Fiction Pick of the Week: "The Oracle of Exit 24"
In the midst of devastation, a couple seeks answers from a mysterious figure.
In the midst of devastation, a couple seeks answers from a mysterious figure.
A whale permeates a series of culture clashes.
A bear in human woman skin ventures into the city.
Life problems imagined as fantasies.
A mysterious stone and the complexities of grief.
A tale of two sisters with bodies that produce feathers.
"Up ahead a diesel semi had stopped, idling, its emergency lights flashing red in the mist, and on the wet tar and on Gale. I looked at her chest. The feathers were still growing, like a cancer. They would be as long as she was, longer. They would strangle, drown her. She ran to the cab of the truck, the door swung open far above. I couldn’t see the driver’s face."
A young woman struggles in the wake of her mother's disappearance in this Hugo-nominated work.
"After Mom left, I waited for my dad to get home from work. He didn't say anything when I told him about the coat. He stood in the light of the clock on the stove and rubbed his fingers together softly, almost like he was snapping but with no sound. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. I'd never seen him smoke in the house before. Mom's gonna lose it, I thought, and then I realized that no, my mom wasn't going to lose anything. We were the losers."
An adolescent girl weeps and sweats blood. Part of the ongoing Tabloid Fiction series.
"Momma told me when I came out of her I was covered in blood and I just kept being that way. She said she used to find me in the crib, crying and slicked with red. She said my daddy couldn’t take it and left. She didn’t blame me, though. She said the holy spirit was faint in him."
A rural worker conjures up fantastical mythologies to hide his own troubled past.
"Several days after re-wiring the fence, Shuck asked Boss if he could take me to town for new tractor parts. Shuck drove Boss’s truck and smoked with the windows up, filling the cab with thick tendrils of burnt and cheap tobacco. He took the long way into town and told me that they gypsy had been the most beautiful girl to ever exist back in Spain. She had been the daughter of a rich soldier. But after some incident that Shuck wasn’t entirely sure of, she had joined with a vagabond group of gypsies, travelling the foothills of Spain, marking her new group’s travels by the patterns of stars and their gathered constellations. Shuck said that she had been the most beautiful girl to ever set foot on the entire European continent. But she grew old so quickly that soon her limbs began to tangle and go numb."
A mental disorder in which the protagonist believes he is a tree.
"There are a lot of things though that one doesn’t experience as a tree. For example music. Maybe trees feel the vibrations, but I don’t remember anymore. When I was young my mom put me in piano lessons. I begged to go to them actually, but I was horrible. Before the lesson I used to have to sit and wait in the hallway of the music school and from the different rooms you could hear the different instruments being played badly, but from my position in the hallway, it sounded like they were all coming from the same room. A cello screeching as syncopation to an out of tune violin with a piano clank-clanking along. It was beautiful and what I enjoyed more than anything else. Music is one thing that I’ll miss, when I become a tree again."
Memories of a grandfather's seemingly endless chances to demise.
"Grandpa died in his bathroom when I was eleven, slipped on the tiles when I ran into his house to get him up for Christmas morning. Grandpa died when we were making a giant diorama of the solar system for my eighth grade science fair and he fell on the table saw. Grandpa burned in camp fires, had aneurisms at football games when I waved to the bleachers, choked on turkey bones and once a pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Instead of studying for tests, I learned the Heimlich, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, drew schematics for heart paddles salvaged from toaster ovens."
A media firestorm circles around a lucky amateur magician.
"By now, the actual doing of the spellthe Clean Castingfelt like a weird dream that Peter had concocted after too many drinks. The more people made a fuss about it, the more he felt like he’d made the whole thing up. But he could still picture it. He’d gotten one of the stone spellcasting bowls they sold on late-night cable TV, and little baggies of all the ingredients, with rejected prog rock band names like Prudenceroot or Womanheart, and sprinkled pinches of them in, while chanting the nonsense syllables and thinking of his desired aim."
Women are swayed by the moon's pull in a world dominated by consumerism.
"It was a depressing sight. We went out in the crowds, our arms laden with parcels, coming and going from the big department stores that were open day and night, and while we were scanning the neon signs that climbed higher and higher up the skyscrapers and notified us constantly of new products that had been launched, we’d suddenly see it advancing, pale amid those dazzling lights, slow and sick, and we could not get it out of our heads that every new thing, each product that we had just bought, could similarly wear out, deteriorate, fade away, and we would lose our enthusiasm for running around buying things and working like crazy—a loss that was not without consequences for industry and commerce."
A long, philosophical courtship between a wealthy man and an intelligent woman.
