Shiva Dancing

An astrophysicist's long walk to avoid distraction turns into a mysterious journey.

"One day Thackeray has to leave the house; he is overcome by a feeling that is not familiar to him seeing Maria’s legs, and he’s on the brink of discovering the mathematical secret of the universe, and he must think, by God, clearly now, women’s legs of all the absurd things, so he walks out the door and along the streets up to the college, across the millstream, losing himself in thought, out past the observatory and up an old mining trail and finally into the wilderness as the light among the great trees thins to dust."

The Better Of The Bitter

A young man awaits a conversation with his father, with the Egyptian Revolution in the background.

"I am standing and waiting on my father to come home. He is well-educated and serves quite the purpose in one of the state dailies. He works among the bureaucrats, in their offices without walls, only partitions, and aspires for me to do the same when he is promoted. Promotion is not contingent, it is imminent. Our side will win and the present situation will end, but for tonight I hope political talk will trap itself somewhere on the road from Tahrir to our apartment and that my father and I can focus on our cocktails."

Enter Harlow

A woman shares memories of various communications, ranging from the innocent to the violent.

"Still, there were occasions on which I had to be stopped. When you think of two things to say, pick your favorite and only say that, my mother suggested once, as a tip to polite social behavior, and the rule was later modified to one in three. My father would come to my bedroom door each night to wish me happy dreams and I would speak without taking a breath, trying desperately to keep him in my room with only my voice. I would see his hand on the doorknob, the door beginning to swing shut. I have something to say! I’d tell him, and the door would stop midway."

I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream

For over one hundred years, a malicious supercomputer named AM has enslaved five tortured survivors who look for a way out.

"Oh, Jesus sweet Jesus, if there ever was a Jesus and if there is a God, please please please let us out of here, or kill us. Because at that moment I think I realized completely, so that I was able to verbalize it: AM was intent on keeping us in his belly forever, twisting and torturing us forever. The machine hated us as no sentient creature had ever hated before. And we were helpless. It also became hideously clear:If there was a sweet Jesus and if there was a God, the God was AM."

Spunk

Infidelity leads to murder, with implications of haunting beyond the grave.

"Now Joe knew his wife had passed that way. He knew that the men lounging in the general store had seen her, moreover, he knew that the men knew he knew. He stood there silent for a long moment staring blankly, with his Adam’s apple twitching nervously up and down his throat. One could actually see the pain he was suffering, his eyes, his face, his hands and even the dejected slump of his shoulders. He set the bottle down upon the counter. He didn’t bang it, just eased it out of his hand silently and fiddled with his suspender buckle."

The Beachcomber

A conversation with a future being reveals the sad timelessness of modern problems.

"What would an unspoiled South Sea Islander have made of the first atomic war? Maxwell wondered. Morals of one society didn't apply to another, he knew. Still—was it possible that the Beachcomber's people, Maxwell's own descendants, still had a taint of the old Adam? And was it accident that they were the only dominant life-form in the entire universe, or had they eliminated all other contenders?"

The Moral Equivalent to Football

A former first-string tackle considers the green zone as a war zone:

Just as football has evolved in accordance with the evolving business ethic of American society, so has it evolved in accordance with the changing strategic assumptions about war. The development (or rebirth) of the T-formation in football coincided almost exactly with the development of a new era of mobility and speed in warfare best exemplified in the Blitzkrieg tactics of the German armies in Europe in 1939-40. The T-formation soon overwhelmed the “Maginot Line” mentality of traditional football, based as it was on rigid lines and massive concentrations of defensive and offensive power.

Three Soldiers [Excerpt]

A wounded WWI soldier reflects on the absurdities of battle.

"Men were more humane when they were killing each other than when they were talking about it. So was civilization nothing but a vast edifice of sham, and the war, instead of its crumbling, was its fullest and most ultimate expression. Oh, but there must be something more in the world than greed and hatred and cruelty. Were they all shams, too, these gigantic phrases that floated like gaudy kites high above mankind?"

Twin Forks

The new owner of the Twin Forks Store and Campground encounters some trouble.

"The sheriff had said, 'You probably should've shot him while you could do it legal and get it over with. He might be back for you, or you might not ever see him again, who knows with meth heads. But you surely will want to be ready if ever he does come around for you, and that could be at any time from now on.'"

The Secret Room

Meticulous details of a room and a murdered young woman; a sample of Robbe-Grillet's sometimes challenging forms.

"In the background, near the top of the stairway, a black silhouette is seen fleeing, a man wrapped in a long, floating cape, ascending the last steps without turning around, his deed accomplished. A thin smoke rises in twisting scrolls from a sort of incense burner placed on a high stand of ironwork with a silvery glint. Nearby lies the milkwhite body, with wide streaks of blood running from the left breast, along the flank and on the hip."

Among Friends

A Mexican man reluctantly provides cultural insights to a pandering white American journalist.

"Two years before, Samuel Kramer had arrived to write the nteenth feature on Frida Kahlo. Someone told him I wrote screenplays for tough documentaries, and he paid me to accompany him through a city he considered savage and explain things he called mythical."

Intelligence

As part of his cover, a spy is forced to work at a big-box store called "Circuitpalooza."

"There are, I suppose, far unluckier fates than my own. I remember the botched assassination in Paraguay, the decapitated arms dealer in Slovenia, the lone orphan girl in Kuwait. However, I can’t help but feel that, as a spy, my position here at Circuitpalooza demands perhaps a little more from me than it would from most."

Night Stand

From the author of Winter's Bone: A Vietnam War veteran grapples with the aftermath of killing a home intruder.

" A year after his return Pelham ceased to mention Vietnam to new acquaintances, dropped it from the biography of himself he’d give if asked. Only those who knew him before he went were certain that he’d gone. Jill was a second wife, fifteen years his junior, a lovely, patient blond, and remembered Vietnam as a tiresome old television show that’d finally been canceled about the time she left third grade. "

The Kid

A boy ("the kid"), a man, a girl, a dog, a a bag of drugs, and the Buddha.

"The kid didn't laugh, because he never fake-laughed. The girl laughed because she was nervous. There was an uneasy space where the kid was not laughing. "