Benjamin DeVos - Are you sick of your ordinary life? Then embrace the madness for a moment, and enter a world where Shia LaBeouf is a cat, Zach Galifianakis is a werewolf, and Ryan Gosling is a serial killer of handsome actors

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Benjamin DeVos, Lord of the Game, Apocalypse Party, 2017.

This is the story of a young man and his life in the city of Philadelphia. On his journey, he experiences many things, such as a pigeon-shooting simulation. A no-holds-barred fight in a slaughterhouse on the edge of town. A psychotic drug dealer named Satan. A legally-blind maintenance man. Multiple pig carcasses. A sequence of dead-end jobs. A series of homeless people. And much more. This novella is like traveling through a massive garbage shoot that ends where it began. Come one, come all, through this emotional black hole. You will feel better about yourself when it is over.

Benjamin DeVos, Madness Has a Moment and Then Vanishes Before Returning Again, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2016.                                

Popular culture is strange. Celebrities that occupy the cult are even stranger. Are you sick of your ordinary life? Then embrace the madness for a moment, and enter a world where Shia LaBeouf is a cat, Zach Galifianakis is a werewolf, and Ryan Gosling is a serial killer of handsome actors. I promise, good things can happen when you move out of your comfort zone.
I was a rookie detective investigating my first homicide. I knocked on the suspect’s door, and Ryan Gosling answered, wearing a bloodstained bowling shirt. I did not notice the blood at first. I was too distracted by his beautiful blue eyes. He was the perfect specimen of a man. He looked like the kind of man who could nurse a dying puppy back to health. I told him that I was investigating his eyes. Then I said that I was investigating a murder, which occurred the evening before at Lucky Strike Bowling Alley. (pg. 13)
Celebrities are just normal people, if normal people are mass murdering, werewolf evolving, child-enslaving psychopaths. A humorous take on pop culture, Benjamin DeVos’ book Madness Has a Moment and Then Vanishes Before Returning Again is a fresh and humorous short story collection reminiscent of the tabloids in the checkout line of your local grocery.
But there’s a twist here; these are actually well written.
I was nervous when there was no answer at the front door, and I thought maybe he had skipped town. I decided to break in through the window. There was no sign of him on the first floor, but I could hear a metallic rasp coming from the basement. I followed the sound until I found Ryan Gosling, standing over a meat grinder, holding Jake Gyllenhaal upside down by his ankles. Jake Gyllenhaal’s lower body was in a gory mound on the ground. I initially considered calling the paramedics, who I thought might have been able to separate the grinder from its housing so that the leftovers of Jake Gyllenhaal could remain, maybe in a museum, where future generations could behold the once promising young thespian. (14) 
Madness is a perfect blend of urban legends and non-fiction style stories that have gone too far. Using current fan favorites of the entertainment industry, DeVos weaves head-scratching surrealist elements into a world of pop culture that is central to everyday life.
Each story moves along a similar track, recounting the narrator’s mundane encounters that quickly unfold into, as the title indicates, madness. For example, the Ryan Gosling series seems at first to be a typical police investigation, but by incorporating elements from existing media like the cult television series The X-Files and best-selling self-help guide The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, along with aspects of his deranged imagination, DeVos takes a familiar situation and twists it until it is unrecognizable.
Beneath the shelf was a chainsaw, which, before I became lucid, had suggested we use to chop up David Duchovny into little pieces. Ryan Gosling rejected my suggestion, calling it, “Cliché amateur bullshit.” I picked up the chainsaw and tried to rev the engine. Ryan Gosling laughed and said, “There’s no gas in it, stupid.” He pulled the hammer out of his tool belt, and, with a deranged look on his face, charged toward me. I swung the chainsaw in self-defense, and inadvertently sliced open Ryan Goslings jugular with the teeth of the blade. Blood squirted everywhere. David Duchovny cheered, “Hooray! You got him.” I caught Ryan Gosling as he fell, and pinched shut the severed artery by reaching my hand into his neck. David Duchovny told me to “Let the bastard bleed out,” but I was a vegan. I valued all life. (pg. 17)
Though the humor of this book is dependent on obscurity, it also allows the readers to examine themselves as consumers of pop culture. Madness brings celebrities down to our level, but it does so with certain empathy that simultaneously humanizes the characters. Together with the narrator, they are thrust into situations that test both their ethics and their will to survive in the real world, separate from the realm of celebrity that we are accustomed to seeing them in.
I called the paramedics, who took Ryan Gosling to the hospital where he got three hundred stitches across his neck. The traumatic incident led Ryan Gosling down a spiral of nightmares and chronic depression. He tried to kill himself in prison but was saved by one of the guards. Eventually, he was able to cope with his demons through intense psychotherapy and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which he read over and over again on a never-ending cycle. (pg. 18)
Here’s the challenge.
Pick up Madness and enter a book where the rules of literature are second to the plot, where the cult of personality is nonexistent, and where the celebs are too casual for comfort. Despite its dissociation from actuality, this collection is for anyone living in the real world that is looking for an escape. It is for anyone who encounters famous people and visualizes them in uncanny circumstances. Like have you ever wondered if Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker actually make a good crime-fighting police duo?
I know I have. -  Chuck Harp

