Rainey Royal [Excerpt]

Two teenage girls and a complicated, involved robbery; an excerpt from Landis' forthcoming novel.

"Tina stops. Rainey stops behind her. She imagines Tina stepping closer to the stoop and the man twisting her wrist so that the gun falls to the sidewalk and explodes, shooting someone in the ankle. But she wants that softly gliding cape, which she will wear to school, inciting fabulous waves of jealousy."

Deluge

Horror--physical and psychological--grips a cockroach-infested Navy ship.

"I reached down and slapped his hands, sent his pals flying. The roaches were scuttling around, I was trying to step on them, when Thurman’s foot shot out. His toe-claw speared me in the leg between my calf and shinbone. I fell to one knee, gripping the wound. Thurman stood up and started shouting at me.

Parental Fade

A story of brutally honest parental thoughts.

"Actually, we believe the pediatrician is right. The baby would be fine, she’d work it out on her own. In the morning, when we enter her bedroom, guilt-ridden and spent, our daughter would smile her smile of delight—her oldest and best trick—the smile she offers to anyone who shows her a bit of interest, but most of all to her parents, who are most in need of it. She’s a narcissistic insomniac, prohibiting others from sleeping if she cannot. A sentimental whore, refusing to sleep alone in her own bed. The most grating of alarm clocks: no radio option, no snooze button. But here are her trump cards: she smiles as if she herself had discovered joy, and she never holds a grudge."

Thank You For Disappearing

Two friends find solace in sexual escapades while struggling with their own fragile connection.

"The four of us ended up in the bathroom—Darlene and Viktor in the claw foot, me and Illia in the shower. I tried to tell my guy he had the same first name as a favourite figure skater, but language was restricted to bodies only. Still wet, the Russians left scrambling to the airport. Dar and I woke hours later, a tangled two, and walked out of my bedroom to a small balcony that overlooked a maze of alleyway garages. We recounted the day and the night before, before she left."

Δx Δp > H/2π

Uncertainty principles applied to modern domestic life.

"But there were always more things to add to the list—don't speak of body issues in front of daughters or read magazines with tweaked and smoothed images that were—hadn't she read this—actually altering the brain chemistry for young girls. Plus the magazines were paper, wasteful, though reading on line wasn't great for macular degeneration and other ocular issues and who wanted one more thing—glasses—to have to remember to pack every day? Plus glasses might make her feel older which wasn't terrible—she's happy where she is and needs to lean in lean back push onward and show this—but glasses might make her feel sexless and that would make her less present in the moment."

The Skin Thing

Space colonists live in fear of a horrifying creature.

"The Skin Thing dragged itself along on two great stalks that looked like elbows. Imagine a person, out prone on the ground, that drags himself by fits and starts. The elbows strove to gouge the earth, as sharp and tall as circus poles, and they levered the body along by great drags. Its head stuck out eyeless, oblong as a horse’s. Behind the elbow-things it used to drag itself across the ground there stretched, like a laundry sheet strung out for drying, a tensile wall of thick pink skin."

Triangles

A woman struggles in the wake of her infidelity.

"Sherry hadn’t known anyone at the party. It was outdoors in someone’s back yard. She had a lot to drink, and pretty soon people and trees were practically indistinguishable. The boy had talked to her. Everybody at the party went to a school different from hers. She wore an ecru smock with an apple embroidered on the pocket, and was very pleased with the way her hair looked. Until the boy started talking to her, she felt exceedingly awkward. They drove to a park in her car, where the only witnesses to the uncomfortable and meaningless sex were medlars and lindens and Japanese maples."

Dog Boy

The wrenching existence of a circus sideshow attraction.

"Dog Boy has a phantom tail. When excited he can feel the invisible tail wagging; his whole rump moves with it. When he’s afraid, he tucks it between his legs. But there is something frustrating about it, like eating imaginary food. Sometimes his frustration builds until he feels the intense and sudden urge to chase this invisible tail; he spins around and around in a tight circle until he exhausts himself."

Finding Your Place

The observations and fears of a stepmother.

"Evie runs to you to get a drink of water, and you hand her the squeeze bottle you keep in your purse. Your purse—just three years ago, it had beauty magazines and lipstick in it. If someone took an inventory now, they’d find toys from the quarter machines, small notes or drawings Evie gave you, plastic animals. It’s like you are a different person now: the person you always wanted to be when you grew up. And Evie is the kid you hoped you’d have."

