The last couple times I took my boys to the playground, there was this guy there. He looked harmless, nice even, a baseball cap, jeans, T-shirt. He could have been my age, maybe ten years older or ten years younger—his long, untended beard made it hard to guess. While my boys hit the slides, the swings, and the monkey bars, I’d sit, let them do their thing, on hand in case they fell or decided to wander off. The guy with the long beard, though, he was all in, rotating kids on the little merry-go-round, refereeing games of tag, and playing this game he called “Monster” […]

The Mother’s Portion


The gravedigger was a woman. Tall, broad-shouldered, her cheeks flushed red from the cold. Or from shame. She hadn’t done the job we’d hired her to do: dig our mother’s grave. Father David, the priest from Gibraltar who looked and spoke like Michael Caine, had told her and the groundskeeper that the family would not be leaving until our dead was in the ground. It didn’t matter if the hole she had dug couldn’t contain her. “Enlarge it,” Father David said. […]

The Hungry Valley

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Now he fed his horses too much rich corn sweetened with molasses: their middles were round and taut as barrels, and their hooves curled, and instead of nipping and tossing about like they had in the past, they loitered at the gate all day, calling out to him whenever he passed. His old dog he fed too much kibble and too many table scraps: its back was strangely broad and thin of hair like a threadbare piece of overstuffed furniture, and it could no longer move quickly nor jump with ease. The cats lapped milk from pie tins on the barn floor […]

The Tobacconist


George searched his pockets for change, cluttering the counter with lint and pen caps, a crumpled tissue, pausing to clean his glasses while the tobacconist waited at the open register. It was the tobacconist he cared about, not the neatly lined cigars he had thumbed through moments earlier. George could see the smoke shop from his kitchen window, and last week had watched the tobacconist as he emerged and stood on the street corner in a pouring rain, until his coat was drenched through and rain coursed from his hat. […]


Knustler illustration for "Jaws" by Terese Svoboda

That’s the book she cracks as soon as she’s fought off her little brother for the back. Not a hatchback, that is a decade in the future, but the way back, where the station wagon’s nasty final seats never get pulled up into position, the one with the backwards view, her preferred. The roads to the north are pretty straight—what is there to bend them?—and except for a series of smooth dips that everybody shrieks through, flat as the pancakes she had for breakfast. Perfect for extreme terror on the water at two hundred-plus pages. […]

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