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Benjamin DeVos, Freaking Out The Neighborhood, Flutter Press, 2015.

The poetry included explores life in the city, the social experience of growing up in an impoverished community, and how the environment can culminate in life or death. It's American life reinterpreted from a rare and neglected perspective. 

i see in your teeth
the limbs of all people
being chewed and eaten
you are consuming everything
you are killing everything
can you please turn back
into my friend
a revelation is seeing the body
of a deceased sibling
a beautiful child dressed in lace
whose face has been retouched to the point
where by contrast you look at them
in an ideal state of total putrefaction
maggots and other orgiastic eating machines
suffering and inflicting suffering
everything must die
before it can be honored
not all death decays
skeletal remains settle
in the ocean
bone becomes rock
buried deep
in temporary graves
the earth’s crust
made of bodies

positive thinking
i catch my mom re-potting a dead plant
when there are guests over for dinner
she stands in the doorway looking at her iphone
then takes a close-up photo of the new plant
sending it to people via text message
people that are sitting two rooms away
my mom had me when she was sixteen so she’s relatively young but still slightly out of touch
i wonder if she is like me
i wonder if being around people makes her feel lonely
i wonder if she has thoughts about her body in relation to other bodies
feeling bad and physically isolated
receiving text message responses that consist only of question marks
we all have our problematic conditions whether we are troubled by them or not
it does not really matter
as long as we know that thoughts can be controlled
everything will be fine

There are a few questions I forgot to ask author Benjamin DeVos, like why he’s dressed as one of Santa’s elves in a Facebook picture, or why he’s too good to produce mix-tapes for bootleg rappers. Still, I love the humor, violence and existential malaise he brings to his writing, especially in Lord of the Game, where, with the same outsider matter-of-factness author Sam Pink utilizes to show us Chicago, DeVos displays the shiesty underbelly of Philadelphia, highlighting the city’s lowest common denominators through swollen black eyes and a rattled disposition. Seems like a sweet kid, though.

