75.

A hush coats the apartment after the parrot speaks. Two whole floors have gathered to bear witness to its final thoughts, words to be forever enshrined upon the building’s throw pillows and the lips of its latchkey kids. See the gypsy girl laugh at the man’s muted pleas to return his voice, her promise of their transmutation, their power, to be lost on the wings of an unseen bird, brief and meaningless as the wind. The cockatoo’s coda — “Alas, that here ends my story of silence” — survives its Internet upload, infects the world’s many screens, then nothing.

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74.

“Remember no thing for its own sake, but for the ghost of a future self incomprehensible in this moment. Speak no thing for its own sake, but for the ears and well-being of a child long forgotten.” The rain-starved hills welcomed his car, its steely purr and pinpoint turns, as a kind of quenching liquid, some rambling flow of life on the run. The radio show ended, the DJ’s prophetic words another snowdrift of white noise piling in space,  until the driver pulled over, kicked open, threw keys, walked off.

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64.

Her opus was nearly complete. At intervals, her fingers muddled, scurried, and pounded out their final marathon of pages. Sitting as she was, her caffeinated form J-hooked over her desk, it was impossible to see the night sky, to notice how each exhausted, now frequent peck of the backspace key snuffed another star out of existence. “Worth it, all worth it,” her demons dirged, to the horror and chagrin of eyes everywhere.

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61.

Car for sale. Minor dings and scratches, new snow tires for season. Left side mirror shows past, right side the future, 5 years either way. Accepting immediate cash offer — discrete location preferred.

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58.

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! “Happy Birthday’s” a misnomer, actually — speaking technically, your creation involved no reproductive processes, and the genetic committee helming the parent project unanimously signed an NDA attesting to the utter preposterousness of your very existence, so, uh…jeez, sorry there, buddy. Cake’s in the fridge, help yourself.

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57.

It was her third straight day in the tattoo parlor chair. She’d commissioned the artist with a back-long mural of fighting dragons, a fifty color masterwork, and thus far, to her unfailing surprise, she’d felt not a needle. Half the world away, her twin sister writhed in bed, stricken with bruises and bleeding, incapacitated for most of the week, praying hard. Had the sisters ever met, the equation would be clear: Numbness and pain must never equally divide.

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54.

The tree on the hill was always dying. From spring to spring it endured autumn’s curse; old leaves puckered and fell, new leaves unfolded on naked limbs, gilded and rusty-veined. The house it eventually embodied was ever in disrepair, and a procession of frustrated owners impotently combated its sagging frame and withered windows. From the ashes of the abandoned hovel now grows a golden forest, a site of holy pilgrimage for lovers of Mischief and Death.

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48.

After clearing a Minesweeper board, he left his desk to check on the print job. The machine’s little glass screen signaled a paper jam in overblown red warning lights, and he spent minutes of his finite existence forcing his fingers into its plastic crevices like some rock climber scrambling for a hand hold. Back in his office, his chair lay in a pile of mangled carnage, its faux-leather padding gashed and flapping beneath an AC vent. He sighed, knelt at the keyboard, typed DAYS WITHOUT CHAIR EATER ATTACK: 1, then shuffled back down the hallway.

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47.

“Come closer, my darling; there’s but little time between us, and my voice is a fading star. Lean across these covers to take my hand and feel my breath about your ear, like before. Do you remember the hour you gave me this voice — your voice, darling — how for years I hardly used it for fear of poisoning your generosity? Your muteness at my expense…it breaks the whole of me, darling, maddens me, even now, not knowing what your voice might shout inside my throat!”

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45.

And the bird burst from its egg to be raised in the warmth and plumage of its mother’s breast. It grew rapidly, as big as the sun, until its mother could no longer shield it from its bright ambitions. Without a home, the bird left Earth to find a suitable nest among the stars, but the planets and the moons silently refused its company. It drifts in the darkness still, eager for a perch, unaware of the many worlds birthed and gathered by its heart.

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43.

The little girl finished her lunch and brought her plastic purple plate to the sink. She splashed soap around, rinsing her dish with an adorable little girl negligence, then racked it before tumbling back to her dolls on the floor. “She’s perfect,” the woman said, watching the demonstration behind a one-way mirror. “Tell the boys in production to start another twenty thousand.”

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42.

“Say it with me — ‘insatiable.’ Wonderful, isn’t it, when you find a word that sounds and feels like a full meal of meaning? Oh, but I’m frittering my breath: you’ve barely mastered learning to make a simulacrum of the Human oral cavity, let alone attained appreciation for their primitive tongues and jaws, the ways such flukes produce nuanced, scintillating utterances. Perhaps another invasion the poetry will find you, yes?”

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41.

