Backbone

A stand-alone piece of the manuscript that became The Pale King, this story details a young boy's mysterious and doomed obsession.

"During the five weeks that he was disabled with a subluxated T3 vertebra—often in such discomfort that not even his inhaler could ease the asthma that struck whenever he experienced pain or distress—the heady enthusiasm of childhood had given way in the boy to a realization that the objective of pressing his lips to every square inch of himself was going to require maximum effort, discipline, and a commitment sustainable over periods of time that he could not then (because of his age) imagine."

My First Flame

An early take on the dark side of cyberspace:

Like many newcomers to the "net"--which is what people call the global web that connects more than thirty thousand on-line networks--I had assumed, without really articulating the thought, that while talking to other people through my computer I was going to be sheltered by the same customs and laws that shelter me when I'm talking on the telephone or listening to the radio or watching TV. Now, for the first time, I understood the novelty and power of the technology I was dealing with.

Town Of Cats

A young man Japanese man visits his estranged, domineering father.

"Still, it was not their physical features that made it difficult for Tengo to identify with his father but their psychological makeup. His father showed no sign at all of what might be called intellectual curiosity. True, having been born in poverty he had not had a decent education. Tengo felt a degree of pity for his father’s circumstances. But a basic desire to obtain knowledge—which Tengo assumed to be a more or less natural urge in people—was lacking in the man."

Personal Best

The case for coaches in professions other than music and sports. Like medicine, for example:

Since I have taken on a coach, my complication rate has gone down. It’s too soon to know for sure whether that’s not random, but it seems real. I know that I’m learning again. I can’t say that every surgeon needs a coach to do his or her best work, but I’ve discovered that I do.

U.S. Journal: Pinellas County, Florida Attractions

A visit to Walt Disney World.
The first thing I did at Walt Disney World was to take an oath not to make any smart-aleck remarks. A Disney public-relations man had told me that attitude was everything. So I placed my left hand on a seven-Adventure book of tickets to the Magic Kingdom and raised my right hand and promised that there would be no sarcasm on my lips or in my heart.

The Mitigator

How mitigation specialists are changing the application of the death penalty:

In Texas, the most prominent mitigation strategist is a lawyer named Danalynn Recer, the executive director of the Gulf Region Advocacy Center. Based in Houston, GRACE has represented defendants in death-penalty cases since 2002. “The idea was to improve the way capital trials were done in Texas, to start an office that would bring the best practices from other places and put them to work here,” Recer said recently. “This is not some unknowable thing. This is not curing cancer. We know how to do this. It is possible to persuade a jury to value someone’s life.”

It's Spreading

The anatomy of a 1930 epidemic that wasn’t:

Was parrot fever really something to worry about? Reading the newspaper, it was hard to say. “not contagious in man,” the Times announced. “Highly contagious,” the Washington Post said. Who knew? Nobody had ever heard of it before. It lurked in American homes. It came from afar. It was invisible. It might kill you. It made a very good story. In the late hours of January 8th, editors at the Los Angeles Times decided to put it on the front page: “two women and man in Annapolis believed to have 'parrot fever.'"

Still Life

A man, a woman, and a child negotiate their uneasy triangle in the days and weeks following 9/11.

"His briefcase sat beside the table like something yanked out of a landfill. He said there was a shirt coming down out of the sky."