Fiction Pick of the Week: "Eight Scenes From the Life of a Professional Raven"
Reflections from a bird and a mascot.
Reflections from a bird and a mascot.
Lessons for dating and dying.
Family problems and a myriad of solutions.
"I don’t know if my husband and I are on the way to church or a hangover. It is too early in the drive to tell. The first Thursday of every month, my husband’s sister comes over to watch the kids. They are too old for a sitter, but the older one keeps trying to kill herself and we don’t want to risk it. Always keep an eye on them, I tell my sister-in-law. Don’t leave them alone for a second, not even to ice a cake, organize a closet, dry the dishes, say a prayer."
A horrifying animal attack turns into an examination of rural life.
"Admit it. You want to jump to the part about Bubba tearing into Child, who still has no identifiable name. This story isn't about Child; it's about the town and its assumptions. But since I cannot narrate the story of the assuming town without touching on what it is they assumed upon, I will tell you the parts of the Bubba/Child story that will elucidate they and their assumings."
Newly sober, a man considers faith in its various forms.
Struggling with sobriety, a man considers faith in all its complications.
"Wishes pour out of me, spilling onto the couch like blood from a bull on an altar. Big wishes for the whole of humanity—world peace and things like that— then, medium wishes—a better job, a wife, kids even, which I’ve never, ever wanted before, and even small wishes I laugh at but still mean—the Cubs in the Series, for example. I wish to hate booze, wish that my stomach would catch fire and burn me to death from the inside out if I ever take another drink. I wish for a better life, for a new me, for a better spirit. Without knowing exactly what that means, I wish for a better spirit."
Human emotions and contact in the far future.
"Ethan begins moonlighting at the touch center on weekday mornings. Off-peak hours. He robo-cabs it there and back alone. Still, working there is a leap from the isolation of his apartment, and it’s the first time he’s felt inspired in years. He knows he’s not handsome by conventional standards, but he can give a mean hug and they never have enough guys to work at places like this anyway."
A surreal college campus beset by stabbings and other hijinx.
"It’s also not long before Dean Nelson is stabbed through the eye and killed by his secretary who claims never left her desk all day. Except security footage shows her ogling pencils she was sharpening right before carrying them menacingly into Nelson’s office. No amount of rug-sweeping will spin this."
A man considers his broken family life while awaiting a possible selection for jury duty.
"And then there I was sitting in the jury stand, listening as the judge explained what he meant by admonition and the prosecutor’s burden. I’d never been in a courtroom before, and it got me thinking. Isn’t it unfair how Maggie treats me like a criminal? I mean, seeing as it could have happened to anybody. Thing is, I’m still serving time."
A space cowboy, an alien girl, a a quest; A Housleyian spin on Guardians of the Galaxy.
"They nodded at one another and closed ranks, each of them wobbly but still standing. Their foe was reduced to a pile of smoking robes. The thing they were fighting for – the thing they now knew could either save or destroy the universe – was steaming off-center among the scorched remains of their foe. They held their breath, all of them, while the Space Cowboy picked up the thing they had been fighting for, tossed it in the air, caught it in his other hand, and passed it to the Queen."
A man's lifelong hold on an imaginary person.
"He could never really explain it, once he got past that age where it stopped being okay to have an imaginary friend. He always knew she wasn't an imaginary friend. But he desperately tried to explain it anyway, to all the school counselors and all sorts of in-network therapists as he got older. It was simple in some senses. She was supposed to be living on his street. She was supposed to be in his kindergarten class. But all the houses were full with other families. And every little spot on that circular alphabet rug in his classroom was taken by someone else. Leona never happened."
A story of a playoff at-bat, a franchise, and a spectator couple.
