2010s

470 articles
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Two shorts about cowboys, love, and unhappiness.

"We’d been too young, too passionate. We lived wearing blinders: we only saw each other. After pay days, we had nothin’ left but a few dollars for a six pack and a pack of smokes, but that’s all we needed. We’d sit on the back porch, drinking and smoking, watching evening fall. And once it got dark, we’d go inside, make love, have a drink and another smoke, and then make love again."

"I drove past Low’s house, saw his truck out front. I didn’t slow down. My body ached, I prayed for rain—a purple-blue tempest, lightning slicing sky."

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An Antarctic data hack.

"Still inside the joy, he moved quickly and quietly through the cold, barren corridor, past a row of humming, refrigerated steel doors labeled 'BSL-4 Biohazard,' into the sterile, white labs. Four five-thousand-liter liquid nitrogen tanks were lined up against the wall, the tubes that fed them thick with insulation against the extreme chill of the coolant. The third vat was open and breathing ice crystals into the air. He was glad he had loaded out with a virus filter in the mask. The power was still on, so the tank might freeze again. He pushed the lid shut, holding his breath just in case."

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An outtake from Backswing, Burch's latest story collection from Queen's Ferry Press.

"It started getting too big! I hadn’t planned ahead – didn’t stop and realize its size until it was too late. It was too big to fit through the garage door and the pieces were so interlocked and crosshatched, it took me a week just to break the thing down into manageable pieces to be able to move it. For a couple days, I was worried I might lose more of the work I’d done up to that point than I did."

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A man's lifelong hold on an imaginary person.

"He could never really explain it, once he got past that age where it stopped being okay to have an imaginary friend. He always knew she wasn't an imaginary friend. But he desperately tried to explain it anyway, to all the school counselors and all sorts of in-network therapists as he got older. It was simple in some senses. She was supposed to be living on his street. She was supposed to be in his kindergarten class. But all the houses were full with other families. And every little spot on that circular alphabet rug in his classroom was taken by someone else. Leona never happened."

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Teens struggle to find their bearings in both their fantasy lives and their real ones.

"He sits behind his screen, which he’s ordered us never to touch. We never do, not even when he's at detention. He shuffles some papers—his maps and grids. Dice click in his stubby hand. Behind him, on the wall, hang Dr. Varelli's diplomas. The diplomas say that he’s a child psychiatrist, but he never brings patients here, and I’m not sure he ever leaves the house."

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A young boy anticipates his own kidnapping.

"One day in school, they passed out flyers for parents at the end of the day and Mom told him that a boy from another school had been taken. A poor school, where even when you were young you walked home alone because your parents had to work all the time. A man came up to the boy and promised him treats, candy and a Happy Meal from McDonald’s but instead he brought him to an empty parking garage in Stuyvesant Town and there security cameras had lost sight of them, the boy’s hand still pressed into the man’s, his book bag carelessly unzipped halfway."

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An academic marriage dissolves into a grotesque, demeaning power trip.

"I had always loved Olivia’s fearless and outspoken brilliance. It was one of the things that first attracted me to her—along with her perfect bubble butt and sailor’s laugh. But I suspected she didn’t honestly believe what she said about Dickinson’s poetry. Sometimes, especially after multiple martinis, one or the other of us would find the slightest reason to engage in some sort of verbal jousting. It was the manifestation of a lot of other problems we had buried over the past five years of marriage. We had both been divorced, both had children, both were in our forties, both should have understood the tensions of remarrying in mid-life. And we both should have known how alcohol—which we loved and self-medicated with—was the match that lit the fuse to these confrontations every time."

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The aftermath of a back alley operation.

" He was lying in a tub with a gash around his gut that looked badly sewn up and possibly infected. The stitching was so poor that it mirrored the seams on a homemade football done left-handed. Ugly zigzags. The tub was floating full of Pabst and Budweiser cans. No ice, just cans and lukewarm water the color of weak coffee doing the cooling."

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Sex, potential violence, and human awkardness convene on an isolated shore.

"A slight breeze brings slight relief from the heat and a taste of the saltwater lapping against the hard sand. He’s been here many times. Though he has no desire to kill a bird, he loves this place, this lonely beach at the edge of this lonely lake too shallow for boats and too lifeless to attract fishermen. He loves the sand bugs and the sharp edges of the sand grass. Especially he loves the deep shade beneath the willow trees, and the sound of the cicadas’ music in the sun."

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On fictional versions of a certain kind of man.

"I’ve known a few of these guys in my lifetime, all variations on the cad theme. There was Clifford, a tennis-playing Long Island boy who also sailed and all that junk. There was Daniel, straight from L.A., who had rigid opinions about how a woman should look, as did Ian, a barrel-chested charmer who strippers genuinely liked."

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A flight attendant's love affair.

"Only now, in filling up the legal yellow pads with her memories of Will bent over his maps and her black panties drying on the towel rack and those broken glasses and the plane roar that wakes her up at night, does he seem more lost then her. She wasn’t a bird, not a bit like one. Birds were sharp, had metal in their brains which told north and south apart."

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A woman--rather, a whale trapped in a woman's body--gets a performance job at Ocean World.

"I arrive at Ocean World before dawn. My plan is to swim with Keiko an hour before everyone is scheduled to arrive, which I’m not supposed to do, but sometimes you just have to ignore the protocols—when you’re a whale among whales, human rules don’t apply."

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A woman discovers artistic integrity during an ill-fated relationship.

"Melanie finally knew their relationship wasn’t going anywhere while in the contemporary art hall of the museum. Andy stopped every few feet and brought his hand to his mouth. She couldn’t look at him for more than a few seconds without getting irritated. It was like a performance piece. He exhaled through his fingers, rubbed his chin, and circled a pile of Styrofoam chunks. He circled counterclockwise."

James Yates is a contributing editor to Longform.org.

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An unsettling look at the moments before infamy.

"The hero teacher will be shot through the lungs because this is not a world for heroes. This is a world for villains; this is a world for grand statements over subtlety."

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A drunkard with a past becomes the hero in this contemporary-yet-classic fairytale.

"The wall before you, which had appeared to be made from stone like all the others in the castle, actually burns quickly, charring like a piece of newspaper under a match. As it begins to vanish, you see that the hall continues on the other side. This was actually a test. And you actually completed it correctly. When the wall burns through completely, the fire suddenly extinguishes, as if doused in invisible water. You continue on down the hallway with, dare you say, a sense of purpose."

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A tale of identity in LA's television scene.

"Because he’s written television for as long as Shelly has known him, Jack drags her along on these nights, to watch staged readings of other writers’ scripts in the attic above the bar—a cramped, airless room they call the “Actor’s Den.” The television Jack makes rarely finds its way into peoples’ homes, but he makes it, one way or the other—even if he only guides it along its path to destruction like a doomsday chauffeur. The bar is wood paneled and velvety like the inside of a jewelry box. The owner drinks ancient scotch out of a miniature crystal glass and pulls constantly at his handlebar mustache, a collector of old timey things. When they arrive, he tells Jack about the two screenplays he’s writing: one comedy, one horror."

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A fiction/essay hybrid on the lies of storytelling.

"This stuff you don’t recall so much as suspect. Usually dark, not-so-nice things you think you could have witnessed, or had done to you, or – even worse — did unto others. Maybe there’s even a dim recollection – your cousin Johnny’s gray eyes with the bottom half flooded for instance, or your mother’s grim little smeared-lipstick smile, or the sound of your sister throwing up on the other side of the bathroom door. But really, these things are so shadowy and faint you can’t be certain of any part of them. You’d have forgotten these ghost-memories a long time ago were it not for one thing that seems completely unrelated and it’s this: there’s a dark and oversensitive stain on your heart."

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An online mystery surrounding animal abuse and porn.

"A different room, a different couch, but the rest of the room just as bare as the other. The couch is a futon, in couch form for now; it will be in its bed form but only much later. The camera's pushed far back enough that you can see the couch entire and you can see part of a window above it, the thick pebbly glass of the plastic-lipped pane. The Porn Star sits upon the couch. He is reading a magazine, right leg propped, wagging. The shoes he wears have fat black tongues and the laces that keep them on tight are bright orange. His pants are riding low on him, the chain on his wallet cascading the fabric. He's wearing a hoodie, the hood cinched in close and the sleeves of the sweatshirt tube down past his hands. He's reading the magazine, foot faintly wagging. There's a look on his face but it cannot be seen."

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Tender, sad interactions between old friends; an excerpt from Worthington's forthcoming book from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

"He was looking at the television across from him, above and between two of the tables. I was looking at the television behind the bartender, in front of the kitchen. It was the first time we had seen each other in two years. We didn’t have anything in common to talk about except for the Browns. I didn’t even really care about the Browns anymore. I glanced over at him, and he looked down at his drink, picked it up, took a sip. He returned his gaze to the screen. I often feel violently angry when people are not able to communicate effectively with me, but, at that moment, I didn’t. I took a sip of my drink."

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A man heads to Key West in a quest for sobriety.

"At the piano a black man in dark glasses set the tempo with hands the size of catcher’s gloves. He never looked down at the keys. Instead he seemed to be staring straight at Daniel. It was unnerving at first, but soon Daniel got used to it. Perhaps because he was sober, it seemed as if he could hear all the notes. He didn’t miss a moment. He smiled at the piano man. He nodded his head when the piano man did a whirling riff and clapped when he finished a mind-boggling solo."

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A woman's sexual, educational, and career developments; NSFW.

"She spent many an hour in the presence of those adult models during various parties. Gin and tonic in hand to ward off the bong and tabs of Ecstasy and acid, she sat in a side chair listening to indie rock bands (Morphine was a favorite) or death metal as the mood struck surrounding male minds, and she studied the women. The pictorials always ended with the women’s legs spread or mouths wide open with questing tongues, although faces were not a necessity in certain periodicals. In the spread-leg scenario, the women used long, pointed acrylic fingernails, usually painted a harsh red or cotton-candy pink, to open themselves for optimal viewing. The effect, to Susannah’s eye, was that of a newborn marsupial ripped from the pouch and pinned for display like a reluctant specimen in a Victorian curiosity cabinet."

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A hairdresser confronts class issues and a local murder.

"During my lunch break, I thought about what I thought about Elena Czarinsky. Honestly, I’d never liked her much. She was one of those women who flashed her electronics around to remind everyone she had a real job where she was irreplaceable. She tipped with the generous lunacy of a woman who’s had to take her clothes off for a living. Once she told me she got off bad guys just to show she knew the law better than the next guy, and it wasn’t an apology. Actually, I could have hated the woman."

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Two lovers, a new home, a repeating cycle.

"That night, I will dream a dream of trains, and of the sound of waves. I will dream that I am the woman searching for something lost. I will dream the man’s dream, and walk into the night alone, guided by the moon. The earth is cool under my feet. It is summer. I can smell the light from the sun that has left the trees. I am knee-deep in the swaying ferns. They are so tall I only have to bend a little to reach them with my fingertips, and then I let my legs fold under me, and I lie down in the ferns. I close my eyes and listen to the ferns, try to understand their secret whispers. When I open my eyes again, the ferns begin to blossom, their fragile white petals bright against the night sky."

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An unhappy mother yearns for a return to her creative roots.

"It seemed to her now like motherhood was a constant fall, a never-ending tumble. After she’d finished her nursery fresco and looked for surprise shapes in her sky, Marlee couldn’t find any meaning in the edges and swirls she had created."

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Young people consider changes to their personalities, and to their relationships.

"When I moved from Kansai to Tokyo to start college, I spent the whole bullet-train ride mentally reviewing my eighteen years and realized that almost everything that had happened to me was pretty embarrassing. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t want to remember any of it—it was so pathetic. The more I thought about my life up to then, the more I hated myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a few good memories—I did. A handful of happy experiences. But, if you added them up, the shameful, painful memories far outnumbered the others. When I thought of how I’d been living, how I’d been approaching life, it was all so trite, so miserably pointless. Unimaginative middle-class rubbish, and I wanted to gather it all up and stuff it away in some drawer. Or else light it on fire and watch it go up in smoke (though what kind of smoke it would emit I had no idea). Anyway, I wanted to get rid of it all and start a new life in Tokyo as a brand-new person. Jettisoning Kansai dialect was a practical (as well as symbolic) method of accomplishing this. Because, in the final analysis, the language we speak constitutes who we are as people. At least that’s the way it seemed to me at eighteen."

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An unsettling dialogue between a woman and her jilted lover.

"Her face is turning pale, her freckles darkening. Don’t feel bad now. Dismiss that urge to hold her, to comfort her, to make her feel safe. She is the girl you love, but not. She is the girl who will break your heart. Who broke your heart already, and will do it again."

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A giantess attends her normal-sized daughter's wedding.

"She had practiced the art of speaking with barely a sound until sometimes she could not even be sure that she would be audible to a human’s undersized ears. As she made her nomadic way across her land to that of the humans, she had spoken to herself in ever quieting tones; everything she would say to Freya when they met, everything she had longed to tell her baby through the long nights, the songs she would have sung to soothe a teething gum, the reasons for the way of the world and the whys and the hows, the way their parting had left a crack running through her, a fracture so fundamental that she knew she would one day simply fall into two pieces."

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A group of female lovers take on a singular identity.

"We live in the most coveted spot on campus: the first in a row of bungalows at the top of a wooded hill. The yard is pine needles and dirt. The walls are red brick and thick like Collins’ skull. Between us, we’ve read Wuthering Heights 23 times. But we are sure Collins lied about her number. Watching Veronica Mars with sub-titles is the most reading we’ve ever seen her do."

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Three ambassadors find themselves on a familiar yet alien planet.

"He sees a red and white building that looks just like the pharmacy where he once filled prescriptions. He recognizes a squat building with a black awning and patio that looks similar to a restaurant where he and his wife once dined on Sunday afternoons. He spots a building that looks exactly the same as a bar all three men visited after their final training session at the space station across the city, sharing the last pitchers of beer they drank together before rocketing from earth."

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A budding scifi writer attempts to overcome his parents' reservations and his own mental issues.

"I stuffed nearly a dozen scripts in my bag before I left my dorm this morning, just in case somebody important happened to be here. It’s been a while since I sent them out. I figured I wouldn’t hear much back from anyone I sent it to. Sending scripts to random slushpiles doesn’t yield great results. I read that on the internet."

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A young hopeful competes in an international air guitar competition.

"Aki nods sheepishly, says thank you. The American is last year’s champion. He was interviewed on the BBC and does Dr. Pepper commercials now on American television. 'Air Jesus'they call him. He slurps from a can of Sandels Finnish beer. There are contestants from twenty different countries, and each has a nickname. Aki—the Greek—goes by 'Air-istotle.' There’s the Belgian, Hans 'Van Dammage' Van Deer Meer and the Argentinian, Santiago 'Buenos Air-ace' Carrizo. Hirotaka 'Electric Ninja' Kinugasa is representing Japan."

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An American woman's travels and memories of her Russian husband.

"When Bramya was abroad, Sarah mixed adhesives, ordered glaze, saw friends, and lived without the expectation of change to this arrangement. She read his letters and answered his phone calls, and they talked about the things they did when they were apart, neither acknowledging that separation had come to be as familiar as the shape their bodies took together. But when she knew his flight had landed, she sat at the kitchen table with painful patience, rolling clay from hand to hand until it was made pliable by the heat of her skin, piecing together anxiety animals, anticipating the sound of the cab door closing that told her Bramya was on her street."

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Dodging bill collectors, a couple stops at a motel on their way to Tennessee.

"See, Faye was an absolute saint of a woman. Kind, funny, understanding to a fault, but she was young, eight years my junior, and she lacked a certain seriousness about her. Everything to her was solvable, temporary, and the gravity of our situation - how much we'd fucked things up, how much we owed, and what a general shit-storm we were in - didn't seem to bother her for a second. Being with her then was like looking down one day and realizing you were sporting a fancy convertible when what you needed was a four-door sedan."

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Two sisters, a mother's dementia, and a "magical" bean tree.

"I thought about it some more. Even if there were a magical tree, why would she be chosen to keep it? I’ve seen her walk into more glass doors than I could count. The whole scenario rank of Big Foot. I couldn’t tell if my sister was playing a joke on me or if someone was playing a joke on her."

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A lonely man creates a female avatar in a video game.

"Frank took Sophia’s hand. This was not an agreed upon action so much as he *took hold of her hand.* Rob was unsure how to analyze this action. Girls had taken his hand before, after drinks at the bar or during movies, and the entire time Rob was uncomfortable. He had sweaty hands and spent the whole experience worrying about his date’s perception of this moisture. He always thought about letting go, but felt that it was his duty, as the girls seemed to, to hold their hands on these occasions and that to let go would be a greater violation than his sweat. Sophia’s hands were not sweaty, as pixels could not sweat. Her hands were not something embarrassing. They had no hair and if looked at closely, the nails would be carefully manicured. But what were her obligations to hold hands with Frank? She was not his girlfriend. They had just met and Frank, the king, was touching Sophia’s hand as if it was his own hand."

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A study in building spaceships.

"Mostly, the spaceship builders did not come out of their trailers or houses, though our local guides claimed they didn't mind the occasional tour. They were so serious they could not see that others might laugh. Some of their grounds looked measured and neat; some were spilling over or scraped to dust. Most were single, a few married, some widowed or divorced. The married ones interested us most—what sorts of agreements had they come to? were the ships built for two?"

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A young man works as an apprentice to his mortician uncle.

"I have learned a number of corollaries to that in my time as an apprentice. I have learned that, sometimes, your relatives will ask us to remove gold fillings from your teeth so that they can sell them. I have learned that some of your acquaintances will wear jeans to your funeral. I have learned that, all too often, your closest friends will not come at all. They will text during the service. They will sneak outside to the parking lot when it’s time to sing hymns to smoke cigarettes and steal swigs from flasks of whiskey, telling each other that you would’ve wanted it that way."

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An inventive spoof on childhood mystery novels.

"Almanac's father fell face forward onto the concrete garage floor, dead, blood pooling beneath him, and ending Almanac's childhood right then and there."

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A gardener unknowingly becomes a pawn between two distant neighors.

"Pat offered to shower with a bucket in her tub, a suggestion she’d read in the paper. This he accepted, and she started leaving the buckets for him on the porch. In the shower, she’d spread out her hands, thinking how the water that ran over her body was helping sustain Kirill’s vegetables."

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A disenchanted academic attends a wedding.

"In the mail, you receive one letter. In between walking the Labrador retriever, attending meetings, and planting trees in disadvantaged parks, a friend has found the time to get engaged. You are invited to the wedding. You are not sure how you feel about this or whether you will have the emotion to attend. Lately, you are forgetting what it is like to be human. Someone has replaced your body with a poor working contraption. It comes upon you when you are wound up in the phone cord, fumbling in your pockets for the sympathy you used to think you had. Who is this new cruel person who listens to the exploits of kittens and puppies like a broker making transactions on the stock market? Your friends are concerned. Somehow, you have forgotten what it is like to be around other people. Your psychiatrist says it comes from a lifetime of observing people and never interacting, but you also suggest it has something to do with spending inordinate amounts of time with dead philosophers in an academic environment."

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A mother and infant interact with neighbors and strangers.

"She looked down at the baby who was still nursing and recognized in him then not the unpolluted possibilities of a life not yet led, but instead a blissful unawareness of himself, or of responsibility, which allowed him a serene acceptance of all that was around him. The baby did not feel hungry for she kept him fed, he did not feel cold for she swaddled him, he did not feel wet for she kept him clean and dry, and when he was startled or unsure, she offered him her nipple, which he held tightly in his mouth before drifting off to sleep, where she imagined he dreamt of her, because she was all that he knew, all that he wanted, endlessly and relentlessly into the future."

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Parents, children, and complications convene at a vacation home; an excerpt from Fierro's debut novel, out this week.

"Michael pulled her into his lap, and she stayed, even though it made her feel small, and these were surely not people who appreciated PDAs. Tiffany had learned quickly that the urban sophisticates admired subtlety over all else. Anything loud, lewd, or lascivious should be filtered through irony or irreverence."

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A deserting Civil War soldier sets out for home.

"As he approached Jacob Story’s farm, Benjamin saw that the corn stood dark and high. No hard frost or gullywasher had come. The signs held true, not only for the corn but the beans and tobacco. Smoke rose from Jacob’s chimney. Noon-dinner time already, he thought. Benjamin followed the trailway through a stand of silver birch, straddled a split-rail fence, placed one foot on his land and then the other. He had hoped Emma would be in the cabin. That way he could step onto the porch, open the door, and stroll in no differently than he would coming from a field or the barn. Benjamin wanted their separation to seem that way, he wanted to never speak of the war or their months apart. He wanted it to become nothing more than a few dark moments, like a lantern carried through a cabin’s low door."

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Tensions eat away at a relationship between a musician and his girlfriend.

"Something in her cadence caught my attention. What if…? I imagined the bass line with a new syncopation, a little shift in the rhythm that might liven the song. I ran the part in my head, but I wanted the instrument in my hands, to be certain. Somehow, Anna had wound up at the pier, although it would have been out of her way."

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Two stories about a woman turned goat's attempts to communicate with others.

"She’s a few feet up and can’t see much further than she could from the ground. The goats aren’t anywhere in sight. She tries to wait, but it’s so warm and she’s so tired from her sandwich-making attempt. A few blinks, a nod, a couple upward jerks of the head and she’s asleep. The next morning she crawls down, eats breakfast, does her goat-business and crawls back up. Late afternoon the goats amble toward her. They don’t look at her. They stand around like they always do, not talking, but looking at one another and then the ground."

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A small town paramedic reflects on her troubled yet protective uncle.

"Inside, Lou washed our faces and made us some lemonade. I changed my pants. He turned on the radio in the kitchen. He made us peanut butter and crackers. He dealt out hands of Crazy-Eights and told us a story of Mom learning to milk a cow. Not once did he look out the window. After an hour, Lou picked up the phone and called the coroner."

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An early excerpt in honor of this week's publication of An Untamed State (Grove Atlantic), Gay's debut novel.

"Most of the city was asleep or laying low. I ran down a dark, unfamiliar street, my bare feet slapping against the pavement. I ran to find my way back to my happily ever after. It was dark and hot and still. I ran over shards of broken glass, felt my skin come neatly apart. I bled. My feet were slickly wet. I did not stop running. The Commander told me to run until I could not run anymore so that is what I did. My thighs burned. It felt strange to be able to move so freely, to breathe fresher air. I wanted someone to find me. I wanted to stop. I kept running. When I passed people standing in their doorways or ambling down the street, I stiffened, knew they could not be trusted, so still, I ran. I saw a cross rising into the sky, reaching up. A church would be a safe place. I hoped."

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A son goes to visit his dying father in a story about various forms of storytelling.

"He ripped open his shirt and crushed the mutilated tomato against his chest. Juice glistened in dark burls of hair. He thought that maybe he was about to make a serious declaration, or even try to laugh the whole thing off, when he felt a twinge, a test cinch for another spell of nervous woe. The Belt of Intermittent Sorrow, which he somehow now named the moment it went tight, squeezed him to the kitchen floor."

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A homeless man's wanderings and moral quandaries.

"Aimless, his wandering. The recurring theme of his life. That he would never escape. The single aspect of a pointless existence. What had he accomplished? The food in the bag would sustain him for two days more, three. Would his body retain any of it? Could he eat it without tasting his own wretchedness, the abhorrence that churned now through his body? A turn and then another, then down a street, an alleyway to hunker down in, only to leave abruptly because of a passing shadow, a rustle of paper. He felt persecuted, scared, timid and small. He felt disgust. For himself, the life that had prodded him thus. It was a thing that welled inside of him, the pit of his stomach, like a ball of thorny vine that tore and snagged on his delicate insides. Hours had passed. But hadn’t it been but a moment’s time? For him, all had changed; he had crossed the river to foreign shores and the language was one he could not recognize. He could not go back, though he longed to, and tried to look to the other side, but it had disappeared. He walked."

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Young love in an rural American town is beset by ominous setbacks.

"The only person he could make out was Reverend Kelly, a traveling preacher from England. He sat by a lamp, which illuminated his sharp cheekbones and pointy nose, his sagging mouth formed into a smirk. And those beady eyes. Willie didn’t like the way he’d seen those eyes following Lena around earlier in the night."

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A narrator shares a philosophical discussion with the late orator.

"Cicero and I mounted a johnboat banked in the mud along this near finger of Mark Twain Lake. Neither of us wanted to do the shoving off. Our feet would have to get wet."

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A Tyrannosaurus skeleton observes the tension between a mother and daughter.

"Angela is a lot like her mom, shorter than the length of Tammy’s skull, thin enough that she isn’t appetizing. Tammy is certain that humans would recognize the color of Angela’s hair as peculiar. Truth is, not all of Tammy is real either. Bones in her tail and her torso are made of a blend of plastic and glass because her real ones disintegrated. But to an untrained onlooker, it is impossible to tell. And even though Angela has the advantage of not being nailed to a pedestal, Tammy can’t help but feel a little pride, like Debbie’s daughter is probably more embarrassed about her bizarre appearance than the dinosaur her own rainbows and glitter."

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The interactions and memories of a gas station attendant on the outskirts of Atlantic City.

"I make coffee at 4:30 in the morning: the parking lot full of idling big-rigs, their headlights on, their cabins dark. I arrive before the guys who work the pumps. All of my prep work is done in the dark, without the store’s lights. The men watch me moving in the lone gas station on a highway through South Jersey. The store a box of windows."

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Two teenage girls and a complicated, involved robbery; an excerpt from Landis' forthcoming novel.

"Tina stops. Rainey stops behind her. She imagines Tina stepping closer to the stoop and the man twisting her wrist so that the gun falls to the sidewalk and explodes, shooting someone in the ankle. But she wants that softly gliding cape, which she will wear to school, inciting fabulous waves of jealousy."

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A series of one-sided international love letters.

