Igms issue 7, p.1

IGMS Issue 7, page 1


IGMS Issue 7

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IGMS Issue 7

  Issue 7 - January 2008


  Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises

  Table of Contents - Issue 7 - January 2008

  * * *

  Silent As Dust

  by James Maxey

  Lost Soul

  by Marie Brennan

  The Price of Love

  by Alan Schoolcraft

  The Unrhymed Couplets of the Universe

  by Sharon Shinn

  The Braiding

  by Pat Esden

  After This Life

  by Janna Silverstein

  The Smell of the Earth

  by Joan L. Savage

  Ender's Homecoming

  by Orson Scott Card

  The Talk

  by David Lubar

  Split Decision

  by David Lubar

  InterGalactic Interview With James Morrow

  by Darrell Schweitzer

  Silent As Dust

  by James Maxey

  Artwork by Nick Greenwood

  * * *

  The Company I Keep. I'm judging a talent show in the attic of Seven Chimneys. The theatre is a maze of cardboard boxes, gray with grime. The moonlight through the round window serves as our spotlight.

  First up is Dan, a deer head with five-point antlers and a startled look in his glass eyes. Dan sings "Jailhouse Rock" as if it were a blue grass ballad, accompanied by Binky, a sock monkey with a quilted banjo.

  Next comes Professor Wink, a 65-year-old teddy bear with one eye and half his original fur. Professor Wink is a juggler, keeping aloft a crochet mallet, a broken lava lamp, and the ceramic manger from the Christmas decorations. When all three items are in the air, he grabs an old bowling ball and tosses it into the mix with a cool grace that earns him points.

  The last act is Tulip. She's a baby doll with no left leg. Her act is to climb high into the lofty rafters of this old Victorian attic, then leap. She unpins the threadbare dishtowel someone diapered her with long ago and flips it into a parachute. She drifts toward the floor, reciting the Gettysburg Address. For her finale she lets go, and plummets to a safe landing in a white plastic bucket.

  Tulip is an unusually talented baby. Also, alas, a noisy one. She lands with a loud clatter.

  I hold my breath.

  Darcy's voice from the room below: "Don't tell me you didn't hear that."

  "Ish muffin," Eric mumbles, sounding as if he were on the verge of sleep. The mattress creaks. Then he says, "It's an old house. It has noises."

  "Something's moving in the attic," Darcy says.

  "Maybe," Eric concedes. "Don't worry about it."

  "What if it's a raccoon?" she asks. "They carry rabies."

  The light flips on beneath me. Thin pencils of light shoot up through cracks in the corners of their ceiling. I creep across the rafters, light as a breath, placing my weight with practiced precision on joists I know will not creak. I hear Eric and Darcy in the hallway, near the pull-down stairs. I reach the main chimney and slither behind it, into the shaft that leads to the basement.

  The springs twang as the attic steps are lowered. Light chases me as I drop into the passage and wedge myself against the bricks. I go corpse quiet. I've taught myself not to cough, fart, belch, gurgle, or sneeze. My breathing is soft and silent as cotton gauze.

  Eric has clicked on the single light bulb, with its dangling chain. The bulb is coated in cobwebs; a burning smell wafts across the attic. I'm upside down in the shaft, behind five feet of brick. The yoga practice pays off. I don't feel strained. I'm free to follow the conversation as Eric pokes around the attic, griping to Darcy, still in the hall. A bright beam flickers around the top of the shaft. He's got a flashlight to supplement the bulb. If he looks in the hole behind the chimney, my presence will be difficult to explain. As he draws closer I see the ancient red brick surrounding me. I normally make this journey in utter darkness.

  "This is stupid," he says, mere feet above me. On the surface, he's talking about the search. But I hear the subtext in his voice. For two weeks they've been arguing about having a baby. Darcy's ready, Eric isn't. Every conversation now is colored by this central disagreement.

  "Keep looking, please," she says. My sensitive ears place her at the foot of the stairs.

  "What if I find something?" Eric grumbles. The light diminishes as he turns away. "Suppose there is a raccoon up here. Then what?"

  "Stomp on it," she says, half-joking, I think.

  "It's not a spider," he says, exasperated. He's moving around, nudging boxes with his feet. "It's not anything. I stand by my original opinion. It's the house. It's old. It creaks."

