Igms issue 49, p.1
IGMS Issue 49, page 1
Issue 49 - January 2016
Copyright © 2016 Hatrack River Enterprises
Table of Contents - Issue 49 - January 2016
* * *
A Love Story, Told in My Monstrosity
by Anna Yeatts
by Sofie Bird
Souls Are Like Livers
by Aurelia Flaming
...Or Be Forever Fallen
by A. Merc Rustad
by Jennifer Noelle Welch
The Soul Mate Requirement
by Kelly Sandoval
Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
by Lawrence M. Schoen
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
by Chris Bellamy
Vintage Fiction - Yesterday's Taste
by Lawrence M. Schoen
InterGalactic Interview With Lawrence M. Schoen
by Darrell Schweitzer
Letter From The Editor
by Guest Editor - Chris Bellamy
A Love Story, Told in My Monstrosity
by Anna Yeatts
Artwork by Scott Altmann
* * *
The chains on the swings were uneven. If we kept swinging, we'd collide, both of us flying higher and higher, closer and closer, until our legs tangled and our monsters touched. Even then they knew each other. My monster and yours.
When I laughed and tasted sunshine in my mouth, my monster reached out its black tongue and tried to touch you. You clamped your hands over your mouth, your elbows locked around the creaking chains of the swing to hold on, but it wasn't enough. The black tendrils of your monster hungered for mine.
I swung too high and touched the sky. Marble clouds tossed me to the ground, a pile of broken girl pride. I skinned my knee. You jumped off your swing and came to my side. Your monster slithered from the corner of your puckered mouth as you considered my red-knitted knee. With shaking fingers, you picked the grass away. Together, we watched dewdrops of blood well up, fat and shiny.
I touched the back of your head, barbershop fresh, and the hairs tickled my palm.
You looked up. I looked down.
Our monsters looked out.
They said hello. I see you. I'm here too.
But you bit down on your monster and it writhed against your lip. You shoved my hand away as if I'd stung you. Your jaw worked as you chewed and chewed, making your monster behave. I crawled away on hands and sore knees. My monster beat against the inside of my eyes, begging me to let it out.
But I couldn't. Not while you kicked up a clod of grass, swallowing the last gulp of your monster, angry and full of boy. I brushed myself off and went inside without a word.
You didn't even try to follow me.
My monster shivered up my spine, its thousand ant-like feet spiking my nerves like stolen vodka. It recognized your monster's presence, your voice in the hallway. I slammed my locker and shoved my sweaty hair out of my eyes. But you never looked at me anymore.
What control you must've had over your monster, to lock it away, when my own begged me day and night for a glimpse of you, the faint scent your cologne left in a room, the echo of your footsteps.
I turned my back to the direction from which I knew you'd come. My monster pounded my temples. I closed my eyes, but my monster beat harder.
You spoke of homecoming, of calculus assignments and college plans. Your footsteps stopped and my breath stopped.
My monster couldn't bear the nearness of you. It swarmed from my nose, my ears, my eyes - a hungry grasping thing that blinded me. I heard you suck in your breath.
You touched my shoulder. I turned my head, pretending nonchalance, but in reality, I was about to fall.
Yes, I said. Yes. I would meet you after school.
Where was your monster? I looked for it in your eyes, thought I saw it peeking through the black windows of your pupils but I couldn't tell.
Maybe that was just you.
You looking at me. Me looking back.
We met in the auditorium, stage left, behind the dust-filled curtains. My knees shook so I leaned against the prop table full of drama club leftovers - a broken fan, a plastic rat, a chipped teacup.
My monster rippled through my skin. It wanted to dance and cavort but I made it be still. We didn't want to frighten you. The look on your face pinned me to the table.
You looked hungry. Not your monster. You.
And my monster was starved. It didn't even ask me. It gave me to you. It spilled out of my gullet, hoping your mouth on mine would sate its belly-burning fever.
How I ached - the turning inside-out of myself as my monster pulled me into you, searching for its other half. But we couldn't find it. You'd hidden it too deep. There was only emptiness. We shrank back into myself, tiny and sad and miserable.
My lips were swollen and the back of my arms budded with ten small, round bruises that matched your fingertips.
You backed away. I wiped my mouth, tucking inside my monster's loose entrails. In your face was the horror of what we were.
I didn't blame you when you turned and ran.
I didn't even call after you.
Maybe it was locked-up desire that let your monster loose that night. Or maybe it was the steamy southern night full of screeching cicadas and too-tight clothing.
Maybe it was two not-yet-adults, no-longer-teenagers who stumbled into each other at the local dive bar, each reeking of cheap beer and pheromones.
No matter how it happened, it did. I wish now I'd been less tipsy around the edges. Things might have turned out differently when you hooked the belt loop of my jeans with your finger and tugged me away from the bar. We lost ourselves in the forgotten corner behind the pool table. I don't remember the song playing but I'll never forget the feel of your hands on my hips. I burned. My monster did too.
I tipped my head away into air thick with strangers' breath and unspoken trouble, the world swimming this way and that, but your monster watched me through your eyes. Its tendrils came creeping through your tear ducts, unfurling like black banners.
