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Igms issue 23, p.1

IGMS Issue 23, page 1


IGMS Issue 23

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IGMS Issue 23

  Issue 23 - June 2011

  Copyright © 2011 Hatrack River Enterprises

  Table of Contents - Issue 23 - June 2011

  * * *

  The Discriminating Monster's Guide to the Perils of Princess Snatching

  by Scott M. Roberts

  Four Wizards and a Funeral

  by Mike Rimar

  This Is My Corporation, Eat

  by Lon Prater

  The Hanged Poet

  by Jeffrey Lyman

  Into the West

  by Eric James Stone

  InterGalactic Interview With Larry Niven

  by Darrell Schweitzer

  Letter From The Editor

  by Edmund R. Schubert

  The Discriminating Monster's Guide to the Perils of Princess Snatching

  by Scott M. Roberts

  Artwork by James Owen

  * * *

  I let her see my fangs.

  The princess dropped the box-cutter. She had just cut herself -- shallow slashes that cried tiny, scarlet pearls. Her blood smelled as sweet as cotton candy, but it was the scent of her destiny that had led me to her. Spicy and cloying, the princess's destiny made my mouth water, set an itch and tingle in my skin. I inhaled it and let the city, with its bloated trash bags and filthy humans and miles of steaming asphalt, fade, fade, fade into the darkness. The princess's destiny was like Christmas morning: cloves and oranges, nutmeg explosions and cinnamon arias. All bright; all clean. A song in my sinuses, on the back of my throat, as pure as a child's kiss, as sweet cream.

  I bumped my nose against the window. The twinge of pain brought me back to reality. The city, the humans, the asphalt, all that. And more, now: the stench of the princess's mother downstairs, sucking on vodka and painkillers, stinking of booze and vomit.

  The window wasn't locked; I rubbed my nose with one hand and opened it with the other. "Hello, princess," I said.

  She didn't scream. Most princesses don't, not even the little bitty ones. It takes time for the human brain to comprehend me; the four-fingered, clawed hands, the enormous beaky nose, the bulbous eyes, the warts. I'm as tall as God, ugly as Satan, and it takes time to put all that in the context of the waking world. By the time they build up a good scream, I'm halfway to Bald Mountain, and who can hear them from there?

  I snatched her close to my chest, put a hand around her mouth, and bent back through the window.

  Downstairs, the princess's mama coughed and began mumbling to herself. I slipped into the darkness with her daughter, who she'd never see again, not even in her dreams.

  The princess squeaked and struggled. She was older than most of the princesses I take; older, bigger, stronger, with teeth that didn't wiggle when she bit my fingers.

  "Ow," I muttered.

  "Mmphf!" said she, because my fingers were still in her mouth.

  I vaulted to the fire escape's railing and jumped for the building adjacent. There was a ten-foot gap between the buildings; enough for her to realize that she'd been airborne for a good couple seconds, but still an easy jump for me. I stuck my free hand into the shadows of the other building and held them like clinging to the branches of a tree.

  The princess stopped struggling. I hung in the shadows for a moment, letting those pretty princess eyes look down at the ground far below us.

  "I'm not going to hurt you, princess," I said.

  "Mmphf!" she said, even though my fingers were not in her mouth anymore.

  I relaxed my grip on the shadows, and we slipped down the wall. She sucked in a big breath as we descended, but still didn't scream. When my feet touched the alley floor, she finally exhaled and the scent of her destiny twisted around me: from her lungs, straight to my brain. Exquisite. I had to lean against the wall.

  When I'd picked her out months ago, her destiny had been a thin little strand of scent, no bigger than a fawn's fart. Now I swooned and wobbled. All for the scent of one little girl's pungent days-to-come.

  I licked my lips and flexed my fingers.

  My empty fingers. The smell of the princess's destiny was beating its way away from me, around the corner, into the guts of the city, losing itself -- herself -- in the stink of humanity and asphalt.

  Not homeward, though.

  I followed.