  "I know what I heard," she says. "It wasn't the house."

  "Maybe it's one of the ghosts," Eric says, moving closer to the chimney again. "I don't recall anyone dying in the attic, but it's easy to lose track."

  Suddenly, there's enough light in the shaft I can see my shadow spilling down the long wall before me. This is it. "Oh my God!" he shouts, as the light jerks away. "You won't believe what I just found!"

  "What?" Darcy asks, sounding scared.

  "My old sock monkey! Mr. Bojangles!"

  Oh, right. The monkey was named Bojangles. Where did I get Binky from?

  "I'm coming down. An army of raccoons could hide up here. We'll call an exterminator tomorrow. Have him put out traps, if it makes you feel better."

  "Okay," says Darcy.

  The light clicks off.

  My breath slides out of me in a long, gentle release. I loosen my grip on the brick and slink my way back down the shaft toward the cellar. I'm tempted to go back to the attic. That stupid Tulip and her noisy landing almost got me caught. I'd like to pull out her other leg. Fortunately, there's still a sane person sharing my brain that knows, deep down, I was the one who threw Tulip into the bucket. I was having one of my spells again. From time to time, boredom puts me in tight spots.

  My name is Steven Cooper. I'm a Seven Chimneys' ghost. I've haunted the place for three years.

  If haunted is the right word. Since, you know . . . I'm not technically dead.

  Could Have Been a Tour Guide. It can get confusing talking about Seven Chimneys. There's the town of Seven Chimneys, a little speck on the map an hour's drive outside Charlotte. The town has barely two thousand people, most living in mobile homes or old millhouses. In contrast to the modest surroundings, the core of Seven Chimneys is a picturesque village that reached its prime a century ago, with a main street dominated by a dozen Victorian mansions restored to top condition by wealthy Charlotte refugees looking for the laid-back, small town life.

  The grandest of these mansions is Seven Chimneys, the house. Thirteen-thousand square feet of towers, wraparound porches, and decorative woodwork. Seven Chimneys isn't a true Victorian home, since the building started shortly after the Revolutionary War. Three brothers, the Corbens, released from George Washington's army, traveled to the then-nameless town and built homes close together on a single acre lot. The Corbens prospered, churning out doctors and lawyers and inventors over the coming decades. The three homesites began to sprawl as slave quarters were built, kitchens added on, and, eventually, the houses merged together into a single Frankenstein's monster mansion with seven chimneys . . . thus, the name.

  Sometime before World War I, Franklin Corben, the railroad king, prettied up the place with a Victorian facade and extensive remodeling on the interior, adding electricity, plumbing, etc. Parts of the house in poor repair were walled off.

  The hidden rooms, the dead spaces, became useful during prohibition. Behind a secret panel in the library, there's a room with a well-stocked bar and a slate pool table that I don't think Eric knows about. He does, however, know about the wine cellar that had its entrance br
icked over, with only a hidden trap door inside a pantry to give access. He was the first person to show me the coal chute at the rear of the house that leads to a furnace, and behind the furnace the narrow tunnel that leads to a room with a bathtub in which actual bathtub gin was fermented. The place is covered in dust and spider webs now, forgotten by history. But not by me.

  A Close Call. I'm down in the root cellar doing yoga with Professor Wink. I'm naked; I haven't worn clothes in two years. My pants got snagged once in the chimney and I was stuck for two days. Up above, I can hear a bustle of activity. Eric is kind enough to let the locals hold weddings at Seven Chimneys. The floor boards thud and bump with their movements. It makes it hard for me to stay tuned into Eric and Darcy's conversation. They're talking about getting a puppy. Although, of course, the puppy conversation is only a substitute for the whole baby thing.

  I've warmed up with the Cobbler's pose. Now I bend into the once impossible Camel pose as if I'm made of rubber. Professor Wink, even boneless, can't hold this pose.

  "It's not like we're here most of the time," Eric argues. "A puppy needs attention. It needs time that we don't have."

  "We can make time," Darcy says. "There's more to life than work. A dog will keep us focused on what's important."

  Eric counters with, "Maybe after my schedule changes, but that's no time soon. Look, the world will still be full of puppies a year from now. Let's think about it then."

  Someone heavy walks overhead and I miss Darcy's response.

