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113 articles
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Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets

Cultural, sexual, and generational clashes surround an aging New York drag queen.

"Clinton Corset Emporium. No awning, just a piece of cardboard stuck in the window. As Miss Adele entered, a bell tinkled overhead – an actual bell, on a catch wire – and she found herself in a long narrow room – a hallway really – with a counter down the left-hand side and a curtained-off cubicle at the far end, for privacy. Bras and corsets were everywhere, piled on top of each other in anonymous white cardboard boxes, towering up to the ceiling. They seemed to form the very walls of the place. 'Good afternoon,' said Miss Adele, daintily removing her gloves, finger by finger. 'I am looking for a corset.'

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To Be Seen

A model's struggle with perception and the world around her.

"Abby smiled. She said, 'If something is old, it is classic. If it is classic, you have class. If you have class, you feel beautiful. If you feel beautiful, you feel young. Something old makes you feel young.'"

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The Twitches

Middle school and family unease; a mysterious neurological condition.

"I knew something bad was about to happen right before it did. My face heated. All the sound cut out, like a huge furry helmet had been dropped over my skull. The room, it didn’t look right. I’m trying to think how to explain it, but all I can come up with is that the colors separated, kind of fizzed around—the green and red marks on the dry-erase board hovered like insects, the purple of Mr. Franz’s tie pixilated. I had that greasy swirl in my stomach like when you’re about to fart and are still praying there’s a way it will be silent, like when you go to the bathroom after a science lab of intolerable closeness to your intolerably cute lab partner and see that yes, the tingle on your nose was actually a tumor-sized whitehead erupting."

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Hide and Seek

A young man's struggle with his mother and his physical traits.

"When it was my turn to hide, I dreaded the moment of being found. What I hated more was the thought of all my mother’s attention focused on me. My father was out the door, smoke between her fingers. I didn’t know him, my mother having removed any evidence of his existence, but I knew that I resembled him. Darkness was the only place that gave way to my imagination. I pictured his face, laughing at our state of incompleteness. Crouched in a laundry hamper and waiting for the game to end, I’d grow fearful, then angry. My mother was husbandless, and I was squatting in a basket. She was too pretty to work. There was nothing she could do, but there was nothing I could do. I thought about really being lost."

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Mere Increments [Excerpt]

The life of a conflicted IT worker from Iowa.

"Roger Jeffries is given to bouts of fantasy in which he speculates the possibilities suppressed by his current set of circumstances: that, indeed, he could have, if he had chosen to make the effort, packed a moving truck full of his stuff and left UNI for more cultivated frontiers. The Twin Cities, maybe, or Chicago, or back East to New York. Westward to the Pacific, perhaps, a destiny realized in Los Angeles. At any rate, he frequently imagines a young self packing up his stuff and driving for days—regardless of how close this destination might actually have been to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of the UNI Panthers, he always envisions driving for days, young, stubbled, over-caffeinated and chain smoking—to some more prestigious or renowned place."

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Dial Tone

An unsettling story of murder and telemarketing; originally published in 2007 and recently anthologized in The New Black, edited by Richard Thomas.

"There is a noise—the noise teeth might make biting hurriedly into melon—punctuated by a series of screams. It makes me want to tear the headset away from my ear. And then I realize I am not alone. Someone is listening. I don't know how—a certain displacement of sound as the phone rises from the floor to an ear—but I can sense it."

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Wild Hearts

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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Orcinus Pas de Deux

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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Artists in Residence

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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On the Way to the Killing Spree the Shooter Stops for Pizza

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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Scumbag

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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Writing From the Black, Twitchy Place

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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The Answer

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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Who Can Shave Thirteen Times a Day

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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Women of Ernesto

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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Lost in Space

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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Invisible Strings

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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This Isn't Really About Fishing

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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We're Coming For Them

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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What People Are Made Of

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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Simple Human Things

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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Metronome

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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Wild Goats

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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The Harvester

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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Bernard Went Fishing with Cicero

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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Three Aerogrammes

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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Deluge

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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Treading Water

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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Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want the Truth?

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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Thank You For Disappearing

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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The World In the Evening

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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24 Ladies Resting

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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The Inker

An older brother attempts to break free from his wayward younger sister.

"And at once Avi knew it all—his sister was head over heels in love with him, the inker. Just as she had been head over heels in love with the recovering junkie stand-up comedian in the East Village, a guy whose entire routine centered around his days trading oral sex for heroin. Or the peach farmer named Karma, a man-boy who had wanted to marry her in spite of the fact that he was, well, already married."

