from "Sly Bang"

Having killed his orc guard, Michael explored floor -211. He found a room with monitors, flat screens, couches. The voyeur room, he concluded. He flipped on the TV.

YOUSUCK, the black and red logo blared. A Nazi flag waved proudly beneath it.

Michael flipped the channels. The lab. Deal pointing a foot-long needle at Nora’s eye. Michael was fascinated. Maybe I could do that to one of my dolls, he mused, belatedly realizing that he should be having protective feelings to mobilize him to Nora’s rescue.

This is a lobotomy, he concluded. They fuck with her that way, fuck with her memory. How often have they done this?

Michael watched as Deal took out a tray of scalpels.

“If the needle doesn’t work,” Deal was saying, “I’ll do a frontal. I saw one of my students do it once.”

Ouspensky slapped Deal again. “Alive, you quack. We still need her alive. Broken, but alive. The fucking little bitch needs to be broken. Fucking cunt scraped my dick with her teeth. I’m not letting her off so easy.” Ouspensky considered his options. He turned to face the cowering psychiatrist. “You’re an idiot, Deal. I’m putting Hawk on her.”

Hatred lit Deal’s face. “That bitch? She’ll fuck everything up.”

Ouspensky ignored him. “Paula, I need you,” he spoke into an intercom.

A smooth female voice answered. “At your service, your royal highness. Multiples therapy on the prisoner?”

“Your best, Paula. See what she remembers.”

Orcs carried the nearly lifeless Nora to a cozy room. Michael tracked their movements on the screen. The -300 floor, Michael noted. The first circle. How do I get there?

The orcs laid her on a couch with embroidered pillows and covered her with a down quilt. Nora slept. After a few minutes, liveried servants appeared and abruptly woke her. They carried the now conscious Nora down the hall to Dr. Hawk’s office.

Nora sat silently in the waiting room of Hawk’s psychiatric office. A worn poster of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers hung tackily on the wall. Hawk, a tall and muscular woman, confident and attractive, opened the office door and smiled at Nora. With a friendly nod, she invited her into her book-lined therapy room.

She looks like my Aunt Lena, Nora thought. She was probably selected for that reason. Nora stared at the psychiatrist’s thin ankles and sharply edged calves. A cyclist, Nora surmised.

She can’t make me talk to her, Nora tried to convince herself. Or can she? In my state? Yes. Yes, she can.

Dr. Hawk smiled. “If you like, you can take a moment before we begin. We can just sit together and breathe. You can use a breath after such an ordeal.”

Yes, Nora agreed, she could.

“Would you like something? A cup of coffee, perhaps?”

Yes, Nora realized, she would very much like a hot cup of coffee.

Nora! Larissa commanded.

Hawk poured golden black-brown liquid from what smelled like a freshly brewed pot of … was that Sumatra? Yes, Nora’s favorite. And white, white, white cream from a tiny blue ceramic saucer … into a blue and white Wedgwood cup.

Hawk handed the coffee to Nora.

Good cop, bad cop. It’s working. Nora sipped, and it was heaven.

Dead girl no coffee no cream. Dead Girl.

Let me alone! Sorry, Dead Girl, I can handle this.

Nora, they are duping you, Larissa insisted. The coffee is drugged.

Feels really nice, Larissa. Hot, nice.

Nora, wake up! This pleasure will be extremely short-lived and the concomitants, ghastly. Please let me help you. The drugs have no effect on me.

Larissa, not now, please. Just let me have my hit.

Hawk smiled. “You are talking to your alters, aren’t you? Nora … may I call you Nora? Please call me Paula; Dr. Hawk is so formal. And we are equals. This is a democracy, Nora. I know that Dr. Deal didn’t believe that. And unlike Dr. Deal, I have boundaries. Tell me about your alters. Who am I talking to now?”

Nora? Nora.

“Really? It doesn’t seem so. Who are the alters? What are their names? Oh, I am forgetting my manners. Would you like a macaroon? Here, sweetheart.”

Don’t eat it, Larissa said sharply. There are memory drugs in it.

Nora bit into the macaroon in Hawk’s hand.

Nora, they are drugging you, Larissa repeated.

Larissa, go away.

Dr. Hawk smiled and topped off Nora’s coffee. “Of course: Nora. There really is only Nora. But we all have facets, all respond differently to different situations. We are all of us chameleons. We all compartmentalize and dissociate to some degree. It’s human and natural.” Hawk handed Nora another macaroon, which Nora grabbed and ate greedily.

Hawk continued. “But in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder and DID, these rifts become harmful, maladaptive—I know you argued with Deal about PTSD and your dissociation; you correctly diagnosed yourself as a survivor, but he lacked the skill and insight to understand that.” Hawk sighed. “Psychiatry has not served you well, my dear! Just between you and me, Deal is an unbearably stupid quack.”

She is trying to bond with me by identifying a common enemy, Nora thought weakly as Hawk placed the plate of macaroons in Nora’s lap.

“Let’s get to work, dear, then I’ll let you take a well-deserved nap. At the chalet, who saved the children?”


“I heard you say Larissa when we were bathing you in the healing tank. Who is Larissa?”

Nora, Larissa commanded. You never said Larissa. You are fully drugged now. Let me handle her interrogation.

Nora smiled. “I am Larissa Nikolayevna Romanova, tsarina of the blood royal, heir to the throne of the Russian Empire.”

No more, Nora. Lord God, help. Macaroons. Macaroons. Macaroons, Nora. Think of Jewish holidays. Remember the Temple. Remember the Maccabees. Remember the Warsaw Ghetto. Remember, like the Jews against all odds, your God.

“Shut up, Larissa,” Nora said aloud. The sugar and coffee made her happy. When was the last time she was happy? It would be good to talk, talk, talk to a woman, she is kind, she will help, she hates Deal too.…

Predator, Larissa pleaded, please do something.


Larissa, I’m very tired. No more Predator. We’ll talk a little and then Aunt Paula will let us take a nap. Maybe she’ll tuck us in. Blanky so nice, so nice.

Nora’s head wobbled a bit and dropped to her chest.

“Do you like birds, Nora?” Deal asked. “I love birds. Do you?”

Nora sat bolt upright. She heard the clangs again. NOT THE BIRDS.

Good girl! A psalm of David, a King of Israel, who slew Goliath: The Lord is my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid? The Lord is my strength: whom shall I fear? The Lord is my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid? The Lord is my strength: whom shall I fear?

Look up, Nora, roll your eyes, the upward ocular movement will help break the drug trance. This is why the psalmist says look up: I look to the mountains, wherein lies my strength. Look up, Nora, look up. Yea, though I walk: get up, walk around. The Oche Nash, Nora; you know it, I taught it to you. Say it aloud. God’s love enfolds us, protects us. He will deliver us from evil.

Alone, Larissa. Alone.

We are not alone, we are not alone, we are never alone, God is with us.






Larissa Shmailo is an American poet, novelist, translator, and critic.  Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country#specialcharactersIn Paran, the chapbook A Cure for Suicide, and the e-book Fib Sequence. Her latest novel is Sly Bang; her first is Patient Women. Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters, Words for the Wedding, Contemporary Russian Poetry, Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural, Verde que te quiero verde: Poems after Garcia Lorca, and many others. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the world's first performance piece, Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych. Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Please see more about Shmailo at her website at and on Wikipedia at


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 21:12