Fiction Pick of the Week: "Delivery"

A pizza deliverer/calculus whiz becomes involved in the lives of two unstable college students.

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"I licked my thumb, outside, by the car, and ran it over the suction cups, before I slapped the marquee to the top of my cobalt blue Toyota. The pizzas were already sitting in the passenger seat, cardboard mouths smiling. I was conscious, despite Walter’s assertion, that I was operating under the tick of a clock, an invisible, indefinite deadline. Really, we all are. But no one realizes how soon it’s coming."

Fiction Pick of the Week: "Peacetime"

An Iraq War veteran, now a paramedic, runs into trouble.

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"I rewarded the man with another hit of naloxone, which made him even more alive, even less happy. Karen was busy with the gear, and I thought for sure that the coast was clear. It wasn’t. As soon as I put the note in my pocket, I saw the boy. He stood in the doorway, watching me with a basically impassive expression. He chewed his gum. He blew a splendid bubble."

Fiction Pick of the Week: "The Extra Mile"

A woman in an unhappy marriage stumbles toward change.

"Without turning the radio on, Hannah drove back into town and into the driveway of her house. She sat there in the car for a long while and ran through the drive with Tex over and over. She wanted to go back and stop herself from touching his leg. She wanted to go back and stop herself from driving there in the first place. She wanted to go back and stop the day from ever starting."

Letters of a Waste Business Man

A strange correspondence between two men--hopes, fears, work, and garbage.

"Momentous. I received my permit. Now I am equipped, attached to my own industrial serial number, and there you have it. 90023-457-89-2. I’m not fooling around when I tell you this is big business dear Fred. I could convey any thing—spoiled fruit pulp, rusted play ground equipment, big hazardous syringes, worn out shoe horns, threadbare ear muffs, passé slot machines, unwound baseballs, and emptied paint cans. Pots and pans and kettles are no big deal what so ever. In dreams begin responsibilities Fred and what’s terrific is it’s not a dream any more. I am a licensed carrier on the make."

Gentle Hands Will Save You

Scenes from an anger management facility.

"Mike began to curse his hands. Champion told him to calm down, that his hands were gentle, and that he was as likely brainwashed by this place as cured, something he would never admit sober. Champion suggested they try to escape; he was drunk enough, he thought, to just walk away."

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The Ceiling

Horrifyingly astute reflections on a series of murders.

"The bank clerk gave John a pinched look as he pulled out his calculator, checking if she’d paid him the correct interest when cashing out Mother’s savings bonds. (She had, to the penny.) He sensed her subtle gloat. John didn’t care. He’d ended two people’s pain that day, single-handedly. Was SHE ever that kind?"

Where We Must Be

A woman's life is complicated by a sick lover and a job playing Bigfoot.

"I wait for the woman to relax, watching for the instant when she begins to think: maybe there won’t be a monster after all. I can always tell when this thought arrives. First their posture goes soft. Then their expression changes from confused to relieved to disappointed. More than anything, the ambush is about waiting the customer out. I struggle to stay in character during these quiet moments; it’s tempting to consider my own life and worries, but when the time comes to attack, it will only be believable if I’ve been living with Bigfoot’s loneliness and desires for at least an hour."

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."

This Young Man's Father Died In an Ice Storm. You Won't Believe What Happened Next.

An interactive fiction: a son and the illusion of his dead father; the intersection of technology and real life.

"Once I created his page I tried to return to my life. I was twenty-six years old, a man of inconsistent employment. During the winter I shoveled snow for the elderly. They paid me in germs and butterscotch candy. My landlord, an independently wealthy sexagenarian, accepted the candy as payment. She also insisted I tidy the complex. I changed light bulbs. I dusted the parking lot. I swept cigarette butts into the street. I clubbed the occasional beehive. My life was guarded and lonely, and susceptible, I soon discovered, to the distraction my father provided."

Pipe Hugger

A woman takes a very odd job as a human pipe defroster.

"And none of the customers are what she had expected. They don’t stare, googley-eyed, while she slips out of her coat. They don’t try to touch her or make jokes. If they stick around at all, it’s to chat about thermodynamics and temperature gradients and conduction and convection and spray foam insulation and all the boring things Sheila has never been interested in herself. She nods politely and pretends to understand it all, waiting for them to leave her alone with the pipe."

Thank You For the Light

On F. Scott Fitzgerald's birthday, a repost from 2012:In this previously-unpublished Fitzgerald story, a saleswoman wants a cigarette, and perhaps encounters something more profound.

"Smoking meant a lot to her sometimes. She worked very hard and it had some ability to rest and relax her psychologically. She was a widow and she had no close relatives to write to in the evenings, and more than one moving picture a week hurt her eyes, so smoking had come to be an important punctuation mark in the long sentence of a day on the road."

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 Voices Captain Brewster Heard

A ship captain's stories and unsettling encounters.

"Captain Brewster eyed the schooner, heavy in the water but no room in it for two hundred head of anything, and then he realized what it was. He explained to the man that the war was over and Lincoln’s Proclamation had become a Constitutional Amendment, that slavery was outlawed and slaverunners would hang for pirates. The man’s small eyes grew smaller, his heel tapped faster against the wood. He asked if Captain Brewster might like to buy some slaves for himself, though he used a different word, but Captain Brewster assured him that he wouldn’t, advised him to free his passengers and flee. The man spat the word back at him, passengers, half a question and half an accusation."

