Best of ATM 2016, Fiction

As 2016 comes to its close, Across the Margin takes a look back at some of its most treasured moments in Fiction…

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Throughout this final week of 2016, Across the Margin will be seasoning the air with thanks for all those who have spent time within our pages while sharing our picks for the “Best of Across the Margin, 2016.” Our best-of compilations continues with a look at our choices for the finest Fiction stories of the year, and an excerpt from each to wet your whistle…

The Activists by Ian Johnson

The Team: White and rich enough to merit national media attention. The Mission: To force the President to take notice and to compel Congress to rub its eyes and scratch its head, to the point they agree it’s about time they did something about the gun epidemic. The Method: Make things so bad, stack the body count so high, that the government would have no choice but to rip up the 2nd Amendment…

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“The Activists felt helpless and frustrated in their nose-bleed seats until Activist #4 had a brilliant idea. The idea was this: instead of becoming just four more frothy-mouthed, cliche gurgling, ultimately unremarkable school activists, activists whose greatest accomplishment might be some token community service award at convocation, instead of waiting it out until they turned eighteen to vote and sign petitions, waiting until they turned twenty-one so they could run for county boards, or twenty-five to put their names on ballot boxes, the Activists would instead change the world now, and Activist #4 knew how: they would become school terrorists themselves.”

The Pact by Kirk Windus

She was like a planet, if you were matter floating by in space she’d pull you in…

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“She drew out her words and stroked her wrists with her fingertips. “My mom was not good with men. A lot of guys were in and out when I was growing up. Dad was off God knows where. Hit the road as soon as the old lady said she was with child. Until she met one guy who stuck around for a long time. They talked about getting married, but the money was never right. He was cool at first. Until he lost his job. He then started drinking a lot. He’d curse her out. Throw beer cans at her. Roughed her up a little, but I never heard it get too bad. I was pretty little. It went on like that for a couple years. Then it got worse.”

Hidden Secrets by Kaye Lynne Booth

A work of fiction where the difference between those who look out for themselves and those who think of others first becomes unmistakable…

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“Cassie stood there, undecided, for what seemed an eternity. If something happened to Tony, she’d never forgive herself. This lake took her dad, who was an experienced scuba diver. Tony was just a beginner. What had she been thinking letting him come out here with someone as irresponsible as Miranda? Curse or no curse, she had to go down and get him. Cassie replaced the mask on her face, adjusting her mouthpiece once more. She lifted her legs over and slipped down into the icy water of the lake fast, before she could change her mind.”

Play Ball by Marcia Eppich-Harris

“I was nothing, nobody, suspended in the darkness, until he lit a match and drew me to his light.” The intimate relationship between infidelity and baseball…

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“Hans didn’t treat me like his wife, though. He talked to me. He told me about his struggles and his hopes. He told me I was smart and beautiful. He asked about my life, why I’d given up my ambitions to be a stay-at-home mom. He could tell I was unhappy, and he worked on me like a pitcher throwing an hour a day in the off season. ‘We would have fun,’ he said. ‘When was the last time you had fun?'”

Two Flashes: Surprise & Before the Funeral by T.E. Cowell

Two offerings of flash fiction that paint a portrait of life as it is, not as we would like others to believe it to be…

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“Alex slumped down in his seat, stretched out his legs, and closed his eyes. His eyes still stung the same as when he’d woken up, and it felt nice to close them and relax. There in the airport with his eyes closed, Alex thought of his father and the very real fact that he was no longer alive, and of the funeral and having to see his father in a casket. He realized, suddenly, that he didn’t want to remember seeing his father in a casket and that he didn’t want the memory of his father being dead at all. It wasn’t that he feared succumbing to emotions if he were to see his old man dead in some casket. If Alex cried at the funeral, he cried at the funeral. If not, he didn’t. It didn’t matter to him one way or the other. No, the reason Alex didn’t want to see his deceased father was that it seemed, well, belated, not to mention strange.”

The Songbird by Chris Thompson

A glimpse into a wild future where what we all take for granted is starting to slowly fall apart…

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“Calen grabbed his blueBell from the living room and made his way down the hall to the bedroom. “I need to call work, babe,” he lied as he slid the bedroom’s pocket doors partially-closed. In the shadowy half light of the bedroom Calen dialed the number for the service center instead. As he waited for the call to connect, he watched Jessie’s delicate choreography as she set about making his breakfast. To the outward observer, her movements seemed ordinary. But to Calen’s seasoned eye, he could tell the subtle differences that distinguished a Jessie model from a real woman. As the phone finally connected, Calen’s frustrated demeanor thawed slightly as the sound of Jessie singing softly to herself drifted in.”

Women are From Mercury by Julie Howard

In a time and place where women belong to their husbands until death, one woman envisions a life on her own…

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“Patience worked hard. She baked and washed, scrubbed and hauled water. McKercher had been an overseer of slaves before he moved north to buy land of his own. A thick rod, once used on the backs of slaves, was now used on Patience from time to time. At night, her husband climbed on her weary body and she performed one more chore before she slept.