  Funny little girl, she didn't shout or scream about a wicked old monster taking her from her room. She passed by liquor stores and brightly-lit strip clubs and 24-hour pawn shops and never gave them a second glance. She was heading west, toward Bald Mountain, so I let her have her feet. The closer she got on her own, the less I'd have to carry her.

  She finally found a door to open. Some crummy little church fronting the sidewalk between a pizzeria and a pool hall. She hauled herself into it, and threw a glance back at me, as if to say Ha ha on you, monster! Power of Gawd, in your face!

  I gave her a couple seconds to settle into a folding chair. Then I walked into the church with my head bowed and my talons in my pockets, and took a seat a couple of chairs away from her. She stared. She gawked. She didn't move.

  "I like churches," I said. "Done some of my best work in them. There was this little convent in France, back in the 1600s, very quaint, you would not believe how many princesses I pulled out of there."

  She clutched at a hymnal. "What are you?"

  The only other person in the chapel was a scrawny guy in a stocking cap. I could smell the heroin in his veins. He was staring at us, starting to rise out of his chair.

  The princess lashed out with the hymnal. Ducking her strike, I didn't see the addict coming up, wielding a hypodermic needle like a holy lance; not until the needle was buried in the small of my back, its plastic wrapper still dangling off of it, and he was directing punches at it with all of his might.

  Something about monsters: we make men into princes. Mother, sister, aunt, great-grandmother: they might fight, they might pitch a holy fit about taking their precious princess. But let a man get wind of a monster, and ploughboys become knights, farmers become mobs, and tailors take to war.

  I spun about, grabbed Prince Hashish's face, and smashed him into the floor. He popped back up; I put him down again. Hard to be an effective prince when the plates of your skull are sliding willy-nilly beneath your scalp.

  The princess hadn't run; she'd folded a chair. She swung it and it caught me on the side of the face, whipping me around so hard I tripped. Before she could get on top of me with the chair, I flipped over and caught it with my toes. I jerked it from her hands, and stood up straight and tall.

  No more patter, now. No more teasing or coddling or warning. I grabbed her by the front of her shirt and lifted her off her feet so she was looking me in the eye.

  "That's enough," I said.

  Her arms twisted around my waist. I had the crazy thought that she was trying to hug me. No. Her fingers found the syringe, the needle, and brilliant pain lanced from onetwothree pinpricks on my back. When I pushed her away, she still had the needle; she jabbed it at my eyes. It caught on my forehead instead and I howled, raising my hands to defend myself.

  My talons caught her face. She cried out and dropped.

  Months of smelling her destiny, tuning my big nose to that sweetness, coaxing it stronger and stronger, and this was the first time I'd ever lost it entirely. I yanked the needle out of my face and stared.

  There was a lot of blood spreading out on the floor. The princess wasn't moving.

  "Oh, no," I said, and my voice echoed in the chapel. Echoed softer and softer, the way the smell of the princess's destiny was ebbing away, away, away.

  Before it could disappear, I snatched her up, and held my hand against the ragged edges of her wound. Not to Bald Mountain, now.

  Home, instead. Home, b
efore this little princess died. I found a conveniently long shadow, stretched it wide, and stepped through.

  In the blink of time that it took for me to pass from that crummy street-side church, through shadow, to my very own backyard, the princess's blood had soaked me to the skin.

  Greta was waiting for me, her golden hair spread out over the lawn where it sloped toward the grove of ash trees. I stepped away from the shadows of the grove, and she sat up, alarmed.

  "Vren," she said, lifting the princess out of my arms. "What happened?"

  The girl looked like a rag doll in Greta's arms. I'm tall as God, ugly as Satan; Greta is taller. And there is nothing as beautiful as Greta.

  She brought the princess inside as I explained. Greta cleaned the princess's wound, nodding and humming and singing spells to keep her unconscious. She had me hold the girl's skin together as she produced a hooked needle and a dark line of thread.

  "I told her I wouldn't hurt her," I said.

  Greta's lips moved silently, but not a whisper of breath left them. The bright needle darted through the princess's cheek, thread following. After a moment she asked, "Did you make an oath to her?"


