violence

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Iraq, ten years later: Sectarian assassins, posing as bodyguards, are baffled by an egg-laying rabbit. Translated by Jonathan Wright.

"The rabbit had been with us for a month and I had already spent two months with Salsal in this fancy villa in the north of the Green Zone. The villa was detached, surrounded by a high wall and with a gate fitted with a sophisticated electronic security system. We didn’t know when zero hour would come. Salsal was a professional, whereas they called me duckling because this was my first operation."

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Two men take different paths during the Spanish Civil War.

"We each took a shovel, cursing the officer and the soldier whose question put us in our position, but before we dug a hole big enough for three corpses, another truck came from the bullring to the cemetery. This time, four of the Moroccan regulares sat on the tailgate. They shared a cigarette and joked with one another while bodies jostled heavily behind them. So we began unloading the dead. I hesitated touching their hairy forearms or muddy ankles, their bare feet or damp armpits, moist from fear. Their clothes and skin were soaked through, and their blood was warm and slick, making them difficult to handle. For many, their bowels had released their grip in death, and we worked while trying to cover our noses with a shoulder. Most of the bullets had entered their chests, though some destroyed their jaws so that their mouths swung open across a shoulder. What should we do about this one? a soldier asked, pointing at a still-blinking rojo. Blood clouded his eyes, and he breathed with his mouth open. Flies grazed at the corners of his lips. A bullet had sheared a hole through his trachea, which wheezed with each breath. The commanding officer glanced down, then turned away. He’ll be dead by the time you finish digging his grave, he said."

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Three generations of women endure the trials of a turbulent Nigeria.

"Almost a year into their courting, the war comes. Her people are Biafra loyalists, his people think Ojukwu is a fool. On the night of their engagement party only her people attend. And when she goes by his house the next day she discovers he has left the country."

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A childhood evening in a barrio.

"Now they’re bossing all the kids around. Just because they have the nicest soccer ball in all of Cuatro de Marzo, they think they can slave-drive the other kids to make the soccer field, to carve it out from the dirt street. They think they can practically reinvent the game. The ball is pretty nice. Nobody knows exactly where they got it, but they never let it out of their sight. They take turns guarding it, sleeping with it at night. It’s the same kind the Guadalajara Chivas use, one that looks official—all red, white and blue with their coat of arms on the side."

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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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An act of terror at an art museum.

"When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."

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An uncle sets out to find his wayward niece.

"I pick Jerry’s and I’m right. A couple of old people are hanging out outside the pizza place and next to them groups of highschool kids. I see Sara. She’s sitting on a mailbox, leaning over a guy, her back to me. The sharp outline of her spine showing through her tank top and she doesn’t look like she’s been eating. She’s a good looking girl though, I can tell. An old Ozzy Ozbourne song plays from the open door of a Lexus next to them."

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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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A complex look at an act of small town violence.

"There wasn’t time to think about it, though, because Jim had already opened his car door and was running up the concrete incline toward where the two men were sleeping, and there was two of them and one of him, so I kicked off my slides in the floorboard and grabbed hold of my blackjack and run up the hill after him."

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An aging wrestler reflects as he prepares to wrestle an old nemesis: a black bear.

"Emperor Jones Number Two vs. Dave 'Warthog' Ferrari in 'The War 2 Settle The Score' was the main event of that evening's Wrestling Road Show. It was the only match on the card that featured any animals. Times were changing, Friar had told me. The draw at the gate had been better than Friar expected; he'd sold more than a hundred tickets in advance and there were now twice that many people crammed into the small gymnasium. When commissioning the gym, the Legionnaires decided to have a stage built at one end, for medal ceremonies or other such honors. That was where Friar had his ring set up. Normally you work in the round, but this set up had it's advantages for a promotion like Friar's. It was easy to bring animals in and out and people wouldn't get too nervous seeing how they had to be wrangled from their cages when it was done behind a curtain."

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“Violence, being instrumental by nature, is rational to the extent that it is effective in reaching the end which must justify it.”

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A man returns to his small hometown for a temporary substitute teaching job.

