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Emergency

The misadventures of two hospital workers, from the 1992 collection Jesus' Son.

"The eye man was on vacation or something. While the hospital’s operator called around to find someone else just as good, the other specialists were hurrying through the night to join us. I stood around looking at charts and chewing up more of Georgie’s pills. Some of them tasted the way urine smells, some of them burned, some of them tasted like chalk. Various nurses, and two physicians who’d been tending somebody in I.C.U., were hanging out down here with us now."

Wednesday, October 22

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American Fare

A prison cook reflects on her daughter as she prepares a prisoner's last meal.

"See what I mean? Fussiness knows no bounds. Not even for inmates. We don’t serve shit-on-a-shingle, but sometimes you’d never believe it. Last week Brenda and me whipped up fifteen pans of German chocolate cake and don’t you know some idiot come up to Brenda complaining about the “presentation,” said his mama always made German chocolate cake in two layers, not in a sheet pan. Everybody’s a critic."

Tuesday, October 21

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Recompensate, He Said

A mini epic of murder, theft, and nature in the Old West.

"He trotted down the steep slope and across the range, passing monuments of salt cedar and sagebrush and croppings of bouldered limestone and sandstone. Everett marched on, glancing back to the pass like clockwork. His vision began to blur and he mistook shadows of dashing clouds overhead as armies of villains bent on doing him harm. He crept on as his headache worsened and soon he forgot his sentried errand. He kept low to the ground and stopped himself twice from collapsing completely, bracing himself on passing man-made edifices of rock and earth. His limp had worsened and he stumbled upon wreckage of some wrecked wagonette and used a long timber from the wagon-bed as a crutch until it snapped in half ten minutes later. The sun was hot and without his hat or coat he felt the full effects of it on the nape of his neck."

Monday, October 20

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The Wide and Lonely World

A widower takes his children to visit relatives under vague, suspicious circumstances.

"One day he said he was taking us on a trip to meet his people in Missouri, relatives we hadn’t known existed. They were farmers of German descent, with exotic-sounding names like Fritzi and Helga and Smit. We loaded up the car and just drove, right out into the country. If our mother had been alive, she’d pack a cooler full of bologna sandwiches and Mars bars, but there was none of that. The windows were down and hot bursts of wind boxed our cheeks and made the Cubs cap on our father’s head twitch."

Friday, October 17

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Exquisite Corpse

Fifteen writers from a variety of genres contribute to an original short story.

"We’d wanted roles in this flick where there’s nothing left on earth to eat but cockroaches and babies. Verisimilitude, Francis said. To win great roles, do great stuff. We picked Trieste because the exchange rate was good. But rumors gypsies sold babies were false. So we stole one. We ate it, but got caught. I escaped; the gypsies chained him in a basement. He had to get their “queen” pregnant in six cycles. Five had passed."

Thursday, October 16

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The Quandary Of The Pointy Objects Annex

A surreal college campus beset by stabbings and other hijinx.

"It’s also not long before Dean Nelson is stabbed through the eye and killed by his secretary who claims never left her desk all day. Except security footage shows her ogling pencils she was sharpening right before carrying them menacingly into Nelson’s office. No amount of rug-sweeping will spin this."

Wednesday, October 15

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All the Light We Cannot See [Excerpt]

An excerpt from All the Light We Cannot See, announced as a nominee for the National Book Award.

"Her fingers travel back to the cathedral spire. South to the Gate of Dinan. All evening she has been marching her fingers around the model, waiting for her great-uncle Etienne, who owns this house, who went out the previous night while she slept, and who has not returned. And now it is night again, another revolution of the clock, and the whole block is quiet, and she cannot sleep."

Tuesday, October 14

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Field Recordings

Cemetery field recordings reveal terrifying audio messages.

"One night, listening back, she heard the crunch of shovelling. Nothing to worry about, the priest said. Simply gravediggers. She had not realised the cemetery still bore room for fresh dead; she imagined dough cut to the shape of the cemetery and a coffin-shaped cookie cutter pressed into it to calibrate the number of remaining graves."

Monday, October 13

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This Must Be the Place [Excerpt]

A series of memories and addictions from various years.

"I come here after my shift at the record store and sit around at picnic tables outside, scribbling into notebooks while drinking shitty coffee and waiting for my girlfriend, Velvet, to get off work so we can go get high. The crowd here is varied: AA people alongside art people and punks alongside dirty Deadheads and downtown casualties. There are many open mic poetry events, usually outdoors at dusk. One night I decide to read. I go to the mic and drop weapons. I go to the mic and read about Kuwait City and southern Iraq. I go to the mic and read about prostitutes and hashish and drinking homemade wine made out of grape juice in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I go to the mic and curse over and over again. Nobody claps. Nobody moves. I am not asked to read again."

Friday, October 10

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The Neighbor

A lonely housesitter makes himself at home in slightly inappropriate ways.

"He’s in the master bedroom. There are no decorations—no photos hung on the wall or in frames on the dresser, no other artwork, no decals like Alice bought and had Ben stick-apply to the walls of their own bedroom when they’d first moved into the neighborhood themselves. There’s only the dresser along the wall, with a vanity mirror and neatly organized jewelry atop, and a nightstand on each side of the bed. Neither has anything on it but books, but Ben can immediately distinguish his from hers from the selection, the way they are stacked. Without thinking, without being able to help himself, Ben goes to Helen’s side of the bed and opens the drawer."

Thursday, October 9

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Birdie

A woman's involvement in an unstable Detroit activist movement.

"The houses we set out to destroy had already been inscribed by the city. The city had earmarked them as tear-downs during the first stage of a larger urban planning initiative – a large ‘D’ for Demolition had been written in white chalk on the front doors of the dilapidated multi-family structures, veterans of a time when Detroit was still a factory town, a place where the music of Motown fumed larger than the gusts of exhaust unleashed from the chains of cars which tumbled off the assembly lines at the auto factories and straight onto those glistening American freeways. The electric streetcar line along Woodward Avenue had been replaced by gas-powered buses. There’d been the great race wars. Even still, at the time those houses had been erected on that tender Northern riverbed which skirted the Canada border, the word future seemed more a promise than an urgency."

Wednesday, October 8

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Verdict

A man considers his broken family life while awaiting a possible selection for jury duty.

"And then there I was sitting in the jury stand, listening as the judge explained what he meant by admonition and the prosecutor’s burden. I’d never been in a courtroom before, and it got me thinking. Isn’t it unfair how Maggie treats me like a criminal? I mean, seeing as it could have happened to anybody. Thing is, I’m still serving time."