84.

Squad car, stake out. Suspect tailed for twenty blocks, alleged to sell dope to middleschoolers in Roosevelt Park; no hand-offs reported. The widow’s walk funnels the screams of the sea to her ears, her salt-bitten eyes, the fog-layered horizon withholding her husband’s vessel’s masts. Beyond these bubbles of wait pops the world, children roughhouse, oceans tide men home.

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80.

“Steer the rowboat thusly, were the drums of the Roman fleet upon us — there’s a sharp lad! But here again, that look about you. I’m certain you’ve grown tired of my praises — and firmly certain you share my leanings, though you speak not — but it’s a damnable shame how the world so derides you Ferrymen. I’ve nary touched an oar for a flicker of my life, yet even a tenderfoot such as myself can sense the power of a rower; so hasten onward, dear captain, for the Gods’ abysmal abode!”

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78.

“She has been born Markless, Your Majesty. Her skin is whole and clear.” The night’s winds tore the trees of their winter coats, and the Axemen set to task stiffly, gritting fang against the numbness in their loins, the maddening fire of missing digits. The howling, freezing hills sung a dirge of silver moonlight; beside the royal hearth was the princess cooed to sleep.

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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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69.

“Don’t spend your life waiting for the light to shine.” “Why not, Dad?” “Because the darkness has lessons it can teach us, and your brothers and your sisters have been lashed by the light’s silver tongue, and have all gone.” “Don’t blame the light, Dad, you always blame the light…”

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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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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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53.

“That’s the last time I saw the prick. I tell ya, watching that man climb the gallows steps, you’da sworn Brother Jesus was in the crowd, nodding some sad approval — did my heart good. ‘Course none of us was expecting the traitor’s wings to break his chains, and none of us knew how fast he could hoof it till we hauled after him down the main drag, but he was too high, goddammit, too Kingdom-close to shoot down. Funny thing about it — what I ‘member most, anyways — was the prick left his hangman’s bag on, flyin’ blind, but straight, all the way up.”

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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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44.

A disarming thing happens when you listen to your own beating heart: You realize it functions on grace. It is no reliable or uniform thing — there are gaps and skips, it fumbles like a timid drummer at a halftime show, whole black seconds pass with no blood churning — and yet somehow its irregular, nervous nature keeps your thoughts in alignment, sets your arms and legs to task. The others never told me how feckless the human heart is — armed with such knowledge, I would have forgone the transplant entirely, having never surrendered my immortal essence for the sake of a single, fading child. And yet my choice shines darkest for this unholy doubt: If their very organs stutter and tremble at Life’s threshold, of what unobtainable peace have we robbed them?

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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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40.

I awoke from a nap to find Life beside the bed, beating my chest like a child on Christmas morning. This happy violence resurrected my cells, convinced me I’d somehow given birth to my own flesh and bone, and then Life’s nimble hands led the charge, and we were outside, walking and eating and taking forced-perspective photos of us licking cloud plumes like they were ice cream cones, melting for joy. Life went missing during our game of hide and seek, the little devil, so I plunged into my chest, where Life’s hand had bruised my heart, and I planted the feeling beside an overgrown rock wall ten minutes drive from my cottage. I’m not worried about Life: She knows the way back to me, and mornings here are bright and clear — clear enough to catch her footsteps before they fall. 

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37.

He wore silence like an eagle’s ivory plumage. The world squawked and bawled at his passing, vultures noisy with life, consuming unspoken stragglers like him. With patience and cunning, the thermals of days well observed bore him out, above their venue, into space, its vacuum so absolute his heart burst from the hush of it. Oh, to be a fish in that great creature’s claws, set free to the starfields on high!

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35.

“Let’s throw our change into the fountain; it’s never failed me before. Look at it — long as a fallen man, porcelain skin, four curled, clawed feet digging the earth: beautiful. Though just think how more beautiful if the water could run. No, no, dear one, that’s my heart talking — you wish for whatever you want.”

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27.

A ghost once lived in a beautiful house. It swept the floor and set the table, removed the trash and rocked the crib. Eventually the little girl outgrew her dollhouse, but its ghost, dutiful and kind, sustained the eviction with pious resolve. Its presence has become a family heirloom, a subtle force to push in the chairs of every new girl’s imagination.

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20.

The laundromat thrummed the way she imagined her life would on the day it was cleared for takeoff. Just as fields became horizon-wide quilts from commercial airline heights, she found it easy to perceive the laundromat’s tiled floor a mosaic of ambiguous, unrealized moments, each teeming and vibrant with far-flung allure. This daydream so consumed her, standing there folding towels, that the naked woman who emerged from a tumble dryer filched a still-hot sample, swathed her sultry form, and retreated from the premises completely undetected. Our heroine mourned the loss like a stubbed toe — hotly, quickly — too airborne and aimless to map the thief’s return.

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5.

The fisherman casts his net into the morning-glow waters. He’s used the net since he was a boy, trolling the reedy banks and selling his catch at market. The boat suddenly lurches–a young, familiar man flips himself aboard and untangles his limbs from the rope. “Let me take a turn” offers the visitor, but the fisherman has already sprung into the golden depths.

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