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Dog Boy

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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Boys and Girls and Women and Men

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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Finding Your Place

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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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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The Other Kind of Magic

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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The Passion According To G. H. [Excerpt]

An attempt to clean out a vacant room instigates an existential crisis, in this new translation of the opening of Lispector's 1964 novel.

"And though I’d gone into the room, I seemed to have gone into nothing. Even once inside it, I was still somehow outside. As if the room weren’t deep enough to hold me and I had to leave pieces of myself in the hallway, in the worst rejection to which I’d ever fallen victim: I didn’t fit."

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Oscar and Veronica [Excerpt]

Two friends commiserate and reflect on their single lives.

"This was the first time she’d ever asked a man out on a date. She was from a small Midwestern town and had been brought up very old-school, very he holds the door open, he comes in to meet the parents, he makes the requisite phone call. But five years of liberal education—essays by Adrienne Rich, press conferences about Anita Hill, dormitories full of post–Gloria Steinem girls who spoke out loud about equality and in secret waited by their telephones—well, it had all confused the issue, for better or worse, and she crossed her fingers in her mittens. What would he say, what would he say?"

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The White Envelope

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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Wonder Woman Underoos

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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Close Your Eyes and Think of England

A day in the life of a twelve year-old girl: feminine sacrifice and reversed parenting/gender roles.

"When she's not ricocheting between coasts to spearhead corporate sales and yoga retreats, our mother is skipping off to islands (Cuba, the Canaries, Greenland) and leaving me typed notes that become more and more blunt and encoded. She doesn't spend much time with our father--none of the mothers do--and they have all become so hard and muscular and breastless that you wouldn't want a hug from them even if you were feeling bad."

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We Like You So Much and Want to Know You Better

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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To Be Old

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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Haunting In B Minor

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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HD Immortality

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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Notre Dame Des Patates

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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Modern Girls

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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Going Native (Part 2)

A woman's plan to seduce a Native American; Part Two.

"The inches fell apart, her face moved toward his, and he was gentle. He kissed too softly, with more wetness than she usually liked, but it wasn’t unpleasant. She pressed her hips toward him; he didn’t press back. He pulled her hand to wrap around his waist and made her meet him. Geronimo kissed her again, and she touched the braid, a thrill rushing through her spine, finally."

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Going Native (Part 1)

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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The Adventure Of the Space Traveler

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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Super-Frog Saves Tokyo

A giant talking frog enlists the help of a timid Japanese man in saving Toyko from a massive earthquake.

"I'm an absolutely ordinary guy. Less than ordinary. I'm going bald, I'm getting a potbelly, I turned 40 last month. My feet are flat. The doctor told me recently that I have diabetic tendencies. It's been three months or more since I last slept with a woman—and I had to pay for it. I do get some recognition within the division for my ability to collect on loans, but no real respect. I don't have a single person who likes me, either at work or in my private life. I don't know how to talk to people, and I'm bad with strangers, so I never make friends. I have no athletic ability, I'm tone-deaf, short, phimotic, nearsighted—and astigmatic. I live a horrible life. All I do is eat, s1eep and shit. I don't know why I'm even living. Why should a person like me have to be the one to save Tokyo?"

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Poet In the Schools

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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Within the Cathedral, An Echo

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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Victory Music

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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How Much You Want It

While worrying about her obese father, a teenager develops an eating disorder.

"Selma’s parents aren’t dieting. Whenever I see Dr. Garza, he’s in green scrubs, fresh from delivering a new batch of babies. I can’t tell how thin he is, but I know for certain that he isn’t fat, and I doubt Mrs. Garza is repulsed by him. I’m convinced that Papa is the only obese parent at my school and I hate him for eating thirds at buffets and for serving himself a heaping bowl of butter pecan ice cream most nights. Around January I convince my mother that my breakfast, usually biscuits and hot chocolate, is lacking in nutrition. What I need is a breakfast shake packed with vitamins. Each morning I mix protein powder with skim milk and drink my shake. This is all I ingest for breakfast: one hundred and ten calories and half a gram of fat."

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Heaven

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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Mirrorball

After a one night stand, a musican unknowingly takes a piece of a woman's soul.