They took the bottle rocket to the top of the hill, the child and the man. Their hearts leaped and howled at the marvel of the thought — their homemade fuselage harpooning the moon and stars, bursting the summer night to life. Fire ate the fuse to the brink of launch when the man charged across the grass, tackled the toy, and exploded in a carnival of jewels, each the size of the child’s front tooth. The jewels were heavier than the child anticipated, warmer, and it was hard to skip home with every pocket full.

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38.

They were there, all right — the same pair of squirrels he’d subscribed to since September. He leaned back against the park bench, gnashed his dripping sandwich, and settled in to watch Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Drama Hour unfold. The first crow dragooned the burly one, acorns a-flying, then the runt got bagged on its blitz across the meadow. “Stupid reruns,” the man critiqued, wolfing chips and Hostess Twinkies down his throat.

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36.

The movers hopped out of their van and rang the customer’s doorbell. With relief in her eyes, the lady of the house led them through the foyer, up the stairs, and into her daughter’s old bedroom. A young woman hunched beside the window, extracting heavy, invisible objects from her head, tossing each find into cardboard boxes, towers of which tickled the ceiling. With professional smiles, the movers tipped their hats, rolled up their sleeves, and tag-teamed the first of the baggage — a shoe box-sized number no lighter than a star.

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34.

It was a blurry day. The world had yet to awaken to itself, its customary crispness subsumed into half-rendered cataracts and milky middle distance. This was no local phenomenon — astronomers in observatories pontificated over smeary images of space, vouched for their equipment, released statements too fuzzy to read. The world raised an eyebrow, prescribed itself a mulligan, and tucked itself, yawning, into a deep, deep sleep.

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28.

The man dreamed of boulders crushing him alive. For weeks he awoke under the weight of imaginary mountains; some mornings he shook dirt from his hair. Red-eyed, flipping through magazines at the doctor’s office, he discovered a flower that only thrived in the churned earth of landslides, its roots most ramified beneath beds of destruction. He ordered its seeds, popped them like Ambien, and fell into bed a hopeful gardener.

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25.

Jimmy loved watching fire ants scavenge and march at the base of his driveway. Their prescriptive, chemical lives pleased some deep, orderly part of him — he couldn’t articulate this comfort at his young age, but knew he loved the warmth — the destiny — they inspired. One late summer’s day, a rogue chain of insects hitched off its tracks, regrouped in the dirt, and shaped the words “SAVE US” in living letters. Being 3, Jimmy couldn’t read, and so the prescient colony tasted oblivion in the bristles of an overnight street sweeper.

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21.

The ceramic Santa she swiped was chintzy, lazy-eyed, and reeked of bar stool piss. She glared it down across the table, exasperated as to why this detestable, second-hand salvage lacked the necessary revulsion to treat her kleptomania. Across town, a man similarly afflicted continued his rehabilitation, donating more Santa figurines to a smattering of thrift stores. The nebulous dregs of hope convinced her to steal again.

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17.

Her grocery cart squeaked a path to the bank of self check-out machines. Boxes and cans poured from right hand to left, each barcode leaking a mild, forsaken boop. Unclipping her billfold, the realization dropped like a turbulent plane — no other consoles booped, no other carts squeaked. Her head craned in silent alarm toward the lot beyond the glass, listening.

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16.

She refused to believe in ghosts. Everyone she loved swore on the existence of the spectral and the phantasmic, their invisible certainty wedging her farther apart. At last she retreated to an island, on which leaned a tumbledown house, inside of which hung mirrors heavy with time’s callous touch, in front of which she practiced existing. It was a weary process, years in the making, defining her presence in an unseen place.

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7.

The men and women who picked oranges schlepped their buckets and ladders and stuffed into several vans. The sky above, still written in night’s glittery signature, bannered them for miles to the day’s waiting grove. Upon arriving, a pair of workers sighted the Apple Painters, busily staining orange peels with candlewax redness. Though promptly mobbed from the fields, the Painters’ mischief proved substantial—a quarter of the team’s stippled stipends, ruined, without reason or rhyme in their wake.

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4.

The morning crosswalks bulged with the city’s human cells. Lights ticked red and green, their impatient corner mobs shivering with agitation. By silent assent, the collective shadows of the waiting crowds ventured across the roaring pavement, stalling hundreds of cars in their paths. The masses tailed after, their shadows regrouping, their doll eyes raised, falling far into the sky.

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1.

The man enters an eyeglass shop, approaches the woman at the counter, and asks to see the most expensive pair in stock. She obliges, reaching inside the shelf beneath her, and presents, with petite hands, a light and exquisite frame. The man slips it on, watches as her hands become hooks, then takes it off again, returning the model to her care. He utters thanks and exits the shop, feeling like he’s forgotten his own pair inside—but of course, he wore no pair to begin with.

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