IGMS Issue 35, page 1
Issue 35 - September 2013
Copyright © 2013 Hatrack River Enterprises
Table of Contents - Issue 35 - September 2013
* * *
by Edmund R. Schubert
by Michael Greenhut
Wet Work: A Tale of the Unseen
by Matthew S. Rotundo
by Sarah Grey
The Sweetness of Bitter
by Beth Cato
The Elder Thing and the Puddle People
by S. Boyd Taylor
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
by Chris Bellamy
InterGalactic Interview With Faith Hunter
by Edmund R. Schubert
Letter From The Editor
by Edmund R. Schubert
by Edmund R. Schubert
Artwork by Nick Greenwood
* * *
Rem'n tribes around the globe travel posing as gypsies, earning money as blacksmiths and fortune-tellers and musicians. Or the occasional con job.
They also secretly hunt werewolves. They are a cursed people whose tangibility is tied to the phases of the moon. During the full moon, when they are strongest, they fight werewolves, often hand-to-hand. During the new moon -- when they are completely intangible -- they hide from outsiders until the moon returns to view and they are solid once again.
Pretending to be gypsies was particularly easy during the Great Depression because so many vagabonds and homeless families already wandered across the breadth of America. However, just as not every aspect of American life in the 1930s revolved around money, not every aspect of Rem'n life centers on werewolves.
July 29, 1935 - The Shenandoah Valley, Northern Virginia
Despite the lack of the moon, the star-speckled heavens shone brilliantly -- radiant enough for the Blue Ridge Mountains to throw stark shadows across the grassy field below. Eleven-year old Gabrielle Ortello walked halfway across the meadow with her mother, then took off running to catch up with her lean, intangible, naked friends. There's just no way to be intangible and clothed at the same time.
The four other girls had almost reached the dense stand of pine trees on the other side, and as Gabrielle ran, her mother, also intangible and naked, called out those all too familiar words: "Watch out for people!"
Gabrielle waved without looking back. "I know, Mama," she said, rolling her eyes. "I know."
She had heard it all a thousand times. Make sure no one sees you walk through the tree trunks. Make sure no one sees you pass in and out of the boulders.
What was Mama worried about?
Gabrielle knew her history; she had sat through the Elders' endless lectures about how the Rem'n had once tried to reveal themselves to the outside world, only to be feared and hunted themselves.
Besides, walking through stuff was fun. And the Rem'n were only intangible for a handful of days each month. Did they really have to be that careful?
Apparently so, because every time the moon disappeared, the whole Rem'n tribe -- nearly twenty families -- hid from the outsiders, the estraneos. They took off faster than a flock of crows at the sound of a farmer's shotgun. They took their horses and wagons, their rickety, spoke-wheeled pickup truck, and they camped out in the middle of nowhere, hiding, waiting for that first pie-crust slice of moon to peek out and turn their people solid again, so that the men, women, and children could all get dressed and walk amongst the estraneos again.
Sprinting across the meadow, Gabrielle caught up to her friends, joining them as they strolled across the last few yards of the tall, swaying grasses. When they reached the woods, the group chattered on, walking deeper in. All except Gabrielle, who paused. She listened to the breeze as it rustled through the pine trees. She gazed up at the silhouettes of the swaying branches, which looked like airborne brooms trying to sweep the stardust out of the sky.
It was a perfect night to be intangible, to explore the world.
The wind rustle-rustled, whispering to her, but the other girls called loudly, breaking her reverie. They waved, beckoning from within the woods, gesturing for her to join them.
Gabrielle sighed. She didn't agree with so many things some of them did, but they were the only friends she was permitted to have. Though they were only intangible during the new moon, the rest of the month the Rem'n didn't interact with estraneos any more than they had to.
And how, Gabrielle wanted to know, was she supposed to make friends like that? Real friends and not self-centered, self-important nitwits like . . .
"Come on, Gabrielle," called Celia.
