Fiction Pick of the Week: "Ghosts & Cyborgs"

Loss and family in an era of police crime and black protests.

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"Guilt racked Lois as she downed the last of her coffee. She had promised Jillian she’d go to church with her whenever the verdict came; they were supposed to mourn together. The thing was, even as they were having the conversation, Lois knew she wasn’t going. Something about the thought felt hollow and wrong. How could she embrace people inside the comforts of stained glass when, outside, folks were fighting a foul battle?"

Fiction Pick of the Week: "The Speed of Stopping"

On fishing, physics, and life's intangibles.

<p>“Back when his girls were girls, with fluffy pink rugs on their bathroom floor, Burgundy wasn’t much of a second-guesser. He was a richly confident physicist with work at the university. He golfed. They went to the club. Even when there were questions of the girls smoking or skipping school (and there were always questions, wink-wink), Burgundy hadn’t worried about His Girls. They weren’t that kind of a family. And anyway (so lovely were His Girls) if they would have been that kind of family they would have worn it well. Being well-paid, occupied and cohesively married does wonders for a man’s confidence.”</p>

Fiction Pick of the Week: "Maybe We Should Get Tattoos and Other Possibilities For Happiness"

Family problems and a myriad of solutions.

"I don’t know if my husband and I are on the way to church or a hangover. It is too early in the drive to tell. The first Thursday of every month, my husband’s sister comes over to watch the kids. They are too old for a sitter, but the older one keeps trying to kill herself and we don’t want to risk it. Always keep an eye on them, I tell my sister-in-law. Don’t leave them alone for a second, not even to ice a cake, organize a closet, dry the dishes, say a prayer."

Amituofo

A man arrives in the US from Hong Kong in search of his mistress; family and medical complications arise.

"At sixty, Boss Yeung had completed what the ancients deemed a full span of life. Now the cycle would start over, and he’d be born again in time to guide his heir, who would conquer China and then the world. He had outlived his father, his grandfather, possibly every male in the long line of ancestors that had led to him. Against his protests, his eldest daughter, Viann, was planning a lavish celebration in Hong Kong, with longevity peach cakes gilded in twenty-four-carat gold flakes and fireworks over the harbor. He wasn’t eager to publicize his age, to give off the impression that he was close to retiring and no longer possessed the fire that had lit the ambitions of his youth."

Savage Breast

Strange beasts reenact scenes and memories from a woman's childhood.

"In the kitchen, the beast was pushing onions around in a pan. It glanced up, not minding me at all. I could hear a rustling sound just around the corner, where our kitchen table used to be, like the sound of my sister doing her homework or cutting pictures out of magazines. There was a small beast doing exactly that, holding a pair of red plastic scissors, snipping out pictures of animals. She was arranging the cutouts on the table: a cow, a giraffe, two dogs, and a bear."

Bulls-Eye

The inner thoughts and worries of a Bingo player.

"Phyllis didn’t need to focus when she was daubing her numbers. Her mind could wander. She could think of all of the fortune she’d had in her life, all the loving family that surrounded her, even if their visits fell few and far between. As the next BINGO was called, she ripped off her top sheet and placed it into her trash bag. She remembered when she’d started coming to play, how she’d thought what a waste it was that each player had their own plastic trash bag, but it wasn’t long before she’d blinded herself to this detail, too."

Retreat From Battle Now?

Details from a Lord of the Rings fantasy game interrupt details of a tragic, complicated personal life.

"Right about now, I assume you’ve gotten a bit bored. Dead babies! Let me tell you, dying babies bore the shit out of pretty much everyone, I’ve learned. So, let me take a moment to tell you a humorous LOTRO anecdote (that is, Lord of the Rings Online) about my level 25 minstrel character, Sinuviel. You see, LOTRO is free up to a point, and great fun if you have access to a computer that is badass enough to run it. Just before my fiancé, James, died, I bought a refurbished ASUS laptop for dirt cheap, and it was the best thing in the world for distracting me from how boring my dying child was to everyone I’d ever known."

A Good Day's Work

The death of a pet leads to unique, unsettling mental strains.

"She needed to take a seat. Altogether too much for a morning already, and it was only seven. She collapsed backwards onto the couch and the thing jumped into the lap of her nightgown, settling into the space there, the way Caleb had done as a puppy. She touched it tentatively, and the thing seemed to shiver pleasantly under her hand."

The Ceiling

Horrifyingly astute reflections on a series of murders.