When your monster reached past my lips, slid over my teeth and tasted my tongue, it left behind the smoke of campfire marshmallows and lickety-split promises. My monster didn't wait. It slipped up my throat. You flinched as your monster poured out faster and stronger.
I gulped it down. For the first time, you saw me. Us. You accepted this darkness we shared.
But instead of pulling, your hands pushed. My monster tried to hold on. Yours did too. They tangled together, trying to fuse into a deep, dark whole that we couldn't break, you and me.
I locked my arms around your waist. You made a noise I didn't recognize, somewhere between a whimper and a scream. But we had you, locked together, and it was so right. Only your eyes and your face grew paler by the second, you pounding against your monster, reeling it back in.
But they were stronger than you. Or me.
I couldn't let them do this to you.
I put my hands on your hips and shoved. My monster wailed and clattered her teeth. You shoved too. Together, we ripped them apart.
I couldn't look at you.
When I opened my eyes, you'd disappeared into the drunken crowd. I stood in the bar alone, until the song finished, giving you plenty of time to flee us both.
My husband handed me the invitation to your wedding. Part of me expected you to have forgotten all about me. The other part knew your monster would never let you forget. I didn't even know how you found my address after so many years - the Internet, I supposed.
Or perhaps my monster called to yours, across time and space, dictating the town and street to your monster, you scratching it out on an envelope when your fiancé was aslee
So you could find me again.
I held the envelope to my cheek. The dark seed of my monster, long curled into the pit of my belly, stirred at the scent of you. My husband glanced at me strangely. But he didn't have a monster. He didn't understand. Couldn't.
You trickled through my nervous system, awakening bright, shiny dendrites of memory, and my monster shook its sleepy head. I pinned the invitation to the calendar and my monster tore a great longing bite of my heart. I circled the date in black ink and my monster roared up my throat and burst through my mouth.
I'm going, it said for me.
The usher escorted me into the sanctuary. The service had already begun. We made no attempt to be quiet, my monster and I. Instead, I let my monster snarl and gnash away inside my head. It was a starved thing, pitiful and near wasted. It swelled until its tendrils pushed from my very pores, shadowy feathers I donned just for your big day.
Your monster stood at the altar next to the reverend. Oh, I knew you were there inside it, as surely as I lived and breathed inside mine. But the seething mass of wings and limbs writhed around you until you were no more than a nucleus for the transcendent being you hosted.
My feet nearly lifted from the floor. I held tight to the usher's arm to hold myself down. This was your big day, not our monsters' to steal. The usher seated me on the groom's side, seventh row on the left. You didn't meet my eyes. But our monsters reached for one another. Reached and reached and reached.
Your bride was lovely, a pale waif with no more substance than a confectionary delight. Of course, she didn't have a monster. And I understood.
My monster sought to drag me up the aisle to you. I dug my fingernails into the pew during the vows and they left crescent moons in the wood. Your left knee buckled as you walked your new wife past my pew. Probably no one noticed but me. Or they chalked it up to nerves. They didn't see our monsters brush each other, feel the ricochet of cosmic collide as the tendrils knotted.
Your eyes met mine. I saw it. I did.
But you had a sunbeam on your arm and I had a husband who mattered.
I ripped my monster away. You shuddered.
I didn't stay for the reception.
You rang my doorbell. I stared through the peephole at your fish-lensed face. You wore your monster wrapped around your hunched shoulders like a superhero's torn cape. You knocked and the door shook beneath my palms.
My monster hid, spiraled in on itself, a snail's shell of tired and no-more. We'd destroyed everything, my monster and I, gobbling up my world to forget.
The doorbell chimed again and again.
Too late, too late, the tinny bells rang. We already ate.
A childhood, a youth, a marriage.
Your monster crept beneath the doorframe, a shadow thin spy.
My monster shivered. I tiptoed away on silent feet. I hid in the bathroom until the doorbell grew silent.
We were all alone. My monster and I.
I don't know whether you'll meet me now or not. But the coffee is nice here. And they don't mind an old woman like me taking up the corner booth for as long as I like.
I read about her passing in the paper last winter. I didn't have the courage to call. She was a lovely woman. I hope she made you happy. As happy as she could.
But that's not why I need to see you.
There are things that have to be said. My monster is restless. It rises up inside me with an urgency I can't ignore. All these years, I've learned to control its moods and wants, but now, it tears at me until I smother inside its chokehold.
What will happen to them after we pass? Will they go with us to the great beyond, wherever that is, or will they spiral out of us to find other hosts?
Maybe they'll finally be together. All these years, waiting for the two of us to set them free, so they can collide in some cosmic love story you and I never understood.
Even now, my monster flies under my skin like a million fireflies lighting up the blackness I've known for so long. It pushes the chambers of my heart faster and faster. But my heart is thin and flutters. It makes me breathless, not like valentines and heartsick songs do, but in the way of oxygen tanks and emphysema patients.
I wrap my monster around my shoulders. It gives me a momentary respite from its ever-present hunger. But its head nuzzles beneath my chin and its whispers fill my ear.
