Wednesday, September 18

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Storm In a Teacup

Workers and diners in a British cafe experience a small act of weather-related magic.

"None of the others notice Tommy pull up a chair and seat himself next to the counter, his eyes level with the cup. The furious churn of the storm grips him. He hears a hurried tinkling as tiny fists of hail sugar the bottom of the cup. For the first time in years he does not think of Alice. The storm’s rumble elongates, thunder and lightening overlapping. A tinny crescendo rattles inside the ceramic shelter of the cup."

Tuesday, September 17

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The Spy

In which a narrator reflects, obsessively, about performance, surveillance, and secrecy.

"In art there is one condition that takes precedent over all others: to do things well. Which means I’ve got to be a good actor in a good drama: if I don’t do it well, there will be no effect, the show will fall into nothingness."

Friday, September 13

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Late Night

Recounting an appearance on Letterman.

Close up, he looked depressingly young. At most, 35. He congratulated me on the series' renewal, the Emmy nomination, and said my network had handled my unexpected pregnancy well on the show's third year, arranging to have me seen only behind waist-high visual impediments for 13 straight episodes.

"That was fun," I said sarcastically. I laughed dryly.

"Big, big fun," Letterman said, and the audience laughed.

Thursday, September 12

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William Wei

Two malcontents engage in a phone romance.

"We talked for a long time, more than an hour, until I got sleepy, so I started to fall asleep with her on the phone. The next night, around the same time, she called me again. I was really happy she did that. We had a nice conversation. She told me this story, how she used to prank call a math teacher of hers in junior high. She did it so much, she figured out how to reprogram his outgoing message, using his two-digit remote-access code. She redid his outgoing greetings, said things that were explicitly sexual. Her teacher didn’t understand technology or remote-access codes. He assumed someone was breaking into his house each day to rerecord his message. It filled him with fear and paranoia. He bought a dog. He had an alarm installed and got a prescription for sleeping pills. It was a long time—nearly a year—­before the police identified Koko and got to the bottom of the mystery. "

Wednesday, September 11

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The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain

A woman encounters a strange pair of missionaries.

"'Are you suffering some anguish?' the man asked abruptly. When I heard this, I realized that he was probably a member of some sort of cult. Proselytizers from these groups often pick days when the weather is bad, and they often bring children with them—which never fails to throw me. Still, there was something about these two that felt different from those I had encountered before. In fact, there was something that set them apart from anyone else who had ever come to my door."

Tuesday, September 10

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The Testament of Mary [Excerpt]

In this excerpt from Colm Tóibín's Booker-nominated novel, Mary recounts the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

"I know, because Marcus told me, that Mary and Martha, the two sisters of the dead boy, began to follow my son once they had heard the news of the lame walking and the blind seeing. And I understand that they would have done anything in those last silent days. They watched helplessly as their brother grew easily towards death in the same way as a source for a river, hidden under the earth, begins flowing and carries water across a plain to the sea. They would have done anything to divert the stream, make it meander on the plain and dry up under the weight of the sun. They would have done anything to keep their brother alive. They sent word to my son and they asked him to come but he did not. It was something I learned when I saw him myself, that, if the time was not right, he would not be disturbed by a merely human voice, or the pleadings of anyone he knew."

Monday, September 9

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The Hypothetical Girl

A woman gradually disappears.

"Some days she felt just like her old self. Very there. But other days she was not much there at all. She could walk through a mall or crowded street and nobody so much as looked at her. She could say hello or nod to people and they didn’t even glance in her direction. I am almost gone now, she thought."

Saturday, September 7

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Often Ogled Nancy

Personal dislikes and tensions abound during Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

"I have been held up to the standards of this perfect girl since. It was Nancy who pushed for Bonneville. She was a Nevada girl, through and through. Utah and the Salt Flats were only ever a mountain range away. Once the idea of Bonneville had been planted, it rooted itself in Jeffery, eating him like a mold. He had to be there. He had to be part of it. By 2007, forum members had pledged enough money to send us all out. Jeffery set a record that year then lost it the next."

Thursday, September 5

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Victimless Crimes

A team of superheroes disrupt the life of a family.

"She tried to do errands like any other day. When she bought toilet paper, she thought to herself, 'What am I doing at the drug store? They took my baby. I should be doing something.' When she went to buy groceries, she felt like everybody was watching the star of 'Mom Jacked by Action Squad' picking out the freshest rutabagas for her now–childless family."

Tuesday, September 3

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Madeleine E (Excerpt)

An experimental story of travel, quotations, and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

"Two scenes intervene between Cypress Point and San Juan Bautista: one in Midge’s apartment, when Midge reveals her self-portrait-as-”Portrait of Carlotta” to Scottie, and, following it, a scene in Scottie’s apartment, “early dawn” the following day, when Madeleine comes to visit him to tell him about her dream. One scene attempts to conceal what it in actuality reveals, the other conceals that which it is supposed to reveal; Midge’s feelings for Scottie are clearest here, where her gesture is meant to be seen as ironic, and Madeleine’s are most calculated in the scene following it, just when she is supposed to be at her most vulnerable (“supposed to” according to her script, that is, the one written by Elster)."

Monday, September 2

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The Looking-Ahead Artist

A pair of shipwrecked seamen are put to work producing effigies.

"My effigy took eleven days to complete and I was genuinely proud of it when I had finished. It was just the same size as me to the quarter-inch, and the face, drawn over sun-bleached cloth in charcoal, was quite like my own despite my having no mirror to work with and having had no previous artistic training of any kind. The Chieftan congratulated me heartily, and after hefting the effigy onto my back, he allowed me to leave the working area for the first instance since I had begun the undertaking."

Saturday, August 31

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Brave Bear

A father and son clash over a murdered dog.

"Bear. Who hopped up and wagged his tail at my dad. He thought they were going on a trip. Probably thought they were going hunting up to the last minute. Until my father laid the muzzle of his gun against Bear’s own muzzle, soft. I can imagine Bear sniffing at the gun in curiosity, looking up to my dad, who had fed him and watered him, and for my dad Bear had braved wild pigs, skunks and angry raccoons. I can see him sitting, wagging his tail expectantly, waiting for the command to search, to run."