Gulf Return

Two fictions about yearning, morphing, and instincts.

"The stewardess needed time to figure out what protocol she should follow or what precedent the man and his possessions had set. The man preferred not to wait and ran as fast as he could through the door to boarding, past passengers who had already gone through and formed a line inside the tube with the little windows, waiting like blood in a syringe, now followed at an animal’s pace by the little suitcase on legs, ridden like a horse by the passport with the long fingers, a sight that both fascinated and terrified and caused personnel, propelled by some odd sense of duty, to stand in the way of the trio and block their path, to protect the plane and its pilots and cabin crew from what they couldn’t define."</p>

Feral

A hunter is overcome by a vengeful snake and bear.

"When the sun was above the treeline, and the hunter returned to the cabin, they were ready for him. The bear swung the cast iron fireplace poker, knocked him to his knees, then lunged forward and pinned the hunter to the pine floorboards, with the same force she remembered feeling from him, setting her teeth to his jugular. Stunned, incapacitated, the hunter managed only a whimper as the snake joined the attack, bit a hole in him, entered him, slithering in, feeling her way, the same way she remembered him doing."

Dear Creatures/Imaginary Birds

Two shorts: 'Dear Creatures' examines a relationship and a chance observation; 'Imaginary Birds' examines place, potential creations, and identity.

"Some of you will leave, break through the walls to build more in someone else’s country, uninvited and entirely necessary. You will bring tablets to make the water drinkable, pieces of printed paper to explain your theories; scrawl pictures in the dust when words become too heavy in the mouth. You will wipe soot from leaves, soak oil from birds. You will weave shelters from torn branches with ends still weeping sap. You will build things up for others to break down."

What Do We Have In Our Pockets?

A short, philosophical study of why we carry what we do.

"The fact is that everything I have in my pockets is carefully chosen so I’ll always be prepared. Everything is there so I can be at an advantage at the moment of truth. Actually, that’s not accurate. Everything’s there so I won’t be at a disadvantage at the moment of truth. Because what kind of advantage can a wooden toothpick or a postage stamp really give you?"

Number One

Wildly diverse thoughts while waiting for coffee.

"I then remember that I am only ordering coffee and wonder how that would be depicted and I settle on an outline of Columbia only to realize that I am giving far too much credit to the register’s operator to deduce that coffee is the blow state’s largest legal export and then wonder if it could be a button with a brown “C” and realize how easily that would be confused with Coke."

Pas De Deux

A couple's relationship, analyzed in standard and experimental shorts.

"A brown beard and sideburns thirty years ago; now bald on top and feathery white tufts above his ears. Thick-knuckled fingers wrapped in wrinkles; reddish palms, the same as the end of his nose and the rims of his eyes. Construction, a soda fountain, washing neighborhood cars, infantry, insurance adjustment, management, retirement. Brother, father, grandfather, husband. Tin Roof Sundae ice cream, creamed corn, cornbread. Breadwinner, collector of rare bottlecaps, once sled down a hill of grass. This morning imagined his death, falling from the wings of a bird to the green ground, splayed like a leaf, equal parts love and regret. "

In Their Proper Place

While dealing with her fractured, fighting family, a girl tries to find out why bananas keep appearing in her home.

"With a sigh, Rachel got up and pulled the vacuum out of the cleaning closet. She plugged it in, turned it on, and immediately turned it back off. Coming from inside the dust compartment was a loud thumping sound that died as the vacuum's motor slowed to a stop. Opening the compartment, she discovered that the source of the sound was a long, yellow, banana."

Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula

Sketches of a lonely woman's search for love and happiness.

"...three weeks later asking the redheaded dishwasher to drive her home and directing him to the spot she knew those girls went to, her lips aflame, when he pulled up sliding over, the stick shift digging into her hip, putting her mouth on his freckled neck, it smelled like mashed potatoes and industrial soap and sweat, her hand first on his thigh and then crabcrawling to his zipper, it was already hardening under there despite him saying, Hey hey, what, and Peggy Paula saying, Just, please, and the dishwasher quiet after that, letting Peggy Paula, letting her, following her into the backseat, holding her tight when it happened, saying I’m sorry and Peggy Paula saying Shh, stinging his shoulder with her lips and his back with her nails and feeling filled up and afraid and like her heart could kick the windows out."

Sometimes He Became A Coaster

An abstract observation of a man on life support.

"The contract was spongy white yellow and was held by a paper clip and smelled of musk and told her to unplug them no matter what. He had wanted it that way. She too. But now here she was three sweaters down and two pairs of striped socks snug and warm against a niece’s fourteen-year-old cream calves and her drink resting on his chest sweating itself to dilution."

Everyone Please Be Careful

A mother views her child in wildly diverse manners.

"The soles of his feet, his ears, the folds of his neck, are excellent and new, expensive-looking, like small perfect things sewn from extinct wild-animal skins. His thighs hold tight to my ribs, athletic and intelligent -- all of his cells have intelligence. It's four A.M. He looks out behind us as we walk around together. He sees like an Abstract Expressionist -- American, of course: color field, emotional repetition, surface tension. Everything is untitled."

Five Miniatures

Five provocative fragments from the author of this year's acclaimed experimental SF novel Ivyland.

"If, as the present suggests, we are fated to spend ever more time in virtual realities, funneling ourselves into the abstractions of code, then so too will human savagery fold into this nonspace. Murder will be wiping a hard drive with minds on it. Infoterror and thoughtwar the apocalyptic threats."