"I want to frame those first three months I was in Paris with you, and that month last year in Morocco. I want to hang it next to the wooden clock on the wall above my bed. Those hot nights of waiting, talking, making love with our words on Rue D’Aboukir. Waiting for you to return to my fourth-floor apartment with ice cubes for the Martini Rossato and the loud love making that would follow next to paper thin walls where I could hear the neighbours cough. Paper-thin walls never mattered in that hotel room in Morocco. Calling out 'Oui', bent over the bed and the knock of the chamber maid on the door."

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Colliding Michigan demographics; the novelty of AOL chat rooms.

"So me and Little Tom were sitting on the couch watching television, not so much in the mood to do anything else having been witness to the worst kind of execution.'Wish you had a computer,' I said finally. 'AOL is so great. You know about it?' Pause. 'You have AOL down there?'"

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Horror--physical and psychological--grips a cockroach-infested Navy ship.

"I reached down and slapped his hands, sent his pals flying. The roaches were scuttling around, I was trying to step on them, when Thurman’s foot shot out. His toe-claw speared me in the leg between my calf and shinbone. I fell to one knee, gripping the wound. Thurman stood up and started shouting at me.

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A father struggles after a layoff.

"Now John was paralyzed. For three weeks he’d been on the couch, drinking whiskey out of a dirty glass, or stretching out and turning away from the TV, burying his face in the back cushions and trying to coax a nap out of his subconscious. All the while he felt consumed by a quickening in his heartbeat, or he’d stare at his hands until he was sure that he saw his pinky finger start to shake. He breathed in on a count of four, held it for a count of four, out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. During one of the safety trainings at the mill they’d told the workers that it was a way to regulate your heartbeat during times of shock."

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The second part of the Donna Tartt excerpt.

""When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."

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An excerpt from Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch; excerpted from The Telegraph, featured on Longform Fiction October 2013.

""For me – a city kid, always confined by apartment walls – the museum was interesting mainly because of its immense size, a palace where the rooms went on forever and grew more and more deserted the farther in you went. Some of the neglected bedchambers and roped-off drawing rooms in the depths of European Decorating felt bound-up in deep enchantment, as if no one had set foot in them for hundreds of years. Ever since I’d started riding the train by myself I’d loved to go there alone and roam around until I got lost, wandering deeper and deeper in the maze of galleries until sometimes I found myself in forgotten halls of armour and porcelain that I’d never seen before (and, occasionally, was unable to find again)."

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A new counselor takes a job at a faltering Florida high school.

"The others at the table were talking about summer break, how it had gone too quickly, how the last thing they wanted was to be back at school, at this school. They complained about the heat, the giant mosquitos, the rain—the constant rain—and joked about how wrong it was to be so pissed off already when it was only the first day. Andrew, at the end of the table, nodded and smiled while he munched on a Cuban sandwich, trying to find an in, some common ground."

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A driver and passenger engage in uneasy political and social discourse.

"Darshan could all too easily picture Malik at prayer while on the job. He saw every detail--head bowed, eyed shut, both hands clutching the wheel as a laundry list of requests was whispered towards heaven: a new carburetor for the engine, a new dress for the wife, new sneakers for the children. Each and every petty need enunciated like a brave but modest child, the requests a thing of beauty in their humility, a delicate song of worship and desire that would only come to an end when Malik veered slightly into the opposing lane and plowed directly into the headlights of an oncoming sixteen-wheeler."

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A heatwave serves as a catalyst for personal and physical breakdowns.

"If Lily hadn’t intervened she probably wouldn’t have seen anything. She wouldn’t have looked up from Coral Casey and her sea critter pals. She wouldn’t have glanced at the maroon Lawson Shrub Service truck speeding down the road. She wouldn’t have bit her lip at the sight of Tim Lawson in the front, his arm wrapped around a woman in the passenger seat. She wouldn’t have glimpsed the unmistakable head of her mother, hair too long for a woman her age and streaked with the fuchsia hue favored by teenage experimenters."

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A fragile relationship teeters during a family vacation.

"At the restaurant, I enjoy myself for the first time the whole trip: I try fried plantains and sopapillas, washing them down two real margaritas (made from tequila and lime; that’s pretty much it). There is a live band, and Inez pulls Alan up to dance. Her hips have probably never been told no. Erik and I watch from the table. He holds a hand out to me and raises an eyebrow. I shake my head."

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Four scientists begin exploring a sinister wilderness.

"We were on a dirt trail strewn with pebbles, dead leaves, and pine needles damp to the touch. Velvet ants and tiny emerald beetles crawled over them. The tall pines, with their scaly ridges of bark, rose on both sides, and the shadows of flying birds conjured lines between them. The air was so fresh it buffeted the lungs and we strained to breathe for a few seconds, mostly from surprise. Then, after marking our location with a piece of red cloth tied to a tree, we began to walk forward, into the unknown. If the psychologist somehow became incapacitated and could not lead us across at the end of our mission, we had been told to return to await 'extraction.' No one ever explained what form 'extraction' might take, but the implication was that our superiors could observe the extraction point from afar, even though it was inside the border."

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A brother visits his sister in a mental institution after an unspoken incident.

"His sister talks about how they are staring at her. How she thinks the fat man in the purple shirt is going to rape her, though she won’t tell Greg if he works there or if he’s a fellow patient. She talks about starving and dying and figuring out how she can get out and sue the place into the ground. He tries to listen, he tries to ask questions, but after fifteen minutes he smiles and nods at her and tries to ignore listening to anything she’s saying. He looks out of the doorway when she looks away from him, and he wonders how many of the people who walk past are just as confused as she is. He imagines that everyone in the common area is just as lost, all of them imagining everyone else is trying something."

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A story of a playoff at-bat, a franchise, and a spectator couple.

"Coco has watched every home game with her husband from these seats since the ballpark opened in 2008 while listening to the game play by play on 106.7 FM. She has endured horrible seasons, but 2009 when her beloved team lost 108 games, and 2010 when they lost 93 more, are distant memories. Now she feels like a winner. This is the playoffs. After marriage, and kids, and grandkids, after retirement and their dream trip to Dubrovnik, this is what she has been hoping for. It is the last of her major life events. Something to retell at family dinners. Remember the World Series of 2012?"

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A punk heroin addict navigates 1980s Detroit.

"About an hour later, Harwell and Rollo were squatting (literal) in their squat (figurative) on Broadville, about a mile from the convenience store that had just fallen victim to their considerable wrath. They hadn’t said a word longer than four letters to each other since sprinting away from the Quality Dairy, and for the last thirty minutes they’d been listening for any movement outside, not sure if they’d been followed, or if Chavo and the night manager had enough information about them gathered from their several months of patronage to know where they hung their heads."

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Abandoned children make a home in a hollowed-out school bus.

"The dead squirrel lies shocked on the floor, spun down by lightning last night, claw-up and crusted. The little girl uses a knife to split the thing down its belly and starts peeling. Lucky, she says to her brother. You’re lucky I’ll share with you. Aunt Helen brushes their hair, one by one, picks insects and sticker vine from their legs. A night like all nights: She leaves through the front door without saying goodbye. The children blow kisses. They pray for their mother. They sleep."

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A diagram of gossip concerning an affair.

"He called it love, said Ellen. He said he was in love, that's the word he used when he finally admitted it. I mean you expect the I-made-a-mistake speech, said Connie, the she-came-on-to-me speech, the it-was-meaningless speech. You expect him to say that it was just the one time, knowing that it was more, but you can ignore that. You expect him to say it was protected sex and that you don't have to go to the clinic to get some sort of test for chlamydia, said Ellen. But you will, anyway, said Sonya, and make him do it too just to rub his nose in it. But no, said Grace. He tells you that he's a new person, in love for the first time ever. What do you do with that? She told Sonya that as soon as he'd said it, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, she'd felt the room swaying."

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A narrator's philosophical observations on travel.

"How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the elevator buttons!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them—they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no one else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for themselves."

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A new boyfriend complicates the creative and personal relationship of two teenage musicians.

"I was asking if she had figured out the fifth part because we had worked on three or four different versions, and John said all our music talk was boring. Kenna looked at him for a second, and I could tell she was annoyed, but she wasn’t going to do anything about it. He was limiting her. The old Kenna might have dumped his Denver Scramble on his head. She just made a face."

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Sex and communication in experimental fragments.

"We are in your white bed full of light drinking white wine and it is dark. I balance the base of the glass on the side of my naked hip and look at the marble spa tub in the bathroom. There is a flushed gleam bouncing off the mirror, fainting exhaling ebbing back into the room and I ghost the smoke a reprise a remorse of sighing and feeling nothing but beam."

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In deep space, a physicist tries to cope with his isolation.

"He read several classic novels and philosophical texts to pass the next few days and exercised on the stringy, wiry contraption collapsed into one wall. The long hibernation had melted the muscle from him and congealed the quick currents of his mind, but he had to be alert, intelligent, and at his peak physical condition when he arrived. He was supposed to be disciplined. He was not supposed to replay his wife’s voice over and over, with longing and anxiousness. So he selected his parents’ recordings."

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A story of brutally honest parental thoughts.

"Actually, we believe the pediatrician is right. The baby would be fine, she’d work it out on her own. In the morning, when we enter her bedroom, guilt-ridden and spent, our daughter would smile her smile of delight—her oldest and best trick—the smile she offers to anyone who shows her a bit of interest, but most of all to her parents, who are most in need of it. She’s a narcissistic insomniac, prohibiting others from sleeping if she cannot. A sentimental whore, refusing to sleep alone in her own bed. The most grating of alarm clocks: no radio option, no snooze button. But here are her trump cards: she smiles as if she herself had discovered joy, and she never holds a grudge."

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A forgotten birthday cake sets off a chain of unexpected events.

"The door to the bakery is meant to be pulled, but I push hard against it, like a bird hitting the glass. The lady behind the counter settles eyes on me, so I pull myself up as straight as I can and pull the door. On a wooden board above the register a TV is playing The Today Show. Jane Pauley and Madonna won’t shut up about Madonna’s dress like it’s gonna end the Cold War and I have to wonder if I’m the only person in the world living with trouble. Be-hind the glare of the case, I can see the Cinderella cake covered in icy blue frosting thick as a comforter. A glass carriage flies across the surface in needle-thin icing. I put my hand to the glass—forgetting the lady behind the counter—smudging it, until she clears her throat.

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A boarding house for ghosts; coping mechanisms of family deaths.

"My mother forbade me from going to the Haunt-Away, so I went every day after school. My aunt and I had never been close. Her husband, George, had died thirteen years prior, just months before I was born. Now, each afternoon, I watched her wash sheets and remake untouched beds. She set out plates of cookies and brewed pots of tea which, when poured, grew cold in unused cups. She talked and laughed to empty rooms, and sometimes when I entered, I had the distinct impression that I was interrupting."

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Observations from a divided, strange world.

"But I remember him coming in the border patrol truck every morning. Like they were bringing some famous criminal. Him getting out. Every day it was like it was his first day there. The look on his face, I mean. Creepy. I shouldn’t say that. But I mean. The teasing or bullying, I never took part in all that, but I can say, I know it sounds defensive or you know like apologizing or something for the behavior, but I don’t think it was because of his coming from the other side. That was just the excuse. It was the look on his face. I mean if he didn’t want to join in, then go play in a corner. Okay. Go play by yourself. But to just sit there at the edge of the playground and watch us all like that . . . Never a smile. It sounds like a blame-the-victim sort of, that kind of unfair sort of thing. But you didn’t see his face."

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Misguided love sustains a groundskeeper through multiple deaths and decades.

"Murdering all those Emmetts had been especially hard on Archibald who was never adept at taking the lives of non-gazelles, however plentiful those lives might be. He grew more and more ill as the Emmetts came and dropped. He became increasingly fearful of silence and the dark, spending hundreds in oil to keep the house bathed in flickering light, a whole house drowning in amber. He’d taken to leaving tarpaulins up on the walls for when the Emmetts arrived so he could minimize his cleanup time, but as he spiraled deeper into paranoia he neglected to scrub them, and they wriggled blackly with flies. With an eye to hygiene, he had once tried strangling an Emmett, but this had proved too horrific for him to bear."

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A distraught brother is given a Ziplog bag of his sister's ashes.

"So where should he stow a Ziploc bag of his sister’s ashes? Not all of her cremains, mind you. About a third, according to his father. Noah didn’t like the idea of their dad divvying her up, like a drug dealer, weighing out bags of powder. But more than that he also doesn’t like having that baggie now. On the airplane. Heading back to San Francisco. After the funeral."

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A high school senior's day is filled with unique crises.

"I hit the refresh button over and over, faster than the phone could even communicate with the server. I almost didn’t believe it when the screen moved down a quarter of an inch to make way for a new message. It was from the admissions committee. My years of soup kitchen volunteering, vocabulary cramming, blogging as a competitive sport, and butterfly-stroking in freezing-cold swimming pools in inconveniently located athletic facilities all boiled down to a single verdict that was probably a sentence long. If that."

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A scientific and psychological examination of a gunshot.

"This is how you feel a bullet. You have certain sensory receptors that detect pain, these are called nociceptors. When a nocicpetor receives a painful stimulus, it sends a signal through its neuron to the spinal cord, which sends the signal to your brain, which sends it to a number of different areas for processing. The location and intensity of the stimulus is deciphered by the primary and secondary somatosensory cortex, for example."

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A story of unhappiness and creative outlets.

"Last winter, when she was supposed to be designing a parking garage for a luxury shopping center in McLean, she built a city instead. She got the idea when she was surveying the lot where the parking garage was supposed to go. In her leather pumps and peacoat, she stood on the flat expanse and looked out; the land was a deep brown, lightly marbled with snow. She walked the perimeter, her hands in her pockets, her heels sinking into the dirt, her breath a white cloud in the air. She felt on the edge of something."

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Two friends find solace in sexual escapades while struggling with their own fragile connection.

"The four of us ended up in the bathroom—Darlene and Viktor in the claw foot, me and Illia in the shower. I tried to tell my guy he had the same first name as a favourite figure skater, but language was restricted to bodies only. Still wet, the Russians left scrambling to the airport. Dar and I woke hours later, a tangled two, and walked out of my bedroom to a small balcony that overlooked a maze of alleyway garages. We recounted the day and the night before, before she left."

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An overweight teenager's psychological test with an unhappy neighbor.

"Mrs. Butler never commented on my weight. I wanted to believe she didn’t see my layers of fat or hear how my breathing quickened if I exerted much physical effort. My neighbor wasn’t gorgeous like a supermodel, but she moved her long graceful limbs with an elegance I could only envy."

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A young man's connection with a circle-drawing, perceptive young woman.

"Ericka left for two weeks that summer to go to Colorado. Her brother was in the hospital again, and I got the idea that it might be for the last time. I still pictured her in the waiting room. She would be drawing those loopy circles on the hospital’s copies of Vogue and People and Golf Monthly."

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A deaf boy and his mother take part in an odd religious community.

"My mother wasn’t always this way. Before the accident we never even went to church, never mind twice in one day. Then my dad had to go and wrap his car around a tree and mumble some crazy shit about angels and white tunnels while he’s dying. It was just bad luck that brought us here. My mother Googled churches in the area, and it’s no surprise which ranked number one on the search results page."

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A thirty-year-old Brooklynite on the cusp of supernatural adventure struggles with the strangeness of everyday life.

"Just a week ago he was on the subway, sitting across from a woman with a tiny dog in her purse, and as he watched her tickle the little goatish beard under its chin he made the mistake of beginning to think about the very existence of dogs in general. People have pets. He repeated it. People have pets. It began to become odd; the very concept of pet began to slide out of his grasp. How did it get to the point where we began to keep animals as, like, accessories? He spent pretty much the rest of the ride staring at the dog, thinking basically: Holy shit, human beings, the shit they come up with. When he got back to his apartment he looked up Dog in Wikipedia and lost the rest of the day. By midnight, he had somehow drifted to looking at videos of fighting Madagascar cockroaches, actually developing opinions on the cockroach-fight-video genre, cold, alone, uncertain as to what exactly had happened."

Jeremy P. Bushnell is a contributing editor to Longform.org.

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Uncertainty principles applied to modern domestic life.

"But there were always more things to add to the list—don't speak of body issues in front of daughters or read magazines with tweaked and smoothed images that were—hadn't she read this—actually altering the brain chemistry for young girls. Plus the magazines were paper, wasteful, though reading on line wasn't great for macular degeneration and other ocular issues and who wanted one more thing—glasses—to have to remember to pack every day? Plus glasses might make her feel older which wasn't terrible—she's happy where she is and needs to lean in lean back push onward and show this—but glasses might make her feel sexless and that would make her less present in the moment."

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Iraq, ten years later: Sectarian assassins, posing as bodyguards, are baffled by an egg-laying rabbit. Translated by Jonathan Wright.

"The rabbit had been with us for a month and I had already spent two months with Salsal in this fancy villa in the north of the Green Zone. The villa was detached, surrounded by a high wall and with a gate fitted with a sophisticated electronic security system. We didn’t know when zero hour would come. Salsal was a professional, whereas they called me duckling because this was my first operation."

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A mysterious figure appears to early settlers in Wisconsin.

"t would make sense to Tellie later, after she'd hear it at the mill, after she'd race back the four miles in her bare feet to the home of the family where she'd just that morning left her babies, that it had happened to Adele Brise in the woods. The Lady, the Queen of Heaven, showing herself."

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Diary entries concerning innocent Americans abroad.

"Our conversation continues! He is come to tell me I may lunch with him, the progress of my new composition permitting—but immediately he sees I have not moved, not even to dress myself, or put pen to paper. You have a look of puzzlement on your face, little Lotte! he says, and again, I fear he is about to laugh. Indeed, sir, I do! I said. Because I am puzzled! Greatly puzzled! Look! he cried. She gesticulates! You are perhaps at heart una italiana!"

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Strangers unleash a mysterious mantra upon a weary traveler.

"From his glove box he pulled a laminated flyer no bigger than a bookmark. I took it with hesitation and studied the print. The first sentence said DID YOU KNOW HOPE AND DESPAIR ARE SISTER AND BROTHER AND YOU THEIR DISTANT COUSIN? There was a picture at the top of two people tugging a rope. There was a woman and a man and they looked like hieroglyphic people who had been locked in eternal struggle."

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A bartender contemplates architecture, gender identity, and sadomasochism.

"But Penthouse 808Ravel has promise. Shag carpet. Doors that shut heavily. Porridge doors thicker than mush. I have sexual feelings about Penthouse 808Ravel. Ligature feelings. Relational feelings, knots, bandages."

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Space colonists live in fear of a horrifying creature.

"The Skin Thing dragged itself along on two great stalks that looked like elbows. Imagine a person, out prone on the ground, that drags himself by fits and starts. The elbows strove to gouge the earth, as sharp and tall as circus poles, and they levered the body along by great drags. Its head stuck out eyeless, oblong as a horse’s. Behind the elbow-things it used to drag itself across the ground there stretched, like a laundry sheet strung out for drying, a tensile wall of thick pink skin."

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A woman, spending the summer at the shore, entrances girls with a mysterious story.

"After what seemed like forever, the girls got to the water, Janice continued. There had been a sea breeze all day long. Now there was nothing except a feeling like something holding its breath. The girls waded in, enjoying the warm water on their feet and the burst of the first waves against their ankles, still warm but cooler, the shallow water mixing with water from the heart of the ocean, which was cold. The ocean is coldhearted; you don’t have to be a genius to know that. It makes boats sink. It makes you watch where you put your feet. If you choose to swim at the end of the day after the lifeguards have left the beach you take your life in your hands. You know that, don’t you? Janice gave everyone a piercing stare meant to drive her point home."

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An actor, fresh from prison, attempts to reconnect with his son in 1950s California.

"And he had believed it. Everyone had. Since the day he’d been cast as Lev, Alexi had been aware that he was getting away with something—though, he reasoned, he’d never explicitly lied about anything. He just never told the complete truth. He may have, when asked about his American accent, mentioned the pronunciation workbooks stacked on his family’s kitchen table, as if he, and not just his parents, had pored over them nightly. He may have once, a little drunk at a party, pretended to forget the English words for the pigs in a blanket being passed around. He may have, that night and possibly a few others, begun sentences with, In my country . . . He may have, when asked by the film’s very openly communist director one night over steaks at Musso’s what he thought about Truman, parroted back what he’d overheard at the writers’ table, that he was narrow-minded and ruthless, his doctrine a farce and an affront to civil liberties. He may have, at Stella and Jack’s invitation, attended a number of meetings in their Hancock Park living room, where there may have been some pretty detailed discussions about following their Soviet comrades down whatever path they took. He may have, on one of those evenings, filled out one of the Party membership forms being passed around, simply because everyone else was."

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A woman struggles in the wake of her infidelity.

"Sherry hadn’t known anyone at the party. It was outdoors in someone’s back yard. She had a lot to drink, and pretty soon people and trees were practically indistinguishable. The boy had talked to her. Everybody at the party went to a school different from hers. She wore an ecru smock with an apple embroidered on the pocket, and was very pleased with the way her hair looked. Until the boy started talking to her, she felt exceedingly awkward. They drove to a park in her car, where the only witnesses to the uncomfortable and meaningless sex were medlars and lindens and Japanese maples."

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Two men take different paths during the Spanish Civil War.

"We each took a shovel, cursing the officer and the soldier whose question put us in our position, but before we dug a hole big enough for three corpses, another truck came from the bullring to the cemetery. This time, four of the Moroccan regulares sat on the tailgate. They shared a cigarette and joked with one another while bodies jostled heavily behind them. So we began unloading the dead. I hesitated touching their hairy forearms or muddy ankles, their bare feet or damp armpits, moist from fear. Their clothes and skin were soaked through, and their blood was warm and slick, making them difficult to handle. For many, their bowels had released their grip in death, and we worked while trying to cover our noses with a shoulder. Most of the bullets had entered their chests, though some destroyed their jaws so that their mouths swung open across a shoulder. What should we do about this one? a soldier asked, pointing at a still-blinking rojo. Blood clouded his eyes, and he breathed with his mouth open. Flies grazed at the corners of his lips. A bullet had sheared a hole through his trachea, which wheezed with each breath. The commanding officer glanced down, then turned away. He’ll be dead by the time you finish digging his grave, he said."

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Modern family structures are explored when an ex-stepdaughter asks for emergency babysitting help.

"Without Aaron, there would be no Caleb. Lovey had to remind herself of this sad fact. Her ex-stepson-in-law caused a lot of trouble, but, because of him, here before her was a boy for her to love, who loved her. Caleb would grow up and perhaps grow away from her—there was no shared blood, and someday he would understand that. Someday he might untie the knots of those prefixes that labelled Lovey, ex- and step-. He would turn into a teen-ager and disappear, like his father, into the night."

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An elderly man's work on a complex sculpture confuses those close to him.

" I sit on the plastic pot bench with my feet dangling in the water, drinking beer with my son, and it occurs to me that this is the first time in a long while that we have done something together that wasn’t planned to death or didn’t involve other people. I keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to spoil the moment. But Wallace spoils it for me. He starts telling me about his speech. At first I don’t understand what he is talking about, but then I start to hear something. He says that expectations are changing, and that the things that sustain us are not always recognizable as such. But what I hear him saying is that he thinks this thing I am building is what I believe is keeping me alive. He still doesn’t get it. He thinks maybe I am depressed, so I turn the conversation to something more capitalistic."

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An old crush is remembered via childhood memories and an unusual anecdote.

"Then he began wearing pastel skateboarding-themed shirts. SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME, one said. Wallace Marguerite is not committing a crime, Stella thought. It was novel and thrilling, true whether or not he was a skateboarder. She never saw a skateboard."

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Two strangers on a bus attempt to make sense of mutual loss.

"Back on the bus, the old man has vanished. Only flecks of tobacco linger on his empty seat. If he suspected me of anything, by now I’d know. Through the window, I watch the market shrink away until it’s no more. The sun beats on my face, hotter than yesterday, and the day before that. Motion sickness snaps between nerves in my brain, spreads down and gnaws the lining of my stomach. I feel my organs rotting from the inside out. One hundred and twenty. Stupid dogs."

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A story of time passage and land inheritance.

"While we watched the flame chew the wood, I thought of the years of sun and rain that had turned a tiny sapling into a towering spruce: Grandpa had introduced himself to Grandma at a church function. They married a few years later. They purchased River Farm from a family who’d owned it for three generations and were moving somewhere north near Baptiste or Athabasca. There, they raised a family of eleven, and harvested a barley crop fifty-five times in fifty-five years. And then Grandma, once Grandpa had passed, moved into the city when the farm became too much."

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A young woman is hired to hand out pamphlets at a seedy racetrack.

"When the supply of flyers was gone, I walked over to the snack bar to get more from Al. The crowd was thinning now. People either looked me over or tried not to look. Without the stack of paper in hand, I felt self-conscious again. The pumps hurt my feet."

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Tensions rise when a high school teacher fails a star student-athlete.

"Word spread: Jimmy Carter, the prize of the Permian Basin, the boy who could flat-out fly, the jovial kid who never turned in work but still somehow always got Cs, was in danger of getting yanked off the team, all because some Yankee teacher had to show his moral fiber. How convenient that his son just happened to be the backup."

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A mother tries to get herself abducted, first for money, and then for appreciation.

"After all, Tim could not replace me with just any woman he plucked off the streets. He’d have to date first, and then there’d be nannies and maids to pay, restaurant bills, and eHarmony fees. Not to mention the time he’d lose on the endeavor, which, multiplied by his hourly rate, would cost a considerable amount. Viewed in this light, my value was significant. I used to work in marketing and view matters at all levels of illumination."

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A boy's crush is complicated by his parents' troubled marriage.

"His father offered him the bag of pretzels and he took one. He thought his father might say something else, about Monica, or the movies, but he didn’t. They walked down Main in the glow of empty shop windows, taking their time, the only people out and about tonight. If his mother wasn’t ready for them at home it wouldn’t be any good to go back now. 'Do men and women think alike?' Greg said."

