Excerpt from “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie


The Crime

He found it difficult to go to sleep again at once. For one thing, he missed the motion of the train. If it was a station outside it was curiously quiet. By contrast, the noises on the train seemed unusually loud. He could hear Ratchett moving about next door – a click as he pulled down the washbasin, the sound of the tap running, a splashing noise, then another click as the basin shut to again.1footsteps passed up the corridor outside, the shuffling footsteps of someone in bedroom slippers.

Hercule Poirot lay awake staring at the ceiling. Why was the station outside so silent? His throat felt dry. He had forgotten to ask for his usual bottle of mineral water. He looked at his watch again. Just after a quarter past one.2He would ring for the conductor and ask him for some mineral water. His finger went out to the bell, but he paused as in the stillness he heard a ting. The man couldn’t answer every bell at once.


It sounded again and again. Where was the man? Somebody was getting impatient.


Whoever it was was keeping their finger solidly on the push.

Suddenly with a rush, his footsteps echoing up the aisle,4  the man came. He knocked at a door not far from Poirot’s own.

Then came voices – the conductor’s, deferential, apologetic, and a woman’s – insistent and voluble.5

Mrs. Hubbard.

Poirot smiled to himself.

The altercation – if it was one- went on for some time. It’s proportions were ninety per cent of Mrs. Hubbard’s to a soothing ten per cent of the conductor’s. Finally the matter seemed to be adjusted. Poirot heard distinctly:

“bonne Nuit, Madame,” and a closing door.

He pressed his own finger on the bell.

The conductor arrived promptly. He looked hot and worried.

“De l’eau minerale, s’il vous plait.”

Bien, Monsieur.” Perhaps a twinkle in Poirot’s eye led him to unburden himself.

“La Dame Americaine – ”


He wiped his forehead.

“Imagine to yourself the time I have had with her! She insits – but insists – 6 that there is a man in her compartment! figure to yourself, Monsieur. In a space of this size.” He swept a hand round. “Where would he conceal himself? I argue with her I point out that it is impossible. She insists. She woke up and there was a man there. And how, I ask, did he get out and leave the door bolted behind him? But she will not listen to reason. As though, there were not enough to worry us already. This snow -”


Excerpt from “Hole in My Life” by Jack Gantos

July 15: Today I took a photograph of Hamilton sitting at the wheel with the sun setting7 behind him. He frowned. “Now take a picture of me,” I said, and handed him the camera.

He flipped the camera over, unsnapped the back, pulled out the film, and tossed it over his shoulder into the ocean. “If I find any more film on board it will join that roll,” he said.

“It’s just a photo,” I replied.

“It’s evidence,” he snapped back. This is the first evidence I have had that he even thinks we could be caught.

“Let me see your wallet,” he said.

I gave it to him.

He threw away all my identification except for my fake Florida license. “Might come in handy,” he said.


July 16: Dead clam today. Hot.2  The sails hanging limply3  from the gaffs like sleeping bats. At one point I dove overboard and swam around the boat as if it were at anchor. Hamilton threw an empty bottle overboard and we bobbed along next to it for hours. By the end of the day we may have covered a mile. No more. Feel like a sitting duck. Said so to Hamilton. He drifted into a story about his biggest concern on the ocean being pirates, not police. Told me about friends in the business4 who were boarded by pirates who tied them to the masts, and then took their stash. Somehow I find this absurd and can’t stop thinking of Captain Hook and his crew of pirates in Peter Pan. Wish Hamilton would swallow a clock so5  I could hear him creeping.6  He stalks me like a mumbling crocodile.

Introduction to Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our age is retrospective.7 It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. 2 The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. 3Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? 4The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.5Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition, that shines so peacefully around us. Let us inquire, to what end is nature?


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.6 That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet.2 She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.3

The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk.4 These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human.5 They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.

Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.6

“What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on? Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in? Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?—What dat ole forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?—Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?—Thought she was going to marry?—Where he left her ?—What he done wid all her money?—Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs—why she don’t stay in her class?—”7

When she got to where they were she turned her face on the bander log and spoke. They scrambled a noisy “good evenin’ ” and left their mouths setting open and their ears full of hope. Her speech was pleasant enough, but she kept walking straight on to her gate. The porch couldn’t talk for looking.


