Steve's throat swelled with tension as the intimacy of the moment became more tangible. He moved his eyes from the dark, reflective river, to the dark, reflective pupils in Diane's eyes. They seemed to quiver with tenderness - but then they would grow distant. He found himself continually surprised at the "aliveness" of the person standing just a foot away from him now. She wasn't inanimate: she would flinch if he pinched her, and answer if he asked her. And she was beautiful." -- From "The Grand Unified Story" -- a short story in Zack Love's Stories and Scripts: an Anthology
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Steve’s throat swelled with tension as the intimacy of the moment became more tangible. He moved his eyes from the dark, reflective river, to the dark, reflective pupils in Diane’s eyes. They seemed to quiver with tenderness – but then they would grow distant. He found himself continually surprised at the “aliveness” of the person standing just a foot away from him now. She wasn’t inanimate: she would flinch if he pinched her, and answer if he asked her. And she was beautiful.” — From “The Grand Unified Story” — a short story in Zack Love’s Stories and Scripts: an Anthology

-Zack Love

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The story was called 'Annika and the Bears.' The beginning of the story is really the end, and Annika is staring wide-eyed into new velvet-black darkness. The eyes she stares with were brown once, sparkling and the exact color of root beer, but are now an empty ice-blue, almost white. Annika is waiting for her body to grow warm so that she can fall asleep and, as she waits, she remembers life outside this darkness, remembers the world she loved and how it changed. Once, her home was called the Land of Spring and Fall because that's what it was, a place in which the seasons didn't turn in a circle, but moved like a seesaw, Fall becoming Spring becoming Fall becoming Spring. And there had been a moment every year when the seesaw hit a perfect balance. This was Annika's favorite time because blossoms burst from branches alongside red and gold leaves, crocuses opened between rows of corn, and baby animals were born under autumn skies. In the Land of Spring and Fall, it was never too cold or too hot to play outside; brooks never froze or dried up; leaves never fell from the trees; and people and animals never grew old or died. But when a witch appeared in the land, a witch who was furiously angry, but for no reason anyone could understand, and the witch cast a spell that plunged the land into a never-ending winter. In Winterland, terrible things began to happen. People and animals got sick, with wrenching coughs and burning fevers. Desperate for warmth, the people began to kill their friends the animals in order to wrap themselves in fur coats. Food became scarce, and everyone began to fight over what little there was. And strangest of all, one by one, every living, breathing creature in the land began to turn as white as chalk, as colorless as snow with no sun shining on it. One day, Annika sat at her window, looking sadly at the blank world, when she saw, trudging across the snow, her beloved friend John the bear and his family of bears. Some of the bears were white, some were a dull gray, but only John was still a rich chestnut brown. The bears walked with their immense heads hanging down and some of them cried, dropping tears onto the snow. Before they hit the ground, the tears turned to ice. Annika ran outside, calling John's name. He stopped and looked at her with his kind eyes and told her that they were going away, to a cave deep inside one of the high hills that surrounded Winterland. 'To sleep,' he said. 'To wait.' Annika threw her arms around John, buried her face in his beautiful fur, and then stood and watched as the procession of bears patiently resumed their long journey.That night, Annika woke up with a start. She sat up in bed and saw that the hair falling over her shoulders was as white as milk, and she ran to the mirror. As she stared at her reflection, the pink began draining from her cheeks. 'Oh no,' she whispered. 'It's happening. I'm turning into someone else. A winter girl.' In a flash, she had on her shoes and her thickest wool coat and was out the door. The trail of crystal tears the bears had left gleamed in what little moonlight could force its way through the clouds and, slogging through snow, cold eating into her bones, Annika followed the trail. When she got to the cave and moved away the rock that blocked the entrance, all the bears were asleep, except John. He rested his paw on the patch of soft dirt next to him. 'For you, dear heart,' he said sleepily. Then he moved the rock into place and lay back down. Annika curled up between John and another bear, listening to their slow breathing, readying herself for sleep. The bears' bodies warmed her own from the outside in. The last thing to get warm was her heart, and then Annika fell asleep.The story ends this way: 'Imagine the deepest sleep you've ever slept. Multiply its deepness by the number of stars in the sky and the number of fish in the sea. Then you will know the sleep of Annika and the bears.