Vasectomy

A woman deals with the potential consequences of her missed period.

"Still, after I’d hung up the phone, I went on sitting dully in the kitchen, thinking about all the wasted sit-ups I’d done in the last two years and wanting to die. Not that I could admit that to anyone. Because if it were Steve who would be walking around for nine months with hemorrhoids and a dull backache, with the elastic waist of his maternity jeans crimping from overuse, I’d be able to be happy; I’d be thinking about how to fit another car seat in the minivan and whether I should start buying rice in bulk. I’d be sitting at the desk in my office practicing the breathing exercises, prepping."

Three Shorts

Experimental surrealism; a mix of memories and strange evocations.

"A railcar arrives in the middle of desolation. A girl enters and sees a mangy rat pacing the floor inside. He approaches her and asks her for the latest news. 'There is no one left,' she sobs. After many days, she makes a nest for herself in the railcar. She adopts the mangy rat and begins to groom him with her fingers."

A Sigh Is Just A Sigh

A series of shorts about a marriage and conversations with two old-time movie stars.

"Ingrid Bergman told me she'd sleep with any man who desired. And there had been plenty. She slept with the majority of her costars on every film, most of the directors, several costume designers, and once, for kicks, a sound-effects editor—"helps me get into the role," she argued. It didn't bother her at all. It was like taking a walk, 'like reading from a script,' she said."

Afterglow

A couple's love leads to an oddly sweet collection of "mementos."

"She liked textures, how the hair on his chest and belly bunched between her fingers, the slow swirling of her palms and fingertips a steady growing arousal. Afterwards, her cheek on his matted chest, he rested his arm on her back, relaxed but secure. Then she dug in his navel."

On Light

A young assistant struggles with God's command of "let there be light."

"This attitude seemed to please the Almighty. However, when the young man tried to ask a few necessary questions regarding light, God turned Himself into a giant, apocalyptic mountain that quaked and belched fire and was surrounded by seven thousand froth-mouthed basilisks in that way He always did when He was starting to get irritated."

3 Stories

Three shorts explore the various actions of "the woman down the hall."

"The woman down the hall is not dead, but her apartment is a mausoleum. She has erected statues in her own image, one for every year of her adult life. This is something she began decades ago when she dreamt of being an art student at the university. Certainly, her creations are nothing original—they’re nothing more than facsimiles of herself—but she’s accurate. Each pore on her skin is accounted for, each hair defined."

The Divorce Party

A divorce takes the same celebratory gestures as a wedding.

"Still, Susan and Michael enjoyed their last weeks of marriage and felt sad about the things they would miss, like half of their belongings. They set up a registry, two registries actually. Hers included a food processor, a flat-screen TV, and a Nintendo Wii because he would be keeping those things. His included high quality Tupperware, an ab roller, and an espresso maker because she would be keeping those."

How 9) Strange

A dying professor hosts a party for his students.

"The professor and his students arrived the evening of the party to find the house filled with peonies, flush with plates of sausages ringed by cucumber slices, and equipped with small kegs of beer. The students went around the room sniffing at the plates of sausages and at the flowers and fondling the kegs. One young woman began immediately eating cucumber slices."

Reel

Observations on death, from the outside and the inside.

" No one really dies in my family. Not yet. A grandmother died, and an uncle, but I was too young. A grandfather died seven years ago; I wasn’t allowed to see his last moments. I remember his final weeks: hospice, jaundice, eyes, resignation. Jump-cut to the funeral home: yellow skin softened by the buttermilk interior of the casket, a suit that I didn’t know he owned, a pocket square like denim."

Chicago Cryptogram

Drunken students discuss politics and philosophy.

"Longhaired Empty in his furlined cape gazes down disdainfully on Harry, ogling Annie Axe’s butt as she wags it johnward. 'Alas, wretched mortal!' he says. Empty, alias Empedocles, flamboyant charlatan, lofty romantic, gay vegetarian, is the brightest and the maddest of us all. For Empty, ardent but gloomy democrat, the Red Scare is real, the Bomb is. 'It’s a time of increasing Strife,' he oft laments."

Foggy Mountain Breakdown

A nerve-wracking mountain drive and degrees of protection.

"He didn’t seem to mind. He drove fast, confident, and he had turned the music up on the radio, and it was the wrong music, loud and angry, the kind she thought was okay sometimes, maybe when they were drunk and at a bar, laughing and shouting their words.But not now. The music, the loudness, the speed of sound and movement, the fog, the loopy meandering, the mountains ready to move, she couldn’t handle it."

And She Flew

A mother's interactions with her children is beset with ambiguous foreshadowing.

"The mother stares at her big, strong son, who in reality is still a boy, only he’s older than the others. The light in the room goes bright and dark, by turns, as clouds move with sinister purpose in front of the sun. The mother feels as though she is caught in a kaleidoscope and suddenly comes alive."

How The Broken Lead The Blind Until They Both Become Something Else Entirely

A flash fiction account of a blind woman's struggles with her guide dog.

"The blind woman wonders if she can return the dog or if it would be like the time she tried to return a sweat-stained dress by claiming it was that way when she bought it. The dog barks again, giving a quick tug at its leash. The woman does not complain at the dog’s bad behavior because she knows she is the one who has caused it. The next time the dog barks the woman decides to bark back."