Mrs. Dalloway — Virginia Woolf

“Yes,” said Peter. “Yes, yes, yes,” he said, as if she drew up to the surface something which positively hurt him as it rose. Stop! Stop! he wanted to cry. For8 he was not old; his life was not over; not by any means 2. He was only just past fifty. Shall I tell her, he thought 3, or not? He would like to make a clean breast of it all. But4 she is too cold, he thought; sewing, with her scissors;5 Daisy would look ordinary beside Clarissa. And she would think me a failure, which I am in their sense, he thought; in the Dalloways’ sense6. Oh yes, he had no doubt about that; he was a failure, compared with all this—7the inlaid table, the mounted paper-knife, the dolphin and8 the candlesticks, the chair-covers and the old valuable English tinted prints—9he was a failure! I detest the smugness of the whole affair, he thought. Richard’s doing not Clarissa’s; 10 save that she married him. (11Here Lucy came into the room, carrying silver, more silver12, but charming, slender graceful she looked, he thought, as she stooped to put it down.) And this had been going on all the time! he thought; week after week; Clarissa’s life; while I—13he thought; and at once everything seemed to radiate from him; journeys; riders; quarrels; adventures; bridge parties; love affairs; work; work, work!14 and he took out his knife quite openly—his old horn-handled knife which Clarissa could swear he had had these thirty years 15 – and clenched his fist upon it.

What an extraordinary habit that was, Clarissa thought 16; always playing with a knife. Always making one feel, too, frivolous; empty-minded; a mere silly chatterbox, as he used 17 summoned, like a Queen whose guards have fallen asleep and left her unprotected (18 she had been quite taken aback by this visit – it had upset her) so that any one can stroll in and have a look at her where she lies with the brambles curbing over her, summoned19 to her help 20 the things she did; the things she liked; her husband; Elizabeth; her self, in short, which Peter hardly knew now, all to come about her and beat off the enemy.

Breaking Up With Your Parents, by Cora Frazier

Mommy and Daddy:21

This just isn’t working out.

I feel like our relationship is stifling me creatively and personally. I’ve discovered this with the help of the expensive weekly therapy that you pay for.

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t texted you for two days seeking reassurance that it’s O.K. to ask my roommate to help clean her cat’s vomit off the floor, or that I will be the richest and most famous writer ever, and you will mail one of your copies of the 1998 Northwestern Children’s Literary Review to anyone who thinks otherwise. 2

It really wasn’t anything you did. We’ve had some wonderful times together. You’ve changed my diaper on the side of the highway, explaining yourself to a state trooper while holding a container of baby wipes in one hand and a full diaper in the other.3 After I had my first ballet recital, you offered vaguely supportive comments without explicitly lying. You let me wear my first two-piece tankini bathing suit under my clothes for several days before suggesting that we wash it. You let me eat Pop-Tarts, but never Pop-Tarts with frosting. When you walked in on me rubbing myself against the Ashton Kutcher shrine in my bedroom, you immediately closed the door and apologized profusely. You accepted me during the brief time I wore a cape and wanted to be called “The Great Ba Di Di, Prince of Toilets.”

And then the honeymoon period ended. It’s hard to pin down how these things change—often they happen in unnoticeable shifts.4 Was it when I turned eighteen, left your house, and began college? Was it when I graduated from college and moved to New York City? Was it when I was approaching thirty and got engaged to someone else? I don’t know. You’ve probably felt it, too.

Of course I’m sad. Of course it hurts. I know nothing will ever be like what we had—nothing could ever compare, you must know that.5

He expects advice from me. He expects me to pay attention to the directions when we are driving somewhere, no matter how sleepy or hungry or full I feel. He expects me not to walk away from people who are talking to me because I am bored and see a cat with a weird eye. He expects gifts other than the huge cardboard head of George Washington that my brother and I bought for two dollars as a joke.

I’m sure you’ll have your own perspective on the relationship, and you’ll want to respond—I expected that. You’ll say, “That’s fine, sweetie, we love and support you no matter what.” You’ll say, “Do you know yet when you’re coming for Easter? I want to make sure we have enough beds.” You’ll say, “I saw that you called several times. I was at book group. What’s up, honey?” I hear you, I do.[footnote]Comma Splice:[/footnotes] But know that my mind is made up.