BRIAN ALAN ELLIS: Where’d you come from, man? First time I heard about you was when you submitted a funny story about working in a “fart factory” to that ill-fated Tables Without Chairs #2: Bad Job anthology, which Bud Smith and I gave up on. Did you ever place that “fart factory” story, and if not, how come?
 BENJAMIN DEVOS: Ah, the fart factory. I can almost smell it now. Unfortunately, I never did place that story. I wrote it specifically for the Bad Job anthology but later considered doing a whole series of bodily function-related workplaces, like “The Sneeze Store” and “The Urination Station.” I ended up losing interest in the series though, somewhere around “The Blood Bank,” which was not your typical blood bank.
BAE: What about “The Cum Dumpster”?
BD: Thought about it, but seemed like a waste of some perfectly good cum. I’d rather figure out a way to sell it as a healthcare product. “A multivitamin in every ejaculation,” or something.
BAE: The protagonist in your latest book, Lord of the Game, smashes up the bathroom of the bar he works at, and there’s a whole scene where the boss tries getting him to admit to smashing up the bathroom, even pulling a gun on him at one point, and it’s beautiful. Have you ever smashed up a bathroom IRL?
BD: The closest I’ve gotten was when I tripped in my buddy’s bathroom and accidentally cracked his toilet seat. I was pretty drunk and probably could have caught myself, but thought that drilling my elbow into the toilet to break my fall would be more fun. It left a bruise that I couldn’t figure out how I got until a day or so later. Proud moment.
BAE: Bet it feels good to smash up a toilet. I tried smashing up a bathroom once. This band I was in had a really bad gig, like terrible, like I kept getting into shouting matches with the sound guy while on stage, in the middle of our show, so after the set I hobbled off stage (I’d rolled both my ankles during the show) and headed into the venue’s bathroom with every intention of destroying it, which isn’t a smart idea at all but that’s how I felt at the time. Shockingly, the bathroom was already destroyed. Like, there was nothing I could do to make it look any worse than it already did. I couldn’t believe it. I just stood there looking at this dilapidated bathroom while my anger settled into a kind of numb despair. I’ll never forget it.
BD: Wow. That sounds like a nightmare dream sequence. It was probably for the best that you didn’t smash up that specific bathroom since the venue would have known it was you, but it is my greatest hope in the world that both you and I will one day feel the joy of destroying an entire bathroom with our bare hands.
BAE: God willing *sigh* Anyway, Lord of the Game culminates in this crazy street fight, like something out of They Live or something. Have you ever been in a wild brawl, or a prizefight, or anything like what’s described in the book?
BD: I have only been in one real fist fight. It was when I was a freshman in high school, and it pretty much went down in the most classic way possible. We met up behind the school and duked it out until we were both exhausted and shook hands. After that, I did a few years of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I was pretty damn good at. I started doing tournaments almost every weekend, competing as an eighteen-year-old against dudes in their thirties who were bigger and hairier than me. My teacher wanted me to go to California to compete in the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, but it was on the same week as my final exams so I missed it. Shortly after that I lost interest in anything athletic and started writing.
BAE: That’s fucking badass, dude. My cousins and I, when we were ten or eleven, took Taekwondo one summer on Long Island, and looking back I’m pretty sure our sensei was a cokehead ’cause one time he was real manic and he left all the students unsupervised so he could drive to the record store to purchase the Rocky III soundtrack ’cause he said he just had to hear “Eye of the Tiger,” and twenty minutes later he returned with the CD and he put it on and did this whole routine to it, but he did it in a way that looked like he didn’t give a fuck if we were there or not, like he did it just for himself. He was in the zone. It was pretty awesome.
BD: Holy shit that’s awesome. It reminds me of this time that I was over my neighbor’s house as a teenager. I was playing the video game Rock Band with him and his kids. The guy was an alcoholic, and said that he wanted to make the video game “like a real concert.” So he stumbled out, drunkenly drove to Wal-Mart, and came back with a bunch of strobe lights and a fog machine. For the rest of the night, he did vocals while we played songs from his favorite bands: Foreigner, Bon Jovi, etc. Then as he got drunker, he seemed to forget that we were there. The night ended with him breaking the Xbox.
BAE: Fuck YES. Speaking of Rock Band… I did some research (AKA I read a bio to one of your previous books) and found that you’re apparently a music producer? Like, do you produce mix-tapes for bootleg Philly rappers who distribute them out of the trunk of a car, or something?
BD: Oh god, I wish. I’m just one of those bedroom SoundCloud producers that tries to make weird-ass soundscapes and stuff like that. I actually haven’t done anything with music production in a while. I play some guitar with my roommate on occasion though.
 BAE: That sounds terrible. Like, you and your roommate just sit around jamming Sublime songs?
BD: Oh, it is terrible. Doesn’t help that it usually happens after a couple of beers. No Sublime though, we play exclusively depressing songs.
BAE: Like Nick Drake stuff? Bright Eyes?
BD: Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith—all that stuff.
BAE: Yikes. Worse than I initially thought. Okay. You once wrote a book where all the characters were celebrities, like you made Ryan Gosling a serial killer or whatever, so while reading Lord of the Game, I pictured the protagonist as a Shia LaBeouf type. Did you have Shia in mind when you were writing the book, and if not, how come?
BD: I mean, there is a little Shia in all of us, but I didn’t have him in mind specifically while writing the Lord of the Game. Now that I think about it though, all of the self-talk in the book is kind of the equivalent to Shia’s “Just do it” motivational speech. I was more picturing myself as the protagonist, because I bounced around from three different jobs in less than six months and was feeling super unhinged.
BAE: What’s been the shittiest job you’ve had?
BD: Probably when I was a busser for a country club. There was a lot of old money there, and the members that came in always acted like they were entitled and treated the staff pretty bad.
BAE: Woof. What’s your day job like now?
BD: Right now I work in a kitchen as a pierogi pincher. That’s literally all I do for six hours straight, put the filling in the dough and pinch it shut.
BAE: Zen AF. Oh FYI I just simultaneously purchased kitty litter and your previous book (Madness Has a Moment and Then Vanishes Before Returning Again, Dostoyevsky Wannabe) on Amazon to qualify for free shipping, so it might say “Customers Also Purchased: Arm & Hammer 40lb Clump & Seal Platinum Multi-Cat Litter” on your book’s Amazon page. You down with that? Am I your target audience?
BD: Thanks dude, that’s awesome. I think if my book can help people get free shipping then I have done my job as an artist.
BAE: MFA in free-shipping qualification.
BD: My target audience is made up of neurotic, reclusive hoarders, so a big-ass bag of cat litter seems like the perfect companion to the book.
BAE: #Blessed.  - Brian Alan Ellis

