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And Deliver Us From the Vikings, Amen

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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Winter Montage, Hoboken Station

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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Dredge

A troubled loner finds the murdered body of a young woman and attempts to solve the mystery.

"In the garage, he lifts the lid of the chest freezer that sits against the far wall. He stares at the open space above the paper-wrapped bundles of venison, tries to guess if there’s enough room, then stacks the meat on the floor, makes piles of burger and steak and sausage until he’s sure. He goes out to the car and opens the back door. He lifts the girl, grunting as he gathers her into his arms like a child. He’s not as strong as he used to be, and she’s heavier than she looks, with all the water filling her lungs and stomach and intestinal tract. Even through her tank top he can see the way it bloats her belly like she’s pregnant. He’s careful with her as he lays her down in the freezer, careful as he brushes the hair out of her eyes again, as he holds her eyelids closed until he’s sure they’ll stay that way."

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The Lesson

During World War II, a young soldier gives a dance lesson to General Eisenhower.

"The two MPs walked him to the door, which opened as they reached it, and a dapper-looking lieutenant asked Kelly to come in and have a drink. He said that his name was Lieutenant Mason, and that he was General Eisenhower’s aide-de-camp. The MPs noted carefully the look on Kelly’s face. They went away with their chins clenched in an effort to suppress belly laughter."

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Cattle Haul

A young man analyzes his personal problems while making a cattle delivery.

"I think about driving back through this mess after I drop the cows off, and speed up the drive in my eyes so that it’s like watching a movie in fast forward: me and the truck diving into the green again. I see my daddy in the house waiting for me, sitting at his same seat at the table. I picture this in my head even though I know he probably ain’t even going to be there, that the house will smell like empty: dust and cut grass and Comet and fried grease."

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Hands

From Winesburg, Ohio, this classic short stands as a model of character description and authorial empathy.

"The story of Wing Biddlebaum's hands is worth a book in itself. Sympathetically set forth it would tap many strange, beautiful qualities in obscure men. It is a job for a poet."

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A Near Death Interruption

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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On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning

Upon seeing a random young woman, a man's mind goes through potential speaking points and stories.

"But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can't recall the shape of hers - or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It's weird."

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No One Word For Dying Of Thirst

A man's crumbling life is explored through his precise medical afflictions and liquid consumption.

"“This is a little bit of shit luck that you’ll certainly shake,” his father had sighed sympathetically into the phone. “You know, when you step in shit, sometimes you just got to leave that shoe outside for a while, but eventually, it airs itself out.” It was an awkward attempt to imbue some wisdom on his son, but Fredrick wasn’t exactly sure what he meant."

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A Boring Story

A character sketch from one of the early masters of the short story form.

"My conscience and my intelligence tell me that the very best thing I could do now would be to deliver a farewell lecture to the boys, to say my last word to them, to bless them, and give up my post to a man younger and stronger than me. But, God, be my judge, I have not manly courage enough to act according to my conscience."