Content Categorized ‘Fiction’

The Cool Girl’s Guide to Contortion

In memory of Jonathan Bernbaum (1982–2016), who lost his life in the Ghost Ship Fire   I didn’t have much of an audience. Guests were few and far between, chatting nervously with one another. As if to compensate, the DJ blared the music. He was playing the Black Eyed Peas. He may have been mocking the guests. He may have been mocking me. I was in a lyra suspended five feet off a raised platform. Front mermaid to splits. I took out the back catch in order to simplify the routine. I’d heard this tech firm was a zombie now, but they had gone ahead with the holiday party anyhow. My fee had been negotiated by my agent: five hundred dollars, yet to be collected, and shares. I had the feeling I wouldn’t get the former and wouldn’t want the latter. I hung upside down, dismounting into a handstand, down into the splits. I raised my hands in the air and received exactly no applause. I stood up and ran backstage. This was already the second of five scheduled miniroutines. What would happen if I just left now? At least my dressing room, tiny as it was, was an actual…


We find bodies all the time. Lots of folks come up here to die or kill, or get killed. My first one came in the summer. We were up Back Branch, near the Virginia border, where the treeline thickens above the bald. It was me and Coralis, who trained me when I started with the Park Service. Coralis taught me pretty much my whole job, and the only part I’ve ever questioned is whether he taught me how to deal with the living and the dead the right way around. That first time, Coralis and me were heading from Back Branch to Sugar Knob. This was back in ’83, my first month on the job, before I got my own vehicle. I was one of the only woman rangers in the whole state then. We were heading north, coming out of an early morning fog, and we saw a flash off to the right, like a gleam off somebody’s smile in those old toothpaste commercials. We thought that was strange with it so gray and misty, so we checked it out.  Coralis pulled over in the grass near a mile marker—the old stones, white and square, the ones you see all…

Ouro Preto

The summer before my senior year of college, I spent far too many of my waking hours in the basement of the state natural-science museum, rarely leaving, even for meals. During my lunch break, I sat eating red licorice under the yellow orb of a desk lamp, turning pale and flaccid as a mushroom. “You need something with some damn nutrition to it,” my boss, Bill, would say, jabbing a thick finger at me as I chewed plasticky chunks. But he had a MoonPie with Sun Drop for lunch himself, so my eating habits felt like an act of solidarity. Bill was a geologist whose Twitter handle was @DrRocks and who played in a prog rock band on the weekends. I was his summer research assistant, having taken the job with little idea as to what it would actually entail but knowing it was the least popular option each year on the university’s summer work board. Mostly, I’d taken it as a sort of punishment. I wasn’t a geology major; I’d taken one class as a freshman to fulfill a science requirement: “Rocks for Jocks,” people called it. As summer drew near, though, I’d allowed myself to imagine some possibility…

The Clown of Rome

John was coming from St. Peter’s. Steph had never mentioned St. Peter’s in her emails, so going there had been okay. When he reached the empty street along San Spirito Hospital, he spotted the man, chubby, bearded, with thinning hair.

Make No Sound to Wake

Evening gusts moved shadows and air the dogs couldn’t smell. This late into Niłch’ih Tsoh, with the ground buried beneath three day’s snow, two mutts curled for warmth inside a scrap-wood shelter built against the northeast side of a hogan.


No, ma’am, I cannot disclose to you where in the States we will return to. I must remind you that I’m the only one allowed to ask questions here. I shall make a note of your interest in my future whereabouts. Please wipe off your look of alarm and stop digging your fingers into your husband’s arm. This is merely common procedure.