At twelve years old, Celia was the oldest of the young girls -- nearly a teenager -- and she never let anyone forget it. "You're supposed to be the werewolf. We can't start without you."
"I played the werewolf last time. We agreed I could be a Hunter this time."
Celia crossed her arms over her thin, translucent chest. Her eyes and lips narrowed like a set of blacksmith's vices. "That's right. I forgot; it's Diana's turn."
Gabrielle immediately saw her mistake. Poor Diana may have been named for the goddess of the moon and the hunt, but she was only eight; playing the werewolf gave her nightmares. And Celia knew it.
"You know," Gabrielle said irritably, "if you're going to be manipulative, you could at least try to be subtle about it . . ."
"Why? It works just fine this way." Celia gave the other two girls in the group -- Julia and Leabe -- a satisfied waggle of her black eyebrows.
Gabrielle walked up to her, close enough to touch, if that were possible. Celia was always pushing people around and Gabrielle was sick of it. "If I were solid right now, I wouldn't pull your hair, and I wouldn't smack you . . ." She raised her fist and put it right under Celia's nose. She had to reach up to do it because Celia was taller, but Celia stepped backed regardless. All the other girls gasped.
"You wouldn't dare!"
In Rem'n culture passing yourself through someone else's space -- invasione -- constituted a serious violation.
Gabrielle continued, ". . . I'd punch you, right here," and she pushed her fist through Celia's nose and out the back of her head. "Torment my friend again and you'll find out what else I'm capable of."
"We'll see," Celia retorted. But she retreated another step.
Gabrielle pointed to a fat pine tree. "Are we going to play werewolves and Hunters or not? Stick your heads in that tree and count to fifty. No cheating."
The four girls walked to the scaly-barked pine. As they inserted their heads into the tree, Gabrielle said a quick prayer to Diana -- the goddess, not her friend -- that Celia would stick her face into a rotten section filled with beetles and ants and grubs. Or better yet, a hollow spot with a snake in it.
Once certain that no one was peeking, Gabrielle ran back toward the edge of the woods. She had learned long ago that backtracking would allow her to circle around and pick them off one at a time. If they were going to hunt her, she would hunt them too. Isn't that what real werewolves did?
When she got to the forest's edge, though, she entirely forgot about their game.
The tribe's campsite on the other side of the meadow had been abandoned. Abandoned by the Rem'n, anyway. "People" walked around the site, poking through things like so many ants at a spilled picnic basket.
Gabrielle stood by the edge of the woods, watching, fascinated. She had to get closer. There had to be some way to sneak near enough to hear what they said, see what they did. Were they like the Rem'n? Were they stealing things? Rem'n would have . . .
She spied the creek bed the Rem'n had made their camp next to. It meandered through the meadow and cut down into the g
She started off --
That's when she noticed a large group of men moving across the meadow in her direction. She didn't think they had spotted her, but they were headed straight toward the pines, yelling. Calling someone's name over and over.
They were searching for someone.
Gabrielle didn't wait to find out who; she ran at once to look for her friends. They had to hide -- quick.
These estraneos couldn't hurt them, but if they discovered them and the adults found out, the girls would be in big trouble. She ran straight through every bush, tree, and rock in her path, the world flashing black each time she passed through one of the bigger ones. Finally she arrived at the spot where she'd last seen her friends.
Gabrielle stopped by the pine tree where the girls were supposed to count, trying to guess the most likely direction they had gone. Almost at once she spotted a place where the pines stopped and a rocky outcropping jutted up out of the sloping ground. The Rem'n had been traveling south through the Shenandoah Valley for several days and everyone, kids and adults alike, had been fascinated by the large swaths of rock that appeared among the trees. This stood out as the logical place the girls would have been drawn to.
"Celia," she called again. "Julia. Diana. Leabe. Listen, there are people coming. You've got to hide."
"Come on!" Her desperation grew. "This isn't a trick. There are people are coming. Estraneos."