"I went away from this place and I lived somewhere else. Years passed. When I came back, it was all the same. It had been years, but the place was the same. I started teaching at the school I went to as a boy. It was a substitute gig. The original teacher needed surgery and she would be out for three weeks. There was a little girl there in the 5th grade class and she was so shy she could barely speak. The other 5th grade teacher told me that the little girl’s mother was on drugs. She told me not to get close to the kids like that because they never made it through the school year. They always ended up moving or just disappearing. She told me that she had been to a funeral just a few weeks earlier for a student’s mother who had overdosed."

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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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A series of linked fantasies, veering from the whimsical to the grave.

"If you sang unrequited love songs, I’d take you on tour. We'd go to Broadway. You'd stand onstage, talons digging into the floorboards. Audiences would weep at the melancholic beauty of your singing."

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A grieving writer, a jealous actor, and sudden eruptions of [mock?] violence.

"Alvin Lightman, though I did not yet know his name, was sitting in the front parlor, designated the 'lounge,' his long legs stretched out across a wicker ottoman. As he later told me, he watched my arrival circumspectly, from behind the traditional screen of an open newspaper. He thought I looked 'ghastly' but 'possibly interesting.'"

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After a drunk driving accident, a dangerous altercation ensues.

"Now Flint says nothing, and his lips sew themselves closed. His head jerks sharply, half an inch to the side. There’s no reading it. John has never been good at reading people. He reads reports and precedents, and those are the things he is good at. He reads labels and alcohol content and is good at ignoring those. Was. He can’t do that again. He wants to do that again. He wants the scotch his sister upended in the drain, the gin alongside. He should be thinking about the money, about the cost of those things, but money is beyond him right now. All he wants is moisture in his throat. Outside, the sky is still as dry as sand, a black blanket cut by threads of lightning. He misses the darkness, before the lamp came on, because the yellow light is too clean, too real. This moment is not at all real."

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A family man visits his wayward, troubled brother.

"I've driven here after all these years to figure out—maybe for the first time—the person my brother is. My brother who I've known only in memory. And in two-minute phone calls and birthday cards and rumors. My brother who is sometimes kind and sometimes cruel. Kind when he brought me pizza after my accident, when, at two in the morning with an IV poking through my skin, we ate and laughed to the rhythmic beep-beep of the heart monitor. Cruel when he chased Tommy Gleeson—our autistic neighbor—down the street with a pipe, cornered him, and then stepped on his stomach until he vomited."

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A Parisan eccentric and his friend analytically consider a horrific crime in this classic detective story.

"At the first dawn of the morning we closed all the massy shutters of our old building; lighted a couple of tapers which, strongly perfumed, threw out only the ghastliest and feeblest of rays. By the aid of these we then busied our souls in dreams—reading, writing, or conversing, until warned by the clock of the advent of the true Darkness. Then we sallied forth into the streets, arm and arm, continuing the topics of the day, or roaming far and wide until a late hour, seeking, amid the wild lights and shadows of the populous city, that infinity of mental excitement which quiet observation can afford."

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Family faults, loss, and discontent arise when a widower watches his grandson during a summer in Florida.

"In the calm that follows his tears, Fowler sees clearly how Mary, in dying, not only took herself away from him, but also widened the gap between he and his daughter and his grandson. Fowler would have to take on his wife’s best qualities — her patience, her unconditional love for people despite their flaws — in order to stop that gap from widening. This realization terrifies him — he doesn’t have that kind of strength — and as his heart beats fast with that fear, he notices the boy’s socks on the floor near the bed. He picks one of them up and uses it to wipe at his eyes. He blows his nose into the sock, breathes in the fabric’s sour scent."

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A Bosnian immigrant in Chicago undertakes some ramshackle detective work.

"Office 909 had a sign that read GREAT LAKES EYE and a black-and-white eye with long, upward-curling eyelashes. Pronek hesitated for a moment before knocking at the door--his fingers levitated, angled, in front of the eye. Pronek knocked using three of his knuckles, the glass shook perilously, then he opened the door and entered an empty waiting room. There was another door, closed, and there were magazines strewn on the few chairs, even on the musty floor, as if someone had searched through them all. The waiting room was lit by a thin-necked lamp in the corner, leaning slightly as if about to snap. A picture of an elaborate ocean sunset--somebody lit a match under the water--hung on the opposite wall. 'Acapulco,' it said in the lower right corner, 'where you want to dream.' Pronek stood in front of the picture, imagining Acapulco and all the pretty, tawny people there. It would be a good place to disappear for a while."

