Nebraska Center for Writers

by Dan Chaon

from Chapter One

We are on our way to the hospital, Ryanís father says.
Listen to me, Son:
You are not going to bleed to death.

Ryan is still aware enough that his fatherís words come in through the edges, like sunlight on the borders of a window shade. His eyes are shut tight and his body is shaking and he is trying to hold up his left arm, to keep it elevated. We are on our way to the hospital, his father says, and Ryanís teeth are chattering, he clenches and unclenches them, and a series of wavering colored lights — greens, indigos — plays along the surface of his closed eyelids.

On the seat beside him, in between him and his father, Ryanís severed hand is resting on a bed of ice in an eight-quart Styrofoam cooler.
The hand weighs less than a pound. The nails are trimmed and there are calluses on the tips of the fingers from guitar playing. The skin is now bluish in color.
This is about three a.m. on a Thursday morning in May in rural Michigan. Ryan doesnít have any idea how far away the hospital might be but he repeats with his father we are on the way to the hospital we are on the way to the hospital and he wants to believe so badly that itís true, that itís not just one of those things that you tell people to keep them calm. But heís not sure. Gazing out all he can see is the night trees leaning over the road, the car pursuing its pool of headlight, and darkness, no towns, no buildings ahead, darkness, road, moon.

Reprinted with permission
from Await Your Reply
Copyright © 2009
by Dan Chaon
Random House

by Dan Chaon

SAFETY MAN is all shriveled and puckered inside his zippered nylon carrying tote, and taking him out is always the hardest part. Sandi is disturbed by him for a moment, his shrunken face, and she averts her eyes as he crinkles and unfolds. She has a certain type of smile ready in case anyone should see her inserting the inflator pump into his backside; there is a flutter of protective embarrassment, and when a car goes past she hunches over Safety Man's prone form, sheilding his not-yet-firm body from view. After a time, he begins to fill out-to look human. Safety Man used to be a joke. When Sandi and her husband, Allen, had moved to Chicago, Sandi's mother had sent the thing. Her mother was a woman of many exaggerated fears, and Sandi and Allen couldn't help but laugh. They took turns reading aloud from Safety Man's accompanying brochure: Safety Man-the perfect ladies' companion for urban living! Designed as a visual deterrent, Safety Man is a life-size simulated male that appears one hundred eighty pounds and six feet tall, to give others the impression that you are protected while at home alone or driving in your car. Incredibly real-seeming, with positionable latex head and hands and air-brushed facial highlights, handsome Safety Man has been field-tested to keep danger at bay!

Reprinted with permission
from Among the Missing
Copyright © 2001
by Dan Chaon
Ballantine Books

by Dan Chaon

I WAKE UP along the side of the road where in a ditch there is a patch of mossy clover like a pillow. An old farmer drives by in a pickup and gives me a ride in it.
In the dream, a girl I'd almost once married called me on the phone. It was all very normal and un-dreamlike. I was surprised because I hadn't heard from her in years.
"Your mom asked me to talk to you," she said. "She's very worried about you. All of them are."
I said, "My God, Erin, I can't believe it! How long has it been? It's good to hear your voice. How are you?"
"I'm fine," she said. Her voice was businesslike but not unkind. "I think the real question is, how are you? What are you doing to yourself? You're a mess."
"Well," I said. I was a bit taken aback. She sounded so judgmental, and all I wanted to do was talk. "It's complicated, really," I said. "I'm going through some changes."
"I know," she said.
"It's not as bad as it might sound," I said.
I was almost awake by that time, and I heard myself speaking the words aloud, and I opened my eyes and stared at the weeds and gravel near my face. I couldn't even recall what state I was in. It might have been Kansas.

Reprinted with permission
from Fitting Ends
Copyright © 1995
by Dan Chaon
Triquarterly Books

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Nebraska Center for Writers