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Wednesday, September 17

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The Twitches

Middle school and family unease; a mysterious neurological condition.

"I knew something bad was about to happen right before it did. My face heated. All the sound cut out, like a huge furry helmet had been dropped over my skull. The room, it didn’t look right. I’m trying to think how to explain it, but all I can come up with is that the colors separated, kind of fizzed around—the green and red marks on the dry-erase board hovered like insects, the purple of Mr. Franz’s tie pixilated. I had that greasy swirl in my stomach like when you’re about to fart and are still praying there’s a way it will be silent, like when you go to the bathroom after a science lab of intolerable closeness to your intolerably cute lab partner and see that yes, the tingle on your nose was actually a tumor-sized whitehead erupting."

Tuesday, September 16

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The Private Fight

Current personal problems are tied to racial issues from years past.

"Helen Conley knew this story: When Maxwell Conley was sixteen and in high school, with a bad attitude like many of us have, two young members of the Black Panther Party saved his life. It happened because a recent veteran of the war in Vietnam woke up one morning believing he was still in the jungle. Adrenaline began pumping through his body at impressive levels. He didn't have a gun, but he found an oak baseball bat in the alley behind his mother's apartment building. He laced up his combat boots. He stormed down the street until he came to the high school. He kicked open the doors of the school, and came through the hallway breathing hard, fists clenched around the bat. It was seventh period. The hallway was quiet. Around the corner came Maxwell Conley, cutting class as was his custom. He was not sober. He was wondering why Kay Svenson wouldn't pay attention to him in art class. He was admiring his long curly hair in the reflection of the fire extinguisher case mounted on the wall. His Converse sneakers flapped open and his unwashed sock came through. The Vietnam veteran, only a few years older than Maxwell Conley, met him in the hallway, and wasted no time."

Monday, September 15

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The Open Palm of Desire

A single father's life is complicated by his son's new friend: a severed hand.

"That decided it—we would walk away. Let some other dad deal with the fallout of their kid digging up evidence of, what? A murder, maybe? A ritual dismemberment? The Mob torturing some poor fool before sending him to sleep with the fishes in the East River? My mind reeled at the possibilities. Whatever the case, getting involved was the last thing we needed, especially with me battling Mo for custody. I could see the headline in The Post: LET’S GIVE THE BOY A HAND! Her lawyer would have a field day."

Friday, September 12

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Guardians

A space cowboy, an alien girl, a a quest; A Housleyian spin on Guardians of the Galaxy.

"They nodded at one another and closed ranks, each of them wobbly but still standing. Their foe was reduced to a pile of smoking robes. The thing they were fighting for – the thing they now knew could either save or destroy the universe – was steaming off-center among the scorched remains of their foe. They held their breath, all of them, while the Space Cowboy picked up the thing they had been fighting for, tossed it in the air, caught it in his other hand, and passed it to the Queen."

Thursday, September 11

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Still Life

A man, a woman, and a child negotiate their uneasy triangle in the days and weeks following 9/11.

"His briefcase sat beside the table like something yanked out of a landfill. He said there was a shirt coming down out of the sky."

Wednesday, September 10

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Still Life

A Japanese photographer examines the scene of the St. Valentine's Day massacre; a story from the author of The Black Hour.

"Was it the worst I’d seen? I turned to the camera, viewing the scene anew. Four men lay in a row, as though they had been tucked into a large bed. One slept at their feet, face down. The last hunched on his knees at a round-backed wooden chair. Blood ran toward the center of the room. Later that day when I returned to the newsroom, I would release the image from the machine in my hands, like a dragon from a cage. The city would see the blood, black, and no one would remember that someone—call him Togo or call him Fujita, the name will not be printed—had stood in the dust of men’s bones to face the dragon so that they did not have to."

Tuesday, September 9

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The Voices Captain Brewster Heard

A ship captain's stories and unsettling encounters.

"Captain Brewster eyed the schooner, heavy in the water but no room in it for two hundred head of anything, and then he realized what it was. He explained to the man that the war was over and Lincoln’s Proclamation had become a Constitutional Amendment, that slavery was outlawed and slaverunners would hang for pirates. The man’s small eyes grew smaller, his heel tapped faster against the wood. He asked if Captain Brewster might like to buy some slaves for himself, though he used a different word, but Captain Brewster assured him that he wouldn’t, advised him to free his passengers and flee. The man spat the word back at him, passengers, half a question and half an accusation."

Monday, September 8

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A Planet for Rent

Trials and dangers abound for an interplanetary social worker.

"The Planetary Tourism Agency always compensated the family members of the unlucky victims of dematerialization, giving the evergreen excuse that on Earth they didn’t have enough experience managing such advanced equipment, because extraterrestrial technicians were reluctant to train human crews to run teleport booths. Maybe there was a bit of truth in that. Surely newly trained human teletransport specialists would get off the planet as fast as they could: artists, scientists, athletes—they all ran from their birth world as soon as extraterrestrial credits made them understand where true happiness could be found."

Friday, September 5

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Communion

A story of childhood trouble and minor delinquency.

"None of this, of course, has stopped any of them from pulling the girls’ hair or throwing pencils or losing track of time and getting locked out of school. He looks at the younger one standing there with his hands behind him and gives him a little shove. Everyone grows alert, awaiting the silent war. The boy drops his hands and looks back at him, and then they are all shoving and wrestling (carefully, quietly, so as not to attract attention, holding in their breath) and distracting him from his thoughts. The immediacy of the situation wanes. His father does not arrive. He relaxes, the wrestling over, rolls his foot over the soccer ball. They all stop and pant for a moment. There is still that space–the one in the corner of his brain–and as long as he can see it, he’s not quite safe."

Thursday, September 4

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Some Girl

A woman travels in a band on the way to their next show.

"With raised eyebrows, Jay crouched down, turned his hand up, and motioned wide. From the flat top, we could see oil rigs in the distance. A pair of buzzards looped in a slow figure eight. I wondered what kind of body lay out there on that red expanse, just out of my eye line, drying out under the sun into those bleached desert bones people put on fireplaces. They disgusted me, sure, but something about them called for touch, to feel those natural cracks in skulls, how similar we are to porcelain on the inside. Once we lose our connective tissue, we can show softer to those that put their hands on us."

Wednesday, September 3

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Near Earth Objects

A low level NASA employee struggles with the choice to reveal a massive conspiracy.

"It has to be true. He has to be right. He knows how it’s going to go down; he can see it all spread out before him. The files will come as a shock to the Department Head, who will panic. The bosses will tell him: If you’re loyal, you’ll take this to the grave, Milton. You’ll keep your silence and be a hero. Milton will say, no, it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than all of us."

Tuesday, September 2

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The Names [Excerpt]

Scenes from a scary faith healing session.

"The one to be delivered shook at the apostle’s touch, recoiled from his voice. His boots stamped the floor, wrung more sweat free from his jumping body. It was darkest bluest winter and the one was dressed for the weather, had kept his coat on the whole dance. The look in his eyes, the exhaustion, the fear, his and not his. He named some of his demons at sentence length, readying his voice for story, but the apostle stopped him."