-Marisa de

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Kestrel's eyes slipped shut. She faded in and out of sleep. When Arin spoke again, she wasn't sure whether he expected her to to hear him.'I remember sitting with my mother in a carriage.' There was a long pause. Then Arin's voice came again in that slow, fluid way that showed the singer in him. 'In my memory, I am small and sleepy, and she is doing something strange. Every time the carriage turns into the sun, she raises her hand as if reaching for something. The light lines her fingers with fire. Then the carriage passes through shadows, and her hand falls. Again sunlight beams through the window, and again her hand lifts. It becomes and eclipse.' Kestrel listened, and it was as if the story itself was an eclipse, drawing its darkness over her.'Just before I fell asleep,' he said, 'I realized that she was shading my eyes from the sun.' She heard Arin shift, felt him look at her.'Kestrel.' She imagined how he would sit, lean forward. How he would look in the glow of the carriage lantern. 'Survival isn't wrong. You can sell your honor in small ways, so long as you guard yourself. You can pour a glass of wine like it's meant to be poured, and watch a man drink, and plot your revenge.' Perhaps his head tilted slightly at this. 'You probably plot even in your sleep.' There was a silence as long as a smile.'Plot away, Kestrel. Survive. If I hadn't lived, no one would remember my mother, not like I do.' Kestrel could no longer deny sleep. It pulled her under.'And I would never have met you.

-Marie Rutkoski

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I used to think Romeo and Juliet was the greatest love story ever written. But now that I’m middle-aged, I know better. Oh, Romeo certainly thinks he loves his Juliet. Driven by hormones, he unquestionably lusts for her. But if he loves her, it’s a shallow love. You want proof? Soon after meeting her for the first time, he realizes he forgot to ask her for her name. Can true love be founded upon such shallow acquaintance? I don’t think so. And at the end, when he thinks she’s dead, he finds no comfort in living out the remainder of his life within the paradigm of his love, at least keeping alive the memory of what they had briefly shared, even if it was no more than illusion, or more accurately, hormonal. Yes, those of us watching events unfold from the darkness know she merely lies in slumber. But does he seek the reason for her life-like appearance? No. Instead he accuses Death of amorousness, convinced that the ‘lean abhorred monster’ endeavors to keep Juliet in her present state, cheeks flushed, so that she might cater to his own dissolute desires. But does Romeo hold her in his arms one last time and feel the warmth of her blood still coursing through her veins? Does he pinch her to see if she might awaken? Does he hold a mirror to her nose to see if her breath fogs it? Once, twice, three times a ‘no.’ His alleged love is so superficial and so selfish that he seeks to escape the pain of loss by taking his own life. That’s not love, but infatuation. Had they wed―Juliet bearing many children, bonding, growing together, the masks of the star-struck teens they once were long ago cast away, basking in the love born of a lifetime together―and she died of natural causes, would Romeo have been so moved to take his own life, or would he have grieved properly for her loss and not just his own.―J. Conrad Guest, author of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, The Cobb Legacy, January's Paradigm, One Hot January, January's Thaw, A Retrospect in Death (forthcoming) and 500 Miles to Go (forthcoming)

-J. Conrad

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Avalon is full of desperate people.’ She bites at her lower lip this time, fumbling her hands, knitting her fingers into the bundle of plastic coin bags in her grasp. ‘Are you implying that I’m desperate?’ I say, one eyebrow tilting.‘You don’t need to be desperate… you can have anyone... I…’ she trails off. Looking up and trying to search the line of shops for the bank. I repulse her, I make her want to run. Why is this so hard? I need to get inside of her, I need to know what she is thinking, what she is wanting.It surely isn’t me she wants. Not to the extent that I… want her.‘You?’ I entice her to finish her sentence but she doesn’t, she stares off into the bustling crowds, memory flashing her eyes with a darkness.‘Madi wouldn’t fumble like this.’Oh, she would fumble, but not in the way you are, Elli.‘You’re not her, Elli.’ I entice her again, trying to force the dark memory, the sadness from her.‘No, if I was, you wouldn’t have wanted anyone else.’A breath hitches in her throat, she puts a hand over her mouth and says something else, her cheeks dance a shade of red that brightens and brightens until she apologises and quickens her pace. I chuckle, pulling at her arm and encircling one around her waist, pulling her back to me. Beneath my touch, her body trembles. When I raise my hand, my palm touching her cheek, I am sure she isn’t breathing.‘I don’t want anyone, Elli.’ My eyes burn, consuming her with my gaze. She is like a frightful deer, struggling beneath me with a gaze that cannot quite meet mine. When she does, it is only for a brief second before falling down and all I see is the gentle flutter of her raven flashes.‘I told you. I want someone I cannot have.’‘That is a really harsh way of telling someone you’re not interested.

-C.M Maria

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