Women couldn’t own property, vote, or claim abuse from their husbands. They couldn’t say no in the marriage bed and even if they did, husbands were free to take them anyway. They couldn’t have a bank account, take out a loan or own a business. Women belonged to their husbands until death.

Patience thought about this a lot.”

The Mazeroski Blues by Jon Krampner

What if the one thing in life you wanted to change, changed everything in your life?

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“That leaves only disreputable scientists. Dave is scheduled to attend an astrophysical conference in Boston. While there, he’ll look up Victor Von Demme, who was expelled from MIT during Dave’s junior year for attempting to use the university’s atom smasher to implode the universe. As Sharon drops him off at Helena Regional Airport, she has no idea what Dave is up to. He’s ordinarily not one to keep secrets, but there’s no reason to make her nervous.”

Soon We Will by Jill Twist

What we speak are words, but are they not sounds first? A short story about digging down to one’s core to find the simple beauty that lies beneath…

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“I finished preparing my charcoal and lead, and I looked up at you and your eyes were wide and unblinking. I was sure you had watched me as I sanded an edge on each piece of charcoal, but there was no evidence on your face. There was not a line of question on your forehead or wrinkle between your brows. You were not curious as the other models sometimes are. So did you know? Did you understand? Had you done all this before? Had you sanded charcoal and lead and tried and failed to draw a figure as remarkable as your own? Had you sat where I sat, blank paper before you, wondering if there was anything you could possibly put down that another artist hadn’t already put there?”

An Homage to Mickey Mouse by M.B. Binkley

In a land that attempts to present a certain image of utopia, a perverted ethos reveals itself…

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“Orlando recently passed a law that prohibits people from feeding the homeless within city limits. Violation of this law constitutes a misdemeanor that may result in a fine or jail. The police have already arrested some of the bolder activists who handed out free bread and water in the park.

The local lawmakers go on television and the radio and try to justify the law. They speak about the homeless in the same way other people here talk about alligators.”

The Things She Wrote About by Jennifer Green

When Life and Love becomes a chore, and the shine of youth has become polished to a dull finish by experience…

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“Franky left the desert first. She said she was going to get a tattoo in Tijuana and never came back. Sylvie knew she had gone there to flame out in the sun’s hot embrace, as this was the price she paid for loving Franky. In Franky’s absence, the desert felt too big for Sylvie. She felt exposed and raw. The wind lost its gentleness and it began to feel like a scalpel peeling off layers of her skin every time it brushed against her cheek. Sylvie decided she wouldn’t miss it, so she left, too.”

Endure Ye Yet, O Unfortunate Beast by n k henry

The legend of Callum Hesh, his ill-fated horse Ballad, and the King Crow who steadily watches over it all…

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“In the months to follow, Fay and Callum constructed a friendship based on petty theft and chewing bubblegum. Sometimes they would sit in the low hanging limbs of the town’s old mountain ash watching the river and showing off their occasional bruises or swapping daydreams for daydreams while they separated the legs, abdomens and heads from the ants about their work. But no amount of juvenility or quasi-idyllic tree-sitting could quite forge their bond as did their carnal curiosities, and in that, they found a flourishing commerce, trading kiss for kiss, look for look and touch for touch.”

The Tablet by Frederick Foote

When your electronics begin to call the shots, what starts off as fun can quickly turn into something sinister…

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“Ann bites her lower lip, frowns and shakes her head no. ‘I think we need to understand what we have here before we breathe a word of this to anyone. We’ll look like fools if Barney or any of her IT friends are playing with us.’

‘Why would Barney do that? How could she even do it? I don’t think this is a trick. I think this sucker’s the real deal. This is AI on steroids. It’s way beyond our knowledge or ability to deal with, OK?'”

Twenty-Six by Christine Stoddard

“I might as well have been her twin because she never saw me as her daughter. Instead, I was a perpetual nuisance”…

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“When I study my reflection now, I see my mother. Perhaps I am a few pounds heavier. Perhaps I am more prone to smiling. But it wasn’t just sheer luck that, throughout my teens, when I showed people pictures of her, they believed I modeled on the weekend.

The main difference is that I will not run the hot water. I will not smash the mirror and take a shard into the tub. I will not sing “Down the road, the long, long road,” as my baby plays House in the den. I will not paint the bathroom tile red as I leak to death.”

Mountain Men by Radhika Singh

The lure of the adventure pitted against responsibility, and that place where once you get in, you can never leave…

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“The euphoria lasted until he reached his home in Palo Alto, and as he trudged through the messy rooms in his dirty feet, the emptiness hit him like a solidity that pressed its weight upon his heart. He crawled to a corner and brought his knees to his face and wept at the absurdity of his life. He was unemployed and broke, his wife and children had left him, and to his sons whom he had wished to bequeath a legacy, he was settling for a show of failure. “Damn it. This is no way to live,” he sobbed.”

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