Gabrielle stopped at the edge of the rockface, listening. The wall of rock loomed long and tall, like a two-story train station made of gray stone. At least, she thought it was gray. It was difficult to be certain in this nighttime starlight that appeared somehow blue and yet at the same time silver.
Gabrielle began to repeat, "This isn't a tri-- " when she heard the crunching and crashing of estraneos entering the forest.
"Girls!" she whispered furiously. "Hide!"
Still no reply. However, the herd-of-buffalo-crashing grew louder and louder, and Gabrielle could only hope her friends heard her -- or at least figured out what the crashing noises meant.
She stepped backwards and slipped directly into the wall of rock, intending to hide there while the estraneos passed . . .
. . . and found herself in a cavern.
The cavern itself didn't present a big surprise; her mother had told her that massive caverns littered this valley: Luray, Shenandoah, Endless. Mama had told her some of them even had electric lights and promised they would try to visit one.
No, the surprise came in the form of a light, inside this one, in the middle of the night.
Gabrielle was not alone.
A yellowish light came bouncing around the corner, twitching like a drunken firefly, shadows lurching as the source moved closer. Her mother's words came to her for the thousand and first time: You can't let anyone see you like this, Gabby.
Cautiously Gabrielle backed halfway into the rock until only her eyes, nose, and chin protruded from the rock, the work of a mad sculptor's chisel.
A young man came around the corner. Gabrielle guessed him to be about thirteen, with the finest, blondest hair she had ever seen. Even his eyebrows looked like fine golden layers of spider webs. All of the Rem'n had dark hair and dark eyes, but this blond-haired boy was different. He looked strange: his hair was too bright, his skin too light. But as odd-looking as he was, as she studied his features, Gabrielle found herself with a growing urge to speak with him. To get to know him.
Wearing a pair of coveralls but no shoes and no shirt, the boy toted a railroad-style oil lantern, wandering the network of caverns that displayed an unexpected combination of colors. Pointed stalactites hung from the ceiling, reddish-orange like rusty icicles, while columns of pure white connected ceiling to floor like so much carved snow. And somewhere nearby could be heard the hollow drip, drip, plop of water droplets falling into a pool.
Gabrielle could scarcely believe how different the inside of this cavern looked from the plain stone on the outside. And how insignificant it all seemed compared to the chance of meeting someone new.
Her mother's words came to her again. But she didn't want to watch out for people. She wanted to meet people. She wanted to meet him.
She knew she would startle him no matter what she did, but she waited until he had passed by so as not to outright scare him. Then she stepped out of the rock and cleared her throat. When the boy turned, Gabrielle said, "Hey. What you looking for?"
He stumbled backwards, almost losing his lantern. Shadows rocked around the cavern like black sails above a storm-tossed boat while the flailing lantern threw bolts of lightning around the edges of the stalactites. When the boy regained control, he slowly lifted his free hand and pointed at Gabrielle.
"A ghost!" He paused, then added, "A n… n… naked ghost!"
Gabrielle glanced down at her translucent body, then at the boy, raising one eyebrow. "Well how are you supposed to wear clothing when you're intangible?"
All Rem'n went naked for those days during the Phase of Grace; no one gave it a second thought. Nakedness was commonplace, a monthly part of their life. No one in her tribe had ever looked at her this way, though. This boy made her feel naked.
"I never heard of no naked ghosts before," the boy said.
Gabrielle tried to cover herself with her intangible hands but they proved to be as effective as windows on an outhouse. "I'm not a ghost. I'm a Rem'n. We're cursed. Have been for thousands of years."
The boy climbed to his feet and reached a tentative hand toward Gabrielle. She took a step back and thought about running. Then she remembered the only other person who had ever gotten this close to her during the Phase of Grace. He had run away. This boy might have been surprised, but he wasn't afraid. And Gabrielle wasn't going to let a little discomfort make her miss something interesting.
"How did you die?" he asked, trying to pass his hand through her head.
