Lithium Tetrachloroalum and Other Servants of God's Will

Religious mysteries surround a strange young child.

"'And of course the one book she had arrived with onto the stoop was none other than a New International version of The Holy Bible, which sparked the longest conversation the girl and I ever had. One afternoon while her alleged father was in the basement workshop of his, tinkering. I sat there flipping its pages and heard her clonking down the hall. Now, was I looking for notes or marginalia? Arguments? So I see the souped-up red lights and then there she is, sitting on the floor in front of me with a banana in one hand and a stuffed doll in the other, suspicious narrow eyes. Asking whether I was a Catholic. I am indeed, I told her, which she answered by affirming, me too. Which gave me pause, cautious not to trigger and witness again her version of tears. Well, I said, technically speaking, that isn’t true. Not until you take your first communion. And at this point she stared into my own face in a way I couldn’t describe if you gave me a full week.'"

Brotherhood

A fragmented story of a mysterious online networker of "workers" and "clients."

"Worse than the ones who smelt of wool and mould were girls who buffed their skins to marble, reeking of fruit liniments, tripping on tiny stilts, giggling like passive ewe, pretending to be air."

Recompensate, He Said

A mini epic of murder, theft, and nature in the Old West.

"He trotted down the steep slope and across the range, passing monuments of salt cedar and sagebrush and croppings of bouldered limestone and sandstone. Everett marched on, glancing back to the pass like clockwork. His vision began to blur and he mistook shadows of dashing clouds overhead as armies of villains bent on doing him harm. He crept on as his headache worsened and soon he forgot his sentried errand. He kept low to the ground and stopped himself twice from collapsing completely, bracing himself on passing man-made edifices of rock and earth. His limp had worsened and he stumbled upon wreckage of some wrecked wagonette and used a long timber from the wagon-bed as a crutch until it snapped in half ten minutes later. The sun was hot and without his hat or coat he felt the full effects of it on the nape of his neck."

The Private Fight

Current personal problems are tied to racial issues from years past.

"Helen Conley knew this story: When Maxwell Conley was sixteen and in high school, with a bad attitude like many of us have, two young members of the Black Panther Party saved his life. It happened because a recent veteran of the war in Vietnam woke up one morning believing he was still in the jungle. Adrenaline began pumping through his body at impressive levels. He didn't have a gun, but he found an oak baseball bat in the alley behind his mother's apartment building. He laced up his combat boots. He stormed down the street until he came to the high school. He kicked open the doors of the school, and came through the hallway breathing hard, fists clenched around the bat. It was seventh period. The hallway was quiet. Around the corner came Maxwell Conley, cutting class as was his custom. He was not sober. He was wondering why Kay Svenson wouldn't pay attention to him in art class. He was admiring his long curly hair in the reflection of the fire extinguisher case mounted on the wall. His Converse sneakers flapped open and his unwashed sock came through. The Vietnam veteran, only a few years older than Maxwell Conley, met him in the hallway, and wasted no time."

Still Life

A Japanese photographer examines the scene of the St. Valentine's Day massacre; a story from the author of The Black Hour.

"Was it the worst I’d seen? I turned to the camera, viewing the scene anew. Four men lay in a row, as though they had been tucked into a large bed. One slept at their feet, face down. The last hunched on his knees at a round-backed wooden chair. Blood ran toward the center of the room. Later that day when I returned to the newsroom, I would release the image from the machine in my hands, like a dragon from a cage. The city would see the blood, black, and no one would remember that someone—call him Togo or call him Fujita, the name will not be printed—had stood in the dust of men’s bones to face the dragon so that they did not have to."

The Drunks

A mysterious stranger in the woods; horrific escalations.

"When we were eleven Billy Jacobs told us he had seen three people standing at the edge of the woods. One was the redheaded man–or someone who from a distance resembled the redheaded man, a sicker, thinner incarnation of him. The three held big glass bottles as they waved to Billy. One let a cigarette fall from his mouth and the others shrieked with laughter. They stumbled away and were gone."

On the Shore of the Great Salt Plains Lake Near Jet, Oklahoma

Sex, potential violence, and human awkardness convene on an isolated shore.

"A slight breeze brings slight relief from the heat and a taste of the saltwater lapping against the hard sand. He’s been here many times. Though he has no desire to kill a bird, he loves this place, this lonely beach at the edge of this lonely lake too shallow for boats and too lifeless to attract fishermen. He loves the sand bugs and the sharp edges of the sand grass. Especially he loves the deep shade beneath the willow trees, and the sound of the cicadas’ music in the sun."

The Answer

A man heads to Key West in a quest for sobriety.

