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Igms issue 3, p.12

IGMS Issue 3, page 12

 

IGMS Issue 3
 


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  Gabriel looked at her, his dark eyes pleading. She watched him mouth shape the words: I am so sorry, but no sound escaped. He lifted a hand to his throat. His next silent words were something along the lines of What the Devil…

  And in that silence, Minna heard the hammering of a determined fist on the front door.

  "My daughter is in there, and I demand to see her at once!"

  The bark of her mother's voice down the hallway snapped Minna to attention. She was caught. Her heart raced as her mother's voice drew closer, grumbling down the hall and overshadowing the pleas of the butler trailing in her furious wake. Minna winced as the door flew open.

  Her mother swept past her in a flurry of rose skirts and snatched the book from Gabriel's hands. She gave him a withering look, causing the young man to falter before he snapped a bow to her. Finding his voice, he barely managed to croak, "Gabriel Chamberlain."

  "I gathered that from your shining head, young man. God did not choose that color for many of his servants, and it's a blessed good thing." She turned to Minna. "Miss Willows does not realize that this cloud has no silver lining. It would have been decent of you to have informed her of that immediately and sent her on her way instead of leading her a merry dance. Such behavior is unbecoming."

  "You are correct, Mrs. Willows," Gabriel stammered. "I… Please forgive me."

  "Forgiven, and I trust never to be repeated. Good night, Mister Chamberlain."

  "Good night, Mrs. Willows. Miss Willows." He bowed again, meeting Minna's eyes for a heartbeat. "It was…illuminating." Minna was not allowed the luxury of time to bid her farewell before her mother ushered her out of the door.

  The ride home was silent. Not merely silent, cold. The longer her mother was quiet, the stronger her voice was when she decided to use it. Minna removed her gloves and picked at the rough spots on her fingertips. She risked a glance at Beatrice. Beatrice met it knowingly. Minna pursed her lips. No need to investigate who had betrayed her.

  When the carriage came to a halt, Minna was surprised to find herself not at home, but back at the steps of Effie's house. Her mother strode up to and through the door determinedly. As luck would have it, someone was there to open it for her. Had there not been, Minna was sure she would have seen the door torn from its hinges as her mother passed.

  There was no other carriage in sight, so the séance must have been "successful" and therefore brief. The house was still eerily dark, however, the incense much stronger than it had been when she had left.

  Minna's mother stormed through the house, through the entrance hall and into the kitchen where Effie's mother was boiling water for coffee in a copper pan on the stove.

  "Theodosia, they have gone too far." Mother did not speak loudly when addressing Effie's mother by her full name, but her tone roared through Minna's ears. She tossed the black book on the table. Its slight clatter was akin to the clang of the blacksmith's hammer on an anvil.

  Effie came down the stairs to investigate the commotion, and without misplacing a single step on the stairway performed a perfect pirouette and headed straight back up them.

  "Oh no you don't. Come back down here at once young lady." Effie stopped mid-step and turned, wincing. "Come along with you, girl."

  Effie trudged back down the stairs, exchanging worried looks with Minna as the pair of them were ushered into the kitchen.

  "Sit," Minna's mother ordered.

  Minna drew up a dining chair and Effie took her time crossing the room to sit beside her. Thea Theda -- "Aunt" Theda, as Minna referred to her friend's mother -- was still concentrating on the water. She added four spoonfuls of coffee, and matched them with four more of sugar. She watched it boil up once, twice, then a third time.

  Minna felt Effie's hand searching for hers under the table. She reached out and held it tightly.

  Thea Theda poured the coffee into four small cups and handed them out. Minna leaned over her cup and breathed in the dark heady aroma. The addictive smell was deceiving. She didn't really enjoy the vile brew, sugar or not. But if she could make it down to the mud, Thea Theda would spin it and read the grinds for her. The séances may have been just for show, but there was most assuredly more to her gypsy friends than candles and incense. They were nothing more than tricks to gull the naive.

  Minna watched her mother crack open the book and thumb through the pages until she found the second picture she had shown Gabriel, the one with the cottage he was desperate to possess. Thea Theda made a small circle in the air with her finger above the picture, protecting herself from the effect of the illustration before moving in closer to examine it more thoroughly.

  "Desire," Thea Theda muttered, her accent as thick as the coffee.

  Mother turned the page.

  "Hate," The H was gutteral, scraping down Minna's already frayed nerves.

  The next.

  "Silence." She stuck a bit of her tongue between her teeth and took a sip of her coffee. "You are very talented, pedi."

  "Don't encourage her, Theda!" Mother closed the book. "Did you teach her this?"

  "No." Thea Theda took another silent sip and stared across the table at Effie. Old chocolate brown eyes met young ones. Effie's hand squeezed Minna's painfully.

  "You said I could learn the magic. You never said I couldn't read the books!" Effie cried.

  Thea Theda's voice was deadly calm. "Neh, pethimou, but you should have asked me first."

  "Why? You didn't ask your mother how to have visions, did you?" Effie spat.

  "No," Thea Theda said curtly. "But I did ask her about it when I had them."

  "Listen to me, girls," Mother laid her hand on the cover of the book, "there are rules to this kind of thing. Limits. There have to be. Otherwise, it gets out of hand."

