Jillian [Excerpt]

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."

If King Hammurabi

With two children in tow, a woman prepares to witness her lover's execution by lethal injection.

"Lyell gave her a shove, then she gave him a shove, and they raced to the guest bedrooms and put on their nicest outfits. Twenty minutes later they sat at Cornelia’s dining room table, waiting for her to speak. She inhaled deeply. Her fine blond hair was wrenched from her scalp into a tight, high-sitting barrette. 'Where we are about to go,' Cornelia whispered, 'must remain a secret. Can you children remember that?' They nodded. 'Today, we embark on a farewell mission,' she said, 'a goodbye mission for a friend who will enter the other side—which is to say, children, that he will be killed.'"

Sky Saw [Excerpt]

Cerebral horrors from the inimitable Blake Butler.

"The tone had been appearing on the air for weeks. Its tone contained all possible timbre: every sentence ever crammed into each blink. Sometimes the tone would last for several hours, sealing the air against all other motion. It always hurt. It made Person 1180's blood go numb. It made the books fall off the bookshelves and land opened to certain pages, though when she tried to look the words would melt or disappear. No one could say what made the tone or where it came from. Tax dollars were purportedly at work."

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."

My Boyfriend Del

A woman imagines herself to be in an inappropriate relationship with a young boy.

"In the store Del and Simon race to the drinking fountains, Simon gets a mouthful and gleeks it at my slacks, says Oh hey, pisspants, Del points and laughs. In the magazines they say men are sometimes cruel because they are testing your emotional boundaries, I want Del to know I am boundless, I am a universe, I grit out a smile and follow them to the toys, they arm themselves with swords and commence to stabbing me, Simon saying Lop off her tiddies, Simon saying I wish these blades were real, and I wish you were dying like old ladies are supposed to, Del chops me in half. A woman smiles at me, says Boys, I want to tell her Del is my man, tell her he is not a boy, but she is wearing a pink hairclip and a wooden necklace and this convinces me she would not understand."

Bull

A father and son work the Chinese cattle markets in this story from the 2012 winner of the Nobel in Literature.

"People trusted him implicitly. If a transaction reached a stalemate, the parties would look at him to acknowledge that they wanted things settled. 'Let's quit arguing and hear what Luo Tong has to say!' 'All right, let's do that. Luo Tong, you be the judge!' With a cocky air, my father would walk around the animal twice, looking at neither the buyer nor the seller, then glance up into the sky and announce the gross weight and the amount of meat on the bone, followed by a price. He'd then wander off to smoke a cigarette."

Patrick Ewing

A young boy observes life through the actions of his father and of former Knick center Patrick Ewing.

"'We’re not leaving till you make five free throws in a row,' my dad says. Even at ten, I get it. He thinks I’m going to make the shots quickly. He thinks I’ll make five free throws in a row and be reborn confident and new, my anemic offense rebooted in a single stroke of coaching genius. But then I remember Patrick Ewing, the doom of his body, how he never pulls up for a jumper, how he always runs headfirst into his trembling opponents. "

A Collection Of Favorite Holidays

An Uzbek man, partially settled in America, reflects on his ties to his childhood home.

" Paper space helmets, old rubber gloves. The girls held the unwieldy cardboard rocket. Their faces appeared through the windows, and their bows veered above: green, red, brighter red. Again, poems were recited, this time about Gagarin, the way he must have looked at earth from above with his new eyes, the eyes of a hero."

The First Confession

A young boy deals with mean relatives and religious extremes as he embarks on his first communion.

"Then, to crown my misfortunes, I had to make my first confession and communion. It was an old woman called Ryan who prepared us for these. She was about the one age with Gran; she was well-to-do, lived in a big house on Montenotte, wore a black cloak and bonnet, and came every day to school at three o'clock when we should have been going home, and talked to us of hell. She may have mentioned the other place as well, but that could only have been by accident, for hell had the first place in her heart."

How To Crow Your Head Off

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."

Champlain

A mother and her two daughters vacation at Lake Champlain; an exploration of fears both mythological and personal.

"A few months ago, we saw a documentary piece on Champ, part of a low-budget sea monster show on PBS. We converged in the living room, feeling defensive of our lake, our monster, our private August world. The camera panned across sepia-toned photographs of the steamboat from which Champ was sighted in 1870, portraits of distinguished believers pointing to their graphite renderings of the serpent. Mallory’s fingers tightened on the arms of her chair as she watched a computer-generated Champ dive and surface, as a blonde actress standing waist-deep in the lake shrieked and snapped the iconic Champ photograph: a humped back and a slender brachiosaur neck rising from the dark water."

A Good Man Is Hard To Find

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."

The Veldt

A futuristic nursery room, controlled by their children's thoughts, wreaks havoc on a husband and wife.

