Haul Road

A conversation between two truckers on a wintry Alaskan highway.

"Even at twenty-five miles an hour the snowfall looks like a TV left on through dawn. French is on the radio, letting the checkpoint know how fucked the storm is. There’s nothing we can do but watch the path of the road to not end up in a ditch, or worse, the pipeline. Of course, the checkpoint’s still timing us, that’s the rules and breaking the haul road’s speed limit is the kind of thing that’ll get you shit-canned. French hangs the mic on the dash. 'Hey, G.P.,' he says, picking up where he left off, “how’s a Green Peace turd like yourself do with the ladies?'"

These 13 Certain Things

A flight attendant's love affair.

"Only now, in filling up the legal yellow pads with her memories of Will bent over his maps and her black panties drying on the towel rack and those broken glasses and the plane roar that wakes her up at night, does he seem more lost then her. She wasn’t a bird, not a bit like one. Birds were sharp, had metal in their brains which told north and south apart."

The Twenty-Third of June

Two lovers, a new home, a repeating cycle.

"That night, I will dream a dream of trains, and of the sound of waves. I will dream that I am the woman searching for something lost. I will dream the man’s dream, and walk into the night alone, guided by the moon. The earth is cool under my feet. It is summer. I can smell the light from the sun that has left the trees. I am knee-deep in the swaying ferns. They are so tall I only have to bend a little to reach them with my fingertips, and then I let my legs fold under me, and I lie down in the ferns. I close my eyes and listen to the ferns, try to understand their secret whispers. When I open my eyes again, the ferns begin to blossom, their fragile white petals bright against the night sky."

From Clay

An American woman's travels and memories of her Russian husband.

"When Bramya was abroad, Sarah mixed adhesives, ordered glaze, saw friends, and lived without the expectation of change to this arrangement. She read his letters and answered his phone calls, and they talked about the things they did when they were apart, neither acknowledging that separation had come to be as familiar as the shape their bodies took together. But when she knew his flight had landed, she sat at the kitchen table with painful patience, rolling clay from hand to hand until it was made pliable by the heat of her skin, piecing together anxiety animals, anticipating the sound of the cab door closing that told her Bramya was on her street."

Outlaws

Dodging bill collectors, a couple stops at a motel on their way to Tennessee.

"See, Faye was an absolute saint of a woman. Kind, funny, understanding to a fault, but she was young, eight years my junior, and she lacked a certain seriousness about her. Everything to her was solvable, temporary, and the gravity of our situation - how much we'd fucked things up, how much we owed, and what a general shit-storm we were in - didn't seem to bother her for a second. Being with her then was like looking down one day and realizing you were sporting a fancy convertible when what you needed was a four-door sedan."

Three Aerogrammes

A series of one-sided international love letters.

"I want to frame those first three months I was in Paris with you, and that month last year in Morocco. I want to hang it next to the wooden clock on the wall above my bed. Those hot nights of waiting, talking, making love with our words on Rue D’Aboukir. Waiting for you to return to my fourth-floor apartment with ice cubes for the Martini Rossato and the loud love making that would follow next to paper thin walls where I could hear the neighbours cough. Paper-thin walls never mattered in that hotel room in Morocco. Calling out 'Oui', bent over the bed and the knock of the chamber maid on the door."

Treading Water

A fragile relationship teeters during a family vacation.

"At the restaurant, I enjoy myself for the first time the whole trip: I try fried plantains and sopapillas, washing them down two real margaritas (made from tequila and lime; that’s pretty much it). There is a live band, and Inez pulls Alan up to dance. Her hips have probably never been told no. Erik and I watch from the table. He holds a hand out to me and raises an eyebrow. I shake my head."

Everywhere and Nowhere

A narrator's philosophical observations on travel.

"How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the elevator buttons!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them—they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no one else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for themselves."

Wake in the Sky

A distraught brother is given a Ziplog bag of his sister's ashes.

"So where should he stow a Ziploc bag of his sister’s ashes? Not all of her cremains, mind you. About a third, according to his father. Noah didn’t like the idea of their dad divvying her up, like a drug dealer, weighing out bags of powder. But more than that he also doesn’t like having that baggie now. On the airplane. Heading back to San Francisco. After the funeral."