  The artfully named "Half Lord of the Fishes" pose has me twisting my torso around to the point I can see my bony, callused butt. It's hard to believe I learned everything I know about yoga from a picture book I swiped from the library.

  After a few minutes I realize I've completely lost Eric and Darcy's voices. I'll have to wait to find out if they've decided anything.

  I finish my routine in the so-called Corpse pose, flat as a flounder, every muscle in my body in a state of utter release. Professor Wink is good at this one.

  Then I realize someone else is here. I look toward the stairs and find a little girl standing there, staring. She's wearing a white, frilly dress; she looks like a flower girl. She's quiet, quieter than me.

  We stare at each other for an uncomfortably long time. I'm anticipating her scream. Any second, adults will rush down the steps.

  Then, to my great relief, she silently turns and walks up the steps, vanishing back into the shadows. Probably, she'll tell people about the naked yoga ghost in the cellar. I'll be part of the folklore. It's a living.

  How I Use The Bathroom. I'm not always hiding in the attic or under floorboards. Thirteen-thousand square feet, occupied by two people, means a lot of the house never gets looked at on a daily basis. Eric and Darcy have three housekeepers and a crew of landscapers, but none live onsite. Eric's an ER surgeon; he works insane shifts at Charlotte General. Darcy's a corporate acquisitions attorney and is out of town half the time. If they did get a puppy, they'd probably hire someone to watch after it.

  Once the cleaning crew finishes their daily duties, I'm free to climb up from the cellar and roam around the main part of the house. I use the bathroom in the small toilet near the library. Since it's Tuesday, I shower. I stopped shaving when I moved in. Now, a pale, wild-haired man stares back at me from the mirror. I'm thin as Ghandi. My body has become a grand collection of calluses. It's a yogi's body, the body of a holy man, limber and tough and purposeful.

  They've Never Noticed My Gleaning. I'm not hungry tonight, but I eat anyway. Eric and Darcy's refrigerator sports an assortment of half-eaten Chinese takeout.

  After my meal, I creep into the library. My senses expand to cover all of Seven Chimneys. I'm tuned to Darcy's breathing as she sleeps in the master bedroom on the third floor. Eric didn't come home tonight; on his busier days, he sleeps at the hospital. I worry Eric is putting his career ahead of his marriage. Darcy deserves better. I read in the library until the predawn hours. When Darcy's breathing shifts the slight way it does every morning before her alarm goes off, I carefully reshelve the books. I tiptoe to the kitchen, slip through the hidden passage in the pantry, then wiggle through the narrow gaps in the floor joists that lead to the main cellar, and the base of the big chimney.

  Exactly the way I remember doing as a child.

  Eric and I Go Way Back. I've been listening to Darcy and Eric argue about the damn puppy again. As usual, Eric prevails. Eric always prevails. The world has bent to his will since we were kids.

  Eric and I have a bond that dates back over twenty years. Eric Corben was born to the wealth and privilege that accompanies his family name. I was born in a crumbling shotgun shack. Eric's father was an attorney and mayor of Seven Chimneys, the town, for five terms. My father was an unemployed drunk. My mother cleaned the bathrooms of Seven Chimneys, the house. I would come with her. Eric and I would play. We explored all the spooky corridors of Seven Chimneys. Or, so we thought. We never knew about the hidden bar. We found the shaft behind the chimney, but never had the courage to climb it.

  Until we started school, Eric and I weren't really aware of the class differences between us. Alas, in kindergarten, cliques formed. Eric was part of the cool crowd, wearing new clothes and showing off the latest hot toys. I was the same age, but several inches shorter, and went to school wearing Eric's hand-me-downs. We would have grown apart if not for a tragic coincidence. When we were both eight, Eric's mother and my father died in separate car crashes. We didn't really talk about this shared bond. But, from then on, we had each other's back.

  In fairness, Eric had my back more than I had his. He'd make sure I wasn't the last kid picked for the kickball team. He let the school bullies know I was off limits. I returned the favor in high school by letting him cheat off tests and writing papers for him. Eric wasn't a dummy, by any means. If anything, public school bored him. By sixth grade, he was already weighing his college choices. He let me write his report on Huckleberry Finn because his attention was focused on James Joyce's Ulysses.