"The girl tried to feel contempt for the boy, too, but it is hard to have contempt for a person who’s made off with part of your soul. She went about her life—her job at a used-clothing store, her once-a-week volunteer stint at the Outreach Center for homeless youth, her evenings out with friends. Outwardly, she did not appear much changed by the misalignment; the first layer of her thoughts was more or less the same, logical and competent enough to get her through the day.

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The Swimmer

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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The Unreliable

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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The Unlovable Virus

A woman views a breakup through the lens of a condition.

"She would be asked to do interviews with local news channels and it would become known that she was crying because of her virus. There would be marathons and benefits for finding the cure to the unlovable virus, which she would become a spokeswoman for, and many other people would speak out about being UNL-positive. There would be ribbons on cars. There would be t-shirts. There would be pins. There would be a lot of people, everywhere, saying to their friends, 'I’m sorry you’re unlovable and that I can’t love you in the way you want, the way that would cure you.'"

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Wet Meat

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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Mice

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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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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Saturn Return

A young bartender attempts to make sense of where his life is going.

"A lot of people proclaim a need for independence, for space. And while I could attest to that, more than anything, I was a tiger dying amongst the sprawling jungle. I longed for a cage of my own. My apartment, a two bedroom overlooking the gentrification of Philadelphia, had a décor of my design. I picked out the furniture, including the Ikea futon I dubbed “death trap,” and gave every trinket and knick-knack their designated spots: high school diploma and Bachelor’s degree over my black computer desk, novelty shot-glasses along the top of my bookcase and various Buddha figurines, from flea markets in South Jersey, on my dresser and nightstands. And of course, my vinyl collection, a two hundred piece of my heart that took me to the dustiest, most allergenic music stores on the East Coast."

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Wasteland, Wasteland, Wasteland

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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Double Take

After a young man's death, his college friend and his mother reassess their lives.

"Many of these details Ben learned while he stood in the lobby of the funeral home on Madison Avenue before the service that warm September Saturday. He was looking for a place to stash his suitcase and people were saying the body was in good shape; it was nice to be able to say goodbye. Perhaps it was the jetlag, but Ben never realized they were talking about an open casket in another room and so he never went to see it. Later, when he started believing he was seeing Mike in London — in the turn of a cheek, a certain stride — he regretted this. He thought maybe the problem could have been avoided if he’d said goodbye with more finality, had seen Mike’s dead face. That seemed like part of the problem; it was hard to accept that Mike was gone. He’d worked harder than most for everything he’d attained. How could it be that the one thing he couldn’t work for was not granted to him in large supply?"

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Babushka

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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Lullaby

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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Smiling to Himself

A man's colonoscopy causes him to reflect on aging, mortality, and family life.

"For a moment, Pete wondered if he should say something else, anything, but the guy had already picked up his magazine again, leaving Pete to ponder not only his inadequacies, but his colonoscopy, something he was suddenly looking forward to and maybe even deserved."

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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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Temporary

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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The Kid Can Drink

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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Other Mothers

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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Probably Somewhere

A story of strange actions and potential love for a one-armed misanthrope.

" The next day it wasn't raining so hard, just a drizzle that faded in and out like bad reception. After lunch I did a little work on my fake arm. They need a lot more upkeep than you'd think—I had to oil the elbow cam, replace a couple of grommets, and adjust the socket to keep it from rubbing my stub raw. That rubbing wasn't much fun, but it was cupcakes compared to the phantom aches I got every so often. You've probably heard about them on television: just because you've lost a limb doesn't mean it can't hurt like a bitch where the limb used to be. I couldn't say which was worse—the pain itself or the way it reminds you of what you aren't anymore."

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Study For the New Fictional Science

A student navigates the treacherous world of isolation and bullying.

"But you just can’t, that’s all. It’s the one thing you have no talent for: being a little bit brave. You think you could be very brave, if the need arose, and if you had to slay a dragon or fight a Sith Lord. But enduring Paul Boehler’s wedgies and Marvin Grossman’s under-the-breath-threats? It’s too much psychic trouble for so small a reward. You cannot do it. And so you’ll stay here for third period, lunch, too. There is no one to eat with in the cafeteria, no place to sit without feeling alone, and so you eat in the nurse’s office and pretend that you are her assistant. She never really seems to mind, though she sighs a little whenever she looks in your direction."

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Naked Woman Playing Chopin

From the latest winner of the National Book Award for Fiction: a former nun's infatuation with classical music leads to unexpected connections and actions.

