From “Straw Dogs,” by Mona Susan Power:

Your audience is rapt, making appropriately sad faces but captivated by blood. So you offer up your brother’s ghost. Tell them how on the last night of the four-night wake for your family to encourage them to leave this world for the next, the wake held in Wisconsin woods far from your Chicago apartment, you saw your brother step out of dense fog spun like cotton candy across birch trunks. Still wearing his glasses, hand gently settled on the back of a young deer. Maybe both of them were ghosts, choosing to make the journey together? Your brother came no closer, watching the assembled mourners until he found your face. He smiled at you, and now you were the one to shove spectacles higher on your nose — the sunglasses you wore to hide that you couldn’t stop crying. Elders advised being careful; you didn’t want your loved ones to see you sad, or you might trap them here in their concern. So you smiled at your brother until his face broke into a sweet grin. That’s what he needed. He and the deer walked back into the woods where you’re sure your parents were waiting.

From “Two Heads are Better than One,” by Barnaby Conrad III:

Bellechasse, my friend in Paris, is the only non-medical man I know who keeps a collection of human skulls — nearly a dozen — randomly displayed in the library of his grand apartment overlooking the Quai d’Orsay. One winter evening he poured me a brandy and explained why.

From “The Lodger,” by C.C. Ashmead:

“Do you have something sharp?” the man asked, squatting by the box and looking up at her with a smile, “like a key?”


“Oh, sure,” Lara said. Without thinking she gave him her house key. Later she realized that he never gave it back.

She’d been so intrigued by the box. It was square, sealed up in clear tape, and medium-sized. Yet it appeared to contain everything he owned. As he used the key to cut through the tape, he said, “I never know what’s inside.” She laughed. In hindsight, though, it was a strange thing to say. Hadn’t he packed it?

Lara’s basement was a dank, unwelcoming place. The fireplace was plastered over, the window a thin rectangle that looked up through a grate. It had no furniture and little light, and Lara doubted that any person could improve it. But the lodger seemed unbothered. “Trust me,” he said, “I’ve seen much worse.”

It was only then that Lara remembered to ask his name. “Since,” she said, suddenly shy, “you’ll be living here and everything.”

“Me? Oh, I’m the Devil.”

Lara laughed, and he laughed too.

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