There Are Two Pools You May Drink From

Memories both unique and ominous surround a woman's childhood.

"I liked to visit the Moon kitchen, a grease-laden cave that stank of meat. The table had a plastic covering patterned with wagon wheels and rustic scenes. The Moons cooked foods I’d never seen before in vats studded with dumplings. At dinner the Moon men mopped up their stews with slices of white bread and guzzled cartons of milk. They had a big cat-killing dog that they had trained to sit upright on a chair at the table, and they took turns feeding it buttered toast smeared with jam. After dinner Mr. Moon sat in the kitchen when he wasn’t at the tavern, drinking beer and bluing the air with swearwords and tobacco smoke."

Modern Girls

Mystical, unsettling rumors surround a student at an all-girls school in Nigeria.

"We shuddered when we heard her invoke Allah. All but begging her not to unleash her powers on us, we recounted, in turns, how we had heard from someone who had heard from someone of the pencil case in the gym. Pencil case in the gym? What pencil case in what gym? We said that we had heard stories, too, about the blotting paper. Naturally, we made no mention of her Islamic faith. The word ‘witch’ remained unsaid. We said only that, whatever she had done, we were certain she had done for a good reason. And that her adversary, whomever it was, probably deserved it. Nuratu, as the full implication of our story dawned on her, looked as if she had been stabbed. She slowly sank to the floor, and began to weep and shake her head.

Nirvana

A husband struggles with the needs of his paralyzed wife and his creation of a hologram version of an assassinated President; new fiction from the author of The Orphan Master's Son.

"After the doctor left, I went into the garage and started making the President. A psychologist would probably say the reason I created him had to do with the promise I made Charlotte and the fact that the President also had a relationship with the person who took his life. But it's simpler than that: I just needed to save somebody, and with the President, it didn't matter that it was too late."

My Year Zero

A child's uneasy participation in a hunting party; an excerpt from Jackson's forthcoming novel Mira Corpora.

"A bearded man orders the children to circle up and divide into groups. A brother and sister pull my ears and claim me. They say that I’m their lucky charm. The siblings are pale with spindly legs, denim shorts, floppy hiking boots. We set off into the heart of the woods. The boy’s crew cut ends in a braided rat’s tail. He flicks it back and forth across his shoulders. They both have beady eyes and big noses. There’s something else on their faces, but it’s not clear yet."

The Adventure Of the Space Traveler

After accidentally casting himself adrift in space, an astronaut's mind wanders over varied paths.

"According to his calculations, Barington had now been adrift in space for three months. This figure was based on his sleep schedule, which, although inexact, was his only possible point of reference. Whenever he determined that a day had passed, he reached up into his helmet and marked the inside of his visor with a tally, using a wax pencil he had found in his suit’s utility compartment. After the accumulation of seven tallies, he erased them with his thumb and drew a W for Week."

How Much You Want It

While worrying about her obese father, a teenager develops an eating disorder.

"Selma’s parents aren’t dieting. Whenever I see Dr. Garza, he’s in green scrubs, fresh from delivering a new batch of babies. I can’t tell how thin he is, but I know for certain that he isn’t fat, and I doubt Mrs. Garza is repulsed by him. I’m convinced that Papa is the only obese parent at my school and I hate him for eating thirds at buffets and for serving himself a heaping bowl of butter pecan ice cream most nights. Around January I convince my mother that my breakfast, usually biscuits and hot chocolate, is lacking in nutrition. What I need is a breakfast shake packed with vitamins. Each morning I mix protein powder with skim milk and drink my shake. This is all I ingest for breakfast: one hundred and ten calories and half a gram of fat."

The Swimmer

A husband is wrongfully credited for his wife's heroic act.

"Immediately, Ron was sick, wishing that he was in the water and not her. But the shock of it all had scrambled his mind and it was confusion that held him, pretty much taking the wind out of him. He couldn’t get moving. Joy was the better swimmer, anybody would say so. Watching her flailing about out there with the old woman was painful. Still Joy’s strong, a fighter, she’ll be okay, he kept telling himself. And finally she was. The water got still out there and she had control. She was moving toward the shore, dog paddling, kicking water up behind, tugging the old woman along. Christ, by the hair, he ascertained when they got closer."

A Small Wild Road

A niece's tense, monotonous visits with her bedridden aunt; an unexpected, grisly turn of events.