"I'm not a ghost!" Gabrielle said vehemently, dodging his attempted invasione. She closed her own hands into tiny fists. "I told you -- I'm a Rem'n. My name is Gabrielle."
"Wow. Dead, and she don't even know it."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. How many times did she have to tell him . . .?
"Watch. I'll show you."
She turned, about to re-enter the rock wall, when it occurred to her that doing so would only prove her intangibility; it would do nothing to prove she was alive. She stepped toward the wall anyway, not sure what else to do. The boy must have thought she was about to leave because he called out almost frantically, "Wait!"
Gabrielle stopped, relieved that he didn't want her to leave. But enough was enough. "Say I'm dead one more time and I'll kick right through you for sure."
Completely unaware he had just been threatened with invasione, the young teen moved a small rock across the floor with his toe. "You, ah, you haven't got anything to eat, have you?" he asked tentatively.
"Oh sure," said Gabrielle, passing her hands through her thighs. "Right here in my pockets." She made sure she had a big smile on her face so he'd know she was only playing around.
The boy sighed. "Yeah, I guess not."
That's when the truth struck Gabrielle. She suddenly felt sorry for him. "You're lost, aren't you?"
The boy squinted, studying her as if trying to decide whether to admit eating one bite of the cake or the whole thing. "Not lost, exactly. I've just been exploring for a looong time. I sure am cold though. I thought it would be warmer underground, not colder. That's why I took my shirt off. I had no idea it'd be so cold down here." He rubbed his hands against his arms and shoulders and Gabrielle noticed for the first time that he was covered with goose bumps.
Gabrielle made a connection. "That explains all those people in our camp. They're looking for you."
The teen perked up. "They're looking for me?"
Gabrielle nodded. "How long have you been . . .
He shrugged and the gesture made his lantern rise and fall. The shadows danced, but the boy's expression was sad.
Gabrielle wished she were tangible so she could give him a hug, maybe warm him up a bit. "When's the last time you ate?"
"Breakfast," he replied, kicking the stone across the floor.
"Breakfast? Sweet goddess, that's all day ago. It's the middle of the night! It's a miracle your lamp hasn't run out of oil."
"Is it that late?" The boy lifted the light higher and the shadows shortened. "I've only been using the lantern while I'm moving. When I get tired I rest in the dark so I can save oil. I hug it for warmth and make sure I don't go anywhere. At all."
"Wouldn't you keep warmer if you keep moving?"
"Maybe, but I also almost fell off a ledge the first time I tried walking in the dark. There are some really deep chasms in here. Won't make that mistake again.
"Wait a minute," the boy added, pensively, "if you're, umm . . . what's the word . . . intangible, how can you walk? Shouldn't you sink into the ground or float in the air or something? And how can you talk? How can you do anything?"
Gabrielle knew the answer to this from listening to her father and the other men around the campfire.
"The Rem'n were cursed by Mars, the God of War," she said. "Since when do gods' curses obey rules or science?"
But that didn't seem to mean anything to the boy, and the moment lingered in uncomfortable silence.
"Hey," Gabrielle finally said, not wanting the conversation to die, "you never told me your name."
"Isn't it bad luck to tell a ghost your name?" He set his lantern on the ground.
"I warned you," Gabrielle snapped. She stepped toward him and swung her foot in a perfect arc to kick through his shins. Of course, her foot passed through him with less effect than a cloud through the sky. This set the boy to laughing.
"It's not funny," hollered Gabrielle. It had never occurred to her that someone could think an invasione was a laughing matter. She stepped back and took another swipe at him, which only made him laugh harder. His laughter was pure and infectious though, and before she knew it, Gabrielle was laughing too. He began kicking his foot at her, and the whole thing turned into a bizarre square dance, two lithe young bodies swinging feet and pivoting and twirling, do-si-do-ing until the boy fell to the ground, landing on the rocky floor and holding his sides from laughing so hard.
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