We can still be friends, of course. I’d like that. In a way, nothing has changed. I can still call you to ask for any factual information I might need to know, instead of simply Googling it. I can still come to your house and expect all my favorite foods to be in the fridge. I can still take any of your clothing, makeup, nice lotions, or valuable jewelry without asking for it or telling you that I’ve taken it, causing you to worry more than usual that you’re starting to lose your mind.[footnote]Appositive: Frazier has done an excellent job, throughout the piece, of adding specific details through appositives. Here we see that she is describing the way her mother would fret. It’s brilliant because she is first talking about taking things, not her mother at all.   I can still text you late at night, tipsy, alone in a cab: “Hey. I think about you every day.”

And of course—it goes without saying—6I will always come into your bed early on Saturday morning, jump up and down, hit you and myself with pillows until I collapse, exhausted, and need to be carried downstairs for cartoon-watching. And I will always have a lot of specific questions about Santa’s life.

And who knows? Maybe one day we’ll see each other across a room offering bingo, crowded with metal walkers and free-standing breathing machines, and you’ll say, “Cora, we never thought we’d see the day . . .” And I will say, “I did. Oh, I did.” And when I win—which you may have allowed to happen, just like old times—and I’m standing, shouting, “Bingo!,” and dancing, waving my board in victory, you will stare at me with tearful smiles and say, “You make us so proud.”7 


Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

It was cool and quiet under the waves.

For a few endless moments, Tally felt only relief to have escaped the searing wind, the thundering machine, the blistering heat of the firestorm. 8 But 2 the weight of the crash bracelets and knapsack pulled her down fast, and panic welled up in her pounding chest.

She thrashed in the water, climbing up toward the flickering lights of the surface. Her wet clothes and gear dragged at her, but 3 just as her lungs were about to burst, she broke the surface into the maelstrom. Tally gulped a few breaths of smoky air, then was slapped in the face by a wave. She coughed and sputtered, struggling to stay afloat.

A shadow passed over her, blacking 4 out the sky. Then her hand struck something—a familiar grippy surface… 5

Her hoverboard had come back to her! Just the way it always did when she spilled. The crash bracelets lifted her up until she could grab onto it, her fingers clinging to its knobbly surface as she gasped for air.

A high-pitched whine came from the nearby shore. Tally blinked away water from her eyes and she saw that the Rusty machine had landed. Figures were jumping from the machine, spraying white foam at the ground as they crashed through the burning flowers and into the river. They were headed for her. 6

She struggled to climb onto the board.

“Wait!” the nearest figure called. 7

Tally rose shakily to her feet, trying to keep steady on the wet surface of the board. Her hard-baked shoes were slippery, and 8 her sodden knapsack seemed to weigh a ton. As 9 she leaned forward, a gloved hand reached up to gab the front of the board. A face came up from the water, wearing some sort of mask. Huge eyes stared up at her.

She stomped at the hand, crunching the fingers. They slipped off, but her weight was thrown too far forward, and the board tipped its nose into the water. 10

Tally tumbled into the river again. 11

Hands grabbed at her, pulling her away from the hoverboard. She was hoisted out of the water and onto a broad shoulder. She caught glimpses of masked faces: huge, inhuman eyes staring at her unblinkingly. 12

Bug eyes. 13

Don’t move to Canada. Stay and fight. by Michael Krikorian

No one’s moving anywhere. My friends Dahlia and Chris aren’t going to Mexico, and 14 Alexis is not going to Copenhagen. My gal Nancy’s not permanently packing up and moving to Umbria, and Duke is not moving to Thailand with his cousin Jake.

And2 you?  You aren’t going wherever the heck you say you are moving to now that Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States of America.

What we all do is this:3 We stay and fight.First, we wait and see. Even Hillary Clinton said Wednesday, “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”

But4 if we don’t like what happens, we fight it. We5 take to the streets and rekindle memories of the anti-Vietnam War protests and civil rights marches. We don’t run and hice.6 We don’t abandon America.

I feel, strangely, not what I thought I would “the morning after.” I’m more patriotic than I was yesterday. More in love with my country than I have since, I guess, Sept. 11, 2001.

As my old friend Aqeela Sherrills, a longtime Watts gang interventionist and community activist said in a Facebook post Wednesday: “There’s a gift in every tragedy…   A Trump victory is an opportunity, if your like me, I do my best work under pressure. Don’t go to Canada or where ever you thinking, The U.S. is ours! and no President, Senate, Congress or White House will tell me otherwise!… lets go to work!”