"Uncongenial was the word for that atmosphere; but not painful, not ugly. Then, quite soon, with the utmost perverseness, it turned very ugly indeed. Sophie faithlessly developed a horrifying and terminal, but not very promptly terminal, illness. And after a series of live-in nurses (friendly, but beset by all the normal misadventures of daily life) had held the fort spasmodically, Sophie had ended at Holly Hill, and Edie in the first major possession of her life: a midget and not particularly nice apartment, but sunny, quiet, except for music and casual voices, and never, never, never a source of shock."

The Dark Arts

A man in a struggling relationship travels in Europe to find a cure for a serious medical condition.

"It was meant to be a romantic medical-tourist getaway, a young invalid and his lady friend sampling the experimental medicine of the Rhine. But they’d fought in France, and he’d come to Düsseldorf ahead of her. Now he waited not so hopefully, not so patiently—dragging himself between the hostel, the train station, and the Internet café, checking vainly for messages from Hayley—while seeking treatment at the clinic up on the hill."

Staking Out the Slopgoblin

When their trash cans are mysteriously ransacked, a family devises a series of fantastical solutions and hypotheses.

"After we go in, the kids devise traps for whatever got into the trash. I’m not sure who starts it. They get scratch paper from my desk—one-sided printouts of old story drafts—and they lay out their schematics in marker. Emily sits on the floor at the coffee table, her legs curled Indian-style underneath. Her traps are complicated, cause and effect, involving counterweights, nets, and ropes. With a practicality she didn’t get from me, she only incorporates objects we actually possess: laundry baskets, blankets, and—in a stroke of inspiration that chills me—the plastic coffin of our cartop carrier."

The Watcher

A potential assassin observes a wave of Zimbabwean refugees.

"They plunge into the Limpopo, sometimes drowning, and, if they survive, rise like mists from the water to cut holes in the border fence into his country. Then they plough through the jungle, and then eventually onto this very road that runs in front of his house. Headed to Jo’burg. What puzzles him, what he would really like to find out, is how they leave no footprints on the earth, make no mark, and drop nothing. And how it is that when they walk, like whispering, they do not cast shadows on the earth."

Wasteland, Wasteland, Wasteland

The appearance of a "mole man" reflects the past and realities of a hardscrabble town.

"We are soothed by the authoritative acronym-loaded binder delivered to us ages ago by the gentleman-embodiment of the U.S. Department of Energy and stored in its secure glass-faced case beside the MSDS and the Terror Alert Color Wheel, for since there are no people who dug the dark tunnels of Yucca Mountain, nor people working as stewards of the nation’s nuclear waste deep inside, then it is only a rumor that there is a subterranean population at the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, only local lore that below us, in a town perhaps identical to ours, move once-human creatures whose genes the Department has tweaked over generations until their skin went translucent, until a scrim of skin grew over their useless eyes, until two thick, cord-like and translucent whiskers sprouted from their faces, sensitive as a catfish’s barbels, and their mouths gone a little catfish too, a side effect."

(Untitled)

Secrets and reservations come out in the drunken lead-up to a wedding.

"Carrie couldn’t recall much of the walk home from the bar, except she said some­thing about her grand­mother that maybe she shouldn’t have, that her grand­mother might have been gay, as she pet­ted Alison’s hair. But she couldn’t remem­ber whether she did this while they were walk­ing or just stand­ing around out­side the condo com­plex. She didn’t know when she fell asleep. She first woke up when it was still dark and began going in and out of sleep with the air conditioner."

Tree On Fire

A debt-ridden young woman lives as a mysterious servant to a pair of artists.

"Charles looked me up and down and said I was worth every penny. That first night, we did not lie down together. He taught me how to play sixes and sevens. I did not tell him I already knew how to play because I could see that teaching me would make him happy. In service, I have learned it is good to make sure those you serve stay happy."

Lullaby

A poetic story of a variety of childhood memories, detailing hopes, abuse, and dismantling.

"Our dad left without saying goodbye or taking any of his stuff. We took to poking around in the basement where my mom had thrown all his belongings in a corner. We started smoking his cigars. At first it felt like we were getting back at someone, which felt pretty good, even if we didn’t know who. We’d climb out our window on to the roof of the porch, and even if neighbors were awake, they never looked up to see us. We felt on top of things even though that’s not how we felt at all."