Oliver's Evolution

The mishaps and growth of an accident-prone child.

"But Oliver had come late in their little pack of offspring, at a time when the challenge of child rearing was wearing thin, and he proved susceptible to mishaps. He was born with inturned feet and learned to crawl with corrective casts up to his ankles. When they were at last removed, he cried in terror because he thought those heavy plaster boots scraping and bumping along the floor had been part of himself."

Five Fictions

A series of random and unsettling snapshots of two brothers.

"Michael’s brother is on the diving board again and then not, his body in the air and taking up so much space. He gets closer and closer and the water turns to glass. Michael feels like he’s dreaming. The water cracks and breaks and scatters. Michael’s brother is in pieces. He screams and Michael deep-breathes and Michael closes his eyes"

A Series Of Astrological Disasters

A mother and daughter seek various forms of spiritual guidance and stability.

"The waitress came over and her mother ordered a coffee, plenty of cream and sugar, and Melissa ordered a pop with everything—Coke, Sprite, and Dr. Pepper but no root beer. The psychic ordered a side of bacon and an iced tea with three slices of lemon. He touched her mother gently on the hand and said, Shelley, you are a Gemini. Pollux, one of Gemini’s stars, is the nearest giant star to Earth. Her mother ooohed and went glass-eyed, and Melissa wished she could take her mother home, where the two of them could wait on the porch for dark, and when it came, Melissa would point and say, There, Mother. There’s Gemini. Right there. But Melissa didn’t know where Gemini was."

Dream House

A high school couple discuss their future in a wave of public lust.

"The laugh echoed in Missy’s ears as she stuck her tongue in JP’s mouth. JP’s mouth was the best place she’d ever been. It was like falling asleep and waking up. Could there be a room in the dream house that would feel like JP’s mouth? Oh wait, she could just kiss JP in any of the rooms."

Enter Harlow

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."

Uncle Skillet Rides Again

A grifter uncle visits his fundamentalist family.

"Uncle Skillet had stayed the same as he was in the stories my dad told. He had become a nomad, somebody my parents argued about in loud hisses, thinking they were whispering while they thought I was asleep. The idea of Uncle Skillet thrilled me. He was one of the bad guys from the Bible, a nomad on a permanent adventure, no agenda. Wild, dangerous, sinning all over the world, a life like the underside of the lawnmower."

Tenth Of December

An imaginative, unpopular boy and a depressed older man face the dangers of winter.

"Something was wrong here. A person needed a coat. Even if the person was a grownup. The pond was frozen. The duck thermometer said ten. If the person was mental, all the more reason to come to his aid, as had not Jesus said, Blessed are those who help those who cannot help themselves, but are too mental, doddering, or have a disability?"

The Keep [Excerpt]

A meeting at a castle is mixed with painful adolescent memories.

"It was one of those views that make you feel like God for a second. The castle walls looked silver under the moon, stretched out over the hill in a wobbly oval the size of a football field. There were round towers every fifty yards or so. Below Danny, inside the walls, it was black-pure, like a lake or outer space. He felt the curve of big sky over his head, full of purplish torn-up clouds. The castle itself was back where Danny had started out: a clump of buildings and towers jumbled together. But the tallest tower stood off on its own, narrow and square with a red light shining in a window near the top."

The Christmas Tree And The Wedding

A mysterious visitor at a children's party has far-reaching ulterior motives.

"They did not play cards with him, they did not offer him cigars. No one entered into conversation with him. Possibly they recognised the bird by its feathers from a distance. Thus, my gentleman, not knowing what to do with his hands, was compelled to spend the evening stroking his whiskers. His whiskers were really fine, but he stroked them so assiduously that one got the feeling that the whiskers had come into the world first and afterwards the man in order to stroke them."

The Destructors

A group of children transfix themselves with the mania of creative destruction.

"'All this hate and love,' he said, 'it's soft, it's hooey. There's only things, Blackie,' and he looked round the room crowded with the unfamiliar shadows of half things, broken things, former things."

Hello

A couple shakes off an argument with a conversation about dreams, nightmares, free association games, and a haunting childhood memory.

"Probably this happened. This is likely how the day had been going. But Audrey cannot fully retrieve the events of that day, cannot quite remember what the day was like until the frantic knocking on the window, the crunching of the snow, the three of them running down the hall into the big family room to see their father opening the front door, their mother reaching for the phone. The big room no longer warm, despite the fire. Audrey no longer cozy, but shivering."

Gryphon

A substitute teacher entices and repels her students with mysterious "substitute facts."

"'Pyramids,' Miss Ferenczi said, still looking past the window. 'I want you to think about pyramids. And what was inside. The bodies of the pharaohs, of course, and their attendant treasures. Scrolls. Perhaps,' Miss Ferenczi said, her face gleeful but unsmiling, 'these scrolls were novels for the pharaohs, helping them to pass the time in their long voyage through the centuries. But then, I am joking.'"

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."

Peerless

Fabulist fiction, about a shoeshine boy with a secret.

"Dr. Fessenden takes an interest, both medical and fatherlike. He wears black leather brogues at least twenty years old, the kind they don't make anymore. He prods my back with his doctorly fingers and makes considering sounds. "

A Real Doll

A boy falls in love with a Barbie doll. A little NSFW.

" I did something Barbie almost didn't forgive me for. I did something which not only shattered the moment, but nearly wrecked the possibility of us having a future together. In the hallway between the stairs and Jennifer's room, I popped Barbie's head into my mouth, like lion and tamer, God and Godzilla."

Sensini

Two writers, one young, one old, share a varied correspondence about writing, politics, and family matters.

" The Alcoy Council sent me his address without delay—he lived in Madrid—and one night, after dinner or a light meal or just a snack, I wrote him a long letter, which rambled from Ugarte and the stories of his that I had read in magazines to myself, my house on the outskirts of Girona, the competition (I made fun of the winner), the political situation in Chile and in Argentina (both dictatorships were still firmly in place), Walsh's stories (along with Sensini, Walsh was my other favourite in that generation), life in Spain, and life in general."

Radio Vision

Death in various forms looms over a 1960s family.

"As she snubbed out her cigarette and rinsed her cup in the sink, Marianne thought, thirty-four. One of the television commentaries had mentioned Jackie Kennedy’s age and it was Marianne’s age exactly. She was in this way aligned with the grieving first lady: they had seen the very same days."

Once In A Lifetime

Childhood acquaintances, meeting again in adolescence.

"In the morning you all slept in, victims of jet lag, reminding us that despite your presence, your bags crowding the hallways, your toothbrushes cluttering the side of the sink, you belonged elsewhere."