The country our parents,7 uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents fought for is sliding around a hairpin turn, but it hasn’t crashed.

Yesterday, a guy I know from the streets showed me a knife he had in his waistband. A killing knife.8 It made me think of “Saving Private Ryan”and a brutal, achingly sad scene:  room-to-room fighting, a German soldier slowly pushing a killing knife into the chest of an American soldier.

What happened Tuesday doesn’t compare to those days. Everyone walking around like it’s the end of civilization now that Trump is in? It’s not. We’ve been through far worse. A perceived threat is not as bad as a punch in the face.

I was on a text thread Tuesday night that included several millennials. It started with how wonderful the election was going turn out: the first woman president, the rejection of hateful talk.


The Bear Came over the Mountain by Alice Munro

Fiona lived in her parents’ house, in the town where she and Grant went to university. 9 It was a big, bay-windowed house that seemed to Grant both luxurious and disorderly, 2 3 with rugs crooked on the floors and cup rings bitten into the table varnish. Her mother was Icelandic—a powerful woman with a froth of white hair and indignant far-left politics. 4 The father was an important cardiologist, revered around the hospital but happily subservient at home, 5 where he would listen to his wife’s strange tirades with an absentminded smile. Fiona had her own little car and a pile of cashmere sweaters, but she wasn’t in a sorority, and her mother’s political activity was probably the reason. Not that she cared. 6 Sororities were a joke to her, and so was politics—though she liked to play “The Four Insurgent Generals” on the phonograph, and sometimes also the “Internationale,” 7 very loud, if there was a guest she thought she could make nervous. A curly-haired gloomy-looking foreigner was courting her—she said he was a Visigoth 8and so were two or three quite respectable and uneasy young interns. She made fun of them all and of Grant as well. She would drolly repeat some of his small-town phrases. He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.

“Do you think it would be fun—” Fiona shouted. “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?” 9

He took her up on it, he shouted yes. He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life. 10


I Am Still Tiger Woods

When I was five years old 11, my dad sawed off the end of a rusty MacGregor five iron, popped off the worn black rubber from the useless end, refastened it to the jagged top of my new club, and led me out to my backyard in Canton, Mich. to smack my first golf ball. The second those Top Flite dimples whisked into the high grass behind our house, I was hooked for life 2. I practiced putting with my Papa’s trusty old 10-iron on his muddy orange carpet every time we visited them in Oregon. The ball would roll into a tiny blue cup time after time again, each plop of the ball hitting the plastic producing a cheery “Oh!” 34 from my proud grandmother. I spent hours putting on that carpet as a hopeful young 10-year-old and begged Papa for daily trips to the driving range downtown. My parents have spent thousands of dollars on me for golf clubs, golf balls and greens fees. I’ve played in rain, snow, wind, hail, and sun. I remember putts like the 60- foot miracle that curved and dropped for birdie on No. 2 at North Conway Country Club; I remember shots like the 135-yard pitching wedge on No. 9 that bounced once on the green and sunk in for a birdie 3 and a front-nine 39; I remember my best score (72) and my worst (119); I remember mornings golfing across Ireland and Scotland with my dad and rainy afternoon rounds with my grandparents in Oregon 56. You pick a year in my life, and I can tell you where I was golfing and how well I was playing. I am a golfer. And 7, in line with every young golfer of this generation, I loved Tiger Woods. I had a poster of Tiger in my room. I went through a period where I would hit, wear and play with nothing but Nike equipment. I wore my “I am Tiger Woods” t-shirt so much as a pre-teen that it nearly disintegrated. I watched Tiger win and sulked when Tiger lost. I admired every stroke, every putt, every fist pump 8. Tiger was my golf hero. And guess what? He still is. Tiger will tee it up on Thursday for the most prestigious tournament in golf: The Masters at Augusta National9. It’s his first tournament in 144 days, since he declared an indefinite leave from golf to fix marital troubles stemming from infidelities to his wife, Elin. It’s the media storm of the year. The best player in golf history, in sports history, is nothing more than your everyday, professional sleaze ball. Many fans feel betrayed. They feel angry, let down, disappointed, and appalled. Not me 10. I hold Tiger in the same regard as I once did. Why? He’s an athlete 11. I look up to him for his unmatched talent in golf. What he does in his personal life is none of my business.