On Dec. 15, Persea Books releases an anthology of short-short coming-of-age stories called Sudden Fiction Youth, featuring 65 tales of no more than 1000 words each, selected by editors Christine Perkins-Hazuka, Tom Hazuka, and Mark Budman. Authors include Steve Almond, Meg Kearny, Dave Eggers, and PW's very own Craig Morgan Teicher. In this exclusive excerpt, Persea shares three of these stories with the Tip Sheet.
By Hannah Bottomy Voskuil
Gary drank single malt in the night, out on the porch that leaned toward the ocean. His mother, distracted, had shut off the floodlights and he did not protest against the dark.
Before that, his mother, Josey, tucked in her two shivering twelve-year-old granddaughters.
“I want you both to go swimming first thing tomorrow. Can’t have two seals like you afraid of the water.”
Before that, one of the girls held the hand of a wordless Filipino boy. His was the first hand she’d ever held. They were watching the paramedics lift the boy’s dead brother into an ambulance.
At this time, the other girl heaved over a toilet in the cabana.
Before that, the girl who would feel nauseated watched as the drowned boy’s hand slid off the stretcher and bounced along the porch rail. Nobody placed the hand back on the stretcher, and it bounced and dragged and bounced.
Before that, Gary saw the brown hair sink and resurface as the body bobbed. At first he mistook it for seaweed.
Before that, thirty-five people struggled out of the water at the Coast Guard’s command. A lifeguard shouted over Jet Ski motors about the increasing strength of the riptide.
Before that the thirty-five people, including Gary and the two girls, formed a human chain and trolled the waters for the body of a Filipino boy. The boy had gone under twenty minutes earlier and never come back up.
Before that, a lifeguard sprinted up the beach, shouting for volunteers. The two girls, resting lightly on their sandy bodyboards, stood up to help.
Before that, a Filipino boy pulled on the torpid lifeguard’s ankle and gestured desperately at the waves. My brother, he said.
Before that, it was a simple summer day.
What Happened During the Ice Storm
By Jim Heynen
One winter there was a freezing rain. How beautiful! people said when things outside started to shine with ice. But the freezing rain kept coming. Tree branches glistened like glass. Then broke like glass. Ice thickened on the windows until everything outside blurred. Farmers moved their livestock into the barns, and most animals were safe. But not the pheasants. Their eyes froze shut.
Some farmers went ice-skating down the gravel roads with clubs to harvest the pheasants that sat helplessly in the roadside ditches. The boys went out into the freezing rain to find pheasants, too. They saw dark spots along a fence. Pheasants, all right. Five or six of them. The boys slid their feet along slowly, trying not to break the ice that covered the snow. They slid up close to the pheasants. The pheasants pulled their heads down between their wings. They couldn’t tell how easy it was to see them huddled there.
The boys stood still in the icy rain. Their breath came out in slow puffs of steam. The pheasants’ breath came out in quick little white puffs. One lifted his head and turned it from side to side, but the pheasant was blindfolded with ice and didn’t flush.
The boys had not brought clubs, or sacks, or anything but themselves. They stood over the pheasants, turning their own heads, looking at each other, each expecting the other to do something. To pounce on a pheasant, or to yell Bang! Things around them were shining and dripping with icy rain. The barbed-wire fence. The fence posts. The broken stems of grass. Even the grass seeds. The grass seeds looked like little yolks inside gelatin whites. And the pheasants looked like unborn birds glazed in egg white. Ice was hardening on the boys’ caps and coats. Soon they would be covered with ice, too.
Then one of the boys said, Shh. He was taking off his coat, the thin layer of ice splintering in flakes as he pulled his arms from the sleeves. But the inside of the coat was dry and warm. He covered two of the crouching pheasants with his coat, rounding the back of it over them like a shell. The other boys did the same. They covered all the helpless pheasants. The small gray hens and the larger brown cocks. Now the boys felt the rain soaking through their shirts and freezing. They ran across slippery fields, unsure of their footing, the ice clinging to their skin as they made their way toward the blurry lights of the house.
By Naomi Shihab Nye
There are many things Rainey does not understand: war, and running with the bulls, for two examples. Why get anywhere near herds of bulls and irritate them in the first place? Why is this popular? She would prefer to be liked by bulls—to meet them in a placid zone and stare at one another, trade some secrets, if possible.