" At any rate, she played Chopin. Played him in utter naturalness until the Mother Superior was forced to shut the cover to the keyboard and gently pull the stool away. Cecellia lifted the lid and played upon her knees. The poor scandalized dame dragged her from the keys. Cecellia crawled back. The Mother, at her wit's end, sank down and urged the young woman to pray. She herself spoke first in fear and then in certainty, saying that it was the very Devil who had managed to find a way to Cecellia's soul through the flashing doors of sixteenth notes. Her fears were confirmed when, not moments later, the gentle sister raised her arms and fists and struck the keys as though the instrument were stone and from the rock her thirst would be quenched. But only discord emerged."

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How To Date a White Guy

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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Mirrorball

Two ex-lovers meet another couple with physical and personal similarities; sexual and identity crises unfold.

"I’m asking too much. I am asking him to take two men he has something with, two men who are falling out of love with one another or have fallen out of love already, and to convince them both to have sex with him while I watch. It’s too much. But I won’t say that. And he doesn’t claim that in return. He seems resolved to make it happen. This will be the series of events, the course of action. The way people go to the shore to watch the tidal wave, why they stand and watch the zeppelin burn, or play the video of towers falling over and over. It’s just the kind of thing that people agree to in order to see where it leads.

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Artisanal Baby Naming

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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Celestial Marriage

A delightfully strange and humorous imagining of Mitt Romney's thoughts during a massage.

"Something curdled inside him—he didn’t deserve this dig. Yes, he’d been busy lately, insanely busy, especially with those foreign-policy dopes, but he’d tried to remain attentive to his lady. He’d arranged this nice weekend for them. He’d canceled events, he’d canceled events that were scheduled months ago. Suddenly, he was impatient to get away from her, to find the remote and check on the day’s news. He hadn’t turned on the set since lunchtime yesterday, a gesture he’d hoped that she’d notice and appreciate, mostly because it came so hard to him."

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Dear Creatures/Imaginary Birds

Two shorts: 'Dear Creatures' examines a relationship and a chance observation; 'Imaginary Birds' examines place, potential creations, and identity.

"Some of you will leave, break through the walls to build more in someone else’s country, uninvited and entirely necessary. You will bring tablets to make the water drinkable, pieces of printed paper to explain your theories; scrawl pictures in the dust when words become too heavy in the mouth. You will wipe soot from leaves, soak oil from birds. You will weave shelters from torn branches with ends still weeping sap. You will build things up for others to break down."

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Twenty Fingers

A young man explains the physical and psychological turmoils of his anatomical differences.

"Sorry, I keep forgetting you’ve seen my file. As I was saying. Even after I started dating, I still had to leave the gloves on. I’d tell a girl that my hands were covered in burn scars or that I had early onset arthritis. It was easier to lie to them, give them something they’ve heard of, something they could believe. Something they could deal with."

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What Do We Have In Our Pockets?

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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This Person

A dreamlike look at a person's lavish celebration with various figures from her life.

"They are all waiting by a picnic table in a park this person has driven past many times before. There they are, it's everyone. There are balloons taped to the benches, and the girl this person used to stand next to at the bus stop is waving a streamer. Everyone is smiling. For a moment this person is almost creeped out by the scene, but it would be so like this person to become depressed on the happiest day ever, and so this person bucks up and joins the crowd."

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Weight Loss

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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Sunshine 320 Days A Year

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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Morsels

A butcher contemplates death and life in various forms.

"I don’t like the idea of being stuck anywhere. I would rather be in hell. You know why? Because even though they all say that hell sucks, that there’s nothing decent going on there, I’ll bet you a trillion dollars that every once in a while you’ll be resting on your pitchfork, taking a slight break while The Whipmaster sips at his coffee, and you’ll look out over the valleys and hills of hell and think, hey, fire and brimstone are sort of pretty at this hour, almost like a big, violent sunset. "

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Moto

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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The Interrogative Mood [Excerpt]

A sample from Powell's 2009 novel-in-questions.

"Are you happy? Are you given to wondering if others are happy? Do you know the distinctions, empirical or theoretical, between moss and lichen? Have you seen an animal lighter on its feet than the sporty red fox? Do you cut slack for the crime of passion as opposed to its premeditated cousin? Do you understand why the legal system would? Are you bothered by socks not matching up in subtler respects than color? Is it clear to you what I mean by that? Is it clear to you why I am asking you all these questions?"

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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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Out Cleaning Up The Scene

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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Timbuktu

An invitation to Timbuktu; an attempt to push away life's problems.