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Small town acts of violence intersect with moments of despair and redemption.

"Roddy and I talked about it a couple of nights later in the lot of the Arby’s on route 15, and I told him that he was pretty damned lucky, after all. If he’d been cold-cocked by someone local it would have been all over the town in a matter of a week; since it was college kids who did it, all the locals could just say 'goddamn college kids' and forget it’d happened, and it wouldn’t come up again until someone got drunk enough to forget what they should and shouldn’t say. I don’t think I made him feel any better."

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Tim O'Brien's meditation on war and peace, reality and fiction, truth and lies. From The Things They Carried.

"You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a gunship, the illumination rounds, the white phosphorus, the purply orange glow of napalm, the rocket's red glare. It's not pretty, exactly. It's astonishing. It fills the eye. It commands you. You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not. Like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference—a powerful, implacable beauty—and a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly."

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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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A young boy with ringworm is sequestered in a children's hospital. Part of The Morning News' "Reading Roulette" series, featuring contemporary Russian writing.

"The sociology in our ward was as follows. Lousy Letuch ruled the roost, a bruiser whose surname was Letuchev, pretty violent and not serving a prison sentence only through some administrative error or because he was underage. His elder brothers, he related proudly, had all done a spell inside. He had a sidekick, a small—even smaller than me—but very strong lad of 11 called Vovan, who did all the dirty work for his boss; sorted out the parcels, beat up the contentious, and generally kept order."

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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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A woman's communications and interactions with a potential criminal.

"The beaten man lurches to his feet and pulls out a shape, a gun, from his pocket–somehow it must have escaped the notice of the other men before. He staggers backward into the porticos and I can no longer see him. But a minute later I can hear him yelling in English as he storms up the stairs of my building, calling, 'Help! Help!' and hammering on doors. There are several banging sounds as though he’s fallen."

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Mannequin parts, violent sex, and a fight club for women. Not for the timid.

"A cou­ple months later, he comes over to my apart­ment in the mid­dle of the night because we've long aban­doned any pre­tense of a mutual inter­est in any­thing but dirty sex and he's hold­ing a fiber­glass baby arm, painted the color of flesh. "

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Sketches from the violent, troubled life of a Middle Eastern man.

"The boy’s name was Mokhtar, but no one ever called him anything but Chico. I first got to know him when he was fifteen. He had grown up healthy and handsome. His pockets were always stuffed with money, and that was what was special about him. His life consisted of sitting in cafes, day and night, and he learned to drink alcohol and to sleep with whores. He was generous and goodhearted, but if he got angry he could be dangerous, and he often got angry when he was drunk. When Chico was seventeen his aunt died, leaving him her bank account, three houses and a bakery in the city, and a big farm out in the country. He began to give large parties, buying great quantities of food and drink for many friends, and spending even more on girls."

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A family, headed to Florida, encounters a gang of criminals in this grim classic.

"The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy."

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A prison camp, inhabited by dentist-philosophers, murderous baseball players, and other colorful figures.

"Shortstop: Evelyn Roak, surgeon, supplied human fragments to a delicatessen, and was undone by scandalous amputations."

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Metafictional entanglements and sexual violence in a lost 1970s novel from Stephen Dixon, published this year by experimental publishers Fugue State Press.

"When he was here two winters ago he wrote a short story about a writer who came to a similar village to get over a woman in New York who had stopped seeing him. In the story and real life she was an actress portraying an actress on a daytime television soap opera who was in love with a writer of soap operas who couldn't give up his wife for her. One night, in the story and real life, she told Paul she couldn't see him anymore as she was in love with and thinks she'll be marrying the actor who plays the writer on the show."

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A murderer fights off vengeance seekers, including God.

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

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Five provocative fragments from the author of this year's acclaimed experimental SF novel Ivyland.