Present Perfect

Diary entries concerning innocent Americans abroad.

</blockquote><p>“Our conversation continues!

He is come to tell me I may lunch with him, the progress of my new composition permitting—but immediately he sees I have not moved, not even to dress myself, or put pen to paper.

You have a look of puzzlement on your face, little Lotte! he says, and again, I fear he is about to laugh.

Indeed, sir, I do! I said. Because I am puzzled! Greatly puzzled!

Look! he cried. She gesticulates! You are perhaps at heart una italiana!”</p></blockquote>

YOU ARE BUT A PILGRIM TRAVELING TO A STRANGE AND HONEST LAND

Strangers unleash a mysterious mantra upon a weary traveler.

"From his glove box he pulled a laminated flyer no bigger than a bookmark. I took it with hesitation and studied the print. The first sentence said DID YOU KNOW HOPE AND DESPAIR ARE SISTER AND BROTHER AND YOU THEIR DISTANT COUSIN? There was a picture at the top of two people tugging a rope. There was a woman and a man and they looked like hieroglyphic people who had been locked in eternal struggle."

Between Here and the Yellow Sea

A former student and high school coach travel to California to kidnap the coach's daughter, an adult film actress.

"I would watch her green eyes, the smile that always closed them. I remember her face lit by a Bunsen burner's quivering flame, laughter bursting from her like confetti. Once, I saw her slap Junior Wendell's hand away from her skirt, and I felt the confinement of a teenage girl. The way her mind was full of longings—a knot of emotions constantly rising to the surface, washing over her, carrying her through a harrowed suburban field, past the shopping mall and long acres of bluestem grass, into the back seats of cars, truckbeds."

The Highway

Two strangers on a bus attempt to make sense of mutual loss.

"Back on the bus, the old man has vanished. Only flecks of tobacco linger on his empty seat. If he suspected me of anything, by now I’d know. Through the window, I watch the market shrink away until it’s no more. The sun beats on my face, hotter than yesterday, and the day before that. Motion sickness snaps between nerves in my brain, spreads down and gnaws the lining of my stomach. I feel my organs rotting from the inside out. One hundred and twenty. Stupid dogs."

Abduction At the Deluxe Kwik-Trip Pump

A mother tries to get herself abducted, first for money, and then for appreciation.

"After all, Tim could not replace me with just any woman he plucked off the streets. He’d have to date first, and then there’d be nannies and maids to pay, restaurant bills, and eHarmony fees. Not to mention the time he’d lose on the endeavor, which, multiplied by his hourly rate, would cost a considerable amount. Viewed in this light, my value was significant. I used to work in marketing and view matters at all levels of illumination."

Twenty-Nine Ingredients

Two friends travel to Mexico while dealing with individual deaths.

"Late in the afternoon Allison and I happen upon a parade in the oldest part of Oaxaca―more out-of-tune horn-players and wild-hot colors and heart-shaped garlands and costumes and photos of people gone but still remembered and cherished. Two tiny girls dressed in white, like angels or brides or spirits, carry a baby-sized cardboard coffin on their shoulders. These good people of Oaxaca have learned, one generation to the next, how to make this annual occasion of loss into celebration."

Red Clay

A woman travels to Mexico at the request of her married lover/boss.

"The driver has a picture of his family on the dashboard, like the one Gustavo has on his desk at work of his two little runts, his wife, all in cowboy hats or sombreros. Meera doesn’t know the difference. In the picture, his wife comes across as a woman who likes to be in charge: big boobs, square shoulders, a sturdy ass and yet apparently confident in tight jeans. Meera doesn’t know her name, doesn’t want to know it. But in her head, when she thinks of her, her name is Gustava."

Stopover

A story of friendship and distance between two Filipino-American women.