It tells me you are coming.
Your monster is near.
The hand opening the door is yours. The bowed head, weary from our shared burden, scans the room. Your monster circles you in a shadowy nimbus, a dying star in its final bloom. My monster opens itself and preens with the undying devotion of a thousand lifetimes.
You see us. Your monster flares into motion, tentacles reaching across the divide.
We stand transfixed, you and I, considering one another across the roomful of unknowing no-ones. I cannot contain us any longer.
Neither can you.
Our monsters embrace one another. Blazes of black-hot glory sear them into one flesh.
Our monsters say hello. We are ready now. We love you.
I invite you to sit down.
And you do.
by Sofie Bird
Artwork by Nick Greenwood
* * *
Nothing sharpens my isolation like the pinprick of Sol on the horizon after dusk. She cradles our motherworld a thousand light years away while we cling to our deadly, beautiful foster-planet. For all we know, she's already long gone.
My suit's ten-minute warning pings. I pull my gaze from the constellations, glittering behind the meteor startrails. Around me, the rock spires of our world Azure grasp at the sky, their usual hue lost to midnight ink in the darkness.
I try to keep my breaths slow and shallow as my suit's O2 meter hovers above red.
I should get moving. Anna's been out here even longer than I have; she'll be running on fumes by now. I have to find her - no, I know exactly where she'll be, I knew when I walked past her quarters and I didn't hear her obsessive mutter through her door. But while I'm looking for her, I don't have to go back.
I turn east, along the giant vertebrae-like ridge we nicknamed Atlas, following the opalescent cords of minerals that sweep along the rippled stone. In the sunlight, you're an insect in this sculpted world, a minutia, towered over by stone spires and rock formations in every blue and green of the spectrum. Above you, the burnt-orange sky fades to amber near the horizon, and blazes with purple flames of aurora every sunset, before the meteors come. At night, without a moon, you're a ripple beneath shadowy gods.
I round the crest of Atlas' ridge and there she sits, slumped against the rock where a spire curves over like a doorway to her canyon, Hades. Her favourite place. The rock is scoured almost a kilometre down to stone ripples of a blue so brilliant it defies the depth.
A blip on my headset: Anna knows I'm here.
"Seris is going to be pissed." Her voice is breathless.
"Commander Seris is right. We don't have the oxygen to waste."
"We're terraforming tomorrow. It might be my last chance." Her suit doesn't move as she speaks. With her voice in my ear, I almost feel like I'm talking to the planet.
"It will be if you don't get back inside. What're you on, five percent?"
"Two." She still doesn't move. "I want to stay."
I could have just reported her. I should have, not donned a suit of my own and gone out after her. But if I'd done that, I'd be inside, staring at the bone-white walls of my quarters, and she'd be in the brig again.
Or dead. We lost four people in the first month. They wandered away into beauty and forgot to come home.
I found two of the bodies in the same spot; where the wind has carved green sandstone into twisting, coiling ribbons that fold over the valley like a canopy. Through the coils you can see that burnt-orange sky. The rock floor is covered in mineral deposits that shimmer from every angle, and with a lichen-like growth
I love that place. It's like my spirit-home. I picture it when I sleep, when I need to calm, to breathe. If ever there was somewhere I would go to die, it's there.
I lower myself next to Anna, on the edge of Hades, as the last of the meteors blazes across the horizon.
"They shouldn't be beautiful," she mutters. "They ruined everything, they don't get to be beautiful."
We've had this argument before. The meteors didn't show on the scopes when we entered orbit. They took out our primary oxygen garden and put two dozen holes in the bulkhead before we landed. Our terraforming timeline shrank from six years to one and a half, even with a skeleton crew and the colonists in cryo. Anna can't let it go. She can't let anything go, especially Hades.
I lean over and point to my latest constellation.
"There, like a dancing figure, her left foot just touches that spire. I named her Mytyr, the Mother. She bore all the others from her breath and skin and blood."
Anna sucks in hard, slow breaths. "I don't know why you bother."
"We need to make this our world. We make stories in the dark to keep us sane; to tell us who we are, why we're here, where we'll go. We need myth. History is just myth with a calendar; it's the stories that matter."
"We already have myths." She twitches one hand to the chasm before us. "Isn't that why we named Atlas and Pyrrha and Hades and all the others?"
"But myth is tied to place as much as people." My breath grows ragged in my exuberance. "We're a superstitious creature, wearing a blanket of reason over proto-human nightmares. Underneath, we still want our world to have a soul, not an echo."
Anna leans against me. "No engineer should ever talk like that. You sound like a philosophy student."
"Hey, I'm a psychologist too, remember." I try to shape the words for the feeling. "Mytyr and the others, they give me hope. That this place can be ours, that one day we won't be interlopers, we'll be a part of it."
She pulls her feet towards her and eases up into a crouch. "If you're going to keep talking like that, I'm going back inside." Her voice is too weak to deliver the joke, but at least she's moving. I catch her elbow and help her to her feet. We turn back to the colony, but I hesitate.
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