Best of Across The Margin 2021, Fiction

As 2021 comes to its close, Across the Margin takes a look back at some of its most treasured moments in Fiction…

We are thrilled to present a look at our choices for the finest Fiction stories of the year at Across The Margin, and an excerpt from each to wet your whistle…

Pitter-Patter” by Carly A. Krakow

“When he stopped answering to his name altogether, and just stared blankly, she knew something was deeply wrong.” A stirring short story that exemplifies that idea that the most terrifying thing in the world is to truly love a child…

“They had noticed the symptoms a few weeks before the ER doctor diagnosed the boy with lead poisoning from dust and paint chips that flaked off the walls of the very old house. The boy alternated between staring into space, and becoming so hyper that he ran around the room, unable to concentrate on anything or sit still. “The terrible twos,” the boy’s aunts and uncles and grandparents had told the mother over the phone from her hometown a three-hour plane ride away. But she noticed a big change. When he stopped answering to his name altogether, and just stared blankly, she knew something was deeply wrong, but the doctor at the clinic had been unhelpful in the rushed five-minute-long appointment. And then the boy had a seizure just as the mother was about to drop him at daycare, and she rushed him to the hospital.” READ MORE! 


The Failure” by Matt Nagin

“What hope was there for a guy like Bill Cartwright — a guy not all that well-adjusted in the first place — in such a demented world?” A whimsical work of fiction where an outsider struggles to endure on the outskirts, the fringes of society, where the only rule is to break them all…

“All day the phone rang. Bill Cartwright owed everyone: Wells Fargo, Visa, Home Depot, even a gastroenterologist on Madison Avenue who charged exorbitant prices for the snazziest colonoscopy in town.Bill intended to pay them all back. He was a man of integrity. Still, he was a terrible spendthrift. His psychiatrist claimed this resulted from his failure to consistently take lithium (he’d forget, he’d claim, when really he’d miss the feeling of being manic).” READ MORE!


Jack” by Katy Carl

The Tao of Jack. The story of a seeker, unleashed of the shackles of the fever dream of the past, with nothing but the unchartered road of the future ahead of him…

“He rummaged through a utility room drawer until he found the key to the gray Cadillac he hadn’t touched in months. He eyed the rust lining the wheel wells and then unlocked the car and stepped in, casting up a vague wish that the engine would start. It coughed and spat and turned over. He tried again. This time it roared to monstrous mechanical life. Soon he was ripping his way down the silver zipper of the state road toward the highway out of Charleston, headed back to Nashville in June. All around him the hills breathed like women in green dresses. The wind pressed down the grass with the insistence of a kiss. How could the place where he had become the person who he was be anything but kind to him? He would find someone new before long.” READ MORE!


Baseball, Bullets, and Broken Dreams” by Nathaniel Neil Whelan

A work of fiction which finds a soldier’s love for a game steadying him as he navigates the hellscapes of war…

“Bombs and bullets were the only things flying his way these days. And photographs of pretty girls, the ones that adorned the inside of his friends’ helmets. These snapshots, so often passed around at night in the light of a flickering lantern, were the envy of all the men whose helmets remained empty. Stories were traded like priceless commodities, tales of mischievous debauchery in neighbouring barns or skinny dipping under the midnight moon.” READ MORE!


Daniel” by Jay Jones

A desperate response to the devastating loss of a child, where a masterfully designed imitation has been crafted to fill the void of absence…

“Anderson Clarke sat across from his son, watching the boy feast ravenously on his meal. He hadn’t seen him eat with such fervor in many years, nor seen the glint that now tinged his pale blue eyes. He had to admit, observing his son’s narrow face and crop of brown hair, that the clinic had exceeded all his expectations with their work. Though they had avoided presenting an exact facsimile, its features were similar enough that this was, to every reasonable degree, Daniel Clarke.” READ MORE!