"The bank clerk gave John a pinched look as he pulled out his calculator, checking if she’d paid him the correct interest when cashing out Mother’s savings bonds. (She had, to the penny.) He sensed her subtle gloat. John didn’t care. He’d ended two people’s pain that day, single-handedly. Was SHE ever that kind?"

A Murder

A farm family is beset by body horrors, crows, and the appearance of a mysterious figure.

"I wish some flood would cover me and bring me peace and comfort. Every day I miss my mother. My heart seems to have been torn from my chest, just like my father’s. Sometimes I go up to her sewing room when Janna is busy with our father. I close the door so that Fig can’t follow, and I sit in the armchair that no one ever used, the one our mother draped swatches of calico over when she didn’t have anywhere else to put them. The room is full of Mother’s smell, lavender and starchy cloth, and the hyssop that flavored her tea. It has also retained her silence, the atmosphere of quiet contentment that she exuded when busy with her sewing. Her ancient Singer sewing machine seems to dominate the room, its black enamel and fussy gold lettering giving it an air of slightly pompous authority as it perches on the battered oak desk. The dressmaker’s dummy occupies one corner, iron hoops and wooden moulds in the shape of a lady’s torso, its head a shrunken knob. The window opens outward, and you can climb over the windowsill and step out onto the roof."

This Young Man's Father Died In an Ice Storm. You Won't Believe What Happened Next.

An interactive fiction: a son and the illusion of his dead father; the intersection of technology and real life.

"Once I created his page I tried to return to my life. I was twenty-six years old, a man of inconsistent employment. During the winter I shoveled snow for the elderly. They paid me in germs and butterscotch candy. My landlord, an independently wealthy sexagenarian, accepted the candy as payment. She also insisted I tidy the complex. I changed light bulbs. I dusted the parking lot. I swept cigarette butts into the street. I clubbed the occasional beehive. My life was guarded and lonely, and susceptible, I soon discovered, to the distraction my father provided."

Light Show

From PANK's Queer issue: a troubled life is explored alongside the life of Nikola Tesla.

"After leaving Edison, Tesla built the first alternating current induction motor in his own laboratory. He decided that at least if no one else believed in him, then he would believe in himself. When George Westinghouse bought his patent, Tesla finally understood that the American dream wasn’t about ideology—just about money. Westinghouse understood that type of power—that owning Tesla’s patent would make him very rich. Tesla didn’t mind Westinghouse becoming richer as long as Tesla had the funds to keep building the myriad of machines still churning in his brain."

American Fare

A prison cook reflects on her daughter as she prepares a prisoner's last meal.

"See what I mean? Fussiness knows no bounds. Not even for inmates. We don’t serve shit-on-a-shingle, but sometimes you’d never believe it. Last week Brenda and me whipped up fifteen pans of German chocolate cake and don’t you know some idiot come up to Brenda complaining about the “presentation,” said his mama always made German chocolate cake in two layers, not in a sheet pan. Everybody’s a critic."

The Wide and Lonely World

A widower takes his children to visit relatives under vague, suspicious circumstances.

"One day he said he was taking us on a trip to meet his people in Missouri, relatives we hadn’t known existed. They were farmers of German descent, with exotic-sounding names like Fritzi and Helga and Smit. We loaded up the car and just drove, right out into the country. If our mother had been alive, she’d pack a cooler full of bologna sandwiches and Mars bars, but there was none of that. The windows were down and hot bursts of wind boxed our cheeks and made the Cubs cap on our father’s head twitch."

This Must Be the Place [Excerpt]

A series of memories and addictions from various years.

"I come here after my shift at the record store and sit around at picnic tables outside, scribbling into notebooks while drinking shitty coffee and waiting for my girlfriend, Velvet, to get off work so we can go get high. The crowd here is varied: AA people alongside art people and punks alongside dirty Deadheads and downtown casualties. There are many open mic poetry events, usually outdoors at dusk. One night I decide to read. I go to the mic and drop weapons. I go to the mic and read about Kuwait City and southern Iraq. I go to the mic and read about prostitutes and hashish and drinking homemade wine made out of grape juice in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I go to the mic and curse over and over again. Nobody claps. Nobody moves. I am not asked to read again."

Birdie

A woman's involvement in an unstable Detroit activist movement.

