Buster

The gift of a dog causes a woman to reflect on earlier dogs, and earlier relationships.

"'Ruff, ruff,' Rex had said, and she kissed him, then the puppy. That was days before and they were still trying to find a name that seemed to suit, one day calling the pup Beep, since, when he whined, he sounded like a car horn. "

Mercy

A woman reflects back on the end of her relationship with Sergei, a Ukranian.

"I was hugged and examined by Sergei's parents. I realized that I was being sized up for something, which was frightening, and that their response was that of instant, teary approval, which was far more frightening. With watery eyes and pinched lips they whispered 'precious' and called me 'gorgeous,' while the roundest of the official-types on stage began to sing."

Trespassing

A woman's investigations of closed-off places become quiet expressions of nationalistic outrage.

"She went through a summer or two of exploring empty listed buildings. The English countryside was full of them, just standing there, vast, abandoned, too big to develop but architecturally and historically too important to destroy. "

The Submission

The identity of the designer of a proposed 9/11 memorial competition inflames the emotions and the prejudices of an observer.

"The Rally to Protect Sacred Ground kicked off on a balmy Saturday morning in a plaza opposite the site. The members of both the Memorial Defense Committee and Save America From Islam were there, gathered in a cordoned-off area in front of the stage. Behind them stretched thousands: women holding signs that said NO TOLERANCE FOR THE INTOLERANT or KHAN IS A CON; fathers hoisting small children on their shoulders; men in camouflage who may or may not have been veterans. "

The Road

The perceptions of an Italian mule, pressed into military service on the long WWII onslaught on Stalingrad.

"Everything had become habitual and therefore right. Everything had joined together to form a life that was right and natural: hard labour, the asphalt, drinking troughs, the smell of axle grease, the thunder of the stinking, long-barrelled guns, the smell of tobacco and leather from the driver’s fingers, the evening bucket of maize, the bundle of prickly hay."

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."

Reluctant Vegan

A woman's relationship with a hipster artist, heavy with potential disasters.

"They'd been together nearly five months. She was still reading the signs, parsing his remarks for flickers of irony and enlightenment. Sometimes she gazed into deep springs--not that she really saw what was in there--sometimes a shallow, reflective pool. David liked to birdie-feed her in bed, kissing her tenderly and spitting chewed-up food into her mouth. It made her feel exquisitely delicate and dependent, endearingly vulnerable."

All Their Riches

Karen refugees from Burma--a mother and small child--adjust to a new life in the United States.

"Picture me following Derek, our startlingly obese caseworker, through the new apartment, trying to concentrate on his English with all of my mind. Picture me flipping a light switch for the first time and seeing the lamps blossom into electric life. Picture me flinching at the scream of the smoke alarm and the rush of water in the toilet and the wintry blast of the freezer, the coldest air I’d ever felt. My new apartment was full of traps, it seemed."

Summer Job

A young woman endures tedious, infuriating work in the hospitality industry.

"I told him that pest control would’ve noticed cockroaches when they were here looking for rats. They’re very different creatures, rats and cockroaches, he said. Yeah, but you’d know if you saw cockroaches or if you didn’t, I said. He looked at me as if I’d confessed that I used to be an insect myself and just stared with that fixed gaze for an interminable period and then said, what makes you think you’re qualified to make that distinction?"

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."

Me And Gin

The intensities and disappointments of a friendship between two girls on the cusp of adolescence.

"Me and Gin like to play preacher and supplicant, Gin is always the preacher and I am always the supplicant. Gin saying You a fearful sinner, young lady, and me heaving my shoulders, begging Please."

Middleton

From Lutz's new collection, Divorcer: a man mourns his deceased wife in an unorthodox fashion.

"Death didn’t have any of the detergent effect I thought I had been led to expect. Things that had looked violently dirtied before looked even dirtier now, and there was a marital malodor to our place, but make no mistake: we had been lovers, my wife and I, meaning mostly that we had coated things and people with love, had used our love to cover things up, to see to it that layer after layer got put over everything."

Red

A teenage girl observes her parents' work in a "dying parlor."

"It doesn’t take a genius to figure out dying people like to have a kid around to remind them of happier times. A teenager though, that’s something they’ll skip for their last two hours on earth. No one looks back on their life and says, remind me again of what it was like to be fifteen. Yeah, those were the days."

Customs

A young Jewish man makes a comical attempt to smuggle items into Canada.

"When I sit back in my seat I feel dampness on my ass. My jeans came in contact with some mystery liquid on the lavatory floor. I finish filling out the declaration card. I'd stopped in the middle after reading that I'd have to declare any meat products I'm bringing into Canada."

Moving The Obelisk

A rumination on an ancient relic.

"At its apex there was a chamber that might have contained relics. Some say it preserved the ashes of a great conqueror. Others believe it held the bones of a crucified rebel. But troubled times came, and the barbarians swept through our lands. The obelisk toppled over, and for a thousand years it lay in an abandoned field."

Blueprints For Building Better Girls [Excerpt]

An altercation between a female college student and a blue collar man at a dive bar.

"It wasn’t a time you’d think of people being awake, and drinking, but the parking lot was jammed with rusty cars and hay wagons and tractors, pickup trucks with gun racks. I always wonder when a guy tells me I have a nice rack if that’s like a gun rack, like deadly—or a rack of antlers, like a trophy you’d hang on the wall over your fireplace. Either way it’s a compliment."

In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried

Attempted, inane conversations with a woman on her deathbed.

"I read her MAN ROBS BANK WITH CHICKEN, about a man who bought a barbecued chicken at a stand down the block from a bank. Passing the bank, he got the idea. He walked in and approached a teller. He pointed the brown paper bag at her and she handed over the day's receipts. It was the smell of barbecue sauce that eventually led to his capture."

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."

The Heart Is The Least Like Soap

A moving piece of flash fiction that explores the depths of creativity.

"The figurines are lined up on a shelf in Gary’s office. Gary sells them for the man, who cannot sell them himself because he is serving two consecutive life sentences. The hearts, Gary tells us, are the man’s best sellers."

Midnight Visitation

A woman has a midnight encounter in her kitchen.

"She thinks, it is amazing, this man is calm enough to make a glass of milk while robbing her. She moves to check the silverware in the dining room, but stops herself. What good would it do? If it’s gone, it’s gone."

The Return

A father picks up the wrong gift for his daughter's birthday party.

" The look on your daughter’s face, though, devastates you; you feel it in your knees: her confusion and disappointment, paired with the newly acquired knowledge that those two emotions join each other effortlessly. The gift is what she wanted, but not what she wanted: a bike with no wheels."

Tinto

The lives and tribulations of two small town families intersect and collide.

"I was five months along, due in April, around the same time Bran would have turned twelve. That seemed ominous to me, but my aunt assured me that I was suffering from nothing more than nerves. My husband laughed at me, said Calum couldn’t keep track of all his kids. He was bound to lose one or two."

Zone One: The Beginning

The opening to Zone One, Colson Whitehead's new zombie novel

"Just another day at the office when she gets bit by some New York whacko while loading up on spring mix at the corner deli's Salad Lounge. Full of plague but unaware. That night the shivers came, and the legendary bad dreams everyone had heard about and prayed against—the harbingers, the nightmares that were the subconscious rummaging through a lifetime for some kind of answer to or escape from this trap. With those early strains, you might last a whole day without flipping. She returns to her cubicle the next day because she hadn't taken a sick day in years."