"She looked up. Man and manservant were circling the property. They picked their way slowly, gazing down, grimly. She had not seen anyone move like this; it was the walk of people in a graveyard who knew all the buried. He was wrong. For him it was a test of devotion. Her devotion had nothing to do with it. She craved that man’s face and hands, her sweetest concern was what he would say next, the air she liked best had the damp of his breath in it."
A woman gradually disappears.
"Some days she felt just like her old self. Very there. But other days she was not much there at all. She could walk through a mall or crowded street and nobody so much as looked at her. She could say hello or nod to people and they didn’t even glance in her direction. I am almost gone now, she thought."
A team of superheroes disrupt the life of a family.
"She tried to do errands like any other day. When she bought toilet paper, she thought to herself, 'What am I doing at the drug store? They took my baby. I should be doing something.' When she went to buy groceries, she felt like everybody was watching the star of 'Mom Jacked by Action Squad' picking out the freshest rutabagas for her now–childless family."
A poisoned witch sets forth a lavish plan for revenge and renewal.
"The inside of the catsuit is soft and a little sticky against Small’s skin. When he puts the hood over his head, the world disappears. He can see only the vivid corners of it through the eyeholes—grass, gold, the cat who sits cross-legged, stitching up her sack of skins—and air seeps in, down at the loosely sewn seam, where the skin droops and sags over his chest and around the gaping buttons. Small holds his tails in his clumsy fingerless paw, like a handful of eels, and swings them back and forth to hear them ring. The sound of the bells and the sooty, cooked smell of the air, the warm stickiness of the suit, the feel of his new fur against the ground: he falls asleep and dreams that hundreds of ants come and lift him and gently carry him off to bed."
As part of a contest, a barbarian permits himself to be possessed by a god.
"He had slain wizards. He had collapsed gates through which the old ones sought reentry to our roads, our cities, our hearths. He had cut down beasts born of the necromantic arts, some grown from flesh and bone, others crafted with cog and spring. The Sundering Game was a simple affair by comparison. Gotchimus would be possessed by the spirit of an old god. The god might kill its mortal host, and it might drive him mad—or Gotchimus would drive it off before it could do either."
A fisherman/trapper and his wife, the emergence of a child-like ghost spirit; an excerpt from Matt Bell's In The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods.
"But still I was unsatisfied, still I claimed that the son she had given me was not the son we had made and that somehow she had replaced him with this other, this foundling. Against these claims my wife offered no new defense, would only reassure me again, telling me not to worry, that of course he was my son, that despite the wonders of her voice her songs could not make a life. She said this again and again, against my many multiplying queries, each voiced as I trailed her around the house, following her from chore to chore, until after so many denials she changed her tack, asked quietly, What is a life lived but an array of objects, gathered or else made into being, tumored inside the wall-skin of our still-growing house? What else to make a biography of, if not the contents of these rooms?"
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.
After a gardening mishap, a meticulous, harried family man finds himself being replaced by a grotesque clone; from the author of Red Moon.
"He, the mud man, stands in the middle of a shallow crater. His joints issue a series of blistery pops like pitch pockets boiling out of a log thrown on a fire. Clods of dirt fall off him and patter the garden, freckling the daffodils and hostas. He has all the calm of a tree, the breeze rushing around him, bending the loose vines and leaves hanging off him like hair, carrying a smell like worms washed across a sidewalk after a hard rain. The mud man seems to be staring at Thomas, though it is hard to tell as his eyes are hollows with black scribbles in them, like the insides of a rotten walnut."
A writer and a spacefarer discuss time travel, the symmetry of the universe, and the conquest of America.
"Don't forget what I was in the middle of. I had to recount my adventures again, silently invoking Marco Polo, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Italo Calvino, and the annals of geography. It turned out very well: they were all hanging on what I said, they were scared when they were supposed to be scared and they laughed when they were supposed to laugh."
What will you remember when it's all over?
"That night, like every night that year, long after dark had fallen, I climbed the tree at the top of the hill behind town hall. That night was different, though. When I'd almost made it to the top, instead of the bird with whom I'd been having an affair, I met a fellow border guard."
Dead creatures reflect on their current/eternal circumstance.
"Enshrouded and encased, the animal mummies are trying to be patient. They did not expect the afterlife to be lit with flickering, fluorescent bulbs. Darkened sarcophagi, woven boats rowed across the heavenly river, glimmering, gorgeous night—that was what they thought would be in store after they died and priests washed them with palm wine and pulled white linen tight."
Illicit lovers disrupt the laws of physics.
"We neared the chandelier and I grasped the base of it, its sparkles and gems flying around my face but I held on, something to keep us still, and his motion lifted me to the ceiling, laid my back against it. With my arms over my head grabbing the light fixture, tangled in crystals and cords, it was like I was on the ground, both arms tied to a radiator, and we finished that way, almost like things were normal."