops when they run across "potentially exploitive content."

Me screaming at the cops, me stomping and crying and saying that no one forced me to take those pics, that they were my idea, meant exactly squat.

This is every guy I'd ever want to date. The older brother of any guy I'd ever want to have take me to the prom, with a criminal record because of me. An entire male student body having to attend court-ordered sex addiction groups, having to register as sex offenders on the federal database. Having to check in biannually with caseworkers until way after they graduate.

Would you like to know how many girls appreciate some skank turning their boyfriend into a pedophile? It's zero. All these girls who'll want nothing to do with me next year, just like the girls this year.

If you don't count the scrape of steel wool down your throat when you inhale, the Death Balloon Bathroom is pretty painless. The Internet was right on.

From our Indian-style circle we're slumping against the toilet, against the steps to the jetted tub, the plastic on everything crinkling and bunching up. If the song playing is number five or seven, we've all lost count. We're breathing through dried-up mouths packed with cotton, and it's not like we're tired, but our eyes are shut.

The coughing just happens. Your lungs jerk when you suck in another deep breath and try to hold it, so we didn't do anything when Dana's hacking fit started. You kind of expect the choking and the gagging part, but you don't expect the stream of wet pasta that shoots out of her throat and splashes off the wall, all hot. Before Dana even wipes the bits off her lips, Corine's leaning forward, hurling her lunch out past her teeth in a thick spray.

All I want is to breathe my toxic gas in peace. To punch my own ticket, like, gracefully and stuff. Apparently, this is too much to ask.

What's in my stomach chainsaws up the walls of my throat and arcs violently into the pool of last meals piled on the plastic. Dana's rigatoni. Corine's fried chicken. My veggie burrito. The last things we expected to eat in this life mixed up and running together, dripping from our hair.

P.S. This wasn't on the Internet. No heads-up that said, "Before you bite it, be ready to puke like a fire hose."

Dana's doubled over, holding herself, when the second wave of Corine's heaves surge up and plaster the back of her head. Dana's lunch, part two, gushes through the fingers she's clamped over her lips, and I'm right after her, hurling and screaming like some invisible linebacker is Heimliching me. The little ribbons of blood swimming around in the cakey muck, it's anyone's guess who it came from. Fat tracks of tears cut down Corine's face, pooling on her lips and swirling in with the long strands of spit hanging from her chin. As Dana rakes back the soaked clumps of brunette hair from her face, her hazel eyes are wide and panicked.

This is not what those Asians described at all.

Not peaceful.

Not serene.

Not fast.

Another wrenching yak detonates in my stomach, and Dana's pulling herself up, her feet slipping in the hot mess. Before I can spit out the clumps of barf in my mouth enough to scream, Don't, Dana's shoving her head through a hole she gouged with her fingernails. Clawing at the edges to slip her arm through and open the bathroom door.


Excerpted from Burnt Tongues by Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas, Dennis Widmyer. Copyright © 2014 Chuck Palahniuk. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Chuck Palahniuk’s thirteen novels are the best-selling Fight Club, which was made into a film by David Fincher, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke, which was made into a film by Clark Gregg, Lullaby, Diary, Haunted, Rant, Snuff, Pygmy, Tell-All, Damned, and Doomed. He is also the author of Fugitives and Refugees, a nonfiction profile of Portland, Oregon, published as part of the Crown Journeys series, and the nonfiction collection Stranger Than Fiction. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Richard Thomas is the author of three books—Transubstantiate, Herniated Roots, and Staring into the Abyss. His over 100 publications include Cemetery Dance, PANK, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, Pear Noir!, Chiral Mad 2, and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He is also the editor of two anthologies out in 2014: The New Black (Dark House Press) and The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press). In his spare time he writes for The Nervous Breakdown, LitReactor, and is editor in chief at Dark House Press. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

Dennis Widmyer is the cofounder of ChuckPalahniuk.net, the official website of Chuck Palahniuk, as well as LitReactor.com, an online magazine, workshop, and educational program. He is also a Los Angeles–based filmmaker with three feature films to his name and a number of shorts, videos, and festival bumpers. For more information visit www.denniswidmyer.com.

Brief Biography

Portland, Oregon
Date of Birth:
February 21, 1962
Place of Birth:
Pasco, Washington
B.A. in journalism, University of Oregon, 1986

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Burnt Tongues 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually read anthologies pretty quickly, averaging 2-3 stories a night before bed, but there were stories in here that made me sit the book down, get dressed, and walk outside, clear my head. They're all good, and they all linger in your head, and I wouldn't necessarily call them all "dark," but man - any collection that makes you have to leave your house after you've already brushed your teeth is a collection you're going to want to re-read. If you're even a casual fan of Palahniuk, you should pick this anthology up. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago