Best of Across The Margin 2020, Fiction

As 2020 comes to its close, Across the Margin takes a look back at some of its most treasured moments in Fiction…

Throughout this final week of 2020, 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, 2020.” Our best-of compilations begins with a look at our choices for the finest Fiction stories of the year, and an excerpt from each to wet your whistle…

It’s Been So Quiet Here Today” by Windy Lynn Harris

An enchanting work of fiction featuring a unique connection with the wild, a misunderstood ability which appears late in life, that promotes unexpected kinships…

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“It had been a shock to lose her freedom, but not completely unexpected. Helen’s mother had been taken away too. They’d lived in the suburbs when it happened, a place riddled with raccoons at night. Helen’s mother, a woman who never did take to domestic life, had shared a deck of cards with the creatures one evening and a raucous friendship began. Soon there was gambling, fights over territories, and endless garbage can sonatas. And always, in the center of the fun, leading the song, was Helen’s mother. One day the neighbors had had enough and sent the police to arrest the “wild woman.” The neighborhood grew quiet then, and it felt like the world had lost its color. The raccoons never returned to Helen’s neighborhood after that night, and neither did Helen’s mother.” READ MORE!

 

The Main Man” by Alan Swyer

An engrossing work of fiction that features a glamorous alternate universe, one that’s exhausting yet exhilarating, draining yet dazzling, and progressively more complicated the deeper you immerse yourself within it…

“With wounded pride, plus a still somewhat gimpy leg, CJ reported early for work on the first day of what he hoped would be a very brief stint at a fusion restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Just two months prior, he had been the main man — a rising young star in the daredevil world of movie stuntmen. To CJ no “gag,” in the jargon of that close-knit society, seemed too difficult, dangerous, or daunting. Motorcycles, horses, speeding cars, falls from great heights, leaps from burning buildings — the greater the challenge, the more eager he was to show his prowess.

Until, that is, a stunt gone awry left him with a shattered bone in his leg. Faithful to the code of his craft, CJ took full responsibility for the mishap, though that was hardly the truth. “Owning it,” as such a stance is called, elevated him even higher in the esteem of those in the know, all of whom recognized that the culpability belonged to his cohort in what was carefully designed as a buddy bit. But Texas-born Butch Perry, unfortunately, was far too coked-out to break, as he should have, CJ’s twenty foot leap from a rooftop engulfed in flames.” READ MORE!

 

The Roboticist” by R. E. Hengsterman

“Art is slow, cumbersome and deliberate, but necessary.” An engrossing offering of flash fiction where obsession proves the only path towards perfection…

“Jannik worked a cramp from the flesh of his hand as jewels of sweat collected beneath his thick, unruly hair. Setting his carving tool aside, he eased the curvature in his spine and leaned his head back in his knitted hands.

Returning to the sculpting table, his tool back in hand — negligible between his thick fingers — he imparted the clay surface. Hours later the Plastilina continued to resist his delicate manipulation. Angled on his stool, face hung in disappointment, Jannik buried a knuckle into his temple as his neural link buzzed.” READ MORE!

 

The Date” by Sandra Ebejer

“Your life is your life. You have the right to own it, all of it, until your very last day.” What if you knew “The Date?” What would you do? A work of speculative fiction where one’s time is nearly up…

“I slice through the filet’s purplish-red center. It’s undercooked, but I don’t send it back. There’s no time for such trivialities. I spear the juicy meat with my fork and drench it in bitter steak sauce, ignoring its chewiness. When I look up, Tom is gazing at me from across the table. He is astonishingly handsome; on more than one occasion I’ve caught the eyes of men and women alike following him as he crosses a room. His good looks would become tedious if he wasn’t also down-to-earth, intelligent, and witty.

That’s it. I have to end this.” READ MORE!

