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fabulist

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Wait Anywhere

A tale of two sisters with bodies that produce feathers.

"Up ahead a diesel semi had stopped, idling, its emergency lights flashing red in the mist, and on the wet tar and on Gale. I looked at her chest. The feathers were still growing, like a cancer. They would be as long as she was, longer. They would strangle, drown her. She ran to the cab of the truck, the door swung open far above. I couldn’t see the driver’s face."

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Selkie Stores Are For Losers

A young woman struggles in the wake of her mother's disappearance in this Hugo-nominated work.

"After Mom left, I waited for my dad to get home from work. He didn't say anything when I told him about the coat. He stood in the light of the clock on the stove and rubbed his fingers together softly, almost like he was snapping but with no sound. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. I'd never seen him smoke in the house before. Mom's gonna lose it, I thought, and then I realized that no, my mom wasn't going to lose anything. We were the losers."

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Non Stop Beautiful Ladies

An adolescent girl weeps and sweats blood. Part of the ongoing Tabloid Fiction series.

"Momma told me when I came out of her I was covered in blood and I just kept being that way. She said she used to find me in the crib, crying and slicked with red. She said my daddy couldn’t take it and left. She didn’t blame me, though. She said the holy spirit was faint in him."

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Cursed Rain

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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Arboreal

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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Grandpa Dies

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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The Master Conjurer

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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The Daughters Of the Moon

Women are swayed by the moon's pull in a world dominated by consumerism.

"It was a depressing sight. We went out in the crowds, our arms laden with parcels, coming and going from the big department stores that were open day and night, and while we were scanning the neon signs that climbed higher and higher up the skyscrapers and notified us constantly of new products that had been launched, we’d suddenly see it advancing, pale amid those dazzling lights, slow and sick, and we could not get it out of our heads that every new thing, each product that we had just bought, could similarly wear out, deteriorate, fade away, and we would lose our enthusiasm for running around buying things and working like crazy—a loss that was not without consequences for industry and commerce."

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On the Far Side Of the Sea

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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The Hypothetical Girl

A woman gradually disappears.

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

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Victimless Crimes

A team of superheroes disrupt the life of a family.

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

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Catskin

A poisoned witch sets forth a lavish plan for revenge and renewal.

"The inside of the catsuit is soft and a little sticky against Small’s skin. When he puts the hood over his head, the world disappears. He can see only the vivid corners of it through the eyeholes—grass, gold, the cat who sits cross-legged, stitching up her sack of skins—and air seeps in, down at the loosely sewn seam, where the skin droops and sags over his chest and around the gaping buttons. Small holds his tails in his clumsy fingerless paw, like a handful of eels, and swings them back and forth to hear them ring. The sound of the bells and the sooty, cooked smell of the air, the warm stickiness of the suit, the feel of his new fur against the ground: he falls asleep and dreams that hundreds of ants come and lift him and gently carry him off to bed."

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The Thing Under the Drawing Room

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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Memory As Flicker, As Fury

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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The Gore and the Splatter [Excerpt]

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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The Mud Man

After a gardening mishap, a meticulous, harried family man finds himself being replaced by a grotesque clone; from the author of Red Moon.

"He, the mud man, stands in the middle of a shallow crater. His joints issue a series of blistery pops like pitch pockets boiling out of a log thrown on a fire. Clods of dirt fall off him and patter the garden, freckling the daffodils and hostas. He has all the calm of a tree, the breeze rushing around him, bending the loose vines and leaves hanging off him like hair, carrying a smell like worms washed across a sidewalk after a hard rain. The mud man seems to be staring at Thomas, though it is hard to tell as his eyes are hollows with black scribbles in them, like the insides of a rotten walnut."

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Of Navigators

A writer and a spacefarer discuss time travel, the symmetry of the universe, and the conquest of America.

"Don't forget what I was in the middle of. I had to recount my adventures again, silently invoking Marco Polo, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Italo Calvino, and the annals of geography. It turned out very well: they were all hanging on what I said, they were scared when they were supposed to be scared and they laughed when they were supposed to laugh."