She has no desire to binge-drink or congregate with believers. The pious confidence of people who think they know “the truth” repels her. If only one could slap them with mysteries....
She pictures herself on the edge of any scene.
Scenes need fringe observers—people to take notes and tell what you did later.
If you can find them.
The episodes seemed so tiresome—who liked whom, who had broken up, or overdosed—flickering hordes of rumors—she abandoned them all. A wide swath of her brain felt relieved. She had no interest in Adderall. She made up a boyfriend named Leo who lived in Wisconsin, where no one she knew had been. His parents were professors who stayed home by the fireplace reading all winter long.
At school, if someone asked her to do something sociable, she’d say, “I’m okay.” If pressed, she’d say something about Leo. They were working on a long-distance project. Something, anything.
On weekends, Rainey pitched a book and water bottle into her basket and rode her bicycle around the abandoned brewery and the ancient mill. One day, the waterwheel was spinning again. She watched parents prepare birthday parties for their kids at Roosevelt Park, hanging piñatas, weighting paper tablecloths down with horrible giant soda bottles. She conversed with abandoned dogs and dreamed of delivering them all to the Utopia Animal Sanctuary where they would be cared for with kindness and attention.
Rainey felt she needed to examine the mysteries of her childhood years more deeply before going off to college. Those weird reverberations around the sixth grade year, what was that all about? That sense of precipice—as if you’d gone hiking and reached a cliff at the end of the trail and where was your parachute? Because the days were definitely, definitely going to push you off. And if you hadn’t learned rock-climbing by then, or discovered some way to bungee jump, you were in big trouble. Rainey had never yet fully reckoned with the sixth grade. Was she still standing there, immobilized? Had everyone jumped but her?
This was not something you could talk about with the homecoming queen.
Mostly, she was still stunned by the shock of her father’s death, when she was a freshman and he was still a relatively young man who had a heart attack after work one day. Strangers called 911 when they saw him slumped against his car in the bank parking lot. He’d been taken to hospital, and was “well on the road to recovery,” said the doctor to Rainey’s mother, a few days later, the day he died.
Rainey had taken a bus to the hospital right after school, carrying a small tub of tabooleh, her father’s favorite salad. She had a frozen blue ice pack in the pocket of her schoolbag. 112 __
Outside her father’s room, she was stunned to be hugged hard by a woman she’d never seen before. A black nurse with an open face wearing a print smock—small yellow bears holding balloons, Rainey recalled later. Who was she?
“He didn’t make it, honey. Oh honey, he’s just left us.” The nurse had stifled a sob.
Was she selected for her softness, her resonant voice? The official hugger-nurse who stood outside stricken rooms to greet the first people who showed up, alert them that they were at a new cliff? Surely, that must be a weird position to apply for. Professional hard-times hugger.
Rainey wondered some days, if she went to the hospital again, could she find the woman? Could she ask more questions—like, did he call out when he died, did someone hear him, or was it simply the monitor which began moaning its loud alert, what exactly happened? I’m ready to hear it now, please. Could Rainey tell her, he’ll never leave me, just wanted to let you know?
Both Rainey and her mother felt horribly guilty that they had not been at his bedside when he died. Rainey’s mother had been back at work—she thought he was stable and soon to be released. Apparently people commonly died when their loved ones were out of the room. Bathroom break. Quick trip down to cafeteria for a grilled cheese. It was easier to die if you didn’t have family members to worry about at that exact moment.
Easier for the one who was dying, maybe.
Rainey kept wondering what she would have done had she been there, with her dad. Who expected anyone to have a second heart attack on top of a first? She would not eat tabooleh again until she was twenty-three.
Did his sudden departure have anything to do with her inability to negotiate the social roller coaster now?
Then a bird flew into the window of English Literature during discussion of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Someone tittered. After class Rainey went outside. A gray mourning dove, stunned on the ground. Rainey filled the cap of her water bottle, poured water over the bird’s beak. The beak opened a tiny bit. The bird opened an eye.
A boy knelt down beside her. “Hey,” he said. “Sad bird. I’m Leo.”
From Sudden Flash Youth, edited by Christine Perkins-Hazuka, Tom Hazuka, and Mark Budman. “Currents” by Hannah Bottomy Voskuil, copyright © 2004 by Hannah Bottomy. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc.
“What Happened During the Ice Storm” by Jim Heynen, copyright © 1993 by Jim Heynen. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc.
“Thud” by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 2011 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc.