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Altar

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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Unkept

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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Counterparts

Joyce's classic study of a man at odds with the world.

"A very sullen-faced man stood at the corner of O’Connell Bridge waiting for the little Sandymount tram to take him home. He was full of smouldering anger and revengefulness. He felt humiliated and discontented; he did not even feel drunk; and he had only twopence in his pocket. He cursed everything. He had done for himself in the office, pawned his watch, spent all his money; and he had not even got drunk. He began to feel thirsty again and he longed to be back again in the hot reeking public-house. He had lost his reputation as a strong man, having been defeated twice by a mere boy. His heart swelled with fury and, when he thought of the woman in the big hat who had brushed against him and said Pardon! his fury nearly choked him."

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The Naturals

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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Fatherless Day

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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Grunt

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 Coach Who Exploded

A profile of former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired in April after a video of him berating players went viral.

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Brave Bear

A father and son clash over a murdered dog.

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

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A Day Like Today

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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Staccato

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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Stan's Report

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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American Ninja 2

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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Vicissitudes, CA

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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When The New Wing Broke Away From The Old Mansion

A metaphorical tale of a wayward younger brother and his icy relationship with his siblings.

"The fifth brother, Joseph, was much younger. By the time he came of age, there were no comfortable rooms left for him, and so he was given the raw rooms in the mansion's newer wing. Joseph was a strange, solitary, somewhat frightening child, and although his brothers loved him, they were relieved to have him out of their hair. Joseph wished to be a gentleman like his brothers, but life was difficult in the raw wing of the mansion. The new wing was a place of Protestant industry, and Joseph went to work."

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Birds With Teeth

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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Extreme Cruelty

A murderer fights off vengeance seekers, including God.

"I sundered Him, and He rejoined Himself. I interrupted Him, and He resumed Himself. I adjourned Him, and He reconvened Himself. I perforated Him, and He performed holy acts of closure. I peeled Him, but He only laughed—the old fox!—and could not be tricked into repealing Himself in order to end up sitting among the superannuated gods."

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Anatomy Of A Song

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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Trespassing

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. "