"If, as the present suggests, we are fated to spend ever more time in virtual realities, funneling ourselves into the abstractions of code, then so too will human savagery fold into this nonspace. Murder will be wiping a hard drive with minds on it. Infoterror and thoughtwar the apocalyptic threats."

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Two under-the-influence friends discuss a history of human violence.

"...for years and years they would do this, it’s all in the Las Casas, and for years and years Spanish soldiers were just like falling over themselves, they couldn’t believe it, just completely climbing over one another, trying to get out of their boats and get to their swords fast enough to get a quick, easy lead-off beheading of a holy tribal king without even thinking that maybe it might violate, oh, I don’t know, the entire Christian moral code or, that whole thing aside, that it might go against just obvious, timeless, and basic human good versus evil restraint, you know, something like that was around even with cavemen, the totally simple idea that maybe needlessly causing excruciating, savage, horrifying, life-ending pain to another being, to a brother, to somebody like yourself, might not be the thing you should do. They found their heaven and they turned it into a hell. On purpose."

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Three women bribe a Red Cross driver for a ride to a battlefield to identify the lost men in their lives.

"They climbed into the back of the Red Cross truck, carrying small bags of lunch and the knickknacks they hoped to bury. The interior smelled of disinfectant, of cigarettes. The metal seats offered only the ache of ice. Underneath their unwashed winter coats, they wore clothing for the dead -- Carmen in Savic's favorite dress, the one he always begged her to wear without a bra, and now much too thin for this cold; Marina in jeans and a sweater, wearing her brother's skiing cap and a large cross around her neck, folding and unfolding her spotted hands; Gisele bundled up, zipped up, buttoned up with all the clothing she could wear, not a bit of wife showing."

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Life and death envelops a polygamist family.

"Walker Getty led us to the candle with thirteen flames, which he said symbolized our family. Twelve small candles circled and bowed to one large flame. Hiram lit the large flame with a butane lighter, and one by one we wives lit one small candle with his big candle. Six candles stayed unlit, Walker Getty said, until the Lord saw fit to bless Hiram with more."

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A story about a young woman's history of drug addiction.

"They had met just before the holidays. She was still shaky from rehab, having jagged days, nightmares, humongous cravings. She hadn't felt that bad in years, not since after the accident, when she was sixteen and went through the windshield near dawn after a long foggy night at the clubs on Sunset. Then she had stayed in a coma for weeks. (Her mother always talked about it in this dramatic voice, 'Arabella was in a coma for weeks, she came back from the dead.') It was cozy enough for her, she was feeling no pain, just morphine and voices and a sense of almost being where she belonged. In a coma was fine with her. Coming out of it was a bitch."

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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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A young man awaits a conversation with his father, with the Egyptian Revolution in the background.

"I am standing and waiting on my father to come home. He is well-educated and serves quite the purpose in one of the state dailies. He works among the bureaucrats, in their offices without walls, only partitions, and aspires for me to do the same when he is promoted. Promotion is not contingent, it is imminent. Our side will win and the present situation will end, but for tonight I hope political talk will trap itself somewhere on the road from Tahrir to our apartment and that my father and I can focus on our cocktails."

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A woman shares memories of various communications, ranging from the innocent to the violent.

"Still, there were occasions on which I had to be stopped. When you think of two things to say, pick your favorite and only say that, my mother suggested once, as a tip to polite social behavior, and the rule was later modified to one in three. My father would come to my bedroom door each night to wish me happy dreams and I would speak without taking a breath, trying desperately to keep him in my room with only my voice. I would see his hand on the doorknob, the door beginning to swing shut. I have something to say! I’d tell him, and the door would stop midway."

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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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Infidelity leads to murder, with implications of haunting beyond the grave.

"Now Joe knew his wife had passed that way. He knew that the men lounging in the general store had seen her, moreover, he knew that the men knew he knew. He stood there silent for a long moment staring blankly, with his Adam’s apple twitching nervously up and down his throat. One could actually see the pain he was suffering, his eyes, his face, his hands and even the dejected slump of his shoulders. He set the bottle down upon the counter. He didn’t bang it, just eased it out of his hand silently and fiddled with his suspender buckle."