"The houses we set out to destroy had already been inscribed by the city. The city had earmarked them as tear-downs during the first stage of a larger urban planning initiative – a large ‘D’ for Demolition had been written in white chalk on the front doors of the dilapidated multi-family structures, veterans of a time when Detroit was still a factory town, a place where the music of Motown fumed larger than the gusts of exhaust unleashed from the chains of cars which tumbled off the assembly lines at the auto factories and straight onto those glistening American freeways. The electric streetcar line along Woodward Avenue had been replaced by gas-powered buses. There’d been the great race wars. Even still, at the time those houses had been erected on that tender Northern riverbed which skirted the Canada border, the word future seemed more a promise than an urgency."

Verdict

A man considers his broken family life while awaiting a possible selection for jury duty.

"And then there I was sitting in the jury stand, listening as the judge explained what he meant by admonition and the prosecutor’s burden. I’d never been in a courtroom before, and it got me thinking. Isn’t it unfair how Maggie treats me like a criminal? I mean, seeing as it could have happened to anybody. Thing is, I’m still serving time."

The Adventures of Eagle Feather

An excerpt from Goebel's novel: a man's strange world of peyote, addiction, family, and conflicting identities.

"I dropped tobacco from a cig I took apart and kept the loose stuff in my palm, and I circled the tree counter clockwise, like the turn of the earth, and dropped the tobacco staring up in the tree and praying, like an old wide-faced (I)ndian showed me to do in rehab in the snow in Minnesota around a big oak tree, horses in the field of night, snowflakes falling like drunks, like a dream, stars holy above, and as I finished dropping the last speck, finishing a circle around the ponderosa, praying for the old man in the Upper East Side to have, there it was, standing up in a rich grass, by its quill, right out of the ground. Get it? EAGLE FEATHER. This is a wild trip."

Reflections on Villaplane

A French soccer star's rise and fall from sports to cons to the Nazi Party.

"I watched, horrified, as she let Villaplane into her home, followed by three other men. I took aim, putting my finger on the trigger of my pistol. Then I remembered the Communist Party order not to assassinate individuals, and as the door closed, I ran to find my friends. It was too late: they had been arrested by the Brigade Nord-Africaine. An Arabic soldier pointed a gun at me, telling me to give up any weapons and join the others. My comrades and I were marched to a ditch and ordered to line up with our hands on our heads. I stood on the far right as three men in SS uniform marched into view."

The Twitches

Middle school and family unease; a mysterious neurological condition.

"I knew something bad was about to happen right before it did. My face heated. All the sound cut out, like a huge furry helmet had been dropped over my skull. The room, it didn’t look right. I’m trying to think how to explain it, but all I can come up with is that the colors separated, kind of fizzed around—the green and red marks on the dry-erase board hovered like insects, the purple of Mr. Franz’s tie pixilated. I had that greasy swirl in my stomach like when you’re about to fart and are still praying there’s a way it will be silent, like when you go to the bathroom after a science lab of intolerable closeness to your intolerably cute lab partner and see that yes, the tingle on your nose was actually a tumor-sized whitehead erupting."

Hide and Seek

A young man's struggle with his mother and his physical traits.

"When it was my turn to hide, I dreaded the moment of being found. What I hated more was the thought of all my mother’s attention focused on me. My father was out the door, smoke between her fingers. I didn’t know him, my mother having removed any evidence of his existence, but I knew that I resembled him. Darkness was the only place that gave way to my imagination. I pictured his face, laughing at our state of incompleteness. Crouched in a laundry hamper and waiting for the game to end, I’d grow fearful, then angry. My mother was husbandless, and I was squatting in a basket. She was too pretty to work. There was nothing she could do, but there was nothing I could do. I thought about really being lost."

Champ de Mars

A woman's attempt to maintain stability with a troubled daughter and an architect husband succumbing to Alzheimer's.

"Even a year ago, he had still been the old Dory, the real Dory, forgetful, but not so much that it turned his insides out: he couldn’t remember the name of Ellen’s place of work, the institute that she’d founded decades before—The Children’s Place? The Children’s Center? It’s the Learning Center? Are you sure? Then he couldn’t remember how to adjust his drafting table, then he didn’t know where his fine-tip pens were."

Far from Home

A story of assessments as the end of the world nears.

"I'm afraid to look at first, but then I get my bearings and turn in the direction where the river should be. On the other side is home and if I'm right, the towers. There's no bright, white plume of smoke on the horizon to help me, now. The towers will be quiet. Shut down and dead."