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In a Haitian tent city, a referee prepares for a soccer game.

"Almost unconsciously, I began gathering various items from the tent: my official registration card, a couple of Fox whistles, two pairs of black socks, a black undershirt, an armband, two flags, my kangaroo-leather turf shoes, and then three different jerseys that I had so painstakingly preserved. I stuffed all of this into an Agency sack, which I normally used for collecting my ration of nourimil cereal."

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A woman claims the ability to detect illnesses by taste.

"If Libby had claimed divine intervention, Celia would have been dubious, but Libby sounded completely rational, like a scientist investigating a rare but naturally occurring phenomenon."

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A world in which an internal software turns anger and intense emotions into involuntary exercise.

"Then there are the monthly upgrades, downloaded automatically from GRUNT. A few months back the upgrade reprogrammed our sensors to monitor facial expressions and the tone of one’s voice, so you can’t fool it anymore by smiling or speaking softly. A quiet argument is still an argument to the executives at GRUNT. It certainly changed around Brad, my supervisor, who liked to hint at our utter worthlessness in this very quiet voice, a smile stretching across his face. There was something disturbing about watching him grin, and place his arm gently over your shoulder and lower his voice as his called your work garbage, your very existence a nuisance, all with this soft, earnest voice. Now he wears track shoes to work and does sprints in between insults, weaving in and out of the cubicles, stutter stepping like a hall of fame running back."

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The evolution and deterioration of a marriage, told through interactions on/around a piece of furniture.

"Often, at the breakfast table, he reads a magazine from one of his many subscriptions. After a long article, he’ll lean across the table and open the window. Whenever this happens, it’s best if the blinds are unbound, so that the wind, clueless of human grief as it is, may work its way through their lofty protection. And often, when this happens, he’ll look out the window and think of himself as another person. Often, he’ll be walking beneath an umbrella in a foreign country, down some unrecognizable street, one which he can’t identify; or he’s standing on the stern of a fishing boat, one just recently bound by a rope, dark and wet from the sea, to an ancient dock in the Mediterranean, his body slowly rocking, coursing, in a semi-circle of moonlight, calming him to the point that he even forgets what he’s forgotten, and it’s all real, and actually moving, alive within the maternal ebb of the ocean; or he’s in another home, a shack in a forest, and never knew his own life: his job or wardrobe or wife, as he lies back in a cold, twin-sized bed, which keeps only himself, and the darkness, and the quiet; or he’s just a ghost, dancing in the hallways of his home as his wife stumbles through, drunk and mourning, with his absence everywhere, and then counting the strands of her hair as she does her single load of laundry for the week, consisting of only her nightgown, the jogging pants and old t-shirt of his that she relaxes in while spending her evenings at home, her seven pairs of flesh-toned underwear, and work uniform, for the job she had to find after his passing in order to both support and occupy herself—all the while at the breakfast table."

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A husband's death; a long, complicated friendship.

"You'd take your anger at his passivity out to the porch, along with an old cigar (the closest thing you can find in the house to a cigarette) and your cell phone. Call your best friend Madeline. Make small talk. Get to the point. Tell her about the fight. Tell her everything—but don't tell her too much. Feel reassured by her certainty:'We're all polyamorous.'Remember she's single, and then hold her in secret disdain for shattering your fairy tales of soul mates and true love with her psychology books and her thesis theory."

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A young man's story of sexual yearning and a looming military obligation; slightly NSFW.

"And there was nothing I could do about it. I mean, I couldn’t say anything bad about Betty. She was my very best, and only, hope of leaving the ranks of the aging virgins before I joined the ranks of the Air Force."

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Three generations of women endure the trials of a turbulent Nigeria.

"Almost a year into their courting, the war comes. Her people are Biafra loyalists, his people think Ojukwu is a fool. On the night of their engagement party only her people attend. And when she goes by his house the next day she discovers he has left the country."

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A precocious girl attempts to make sense of her troubled father.

"It wasn’t that Lucy loved him, exactly. He was her father and she was obligated, she knew, to respect him for that reason alone—but it wasn’t love. She remembered how he’d give her his coat when she was young and how it’d make her whole body smell like him, a mix of cologne and cigarettes. She’d ask to wear it even if she wasn’t cold just to breathe in the smell and curl up into it during car rides to the hunting cabin he and his brothers shared. She might have loved him then, in her youth, wrapped up in his coat and drowsy. But now the feeling she had for him was more confusing than that. She was seventeen and the thought of his coat on her—the smell and the weight of it—made her feel gritty. Now she saw her father as something pitiful, maybe. Someone who didn’t have enough time to both put his own business in order at home and still put on a good face to the people around him."

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A daycare pickup becomes a surreal look into nature and human development.

"In the middle of the landscape, a pile of toys rises from the earth to form a tower. Children approach it in a perpetual stream, grabbing toys, as many as they can carry. They run off with their arms full, toys spilling from their tiny ravenous bodies. The pile keeps growing and growing. The father remembers seeing the President on television once, back when television was still a toy. When I grew up during the Depression, the President told the Nation, my only toy was a wood plank full of rusty nails, which I had to share with sixty-six brothers. Bullshit. What politician ever knew how to share? The father watches as a group of children forms a circle around the base of the pile, holding hands. They are wearing nothing but loincloths."

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On literary mashups, double entendres, and questionable choices.

"Maybe you’ve heard of M__y Dick? I would bet you haven’t read it, and I bet I’d win that bet because I’d be leaving nothing up to chance. Here’s why: nobody has read M__y Dick. Scratch that. Nobody but me has read M__y Dick, because there’s only one copy in existence and it’s right here in my apartment, right here on this very desk I am writing to you from. That was the whole point. M__y Dick was just for me, for my own self-improvement. Of course, that didn’t stop them from talking about it, which was fine at first, and then it was not."

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An account of Chinese residents in a future, dystopian city once known as Baltimore; excerpted from Lee's latest novel.

"Maybe Charters can easily forget what it's like out there, but we B-Mors and others in similar settlements should be aware of the possibilities. We shouldn't take for granted the security and comfort of our neighborhoods, we shouldn't think that always leaving our windows open and our doors unlocked means that we're beyond an encroachment. We may believe our gates are insurmountable and that we're armored by routines, but can't we be touched by chance or fate, plucked up like a mouse foraging along his well-worn trail? Before you know it, you're looking down at the last faint print of your claws in the dirt."

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A primer on services for the afterlife.

"So you’ll start by taking a ride in the flatbed truck with Gurtie, and she’ll drop you off at the ARF center. You’ll probably be pretty disoriented. It’s okay. You’ve been riding in the back of a white flatbed truck with a bunch of recently dead people for several hours through the Afterlife—which looks basically like North Dakota. None of you will be happy campers, and some of your traveling companions will look downright alarming, what with death not being such a photogenic moment for most people. We understand and we sympathize. It’s an unpleasant time for you, but like I said, we are understaffed. Do we wish there were a better way? Yes, we do. Is there a better way? Not yet, there’s not."

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A pizza restaurant employee goes to extreme lengths to sabotage a rival.

"I normally hopped on my Honda scooter and went straight home after work, but not that day. I stood by the gumball machine near the front entrance and peered out the blinds, staring daggers into the Pizza World facade. Their parking lot was full, even though the lunch rush had been over for two hours. I looked at the intersection and their guy was still dancing, waving his arms like a buffoon, no rhythm at all, nothing choreographed. I had a three-minute routine I would do and then repeat, over and over like a fucking pro (three different one-minute variations of the Macarena dance, choreographed by yours truly). Pizza World had clearly put a rookie in the suit, and I thought: that’s one strike against you."

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A rural worker conjures up fantastical mythologies to hide his own troubled past.

"Several days after re-wiring the fence, Shuck asked Boss if he could take me to town for new tractor parts. Shuck drove Boss’s truck and smoked with the windows up, filling the cab with thick tendrils of burnt and cheap tobacco. He took the long way into town and told me that they gypsy had been the most beautiful girl to ever exist back in Spain. She had been the daughter of a rich soldier. But after some incident that Shuck wasn’t entirely sure of, she had joined with a vagabond group of gypsies, travelling the foothills of Spain, marking her new group’s travels by the patterns of stars and their gathered constellations. Shuck said that she had been the most beautiful girl to ever set foot on the entire European continent. But she grew old so quickly that soon her limbs began to tangle and go numb."

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A narrator's strange daily life is fused with strange appearances from the natural world.

"Freezing, I sprang from bed and assembled, in darkness relieved only by a bluish gleam cast by the iceberg, sweaters, flannel pajama bottoms, my heaviest wool socks, and a down-filled coat suitable for an assault on Everest. For the iceberg that crowded my bedroom was no symbol of the world’s entropy or of a man’s estrangement from his kind, nor was it any longer a figment of the dreaming mind. (We don’t suffer cold in dreams, nor do we sneeze as I did twice while fumbling at my clothes.) Dressed, I drew aside the rime-stiffened curtain and gazed out on a flotilla of icebergs gliding solemnly down the flooded street. (To acknowledge, as you no doubt have, that I spawned one berg, a pack of them is easily granted.)"

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A social and historical look at a women's sanatorium.

"What about the exercise path keeps the women moving together. They move toward the birds and the birds disperse. A woman drops a handful of raisins from breakfast and the birds converge for the raisins but only until the raisins are gone. The birds will disperse again. They will fly down chimneys and into cars. The shriveled fruits cannot hold their attention for much longer now. They have no exercise path like the women have. The exercise path keeps the women moving together each morning and evening, as if they will never disperse. The women entwine their wet hands."

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A Southern defense attorney's complicated family Christmas, told through the point of view of his child.

"Every Christmas Daddy throws a 'Taking the Christ Out of Christmas' party and invites everybody. Everybody loves my Daddy except for a small percentage that want to take their revenge, so it's lots of people, old clients, other criminal defense attorneys, Rey Mason from the feed store, everybody. No Jesus cause it makes Daddy angry and both his hands already broke."

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Technologies of literacy, technologies of memory.

"Millions of people, some my age but most younger, have been keeping lifelogs for years, wearing personal cams that capture continuous video of their entire lives. People consult their lifelogs for a variety of reasons—everything from reliving favorite moments to tracking down the cause of allergic reactions—but only intermittently; no one wants to spend all their time formulating queries and sifting through the results. Lifelogs are the most complete photo album imaginable, but like most photo albums, they lie dormant except on special occasions. Now Whetstone aims to change all of that; they claim Remem’s algorithms can search the entire haystack by the time you’ve finished saying 'needle.'"

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Two friends travel to Mexico while dealing with individual deaths.

"Late in the afternoon Allison and I happen upon a parade in the oldest part of Oaxaca―more out-of-tune horn-players and wild-hot colors and heart-shaped garlands and costumes and photos of people gone but still remembered and cherished. Two tiny girls dressed in white, like angels or brides or spirits, carry a baby-sized cardboard coffin on their shoulders. These good people of Oaxaca have learned, one generation to the next, how to make this annual occasion of loss into celebration."

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A young woman seeks an appropriate way to dispose of the ashes of her father, a fervid design critic.

"He always wished to be a geometric form (so often did he rail against 'the tyranny of the organic') so I could tell myself he’d be happy, but he also hated bric-a-brac and I think right now he’d qualify, being a small object with no function."

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Comic miscues ensue at a private family dinner.

"Also, I’m a pretty big guy, so I often find myself appointed the unofficial bouncer on these sorts of occasions. It was Dumpling Night. I know that because when I walked past the steam table, a teenage girl was there with tongs and she said, 'Dumpling?'"

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The wrenching existence of a circus sideshow attraction.

"Dog Boy has a phantom tail. When excited he can feel the invisible tail wagging; his whole rump moves with it. When he’s afraid, he tucks it between his legs. But there is something frustrating about it, like eating imaginary food. Sometimes his frustration builds until he feels the intense and sudden urge to chase this invisible tail; he spins around and around in a tight circle until he exhausts himself."

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An aging man, a dead wife, a peculiar dog.

Once more at five o'clock, just before five o'clock, the dog engaged in its unaccountable behavior. And then, the next day, again. And the day after that, again. And still he had gotten not an inch closer to understanding why. Would he ever? Perhaps a sound so high-pitched he couldn't hear it. Something shifting in the clock maybe as it prepared to chime the hour. Or the dog was somehow seeing something that wasn't actually there. Or maybe he was simply watching the dog go mad.

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A childhood evening in a barrio.

"Now they’re bossing all the kids around. Just because they have the nicest soccer ball in all of Cuatro de Marzo, they think they can slave-drive the other kids to make the soccer field, to carve it out from the dirt street. They think they can practically reinvent the game. The ball is pretty nice. Nobody knows exactly where they got it, but they never let it out of their sight. They take turns guarding it, sleeping with it at night. It’s the same kind the Guadalajara Chivas use, one that looks official—all red, white and blue with their coat of arms on the side."

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A farmer's marriage to a Native American woman is plagued by problems and supernatural phenomena.

"The other thing about Lily that half-annoyed and half-charmed me was her belief in all sorts of supernatural horseshit. I figured she couldn’t help it, for the most part, being unavoidably disposed to things like honoring her dead ancestors and crop ceremonies and who knows what else; but every once in a while she took it too far. One of the biggest arguments we ever had came after I found her tacking up little bundles of bones and animal guts over all the windows and doors of the farmhouse. She’d gotten it into her head that the farmer’s spirit was still wilting around in the rafters of the front porch. He was just melancholy now, she said, she could feel it; but he might turn malevolent if we didn’t communicate to him that he didn’t live here anymore, that he needed to cross over."

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An estranged husband recaps his odd marriage to a German woman.

"Back then, though, we weren’t sleeping together. That didn’t happen till later. In order to pretend to be my fiancée, and then my bride, Johanna had to spend time with me, getting to know me. She’s from Bavaria, Johanna is. She had herself a theory that Bavaria is the Texas of Germany. People in Bavaria are more conservative than your normal European leftist. They’re Catholic, if not exactly God-fearing. Plus, they like to wear leather jackets and such. Johanna wanted to know everything about Texas, and I was just the man to teach her. I took her to SXSW, which wasn’t the cattle call it is today. And oh my Lord if Johanna didn’t look good in a pair of bluejeans and cowboy boots."

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A woman travels to Mexico at the request of her married lover/boss.

"The driver has a picture of his family on the dashboard, like the one Gustavo has on his desk at work of his two little runts, his wife, all in cowboy hats or sombreros. Meera doesn’t know the difference. In the picture, his wife comes across as a woman who likes to be in charge: big boobs, square shoulders, a sturdy ass and yet apparently confident in tight jeans. Meera doesn’t know her name, doesn’t want to know it. But in her head, when she thinks of her, her name is Gustava."

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A story about growing up and sexual identity.

"They have contests, about everything — cough syrup as a substance to abuse, swearing accidentally in class, having sex in the parking lot with their girlfriends during passing periods (the record seventeen times in Matt Haney’s truck) — their lives a haze of baby Tylenol, whip cream cans, Ray Bans, pot, beer, Smirnoff ice, Mom’s Vicodin — everything at the ready in the glove compartment."

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The rise and fall of a friendship between three Indian women.

"We were goddesses. Meena, Annie, and Nayantara. Even our names were like heroines. Meena and Annie had known each other since they were 5. I met them in seventh standard. Though we never said it aloud, we knew that three beauties had more power than two or one. Like the Hindu gods. Or all those pop groups. Like the Wilson Phillips. We liked the Wilson Phillips. We pretended to like the fat one but heart of hearts we didn’t."

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A senator and his wife deal with the aftermath of a sex scandal.

"He opened the car door and pushed his way out into the sea of shouting reporters. Batting away microphones, he made his way up the front walkway and mounted the steps to the porch. The door was locked. Steve patted his empty pockets; his keys were in his suitcase in the trunk of the car. He rang the doorbell and waited with his hands folded in front of him. Then he took out his phone and dialed Maureen. 'I’m locked out,' he said when she picked up."

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The observations and fears of a stepmother.

"Evie runs to you to get a drink of water, and you hand her the squeeze bottle you keep in your purse. Your purse—just three years ago, it had beauty magazines and lipstick in it. If someone took an inventory now, they’d find toys from the quarter machines, small notes or drawings Evie gave you, plastic animals. It’s like you are a different person now: the person you always wanted to be when you grew up. And Evie is the kid you hoped you’d have."

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This year's National Book Award winner looks at the life of a preacher's son in the Kansas Territory.

"Now, it's true there was a movement in town to hang my Pa, on account of his getting filled with the Holy Ghost and throwing hisself at the flood of westward pioneers who stopped to lay in supplies at Dutch Henry's—speculators, trappers, children, merchants, Mormons, even white women. Them poor settlers had enough to worry 'bout what with rattlers popping up from the floorboards and breechloaders that fired for nothing and building chimneys the wrong way that choked 'em to death, without having to fret 'bout a Negro flinging hisself at them in the name of our Great Redeemer Who Wore the Crown. In fact, by the time I was ten years old in 1856, there was open talk in town of blowing Pa's brains out."

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A mental disorder in which the protagonist believes he is a tree.

"There are a lot of things though that one doesn’t experience as a tree. For example music. Maybe trees feel the vibrations, but I don’t remember anymore. When I was young my mom put me in piano lessons. I begged to go to them actually, but I was horrible. Before the lesson I used to have to sit and wait in the hallway of the music school and from the different rooms you could hear the different instruments being played badly, but from my position in the hallway, it sounded like they were all coming from the same room. A cello screeching as syncopation to an out of tune violin with a piano clank-clanking along. It was beautiful and what I enjoyed more than anything else. Music is one thing that I’ll miss, when I become a tree again."

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The unfolding of a fling between an employee and a club owner.

"There are two more bus trips and hotel rooms. Each trip goes pretty much the same. Each morning you wake up alone and he’s at the casinos, and he never picks up his cell phone and it all makes you feel so helpless and pale and when you ride back to the city there’s never anything to say. Spring is coming, and coat check season will be over soon."

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Damaged people thrash about in doomed relationships.

"I told her I had been well into my central twenties before it dawned on me that to 'sleep with' someone didn’t simply mean to take a companion for your horizontal hours and thereby get sleep domed over you so much the higher than it would if you went home to bed alone. I had thought that was how you gave greater compass, greater volume, to your dreams."

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A woman is sent on an ominous mission to collected a jugular vein.

"The hands are still clapping when I jump, when I take on the air, when I dive. My body slams into the dirt at the bottom of the hole, some of the jugulars beneath me, I can feel the softness of them, I pull the rest near me, bring their thick heavy softness near the heat of my body."

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An old pair of ice skates is the catalyst for tensions between a man, his wife, and his granddaughter.

"Outside, a few snowflakes spit from the gutter-drifts. The searchlight at the hospital went round. No moon had risen. Break my ankles, he mused. Break my spine. He thought of Dorothy Zmuda trudging from door to door with her dead man’s box on a sled. I haven’t skated, he realized, since I was sixteen. Break my spine. He looked at Ruth and Stephie, both bent over their bowls, holding their spoons with the same tight fist. He looked at his own hands, frail, wrinkled, splotched, nothing but jutting tendons and hangnails and forty-year-old tobacco stains."

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An island house; a series of apparations, dreams, and mysteries.

"Sara put trances on Leigh in the middle of the night, while Leigh was sleeping. Leigh knew but didn't tell Mum or say anything about it to Sara. All three had terrible secrets they kept safe. They kept them safe for so long and so devotedly that they were no longer secrets—they were alternate ways of navigating the world."

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Disconnect and minutiae of modern urban life.

"In the end, we can be separated despite our best efforts at staying together. We can be separated by tragedy, then by arguments, by fair and unfair blame, by couples therapy. Then by divorce and new addresses. Now we are too far away and want to get closer. If we still owned a car we would park it up your street. If we owned a bike, we would ride it past your apartment. Instead there is only the bus, the cab, the train. There is only the running, sockless in our new shoes. All day we make the blue dot follow us to the places of our previous habits. They are all diminished now but we go anyway: Here is the park. Here is the restaurant. Here is the shop and the store and the bank. Tourists would need maps to find these places, but these are not the places tourists would think to find. We have lived here too long for their kind of maps. Our maps are stretched tight across our skin. We carry them everywhere with us so that when we are lost they might carry us."

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A father and daughter face complicated sexual dynamics; NSFW.

"Back home, he is watching Formula One on television and bingeing on my mother’s homemade apricot sorbet. Ayrton Senna is on pole position. I’m going through a L.L. Bean catalog, seated right next to him on the couch, turned sideways toward him, knees to my chest so that when I wriggle my toes, I can almost feel the rough fabric of his pants. His eyes are riveted on the screen. He leans forward to place the empty bowl ice cream bowl on the coffee table. The moment he sinks back into his seat, I jump on his lap knees first, like a puppy on its master, wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him on the mouth. He pushes me away. I lose my balance and fall from the sofa to the floor, bumping my head against the solid wood coffee table. The fake silver spoon trembles inside the empty bowl, a lingering echo mocking my collapse."

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A genetic engineer concocts a plan to transform a Galilean moon.

"Jonas is the conductor of a symphony, and must be familiar with each part, every section. He must keep them working in tandem, so he flits from group to group, giving encouragement. Visitors to the University wonder at the man skidding on the marble floors, running from A to E wing and back again. He reviews twenty sequences a day, though he is pleased to find few errors. His team works late. He works later. The key genes are reserved for his eyes alone, and when he sits back to watch the simulations play out he pictures the Watchmaker."

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A story of friendship and distance between two Filipino-American women.

"If Cathy could ever convince herself to write a story about that night, she’d probably mention how she took Evangeline home after her friend had nearly passed out on the sidewalk in front of the fifth bar they had gone to; she’d admit that she had known that Evangeline wasn’t used to marathon drinking, but that Evangeline didn’t seem to mind. Maybe she’d describe how Evangeline’s laughter buzzed in her ears like flies’ wings as when she had asked Evangeline for her address, and how she watched the lights of downtown Austin illuminate the interior of their cab with its indulgent, wasteful glow. Evangeline had sobered up when they had gotten home, and they helped each other fold out her futon couch, laughing when they realized that they couldn’t figure out how they had done it when they futon finally gave in to their pushing. If words fractured a friendship, alcohol healed it, and she wished it were possible to drown in the amber-colored recklessness of that night forever."

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Memories of a grandfather's seemingly endless chances to demise.

"Grandpa died in his bathroom when I was eleven, slipped on the tiles when I ran into his house to get him up for Christmas morning. Grandpa died when we were making a giant diorama of the solar system for my eighth grade science fair and he fell on the table saw. Grandpa burned in camp fires, had aneurisms at football games when I waved to the bleachers, choked on turkey bones and once a pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Instead of studying for tests, I learned the Heimlich, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, drew schematics for heart paddles salvaged from toaster ovens."

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Children in Mississippi prepare for a hurricane's arrival in this excerpt from 2011's National Book Award winning-novel.

"If one of Daddy's drinking buddies had asked what he's doing tonight, he would've told them he's fixing up for the hurricane. It's summer, and when it's summer, there's always a hurricane coming or leaving here. Each pushes its way through the flat Gulf to the twenty-six-mile manmade Mississippi beach, where they knock against the old summer mansions with their slave galleys turned guest houses before running over the bayou, through the pines, to lose wind, drip rain, and die in the north. Most don't even hit us head-on anymore; most turn right to Florida or take a left for Texas, brush past and glance off us like a shirtsleeve. We ain't had one come straight for us in years, time enough to forget how many jugs of water we need to fill, how many cans of sardines and potted meat we should stock, how many tubs of water we need."

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A mother's illness through the eyes of a child; from the author of Hill William, forthcoming from Tyrant Books.

"The next day Mom and Dad were getting ready to go someplace. Before they left, my mother sat at the kitchen table. Ruby stood at the sink washing Styrofoam plates, bragging about how many preserves she put up or how many potatoes she was going to plant this year. My dad told her it wasn’t healthy to wash Styrofoam plates and use them again. Grandma whispered, 'Shit.'"

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A media firestorm circles around a lucky amateur magician.

"By now, the actual doing of the spell—the Clean Casting—felt like a weird dream that Peter had concocted after too many drinks. The more people made a fuss about it, the more he felt like he’d made the whole thing up. But he could still picture it. He’d gotten one of the stone spellcasting bowls they sold on late-night cable TV, and little baggies of all the ingredients, with rejected prog rock band names like Prudenceroot or Womanheart, and sprinkled pinches of them in, while chanting the nonsense syllables and thinking of his desired aim."

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An act of terror at an art museum.

"When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."

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Intrigues within a Thai prison.

"'My friends,' he says, 'I hope all of you are having a mellow and productive day. Perhaps you feel surprised that I say "friends." Well, you deserve to be called by that word. Three months ago, I came to you seeking assistance with several problems. Inmates doing bodily harm to each other was a problem. Drug casualties were a problem. Another problem was videos filmed on contraband phones, videos which referenced conduct that is unbecoming to you and unbecoming to this institution. One more problem was some chattering birds who told false stories to the BBC about conditions in our facility. Three months ago, I asked for your help with these problems, and there has been no trouble since.'"

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A young assistant causes strain and conflict between a writer and a painter.

"We took her with us when we went out. It was startling when a waitress at the Forest Diner mistook Evvie for our daughter. I had just turned 38 that fall, and Colin was 46. We were both on our second marriages, and had both agreed that children would get in the way of our art. Colin was old enough for a 22-year-old daughter—I certainly wasn’t. It was something like having a child, though, without the trouble of rearing one. Evvie was devoted to Colin. If she’d been more attractive, I might have felt threatened, but I didn’t. She was almost a daughter, in those early months."

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A long, philosophical courtship between a wealthy man and an intelligent woman.

"She looked up. Man and manservant were circling the property. They picked their way slowly, gazing down, grimly. She had not seen anyone move like this; it was the walk of people in a graveyard who knew all the buried. He was wrong. For him it was a test of devotion. Her devotion had nothing to do with it. She craved that man’s face and hands, her sweetest concern was what he would say next, the air she liked best had the damp of his breath in it."