"At the piano a black man in dark glasses set the tempo with hands the size of catcher’s gloves. He never looked down at the keys. Instead he seemed to be staring straight at Daniel. It was unnerving at first, but soon Daniel got used to it. Perhaps because he was sober, it seemed as if he could hear all the notes. He didn’t miss a moment. He smiled at the piano man. He nodded his head when the piano man did a whirling riff and clapped when he finished a mind-boggling solo."

Altar

An unsettling dialogue between a woman and her jilted lover.

"Her face is turning pale, her freckles darkening. Don’t feel bad now. Dismiss that urge to hold her, to comfort her, to make her feel safe. She is the girl you love, but not. She is the girl who will break your heart. Who broke your heart already, and will do it again."

Brass

An Arizona family unwittingly approaches the cusp of tragedy.

"He looks up at me quick and decides to be pleased. Usually he won’t look at a person direct. He says eye contact is counterproductive to comprehension and communication. He’s got any number of ways to justify himself, that’s for sure."

The Goldfinch [Excerpt Part 2]

The second part of the Donna Tartt excerpt.

""When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."

It Takes a Village

A new counselor takes a job at a faltering Florida high school.

"The others at the table were talking about summer break, how it had gone too quickly, how the last thing they wanted was to be back at school, at this school. They complained about the heat, the giant mosquitos, the rain—the constant rain—and joked about how wrong it was to be so pissed off already when it was only the first day. Andrew, at the end of the table, nodded and smiled while he munched on a Cuban sandwich, trying to find an in, some common ground."</p>

The Green Zone Rabbit

Iraq, ten years later: Sectarian assassins, posing as bodyguards, are baffled by an egg-laying rabbit. Translated by Jonathan Wright.

"The rabbit had been with us for a month and I had already spent two months with Salsal in this fancy villa in the north of the Green Zone. The villa was detached, surrounded by a high wall and with a gate fitted with a sophisticated electronic security system. We didn’t know when zero hour would come. Salsal was a professional, whereas they called me duckling because this was my first operation."

498

Two men take different paths during the Spanish Civil War.

"We each took a shovel, cursing the officer and the soldier whose question put us in our position, but before we dug a hole big enough for three corpses, another truck came from the bullring to the cemetery. This time, four of the Moroccan regulares sat on the tailgate. They shared a cigarette and joked with one another while bodies jostled heavily behind them. So we began unloading the dead. I hesitated touching their hairy forearms or muddy ankles, their bare feet or damp armpits, moist from fear. Their clothes and skin were soaked through, and their blood was warm and slick, making them difficult to handle. For many, their bowels had released their grip in death, and we worked while trying to cover our noses with a shoulder. Most of the bullets had entered their chests, though some destroyed their jaws so that their mouths swung open across a shoulder. What should we do about this one? a soldier asked, pointing at a still-blinking rojo. Blood clouded his eyes, and he breathed with his mouth open. Flies grazed at the corners of his lips. A bullet had sheared a hole through his trachea, which wheezed with each breath. The commanding officer glanced down, then turned away. He’ll be dead by the time you finish digging his grave, he said."

The Future Looks Good

Three generations of women endure the trials of a turbulent Nigeria.

"Almost a year into their courting, the war comes. Her people are Biafra loyalists, his people think Ojukwu is a fool. On the night of their engagement party only her people attend. And when she goes by his house the next day she discovers he has left the country."

Kite

A childhood evening in a barrio.

"Now they’re bossing all the kids around. Just because they have the nicest soccer ball in all of Cuatro de Marzo, they think they can slave-drive the other kids to make the soccer field, to carve it out from the dirt street. They think they can practically reinvent the game. The ball is pretty nice. Nobody knows exactly where they got it, but they never let it out of their sight. They take turns guarding it, sleeping with it at night. It’s the same kind the Guadalajara Chivas use, one that looks official—all red, white and blue with their coat of arms on the side."

Arboreal

A mental disorder in which the protagonist believes he is a tree.

"There are a lot of things though that one doesn’t experience as a tree. For example music. Maybe trees feel the vibrations, but I don’t remember anymore. When I was young my mom put me in piano lessons. I begged to go to them actually, but I was horrible. Before the lesson I used to have to sit and wait in the hallway of the music school and from the different rooms you could hear the different instruments being played badly, but from my position in the hallway, it sounded like they were all coming from the same room. A cello screeching as syncopation to an out of tune violin with a piano clank-clanking along. It was beautiful and what I enjoyed more than anything else. Music is one thing that I’ll miss, when I become a tree again."

The Goldfinch [Excerpt 2]

An act of terror at an art museum.

"When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."