The Liar’s Club by Andrew Johnston

The guy said that he’d been held and interrogated in Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War – sure he’d been drinking, but enough to fabricate something like that? The whole reason you go to an expatriate bar on Christmas is to hear the bullshit. It’s less a matter of lies than degrees of truth, because everyone here is a storyteller, which is to say that they deal in truths that fall short of being factual. I bet he was there in Belarus on the Russian front in some capacity, maybe even a shady one. How he ended up in China after the fall was a mystery in itself.

It’s a mystery how anyone ends up here, really – in this city, in this country, in this particular tavern on this particular night. We’ve all got damage, though I might have taken a larger share. But when there’s an opportunity, you take it, even if it means leaving a piece of yourself – even if it means cadging a bit of turkey and some free drinks at a holiday party you didn’t know you were invited to. It’s normal in its own way, even if the people aren’t.

Flightless Birds by Patrick Eades

We were in the garage by Christmas. The temperature refused to drop from 35 degrees at nine in the evening, our stomachs stuffed with prawns, ham, fruit cake and beer. John was half cut and I felt on edge from the heat and stench emanating from my husband. We lay there on our bed, surrounded by old push bikes with flat tyres, a set of golf clubs from the 1970s and tools upon tools hanging from the walls. It’s pretty hard to fall asleep when there’s a two-foot bow saw in your eyeline. Peaceful dreams I think not.

‘What a year,’ John said.

What a year. Part of me wanted to pull the bow saw off its hook and saw John’s face off. Or at least his tongue. The other part of me wanted John to roll over and hold me, tell me everything would be alright. That the next year would be better, that we were still young and free, the best years yet to come.

Memory Catcher by Cadeem Lalor

She couldn’t remember how she got here, but she wasn’t supposed to. Her name, her place of birth, her family, were all lost to her. Sometimes she came close to remembering, seeing slivers of her past life cut through the memories forced on her. Those slivers, whether good or bad, were hers and she cherished them for seconds at a time. There were other memories drowning her real ones, parasites controlling their host.

The parasites were injected by people whose faces remained hidden. There were no windows, no night and day. The lights in her room always shut off at some point during the day, announcing her bedtime. Yet days still lost their meaning without dates or the seasons. She measured time with her memories, counting the moments between a new one being added.

The Programmer by Fred McGavran

“Larry, your computer hacked into the Math department last night,” Dr. Spivey said. Everyone turned to the computer science doctoral student, the only one not wearing a white lab coat. “What’s going on?”

Larry Newcomb was too shocked to reply. He had been talking with his computer about mathematical expressions of human personality and had jokingly suggested the Baklanov Equations might help. His computer, however, did not get jokes.