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Two artistic teenagers create art and mysteries in a cabin.

"When the sky was blue Andi hooked sheets over the windows. She cooked meat until it was black. While Shot slept she powdered his cheeks with fireplace ash. When they walked about the cabin they looked like subjects in pencil sketch flipbooks, skin brushed gray over a monochrome background. Sometimes Shot would track in mud or some paint would flake, and Andi would be there with a can to police the evidence."

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Two sisters struggle to adjust to changing family circumstances.

"When we got outside, the first thing we did was loosen and let trail the scarves our mother had wrapped around our necks. (The fact was, though we may not have put the two things together, the deeper she got into her pregnancy the more she slipped back into behaving like an ordinary mother, at least when it was a matter of scarves we didn’t need or regular meals. There was not so much championing of wild ways as there had been in the fall.) Caro asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I didn’t know. This was a formality on her part but the honest truth on mine. We let the dog lead us, anyway, and Blitzee’s idea was to go and look at the gravel pit. The wind was whipping the water up into little waves, and very soon we got cold, so we wound our scarves back around our necks."

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The beginning of Don DeLillo's Underworld, in memory of Andy Pafko.

"Pafko is out of paper range by now, jogging toward the clubhouse. But the paper keeps falling. If the early paper waves were slightly hostile and mocking, and the middle waves a form of fan commonality, then this last demonstration has a softness, a selfness. It is coming down from all points, laundry tickets, envelopes swiped from the office, there are crushed cigarette packs and sticky wrap from ice-cream sandwiches, pages from memo pads and pocket calendars, they are throwing faded dollar bills, snapshots torn to pieces, ruffled paper swaddles for cupcakes, they are tearing up letters they've been carrying around for years pressed into their wallets, the residue of love affairs and college friendships, it is happy garbage now, the fans' intimate wish to be connected to the event, unendably, in the form of pocket litter, personal waste, a thing that carries a shadow of identity -- rolls of toilet tissue unbolting lyrically in streamers."

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An uncle sets out to find his wayward niece.

"I pick Jerry’s and I’m right. A couple of old people are hanging out outside the pizza place and next to them groups of highschool kids. I see Sara. She’s sitting on a mailbox, leaning over a guy, her back to me. The sharp outline of her spine showing through her tank top and she doesn’t look like she’s been eating. She’s a good looking girl though, I can tell. An old Ozzy Ozbourne song plays from the open door of a Lexus next to them."

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A dead son's markings appear in household mold, thus beginning a new form of Butler's surreal, creepy family dramas.

"I’d always felt my boy would live forever. He seemed strung with a different make of vein. I’d once watched him bang his head hard on a lathe out in my workshop in the midst of chasing moths, and instead of crying, whining for mother, his body shook with hiccupping elation, a brook of blood tracing his cheek down to his diapers. Only months alive he’d had large canines. When I’d let him, in his mother’s absence, he liked pounding nails with the tiny hammer I’d provided. I’d caught him more than once chewing on hunks of dirt or even glass, which he’d swallow grinning as I tried to make him spit. How he could stare straight into a blowtorch, beg for me to lay the hot blue light in his hands and sit like that for as long as I could stand to hold it with him. Three years old and already beyond anything I had imagined in a son."

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After a breakup, a man begins to transform his apartment into a retro arcade.

"I ask him what he plans to do with the games. Is he going to start an arcade? Is he going to fix them and sell them? Matt shrugs and tells me it’s just a hobby now. It’s good that you’ve distracted yourself from Sarah, I tell him, and he says yeah, he’s enjoying his abdication—abdication, as if he’s resigning from the presidency or something. He says it makes him feel like a kid again and I nod. Video games will do that. Nostalgia. But Matt shakes his head, like I’m not understanding him."

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A woman starts a new job with a massive, all-knowing social media company; an excerpt from Eggers' The Circle, coming in October.

"Mae looked at the time. It was 6 o’clock. She had plenty of hours to improve, there and then, so she embarked on a flurry of activity, sending 4 zings and 32 comments and 88 smiles. In an hour, her PartiRank rose to 7,288. Breaking 7,000 was more difficult, but by 8, after joining and posting in 11 discussion groups, sending another 12 zings, one of them rated in the top 5,000 globally for that hour, and signing up for 67 more feeds, she’d done it. She was at 6,872, and she turned to her InnerCircle social feed. She was a few hundred posts behind, and she made her way through, replying to 70 or so messages, RSVPing to 11 events on campus, signing nine petitions and providing comments and constructive criticism on four products currently in beta."

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A celebrity moves into the neighborhood, subtly disrupting the habits of the other residents.

"We watched the actress command and coordinate the movers like a veteran general. She was dressed in clothes geared for comfort: charity t-shirt, pink sweatpants. She wasn't wearing any makeup and her hair was tied in a loose braid. Chudley was panting heavily."

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Memories of the magical, enlightened daughter of a religious leader.

"It was in this moment that we began to wonder when her father might sense these happenings and descend upon us; when we turned to look, he had only just begun his approach, had only just caught sight of his daughter. He betrayed no surprise but drew himself up, preparing to mete judgment, and quickened his step as though eager to commence the necessary violence—"

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A horror/mystery story about heart removal, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Chinese food bags.

"It is not easy to remove a heart with a spoon from the chest of a man, nor is it clean. The spoon was purchased 48 hours earlier from the Bed, Bath & Beyond on 9th Street. The Nicole Miller Moments 5 pc Flatware Set was $24.99. The salad fork, dinner knife, dinner fork, and soup spoon were disposed of. Only the teaspoon remained.

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Squatters defend their home against police.

"Boards are wedged into place to bar doors and windows, apartment doors are locked, then everyone rushes downstairs and out the front door. Nena closes it behind them, little Carla standing behind her wrapped in a blanket, and they hear her slide down the heavy steel bar that braces that door. They’re twenty strong, together, angry, adrenaline pumping, and Amelia thrilling to it, even though she’s scared. Thrilled and thinking, finally, finally something is happening. Something, whatever it is. They’ve been waiting and here it is, it’s happening now."

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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."

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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."

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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. "

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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)."

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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."

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Memories both unique and ominous surround a woman's childhood.

"I liked to visit the Moon kitchen, a grease-laden cave that stank of meat. The table had a plastic covering patterned with wagon wheels and rustic scenes. The Moons cooked foods I’d never seen before in vats studded with dumplings. At dinner the Moon men mopped up their stews with slices of white bread and guzzled cartons of milk. They had a big cat-killing dog that they had trained to sit upright on a chair at the table, and they took turns feeding it buttered toast smeared with jam. After dinner Mr. Moon sat in the kitchen when he wasn’t at the tavern, drinking beer and bluing the air with swearwords and tobacco smoke."

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A husband and father throws away old junk and painful memories.

"It's such a relief; I feel so wholesome, so pure, the toxins drained from my blood. I want to find more, so I dig up the shame of getting fired from my first job out of college. It's a nasty gray thing, like an old dried out iguana, hidden in a dark corner. As I pick it up, it begins to flake and crumble in my hands. I throw it into the dumpster like a football and it bangs against the metal wall. Then I find an ugly little puss-filled creature, looks like an over-cooked eggplant, my guilt for losing my temper and smacking my daughter once when she was five. I hold it far in front of me as I carry it out and chuck it in the giant metal bin. I dig up the anxiety about whether I'll make the next round of cuts at my job, the disappointment in myself for being a weak athlete in high school, and the remorse over not having spent more time with my dad toward the end of his battle with cancer, each thing strangely malformed and grotesque. I dump them all."

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A woman grapples with the abundance of her accumulated "content"—data, ideas, memories.

"What she wants to discover is a framework for her content, where it will be contained and even put to a good use so that she does not feel she has more than she can manage. There are the lyrics of songs—usually only the chorus—that repeat when she is awake and when she is asleep, occurring in her dreams to different melodies, yet still filling her head with their words. There are actual objects that fill the place where she lives: tables, chairs, the rind of a grapefruit, many plastic bags, dishes with food congealed to their surfaces. There are surfaces, and there are memories of surfaces—the glittering one of the pond where she swam with a man she no longer sees."

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A terminally ill young woman arrives in New York to spend her last months.

"Outside, the spring wind rippled the silk across Sabrina’s skin and as she tilted her face up, the sun drew freckles across her nose and cheeks. She felt lighter than she had in weeks. It had been a strange irony that even as she was losing weight, she’d felt leaden; it was the loss of energy, of course, but it was more than that, too. It was as if the knowledge inside her was quantifiable, which meant it was diminishable, too. She hadn’t wanted to hand pieces of her diagnosis to those she knew, those she loved—but what a relief to give a sliver of it away."

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A rodeo rider squares off with a racist immigration official.

"He saw deputies in their serious hats coming through the restaurant from the kitchen, four white guys who looked like they meant business, serious, minds made up, and Nachee thought of a grandfather now from the other time, more than a hundred years ago, Nachitay, sitting in Mi Nidito with Victor’s grandfather from the same time, Victorio. Sometimes Nachee talked to Victor about those guys living the way they chose to. You hungry? Run off a mule, cut steaks and cook them over a fire. Before General Crook came along on his mule, the one Nachee’s grandfather from that other time was dying to eat. Bring them all here to sit with their rifles, Victorio, Cochise, Geronimo … those guys doing whatever they wanted. They never carried ID but every horse soldier in the Arizona Territory knew who they were."

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A relationship is explored via memories and lists; a mental breakdown ensues.

"I thought the standard things like dates and flowers could keep us normal. But it was the subtle derision in your smile that made me want to smother you in your sleep after I said things like: It aches sometimes—how life seems so long. You thought therapy could keep us sane so you made it an ultimatum and flushed my Seroquel down the toilet."

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As part of a contest, a barbarian permits himself to be possessed by a god.

"He had slain wizards. He had collapsed gates through which the old ones sought reentry to our roads, our cities, our hearths. He had cut down beasts born of the necromantic arts, some grown from flesh and bone, others crafted with cog and spring. The Sundering Game was a simple affair by comparison. Gotchimus would be possessed by the spirit of an old god. The god might kill its mortal host, and it might drive him mad—or Gotchimus would drive it off before it could do either."

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A lifelong obsession with becoming a reality TV star takes its final turn.

"I have to hand it to this show’s producers. They have real balls to do something so big,so real. They got carnage right. Around me lie bits of charred metal, a hand, and two smoldering tray tables. The air smells like our kitchen Christmas Day but without the garlic.A gray haze hovers to the left, fed by smoke chimneys swirling from plane parts. Where are the other contestants? Where are the camera crews? Filming with hidden cameras is common, but this level of innovation in shooting unnerves me. Hey, the whole scenario unnerves me. Who wants to see a disembodied hand on a scrubby dune? I knew to be ready for challenges and twists and drama whether the show was about fashion or losing weight, but tragedy is new for me–an aspect of reality I haven’t studied."

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A father attends his son's birthday party, hosted by his ex-wife and her boyfriend.

"Locklin sat next to Will in front of the fireplace. The brick was warm and Locklin put his arm around his boy. He was proud of the way Will had handled it all—he seemed okay, not blaming himself or anything. Will was a lot like he was, though, and that worried him. Once, Locklin had talked to him about how there were two types of people in this world: volcanoes and geysers. 'Volcanoes, like you and me,' he’d said 'sit and brew and stuff all their problems. The thing is, one day, they erupt. You don’t know how or when, but when it happens, it’s ugly. It’s best to be like your mother, a geyser—let it out often and easily. Don’t hold back.' Will had seemingly understood."

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A young woman engages in various misguided religious devotions.

"She reaches out and takes one of his hands, lifts it to her mouth as if to taste his blood, but he pulls it away and takes her hands—both of them—in his own. Because he is Christ, she lets him. He kisses her palms, each of them in turn, and then once more, lingering over the taste of salt; of something like stone, like metal; of roses from the tomb of the saint; and the taste, he swears, of hunger.

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Over a cup of coffee, an unhappy father examines chance happenings, fate, and accidents.

"It was a game David would play every morning when he woke up and every evening when he got back from work. He was mentally prepared to have to play the game at any moment while he was inside his house. It happened in split seconds; he would fumble the cup he was retrieving from the cabinet in the kitchen and think, If that cup falls on the floor and breaks, I’ll leave my wife. He would bump his car against the side of his overstuffed garage backing out and think, If that bumper just got dented or the taillight just shattered, that’s it. I’m gone. And so on and so forth. No cups ever fell and no car parts were ever damaged, and David was always able to tell himself that the game was just that—a harmless, fun little thing like so many other harmless, fun little things in so many other marriages."

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Mystical, unsettling rumors surround a student at an all-girls school in Nigeria.

"We shuddered when we heard her invoke Allah. All but begging her not to unleash her powers on us, we recounted, in turns, how we had heard from someone who had heard from someone of the pencil case in the gym. Pencil case in the gym? What pencil case in what gym? We said that we had heard stories, too, about the blotting paper. Naturally, we made no mention of her Islamic faith. The word ‘witch’ remained unsaid. We said only that, whatever she had done, we were certain she had done for a good reason. And that her adversary, whomever it was, probably deserved it. Nuratu, as the full implication of our story dawned on her, looked as if she had been stabbed. She slowly sank to the floor, and began to weep and shake her head.

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A husband struggles with the needs of his paralyzed wife and his creation of a hologram version of an assassinated President; new fiction from the author of The Orphan Master's Son.

"After the doctor left, I went into the garage and started making the President. A psychologist would probably say the reason I created him had to do with the promise I made Charlotte and the fact that the President also had a relationship with the person who took his life. But it's simpler than that: I just needed to save somebody, and with the President, it didn't matter that it was too late."

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In a digital world, two godlike corporations secretly plan to overtake another entity.

"They transmitted to cloudspace where there were no bodies. The nanocrystalline substrate was like gossamer wisps, visible only as glittering mica dust beneath the nourishing fusion showers of the sun. Billions of bodiless minds gathered, connected frail tendrils like excited jellyfish, and formed an optical array so they could watch from on high how the war was going. I can’t see the wave, Jacob transmitted to Jocelyn. She was an invisible presence beside him, little more than a compression of neuron–data, like him, and like two–thirds of the human race now."

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Interlocking narratives of relationships and a potential murder.

"Metal ran in an extensive and intricate network in streams across the countryside and densely through the city. Metal channeled the blood, and metal screws held Sarah’s glasses together as she left the parking lot and exited Le Roy onto the freeway. She felt sad to have missed a chance to get involved with a crazed dangerous person like Mike. Had he really committed a murder before she picked him up? She thought about the geese and drove home."

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A child's uneasy participation in a hunting party; an excerpt from Jackson's forthcoming novel Mira Corpora.

"A bearded man orders the children to circle up and divide into groups. A brother and sister pull my ears and claim me. They say that I’m their lucky charm. The siblings are pale with spindly legs, denim shorts, floppy hiking boots. We set off into the heart of the woods. The boy’s crew cut ends in a braided rat’s tail. He flicks it back and forth across his shoulders. They both have beady eyes and big noses. There’s something else on their faces, but it’s not clear yet."

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Changes forced by cancer put a Dominican-American man at odds with his family.

"The fever lasted two days, but it took a week before he was close to better, before he was spending more time on the couch than in bed. I was convinced that as soon as he was mobile he was going to head right back to Yarn Barn, or try to join the Marines or something. My mother feared the same. Told him every chance she got that it wasn’t going to happen. She was the tiniest person, but she posted up on him like she was Gigantor. I won’t allow it. Her eyes were shining behind her black Madres de Plaza de Mayo glasses. I won’t. Me, your mother, will not allow it."

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A college student's plan to seduce a Native American; part one of two.

"His eyebrows twitched. Tammy looked at him, the boy with the darkest skin in the crowd, so brown-red-russet it revved her courage and made her think of beautiful things she wanted to do to him. Wispy hair at the nape of his neck had come out of his braid, and he seemed momentarily breakable. She wanted to feel the braid on her neck as he pulled his face close to hers. She had spent years studying things she didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, couldn’t touch. She wanted context. She wanted to touch him. She wanted him to be The Man Who Made Things Make Sense For A Night."

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After texts and phone calls are hacked and leaked, women across America are murdering each other for insults, slights, and dishonesty.

"Mom was trying to board up the window. She was terrible with hammers, with nails. Our living room was a sea of glass. The window was everywhere and everything was wrong. I wanted to tell someone about this but I couldn’t call Guncha. The phones didn’t even work anymore. That was how America was trying to fight. Just get people to stop interacting. There were curfews in effect. The phones were shut down. They figured if they could keep us from being near each other then maybe we would stop killing each other.

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A worker in a slaughterhouse observes the ups and downs of generational differences.

"This morning is always pig-killing. This afternoon is always cleaning. Tomorrow is sheep-killing. It is the same each week. Tuesday, pigs. Wednesday, lambs. Just after we had opened the gates this morning a young farmer came. He is one of those who are the amateur farmers. I like them. They are unlike any farmers I know at home. They wear farming, as if it were a jacket. It never truly fits their shoulders. They farm not because they have to but because they think it is good for them, or for their children, or for society. They believe in the soil and in hard work and they add farming to their office jobs. In this factory, we can recognize them from afar. They drive their jeeps like they would drive a car, and they are always a little frightened of their animals. When they leave off their animals for slaughter they stare at the killing equipment.

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A party game drives a woman to reflect upon a history of manipulation.

"After each killing, Claire tried to be kind—defensive of those who were accused of being the werewolf and suspicious only of those making accusations. And throughout each round Claire asked questions about how the game was played, whose answers, in all honesty, she did not have figured out. (Though again, was that the werewolf playing the game, posturing innocence even in her private thoughts? Yes, it probably was. This freaked her out.)"

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After accidentally casting himself adrift in space, an astronaut's mind wanders over varied paths.

"According to his calculations, Barington had now been adrift in space for three months. This figure was based on his sleep schedule, which, although inexact, was his only possible point of reference. Whenever he determined that a day had passed, he reached up into his helmet and marked the inside of his visor with a tally, using a wax pencil he had found in his suit’s utility compartment. After the accumulation of seven tallies, he erased them with his thumb and drew a W for Week."

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A young widow deals with attraction, ghosts, and patients while working in a mental facility.

"Gail refrained from telling her mother about Willem, maybe out of defiance if nothing else. When you live in your childhood home, jobless, for three years, it’s hard not to become something like a teenager again. Gail would be happy to report on her regained self-sufficiency, to tell her mother that she’d received crisis intervention training to defend herself against and restrain these 'crazies.' But her mother wanted to picture Gail dating people, not putting them in headlocks."

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A woman's ex-lover moves into her duplex apartment.

"I wanted to be with Mitch again the way we were after college, with that safety of the late-night sex call, the backup-plan date who was not really a date to parties filled with couples. But I did not have the courage to tell him that I wanted to pick up where we had left off before he married Janet any more than I could have told him I had loved him all those years ago. By the time he was free again (and moving into the duplex I owned), I had learned to seal off my heart from his casual, unofficial kind of love."

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In this excerpt from the novel Tampa, a pedophile prepares for her first day of teaching middle school; NSFW.

"The early start time of Jefferson Junior High was one of its main allures: seven thirty a.m. The boys would practically be asleep, their bodies still in various stages of lingering nocturnal arousal. From my desk, I'd be able to watch their exposed hands rubbing across their pants beneath the tables, their shame and their half-inflated genitals arm-wrestling for control."

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A middle-class father, seeking to impress his daughter, purchases an unusual status symbol.

"After dinner, strolled grounds with Emmett, who is surgeon, does something two days a week with brain inserts, small electronic devices? Or possibly biotronic? They are very small. Hundreds can fit on head of pin? Or dime? Did not totally follow. He asked about my work, I told. He said, Well, huh, amazing the strange, arcane things our culture requires some of us to do, degrading things, things that offer no tangible benefit to anyone, how do they expect people to continue to even hold their heads up?"

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A poet's first day of teaching in an inner-city school.

"She looks at me through squinting eyes and waits. I drag out one poem about someone’s bad day, to let the students know that poets have bad days too, and that poets’ lives can be mundane and that poets’ lives can be like their lives, and that, therefore, they too can be poets. She takes a large black felt pen and crosses out words. I’m so shocked I just stand there speechless. I’d assumed we were all together in this old school in the depths of Brooklyn, hoping to reach and educate the kids."

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Confusion and nervousness ensue when items slowly go missing at a nursing home.

"After that conversation, more glasses went missing. Sometimes we found them on the wrong peoples’ faces. Sometimes a pair showed up, perched in the middle of a bowl of oatmeal. Everyone was confused; Miss Marilyn panicked. Even my grandma had her theories—a rat had carried things off and dropped them in sly places. But I knew who was responsible and I kept quiet. I couldn’t break a man’s spirit.

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After a tragic accident, a husband and wife take a trip to Japan.

"Neither of us knows what Nori looks like, nor do we know how he will recognize us. In my first reply email months ago, I had explained that my wife and daughter would like to try exotic foods, perhaps see a bit of Japanese history. I had forgotten, like so many other things that have since slipped through the cracks, to mention that Gracie would no longer be joining us."

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An unemployed banker drifts along Occupy protests, his crumbling life, and a crime scene.

"Against the bleachers’ far end, beyond the scope of the cameras, Michael was thinking again about Brussels. The bullet had rung out with plunky subtlety he knew to expect but found disappointing, still. He remembered a cathedral there and the sound he had heard inside of it. This was years ago. The sound he recalled was a cane that he’d heard falling onto the cathedral’s marble floor. The way sound survives inside a cathedral. He remembered looking across the aisle to a hairless woman with earrings dangling halfway down her neck. In the darkness of Chicago, the boy’s body called to him for a closer look, he still had his phone after all, a camera. He could hear the sirens approaching."

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A young Sikh narrates gender identity issues to a dead friend.

"I just stare at him for a minute. It’s a minute that hangs in the balance. He may be batshit. But then, I’m the one seeing disappearing boys. I may be batshit. Something about what he says is true though. It’s unavoidable. There is something different inside of me. Something besides being a boy and a girl and neither. Maybe that something is what kept me alive all this time, kept me from shattering. An emptiness that sustains."

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A man returns to his small hometown for a temporary substitute teaching job.

"I went away from this place and I lived somewhere else. Years passed. When I came back, it was all the same. It had been years, but the place was the same. I started teaching at the school I went to as a boy. It was a substitute gig. The original teacher needed surgery and she would be out for three weeks. There was a little girl there in the 5th grade class and she was so shy she could barely speak. The other 5th grade teacher told me that the little girl’s mother was on drugs. She told me not to get close to the kids like that because they never made it through the school year. They always ended up moving or just disappearing. She told me that she had been to a funeral just a few weeks earlier for a student’s mother who had overdosed."

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Two parents contend with a grotesque, rapidly growing newborn; from the author of Don't Kiss Me: Stories, published today.

"Daddy and I had heard of ugly babies, of unnaturally big babies, we’d seen a show once where what looked like a 12-year old boy was in a giant diaper his mother had fashioned out of her front room curtain, sitting there with his legs straight out in front of him like he was pleased to meet them, his eyes pushed into his face like dull buttons, and the mother claiming he wasn’t yet a year. But Levis wasn’t on the TV, he was right there, his eyes following Daddy across the room, those eyes like gray milk ringed with spider’s legs, and at two months Levis had chewed through a wooden bar in his crib, splinters in his gums, him crying while I plucked them with a tweezer, me feeling that nail in my gut, me feeling something less than love."

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A boy in Texas comes of age as a frequent visitor to an adult video store.

"Ricky pushes open the blacked-out door and heads to the counter at the back of the room. Ed trails slowly behind him, pausing to look closely at the shrink-wrapped magazines and their pictures of men and women together. They look bestial, naked, sunburned, mouths open and showing teeth. The magazines Ricky has at home are not like this, magazines of women only, alone, their clothes caught while falling off them, or running naked through the surf at the beach, the surf covering that one exact spot."

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A weary tenant gets lost in his vast apartment complex.

"The fourth floor is the same as the third. I again turn left outside the elevator, but take fewer steps before again realizing my error. Turning around, the numbers climb: 418, 420, 422. I put my key in my door and it slides all the way in, and I pause, surprised, though unsure why I should be. I can feel the door respond to me opening it, but then it stops. I've never once locked that deadbolt when leaving the apartment. Sometimes I lock it when home, inside the apartment, though just as often I don't. The door itself locks automatically when I leave, and the apartment building is locked as well, so I've never stopped and taken the time nor precaution for the extra lock of the deadbolt. I try my same key in the second lock—it fits, but won't turn. It won't unlock, but I knew it wouldn't. I stand still and silent, listening, wondering again if someone inside heard me trying to let myself in. I try to think of as simple an explanation as possible, should someone open the door, though who might that be? Who else would be in my apartment, why would they open the door?"

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A girl, her pet salamander, and some family strangeness.

"Ambistoma’s gills stick out of his head instead of being tucked to his flanks. The gills are like Mamá’s hair when she wakes up. Her hair is so curly, orange, crazy. In the mornings when she pulls away from Papá’s arms, she walks towards the bathroom as if she were electrified. Her hair is knotted in tiny corkscrews, tangled here and there like coral branches. It jumps all over like thoughts of fire."

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The unique, haunting talents of a dinner-party guest have long-ranging complications and implications.

"In July, my old friends Gabe and Lila tried to crack the designer’s secret. Gabe invited the designer to one of his parties and Lila seduced him that very night. But when she had him in bed and asked how he wrote like that, he just smiled and told her, 'I listen to the party but try to focus on nothing, purely. It’s very relaxing. When I look down later, the pages are full of words.'"

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A fisherman/trapper and his wife, the emergence of a child-like ghost spirit; an excerpt from Matt Bell's In The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods.