"If Cathy could ever convince herself to write a story about that night, she’d probably mention how she took Evangeline home after her friend had nearly passed out on the sidewalk in front of the fifth bar they had gone to; she’d admit that she had known that Evangeline wasn’t used to marathon drinking, but that Evangeline didn’t seem to mind. Maybe she’d describe how Evangeline’s laughter buzzed in her ears like flies’ wings as when she had asked Evangeline for her address, and how she watched the lights of downtown Austin illuminate the interior of their cab with its indulgent, wasteful glow. Evangeline had sobered up when they had gotten home, and they helped each other fold out her futon couch, laughing when they realized that they couldn’t figure out how they had done it when they futon finally gave in to their pushing. If words fractured a friendship, alcohol healed it, and she wished it were possible to drown in the amber-colored recklessness of that night forever."

Madeleine E (Excerpt)

An experimental story of travel, quotations, and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

"Two scenes intervene between Cypress Point and San Juan Bautista: one in Midge’s apartment, when Midge reveals her self-portrait-as-”Portrait of Carlotta” to Scottie, and, following it, a scene in Scottie’s apartment, “early dawn” the following day, when Madeleine comes to visit him to tell him about her dream. One scene attempts to conceal what it in actuality reveals, the other conceals that which it is supposed to reveal; Midge’s feelings for Scottie are clearest here, where her gesture is meant to be seen as ironic, and Madeleine’s are most calculated in the scene following it, just when she is supposed to be at her most vulnerable (“supposed to” according to her script, that is, the one written by Elster)."

A V of Geese

Interlocking narratives of relationships and a potential murder.

"Metal ran in an extensive and intricate network in streams across the countryside and densely through the city. Metal channeled the blood, and metal screws held Sarah’s glasses together as she left the parking lot and exited Le Roy onto the freeway. She felt sad to have missed a chance to get involved with a crazed dangerous person like Mike. Had he really committed a murder before she picked him up? She thought about the geese and drove home."

Birds In Fall [Prologue]

An ornithologist and a cellist converse desperately while trapped in a crashing plane.

Somewhere over the Bay of Fundy the cabin lights began to flicker. The video monitors went dead (they’d been showing a map of the Atlantic, with our speed, altitude, and outside temperature). The cellist looked up for a moment, her lips still moving with the sheet music. Then the cabin fell entirely dark, and a strange silvery light poured into the plane through each oval portal and lathed the aisles in a luminous, oddly peaceful glow.

The Last Itako

After a tragic accident, a husband and wife take a trip to Japan.

"Neither of us knows what Nori looks like, nor do we know how he will recognize us. In my first reply email months ago, I had explained that my wife and daughter would like to try exotic foods, perhaps see a bit of Japanese history. I had forgotten, like so many other things that have since slipped through the cracks, to mention that Gracie would no longer be joining us."

In Mykonos

A college student takes a trip to Greece following a death in the family.

"He bumped his way through the crowd of tourists shopping for postcards and miniature statues of gods with erect penises. Was his dad in an art gallery, picking up a sculpture of Poseidon for the foyer? Was he at a taverna sipping on local wine and feasting on fresh clams? Alex kept marching, out of the town and past the famous windmills. He looked back at Little Venice and its cluster of bars extending out over the water like they were threatening to leap."

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."

Winter Montage, Hoboken Station

Two friends meet and catch up at a train station bar.

"I cough something out about seeing him around and he swallows something back at me and each of us gives something that’s barely a nod. I start to walk towards the light rail to carry me home and I look out at the water. The snow’s still falling, hitting the Hudson and turning anonymous. I get the sudden abstract sense that going by train in this weather isn’t safe and I turn back around to see if Nathan’s still at the machine, if there’s time to go back to him and say something better than what I’ve given so far. When I look back, there’s no one left to stand at the machines."

The Company Of Ashes

After a friend's death, three people take a trip to scatter the ashes.

"The will assigned the task of scattering the ashes to Megan and Nolan, high school friends, and me. We were to scatter the ashes in a ravine on Levi’s uncle’s farm in Henderson, Kentucky. A year passed before Megan, Nolan and I agreed on a weekend to make the trip. By that time I was out of the halfway house and working max hours as manager of a dingy apartment complex in Louisville. I couldn’t believe Levi, at twenty-two, had written a will."