 

From A Room Above a Mexican Café” by: Jennifer Juneau

A provocative work of fiction that answers the question: If these (piss stained) walls could talk…

“If the walls could write books, what will start as love stories will end as tales of ineluctable heartache. If the walls could speak, they’d say he’d hold her close in a room redolent of must and lust. A world away from the spotlights and money so plentiful it could choke on itself, his fans, hollering for more, giving him a rush. Not to mention the uppers and the downers. The booze. Women. Make it go away. What these piss-stained walls would say. That the man was tall, dark-haired and so sure of himself even the room fell in love. The woman was brunette. She’d be excited. He’d tear off her expensive silk with his teeth. The various sexual positions. The cries from this woman were of ecstasy, sometimes pain. The man was hard to read. According to the world, he was a hero. In his eyes, he was a failure. His worth as a man was measured by his ability to be adored, to make music, to make money.” READ MORE!

 

A Game : Eternally” by Adam William Inglis

An impassioned “chess match” between Death and The Maker reveals a surprising truth about the nature, and spirit, of “pawns”…

“Death stalked the corridors of the decaying medical center, spinning a silver key around an extended fleshless finger, dowsing the route toward room forty-two like a rod seeking water.

If the insects crawling deep beneath the cracked linoleum tiles could provide an account of his presence, some would tell of him whistling. A dirge, most likely, rasping over ragged teeth and out a lipless skull, urged upon the dying world from a hollow, tongueless mouth.

To say the lord of all things lost was happy would be a gross underestimation of his ability to find joy. He was, after all, winning a game designed to last an eternity because his opponent’s pieces had an incredible flair for killing one another.” READ MORE!

 

Descent” by Chris Cooper

A stirring work of fiction where memories of a devastating loss —  oft suppressed by substances that fog memories and mute rumination — push a parent over the edge…

“The cool mist from the crashing waves sprinkles against my skin as wisps of sea foam brush over my feet. Soft moistened sand lingers between our toes after each step we take. As a family, we continue our journey along the beach while sun rays caress our backs with welcoming warmth. Our son CJ breaks from our grasp and ventures into the shallow ocean, cackling as he splashes, smiling as he reaches down to retrieve a seashell.

Catherine’s hands extend around my waist, pulling me close as we watch CJ play in the water. Her delicate touch elicits goosebumps on the back of my neck as she nuzzles her chin into the crevice of my back. “I’m going to find you guys the biggest, most beautiful seashell,” CJ announces. He surveys the shallow waters, gravitating back towards us as he looks up and smiles, his glassy blue eyes reflecting a deeper hue than all the ocean, his wavy brown bowl-cut wavering in the wind as he pivots from hunting the ocean floor to glancing back at us. He is the complete amalgamation of Catherine and I. Curly locks of Catherine’s hazel hair graze my face as I look back over my shoulder at her; she whisks away her flowing strands to reveal a heartwarming smile. A moment before our lips touch, the indelible, guttural scream that pierced my heart the day our child died erupts from her mouth once again like a fucking siren, shattering my hearing as my eyes flash open.” READ MORE!

 

Fine Is For Sugar” by Jaime Grookett

The spaces in between the words, where the unspoken truths reside, is where one man wistfully waits for his mundane life to finally crack open…

“Ray’d be damned if he were going to let his wife ruin his weekend before it even began. It was just like her to nag him for six months about hanging the pictures, then blast him for where he hung them, and leave him second guessing himself to the point of indigestion the entire time she was gone.

Before leaving for her sister’s house, Maureen passed Ray in the narrow hall and mentioned snidely, “Why are the pictures in the dining room?” Her coffee breath coated Ray’s blank face. “You should have hung the pictures in the hall instead of the dining room. Family pictures belong in halls, where visitors steal a glance while moving to someplace more interesting, not dining rooms where they’re forced to stare at snapshots of us hunchbacked and sweaty atop Mount Vesuvius.” Marcy, their only child and Maureen’s three-year-old mini-me, sidled up to her leg and reached up her arms to be carried. Maureen scooped her up and propped her on a switched hip. Marcy’s blonde ponytails swayed as she shook her head and giggled. She planted a huge kiss on Maureen’s freshly painted cheeks. Maureen smiled at her then glared back at Ray. “The pictures look ridiculous. No class.”’ READ MORE!

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