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What I Remember of My Love Affair with the Bird

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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The Animal Mummies Wish To Thank The Following

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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Gravity

Illicit lovers disrupt the laws of physics.

"We neared the chandelier and I grasped the base of it, its sparkles and gems flying around my face but I held on, something to keep us still, and his motion lifted me to the ceiling, laid my back against it. With my arms over my head grabbing the light fixture, tangled in crystals and cords, it was like I was on the ground, both arms tied to a radiator, and we finished that way, almost like things were normal."

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The Library of Babel

Infinite libraries in infinite space, a fabulist story of obsession and madness.

"A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian."

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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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Game

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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John Adams

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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The Gown From Mother's Stomach

The inimitable Blake Butler presents us with a strange gestation and a talking bear.

"God will knit it in my womb like he did you, she murmured. When you wear it you will blind the world. "

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Event Factory [Excerpt]

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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A Disturbance In The Herd Affects The Flock

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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Breaking The Frame

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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The Remarkable Rocket

In this fable, a selfish royal firework is unable to see the fault of his ways.

"'How very silly of him not to stay here!' said the Rocket.'I am sure that he has not often got such a chance of improving his mind. However, I don’t care a bit. Genius like mine is sure to be appreciated some day'; and he sank down a little deeper into the mud."

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I'm Waiting

A woman makes a companion from spoiled soup in this weird tale from the "Queen of Russian horror," Anna Starobinets.

"I moved, but a week later I'd already started fretting. After all, I did have a responsibility. I was constantly wondering how it was getting on there without me. Completely alone. In the plastic bags."

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The Library Of Babel

Infinite libraries in infinite space: this was our first shared story one year ago yesterday.

"A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian."

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A Sigh Is Just A Sigh

A series of shorts about a marriage and conversations with two old-time movie stars.

"Ingrid Bergman told me she'd sleep with any man who desired. And there had been plenty. She slept with the majority of her costars on every film, most of the directors, several costume designers, and once, for kicks, a sound-effects editor—"helps me get into the role," she argued. It didn't bother her at all. It was like taking a walk, 'like reading from a script,' she said."

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Cat Lovers

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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Divine

A record store employee meets a seemingly blessed musical prodigy.

"You really had to be there to see him in action. He held his hands before him, chest high, as if holding a box. And as he walked by the racks, he looked at the records -- through the records. His eyes got big and then they filled with a light as clear and as dense as water. As he passed a record, that light filled with music. Even from my nook in back I could see staff lines and notes and chords shimmering in it. Then I could hear the music myself -- faintly, as if he were wearing those Walkman headphones though this was years before Walkmans."

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Things To See In Toughlahoma

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 Delicate Toxicity

Personal histories and mysteries emerge when a woman stakes out the woman who may have cannibalized her boyfriend.

"Now she is hungry. I can tell by the way she moves. And her laughter isn´t real nor is that hair. It is a wig woven from the hair of all the men she has eaten. This has gone on for so long. I can tell. Her hair reaches her waist. Turning, she looks right at me, does not see me. Does not recognize the picture that must have been inside my lover's heart that she split open before boiling."

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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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Shiva Dancing

An astrophysicist's long walk to avoid distraction turns into a mysterious journey.

"One day Thackeray has to leave the house; he is overcome by a feeling that is not familiar to him seeing Maria’s legs, and he’s on the brink of discovering the mathematical secret of the universe, and he must think, by God, clearly now, women’s legs of all the absurd things, so he walks out the door and along the streets up to the college, across the millstream, losing himself in thought, out past the observatory and up an old mining trail and finally into the wilderness as the light among the great trees thins to dust."

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The Bodega At The End Of The Earth

A woman goes to unexpected extremes to determine why her body has been invaded by microorganisms.

"There are microscopic organisms in my body. They’re not killing me, but I can feel them all the time. They hold impromptu line-dancing sessions in my abdomen when I am trying to eat. They think my lymph nodes are snooker balls. They climb out of my bellybutton while I am sleeping, and do an Irish jig atop my knee caps."

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There Is Nowhere To Rest Your Backbone

An entire town congregates at the local post office.