  "Well," she said, and sighed. Relieved.

  "Will she be all right?"

  Greta smiled. The needle plunged, pierced, and drew the stitches tight, but she leaned over, and kissed me. "You've got a nose. Use it," she said, our lips still together.

  She made the tips of my fangs tingle. Two hundred years together; it's no wonder I've always stayed monogamous.

  I sniffed; the princess's destiny lingered. As Greta made neat little stitches on the princess's face, the scent of her destiny strengthened. It was my turn to sigh with relief.

  "She can't go to Bald Mountain like this," Greta said. "The witches will scent the wound. They'll come after her."

  "We'll have to keep her here until it scabs over."

  Greta looked alarmed. "Here, Vren? The boys . . ."

  "They'll be fine. What can she do?"

  "She is a princess. She has a destiny." Greta pursed her lips as she made the final stitches and cut the thread. "Summon Golgorath. Let him take her to Bald Mountain himself."

  "That's not how it works." I swallowed and rubbed my hands against my legs. Golgorath would love to come here. Put his big eyes on Greta; stretch long fingers toward my boys. He would love to take the princess I'd worked so hard to find back with him to his lair on Bald Mountain. Leaving me nothing to show for months of work.

  Greta stowed the needle and thread. She came around behind me and draped her hands over my shoulders. The silver bracelets on her wrists jangled. I hated the sound of those things; the noise of the debt we already owed to Golgorath. I put my talons over her wrists to still them.

  "She's dangerous," Greta said. "I can feel it. I don't want her in my home."

  "I'll put her in the boys' tree house," I said at last.

  I carried the princess outside and climbed the shadows that clung to the great ash tree in the middle of the grove. The tree house I'd built for Zash and Sojet squatted in the upper branches. I opened the trapdoor, and found the lantern the boys had stashed inside. The tree house wasn't large, but it was sturdy; I'd built it withgrandchildren in mind.

  The princess was starting to wake up. Every once in a while, she'd jerk or give a little moan. I kicked open a sleeping bag and laid the princess on it. The moonlight from the single window illuminated her. My eyes were drawn to the pucker of skin and thread that furrowed her face, from jaw to temple.

  Some instincts, even after centuries of self-denial, are not easily tamed. I turned away from the princess and draped my long arms out of the window, turning them over and over in the moonlight. She moaned, struggling out of Greta's spells.

  I thought of those French princesses and that French convent I'd told her about. I'd been younger than some of those little girls I'd taken, relatively speaking. Younger than my boys now. I tried to imagine Zash lurking in gothic shadows for a pink-faced girl to come toddling away from her governess; or Sojet lifting a shutter's latch, feet scrabbling against the wall for purchase. I thought of their teeth and hands covered in some human child's tears, or in the gore of a soldier's entrails.

  Greta and I had indebted ourselves to Golgorath to keep them away from that life. Thanks to Golgorath's magic, and our covenant with him, the boys had my talons; they could stick their fingers in shadow and clamber and chase like little monkeys. But they were as beautiful as Greta, and their noses didn't sniff out destinies.

  They didn't dream of princesses or the scent of their blood.

  Four centuries since my time haunting that convent. I had changed. I was telling Greta that all the time. Changed monster, that's me.

  The princess whined suddenly, high and piercing. I turned around and saw her jerk away from the sleeping bag, her fingers crawling across the stitches on her face.

  Her eyes locked on me and she sucked in a breath, her eyes widening. "I'm in Hell," she said.

  "A tree house, actually."

  She thrust herself away, smashed against the wall. "Stay away from me!"

  "Calm down or you're going to split the sutures."

  She touched the wound on her face and cringed.

  "Sorry about your face," I said.

  She began hyperventilating. "You . . . you did this."

  I kept my talons behind my back. "It was an accident."

  Words I heard from Sojet and Zash all the time. I closed my mouth so fast, my teeth clicked.