"As for the nursery, thought George Hadley, it won't hurt for the children to be locked out of it awhile. Too much of anything isn't good for anyone. And it was clearly indicated that the children had been spending a little too much time on Africa. That sun. He could feel it on his neck, still, like a hot paw. And the lions. And the smell of blood. Remarkable how the nursery caught the telepathic emanations of the children's minds and created life to fill their every desire. The children thought lions, and there were lions. The children thought zebras, and there were zebras. Sun—sun. Giraffes—giraffes. Death and death."

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.'"

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."

The Shelter

An isolated young boy engages in strange hobbies and interactions.

"The garage still dark, Gerald found the stepladder. He climbed the second step, reached up, and yanked the chain. The single bare bulb lit up. He stepped down, pushed the small ladder against the workbench, then climbed back up and clambered onto the chipped wooden bench. One by one he unscrewed the dusty glass jars, each held onto a shelf by a single nail driven through their lids. Gerald fingered the contents of the jars: short screws, long screws, shiny silver and dull gold screws, tiny square nuts that threaded onto some screws and not onto others--"

The Moat

A town suffers two afflictions: a young girl who goes missing, and a curious homeowner who decides to build a moat.

"Diane Miller didn't watch the news. Diane Miller didn't sleep. She shoveled. She filled a wheelbarrow with dirt and carted it into her garage. She used a thick iron bar to pry around large rocks and roll them to the edge of her property. Her skin darkened under the sun during the day and glinted pale-blue in the moonlight. If we opened the window, we could hear her shovel biting into the ground with regular, crisp barks. We watched her until we started to fall asleep, or grew ashamed at our spying, and went back to bed. We always went to sleep before she stopped."

Camping

During a camping trip, a son sees his father as a flawed individual.

"Behind me, Bruce wrestled with the tent flaps. Nature thrived all around me. The river ate away the sludgy bank. I knew somewhere within the onyx waters, fish turned and dove. Furious and haphazard. Organisms crawled under my feet. My father and I had brought supplies where only we had use for them. We were out of place in the wild, and I started to wonder if Bruce knew what he was doing."

Child Her Mother

A young girl's relationship with her mother and rural surroundings are told in an experimental dose of stream of conciousness.

"...you ask her what she is doing and she tells you still not opening her eyes nothing, girl only that word does not mean what it means it means something so big and black it can hardly fit into language though she does not say another thing and her lack of saying says more than her saying ever could the sun bit by bit turning itself off and the evening bit by bit turning itself on and the over-sweet summer breeze stirring for maybe fifteen minutes no more without cooling a thing and you go back into the trailer to watch the television trying not to think about all this thinking but after a while you go out again to see and she is still there still sitting in the lawn chair alone precisely as you left her smoking with her head tilted back eyes closed..."

Divine

A record store employee meets a seemingly blessed musical prodigy.

"You really had to be there to see him in action. He held his hands before him, chest high, as if holding a box. And as he walked by the racks, he looked at the records -- through the records. His eyes got big and then they filled with a light as clear and as dense as water. As he passed a record, that light filled with music. Even from my nook in back I could see staff lines and notes and chords shimmering in it. Then I could hear the music myself -- faintly, as if he were wearing those Walkman headphones though this was years before Walkmans."

Things To See In Toughlahoma

New, eerie definitions and potential crimes surround a water park..

"Some say that when the Jesus of the Dakotas fed his blue ox Babe to the five thousand there were thirteen baskets of Babe-flesh left over, and the Babe-flesh was discarded beside a pond where it ossified or petrified or what have you, into a whale. A whale with a slide head and a diving board tail. But that's stupid. The oldsters want you to believe that it's the very whale that spit out Ishmael when President Action Jackson ordered him to go preach to the savages, which is theologically unsound and also why I wish we had not abandoned the practice of sacrificing our oldsters to the Great Teen Spirit."

Tomorrowland

A mother recalls her sexual past while on a trip to Disney World.

"We ride the Jungle Cruise. The animals are fake yet it remains a big draw of Adventureland. That and the turkey legs, which are big as clubs but 100% real. You should see how America eats them. I feel almost skinny. My husband picks up a stuffed giraffe as a souvenir. Call it luck. Until I planted that hissing plate of fajitas (hot, very hot) before him at Mary’s Cantina I had no idea anyone could see pregnant skin as potential."

Reckoning

A classroom of troubled children take a trip to a bowling alley.

"Mr. Chiasson shouted at him to stop. When he wouldn’t Mr. Chiasson seized his shoulder and shook it. Then he moved over to Ryan. Ryan’s snoring head lay on his desk. Mr. Chiasson never tried to wake him when he fell asleep. One day a supply teacher covering for Mr. Chiasson made the mistake of waking him up and he bashed a bowling trophy over her head. They had to get a new trophy, and a new supply teacher."