"The post office is a zoo today I said to a troop of boy scouts. They looked around for their leader. I said this place is a zoo to the veteran in a wheelchair I had seen in the newspaper that month. He was writing a book on courage I knew. It really is he said. I smiled at him too hard. My best guess is that the whole town did."

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Notes From The Gutter

A woman tells the story of her odd alien abduction.

"I was talking very fast, so as not to lose my nerve, but as soon as I stopped, I didn’t feel so good. I was able to tell that it had gone over very poorly. The one alien furrowed his brow. Then he translated for the others, and they too furrowed their brows. He turned to me. Why would you write something like that?"

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The Agony Of Intimacy

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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A Petting Zoo Tale

Contemporary fabulist Kate Bernheimer spins a yarn about a girl, a husband, and a secret zoo.

"Each morning, before the husband comes to breakfast, the girl goes down the basement stairs to feed the pets. At sunrise animals must be fed. She remembers this from school."

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Buckets

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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Red

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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Hideous Beast

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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Star Babies

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 Grave Of Lost Stories

A fictional imagining of Edgar Allan Poe and a Faustian explanation of his talents.

"Don't you admit that a grave and corpse are more real than a memory and a lock of hair? and she said I never thought you such a materialist, Eddie and he laughed and they went on into the suffocating gloom and the Star set slowly over the black valley which his reasoning powers in combination with his accurate knowledge had enabled him to predict in bold relief, and as the Star set it cast a last beam down through the night-trees that occluded the gull, and tenderly brushed the pure darkness below."

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Call Of Cthulhu

Lovecraft's classic story. Terrifying cosmic revelations await you herein.

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

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Female Explosion Syndrome

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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A Country Of Warehouses

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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Peerless

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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The Many Forms Of Rain Sent Upon Us In Those Days Before The Last Days

Thirteen forms of rain, each apocalyptic in their own way.

"The glass came first in early morning. I watched through the only safe storm window. It sounded as if the sky itself was ripping—like some sick sour music box, cranked to cracking. The shards shattered on impact, each giving off a second spray. "

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A Real Doll

A boy falls in love with a Barbie doll. A little NSFW.

" I did something Barbie almost didn't forgive me for. I did something which not only shattered the moment, but nearly wrecked the possibility of us having a future together. In the hallway between the stairs and Jennifer's room, I popped Barbie's head into my mouth, like lion and tamer, God and Godzilla."

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The Barn At The End Of Our Term

Former U.S. Presidents are reincarnated as horses.

"Martin Van Buren is barn sour, but even he shouts out impossible promises at the turkeys from the dim interior of his stall: 'You are my constituents, my turkeys,' Van Buren neighs, 'and the love I feel for you is forever.' The turkeys promenade around the yard and ignore him. Rutherford wonders if they, too, have human biographies hidden beneath their black feathers."

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His Last Great Gift

A religious leader in colonial New England builds a mysterious machine.

"The motor will cause great floods of spiritual light to descend from the heavens. It will reveal the earth to be a limitless treasure trove of motion, life, and freedom. "

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Pickman's Model

An occasionally humorous, atmospheric piece of genre fiction from a polarizing figure.

"Well, I should say that the really weird artist has a kind of vision which makes models, or summons up what amounts to actual scenes from the spectral world he lives in. Anyhow, he manages to turn out results that differ from the pretender’s mince-pie dreams in just about the same way that the life painter’s results differ from the concoctions of a correspondence-school cartoonist."

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How Much Shall We Bet?

Bets are placed on the developments and historical events of the future universe.

"I got much more satisfaction, however, from the bets we had to bear in mind for billions and billions of years, without forgetting what we had bet on, and remembering the shorter-term bets at the same time, and the number (the era of whole numbers had begun, and this complicated matters a bit) of bets each of us had won, the sum of the stakes (my advantage kept growing; the Dean was up to his ears in debt). And in addition to all this I had to dream up new bets, further and further ahead in the chain of my deductions."

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The Copy Family

Straight into the uncanny valley with the author of There Is No Year and Scorch Atlas.

"The only thing that made the family different from the copy family was instead of teeth the copy family’s mouths were lined with mold. "

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The Library Of Babel

Infinite libraries in infinite space.

"A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian. "