Arc’s winning stories: Give and Take by Conor Powers-Smith

23 Nov

We all want to be better than we are. But people are so diverse, the bell-curve of “normal” so maddeningly wide and shallow — it’s hardly any wonder that our individual attempts at betterment are doomed to rather farcical failure.

Meanwhile, hardly a week goes by without an announcement that some ordinary human foible – distractability, shyness, lust – has been given a psychiatric label and its “victims” put on a pharmaceutical treatment. 

Take these two ideas, bang them together and, if you are as good a writer as Conor Powers-Smith, you end up with “Give and Take”, a runner-up in our recent competition, and a sharp, satirical take on suburban living ten, maybe twenty years hence.

Conor Powers-Smith grew up in New Jersey and Ireland, and currently lives on Cape Cod, where he’s a reporter. His stories have appeared in Abyss & Apex, Scifia, Fantastic Frontiers, Daily Science Fiction and Stupefying Stories.

You can read Give and Take in its entirety here. There’s also a short extract below.

“Where’d you…” It was impossible to mistake the hesitation for anything but what it was: the consequence of Gil having begun the question without knowing what he was going to ask. He finished in a rush: “…get your shirt?”

Greg looked down at his simple blue-and-white-striped polo, by no means new. “Uh, I don’t know. I think I—”

“How bout your shoes? Where’d you get those? Oh, what size?”

Greg looked at Gavin, who said, “Gil went in last weekend. Can you guess what for?”

“Greg,” said Gil, very seriously. “Where’d…you get…your shoes?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Fine. But answer the question, you know? So what size?”


“Yeah right. You still have your car?”


“What year? Oh, and how many miles?”

Gavin said, “Gil. See that guy over there?” He pointed into the crowd, seemingly at random. “He used to play pro baseball.”

“What? Bullshit.”

“No, seriously. I think he made it to double-A. Go ask him.”

Gil stared at Gavin. “It didn’t make me stupid, you know.”

Gavin’s smile grew sad. “I know. But you’re dying to ask him. Aren’t you?”

Gil stared for another second or two, something like real resentment in his eyes. He repeated, softly, “It didn’t make me stupid,” then moved away, toward wherever he’d decided Gavin had been pointing.

Read all our winning entries here.

Click here for details of our new competition!

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