Near Earth Objects

A low level NASA employee struggles with the choice to reveal a massive conspiracy.

"It has to be true. He has to be right. He knows how it’s going to go down; he can see it all spread out before him. The files will come as a shock to the Department Head, who will panic. The bosses will tell him: If you’re loyal, you’ll take this to the grave, Milton. You’ll keep your silence and be a hero. Milton will say, no, it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than all of us."

What Have You Lost? [Excerpt]

An excerpt from Luna's as-of-now unpublished novel: a look at discontentment in Portland.

"I wasn't sleeping well, is the thing. I would go to bed at midnight where Tom was nearly always already asleep, and I'd lie awake until one or so when I'd finally fall asleep, only to wake up at 5 a.m.—always five am, like a bell clanging—seized with some unnamed panic. Panic gripping my throat, tightening my chest. Like waking up mid-heart attack morning after morning. I would get up, pull on my clothes, get out. Our apartment got so small and close like that, the walls closing in on me and I would need to get out. Just to breathe, to settle myself down some. Miles I would walk, winding my way past rain-faded hulking warehouses and auto shops and lumber yards and then I'd push past them, just me and the trucks and the highway sounds and the river."

Mere Increments [Excerpt]

The life of a conflicted IT worker from Iowa.

</blockquote><p>“Roger Jeffries is given to bouts of fantasy in which he speculates the possibilities suppressed by his current set of circumstances: that, indeed, he could have, if he had chosen to make the effort, packed a moving truck full of his stuff and left UNI for more cultivated frontiers. The Twin Cities, maybe, or Chicago, or back East to New York. Westward to the Pacific, perhaps, a destiny realized in Los Angeles. At any rate, he frequently imagines a young self packing up his stuff and driving for days—regardless of how close this destination might actually have been to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of the UNI Panthers, he always envisions driving for days, young, stubbled, over-caffeinated and chain smoking—to some more prestigious or renowned place.”</p></blockquote>

The Janitor in Space

A space station custodian reflects on her terrestrial past.

"She scrubs the fingerprints from the instrument panels, watches the lights flicker and dim. She wonders how many rags she’ll go through, how many surfaces have to get clean before she can finally empty herself of the past. She doesn’t know about metaphors but she knows that even the smallest human vessel has boundless storage for sorrow. Was there a right way to take in so much sorrow it burned clean through the lungs and heart? Was there a right way to atone?"

An Object in Motion

An outtake from Backswing, Burch's latest story collection from Queen's Ferry Press.

"It started getting too big! I hadn’t planned ahead – didn’t stop and realize its size until it was too late. It was too big to fit through the garage door and the pieces were so interlocked and crosshatched, it took me a week just to break the thing down into manageable pieces to be able to move it. For a couple days, I was worried I might lose more of the work I’d done up to that point than I did."

Scumbag

A drunkard with a past becomes the hero in this contemporary-yet-classic fairytale.

"The wall before you, which had appeared to be made from stone like all the others in the castle, actually burns quickly, charring like a piece of newspaper under a match. As it begins to vanish, you see that the hall continues on the other side. This was actually a test. And you actually completed it correctly. When the wall burns through completely, the fire suddenly extinguishes, as if doused in invisible water. You continue on down the hallway with, dare you say, a sense of purpose."

Who Can Shave Thirteen Times a Day

A hairdresser confronts class issues and a local murder.

"During my lunch break, I thought about what I thought about Elena Czarinsky. Honestly, I’d never liked her much. She was one of those women who flashed her electronics around to remind everyone she had a real job where she was irreplaceable. She tipped with the generous lunacy of a woman who’s had to take her clothes off for a living. Once she told me she got off bad guys just to show she knew the law better than the next guy, and it wasn’t an apology. Actually, I could have hated the woman."

Authority [Chapter One]

The director of a covert organization arrives for his first day at work.

"Control took his time staring at the women, although their appearance told him little. They had all been given the same generic uniforms, vaguely army- issue but also vaguely janitorial. Their heads had all been shaved, as if they had suffered from some infestation, like lice, rather than something more inexplicable. Their faces all retained the same expression, or could be said not to retain any expression. Don't think of them by their names, he'd told himself on the plane. Let them carry only the weight of their functions at first. Then fill in the rest. But Control had never been good at remaining aloof. He liked to burrow in, try to find a level where the details illuminated without overwhelming him."

What People Are Made Of

A young man works as an apprentice to his mortician uncle.

"I have learned a number of corollaries to that in my time as an apprentice. I have learned that, sometimes, your relatives will ask us to remove gold fillings from your teeth so that they can sell them. I have learned that some of your acquaintances will wear jeans to your funeral. I have learned that, all too often, your closest friends will not come at all. They will text during the service. They will sneak outside to the parking lot when it’s time to sing hymns to smoke cigarettes and steal swigs from flasks of whiskey, telling each other that you would’ve wanted it that way."