"But still I was unsatisfied, still I claimed that the son she had given me was not the son we had made and that somehow she had replaced him with this other, this foundling. Against these claims my wife offered no new defense, would only reassure me again, telling me not to worry, that of course he was my son, that despite the wonders of her voice her songs could not make a life. She said this again and again, against my many multiplying queries, each voiced as I trailed her around the house, following her from chore to chore, until after so many denials she changed her tack, asked quietly, What is a life lived but an array of objects, gathered or else made into being, tumored inside the wall-skin of our still-growing house? What else to make a biography of, if not the contents of these rooms?"

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A husband is wrongfully credited for his wife's heroic act.

"Immediately, Ron was sick, wishing that he was in the water and not her. But the shock of it all had scrambled his mind and it was confusion that held him, pretty much taking the wind out of him. He couldn’t get moving. Joy was the better swimmer, anybody would say so. Watching her flailing about out there with the old woman was painful. Still Joy’s strong, a fighter, she’ll be okay, he kept telling himself. And finally she was. The water got still out there and she had control. She was moving toward the shore, dog paddling, kicking water up behind, tugging the old woman along. Christ, by the hair, he ascertained when they got closer."

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An eldery Nigerian woman tends to her deteriorating body and a family crisis.

"Her last child was thirty-seven years old. He had lived with her until nine years ago, when he traveled to China—via Libya, then Qatar, then Malaysia—in search of a better life. He was married now, to a Filipino woman he had met in a textile plant in Zhengzhou, and they had two children, a four-year-old girl whom they had named Corazón after his wife’s mother, and a one-year-old boy who was called Ramón after his wife’s father. He had sent his mother their photographs with the last parcel of canned pork and imitation-leather handbags that arrived from him with climatic regularity. The letter that accompanied the parcel informed her he was doing well, that he no longer worked in factories but now tutored Chinese professionals in the English language, and that he might come to visit next year with his family. In her reply she had urged him to come quickly because the eye trouble had recurred, and she wanted to see her grandchildren before she went blind."

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A divorced father takes a job disposing 44 tons of rotting bison meat in an abandoned warehouse.

"As though exposure to air were a catalyst of some sort, a wave of the stench hit him, even through the painting mask and snowmobile goggles. His eyes watered; he was momentarily unable to breathe. He may even have blacked out, which may have been why his aim was off, why his shoulder stopped rotating in the air, and how he came to be showered in a blanket of maggoty meat. And then he did pass out, just briefly."

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A man is tasked with tracking down his eccentric, troubled neighbor.

She pleaded with me to go up there and talk to her husband, persuade him to come home, up there meaning to Shandon Street where he now lived in solitude with Hannibal, his terrier, living out a threat that had consumed him for so long, no-one believed he would ever do it, to cut off all ties with his old established life. Her daughter had tried and his brother, useless, for all he did was stay inside the door. He might listen to me.

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An unlikely romance between a film star and an enormous man flares up during a cold, ashy year.

"People began to inhabit their homes like mice, holed up in tiny corners, hiding from the cold and trying to remember where their passions lived. Intellectuals wrote books about desert climates, and polar exploration finally lost the last of its charm. Oasis Parties became popular among the very wealthy, who would build up bonfires in fire pits where guests would dance in wild costumes and drink absinthe. More often than not, these parties ended in orgies or house fires. Sometimes both. People were starting to lose their minds a little."

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Greek heroes and gods roam suburban America.

The goddess hiked her gowns and climbed as softly as she could the creaky wooden steps into his house. She had snuck into a home a million times, and the hardest part was carrying the shield through the door with it hitting anything, or not knocking overcoat trees or a vase. Or keeping on her helmet without its tall purple that got nudged off in low doorways. All of this and more had happened many times, and it was never not embarrassing; there were instances when people thought that she was not a god, but just an oddly-dressed intruder. She’d stopped wearing metal combat boots a hundred years ago and now she wore her flip-flops, though she made sure her father saw her in the boots when she was leaving Mount Olympus.

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An oral history of a murdered prep basketball star.

"All I can think is how narrow the drive-through is and how it's full of exhaust and grease and the vent where the air blows out and how they couldn't move, couldn't go backward or forward 'cause there were five LAPD cars and how Tenerife must have been trying to call me. Trying. I just took two more. I know I had some wine. I don't care."

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A woman enters a casual relationship with a butcher.

"He was lazy about it. He told me he couldn’t that night but could he give me a call? It was two weeks and one — almost two — skipped Five Dollar Fridays later that he called and demanded why I had not come in yet. I arrived at a quarter to nine. He grinned and dug his knife into pork liver. Then a plucked duck. I ate the spinach rolls he set out for me and watched him slice away. Finally I told him I was starving and he looked up from his bloodied counter and grinned some more. He put his meat in the giant freezer behind him, hung his apron and walked out to me. It was the first time, I realized, that I’d seen his legs. I could tell they were brawny behind his jeans. In fact he looked like a hockey player and I wished he did that instead of dismembering dead animals all day."

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What starts as a mouse infestation turns into a complex study of a marriage and a husband's place in the world.

"But in the evening I did the bills at the dining table and one ran across my foot. I could see it through the glass top, looking exactly like the one I’d released. I realized I’d sort of imagined only one, maybe two. Mice are so identical, appearing on one and then another side of the room as if by magic, moving through walls. All that damage. Now they could be filling the walls and if I slit one with a machete they’d spill out like organs, or like corn from a sack. This could make the species more impressive, or less."

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Desire and dental surgery in Northern India.

His father leaned back on his hands and tilted his face to the sun. Daniel bent over his cushion. In the habit of telling The Number his thoughts, he had already begun to narrate for her his feelings about the woman."

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A nineteenth-century family in the ice-harvesting business.

Jon Ehrlich guided the barge past the sandbanks into port and packed the wares in an underground cellar along the riverfront. An ice dealer from Carondelet Avenue came and inspected the work. Crisp bills were counted out. It was good business. It was as if Reconstruction itself knew how to make things work. Hotels. Restaurants. Oyster shops. Rich men in fancy homes. Even sculptors who wanted to carve from giant ice blocks.

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A college student takes a trip to Greece following a death in the family.

"He bumped his way through the crowd of tourists shopping for postcards and miniature statues of gods with erect penises. Was his dad in an art gallery, picking up a sculpture of Poseidon for the foyer? Was he at a taverna sipping on local wine and feasting on fresh clams? Alex kept marching, out of the town and past the famous windmills. He looked back at Little Venice and its cluster of bars extending out over the water like they were threatening to leap."

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A woman agrees to be a photographer for a couple of her adulterous friends; slightly NSFW.

"I walked around the room, taking shots of the empty bed. I took a shot of the clouds outside, and another of Bill and Marie. I snapped the pictures quickly and flung them across the floral comforter with what I felt was the boldness of a pornographer. I took a shot of those dolls. I waved the photograph in the air and watched the ghostly forms darken into a row of Raggedy Anns. They had black circles for eyes and red triangles for noses. Their mouths were thin, red slits. Smile lines ran from the corners of their mouths up to their cheeks."

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A man in a struggling relationship travels in Europe to find a cure for a serious medical condition.

"It was meant to be a romantic medical-tourist getaway, a young invalid and his lady friend sampling the experimental medicine of the Rhine. But they’d fought in France, and he’d come to Düsseldorf ahead of her. Now he waited not so hopefully, not so patiently—dragging himself between the hostel, the train station, and the Internet café, checking vainly for messages from Hayley—while seeking treatment at the clinic up on the hill."

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When their trash cans are mysteriously ransacked, a family devises a series of fantastical solutions and hypotheses.

"After we go in, the kids devise traps for whatever got into the trash. I’m not sure who starts it. They get scratch paper from my desk—one-sided printouts of old story drafts—and they lay out their schematics in marker. Emily sits on the floor at the coffee table, her legs curled Indian-style underneath. Her traps are complicated, cause and effect, involving counterweights, nets, and ropes. With a practicality she didn’t get from me, she only incorporates objects we actually possess: laundry baskets, blankets, and—in a stroke of inspiration that chills me—the plastic coffin of our cartop carrier."

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A cautionary satire about the potential excesses of an unchecked Google.

"'My Google Being anticipates everything I would think, everything I would want to say or do or feel,' Larry explained. 'Everywhere I would go. Years of research have gone into this. It is in every way the same as me. So much so that my physical form is no longer necessary. It was just getting in the way, so we removed it.'"

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Mysteries and complex memories envelop an unhappy suburban marriage.

"So Kendall started it, and once the ball of change got rolling, it gathered velocity. No going back. Things were starting to happen. One morning on the brick patio, Kendall was in sweats after finishing his workout. The look suited him: athletic but not excessively sweaty. In the distance, the heavy haze was like a scrim in front of the cityscape. It would mean a smog alert when they turned on the news. Behind him was the dry swimming pool, a long, inset coffin with a sturdy mesh cover that looked like a rectangular rug laid over the yard. She felt a recklessness bubbling up in her. He was her husband, yet not. Something about him coming home a stranger was cutting her loose, changing the plan."

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The appearance of a "mole man" reflects the past and realities of a hardscrabble town.

"We are soothed by the authoritative acronym-loaded binder delivered to us ages ago by the gentleman-embodiment of the U.S. Department of Energy and stored in its secure glass-faced case beside the MSDS and the Terror Alert Color Wheel, for since there are no people who dug the dark tunnels of Yucca Mountain, nor people working as stewards of the nation’s nuclear waste deep inside, then it is only a rumor that there is a subterranean population at the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, only local lore that below us, in a town perhaps identical to ours, move once-human creatures whose genes the Department has tweaked over generations until their skin went translucent, until a scrim of skin grew over their useless eyes, until two thick, cord-like and translucent whiskers sprouted from their faces, sensitive as a catfish’s barbels, and their mouths gone a little catfish too, a side effect."

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A high school runner is torn between championship meets and quality time with his drunk, racist father.

"It’s five thirty. Mom called Dad, but he’s not home. Must be on his way, she says. I nod. We’ve made this exchange a hundred times. I’m wearing a new camouflage t-shirt from the Army-Navy Surplus outlet. Mom bought it. You look like a little soldier, she says. I made her buy face paint too, but I’m saving that for the woods."

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Secrets and reservations come out in the drunken lead-up to a wedding.

"Carrie couldn’t recall much of the walk home from the bar, except she said some­thing about her grand­mother that maybe she shouldn’t have, that her grand­mother might have been gay, as she pet­ted Alison’s hair. But she couldn’t remem­ber whether she did this while they were walk­ing or just stand­ing around out­side the condo com­plex. She didn’t know when she fell asleep. She first woke up when it was still dark and began going in and out of sleep with the air conditioner."

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A debt-ridden young woman lives as a mysterious servant to a pair of artists.

"Charles looked me up and down and said I was worth every penny. That first night, we did not lie down together. He taught me how to play sixes and sevens. I did not tell him I already knew how to play because I could see that teaching me would make him happy. In service, I have learned it is good to make sure those you serve stay happy."

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A boy roams a bleak dystopia, seeking fruit.

"The boy had never tasted fruit in his whole life. When his mother grew too sick to work, he tied a bandanna around his head and waited in the slog farm lines. He was underage but passed through the checkpoint with her ID and no one looked."

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A man struggles to deal with his depressed, suicidal wife.

"And Helen? Helen takes care of the basics. Then she cries in the mornings in the kitchen while the coffee brews. She leans against the counter with her face in her hands. And Phil finds this behavior sexy, which is possibly messed up and weird."

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A series of mysterious, dangerous interactions in a Mexican bathhouse.

"In every public bath, there tends to be a fight from time to time. We never saw or heard any there. The clients, conditioned by some unknown mechanism, respected and obeyed every word of the orphan’s instructions. Also, to be fair, there weren’t very many people, and that’s something I’ll never be able to explain, since it was a clean place, relatively modern, with individual saunas for taking steam baths, bar service in the saunas, and, above all, cheap. There, in Sauna 10, I saw Laura naked for the first time, and all I could do was smile and touch her shoulder and say I didn’t know which valve to turn to make the steam come out."

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A baby born in New Jersey grows and takes on the characteristics of a headstrong Russian woman.

"She was her parent’s second child; the first was Glenn, a boisterous seven year old obsessed, as his father had planned, with football. In fact, it was Glenn who first noticed the peculiarity of his little sister. As he stared into her crib one morning making faces at the baby, he noticed that she had swaddled herself in her soft, pink knitted baby blanket. She looked at him with a focus that seemed preternatural for an infant. She drooled, but she held the blanket tight around her face, like a little babushka."

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Tension between two co-workers turns into a complicated game of lies and intentions.

"I picked up the phone and told Stan I’d like to drop by for a moment. He hesitated, and it hit me that B. could still be there, and I struggled to banish images of Stan pointing at the phone and mouthing my name while B. twisted his hair-encircled mouth and gritted his brown teeth. Stan asked me to give him ten minutes to wrap up something, and I agreed."

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A series of linked fantasies, veering from the whimsical to the grave.

"If you sang unrequited love songs, I’d take you on tour. We'd go to Broadway. You'd stand onstage, talons digging into the floorboards. Audiences would weep at the melancholic beauty of your singing."

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Actions, thoughts, and observations of animals in a great garden; a microcosm of humanity.

"Everywhere in the garden, there is a similar confusion and frustration. The monkey sits on the ground with its hands hanging loosely around the base of a tree. It wants to whip a stick at the back of the horse’s legs. Its body seems so perfectly tuned to skitter up the tree, and it wants only for something to chase it there. The pig roots aimlessly at nothing; the frog despises the fly; the fly falls in love with the donkey and the giraffe stands awkwardly in a clearing, as if awaiting instructions."

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An astronaut, a superhero, a love story.

"Sometimes she feels like her marriage to a superhero was preordained; what other options did she have when her passion was split between flight and the stars? When she gets home, she’ll wrap her arms around his neck, twist her legs around his, lie down on his back and they’ll go carving through the night sky, ignoring gravity’s plaintive calls to come back down, the lights of industrial Houston like the stars reflected ten fold, the opaque water of the Gulf spotted with the miniature cities of oil rigs."

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A man wakes up to find his city changing its physical properties.

"The soft blob nature of everything was making him drowsy. He sat down on what appeared to be a concrete staircase. It felt as soft as it looked. He let himself doze off, the vague swirl of drab color around him giving way to darkness."

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A young couple's moving day, complete with a variety of mishaps.

"The door spring is rusted and doesn’t really work anyway so I get a screwdriver and take the thing off its mounting. I take the broken couch leg and stick it in the upper corner of the door to prop it open. When I come inside a little while later to check on things, the movers are wrestling with my mattress on the stairwell. Bright streaks of fresh blood mark the white plaster in the living room and on the stairway wall. Rod is in mid-staircase, holding up the bottom end of the Macy’s queen that Kelly’s mom bought us for a wedding present. 'You exposed a screw on your front door when you took that thing off,' he says. 'I cut my arm open on it.'"

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A high school athlete from a troubled Brooklyn family tries to stay on the right path in a small Virginia town.

"But it didn’t take long for Marcus to get around to missing Brooklyn. On weeknights his granny would be in bed by eight, and since the television in the living room got such poor reception Marcus would go to his room. The windows in Granny’s house had no curtains or blinds, so when it was dark he got a creepy feeling, like he was being watched. There were no yellow streetlights, no sirens or car stereos, nobody calling out to anybody else outside. Just unfamiliar sounds rising and filling up the air until it sounded like they were invading the room itself. Frogs? Crickets? He couldn’t tell. He’d make up his bed and lie down in it and put on his headphones and close his eyes and think about home."

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A drifter shares a bond with a friend's mistreated dogs.

"It’s Thursday. Every Thursday he goes to see Mel’s dogs. Mel owns Mel’s Grocery and Mel’s Laundry. Mel lives above the grocery and out back he keeps two Rottweilers, one male and one female, in cages. Mel never bothered to name the dogs, so Mike named the female She. He didn’t name the male. The male is just a big dumb empty head. But She is smart. Mike likes to play with her in the vacant lot behind the old Sears building. Just last week they were playing ball. They huddled up."

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A lesson from a spurned grammarian.

"With the aid of the comma, statements are united, points of view are broadened, and the complexities of reality are more accurately rendered. Here, on the other hand, are examples of less elegant sentences: You're just too difficult to love. ... I've met someone else."

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A poetic story of a variety of childhood memories, detailing hopes, abuse, and dismantling.

"Our dad left without saying goodbye or taking any of his stuff. We took to poking around in the basement where my mom had thrown all his belongings in a corner. We started smoking his cigars. At first it felt like we were getting back at someone, which felt pretty good, even if we didn’t know who. We’d climb out our window on to the roof of the porch, and even if neighbors were awake, they never looked up to see us. We felt on top of things even though that’s not how we felt at all."

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An evening of drinking and tensions culminates in the revelation of embarrassing childhood memories.

"'What’s in my Memory Palace?' she wondered. A driveway. One with a basketball hoop on a pole. Megan was 11 and playing with her new friends. They grinned at each other and approached her, tied her to the basketball pole with two jump ropes, attached rollerblades to her feet, and then drew penises on her face. Then they dressed her hair with shaving cream."

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In the wake of his grandmother's death, a young man struggles with intense bouts of anger.

"I'll describe the walls because that's easy — they were white, and I hurt my right pinkie knuckle-punching some of them while I walked through rooms searching for my car keys. My inability to find them frustrated me so badly that I beat up the bathroom door, limped away, and waved my fist at the plaster statue of Beethoven's head on top of the piano we never learned to play. After all that, I found the keys in a coat pocket I had already checked twice but somehow missed. I grabbed the video and made toward the back door, but on my way I noticed Sparkles cowering under the kitchen table, shaking, terrified of me. I hated myself a little extra, fed her a slice of manufactured cheese, patted her on the head, and took the back steps three at a time."

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After sending dirty photos overseas, a high school girl is pursued by a returning soldier.

"She wondered how Ben could be everywhere she was. She had known that he would come for her, or in any case that one of them would. She hadn’t thought that it would be so soon. She hadn’t thought that it would be so strange. She had wanted to date civilian boys for a while, boys who didn’t know what it was like to bleed a man out. Not forever, but while she was young."

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What will you remember when it's all over?

"That night, like every night that year, long after dark had fallen, I climbed the tree at the top of the hill behind town hall. That night was different, though. When I'd almost made it to the top, instead of the bird with whom I'd been having an affair, I met a fellow border guard."

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An exploration of tensions and drama from an experimental master.

"...it was me like a cowgirl, swinging the cord around my head; it was the date saying, you’ve got issues; it was the date saying, serious ones; it wasn’t always like this though; it was a good time with that ID; I was a good time with that ID; I met guys and it was a good time back then; it was the ID always getting me in; it was the ID always getting me what I wanted;"

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A research assistant experiences hallucinations while working in Antarctica.

"You hear a strange sound. It’s loud and insistent and returns again and again. You listen to it for a while before you realize it’s the sound of your own breathing and the moist rhythm of your heart. At night it ceases when you are no longer paying attention and the white steals into your 2 ½ x 1½ meter space in the housing unit. The room is barely larger than a coffin. Inside it, you could just as well be dead. You haven’t told Dr. Lubin. It’s just your heart falling quiet, leaving the job of keeping you alive to the white that surrounds you, infinitely greater than your tiny red. Who are you to deny it? After a while your heart starts up again, and that’s when you become aware that it had stopped."

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A grieving writer, a jealous actor, and sudden eruptions of [mock?] violence.

"Alvin Lightman, though I did not yet know his name, was sitting in the front parlor, designated the 'lounge,' his long legs stretched out across a wicker ottoman. As he later told me, he watched my arrival circumspectly, from behind the traditional screen of an open newspaper. He thought I looked 'ghastly' but 'possibly interesting.'"

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After a drunk driving accident, a dangerous altercation ensues.

"Now Flint says nothing, and his lips sew themselves closed. His head jerks sharply, half an inch to the side. There’s no reading it. John has never been good at reading people. He reads reports and precedents, and those are the things he is good at. He reads labels and alcohol content and is good at ignoring those. Was. He can’t do that again. He wants to do that again. He wants the scotch his sister upended in the drain, the gin alongside. He should be thinking about the money, about the cost of those things, but money is beyond him right now. All he wants is moisture in his throat. Outside, the sky is still as dry as sand, a black blanket cut by threads of lightning. He misses the darkness, before the lamp came on, because the yellow light is too clean, too real. This moment is not at all real."

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Spending time and memories in the afterlife.

"1981, Teskia recalled, wasn't so bad. They had both been very young then, so the population would be sparse. They took a train (it was five days for the fare) and ended up in July. They traveled north until she found Zoya, living in October. Zoya wanted out of 1981; Teskia wanted in."

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Three vignettes taking place in far northern reaches.

"In the crystalline quiet where no one watches an iceberg calved with the shrieks and growls of any birth. A part of her shivered then rumbled then slipped, splashed into the ocean to announce an arrival with ripples of frigid blue waves."

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A dying grandmother shares a story about meeting George Harrison.

"I went to my room a little catatonic, in a mixture of religious awe and fascination with my grandmother. I confirmed the information and yes, Rishikesh was that city in India where the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram was, where the Beatles had stayed in the late 1960s and where they had composed a bunch of songs. It was incredible that Gran had managed to associate the song I had played with all that. And remembered the song, and that it was by George, and included herself in the story, to boot."

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A surreal, minimalist exploration of dating, longing, accidents, and keen observations.

"The next day Brandon woke up to the bright morning sun shining through his bedroom window. He walked to his couch and napped until lunch. After lunch Brandon looked for jobs on the Internet. He read: Financial Analyst, Portfolio Associate, Dental Receptionist, Detention Services Officer, Helicopter Repair. Just like the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that, etc., there were no listings for Ethnomusicologist."

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A weather forecaster finds her life unraveling in multiple ways.

"Broadcast meteorologists, on the other hand, were supposed to smile through everything. That was one of the first lessons Beth had learned. It didn’t matter if you were talking about heat waves or blizzards or forest fires. Mother Nature was never bad news! Nothing we can’t handle! Her first broadcast job was in Mobile, Alabama, and she had kept smiling as a Category 5 hurricane spiraled toward their coast, kept smiling when the TV studio went dark and the walls shuddered. It was exhausting, all that smiling."

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A woman struggles with her faith while caring for her addicted husband.

"She stood up, brushing off the back of her jeans. She would choose to believe the anointing had worked. That there would be some change. That she and Mitch would embrace and begin the path toward healing. God would never give her more than she could handle. It said that in the Bible. Nothing beyond what you can bear. She and Mitch were only being tested, refined like silver."

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A woman engages in fantastical, extreme forms of temporary employment.

"The longhaired man is named Carl, and he is something of an entrepreneur. His small murder business sits in a tidy shack not far from the water, which is convenient for dumping the bodies. Location, location, location, he says. He sounds like my real estate boyfriend. I laugh and wash his weapons every morning, adhering to the cleaning manual he developed. I am filling in for his buddy who is currently serving some time. Carl does not always pay in money, but he feeds me and gives me a place to sleep, a small cot next to his desk in the shack."

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Dead creatures reflect on their current/eternal circumstance.

"Enshrouded and encased, the animal mummies are trying to be patient. They did not expect the afterlife to be lit with flickering, fluorescent bulbs. Darkened sarcophagi, woven boats rowed across the heavenly river, glimmering, gorgeous night—that was what they thought would be in store after they died and priests washed them with palm wine and pulled white linen tight."

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Two friends meet and catch up at a train station bar.

"I cough something out about seeing him around and he swallows something back at me and each of us gives something that’s barely a nod. I start to walk towards the light rail to carry me home and I look out at the water. The snow’s still falling, hitting the Hudson and turning anonymous. I get the sudden abstract sense that going by train in this weather isn’t safe and I turn back around to see if Nathan’s still at the machine, if there’s time to go back to him and say something better than what I’ve given so far. When I look back, there’s no one left to stand at the machines."

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A boozy party reveals complicated social dynamics to a young teenager.

"Craig looked back at the keys dangling in the ignition. He looked out at the winking lights casting patterns on the river. This was his moment – the moment assigned to him by older social peers – and he clumsily scaled the seat like a fence."

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After a friend's death, three people take a trip to scatter the ashes.

"The will assigned the task of scattering the ashes to Megan and Nolan, high school friends, and me. We were to scatter the ashes in a ravine on Levi’s uncle’s farm in Henderson, Kentucky. A year passed before Megan, Nolan and I agreed on a weekend to make the trip. By that time I was out of the halfway house and working max hours as manager of a dingy apartment complex in Louisville. I couldn’t believe Levi, at twenty-two, had written a will."

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While being stripped and sold, old ships reflect on their long histories and the generations of men associated with them.

"But we were the ones they came back to, dawn after dawn, year after year. We were the ones who brought them home, hoary and frail, to Snug Harbor. The nurses tucked them into wooden wheelchairs. They spent the landlocked hours making models of us in bottles, the Nellie P. and the Golden Eagle, the Sallie Ann and the Spirit of Victory. Hunched between the wall with the clock and the wall with the crucifix, they assembled us from memory. Their fingers traced each narrow bottleneck. They slipped inside as far as they could reach."

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A young mother in a coffee shop unflinchingly explores her fears and anxieties.

"There I'd be, pushing my baby down the street, free for a moment among the yellow green bay leaves, the flower boxes dripping with fuchsia, when another mother would barrel toward me with a baby strapped tight to her belly in carrier like huge bandage with no breathing hole. Sometimes a baby facing out in a front pack would approach like a prisoner strapped to the front of a ship, it's head bobbing forward and back. It's brain, I imagined, sloshing dangerously against its skull. Next, a woman might walk by with a carriage, and I'd have to avoid eye contact, because once I'd paused, looked into a carriage and found a baby wearing a neck brace—her mother had looked away for one moment and she'd rolled off the bed! And then there's the issue of mixing things up. Creating composites or superimposing—so that a baby from a distance might appear to have a black eye, or look small and sick like the preemie from the poster that hung in my OB's waiting room."

