Super-Frog Saves Tokyo

A giant talking frog enlists the help of a timid Japanese man in saving Toyko from a massive earthquake.

"I'm an absolutely ordinary guy. Less than ordinary. I'm going bald, I'm getting a potbelly, I turned 40 last month. My feet are flat. The doctor told me recently that I have diabetic tendencies. It's been three months or more since I last slept with a woman—and I had to pay for it. I do get some recognition within the division for my ability to collect on loans, but no real respect. I don't have a single person who likes me, either at work or in my private life. I don't know how to talk to people, and I'm bad with strangers, so I never make friends. I have no athletic ability, I'm tone-deaf, short, phimotic, nearsighted—and astigmatic. I live a horrible life. All I do is eat, s1eep and shit. I don't know why I'm even living. Why should a person like me have to be the one to save Tokyo?"

Poet In the Schools

A poet's first day of teaching in an inner-city school.

"She looks at me through squinting eyes and waits. I drag out one poem about someone’s bad day, to let the students know that poets have bad days too, and that poets’ lives can be mundane and that poets’ lives can be like their lives, and that, therefore, they too can be poets. She takes a large black felt pen and crosses out words. I’m so shocked I just stand there speechless. I’d assumed we were all together in this old school in the depths of Brooklyn, hoping to reach and educate the kids."

Within the Cathedral, An Echo

An unemployed banker drifts along Occupy protests, his crumbling life, and a crime scene.

"Against the bleachers’ far end, beyond the scope of the cameras, Michael was thinking again about Brussels. The bullet had rung out with plunky subtlety he knew to expect but found disappointing, still. He remembered a cathedral there and the sound he had heard inside of it. This was years ago. The sound he recalled was a cane that he’d heard falling onto the cathedral’s marble floor. The way sound survives inside a cathedral. He remembered looking across the aisle to a hairless woman with earrings dangling halfway down her neck. In the darkness of Chicago, the boy’s body called to him for a closer look, he still had his phone after all, a camera. He could hear the sirens approaching."

Victory Music

A young Sikh narrates gender identity issues to a dead friend.

"I just stare at him for a minute. It’s a minute that hangs in the balance. He may be batshit. But then, I’m the one seeing disappearing boys. I may be batshit. Something about what he says is true though. It’s unavoidable. There is something different inside of me. Something besides being a boy and a girl and neither. Maybe that something is what kept me alive all this time, kept me from shattering. An emptiness that sustains."

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."

Heaven

A boy in Texas comes of age as a frequent visitor to an adult video store.

"Ricky pushes open the blacked-out door and heads to the counter at the back of the room. Ed trails slowly behind him, pausing to look closely at the shrink-wrapped magazines and their pictures of men and women together. They look bestial, naked, sunburned, mouths open and showing teeth. The magazines Ricky has at home are not like this, magazines of women only, alone, their clothes caught while falling off them, or running naked through the surf at the beach, the surf covering that one exact spot."

Mirrorball

After a one night stand, a musican unknowingly takes a piece of a woman's soul.

"The girl tried to feel contempt for the boy, too, but it is hard to have contempt for a person who’s made off with part of your soul. She went about her life—her job at a used-clothing store, her once-a-week volunteer stint at the Outreach Center for homeless youth, her evenings out with friends. Outwardly, she did not appear much changed by the misalignment; the first layer of her thoughts was more or less the same, logical and competent enough to get her through the day.

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."

The Unreliable

A man is tasked with tracking down his eccentric, troubled neighbor.

She pleaded with me to go up there and talk to her husband, persuade him to come home, up there meaning to Shandon Street where he now lived in solitude with Hannibal, his terrier, living out a threat that had consumed him for so long, no-one believed he would ever do it, to cut off all ties with his old established life. Her daughter had tried and his brother, useless, for all he did was stay inside the door. He might listen to me.

The Unlovable Virus

A woman views a breakup through the lens of a condition.

"She would be asked to do interviews with local news channels and it would become known that she was crying because of her virus. There would be marathons and benefits for finding the cure to the unlovable virus, which she would become a spokeswoman for, and many other people would speak out about being UNL-positive. There would be ribbons on cars. There would be t-shirts. There would be pins. There would be a lot of people, everywhere, saying to their friends, 'I’m sorry you’re unlovable and that I can’t love you in the way you want, the way that would cure you.'"

Wet Meat

A woman enters a casual relationship with a butcher.

"He was lazy about it. He told me he couldn’t that night but could he give me a call? It was two weeks and one — almost two — skipped Five Dollar Fridays later that he called and demanded why I had not come in yet. I arrived at a quarter to nine. He grinned and dug his knife into pork liver. Then a plucked duck. I ate the spinach rolls he set out for me and watched him slice away. Finally I told him I was starving and he looked up from his bloodied counter and grinned some more. He put his meat in the giant freezer behind him, hung his apron and walked out to me. It was the first time, I realized, that I’d seen his legs. I could tell they were brawny behind his jeans. In fact he looked like a hockey player and I wished he did that instead of dismembering dead animals all day."

Mice

What starts as a mouse infestation turns into a complex study of a marriage and a husband's place in the world.

"But in the evening I did the bills at the dining table and one ran across my foot. I could see it through the glass top, looking exactly like the one I’d released. I realized I’d sort of imagined only one, maybe two. Mice are so identical, appearing on one and then another side of the room as if by magic, moving through walls. All that damage. Now they could be filling the walls and if I slit one with a machete they’d spill out like organs, or like corn from a sack. This could make the species more impressive, or less."