Owen Felts” by Michael Haller 

A tale of a veteran named Owen Felts, highlighting how truly remarkable the lives of others may be and how much we can learn if we simply ask… 

“In 1987, when I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher gave us an assignment to interview ten neighbors, get their life stories, and write one-page summaries of what they said. I dreaded that assignment, because the last thing I wanted to do was ask my neighbors a bunch of questions and then try to shrink everything they said down to one page. It was too much work, and we all thought our teacher was nuts. But my friend Jacque, who had a different English teacher, said to do the assignment, for it would allow me “to chronicle the life and times of our humble neighborhood.” That wasn’t a good enough reason to me, but I also didn’t want the embarrassment of getting an Incomplete, so, with Jacque’s help, I decided to at least interview one neighbor, Owen Felts, and see how that went.” READ MORE!


Bye Bye, Miss American Pie” by Carolynn Kingyens

A heart-wrenching short story where a deep bond, and a life just blossoming, are stolen by a senseless act of violence…

“Chevy pulled into the half-empty parking lot at the Olive Garden, parking her used Prius beside Dwayne’s Dodge minivan. She knew it was Dwayne’s by the significant dent on the front fender from the night they’d hit an albino buck coming back home from a weekend in the Poconos. Chevy would never forget the moment when she locked eyes with the ethereal-looking creature. The intensity of its stare was as if it had been searching her soul for something. For what, she didn’t know?” READ MORE!


Missing : Reward” by Paul Negri

“Some people are missing, because they don’t want to be found.” A whimsical work of fiction where a missing person’s case serves as a reminder that when life gets strange, the best thing to do might be to simply ride it out…

“Harriet went to the ladies’ room and never came back. “This is like a horror story,” said her daughter Patricia as she paced back and forth between the table and the pantry in her parent’s massive 1950’s-looking kitchen. The sun streamed through the window above the yellowed sink and set the foil daffodils on the wallpaper sparkling. Patricia’s husband Don was browsing through the shelves in the pantry. Her father Harry was sitting at the table eating waffles.” READ MORE!


Sweet Dreams” by Torrey Kurtzner

A surprising, humorous work of fiction that serves as a warning to always read the fine print…

“Deep within California’s vast Central Valley, a quaint farmhouse stood nestled among the agriculture. To the untrained eye, this farmhouse was unremarkable. But for Special Agents Palmer and Johnson, it potentially spelled trouble. The sharply dressed agents had just parked their black sedan in the driveway of the farmhouse. Behind the wheel sat Agent Palmer, a hardened and seasoned vet. Beside her sat Agent Johnson, a soft-spoken and inexperienced rookie. Agent Palmer held a voice recorder to the right side of her mouth. 

“It’s ten hundred hours, Pacific Daylight Time,” she reported. “Agent Johnson and I have arrived at the homestead of Carmelo Romano. There appear to be two bedrooms and a loft present on the second floor of the dwelling. I will report back with our findings.” Agent Palmer stashed the voice recorder in her suit jacket. She turned to face her partner.” READ MORE!


Waiting” by Margo Griffin

A short story where a woman ponders giving up on the dream she’s spent her life working toward when a sudden glimpse of something that might help her fill the incessant void in her life changes everything…

“Maggie’s feet cried out in pain as she gingerly bent over to untie her sneakers, her back stiff and sore. After she removed her dirty sneakers and sweaty, somewhat stinky socks, she studied her feet, both slightly swollen. The small joints of her toes and ankles cracked and ached as she stretched them out. She had just arrived home from a second double shift in a row, and she felt hungry but too exhausted to even think about turning on the stove. Instead, she settled on something quick and easy, tea with three teaspoons of sugar and too much milk and two slices of cinnamon toast. This simple meal reminded Maggie of her grandmother, and it brought her comfort which eased some of her physical pain and provided suave to a burn she felt deep inside. Maybe tonight she would finally get some much needed sleep.” READ MORE!


Malco” by Tom Snethen

A fanciful tale about a hapless yet mystical burro that acts as a scathing critique of Corporate America…

“Once upon a time, in the millennium prior to the advent of the Kingdom-of-USA, a phenomenal burro prospered in the Pastures of Commerce. This sophisticated creature, known as Malco, carried exceptional goods and services to market for his master. If a customer requested a special tool, Malco manufactured it as specified. He performed similar tasks with exotic waters for industry and the various needs of their laboratories.