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A woman, troubled by a terrible accident, takes care of her boyfriend's baby from a previous relationship.

"The mother of my boyfriend’s youngest child, Anna Lisa, handed me her daughter, still in her carrier, as well as a large duffel bag. She nodded toward the bag. 'The baby’s things.' I looked at the baby, neither cute nor ugly, a blob of indeterminate features. We stood quietly, listened to moths and other insects flying into the bright, buzzing lamp covering us in its light. My shoulders ached. The air was damp and heavy. Anna Lisa is beautiful but she looked tired. She wore a loose pair of sweat pants with fading block letters down the left leg. Her t-shirt was stained. Her breasts were swollen. I could see that. Her hair hung limply in her face. She smelled ripe. There were dark circles beneath her eyes. I don’t know that we looked different."

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A couple's marital problems stem from the wife's inability to fall asleep with her husband.

"She tells me I’m a lunatic, it’s not like she’s having an affair. I think that’s probably true. She’s never been good at subtlety or deception. When we were first married, she came to bed with me every night, settled her naked body on top of mine, settled her face in my neck. I could tell she liked it, but she wasn’t romantic in the least."

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A bag-maker takes on a medically unique client. From the new collection Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales.

"It was indeed a strange bag. The complicated shape of it was difficult to achieve. I had assembled nine different pieces of leather into an asymmetrical balloon with seven holes of varying size. The bottom of it was an oval, but the bag tapered toward an opening at the top that fastened with hooks."

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A poet takes a train journey in the company of her daughter—but not her husband. [Free registration required.]

"Once Peter had brought Greta's suitcase on board the train he seemed eager to get himself out of the way. But not to leave. He explained to her that he was just uneasy that the train would start to move. Once on the platform looking up at their window, he stood waving. Smiling, waving. His smile for their daughter, Katy, was wide open, sunny, without a doubt in the world, as if he believed that she would continue to be a marvel to him, and he to her, forever. The smile for his wife seemed hopeful and trusting, with some sort of determination about it. Something that could not easily be put into words and indeed might never be."

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A philandering newspaper reporter documents a small town's economic collapse.

"But, very late at night, other men and women walk the small streets alone, shuffling slowly along the leaf-filled gutters that border the roads, sometimes a constable stopping them as they walk, shining flashlights in their faces, saying little or nothing before nodding and driving away from the distant, fading stare of a man or woman fearing that their life is falling apart.

'This kind of rapid breakdown generally only occurs in times of war, famine or plague,' a Stanford economics professor tells me as I take notes, a group of six strikingly healthy grad students unloading knapsacks, tape recorders and clear plastic clipboards from a Land Rover parked nearby."

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On a mission to the moon, a female astronaut reflects on her mission and her family life.

"John left and I had Jonah and I felt like I had a hole in me like rocket man, starting between my legs and going right up inside me. I asked Houston if I could stop the special events and training and trajectory and thrust for a little while so I could see my children's special events and training and trajectory and thrust. Houston copied that and so I did. For a little while. But after a little while it felt like a long while. John came back and my children were good and my status was good but I felt the moon calling."

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An encounter with a rat sends a young mother back into the world of mental institutions from which she had only recently emerged.

"When she woke again she heard a nurse speak loudly into the phone, describing another patient: "She has a history, multiple hospitalizations." The nurse who was speaking had silver hair. Her tone was less clinical than dismissive. A history. Lizzie didn't imagine, not until much later, that the nurse was talking about her."

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An American woman in Chile takes a scenic trip with a local photographer.

"Carlos had told her there were beautiful things to see on the way. That this was one reason he’d like to take her into the outer heart of his native country. The other reasons were still in her inbox — he had fun that night, dancing and drinking and talking. He thought she was smart. He thought she should consider staying in Santiago for a while, making sure to add that he didn't want anything serious, just a friend. She could not say what she wanted. She did not want to go home and face the next step in her life yet, not even knowing what it was. She didn't want to be a cliché, falling in love with someone in another country, either. Of the two options, the love one to her seemed better. Ultimately, she’d let life take her where it wanted for a while. To read and run in the morning as she always had, but to give some months up to contemplating her place."

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Two missionaries share their histories, experiences, and brushes with sin.

"They could walk together and talk without holding anything back. It had been like that since their third week together in school. They were sitting up on the roof of Oldham-Betts, and Samuel said, 'It’s hard to be up here and not smoke a cigarette,' and when Leslie gave him a sideways look, Samuel said, 'Look, I have a past. It’s pretty apparent, right? I’m a good thirteen years older than everybody here. There’s some things I had to walk away from. Can you handle that?' 'Who am I,' Leslie said, 'to judge you. I’ve got my own things to walk away from.' And Leslie—this kid—began to lay out his confessions, chief among them the lust he held in his heart when he looked upon a woman, this guilt he carried around with him daily, along with images he had seen in the magazines his father had kept behind some Time/Life books about World War II."

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In a fictionalized Haiti, a man explains the inner workings of the political landscape and his own shady rise to the role of Prime Minister.

"Yet…deciding to recount the entire tale, the whole historical record, as in order for events to work out as Richard wanted them to, then yes, he’d have to make good on his promise that everything would be made clear, revealed in one fashion or another—it’s probably best if I explain: Jean was once a senator in the Haitian senate, the second-youngest senator in Haiti’s history in fact, and as a senator, he was wildly inept. You can’t really find him totally at fault however, because Jean’s parents bought him his seat when he was fresh from school. I can’t fathom why, but my guess is that they knew he had no head for business and that there was nothing else he’d really be good for, so they had hoped that a career in politics would both keep him busy and allow them to control a portion of the country without too much effort. But well, Jean, Jean bloody fucked all that, what with his reckless politicking and all."

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A neighborhood, a building, and a woman's precarious existence at the periphery.

"No doubt there are those who will be critical of the narrow, essentially local scope of Fatou's interest in the Cambodian woman from the Embassy of Cambodia, but we, the people of Willesden, have some sympathy with her attitude. The fact is if we followed the history of every little country in this world—in its dramatic as well as its quiet times—we would have no space left in which to live our own lives or to apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures, like swimming. Surely there is something to be said for drawing a circle around our attention and remaining within that circle. But how large should this circle be?"

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A late bloomer works up the nerve to interact with a woman in his building.

"On his way down in the elevator he was joined by a woman who looked familiar, and as he glanced at her sidelong he tried to recall where he might have seen her. Sensing that she was being looked at, however, she turned to Archie with an expression of covert hostility, her gaze lingering just long enough for Archie to notice that her eyes were greenish brown with corners that tapered upwards. He also noticed that although she was not small, exactly, there was an un-robust quality about her, what his mother might have called 'peaked.'"

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A woman, originally hired as a tutor for a now-deceased girl, finds herself in the middle of a wealthy couple's mournings and problems.

"At Grace’s next session on Park Avenue, Mrs. Bank does something she hasn’t done since the first session: she comes into Perry’s bedroom. Grace is flipping through online photos of kids who stuck with the theater program when she senses she’s not alone and pretends to be scribbling history cards. But when she casually turns a minute later, it’s obvious Mrs. Bank isn’t paying attention to what she’s doing at the desk. Instead Mrs. Bank is sitting in Perry’s pink armchair, the one that’s usually colonized by old stuffed animals and American Girl dolls, looking out the window at Midtown."

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A woman imagines herself to be in an inappropriate relationship with a young boy.

"In the store Del and Simon race to the drinking fountains, Simon gets a mouthful and gleeks it at my slacks, says Oh hey, pisspants, Del points and laughs. In the magazines they say men are sometimes cruel because they are testing your emotional boundaries, I want Del to know I am boundless, I am a universe, I grit out a smile and follow them to the toys, they arm themselves with swords and commence to stabbing me, Simon saying Lop off her tiddies, Simon saying I wish these blades were real, and I wish you were dying like old ladies are supposed to, Del chops me in half. A woman smiles at me, says Boys, I want to tell her Del is my man, tell her he is not a boy, but she is wearing a pink hairclip and a wooden necklace and this convinces me she would not understand."

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A caretaker becomes enmeshed in the relationships of the homeowner.

"I'd never have picked Julian out as a sensuous type if I hadn’t read Hana's diary; he seemed too busy and prosaic, without the abstracted dreamy edges I’d always imagined in people who gave themselves over to their erotic lives. And yet, because of the secret things I knew about him, I was fixated on him the whole time I watched him cook, and then afterward, while we sat opposite each other eating at the little table he pulled up to my armchair."

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A family man visits his wayward, troubled brother.

"I've driven here after all these years to figure out—maybe for the first time—the person my brother is. My brother who I've known only in memory. And in two-minute phone calls and birthday cards and rumors. My brother who is sometimes kind and sometimes cruel. Kind when he brought me pizza after my accident, when, at two in the morning with an IV poking through my skin, we ate and laughed to the rhythmic beep-beep of the heart monitor. Cruel when he chased Tommy Gleeson—our autistic neighbor—down the street with a pipe, cornered him, and then stepped on his stomach until he vomited."

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Sketches of late nights, drinking, friendships, and worries.

"We get drunk at the bar. We yell and sway. We hold up fingers in each other's faces. We wave our arms and say, But-but-but. We drink the cheapest beer we can find. Or we drink the beer with the highest alcohol content. Or we drink bottles of beer, not mixed drinks, in the bar down the street because the owner, Maria, has a weak pour. We stay up all night. We watch the sky start to grey and we feel sick, like we're seeing something we shouldn't, though it feels as if we missed something, too."

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Marriages and friendships are upended after a man buys a supposed unicorn.

"When I got there I found Ralph sitting in his chair dressed in his robe, and by the drape of it and by a flap of it that hung open at the top of his thigh, I could tell he wasn't wearing anything underneath. Worried I might have intruded on some private and disturbing moment, I stopped and was about to turn back around but then saw the heavy rise and fall of his chest and realized he had fallen asleep. I was quiet then as I opened the gate and took my seat next to him, gently flipping the robe back in place to cover his nethers. The unicorn hardly noticed me or my quiet administrations. As far as I could tell from watching it, the unicorn hardly noticed anyone. It was generally quite still, or not still, not exactly still. It seemed to have a way of standing still that made it look like it was in constant motion, or as if it existed in another place at the same moment it existed in our place, a shimmering, jittery, vibrating kind of stillness."

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A young couple approaches the task of caring for calves.

"Paul followed his dreams by becoming a soldier, and when he came home was sleepless and dreamless, folded himself into the envelope of space Lori had made for him in her bed, and one day decided he was going to buy a calf. He wanted something warm and gentle around. He said he would raise it and slaughter it when it was grown, but Lori did not believe this even at the very beginning."

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Trying to maintain human relationships in a post-collapse underground city.

"Wick added special beetles and spiders and other precise infiltration mutations as he called them—so effective that even after the Company had cast him out and he had lost their protections, the strength of rumors alone protected him for a time. These creatures registered in my network of lines as pleasing nodes, unless I was angry with Wick, and then I thought of them as irritating, interfering knots in the system."

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A museum taxidermist offers fantastic assessments of his work and philosophy.

"Each day masses throng displays I have created, though hardly do they pause to consider dark hours and livid eyes and lemur fingers needed to bring to full completion the task they come to see once I am gone. They will surround a parliment of owls, each feather of them set as if responding to a wind that blows for them, and them alone. They will gape before cave bears whose bones I clothed with pelts I once acquired of Russian merchants and stitched together until made sufficient cape to draw about the great beasts’ napes and narrow shoulder bones."

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A jilted lover's revenge plan is upended by the actions of a blunt young woman.

"That wasn’t my plan. Until this girl elbowed her way into the paint and started talking trash, I’d been doing reconnaissance. I was looking for guys with Marlboro Man style denim jackets who looked like me. Pale. Unkempt. Like a base player in an indie rock band. Grace, my ex-girlfriend, had a weakness for men like this. Once she’d found a new edition, she’d give him this jacket that had belonged to her father. I’d never wanted to know the rationale behind this practice. Anyway, I’d thrown said jacket at her head upon catching her mid-coitus with a local barista. My present plan was to look for the jacket, kick the shit out of the barista wearing it and then steal her heart back. I thought it was a solid plan."

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A trio of addicts--a man, a woman, and a prostitute--venture into Las Vegas to find a dealer.

"At the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard, we are swallowed by a cheery, comforting crowd of good mothers from Wisconsin and fathers from Minnesota, out as late as they ever have been. It is a sea of gaping purses. Flip-phones are holstered to belts, tucked under big bellies. Half-drunk gallon-sized tubes of ruby-red beverage crowd the trashcans and I have no qualms about picking one for myself and gulping it down. The liquid is warm and syrupy, but under it all there is the low burn of rum, a small relief. Deborah has powdered her nose and is eyeballing the frat boys on the periphery. Only Shelly is looking lost, still sweating around her underarms, her eyes bugging and the space under her chin, dipping up and down, swallowing nothing."

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A philanderer's last moments with two different women before moving away.

"And you kiss her full on the mouth on Sunday morning when you leave. She gives you a bag of organic apples from her fridge. Pacific Roses. She doesn’t cry. She kisses you again and afterwards, punches your arm. You pretend it hurts. You say okay. She says okay bye. You think about how pretty and small her hands are. That poem where the guy talks about how not even the rain has such small hands."

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An elderly widower tries to convince his son to go on an overseas excavation.

"He thinks I’m an old man. I can see pity in his eyes when he talks to me, which, these days, isn’t so often. I want the tickets to be a surprise for two reasons. One, the money. I’ve already put out feelers to two New York-based auction houses and three high-end retail stores. Factor in the backstory, and I suspect the revenues will be hefty, at least $2,000 per bottle. Play a few interested parties off one another, and I’m sure that number will creep up. Allowing for 25 percent breakage over time, I calculate revenues of close to $12 million. Amortize the sales over ten years to prevent market saturation, subtract expenses, and I’d still reel in enough profit to have a pied-a-terre in the city plus a four-bedroom tax-haven in Nassau."

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A man encounters the boundaries of knowledge while investigating his father's murder.

"This is maybe still too big for him to know right now, the image too hard for him to see, but eight days ago his father Gerald was found dead in Greenland. He hasn’t talked to his father in three weeks even though his apartment is a mile away, and Rob has no idea what he’d possibly be doing in Greenland. He has no idea why anybody would go to Greenland. Ever."

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A woman eking out a meagre existence takes a younger woman in from the cold.

"Inside, I make her tea and give her slices of cake until she is full. She holds big bites inside her mouth and pours tea over them, so each chunk soaks in a hot pool until she swallows it down like it hurts her. She eats four slices this way and does not seem to find happiness in any of them."

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Careers, relationships, infidelities, and anxiety envelop the friendship of two New York women.

"Ellen should have mentioned his kiss right at the time — the next day, or on their weekend upstate. But even thinking about it had felt disloyal, an insult to Abby’s judgment, looks, her soul. When Abby phoned, barely able to announce that Marcus had slept over, what else could Ellen say but that she was happy for her? If Ellen said something now, that, and her reasons for it, would upset Abby more than Ellen’s years of saying nothing, or Marcus’ long-ago — and always after drinking — indiscretion."

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For New Year's Eve, a Times Square encounter chronicled by the author of Open City.

"Low and I stood under the cold blazing lights of Times Square, smoking, and I asked him what he had eaten. Oysters, he said, the pleasure coming back into his voice, in a row on a ridge of ice, eager to be eaten. Fluke, caviar, octopus, some champagne but not a lot."

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A young woman with Tourette's syndrome spends time with her wayward friends.

"I am secretly hoping that the haloperidol (that Betty stole from my dad’s medicine cabinet) will allow me to feel as free as Betty seems to, moving through the world as a lobster skitters on the ocean floor. Though she is my best friend, I am never free of the suspicion that Betty is unfamiliar with my most basic mindset. I don’t think she’s ever been really depressed or picked at a mosquito bite until it bled or called somebody in the middle of the night and cried inconsolably when they answered. She rarely questions the wisdom or consequences of her impulsiveness, tongue-kissing strangers and spearheading midnight road trips, creating an ongoing mosaic of haphazard worldly heat that never needs revising or regretting."

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A set of instructions about how to handle culture clashes in modern dating.

"You’ll exchange names. His will be something like John or Jack or Jim — something with a J, something typical and boring. If he’s smart, he’ll make a joke about this. Not like your name. So beautiful. He’ll ask for its meaning. Give it to him. Land of the Canyons. Bringer of Hope. Gazelle Returning From Water. Your people have such a way with words. It’ll excite him. He’ll tell you (you were right!) he’s a writer. You’ll be impressed. He’ll say you’re prettier than anything he’d write. When he goes outside for a smoke, go with him."

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A Hanukkah story revolving around anarchists, crooks, and vandals. [Free registration required.]

"'Anyway, what's this talk about roots?' he said and immediately regretted it. He could see the magazine covers already. The Return to Religion: The New Tribalism. He liked it better when Wendy was insolent and yelled 'Death to the pigs!' at a couple of off-duty cops having a cup of coffee at a local diner before Frieda pulled her away."

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A young couple, laying low in Maine, is menaced by the reappearance of a suspicious father.

"Jesse is small, but solid in the way some short men can be. He has thick hair, dyed black, parted distinctly in the middle of his head, and he is wearing slacks and a clean, white tee-shirt. In his small hand, he has my journal."

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A father and son work the Chinese cattle markets in this story from the 2012 winner of the Nobel in Literature.

"People trusted him implicitly. If a transaction reached a stalemate, the parties would look at him to acknowledge that they wanted things settled. 'Let's quit arguing and hear what Luo Tong has to say!' 'All right, let's do that. Luo Tong, you be the judge!' With a cocky air, my father would walk around the animal twice, looking at neither the buyer nor the seller, then glance up into the sky and announce the gross weight and the amount of meat on the bone, followed by a price. He'd then wander off to smoke a cigarette."

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A hunter is overcome by a vengeful snake and bear.

"When the sun was above the treeline, and the hunter returned to the cabin, they were ready for him. The bear swung the cast iron fireplace poker, knocked him to his knees, then lunged forward and pinned the hunter to the pine floorboards, with the same force she remembered feeling from him, setting her teeth to his jugular. Stunned, incapacitated, the hunter managed only a whimper as the snake joined the attack, bit a hole in him, entered him, slithering in, feeling her way, the same way she remembered him doing."

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An artist of baby names explores the meticulous details that go into selecting the perfect moniker.

"Not all prospective parents are comfortable with me watching them have intercourse and that’s fine if you want to cut corners on the name your baby will carry for the rest of her life. The parents who allow it are sophisticated enough to understand that there’s no better way for me to know a child’s essence than to be there for the erotic act from which that child is created. But if you’re too modest and you’d prefer that I name your baby with one hand tied behind my back, so be it. You can make a video recording of the conception and send it to me."

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A young boy observes life through the actions of his father and of former Knick center Patrick Ewing.

"'We’re not leaving till you make five free throws in a row,' my dad says. Even at ten, I get it. He thinks I’m going to make the shots quickly. He thinks I’ll make five free throws in a row and be reborn confident and new, my anemic offense rebooted in a single stroke of coaching genius. But then I remember Patrick Ewing, the doom of his body, how he never pulls up for a jumper, how he always runs headfirst into his trembling opponents. "

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Boys and girls showcase themselves on opposite sides of an anatomical river.

"It only takes a split second for all of my cells to light up with horror-shock, a split second before I start gagging. The river is full of thighs, pushing along like fish, huge as bass, moving downstream. The thighs bump up against each other, create awkward waves, a strange flood of lone limbs in water, it is a tide of skins."

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Surreal samples from Ohle's latest novel, presented by Ben Marcus: a man's life in a world beset by aliens and their mysterious ways.

"Moe works in a grasshopper mill, a windowless hangar-like building on the outskirts of town. A cavernous, warm room, actually a huge incubator. Thousands of football-sized grasshopper/alien eggs lay row upon row under lights."

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A whirlwind of city observations; people and spaces explored with precision and skepticism.

"On weekend nights, the building was an inferno of noise. People had parties and people fought and argued into the early hours, glass shattering, timber cracking, objects making dull thuds against the walls and floors. Wild cries of sexual pleasure, not easily distinguished from cries of distress, rang out. The police cars and the fire tenders and the ambulances wailed around the streets. Then towards dawn when everything fell silent for an hour, my thoughts became my own again, able at last to hear the chime of the neighbour’s clock."

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Our current late capitalist moment, as seen through the eyes of an express-delivery driver.

"The driver chose a thirty-two-ounce Pepsi with a double vanilla shot and a jumbo popcorn, waiting to pay behind a man who, at 6:09 A.M., was purchasing a travel-sized laundry detergent and two lottery tickets. Headlines on morning newspapers stacked on a rack referred to developments in several wars, but the driver never talked with his friends about wars. They did talk a lot about combat video games. The driver hurried on his way to the distribution center, knowing he'd be docked an hour of pay if reporting more than three minutes late.
"

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A comical imagining of a teenager's story about teenager drama.

"Arnold, a shy sophomore, was a real loser. Everyone hated him, even his guidance counselor; meanwhile, he was crazy for Julie, a senior cheerleader whose father drank and whose mother was having an affair with a dairy farmer. But since Julie was the most popular senior in the school, no one knew about her crummy home life except her best friend Suzie, who everyone in school hated because she was the most popular girl’s best friend and therefore thought she was all that."

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Family faults, loss, and discontent arise when a widower watches his grandson during a summer in Florida.

"In the calm that follows his tears, Fowler sees clearly how Mary, in dying, not only took herself away from him, but also widened the gap between he and his daughter and his grandson. Fowler would have to take on his wife’s best qualities — her patience, her unconditional love for people despite their flaws — in order to stop that gap from widening. This realization terrifies him — he doesn’t have that kind of strength — and as his heart beats fast with that fear, he notices the boy’s socks on the floor near the bed. He picks one of them up and uses it to wipe at his eyes. He blows his nose into the sock, breathes in the fabric’s sour scent."

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A grim conversation with a gas station attendant.

"Look, he said, none of my business but in my experience the longer you live in a car the bigger it gets. So as you never find your way out."

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A collection of hilarious shorts imagining American celebrations in other lands.

"In Nigeria they send emails telling you that if you help them move millions of dollars to the US you can keep a hefty percentage of that and they would be extremely thankful."

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A dirty story about delicate hands. Part of Guernica's two-part erotic fiction issue. NSFW.

"Jimmy bathes with his eyes closed, his long dark hair clinging to the ceramic edges of the tub. He fantasizes about trashy and brassy broads—imagines their mouths and breasts and thighs and eyes."

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An Uzbek man, partially settled in America, reflects on his ties to his childhood home.

" Paper space helmets, old rubber gloves. The girls held the unwieldy cardboard rocket. Their faces appeared through the windows, and their bows veered above: green, red, brighter red. Again, poems were recited, this time about Gagarin, the way he must have looked at earth from above with his new eyes, the eyes of a hero."

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A new story translation from a late Spanish master; a troubled music aficionado strikes up a tenuous relationship with a young woman.

"The square takes a while to fill. Below, where the slope ends with the book stands, records are also for sale. Everything is traded: singles, LPs, apartments and young girls who end up here who, like me, no one knows where they come from, looking like they haven’t eaten or slept all week, happy to have a bed to sleep in, wine to drink, and something to smoke if the budget allows or if they have a friend who comes and goes to Morocco."

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A man and his mysterious companion wander through a town and along a highway.

"The wind was with much snow, and harsh, for it did build a tall height all upon the road. And the cars moved slow, and we were at even pace, and we all struggled against the wind and its snow and its heft and the water upon our face which made everything worse. He told me to look into the cars, and he asked could I see their faces and what I thought of them, do I see them truly for what they are."

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The winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize explores the disastrous, unexpected consequences of an unfaithful moment. Via John French.

"He knew Jody was rattling about the house. He knew—and he acknowledged this later—that she might at any moment blunder in. She did not like parties that involved open doors, and guests passing between the house and the garden. Strangers might come in, and wasps."

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After the storms, a man tries to find his lost cat. From the new Melville House collection Hush Hush.

"The next morning, Tuesday, it was still raining and the cat still wasn’t back when I left for work. I drove to the office under the gloomy, gray skies listening to the rain beating on the windshield and the ripping sound the car tires made on the wet streets, thinking. I have crooked little feelings, I guess, nothing you could write a magazine article about. Not like these people with these giant, rectangular emotions that sound like volumes of an encyclopedia. Guilt, Hysteria, Independence, Joy, Loss, Zed. Rot."

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A young boy with ringworm is sequestered in a children's hospital. Part of The Morning News' "Reading Roulette" series, featuring contemporary Russian writing.

"The sociology in our ward was as follows. Lousy Letuch ruled the roost, a bruiser whose surname was Letuchev, pretty violent and not serving a prison sentence only through some administrative error or because he was underage. His elder brothers, he related proudly, had all done a spell inside. He had a sidekick, a small—even smaller than me—but very strong lad of 11 called Vovan, who did all the dirty work for his boss; sorted out the parcels, beat up the contentious, and generally kept order."

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An aging hunter pursues a fantastical tigress.

"And now, I'm in Kumaon, making my way up and into the forest toward Pali. Whatever haunts me, I intend to find it. A ghost, a tiger, a woman, a hallucination. Maybe these tracks are left by the wind, but I pursue my old enemy today¸ and if she finds me before I find her, I deserve what she plans for me."

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A woman's communications and interactions with a potential criminal.

"The beaten man lurches to his feet and pulls out a shape, a gun, from his pocket–somehow it must have escaped the notice of the other men before. He staggers backward into the porticos and I can no longer see him. But a minute later I can hear him yelling in English as he storms up the stairs of my building, calling, 'Help! Help!' and hammering on doors. There are several banging sounds as though he’s fallen."

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A doctor and a rabbi try to find ways to understand the world, and God, and one another.

"The rabbi pulled out some books. She talked about Jacob wrestling the angel. She talked about Heschel and the kernel of wonder as a seedling that could grow into awe. She tugged at her braid and told a Hasidic story about how at the end of one's life, it is said that you will need to apologize to God for the ways you have not lived."

