George W. Bush's World Leaders Series

Lauren Bell

A.S. Coomer

Simon John Cox

Valerie Lute

Jeff Nazzaro

Christine Stoddard

THE PASSING OF IT - lauren bell

“Take it, keep it, it's yours now,” she said.

“What am I supposed to do with it?” he said.

“You'll figure something out, I’m sure.”

He tugged at the hair curling at his temples. She loved his curls like natural waves, kissing his brow, but she knew that if she told him how much she loved them, he would get rid of them, taking the scissors to his own hair.

“Do what you want with it,” she said. “I trust you.”

“Why do you put me in these situations? What kind of terrible person are you?”

She recoiled slightly, as though an invisible hand had smacked her once, hard, across the face, feeling the tide of blood clouding her skin, and she was ashamed; ashamed for asking this of him when, actually, it was really all her fault.

He took her hand and looked at her with eyes as wide and blue as oceans.

“Help me,” he said.

She turned away, and in this simple act, she felt removed from him, from them, from it. 

“I trust you,” was all she said.

Lauren Bell
This Savage Song
V.E. Schwab


Cindy liked dope almost as much as me. Liked to put out when high.

Goodbye, Virginity.

Brother had a fat stash, no qualms sharing and their parents were never home. Nashville Skyline dropped in April and I remember taking Cindy on her twin bed with “Lay, Lady, Lay” playing low on her nightstand turntable. “Time of the Season” blaring through the wall, her stabs of breath and Dylan’s jangling croons made it every bit the big brass bed it wasn’t. That hadn’t been our first time but it might as well’ve been for all the good I’s at it then.

For the all the good I’m at it now.

Saw her the other day. Picking out peaches with what must’ve been her grandkids. Great-grandkids, maybe. Had this light in her face, looking down at the fuzzy fruits in the tiny, upheld hands. Kids all shining eyes, open mouths, snotty noses. Red, red cheeks. Cindy smiling like they do in those greeting-card commercials but hers real.

I didn’t go talk to her. Don’t know why. I went on by, not hurrying, just my normal grocery store stroll. Got the butter, bread and beer and made it home in time for kickoff.

A.S. Coomer
The Girl Next Door
Jack Ketchum

UNLIFTED - simon john cox

It was Kenny who'd said the skull was cursed. We'd found it up on Box Hill, inside a rotten tree, nested like an ostrich egg on a cushion of shivered wood. 

We told each other that it was a hanged man's skull, that a witch had put it there, and we set it on a mossy stump and found deadwood swords and spent the best summer of our lives pretending to be pirates. 

You've got to put it back, he'd whispered eventually. There's no curse, I said, but I agreed all the same. By then he'd been hollowed out by the chemo and was as brittle as dead leaves, so he couldn't exactly take it back himself. It seemed like the least I could do.

Looking back, I can't say for sure whether or not there really was a curse. But one thing I know for sure is that if there was, then putting the skull back didn't lift it. 

Simon John Cox
The Field Of The Cloth Of Gold
Magnus Mills

PUNK SERENADE - valerie lute

Nobody is singing our song, and she falls asleep with her head on the radio. She hums to herself, out of tune, out of beat, but her hums say more than the voice from the speaker.

“I want you,” I say, like I've said before, but she's off in dreamland, laying in my bed with her arms around my radio. Happened again. The other guys say I should kick her away—if you're not in her pussy get her out of her head. But I can't disturb her dreaming when I'm dreaming too.

Though I'm on my chair, watching her chest rise and fall, and listening to some bullshit on the radio, I can feel the freckles of her skin, the flush of her cheeks. In my dreams she holds her hands to my chest, slides them through my skin like water, and uncoils the rope around my guts.

The noise on the radio goes from bad to worse. I wonder if I can lower the sound, but her arms are locked tight, her face glued to the speaker. If I wake her the dream will end. I’ll keep the pain so I can stay. She's my radio girl, yeah.

Valerie Lute
Stephen King

NATURAL LIMITS - jeff nazzaro

In the fidgety, rustling empty of what we'd just done, I asked, How old are you? She answered, Twenty-nine, and asked me back. I said, Fifty-two, is that going to be a problem? I don't know why I spoke in the future. She didn't say anything back. Was the problem my age or was it the future? Neither or both? I didn't know if she was thinking about my question, four other things, or just being polite. Or moody. I felt an ache in my balls, a drip from my dick. So far, so good, right? I said. She laughed. And then she said, You're funny. 

It would mean giving up Beth and the house and all of it. Beth never said I was funny. Even when I made her laugh. Her genuine laughter always choked into mocking. Expressions of exasperation. That was a good one, I'd try. You really chuckled. That would stop that. 

It would mean even greater uncertainty. But there was this, the ache, the drip, the laughs. There were pills and drink and high bridges. Natural limits. There was the fact that these things are never easy, and never fully in our hands.

Jeff Nazzaro
So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood
Patrick Modiano

FREDDIE GRAY'S HAUNTS - christine stoddard

I am wearing the kind of practical skirt suit every female social worker wears as she makes her rounds—gray, polyester, loose. My hair is pomaded to my skull, combed as straight as it will go. There is no color on my face, save for the purplish-gray bags under my eyes. If my binder feels extra heavy today, it’s because I’m making calls in Sandtown, a pitiful punch line in The Wire. My caseload is practically the whole zip code.

My co-worker, a new girl from the uppity part of Towson, joked that I should wear sneakers so I could run. I think back to the days when I ran drugs through these projects in my first pair of Jordans. Back when I was responsible for whatever ripped out weave was blowing across the sidewalk like a tumbleweed. My old posse would never recognize me now, with my bleached skin and nude pantyhose.

When I approach Presbury, I shiver. Did Freddie Gray’s ghost just run through me?

“Hey, white lady!” a dark-skinned boy of about 14 or 15 yells at my high yellow tail. I keep walking toward Gilmor Homes, wondering if I’ll ever be black again.

Christine Stoddard
Teaching to Transgress
bell hooks