" Here, do not think about the past; do not worry about the future. Instead, think only of the present. Of the brilliant shining sun. Of the opalescent waves. Of the bleached rolling dunes in the distance. Let yourself fade away. Enjoy the weather of Timbuktu.……Walk across the island. Notice how the temperature is exactly what you’d want it to be if someone asked you. Do not think about how no one ever asks you—about anything. How most things occur against your will. Instead, realize that throughout Timbuktu, the temperature varies from 64° to 95°."

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Inertia

A snapshot of a woman in the midst of depression.

"She shuffle-dashes back into the house, thinking she could use a nap, thinking that one of these days she’s going to get her act together and drag her ass out of this drain she’s circling, maybe get on some anti-depressants—something—but that means going to a doctor, which means finding a doctor, way too much wrapped around all that. Besides, she’s not sure she’s depressed, it's not like she sits around weeping; self-pity is the least of it. No, it’s more a complete failure to act."

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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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3 Stories

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 Series Of Astrological Disasters

A mother and daughter seek various forms of spiritual guidance and stability.

"The waitress came over and her mother ordered a coffee, plenty of cream and sugar, and Melissa ordered a pop with everything—Coke, Sprite, and Dr. Pepper but no root beer. The psychic ordered a side of bacon and an iced tea with three slices of lemon. He touched her mother gently on the hand and said, Shelley, you are a Gemini. Pollux, one of Gemini’s stars, is the nearest giant star to Earth. Her mother ooohed and went glass-eyed, and Melissa wished she could take her mother home, where the two of them could wait on the porch for dark, and when it came, Melissa would point and say, There, Mother. There’s Gemini. Right there. But Melissa didn’t know where Gemini was."

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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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I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream

For over one hundred years, a malicious supercomputer named AM has enslaved five tortured survivors who look for a way out.

"Oh, Jesus sweet Jesus, if there ever was a Jesus and if there is a God, please please please let us out of here, or kill us. Because at that moment I think I realized completely, so that I was able to verbalize it: AM was intent on keeping us in his belly forever, twisting and torturing us forever. The machine hated us as no sentient creature had ever hated before. And we were helpless. It also became hideously clear:If there was a sweet Jesus and if there was a God, the God was AM."

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The Nine Innings Of Morrie Rath

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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Something More Interesting

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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Conscious Knowledge

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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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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Maternal Pride

Various people descend on an Italian gay pride parade.

"Her sense of her own presence was mounting. The fact was that she-who hadn't gone on even one strike when she was a young factory worker; who had not voted for at least fifteen years; who hadn't gone on vacation since her husband died, and who had only traveled on her own to visit distant, faded relatives-she was nearly becoming intoxicated by the thought of immersing herself in the tumultuous throng; of being lost and out of place in a crowd to which she had no social, sexual, or official connection at all."

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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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Recitatif

Two girls--one white, one black--meet as troubled children and then at various points in their different lives.

"So for the moment it didn't matter that we looked like salt and pepper standing there and that's what the other kids called us sometimes. We were eight years old and got F's all the time. Me because I couldn't remember what I read or what the teacher said. And Roberta because she couldn't read at all and didn't even listen to the teacher. She wasn't good at anything except jacks, at which she was a killer: pow scoop pow scoop pow scoop."

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Young German Artists Boldly Define the 'New Jew'

Creating an identity that’s no longer tied to the past.

Monsters occasionally assume a completely unexpected appearance. All of a sudden, Adolf Hitler is standing onstage wearing an Adidas tracksuit and flip-flops, and his name isn't Hitler; it's Oliver Polak. And the monster isn't really Adolf Hitler, either; it's the audience's laughter. It starts with a sputter, like something trying to break free from its restraints. But then it bursts out as if suddenly liberated.

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Passport

One important document, many permutating possibilities.

"Or she offered it to strangers, or she didn’t, or swore she didn’t, or she stood on a bridge and let it slip through her fingers."

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The Gilgul Of Park Avenue

Charles Morton Luger unexpectedly becomes Jewish.

"When they sat down to dinner, Charles stared at his plate. Half an hour Jewish and already he felt obliged. He knew there were dietary laws, milk and meat forbidden to touch, but he didn't know if chicken was considered meat and didn't dare ask Sue and chance a confrontation -- not until he'd formulated a plan."


In three parts: 1 | 2 | 3

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Midair

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?"