TJ Neathery: Turing Test

At times, Braff Grieg forgot Cait wasn’t a real woman, especially moments like this as her delicate fingers slipped a garlic cracker into his mouth. He chewed and let the pulpy blend roll over his tongue. The garlic was sprinkled with sea salt, and he could almost taste the ocean. A happy thought—he was back at the old beach house, the place he had once loved so much, leaning over the porch railing and letting the brine-soaked wind wash over him. He allowed himself a smile, and just then, while standing on his balcony in New York City, he felt a sharp breeze blow up from the street below and catch the edge of his shirt collar. It was just as if the breeze had been recalled straight from his memory. He looked out over the city. The leaves of Central Park smoldered orange and red. It was a chilly mid-November evening. The weatherman said it threatened to snow the next day, but it was not snowing yet. Continue reading “TJ Neathery: Turing Test”

Robert Wexelblatt: “Hsi-wei, the Monk, and the Landlord”

The Tang minister Fang Xuan-ling, who visited Master Hsi-wei in his retirement and recorded their conversations in his memoirs, relates the following story about the origin of the Master’s gnomic poem popularly called “Teacher Window.”

While he was making his way through Jizhou, it happened that Hsi-wei was invited to rest for a few days in a hillside monastery.  The monks were of the Ch’an sect, therefore exceptionally neat, disciplined, and, when not silent, economical in their communications.

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Tim Millas: “Cleo’s Vision”

Bad enough that Dale went to San Francisco for a three-month picture assignment without taking Sela, or even telling her he was going—he dumped Cleo on her too. And then the dog started to go blind.

At first Cleo gave no hints of anything wrong. Maybe less barky, but Sela figured that was because Dale wasn’t there to give her a cookie every other minute. Cleo never interested her much anyway. By dog standards she was cute: long body, short legs, big eyes, nose like a black strawberry. Otherwise she was awful, totally spoiled, snapping at other dogs and Sela too (or any girl who stole Dale’s attention), barking if they went out without her and then pissing the rug out of spite. She played Dale like a violin, but growing up on a dairy farm had left Sela unsentimental about animals, and unplayable.

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Francis Duffy: “Rubbish”

The few who knew of my scheme advised against it.

“Violates common sense” was their consensus. Hitchhiking coast to coast under pressure of deadline is daft. Will take far longer than you think plus too many pervs on the road. “You’ll be AWOL,” they warned.

I don’t dispute their point about common sense. But their other items are arguable because not one had ever driven cross country, much less hitched 3,000 miles. In fact, none had hitched at all.

“Only hobos do that,” they said.

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Moumin Quazi: “The Tire Swing”

The day is warm, and the little neighborhood where Charlie lives is just waking up. Mrs. Garrett is brewing coffee. Her cotton nightgown is tied tight around her frail body, though no one is there to see them if one of her body parts were to be exposed. Her Folgers is percolating in an old G.E. coffee maker, blurping an aroma that always reminds her of life when the kids lived at home and her husband George was alive. But that was a long time ago. She is looking out the window and spies two redbirds chasing each other from tree to tree, their high chirps piercing the air. Across the street, Jack Rogers is watching the morning television news show, not because he cares what’s going on in the world, but because he has a crush on the morning anchorwoman, Joy Sandleman. Jack Roger’s wife, Teresa, suspects his infatuation, but plays along with it, egging him on from the bathroom with, “What’s Sandles got to say this morning?” Jack Rogers mutters, “Nothin’,” and then adjusts himself on his plush recliner and watches his show. On the sidewalk between the two houses, a dog-owner named Ken walks Skimpy, the dachshund born without a tail. Skimpy is a silver-dapple mix and darts in and out of bushes, sporadically straining the leash that Ken delights to hold. Jack Rogers calls the dog without a tail “Stubby,” and wonders how in the hell Ken can bend down every morning and pick up “Stubby shit”—even if Ken’s hand is in a plastic bag. Clearly, Jack Rogers has never had a pet.
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Terry Dalrymple: “Bastard Children”

NOTE: “Bastard Children” is linked by characters to Andrew Geyer’s “Troubadours.” This story, “Bastard Children,” should be read first.

After a quiet evening with a home-cooked meal, Augie and Lily sat on the couch and played a game of truth or dare that very intentionally led them to nudity.

“Last lover?” Augie said as his last question of the game. “What was his name?”

“Why that?” Lily said and tapped his shoulder with a fist.

“Why not?” He kissed her, just a peck on the lips.
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Andrew Geyer: “Troubadours”

NOTE: This story, “Troubadours,” is linked by characters to Terry Darymple’s “Bastard Children.”  Be sure to read “Bastard Children” before you read this story.

It isn’t just the fact that she’s a stranger.

No, the fracking boom that’s fired up on the Eagle Ford Shale, and the building boom that followed, have brought a lot of unfamiliar faces to Jordan.  And I couldn’t be happier to see them.  A lot of the roughnecks and construction workers come into the Second Chance Café.  I serve the best chili in Southwest Texas, in three varieties—a three-alarm shredded beef with fiery red peppers, a two-alarm ground venison with jalapenos, and a one-alarm ground beef and pinto beans with mild green chiles—with thick slices of homemade sourdough bread on the side.  There are half-pound burgers and wedge fries, chicken fried steaks, spicy catfish stew, spicy-battered fried catfish filets with hushpuppies, and ice-cold beer to wash it all down.  I serve the beer and run the register, hire perky girls from Jordan High School to serve the food, and the hungry young men come in droves.  But that doesn’t explain the dark-haired woman in the corner, casing the place with nervous eyes. Continue reading “Andrew Geyer: “Troubadours””

Dennis Vannatta: “Catch”

As he walked out of the parking lot and onto the empty field, Edwin Shinebourne put his glove over his nose and inhaled deeply.  “Ah!”  He glanced over at John Norman, walking beside him.  John had his glove over his nose, too.  They giggled like schoolboys and looked back at Tommy Boy Corcoran, lumbering up behind them.  Thomas saw what they were doing and put his glove up to his nose, too, but immediately lowered it and made a face.  “Pee-yu!”
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Culley Holderfield: “Secret Beginnings”

Things never end the way you think they will.  And they never begin the way you think they will either.

“I love you,” he said, unprovoked, with the knowledge that she desperately wanted to hear those three words.  The only time they mean anything is the first time, and this was the first time he had ever spoken those words to Sonia.  They had dribbled out of his mouth involuntarily, as sometimes they do when you’ve said them tens of thousands of times.  But that shouldn’t be how they arise the first time.
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