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Two nineteenth century paleontologists, once friends and colleagues, become bitter enemies.

"But years ago, there was room for friendship. They talked for hours at Haddonfield, grinning in helpless academic passion and exclaiming at their own twin hearts. They ate breakfast together on a heap of rock in the marl pits, black bread and coffee as the sun swam into the sky. Cope in shirtsleeves, a boy's face, looking more like Marsh's son than his contemporary."

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Future historians review the fantastic legacy of John Adams: Lincoln Michel's contribution to Melville House's forty-four stories about out forty-four Presidents.

"John Adams appears to have originally been conceived as a familiar or minion of George Washington, the first of the hundred tyrants that are said to have ruled the country until its infamous, self-inflicted demise."

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An obstetrician (and abortionist) makes the decision to marry. An excerpt from Wa, the most recent novel from this year's Nobel Prize in Literature winner.

"Aunty said that in all her years as a medical provider, traveling up and down remote paths late at night, she'd never once felt afraid. But that night she was terror-stricken."

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An immigrant girl compulsively hides food in an intense state of depression.

"They couldn't get her to stop doing it. Crusts of bread, leaves of boiled cabbage, twenty-six grapes, flour in small plastic bags choked with red twist ties. They couldn't get her to stop doing it until she stopped doing everything, and after that it wasn't long until the end. Half bananas browning in their peels, dollops of sour cream in drawers, potatoes in slippers under the bed, red beets bleeding through the pockets of her pale yellow bathrobe."

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A simple title; a complex, detailed look at the ebbs and flows of modern dating and instability.

"'I’ve never felt you act this way before,' said Michelle, unsteadily, looking down; something in her previously assured, or at least focused, was now tired and scared, the protest of it having dispersed to something negotiable or seizable. They stood not looking at each other as the rain fell on them in an idle, general insistence of somethingness. Paul felt himself trying to interpret the situation, as if there was a problem to be solved, but there wasn’t anything, or maybe there was but Paul was three or four skill sets away from comprehending it, like an amoeba trying to create a personal webpage using CSS."

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The trials and silliness of Facebook, from beyond the grave.

"In a last, desperate attempt to recapture our imaginations, Madeline began posting pictures of herself with dead celebrities like Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, even Benjamin Franklin. But they were doing things like high-fiving, watching TV, and playing darts. As a community, we agreed it was in bad taste."

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A short, philosophical study of why we carry what we do.

"The fact is that everything I have in my pockets is carefully chosen so I’ll always be prepared. Everything is there so I can be at an advantage at the moment of truth. Actually, that’s not accurate. Everything’s there so I won’t be at a disadvantage at the moment of truth. Because what kind of advantage can a wooden toothpick or a postage stamp really give you?"

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47 tiny vignettes detailing life in a mental hospital. From the author of Promising Young Women.

"She hasn't been outside for weeks but can see that the weather is changing, the air cooler. A doctor wears a jacket; a nurse, a sweater."

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A new teacher begins work at a TB hospital in rural Canada.

"The number of students who showed up varied. Fifteen, or down to half a dozen. Mornings only, from nine o'clock till noon. Children were kept away if their temperature had risen or if they were undergoing tests."

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Two women explore a mysterious, illogical city.

"We were alone. This was dramatic and strange. But, what was more odd was how hard we found it to take in the city visually. We walked through the gate and almost immediately came upon a wall. The back or side of a building. It was one of those situations where you could not step back to see the height of it. The sky was too low, or too far away, we could not determine."

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Mannequin parts, violent sex, and a fight club for women. Not for the timid.

"A cou­ple months later, he comes over to my apart­ment in the mid­dle of the night because we've long aban­doned any pre­tense of a mutual inter­est in any­thing but dirty sex and he's hold­ing a fiber­glass baby arm, painted the color of flesh. "

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A clown's harrowing, distorted journey through towns, roads, and memories.

"Now, long days along the roads, back roads and highways, roads of dust and concrete, roads bent and vibrating in the heat and the letter taped to the windshield, a membrane browning in the sun. Long days tangled in the station wagon, legs and heads flopped from windows, the back window kicked out and exploded into dust for the bulges and ruffles of a hundred Pierrots, their long red shoes and polka dots. Long days now hurtling along, lost in the vibrations of gestures, lost within the vibration of minds. These days hurtling along roads in an endless gesture, the only gesture Pierrot once knew. The gesture Pierrot never forgot."

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Welcome to your new workplace.

"Amanda Pierce, who tolerates Russell Nash, is in love with Albert Bosch, whose office is over there. Albert Bosch, who only dimly registers Amanda Pierce's existence, has eyes only for Ellie Tapper, who sits over there. Ellie Tapper, who hates Albert Bosch, would walk through fire for Curtis Lance. But Curtis Lance hates Ellie Tapper. Isn't the world a funny place? Not in the ha-ha sense, of course."

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A chance meeting among old co-workers brings up unspoken attractions and desires.

"She adjusts her T-shirt. Was I staring at her chest? I need to watch that, but can it really be avoided? I don’t know. I don’t even really know her. I once knew her, sort of, before I was married, though you wouldn’t call it a friendship exactly. We worked at the same agency and she had been hired to oversee this huge grant, AIDS stuff, before protease inhibitors and before anyone could manage the disease. People died then. That’s all. I don’t even remember what kind of program she was running, what anyone ran back then, hospice and support groups mostly. It was horrible. They called her the Angel of Death. It was meant to be funny, escapist, black humor. But she couldn’t deal."

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An NYU student examines two different relationships: a friendship and a tense love affair.

"I blamed my need for Patrick’s adoration on our undergraduate rivalry. That and our occasional, unbalanced, raucous affair. It became a vendetta. Our disagreements occurred often enough to be not just memorable, but legendary, in both volume and scope. We waged verbal combat with ease, caring neither for our hewn down egos nor dismantled bonds. Other people can afford to be thoughtless; they’re ignorant of the gravity their speech holds. But linguists will devastate if only because we can do so with a well-placed term or phrase. Then it’s the silences that serve as our minions. They scrape at wounds old and new, where apologies dare not tread."

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A young adolescent goes to IHOP with her nihilistic older sister in the middle of the night.

"She got into the car next to her sister. Tabitha lit a cigarette, a tulip of fire surrounded by the black petals of her painted nails. Against the light her eyes were red at the edges. She turned the key."

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A. M. Homes, author of the forthcoming May We Be Forgiven, trains a satiric eye on the ennui of wealthy Los Angelenos.

“I don't mind feeling paralyzed. I think I'm used to it. In fact I’m not even sure that what people would call paralyzed isn't just normal for me. I don't move a lot.”

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A teacher, his colleagues, and the misapplied wisdom of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.

"A well-meaning teacher, inspired by a text he had been reading, once sent all the other teachers in his school a message about negative emotions."

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An exploration of an old couple with mystical powers.

"He lifted his arms like a high-diver preparing to jump, closed his eyes, and opened his mouth toward the sky. As he did this his body came apart in twelve pieces, each falling and forming into a tiny complete man. The men landed with a soft crunch in the snow, then hopped together and ran remarkably fast: under the deer carcass, past the oak tree, and into the bare forest, smaller and smaller to her eye, until their naked running bodies and small puffs of breath were lost among the trees."

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If you could see the future, how would it change your relationships? What if your partner could see the future too? Winner of a 2012 Hugo for Best Novelette.

"I just can't see a happy future where I don't date Doug. I mean, I like Doug, I may even be in love with him already, but... we're going to break each other's hearts, and more than that: We’re maybe going to break each other's spirits. There's got to be a detour, a way to avoid this, but I just can’t see it right now."

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In this previously-unpublished Fitzgerald story, a saleswoman wants a cigarette, and perhaps encounters something more profound.

"Smoking meant a lot to her sometimes. She worked very hard and it had some ability to rest and relax her psychologically. She was a widow and she had no close relatives to write to in the evenings, and more than one moving picture a week hurt her eyes, so smoking had come to be an important punctuation mark in the long sentence of a day on the road."

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Metafictional entanglements and sexual violence in a lost 1970s novel from Stephen Dixon, published this year by experimental publishers Fugue State Press.

"When he was here two winters ago he wrote a short story about a writer who came to a similar village to get over a woman in New York who had stopped seeing him. In the story and real life she was an actress portraying an actress on a daytime television soap opera who was in love with a writer of soap operas who couldn't give up his wife for her. One night, in the story and real life, she told Paul she couldn't see him anymore as she was in love with and thinks she'll be marrying the actor who plays the writer on the show."

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Ten photographs serve as milestones in this romance with fantastical overtones.

"Vaughan captured pieces of the world—never as it was, but as it could have been, as it almost was. As it might actually be, if we just looked around the edges and noticed the magic."

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A depressed, pregnant woman shares a brief conversation with then-Senate candidate Barack Obama; from Chabon's upcoming novel.

" At his remark, the pregnant woman nodded without turning to look at him—there was an elaborate candelabra of a potted cactus behind whose tapered thorns she appeared to be attempting, somewhat punitively, to conceal herself. Obama was running for the United States Senate that summer and had given a wonderful speech last month at the Democratic Convention in Boston. When she did turn to him, her eyes got very wide."

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A woman explores the complexities and hardships of weight loss.

"Mostly, it has been good. She will feel her hardening thigh muscle and think, yes, that’s good. But sometimes–increasingly now–she will jolt while she gropes her own calf. It is something like regret. Panic. No, there’s not a word for the unheimlich spiral she gets when she feels her side and remembers how her hand didn’t used to rest flat there. She’s lost weight. Instead of remaining intact but changing, thin slices of her are getting shaved away, going nowhere, unable to be retrieved."

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While dealing with her fractured, fighting family, a girl tries to find out why bananas keep appearing in her home.

"With a sigh, Rachel got up and pulled the vacuum out of the cleaning closet. She plugged it in, turned it on, and immediately turned it back off. Coming from inside the dust compartment was a loud thumping sound that died as the vacuum's motor slowed to a stop. Opening the compartment, she discovered that the source of the sound was a long, yellow, banana."

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A father and daughter engage in an elaborate deception in a roadside diner.

"I followed him, stretching my legs to match his stride. I swung my arms, too, catching the shiny rhythm of the way he walked when he was excited about something. I copied the bounce in his step. Even though I was just an eleven-year-old girl, I promised myself that I, too, would someday ride trains and sit around campfires listening to old hobos telling stories. Even if I had to dress like a man to do it, I wanted that kind of experience, even more than being a war nurse. Before he got to the front door, I caught up. 'Let’s play deaf again.' 'Okay, squirt.' He zippered his lips with his fingers. 'Mum’s the word.'"

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Escalating competitions between two boys take an unexpected turn.

"Most of my losses, though, were at the hands of the son, Jimmy Knockwood Jr. Two years older than me, Jimmy wore a hint of Iroquois aristocracy in his cheekbones, and some part of his body was usually sheathed in a dirty plaster cast. He beat me at every sport we had equipment for. At 13, he had arms like a man and could throw a baseball with such force that after playing catch with him you couldn't turn a doorknob. Once, when we were wrestling, he put me in a choke hold that made my vision go white. I cursed Jimmy's mother, and he rubbed a toad into my teeth. Seeing me in tears afterward, my father asked why I put myself through the disgrace of playing with Jimmy. He had forgotten the infatuation a boy has no choice but to feel for a peer who is good at everything."

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Father and son endure in a crab fishing village in the Pacific Northwest.

"One year I loved Robert Louis Stevenson, the next radio cars, and my father never caught up. Sometimes I wondered why he came home at all."

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An American visitor reflects on a visit to Bosnia, with observations both sweet and ominous.

"We liked the weather on the ground and in the mountains and we liked the drive up Jahorena with its dismantled houses, houses whose faces were opened by bombs and tanks. We stayed in a cabin surrounded by snow and the ruined landscape of an ethnic cleansing. And on that mountain we threw paper planes and shot homemade videos and played steal the bacon until it was time for us to go to sleep, then wake up again feeling safe in the cold house with an unfed, wood-burning stove."

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A father and his daughter observe the emergence of mysterious, animal-like oil rigs.

"Only the most violent post-return decommissioning could stop all this, only second deaths, from which the rigs did not come back again, kept them from where they wished to go, to drill. Once chosen, a place might be visited by any one of the wild rigs that walked out of the abyss. As if such locations had been decided collectively. UNPERU observed the nesting sites, more all the time, and kept track of the rigs themselves as best they could, of their behemoth grazing or wandering at the bottom of the world."

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A town suffers two afflictions: a young girl who goes missing, and a curious homeowner who decides to build a moat.

"Diane Miller didn't watch the news. Diane Miller didn't sleep. She shoveled. She filled a wheelbarrow with dirt and carted it into her garage. She used a thick iron bar to pry around large rocks and roll them to the edge of her property. Her skin darkened under the sun during the day and glinted pale-blue in the moonlight. If we opened the window, we could hear her shovel biting into the ground with regular, crisp barks. We watched her until we started to fall asleep, or grew ashamed at our spying, and went back to bed. We always went to sleep before she stopped."

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Five provocative fragments from the author of this year's acclaimed experimental SF novel Ivyland.

"If, as the present suggests, we are fated to spend ever more time in virtual realities, funneling ourselves into the abstractions of code, then so too will human savagery fold into this nonspace. Murder will be wiping a hard drive with minds on it. Infoterror and thoughtwar the apocalyptic threats."

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Duty and secret feelings mark the emotions of two undercover cops in a gay bar (NSFW).

"A black-haired man in a taffeta gown rustles close. Name’s Crow, he says. Got fully equipped rooms above. Certified clean. He waves his hand around the bar. Our eyes follow and we see men’s tongues licking the air. Some hands are down pants. Pick me, they all say with their faces. We spin on our bar stools toward the mamby pambys, tongues snaking out against our will, eyebrows up. "

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Descriptions of a decrepit house take on (and intersect with) human qualities.

"Look at your hallway here, these smooth white walls, freshly painted, everything seems clean and healthy. But you’ve got to think of your house like a body, all wired up with electrical veins and pipes, a nervous system running beneath the surface without you even knowing it. You’ve got your water pump, your furnace, your water heater in the basement, these are your organs, they keep things moving, they keep things regular."

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Two under-the-influence friends discuss a history of human violence.

"...for years and years they would do this, it’s all in the Las Casas, and for years and years Spanish soldiers were just like falling over themselves, they couldn’t believe it, just completely climbing over one another, trying to get out of their boats and get to their swords fast enough to get a quick, easy lead-off beheading of a holy tribal king without even thinking that maybe it might violate, oh, I don’t know, the entire Christian moral code or, that whole thing aside, that it might go against just obvious, timeless, and basic human good versus evil restraint, you know, something like that was around even with cavemen, the totally simple idea that maybe needlessly causing excruciating, savage, horrifying, life-ending pain to another being, to a brother, to somebody like yourself, might not be the thing you should do. They found their heaven and they turned it into a hell. On purpose."

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During a camping trip, a son sees his father as a flawed individual.

"Behind me, Bruce wrestled with the tent flaps. Nature thrived all around me. The river ate away the sludgy bank. I knew somewhere within the onyx waters, fish turned and dove. Furious and haphazard. Organisms crawled under my feet. My father and I had brought supplies where only we had use for them. We were out of place in the wild, and I started to wonder if Bruce knew what he was doing."

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A random conversation with a street salesman is not what it seems.

"I pass him every day. Melons, he is usually selling, although I've seen him with whole truckloads of other fruit, and in the fall with unshucked ears of corn. He has a lawn chair with an umbrella fixed over it. He sits and watches the traffic pass. Sometimes he stands with the forearms on the rim of the bed of his truck, looking out over his produce. There is something reassuring in his form. Maybe it is his placidity, the way he stands. Maybe it is because his produce always looks fresh and healthy. Seeing him means that the long hectic drive, with the traffic of the beltway and mad stop and start of the city, is almost done."

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A young man shares a conversation with a barfly.

"'I gotta story to tell,'a drunk said to Mike. His thick hands slathered in black, greasy paste, the drunk maintained his balance by propping his elbows onto the bar counter. 'You look like an upstanding fella and I think you’ll appreciate my story.' 'No thanks,' Mike said and sipped his beer. He frowned as he swallowed. 'I’m waiting for someone.'"

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An aimless man forms a connection with a one-armed woman.

"Our date ended on that uncomfortable accusatory note and I didn’t see Lenore again for quite some time. Occasionally I would have these little fantasies, daydreams involving Lenore and her metal pincher hand. She’d stare at me with those light eyes while we made love and that other rubber hand would lie on a table next to us, feeling left out of the action."

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A darkly comedic story about a fighting couple and an unexplained severed finger.

"'You mind shutting the hell up and helping me look for my finger?'I skim my good hand over the crusty red felt carpet. I pull myself off the ground, but standing adds a new dimension to the folds of my dizziness; I fall back against the bar, and Clive hoists me up with his elbow."

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In this curious world, a young couple find their lives filled with strange cats and a consuming video game.

"They did not stroll alone. When they left the apartment they’d see the marmalade perched beside a newspaper stand across the street or slinking in through the complex door as they walked out. Along with the cosmopolitan pigeons and robins, and the urban rats and mad squirrels, cats were stationed at odd intervals on their meandering route. One night an olive green and basalt cat sat perched on its haunches in the ruby umbrella of light cast by a low street lamp on Carmine St. Laura and Eric would swear that the same cat had sat as still as stone on the corner of Commerce St. and Cherry Lane the evening before. In a shadowed alcove on Bedford St. a giant tabby guarded a litter of three sable kittens, its marble eyes mirroring the random lights of the city night."

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Three women bribe a Red Cross driver for a ride to a battlefield to identify the lost men in their lives.

"They climbed into the back of the Red Cross truck, carrying small bags of lunch and the knickknacks they hoped to bury. The interior smelled of disinfectant, of cigarettes. The metal seats offered only the ache of ice. Underneath their unwashed winter coats, they wore clothing for the dead -- Carmen in Savic's favorite dress, the one he always begged her to wear without a bra, and now much too thin for this cold; Marina in jeans and a sweater, wearing her brother's skiing cap and a large cross around her neck, folding and unfolding her spotted hands; Gisele bundled up, zipped up, buttoned up with all the clothing she could wear, not a bit of wife showing."

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After their father leaves, two siblings set up a humane pest control business.

"Neither of us signed on for anything, I want to point out. That's the way it is with families. You're born into someone else's mess, their tics and crannies, their cancers, their travel lusts. We didn't stand a chance, I want to tell him. Instead, I try to comfort the voles by sticking my hand into their cages, letting them run across it, roll in my open palm, nibble at my fingertips. I don't even flinch when nibbles turn to bites. It's their nature, I tell myself. It is who they are."

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New, eerie definitions and potential crimes surround a water park..

"Some say that when the Jesus of the Dakotas fed his blue ox Babe to the five thousand there were thirteen baskets of Babe-flesh left over, and the Babe-flesh was discarded beside a pond where it ossified or petrified or what have you, into a whale. A whale with a slide head and a diving board tail. But that's stupid. The oldsters want you to believe that it's the very whale that spit out Ishmael when President Action Jackson ordered him to go preach to the savages, which is theologically unsound and also why I wish we had not abandoned the practice of sacrificing our oldsters to the Great Teen Spirit."

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A person seeks solace from an overwhelming family visit.

"I held my head in my hands and wondered if a hundred years in this filthy closet could be enough to undo the past four days. I felt my inner eye zeroing in on an escape, but there were rides to be given to the airport in the morning, babies to be cuddled, dishes to be washed. The polite thing to do was stay."

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A young assistant struggles with God's command of "let there be light."

"This attitude seemed to please the Almighty. However, when the young man tried to ask a few necessary questions regarding light, God turned Himself into a giant, apocalyptic mountain that quaked and belched fire and was surrounded by seven thousand froth-mouthed basilisks in that way He always did when He was starting to get irritated."

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Three shorts explore the various actions of "the woman down the hall."

"The woman down the hall is not dead, but her apartment is a mausoleum. She has erected statues in her own image, one for every year of her adult life. This is something she began decades ago when she dreamt of being an art student at the university. Certainly, her creations are nothing original—they’re nothing more than facsimiles of herself—but she’s accurate. Each pore on her skin is accounted for, each hair defined."

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A mother recalls her sexual past while on a trip to Disney World.

"We ride the Jungle Cruise. The animals are fake yet it remains a big draw of Adventureland. That and the turkey legs, which are big as clubs but 100% real. You should see how America eats them. I feel almost skinny. My husband picks up a stuffed giraffe as a souvenir. Call it luck. Until I planted that hissing plate of fajitas (hot, very hot) before him at Mary’s Cantina I had no idea anyone could see pregnant skin as potential."

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A divorce takes the same celebratory gestures as a wedding.

"Still, Susan and Michael enjoyed their last weeks of marriage and felt sad about the things they would miss, like half of their belongings. They set up a registry, two registries actually. Hers included a food processor, a flat-screen TV, and a Nintendo Wii because he would be keeping those things. His included high quality Tupperware, an ab roller, and an espresso maker because she would be keeping those."

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Two people share a conversation and observations at a seafood restaurant.

"I focus on every bite of the meal. I read on zenhabits.com that you should chew each bite of food thirty times to achieve a meditative understanding of your body’s relationship to the food you are eating. By chew twelve the fish is nothing, a strange mire of goo-meat. I finish thirty chews, swallow and take another forkful of fish. I add a French fry to my mouth. I go slow. I feel myself filling. I was a vegetarian last year. I caved. This is my first battered fish in three years."

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A woman walks on her ceiling, listening to a song written by her estranged lover.

"As she walked, looking up at her toes, or sometimes, as she stood, staring down at the room from a stillness because walking threw her aim off, she punctuated her morning diatribe with only the best or most awful parts of the song he dedicated her on the airwaves, and then, throwing a dart, down at the plate, would attempt to pop a balloon."

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A woman mourns and reflects on a suffering romance.

"I resolved to stay mute on my walk to work. But then I saw a man wearing your green cap, and I called for you. The sidewalks echoed. When he turned I saw he was somebody else. His smile was too white, his eyes too blue. He was too young and his face too square. Everybody stared. I fled. I told myself to stop the wishful thinking. But eight more times it happened. Eight more times I called you because eight men had clothes or gaits or napes like you."

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Observations on death, from the outside and the inside.

" No one really dies in my family. Not yet. A grandmother died, and an uncle, but I was too young. A grandfather died seven years ago; I wasn’t allowed to see his last moments. I remember his final weeks: hospice, jaundice, eyes, resignation. Jump-cut to the funeral home: yellow skin softened by the buttermilk interior of the casket, a suit that I didn’t know he owned, a pocket square like denim."

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A classroom of troubled children take a trip to a bowling alley.

"Mr. Chiasson shouted at him to stop. When he wouldn’t Mr. Chiasson seized his shoulder and shook it. Then he moved over to Ryan. Ryan’s snoring head lay on his desk. Mr. Chiasson never tried to wake him when he fell asleep. One day a supply teacher covering for Mr. Chiasson made the mistake of waking him up and he bashed a bowling trophy over her head. They had to get a new trophy, and a new supply teacher."

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Friendship between two quirky outsiders turns into a tumultuous love.

"He got her screenname from one of the other members of the group and started sending her jokes and one-liners, nothing too creepy or personal. Nothing threatening. He told her that he was part of their little group. He told her to guess who he was. There was no fear in this. Norm was a true original. He’d been locked away so long that he had no real sense of how others viewed him."

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A series of random and unsettling snapshots of two brothers.

"Michael’s brother is on the diving board again and then not, his body in the air and taking up so much space. He gets closer and closer and the water turns to glass. Michael feels like he’s dreaming. The water cracks and breaks and scatters. Michael’s brother is in pieces. He screams and Michael deep-breathes and Michael closes his eyes"

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A father and son attend a Mexican bullfight, experiencing a clash of time and cultures.

"My son cheers loudly now. His eyes are bright and he sports shiny cowboy boots. I try to smile and clasp my cool fingers together. The woman sitting behind me leans over to her friend again, 'No more American rodeos. Bullfights are much nicer. Quieter. The bull is an elegant animal. And lastly,' she says, 'We are Spanish.'"

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A young man awaits a conversation with his father, with the Egyptian Revolution in the background.

"I am standing and waiting on my father to come home. He is well-educated and serves quite the purpose in one of the state dailies. He works among the bureaucrats, in their offices without walls, only partitions, and aspires for me to do the same when he is promoted. Promotion is not contingent, it is imminent. Our side will win and the present situation will end, but for tonight I hope political talk will trap itself somewhere on the road from Tahrir to our apartment and that my father and I can focus on our cocktails."

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A woman shares memories of various communications, ranging from the innocent to the violent.

"Still, there were occasions on which I had to be stopped. When you think of two things to say, pick your favorite and only say that, my mother suggested once, as a tip to polite social behavior, and the rule was later modified to one in three. My father would come to my bedroom door each night to wish me happy dreams and I would speak without taking a breath, trying desperately to keep him in my room with only my voice. I would see his hand on the doorknob, the door beginning to swing shut. I have something to say! I’d tell him, and the door would stop midway."

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A grifter uncle visits his fundamentalist family.

"Uncle Skillet had stayed the same as he was in the stories my dad told. He had become a nomad, somebody my parents argued about in loud hisses, thinking they were whispering while they thought I was asleep. The idea of Uncle Skillet thrilled me. He was one of the bad guys from the Bible, a nomad on a permanent adventure, no agenda. Wild, dangerous, sinning all over the world, a life like the underside of the lawnmower."

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A single father and his children examine and hypothesize the actions of his felonious, unstable ex-wife.

"They wanted possession of facts. And they each wanted in their own distinct ways that fit their own distinct lives, now forming and shaping in this new old-house, a clear and logical understanding of why she was the way she was, why she did those things, what sinister motives propelled her through those jagged movements that in turn transported her into legend."