The world accepted Malco as the strongest, smartest, and fastest burro of all. He acquired wisdom with experience for a century, and thereby increased his productivity. He outlived several masters, and each in succession took care to properly feed, groom, and praise Malco for his accomplishments. He responded with a reliable income from a minimal investment on the masters’ part. Malco and his masters declared a lifetime of love between them. Their proclamation inspired greater loyalty from their customers.” READ MORE!


The Oaken Sky” by Chris Thompson

When you can no longer change a situation, the challenge is to change yourself. An offering of flash fiction steeped in the currents of transmutation and potential energy…

“The rain glowed as it fell, the neon lights of the city illuminating each drop and imparting to it a million shades of color. Like tiny, teardrop-shaped rainbows, each drop burst forth with a splash of color and an infinitesimal push downward on the realm below. 

The rain brought a richness to each hue, the colors deepening in a way that brought a much needed steadiness to her soul. She sat on the window seat in near darkness, her legs pulled up close to her body, her chin on her knees and her forehead pressed against the cool surface of the window. The rain flowed in chaotic sheets down the surface of the glass, the dynamics of surface tension and atomic attraction dictating the undulating path the colorful liquid took as it distorted the city beyond. READ MORE!


The Climacteric” by R.E. Hengsterman

A provocative short story where a search for purpose in life finds a mother and son re-energized by nature’s vivacious spirit. The tale of “Little Miss Menopause and her pocket gay”…

“Menopause is a provocative convergence: a queer loss of genital pleasure, of reproductive purpose, of self. As with most, Mother’s contracted fertility didn’t come to a sudden stop. It dwindled. A slow, hormonal burn that aborted her purpose. A botanist by profession, mother understood the climacteric; the physiological changes that marked the end of fruit maturation and the onset of senescence. Mother said her fruit was rotten. She was forty-nine. 

She attempted to mitigate the effects and sought needful things to love and nurture. Adopted armfuls of shelter cats. Dozens of tropical house plants. Ficus, elephant’s ear and Boston ferns, unpruned. Her apartment became a strange scrub of variegated fronds and small carnivorous mammals.” READ MORE!


Ill-Gotten Gains” by Alan Swyer

A short story where a lawyer, following in his father’s footsteps and to fulfill a dying wish, succumbs to a life of crime, and the consequences therein…

“Having been told for years that his father, after attending Rutgers Law School at night, had opened a one-man shop specializing in real estate law when spurned by “proper” firms, Phil Berger was startled to learn that such was not entirely the case. His father’s practice, which had subsidized Phil’s education at an expensive prep school, then Amherst, and finally Georgetown Law, was far more colorful than simple real estate, and, significantly more shady.

Bert Berger’s specialty, Phil quickly discovered, was constantly finding new and creative ways to launder, shelter, and hide what in certain circles would be considered ill-gotten gains — most of it in cash, with no contracts or other documentation.” READ MORE!


Papa” by John C. Krieg

A work of fiction, centered on a family at the fringes of American society desperately clinging to a lower middle class existence, that celebrates the daily struggles of a father trying to make his daughter’s life magical… 

“I can’t remember a time when my Papa didn’t struggle. He was always under financial pressure, and as he grew older, the physical pressures of failing health bore down upon him. Towards the end, he had to fight to get to his feet, and no matter how bad the pain, he never gave up until the day he died. Papa wasn’t my father, or for that matter, my grandfather. In fact, none of the blood coursing through my veins had ever flowed through his. Papa was just a man who loved my grandmother, and who loved me. Papa was an old hippy who adhered to the dictates of peace and love even when he had to pay dearly for his beliefs. Those who knew him best, however, would attest that Papa would live and let live, just so long as you didn’t cross him.” READ MORE!  


Check out more Fiction at Across The Margin here!

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