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A conversation with a future being reveals the sad timelessness of modern problems.

"What would an unspoiled South Sea Islander have made of the first atomic war? Maxwell wondered. Morals of one society didn't apply to another, he knew. Still—was it possible that the Beachcomber's people, Maxwell's own descendants, still had a taint of the old Adam? And was it accident that they were the only dominant life-form in the entire universe, or had they eliminated all other contenders?"

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An essay on “how we ignore the long-term effects of violence on children, adults and our communities.”

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A former first-string tackle considers the green zone as a war zone:

Just as football has evolved in accordance with the evolving business ethic of American society, so has it evolved in accordance with the changing strategic assumptions about war. The development (or rebirth) of the T-formation in football coincided almost exactly with the development of a new era of mobility and speed in warfare best exemplified in the Blitzkrieg tactics of the German armies in Europe in 1939-40. The T-formation soon overwhelmed the “Maginot Line” mentality of traditional football, based as it was on rigid lines and massive concentrations of defensive and offensive power.

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A wounded WWI soldier reflects on the absurdities of battle.

"Men were more humane when they were killing each other than when they were talking about it. So was civilization nothing but a vast edifice of sham, and the war, instead of its crumbling, was its fullest and most ultimate expression. Oh, but there must be something more in the world than greed and hatred and cruelty. Were they all shams, too, these gigantic phrases that floated like gaudy kites high above mankind?"

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The new owner of the Twin Forks Store and Campground encounters some trouble.

"The sheriff had said, 'You probably should've shot him while you could do it legal and get it over with. He might be back for you, or you might not ever see him again, who knows with meth heads. But you surely will want to be ready if ever he does come around for you, and that could be at any time from now on.'"

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On the “Pacification Process,” or how we ended up in the least violent moment in our species’ existence.

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Meticulous details of a room and a murdered young woman; a sample of Robbe-Grillet's sometimes challenging forms.

"In the background, near the top of the stairway, a black silhouette is seen fleeing, a man wrapped in a long, floating cape, ascending the last steps without turning around, his deed accomplished. A thin smoke rises in twisting scrolls from a sort of incense burner placed on a high stand of ironwork with a silvery glint. Nearby lies the milkwhite body, with wide streaks of blood running from the left breast, along the flank and on the hip."

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A Mexican man reluctantly provides cultural insights to a pandering white American journalist.

"Two years before, Samuel Kramer had arrived to write the nteenth feature on Frida Kahlo. Someone told him I wrote screenplays for tough documentaries, and he paid me to accompany him through a city he considered savage and explain things he called mythical."

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As part of his cover, a spy is forced to work at a big-box store called "Circuitpalooza."

"There are, I suppose, far unluckier fates than my own. I remember the botched assassination in Paraguay, the decapitated arms dealer in Slovenia, the lone orphan girl in Kuwait. However, I can’t help but feel that, as a spy, my position here at Circuitpalooza demands perhaps a little more from me than it would from most."

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On monsters, both fantastical and real.

"Wendell and I ate hotdogs and argued about Hooferman. He’s not real, I said. My dad saw him, Wendell said. My dad said only drunks see him, I replied, and it’s really the devil they see."

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A Hitchcockian meditation about everyday people's capacity for violence.

"An odd thought crossed her mind: She would pick up the heavy glass ashtray and smash her husband over the head with it."

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From the author of Winter's Bone: A Vietnam War veteran grapples with the aftermath of killing a home intruder.

" A year after his return Pelham ceased to mention Vietnam to new acquaintances, dropped it from the biography of himself he’d give if asked. Only those who knew him before he went were certain that he’d gone. Jill was a second wife, fifteen years his junior, a lovely, patient blond, and remembered Vietnam as a tiresome old television show that’d finally been canceled about the time she left third grade. "

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A boy ("the kid"), a man, a girl, a dog, a a bag of drugs, and the Buddha.

"The kid didn't laugh, because he never fake-laughed. The girl laughed because she was nervous. There was an uneasy space where the kid was not laughing. "

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A first-person rumination on a lifetime spent behind bars.