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A story about love letters and failed connections, from Adam Levin's new collection, Hot Pink.

"The way I heard it, this guy, Donald, who was pathologically shy, wrote the world’s greatest love letter—four lines long, a mere seventy words—to a girl called Janet, with whom he’d made slightly longer than average eye contact on at least three separate occasions. "

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Jeanette Winterson (author of a new memoir) contemplates the pleasures and the dangers of sex with the gods.

"He was close. She fell. He was on her. She pulled away. He grabbed her. He kissed her. She, in the time it takes to remember, in the time it takes to forget, kissed him. There was a second of surprise. Something happened. Anything might have happened because a world of gas and bubbles and heat was washing between their mouths. Then the known killed the unknown, and he was a god and she was a girl."

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Two companions strive to be the best—or the worst?

"I stole and later sold my ex’s clothes and books to a secondhand store."

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A story about the tortured life of 1910s ballplayer Morrie Rath.

"Morrie's 1920 season is awful. He's sent back to the minors for a little while, then to the Pacific league, and then it's over. He will never have another World Series at-bat. He will never know what it's like to really be the best in the world."

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A man muses on philosophical and personal issues while watching a war film.

"Fizzing rockets, stetsons, verdant tree canopies and earnest young patriots: none of these things help me locate my lighter, which is perhaps dug in a cleft in the sofa somewhere, or proudly beyond reach on the table top. The springs of my inherited sofa are too yielding, and my position too weak for me to prop myself up right now and undertake the reconnaissance required to find it."

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Following their mother's death, two Colombian half-sisters visit a cathedral built within an old salt mine.

"She had imagined the church where the funeral was held, but pillared with white salt instead of gold and marble. A sort of whimsical confection. Only upon arriving at the mountain in Zipaquirá does she realize what this sight-seeing really entails: she and Valentina must descend with hundreds of people 600 feet into the earth. It’s a disturbingly morbid activity to undertake so soon after her mother’s death. But it is also something to do, so she buys their tickets and joins Valentina in the long line near a tall cement cross that marks the entrance to the mountain."

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Outside of a Springsteen concert, a lonely young woman bonds with a bus driver.

"Heidi stood there with him, waiting for him to do something else. The thought of sitting in a hot stadium with thousands of other people made her sick. But the driver wasn’t leaving either, she realized. He, too, stood there with his hands in his pockets, looking a little awkward. She felt her heart pound instinctively, and ran her hand through her hair to tousle it."

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At a nursing home, a middle-aged woman deals with her scientifically modified body and memories of her past.

"For the past few months, nanobots have been rebuilding Elise’s degenerative neural structures, refortifying the cell production of her microglia in an experimental medical procedure. Now she sits in the Memory Lane Neurotherapy lounge, strapped into a magnetoencephalographic (MEG) scanner that looks like a 1950s beauty parlor hair-drying unit. As a young female therapist monitors a glowing map of Elise’s brain, a male spits streams of nonsense at her."

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An elderly woman and her extended family make their traditional pilgrimage to a cave shrine.

"Much depended on the weather, for a trek up the wind-swept mountain could not be undertaken except on a fine day. When the conditions seemed propitious, the bandobast would start the night before. The feast that followed the puja was always the most eagerly awaited part of the pilgrimage, and the preparations for it occasioned much excitement and anticipation: the tin-roofed bungalow would ring to the sound of choppers and chakkis, mortars and rolling-pins, as masalas were ground, chutneys tempered, and heaps of vegetables transformed into stuffings for parathas and daal-puris. "

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Observations on a hailstorm of human bodies.

"Great masses crashed above us, great vapors clashed. We could hear loud smacking hands and feet, bourn up and circulating through the thundercaps, as we waded through the puzzlebox of interlocking fingers."

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At a party, two black cousins confront each other on personal identities, class status, and honesty.

"Francis had blown through a trust the size of Connecticut to establish his career as a rapper. And from what had been rumored, paid out hush money and child support to women across the Northeast. My cousin the genius. I couldn’t believe how much Suze admired him. Despite my repeated warnings about his true character, Suze still believes that Francis is a role model the poor can look up to, that he gives hope to the less fortunate. In her attempts to win me over, she even pointed out that Francis’ rapping name was actually a clever bastardization of phlogiston: an archaic, imaginary substance people once believed responsible for making things burn."

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Two men, one recently abandoned by his wife and child, engage in mundane activities.

"I want to love but know I never will. Or is it that I want to be loved and know that that, too, I can prevent? Or must prevent? I can locate the object, it is in the method I fall down. Do not quite have the hang of it. This is a difficult idea to get your brain on, in the truck with Driggers, who is calmed into an earthly earthy mania. You could not hold the idea in your head that you did not quite get the hang of, say, eating."

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An imaginative, unpopular boy and a depressed older man face the dangers of winter.

"Something was wrong here. A person needed a coat. Even if the person was a grownup. The pond was frozen. The duck thermometer said ten. If the person was mental, all the more reason to come to his aid, as had not Jesus said, Blessed are those who help those who cannot help themselves, but are too mental, doddering, or have a disability?"

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After the birth of his child, an unhappy man's mind wanders.

"Carl didn’t want to cut the cord. He had done it for the others and this, he felt, was more than his share. The other kids were tucked in and away for a few days at her sister’s spread in Winnetka, not far from his parents’ old farm. His own modest house off Cicero, just southwest of downtown, was enticingly empty tonight, all five windows to the street, three on top and two on each side of the red door, would be dark and oblivious to Carl, for example, in a big empty bed, or babies, or the half moon rising through the grit and glow of the city, outlining the tallest of its buildings. Keep it dark. He hoped to get home tonight and sleep some, in all that still and lonesome."

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A young woman's keen observations and imaginations of cities and unknown people.

"Isabel finds the postcard of Amsterdam on Thursday evening, at her favorite junk store, across from the food carts on Hawthorne. It is a photograph of tall houses on a canal, each painted a different color, pressed together and tilted slightly, like a line of people, arm in arm, peering tentatively into the water. The picture has a Technicolor glow, the colors hovering over the scene rather than inhabiting it."

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A dream-like drive alternates between urban and rural settings.

"A few streets away from home now, past the closed tailor’s shop, and suddenly there are ducks gathered under a streetlight. The night is disobedient. When she pulls up she sees them standing there, hovering over a puddle of dark water in a small crater made by broken paving stones. There are seven of them, tall and snow white, untouched by the soot and grime in the air, with bright orange beaks and feet. She stops the car and turns off the lights."

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A list of various lovers, presented with no judgement but a wealth of observation.

"I see on Max’s wrist a bracelet made of kelp. “Oh this?” Max says, and describes wading out into the Pacific, his stomach pressed against his board, anchoring himself by the wrist and diving, weaving through the kelp vines that sway deep below. There’s a whole world down there, he says, and I feel like he’s describing the dimensions of a home I’ve always imagined. He takes the bracelet from his wrist and ties it on mine. Anna walks between us after that."

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Not exactly Valentine's Day: an English professor in Chicago, lost in grief, begins dating a student.

"I can't even figure out what it is in Eric, why he sometimes reminds me of my old boyfriend. It's something in the way their faces shift, but I can never pin it down to a feeling or a cause. It surprises me right out of sleep."

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An adolescent girl encounters some sketchy characters in and around her apartment building.

"That afternoon, after I cursed the old guy, the rain finally got to me the way it sometimes did and I got all depressed and cried all the way home. I unlocked the metal gate and walked into the dark hallway of my green apartment building. My neighbor was standing there in the hallway drinking a beer like it was his living room."

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A woman reflects back on a son who died in prison.

"A few of the guards were kind to her. In a couple of them she could see them look at her as if she were a vision of their own mothers driving four hours to be humiliated, to be searched, to have the insides of her thighs patted down for the love of a son who didn’t deserve it. "

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A lyrical meditation on morning in the city, from the newly published Berlin Stories collection.

"A giantess like this doesn’t dress so quickly; but each of her beautiful, huge motions is fragrant and steams and pounds and peals. "

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A problem on an airplane, observed by the acute eye of Lydia Davis.

"With his announcement, everything had changed: we might all die within the next hour. I looked, for comfort or companionship in my fear, at the woman in the seat next to me, but she was no help, her eyes closed and her face to the window."

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A comical look at the lives of grocery store employees, from the author of Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.

" "What about the glacé cherries?" I tell her they're in Home Baking and she asks, "Where's that?" so I have to take her back. My knees are hurting. Passing through Meat and Poultry these beanpole girls with pierces and tattoos ask me, "Do you know the difference between a 'free-range chicken' and 'farm-fresh'?" For a second I'm too miserable to even say "No.""

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A dancer turned marketing writer reminisces about her previous profession.

"Back in the home offices in midtown, I was the mistress of machines, baroness of 1,001 banalities it took to keep the organization running. I’d quit dancing at twenty‐one when the work got too hard and the people too mean. At twenty‐five I could no longer stretch or bounce like the kids in the company."

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Financial workers engage in a gambling scheme that mirrors the contemporary banking crisis.

"Word spread. Other people approached us about joining the pool. At first we were angry that he told on us, but in the end it really was because of him that we got as rich as we did. Harrison and I decided to back the bids ourselves and open up to outsiders. We gave Steve partial ownership in the venture—not a whole third, of course. Our favorite sniffling over-sharer picked up the slack from our actual jobs, which let us dedicate more time to the rankings without getting fired ourselves."

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A conversation about love in the form of excavation.

"I want to be unearthed again, she says, marvelled at, brushed delicately, cradled, magnified, examined, taxonomied, announced at symposiums."

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Two older writers—literary allies—discuss their memories, their past relationships, and their past conflicts.

"Their own sales were holding up, just about. A couple of thousand in hardback, twenty or so in paper. They still had a certain name recognition. Alice wrote a weekly column about life's uncertainties and misfortunes, though Jane thought it would be improved by more references to Alice's own life and fewer to Epictetus. "

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A broken traffic light leads a driver to stay in a small town longer than he may have anticipated.

"You knew right then, before anyone else had figured it out, that he wasn't going to move until the light turned green. You don't know how you knew, but some things you just know."

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The present and future collide with the romance,collaboration, and tensions of two college classmates.

"Right now, the beanbag thunks into Scott’s left palm. His eyes still itch and he feels the grief he’ll feel again at the end of the semester. A ghost Scott moves to shut the dorm room door. If he closes the door, he and Tony will never meet. Tony will never learn how to hurt Scott in a way that only he can be hurt. Tony will never hurt him in a way that anyone can be hurt."

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The gift of a dog causes a woman to reflect on earlier dogs, and earlier relationships.

"'Ruff, ruff,' Rex had said, and she kissed him, then the puppy. That was days before and they were still trying to find a name that seemed to suit, one day calling the pup Beep, since, when he whined, he sounded like a car horn. "

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A woman reflects back on the end of her relationship with Sergei, a Ukranian.

"I was hugged and examined by Sergei's parents. I realized that I was being sized up for something, which was frightening, and that their response was that of instant, teary approval, which was far more frightening. With watery eyes and pinched lips they whispered 'precious' and called me 'gorgeous,' while the roundest of the official-types on stage began to sing."

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A woman's investigations of closed-off places become quiet expressions of nationalistic outrage.

"She went through a summer or two of exploring empty listed buildings. The English countryside was full of them, just standing there, vast, abandoned, too big to develop but architecturally and historically too important to destroy. "

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The identity of the designer of a proposed 9/11 memorial competition inflames the emotions and the prejudices of an observer.

"The Rally to Protect Sacred Ground kicked off on a balmy Saturday morning in a plaza opposite the site. The members of both the Memorial Defense Committee and Save America From Islam were there, gathered in a cordoned-off area in front of the stage. Behind them stretched thousands: women holding signs that said NO TOLERANCE FOR THE INTOLERANT or KHAN IS A CON; fathers hoisting small children on their shoulders; men in camouflage who may or may not have been veterans. "

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The perceptions of an Italian mule, pressed into military service on the long WWII onslaught on Stalingrad.

"Everything had become habitual and therefore right. Everything had joined together to form a life that was right and natural: hard labour, the asphalt, drinking troughs, the smell of axle grease, the thunder of the stinking, long-barrelled guns, the smell of tobacco and leather from the driver’s fingers, the evening bucket of maize, the bundle of prickly hay."

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A comic, loose fable: Big Foot teaches a creative writing course.

"He goes on about how he, the Big Foot, was famous for a minute, and that he’s not quite sure where it all went wrong. Then, of course, he brings the government into it. Fictitious Beast Placement program this, FBP program that, and a few of us fall asleep at our desks because we’ve heard the same speech for like three weeks in a row."

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A woman's relationship with a hipster artist, heavy with potential disasters.

"They'd been together nearly five months. She was still reading the signs, parsing his remarks for flickers of irony and enlightenment. Sometimes she gazed into deep springs--not that she really saw what was in there--sometimes a shallow, reflective pool. David liked to birdie-feed her in bed, kissing her tenderly and spitting chewed-up food into her mouth. It made her feel exquisitely delicate and dependent, endearingly vulnerable."

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Karen refugees from Burma--a mother and small child--adjust to a new life in the United States.

"Picture me following Derek, our startlingly obese caseworker, through the new apartment, trying to concentrate on his English with all of my mind. Picture me flipping a light switch for the first time and seeing the lamps blossom into electric life. Picture me flinching at the scream of the smoke alarm and the rush of water in the toilet and the wintry blast of the freezer, the coldest air I’d ever felt. My new apartment was full of traps, it seemed."

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A young woman endures tedious, infuriating work in the hospitality industry.

"I told him that pest control would’ve noticed cockroaches when they were here looking for rats. They’re very different creatures, rats and cockroaches, he said. Yeah, but you’d know if you saw cockroaches or if you didn’t, I said. He looked at me as if I’d confessed that I used to be an insect myself and just stared with that fixed gaze for an interminable period and then said, what makes you think you’re qualified to make that distinction?"

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Affluent star babies, much like regular humans, experience nature and transgressions in this slightly surreal fable.

"Similar promises were made at the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls and the Hoover Dam, where unwitting star babies were brought to the edges in hopes of seeing god and instead were hurled over the edges, smashing their skulls on the rocks or impaling themselves on branches. In the Everglades, Mushroomites proclaiming themselves to be Alligatorians, walked their foes into the mouths of waiting predators who swallowed them in single bites."

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The intensities and disappointments of a friendship between two girls on the cusp of adolescence.

"Me and Gin like to play preacher and supplicant, Gin is always the preacher and I am always the supplicant. Gin saying You a fearful sinner, young lady, and me heaving my shoulders, begging Please."

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A father uses his daughter in a disturbing scheme.

"It only takes an hour and the pile of money gets higher and higher every time. The men pay twenty dollars a pop to come to the Tongue Party. "

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From Lutz's new collection, Divorcer: a man mourns his deceased wife in an unorthodox fashion.

"Death didn’t have any of the detergent effect I thought I had been led to expect. Things that had looked violently dirtied before looked even dirtier now, and there was a marital malodor to our place, but make no mistake: we had been lovers, my wife and I, meaning mostly that we had coated things and people with love, had used our love to cover things up, to see to it that layer after layer got put over everything."

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A teenage girl observes her parents' work in a "dying parlor."

"It doesn’t take a genius to figure out dying people like to have a kid around to remind them of happier times. A teenager though, that’s something they’ll skip for their last two hours on earth. No one looks back on their life and says, remind me again of what it was like to be fifteen. Yeah, those were the days."

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A young Jewish man makes a comical attempt to smuggle items into Canada.

"When I sit back in my seat I feel dampness on my ass. My jeans came in contact with some mystery liquid on the lavatory floor. I finish filling out the declaration card. I'd stopped in the middle after reading that I'd have to declare any meat products I'm bringing into Canada."

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A rumination on an ancient relic.

"At its apex there was a chamber that might have contained relics. Some say it preserved the ashes of a great conqueror. Others believe it held the bones of a crucified rebel. But troubled times came, and the barbarians swept through our lands. The obelisk toppled over, and for a thousand years it lay in an abandoned field."

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An altercation between a female college student and a blue collar man at a dive bar.

"It wasn’t a time you’d think of people being awake, and drinking, but the parking lot was jammed with rusty cars and hay wagons and tractors, pickup trucks with gun racks. I always wonder when a guy tells me I have a nice rack if that’s like a gun rack, like deadly—or a rack of antlers, like a trophy you’d hang on the wall over your fireplace. Either way it’s a compliment."

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Attempted, inane conversations with a woman on her deathbed.

"I read her MAN ROBS BANK WITH CHICKEN, about a man who bought a barbecued chicken at a stand down the block from a bank. Passing the bank, he got the idea. He walked in and approached a teller. He pointed the brown paper bag at her and she handed over the day's receipts. It was the smell of barbecue sauce that eventually led to his capture."

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A stand-alone piece of the manuscript that became The Pale King, this story details a young boy's mysterious and doomed obsession.

"During the five weeks that he was disabled with a subluxated T3 vertebra—often in such discomfort that not even his inhaler could ease the asthma that struck whenever he experienced pain or distress—the heady enthusiasm of childhood had given way in the boy to a realization that the objective of pressing his lips to every square inch of himself was going to require maximum effort, discipline, and a commitment sustainable over periods of time that he could not then (because of his age) imagine."

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A moving piece of flash fiction that explores the depths of creativity.

"The figurines are lined up on a shelf in Gary’s office. Gary sells them for the man, who cannot sell them himself because he is serving two consecutive life sentences. The hearts, Gary tells us, are the man’s best sellers."

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A woman has a midnight encounter in her kitchen.

"She thinks, it is amazing, this man is calm enough to make a glass of milk while robbing her. She moves to check the silverware in the dining room, but stops herself. What good would it do? If it’s gone, it’s gone."

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A father picks up the wrong gift for his daughter's birthday party.

" The look on your daughter’s face, though, devastates you; you feel it in your knees: her confusion and disappointment, paired with the newly acquired knowledge that those two emotions join each other effortlessly. The gift is what she wanted, but not what she wanted: a bike with no wheels."

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The lives and tribulations of two small town families intersect and collide.

"I was five months along, due in April, around the same time Bran would have turned twelve. That seemed ominous to me, but my aunt assured me that I was suffering from nothing more than nerves. My husband laughed at me, said Calum couldn’t keep track of all his kids. He was bound to lose one or two."

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The bleak contours of life at a nail salon.

"If you’re sad and you don’t feel like huffing from the nail polish bucket, go and cry at the coffee shop next door."

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The opening to Zone One, Colson Whitehead's new zombie novel

"Just another day at the office when she gets bit by some New York whacko while loading up on spring mix at the corner deli's Salad Lounge. Full of plague but unaware. That night the shivers came, and the legendary bad dreams everyone had heard about and prayed against—the harbingers, the nightmares that were the subconscious rummaging through a lifetime for some kind of answer to or escape from this trap. With those early strains, you might last a whole day without flipping. She returns to her cubicle the next day because she hadn't taken a sick day in years."

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A universal panic--the spontaneous combustion of women--highlights feminist questions and everyday living.

"The stories kept circulating: a mother of five, sitting on the sidelines of a Little League game, gone. A waitress in our favorite diner, who always remembered that we needed extra napkins, gone. A bank teller we said hello to when we deposited our checks, gone. Who could figure this out, we asked. Who was going to protect us?"

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The new owner of the Twin Forks Store and Campground encounters some trouble.

"The sheriff had said, 'You probably should've shot him while you could do it legal and get it over with. He might be back for you, or you might not ever see him again, who knows with meth heads. But you surely will want to be ready if ever he does come around for you, and that could be at any time from now on.'"

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What if science could trigger an out-of-body experience? Alex Shakar probes the question in this excerpt from his new novel, Luminarium

"He’s afraid: fear comes in ripples, emanating from his center. He can feel nothing but these ripples, he realizes, neither the chair beneath him nor the helmet on his head, nor his head itself."

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A woman has an unavoidable encounter on a city street.

" I detest him. I will do all in my power to avoid his languid eyes––the smirk that saturates his lower jaw. He demands my eyes to rummage his wares and drink in exactly what came groveling back at him from out of the pleasing mirrors and shop windows he passed."

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Brian Mihok, the editor of the experimental journal matchbook, examines beauty, monuments, memory, time, and warehouses.

"This is a café, she said. But everything in this café was made in a warehouse. Even me, she said. You were made? Taiga said. I was born in a hospital, but the hospital was a warehouse."

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A young man Japanese man visits his estranged, domineering father.

"Still, it was not their physical features that made it difficult for Tengo to identify with his father but their psychological makeup. His father showed no sign at all of what might be called intellectual curiosity. True, having been born in poverty he had not had a decent education. Tengo felt a degree of pity for his father’s circumstances. But a basic desire to obtain knowledge—which Tengo assumed to be a more or less natural urge in people—was lacking in the man."

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In the wake of a suicide attempt, a wise-cracking man addresses his late father, who died of auto-erotic asphyxiation.

"It was after all quite a shock to us, father, to learn of the promiscuous double life you had invented for yourself. When we found you, the tip of your penis was squeezed out through the top end of your fist like a tongue between two pursed lips, and the pearly sequins on the fronts of your stiletto heels shone up at us like droplets of you-know-what. And whatever shade of lipstick that was, smeared around the edges of that makeshift orifice, well, mother has refrained from restocking her supply—from wearing lipstick altogether in fact."

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Fabulist fiction, about a shoeshine boy with a secret.

"Dr. Fessenden takes an interest, both medical and fatherlike. He wears black leather brogues at least twenty years old, the kind they don't make anymore. He prods my back with his doctorly fingers and makes considering sounds. "

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What the Madonna is thinking.

"The Madonna is bored with this tiny naked Jesus in her lap. She is bored with her situation: relegated to a stool for his display."

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A typical family Christmas--dinner, presents, fighting, and the return of the dead father.

"My mother dropped a basket of hot rolls in the center of the table, looked quickly at my father sitting there. She may have been startled inside, but she didn’t show it; she just straightened a few of the forks on the linen napkins next to her and called into the living room where everyone was speaking in exaggerated hushed tones."

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The job interview as existential horror.

"It's up to you to decide the context, he says. It's a simple question. How do you see yourself?"

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A woman working on a Cuban sugar plantation ruminates on her family and secret love.

"When Papá talks of making myself necessary, I cringe. Necessary would mean a lifetime in the field, just as Papá has “necessaried” himself into stained hands and bent fingers. So different from my own. I can still straighten mine when I put my machete down for the day. I don’t know how much longer that will be true, however."

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A detailed, fictionalized diary entry of a German Jew in the early 1940s.

"We actually forgot we were Jews most of the time. But the men in charge keep reminding us of our heritage in an increasingly torturous way. My father laughed it away at first."

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Animals,physical proximity and emotional distances link a troubled family and an eccentric neighbor.

"I am an expert now on the importance of throwing oneself back into neglected friendships and job. I suppose the advice is universal: teenaged girl, single working woman, middle-aged man living with his wife and the daughter he used to fail to recognize among the crowd of other people’s children pouring out of school when he went to pick her up. Now she drives herself."

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A Jewish family moves from Florida to Tennessee, and a prodigal son returns.

"My father decided he would cook a genuine Jewish brisket for the in-laws’ first Tennessee meal. They were coming up from West Palm Beach and he thought the brisket would make for the perfect pastiche of Jewish and Southern tradition, to the extent that either could be embodied in a slab of beef."

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A darkly comic piece about when the body goes awry.

"Daniel finds blood in his underwear on a Monday. It happens in the eighth floor men’s room, during a restructuring meeting. The meeting has something to do with 'capitalizing on human potential,' which is a phrase, after three hours of PowerPoint presentations, Daniel still does not understand. "

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Desire and frustration. From Tillman's recent collection Someday This Will Be Funny

"Her imagination was her best feature. It embellished her visible parts, and altogether they concocted longing in Rex. She could see it; she could have him. She couldn’t have her analyst. "

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An American ESL teacher faces a potential crime investigation, mirrored by a crumbling relationship.

" The absurdity strikes him again – Jude the Midwestern philosophy major, worrying about a Thai jail sentence for counterfeiting – and he bites back a smile. He lives too much in his head, he knows, blowing up hypotheses and imaginings. The bills read ‘legal tender’; surely they are."

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Musician Jordaan Mason's eerie, formally experimental story about a love triangle.

"The difference between him and her was parts of the body represented through skin as organs which were not the same organs. "

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A quiet young woman's trip to the seashore yields a plethora of observations.

"Eventually her muscles warmed and Magritte felt slick and alive in the liquid sea. She turned over on her back, paddling lazily, and watched the movement of the clouds in the sky. The sea gurgled secretively in her ears."

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A minimalist exchange set inside a volcano.

"There is nothing to do but drink beers and stare up into the black and so that is what we do. "

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Discomforting struggles between a homeowner and the hired help.

"But when I reminded her about the toast, she broke into a tirade – how could I think she would ever let the toast get cold or hard? But it is almost always cold and hard. "

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Semi-surreal account of a family's new home.

"The empty room, being a tabula rasa, bore aspects of total corruptibility, a potential we’d in childish obedience overlooked until now."

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A odd and menacing story-like bit spun off from Marcus' forthcoming novel, The Flame Alphabet.

"To warn me of Esther’s approach, or indeed of the motion of any living creature through our halls and rooms, I rigged a system of alarms that puzzled into the wall switch plates. But I crossed the wiring or somehow failed to close the circuit for this contraption, because the high siren pierced the air even when no one roamed through."

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Aftermath of a hookup, told in the form of an interactive fiction game.

"It is possible that you did not sleep with her, but here she is, next to you, wearing your clothes. She also has your socks, a pristine new pair of tube socks, on her hands. That was probably enormously funny at the time. Some other time. Not at all funny now, what with you being naked. There are closed doors to the EAST and NORTH."

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New fiction from the author of 2010's Mr. Peanut.

"All of Patricia’s family pictures are still inside. Her clothes are still in the drawers. Her Garfield posters are still up on the walls. Everything."