  Eventually, college separated us. Eric went off to Harvard. I stayed home and attended Corben Community College. He graduated and went to medical school. I graduated and landed a job as assistant manager at a convenience store. I still had hopes and dreams . . . until Mom came down with breast cancer. I stayed home to care for her. Mom fought cancer for six years.

  In a second coincidence, Eric's father had a heart attack while attending Eric's graduation from medical school. He turned blue and died surrounded by five hundred doctors. On the same day, my mother passed away in ICU, after three weeks of unconsciousness. I was holding her hand as she passed.

  I went to Eric's father's funeral. He came to Mom's. I met Darcy for the first time. I learned that Eric had just accepted the position in Charlotte; he'd been planning on buying a condo, but now he and Darcy had decided it made more sense to move to Seven Chimneys and commute.

  After the funerals, Eric went home to Seven Chimneys, now the richest man in the county. I went back to the 1960s era silver Jetstream trailer I'd been renting after the bank foreclosed on Mom's place. I was three months behind on rent. When I pulled into the driveway, I saw the padlock. My landlord had taken the opportunity of my mother's funeral to lock me out.

  My Art Museum Breathes. In the middle of the night, I tiptoe into the master bedroom. I like to look at Darcy while she sleeps. That sounds creepy but I'm not a pervert. What I am is a man with a decent mind who never escaped the shackles of poverty. I've never traveled to Italy for a summer, like Eric has. I've never been to Paris, where they honeymooned. All I know of the great art of the world I know from books, and from the Corben art collection, which boasts a Renoir, three Wyeths, and a Rembrandt.

  None are as lovely as Darcy. She's art, given breath. My time spent at her bedside, staring at her face, is the closest I will ever get to the Louvre. Her eyes are moving beneath her eyelids. She's dreaming. Of Eric, I wonder? Or puppies? Or ghosts?

  Her breathing stills a
nd her eyelids flutter. She turns in her sleep. Catlike, silent, I slink to the doorway as her eyes open. I'm halfway down the hallway before she can possibly focus. I don't know how the rest of the world can be satisfied by art that doesn't have the possibility of looking back.

  Ordinarily I Like Dogs. Friday, Darcy brought home a puppy. For the last seventy hours, the dog has barked. If I'm in the attic, he barks at the ceiling. If I'm in the cellar, he barks at the floorboards. He pauses from time to time to eat or nap, but even in his sleep, he growls. Eric and Darcy are practically in tears, not knowing what to do about their insane little dog.

  On Monday, Darcy skipped work to take Yippy to the vet. She tells Eric that the puppy didn't make a peep at the vet's office. The second he's returned to Seven Chimney's, he's back at the main chimney, barking, staring, as if there's some unseen stranger lurking behind the wall.

  Maybe I should shower more often.

  The first few days, I hoped the dog would get used to me. Now, I don't think he will.

  "I told you a puppy was a bad idea," Eric says.

  "You always have to be right, don't you?" Darcy snaps. I hear in her voice the beginning of the end. It would break my heart if they got divorced because of this.

  On Tuesday, they both leave for work. The housekeepers go out to lunch with the ground crew. I'm alone with the puppy.

  I feel bad about what I did to shut Yippy up. He had such sad eyes. Professor Wink tries to console me with the idea that maybe I saved Eric's marriage. But maybe I haven't. I don't have a track record of getting things right.

  My Life as an Action Movie. I was drunk on vodka. I was driving in the mountains in my 1982 Dodge Omni, taking curves at 60 miles an hour in a driving rain. I was coming up on the White River Gorge. I wasn't wearing my seat belt. This was three years ago.

  My Omni went through the guardrail. I went through the windshield.

  For a long moment I hung in the air, weightless. The rain-slick hood of my car floated before me, close enough to touch. Slowly, our arcs diverged. The car dropped toward the swollen river a hundred feet below. I fell toward the tip of a tall pine, twenty feet down. I imagined I might impale myself on the tree. Instead, I tangled in the upper branches and the whole tree bowed, carrying me at decreasing speed another thirty feet until the trunk snapped, dropping me into a thick cluster of branches in a neighboring pine. I slid across the soggy needles, falling into the limbs of yet a third tree. I dropped in a painful series of snags and snaps, until I landed, crotch first, on a long bough that sagged beneath my weight, lowering me gently to the moss softened rocks by the riverside.

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