Intertwined memories of institutions, family, and the creepy side of industrialization.
A trip to the country turns into nightmare beset by mysterious creatures and body transformations.
"When we went over to look at the creature, it was mostly flattened. It looked like a crow, except the feathers had fallen off its back. Underneath, the flesh was scaly and pink. The exposed skin was split in half by a row of translucent spikes. The spikes were moving slightly, pointing first in this direction, then in that. The smell made me wrinkle my nose. It was an oddly sweet smell to find outdoors, like an open vat of lollipop flavoring."
A convergence of sex, fears, and family drama.
"Beside the bed the baby monitor flashed, as it had been doing all night, a blue light racing up and down to accompany the sounds: breathing, snoring, faint clicking, the mewl of one or another of the cats. If Angela held it to her ear she would also hear the ticking of the mantel clock. These new monitors! So much more sophisticated than those of yore. Nineteen years ago, when last she’d tuned into one, the monitor would occasionally pick up the cell phone call of some stranger in a passing car, some weird adult voice suddenly blaring from the baby’s room."
Troubles and afflictions weigh on counselors and veterans.
"The Fort was actually just an ugly house. Eighteen rooms, two stories. A kitchen, a lavatory, a staircase. One office, one entrance, two exits, thirty-six bunks, four televisions, the mini-library, two footballs, one fútbol, a basketball, and the whole of Big Ben, the biggest backyard in Texas. It housed between twenty-one and thirty-two bodies a year. Most of them stayed a couple months. They found us through each other."
"Some of you probably think it’s a bad thing to group ourselves according to skin color—the lighter the better—in social clubs, neighborhoods, churches, sororities, even colored schools. But how else can we hold on to a little dignity?"
The inner thoughts and worries of a Bingo player.
"Phyllis didn’t need to focus when she was daubing her numbers. Her mind could wander. She could think of all of the fortune she’d had in her life, all the loving family that surrounded her, even if their visits fell few and far between. As the next BINGO was called, she ripped off her top sheet and placed it into her trash bag. She remembered when she’d started coming to play, how she’d thought what a waste it was that each player had their own plastic trash bag, but it wasn’t long before she’d blinded herself to this detail, too."
A WWI unit's fears and its devotion to a homing pigeon.
"I wish you could see Cher Ami. She always looks so patient. Her coo helps ease the stress. When you peek in at her, you feel the steadiness in her little black eyes. It says she’s ready. Just a little twitching in her neck, her legs. We feed her what we can. She always gets something. Usually breakfast biscuits and pieces of apple, some snatched abandoned beans left to dry on a wall. But sometimes these days it’s seeds we find and even the lice off our greatcoats. We always apologize when its seeds or lice, but she never seems to mind. She eats it all the same. We are always careful to feed her. You know, its like she knows we’re sorry. It’s like she gets it."
A story of childhood trouble and minor delinquency.
"None of this, of course, has stopped any of them from pulling the girls’ hair or throwing pencils or losing track of time and getting locked out of school. He looks at the younger one standing there with his hands behind him and gives him a little shove. Everyone grows alert, awaiting the silent war. The boy drops his hands and looks back at him, and then they are all shoving and wrestling (carefully, quietly, so as not to attract attention, holding in their breath) and distracting him from his thoughts. The immediacy of the situation wanes. His father does not arrive. He relaxes, the wrestling over, rolls his foot over the soccer ball. They all stop and pant for a moment. There is still that space–the one in the corner of his brain–and as long as he can see it, he’s not quite safe."
Scenes from a scary faith healing session.
"The one to be delivered shook at the apostle’s touch, recoiled from his voice. His boots stamped the floor, wrung more sweat free from his jumping body. It was darkest bluest winter and the one was dressed for the weather, had kept his coat on the whole dance. The look in his eyes, the exhaustion, the fear, his and not his. He named some of his demons at sentence length, readying his voice for story, but the apostle stopped him."
A story of assessments as the end of the world nears.
"I'm afraid to look at first, but then I get my bearings and turn in the direction where the river should be. On the other side is home and if I'm right, the towers. There's no bright, white plume of smoke on the horizon to help me, now. The towers will be quiet. Shut down and dead."
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."