  She gave a little scream. I realized my fangs were poking out still. The princess's hands fluttered around her white throat for a moment; her eyes rolled back and she began sinking to the floor.

  I caught her before she could hit her head. Then her eyes snapped open and her knee rammed upward into my crotch.

  It was my turn to whimper and crumple. She rushed for the trapdoor, found the latch and threw it open, and gasped.

  I knew what she was seeing: twelve stories of shadows swaying in the moonlight. A long, smooth, silver trunk. No ladder; no branches to climb down.

  She moved away from the trapdoor but didn't close it. The pain in my groin climbed my guts, raged in my lower back. She stepped forward and kicked me hard in the kidneys.

  "Get me down!" she said. She aimed a foot at my neck. I jerked out of the way so it landed on my shoulder, but then she dropped a knee on my ribs. My bones creaked and I scramble-crawled to the corner of the tree house.

  "Freak," she spat. "You freak."

  "Monster," I corrected, holding my side.

  She leaped at me, screaming obscenities. I couldn't straighten; the pain in my crotch seemed to have sewn my sternum to my belly button. I tucked myself into a ball and let her pummel me until her strength ran out and her breath was cut by sobs.

  She backed away from me, toward the trapdoor. The pain in my groin had eased a little; I caught her before she could throw herself out. She screamed and clawed as I dragged her away from the long fall.

  "Letmego letmego letmego," she whispered.

  I maneuvered myself around so that I could close the trapdoor with my foot. There. Snug as a bug. The smell of the princess's destiny in the small space of the tree house crowded my brain. But the power of it, the edge that had made me sway and salivate, was dulled by the ache in my crotch and back.

  I let her go; she crawled away from me. We stared at each other. I quickly stepped on the trapdoor.

  "You said you weren't going to hurt me." She hugged her legs to her chest, exposing the cuts on her bare arms.

  What was an apology worth now? "You need to sleep, princess."

  "Stop calling me that. What are you going to do to me?"

  Usually when a princess asks me that, it's while squalling and sobbing and wiping snot all over me as I haul her up the face of Bald Mountain. I never answer. Destiny sounds a lot like death to an abducted, frightened child.

  But this one, this little wildcat with her sturdy white t
eeth, her kicking feet . . . And this wasn't Bald Mountain; this was Zash and Sojet's tree house, in the grove of ash trees Greta and I had planted together, near the home where we slept, ate, loved. I breathed in, sucked the scent of her destiny through my mouth, through my nose. It mingled with the smell of the warm night blowing through the window; Christmas and cut grass; cinnamon and nutmeg and wild onions.

  I looked her in the eyes. "You have a destiny."

  She continued to stare at me. Finally she said, "Well? What is it? Am I going to kill someone? Be the mother of the anti-Christ? Be the anti-Christ?"

  I hesitated. "Why would you think that?"

  She snorted, and looked out the window. "Just tell me what I'm destined to do, Freak."

  "No idea."

  "I tried to kill myself tonight." Her eyes skittered briefly away, toward the window, then back to me. I remembered the box-cutter and the tiny red pearls peeking from her scratched arms. I remembered how she'd fought for the open trapdoor. "Destiny." She snorted, winced, and held her palm against her cheek.

  "I can smell it on you, radiating off you. It's like . . ." I almost got poetic. "It's like a candle shop."

  "I stink."

  "It's a nice candle shop." I gave her a moment to say something bitter or sarcastic. She didn't. "I'm going to give you to another . . . monster. He'll remove your destiny."

  Her eyes were unfocused. I could smell stale adrenaline oozing from her pores. When she spoke again, her words were slurred. "Does it hurt?"

  "No," I said. I should have left it there. "But without your destiny you become someone else."

  "Candle shop girl." Her voice was muzzy; she flipped me the bird. "What does that mean, 'you become someone else'?"

  "I've seen how you live. Your mother, your school . . ."

  She sounded shocked, "You've been following me?"

  "For a couple months."

  Her legs had been relaxing, sliding flat; she pulled them back up to her chest. Her eyes focused.

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