SEXY STRANGER #2 (out of print)

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Reptilia

JENSEN WHELAN

Samantha's father has scales instead of skin. His blood is cooling, too, and he needs to spend the morning sunning himself on the front lawn. She watches him chasing the sunrise all over the front yard like it is a small child and he needs to protect it. Her father's condition doesn't seem to worry his doctors very much. He is old, has lived a good life, and all the doctors agree that turning into a reptile will eventually kill him, anyway. There isn't a lot they can do, they say, except wait and make sure he isn't in too much pain. Recently, her mother has expressed concern that maybe the condition is a genetic one. Samantha is taken to the hospital once every two months for blood tests and x-rays. The tests seem to indicate that the reptilia is like an alarm clock waiting inside her until Samantha is slightly older and ready for it to go off. So far, she seems healthy; her skin is still soft and when her mother checks the sheets in the morning, they are warm and smell like sleep.

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To Do

MAGDALEN POWERS

She didn't just write lists, but itineraries: subway connections, necessary arrival times, all mapped out in her head in what she hoped was the most efficient way possible. It didn't mean she was anal-retentive or obsessive or forgetful or even organized; it was just comforting.

It was raining. Outside, birds were rampant in the painted-looking leaves, but only one had come to the uncovered feeder that day. She'd scared it away by opening the refrigerator's wide, white door.

Eating jar pasta from a pressed-glass bowl. It annoyed her that she could see exactly how the bowl was made: uneven, globulous edges; the embossed, almost burlap pattern on the bottom. It wasn't just an object, it was a process. The sauce tasted slightly off.

Her stomach grumbled in protest. Midmouthful, a sentence from the news came back to her, flashing in her mind as though it had been individually highlighted from the text: set off, biblical.

"They ate wallboard and insulation to sate their hunger."

She swallowed, but just barely. Did someone forget to feed them? They should have written it down. They shouldn't have had to write it down.

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Crime Scene Photo

LIZ TASCIO

She was overtired and her eyes were itchy and wet, her eyebrow twitched and she jammed the clean syringe between her toes, that wasn't the way to do it, she cried out, kind of a croaking sound and then a burst of happiness like a balloon swelling up too fast and exploding in her heart and she cried out again and smiled and her eyes rolled and she fell forward, belly squashed on thighs and breasts smushed on knees, forehead thudded to the floor and her fingers sprawled, and that was how they found her, purple and white, after gravity had pooled the blood under her skin.

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#00391 of 01177

BLAKE BUTLER

I’m in an evacuated shopping mall, walking along the rows of unlit stores with a baby who does not seem old enough to hold himself up, but who nevertheless is able to keep right in sync with my every stride. He saunters like an experienced cowboy.

Together, we peer in through various store windows. Each one is filled three-quarters of the way with a cloudy volume of water. If I concentrate hard enough, I can make out the presence of figures swimming in strange scuba gear. They hold stock-still and stare back at me with frozen disregard, as if they are trying to avoid being discovered.

Whenever the baby and I come to a pair of escalators, I stop and watch him ride up one, and then down the other. He grins with a mouthful of fully developed adult teeth and socks me in the gut every few minutes.

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Cigarette

DARBY LARSON

I'm being smoked now by a burly man in a big truck and we're heading toward Kentucky.  I can't wait to get to Kentucky. A lot of my friendsthere. 

Nevermind. I just got thrown out the window.

I'm bored. I tried setting this brush on fire, but I'm all smoked out. Now I smell bad. 

Wait. There's a cow over there. Okay, the cow just ate me. That's his digestive track.  Now I'm back on the ground, immersed in cow shit.

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Pica

RACHEL AHMED

She threw a grape into the water below, and watched the gentle current swallow it, spit it up, then swirl it downstream. She continued dropping pebbles into her pocket, their weight comfortably beating against her thighs.

She let her bag of grapes fall to the ground. Dirt attracted to the texture of their flimsy skins. She pictured her mother's crow's feet webbing in concern, her papery hands thrusting a baggie of fat, wet grapes at her, imploring her to eat.

I do eat, she had wanted to say. She picked another pebble and put it in her mouth.

The man had approached so silently she hadn't understood his intention. She had been admiring the stream's muted gurgling when he put her on her back, her head rutting into damp black river dirt, pebbles embedding themselves in her shoulder blades.

She looked at the sullied grapes on the thick earth. When she got home she would tell her mother exactly how much she did eat. She smiled at the impending relief of confession as she chewed a small handful of pebbles.

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