"Coco has watched every home game with her husband from these seats since the ballpark opened in 2008 while listening to the game play by play on 106.7 FM. She has endured horrible seasons, but 2009 when her beloved team lost 108 games, and 2010 when they lost 93 more, are distant memories. Now she feels like a winner. This is the playoffs. After marriage, and kids, and grandkids, after retirement and their dream trip to Dubrovnik, this is what she has been hoping for. It is the last of her major life events. Something to retell at family dinners. Remember the World Series of 2012?"
A world in which an internal software turns anger and intense emotions into involuntary exercise.
"Then there are the monthly upgrades, downloaded automatically from GRUNT. A few months back the upgrade reprogrammed our sensors to monitor facial expressions and the tone of one’s voice, so you can’t fool it anymore by smiling or speaking softly. A quiet argument is still an argument to the executives at GRUNT. It certainly changed around Brad, my supervisor, who liked to hint at our utter worthlessness in this very quiet voice, a smile stretching across his face. There was something disturbing about watching him grin, and place his arm gently over your shoulder and lower his voice as his called your work garbage, your very existence a nuisance, all with this soft, earnest voice. Now he wears track shoes to work and does sprints in between insults, weaving in and out of the cubicles, stutter stepping like a hall of fame running back."
A woman is sent on an ominous mission to collected a jugular vein.
"The hands are still clapping when I jump, when I take on the air, when I dive. My body slams into the dirt at the bottom of the hole, some of the jugulars beneath me, I can feel the softness of them, I pull the rest near me, bring their thick heavy softness near the heat of my body."
A horror/mystery story about heart removal, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Chinese food bags.
"It is not easy to remove a heart with a spoon from the chest of a man, nor is it clean. The spoon was purchased 48 hours earlier from the Bed, Bath & Beyond on 9th Street. The Nicole Miller Moments 5 pc Flatware Set was $24.99. The salad fork, dinner knife, dinner fork, and soup spoon were disposed of. Only the teaspoon remained.
Over a cup of coffee, an unhappy father examines chance happenings, fate, and accidents.
"It was a game David would play every morning when he woke up and every evening when he got back from work. He was mentally prepared to have to play the game at any moment while he was inside his house. It happened in split seconds; he would fumble the cup he was retrieving from the cabinet in the kitchen and think, If that cup falls on the floor and breaks, I’ll leave my wife. He would bump his car against the side of his overstuffed garage backing out and think, If that bumper just got dented or the taillight just shattered, that’s it. I’m gone. And so on and so forth. No cups ever fell and no car parts were ever damaged, and David was always able to tell himself that the game was just that—a harmless, fun little thing like so many other harmless, fun little things in so many other marriages."
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.
An evening of drinking and tensions culminates in the revelation of embarrassing childhood memories.
"'What’s in my Memory Palace?' she wondered. A driveway. One with a basketball hoop on a pole. Megan was 11 and playing with her new friends. They grinned at each other and approached her, tied her to the basketball pole with two jump ropes, attached rollerblades to her feet, and then drew penises on her face. Then they dressed her hair with shaving cream."
A grim conversation with a gas station attendant.
"Look, he said, none of my business but in my experience the longer you live in a car the bigger it gets. So as you never find your way out."
Adolescent desires and yearnings permeate the memories of an all-boys academy.
"At school, we were allowed to wear costumes but were not allowed to bring treats. So we'd made the most of it -- we wore our costumes, we overcrowded the hallways with streams of sleepy ghosts. And often, through the punctured eyeholes of our masks, we tried to imagine how things might be if only we had girls. We envisioned an influx of princesses, maybe a witch or two or three positioned by the lockers. But we were an academy, an all-boys academy, and the possibility of both girls and treats were, in Principal Foster's eyes, completely out of the question."
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."
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?"
Aftermath of a hookup, told in the form of an interactive fiction game.
"It is possible that you did not sleep with her, but here she is, next to you, wearing your clothes. She also has your socks, a pristine new pair of tube socks, on her hands. That was probably enormously funny at the time. Some other time. Not at all funny now, what with you being naked. There are closed doors to the EAST and NORTH."