The Mud Man

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."

Saturn Return

A young bartender attempts to make sense of where his life is going.

"A lot of people proclaim a need for independence, for space. And while I could attest to that, more than anything, I was a tiger dying amongst the sprawling jungle. I longed for a cage of my own. My apartment, a two bedroom overlooking the gentrification of Philadelphia, had a décor of my design. I picked out the furniture, including the Ikea futon I dubbed “death trap,” and gave every trinket and knick-knack their designated spots: high school diploma and Bachelor’s degree over my black computer desk, novelty shot-glasses along the top of my bookcase and various Buddha figurines, from flea markets in South Jersey, on my dresser and nightstands. And of course, my vinyl collection, a two hundred piece of my heart that took me to the dustiest, most allergenic music stores on the East Coast."

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."

Double Take

After a young man's death, his college friend and his mother reassess their lives.

"Many of these details Ben learned while he stood in the lobby of the funeral home on Madison Avenue before the service that warm September Saturday. He was looking for a place to stash his suitcase and people were saying the body was in good shape; it was nice to be able to say goodbye. Perhaps it was the jetlag, but Ben never realized they were talking about an open casket in another room and so he never went to see it. Later, when he started believing he was seeing Mike in London — in the turn of a cheek, a certain stride — he regretted this. He thought maybe the problem could have been avoided if he’d said goodbye with more finality, had seen Mike’s dead face. That seemed like part of the problem; it was hard to accept that Mike was gone. He’d worked harder than most for everything he’d attained. How could it be that the one thing he couldn’t work for was not granted to him in large supply?"

Babushka

A baby born in New Jersey grows and takes on the characteristics of a headstrong Russian woman.

"She was her parent’s second child; the first was Glenn, a boisterous seven year old obsessed, as his father had planned, with football. In fact, it was Glenn who first noticed the peculiarity of his little sister. As he stared into her crib one morning making faces at the baby, he noticed that she had swaddled herself in her soft, pink knitted baby blanket. She looked at him with a focus that seemed preternatural for an infant. She drooled, but she held the blanket tight around her face, like a little babushka."

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."

Smiling to Himself

A man's colonoscopy causes him to reflect on aging, mortality, and family life.

"For a moment, Pete wondered if he should say something else, anything, but the guy had already picked up his magazine again, leaving Pete to ponder not only his inadequacies, but his colonoscopy, something he was suddenly looking forward to and maybe even deserved."

Vicissitudes, CA

A surreal, minimalist exploration of dating, longing, accidents, and keen observations.

"The next day Brandon woke up to the bright morning sun shining through his bedroom window. He walked to his couch and napped until lunch. After lunch Brandon looked for jobs on the Internet. He read: Financial Analyst, Portfolio Associate, Dental Receptionist, Detention Services Officer, Helicopter Repair. Just like the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that, etc., there were no listings for Ethnomusicologist."</p>

Temporary

A woman engages in fantastical, extreme forms of temporary employment.

"The longhaired man is named Carl, and he is something of an entrepreneur. His small murder business sits in a tidy shack not far from the water, which is convenient for dumping the bodies. Location, location, location, he says. He sounds like my real estate boyfriend. I laugh and wash his weapons every morning, adhering to the cleaning manual he developed. I am filling in for his buddy who is currently serving some time. Carl does not always pay in money, but he feeds me and gives me a place to sleep, a small cot next to his desk in the shack."

The Kid Can Drink

A boozy party reveals complicated social dynamics to a young teenager.

"Craig looked back at the keys dangling in the ignition. He looked out at the winking lights casting patterns on the river. This was his moment – the moment assigned to him by older social peers – and he clumsily scaled the seat like a fence."

Other Mothers

A young mother in a coffee shop unflinchingly explores her fears and anxieties.

"There I'd be, pushing my baby down the street, free for a moment among the yellow green bay leaves, the flower boxes dripping with fuchsia, when another mother would barrel toward me with a baby strapped tight to her belly in carrier like huge bandage with no breathing hole. Sometimes a baby facing out in a front pack would approach like a prisoner strapped to the front of a ship, it's head bobbing forward and back. It's brain, I imagined, sloshing dangerously against its skull. Next, a woman might walk by with a carriage, and I'd have to avoid eye contact, because once I'd paused, looked into a carriage and found a baby wearing a neck brace—her mother had looked away for one moment and she'd rolled off the bed! And then there's the issue of mixing things up. Creating composites or superimposing—so that a baby from a distance might appear to have a black eye, or look small and sick like the preemie from the poster that hung in my OB's waiting room."

Probably Somewhere

A story of strange actions and potential love for a one-armed misanthrope.

" The next day it wasn't raining so hard, just a drizzle that faded in and out like bad reception. After lunch I did a little work on my fake arm. They need a lot more upkeep than you'd think—I had to oil the elbow cam, replace a couple of grommets, and adjust the socket to keep it from rubbing my stub raw. That rubbing wasn't much fun, but it was cupcakes compared to the phantom aches I got every so often. You've probably heard about them on television: just because you've lost a limb doesn't mean it can't hurt like a bitch where the limb used to be. I couldn't say which was worse—the pain itself or the way it reminds you of what you aren't anymore."

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."