I Want to Believe

Two months ago I was sitting in the backyard when I witnessed a stunning explosion in the forest outside my house. A green light filled the atmosphere, and there was a commotion like a thousand spirits screaming in the night. I will never forget how the asteroid sounded during the collision. It sounded like a fist punching through the Earth. I rose from my hammock and hazarded into the forest to see if I could determine where the asteroid laid its impact. It was not that hard to find. I only had to go in the reverse direction of the animals that were running out of the forest, wailing, howling, barking, and tweeting in a cloud of terror.
I forged ahead, upstream through a river of frightened fur, until at last I arrived at the smoldering spot in the forest where a crater the size of a Buick lay. The smell of that smoke was unlike anything I’d experienced in my entire life. It was the smell of a goblin’s breath hot on your back as he chases you through a warm sewage system. In the middle of the crater, there was an egg, the color of an almond. I ventured further into the impact zone, though I knew that I should have called a scientist instead. It was as if that egg had a hypnotic hold on my psyche and I couldn’t help but walk toward it.
The very top of the egg looked like the protuberance of a baboon’s buttocks, fleshy and round. What happened next changed me forever.
The egg split open, and out of it emerged an alien, who would one day be known as Lady Gaga. She looked as if she had a high-temperature fever at full throttle. Her eyes were popping out of their sockets, slowly receding into her head as a green ooze poured from her mouth like radioactive saliva. Her face had an excruciatingly neutral expression. She didn’t speak any Earthly language, but when she did make noises, her voice resonated in a mezzo-soprano range that left me speechless.
Lady Gaga could convey an array of emotions without speaking. For example, I knew she was sad and hungry when she lay supine in the dirt, eating ferns with hot green tears dripping from the whites of her eyes. She slowly crept away, and I followed her until we reached a ranch on the outskirts of the forest. She appeared happy when a cow approached and proceeded to tear it apart with her long nails and teeth like a human blender. Her roar of victory was deafening.
She made a dress to wear out of the raw beef and continued on her journey. I couldn’t hear anything after that, but it seemed like Lady Gaga was singing by the way her mouth moved incessantly and her throat vibrated like there was a pure wave massager in her torso. It was hard to tell if she was a monster, or if she was just born that way. In any case, I was frightened for my life.
I continued to follow her until she reached an underground cave beneath a highway overpass. Lady Gaga’s glowing body lit the cavern. I tried to keep up, though my eyesight was continuously straining and deteriorating as we walked. It got to the point where I could not breathe due to the brutally suffocating smell coming from inside of the cave, so I idly tried to find my way out with most of my senses in jeopardy. All I had left was touch, and with each time I felt the wall, it seemed like my body grew more and more numb, until I couldn’t feel anything at all. I was anesthetized on the outside and filled with regret on the inside for following Lady Gaga without thinking about the possible consequences. Then everything went black, and not even my thoughts could penetrate the obscurity.
When I woke up, I was in my backyard as if I’d never left. I thought maybe it was a dream, but then remembered the smells, the sensations, and knew that what I’d seen was real. I couldn’t explain it, what Lady Gaga was. She was a species that neither the world nor I seemed ready to accept. I wanted to tell everyone what I’d seen, but I knew nobody would believe me. So I kept it to myself, watching and waiting for more like her to emerge from the forest. But no more aliens appeared. None like her anyway. -

Benjamin DeVos (b. 1992) is a writer from Philadelphia. He works as an overnight custodian and enjoys listening to gentle aural soundscapes while cleaning. Caffeine and crossword puzzles are what inspires his dreams. Insanity is what inspires his writing.