  Minna had heard this argument one too many times. If Effie could be passionate, so could she. "I know there are limits! But I want to go beyond them! Don't you understand? I am better than that! I have the talent! I'm old enough to know!"

  Mother's jaw clenched as she lowered her voice as much as Minna had raised hers. The difference was frightening. "You never did listen did you? You heard, but you never did listen. There is no limit to what you can do. The limits are those you must impose on yourself. Mark me, girls, pay heed for once in your short lives. Those limitations are to keep you from becoming dangerous. You are old enough to see the power only, and naturally you crave that power. What you need to do now is be mature enough to realize that it is the small magics that make the biggest difference."

  Minna let out an exasperated breath and threw her free hand in the air. "How am I going to grow by etching 'Luck' and 'Fertility'?"

  Mother turned to the page for Silence and spun it around to Minna. "If you can stop a voice, who is to say that you cannot stop a breath? Answer me that, girl! Where does it end?"

  Minna leaned in beside Effie to look at the ducks, idly flying to the south before winter approached. The almost indistinguishable symbols ran along the ripples in the water they flew over, and along the blades of grass that bent in the wind. And there, at the tip of a cattail, was the symbol for speech. Change a line here, a curve there, cross it… her breath caught in her throat as the implications of what she was hearing, what she saw, hit their mark.

  She felt Effie's hand tremble in her own, and could not bring herself to let go. She realized she was crying. It didn't matter.

  Mother closed the book again, and stretched a hand out to her daughter. Their ink-stained fingers intertwined. "You must only put good things out into the world, for whatever you put out into the world comes back to you."

  "Three times," added Thea Theda.

  "Some people believe that, yes," her mother said to Thea Theda. "Personally, I think that saying was simply made up so that you would be sure to judge the consequences of your actions."

  Thea Theda threw a hand in the air, as if waving that nonsense away.

  "This is one of the reasons why the ways of these magics have been passed down from mo
ther to daughter. Long ago, when men had the gift and could harness their power, and as a result caused great devastation. So God withdrew his gift and took the power away from them."

  Minna drew in a breath and held it. She could hardly believe what she was hearing. She always thought they had kept the magic a secret from Father because women were not permitted to practice it. She never would have imagined that Father had not known how to do it. That he had never known. That no man knew.

  "No help," said Thea Theda. "They make their machines and destroy the world anyway."

  Mother stood slowly. "You may stay here with Effie for the night, though I need to see the carriage home. Good night, everyone." And with that, her mother left the kitchen.

  "Come on," Effie said. "It has been a long night. Let us get some sleep." Minna nodded and started to follow her out of the kitchen.

  "No fortune?" Thea Theda called, waving at Minna's untouched cup. Even at this point, Minna would always swallow the lukewarm drink like medicine so that she might have a glimpse of things that had happened long ago, or that hadn't happened yet. Better than the fortune, she liked the stories Thea Theda saw there.

  But not tonight.

  She had had enough of small magics for tonight.

  "No thank you," Minna replied. "I don't think I want to know." She left both cup and book behind and trudged wearily up the stairs.

  Even as she stepped into the bedroom Effie started pulling at Minna's clothes. "Start talking, leave nothing out until you're done and start with Gabriel." She sang his name teasingly.

  Minna began and retold the story over and over until Effie fell asleep in the bed beside her.

  Minna reached over and drew a symbol on her friend's olive skin with her finger. Sweet dreams. She could have done more, added a swirl, have Effie going off on a ship to be a pirate. Intersect that line with another, and she could have given her flowers and rainbows and love and happiness. But they would not be Effie's own thoughts and dreams; they would be ones of Minna's making.

  No.

  She laid her hands over the invisible lines she had drawn. Sweet dreams. That was enough. She drew the symbol on the back of her own hand, turned her head into the soft pillow, and slept.

  Fat Town

  by Jose Mojica

  Artwork by Jin Han

  * * *

  Let's face it, Herb was fat. He was thirteen and he was big. Not exactly Michelin man big, but a close relative, a cousin maybe -- you could definitely see the resemblance. And the seatbelt was killing him. He'd been wearing it for nearly fourteen hours. It made his stomach look like a human white cell engulfing a foreign substance.

  His skinny, soon-to-be sixteen-year-old sister, Fran, was surely having an extremely-cool-to-the-max trip. Or so she had said non-stop since they had left. Not him. He'd had to go to the bathroom six times already and each one had been followed by a lecture from his mom. The first lecture had been about how eating vegetables and fruits, instead of Quarter Pounders, was good for the digestion, and the last one had been about how with gasoline prices so high, it would be nice to cut down on any extra weight.

  Fran had been kind enough to add, "Don't you want friends for once? If you don't care about your reputation in school, at least think of mine."

  She also got to sit in the front the whole way.

  The only one here who liked him was his five-year old sister, sitting next to him, Beck. But she didn't speak much. Not because she'd had some type of speech impediment, or because she'd gone through some horrible childhood experience. Speaking just wasn't her thing. Her thing was smiling. She'd had a big smile from the second Herb first saw her when she came home from the hospital.

  Of course, Fran said Beck only smiled like that because she was stupid. "Stupid people smile a lot because they're too stupid to know other people think they're stupid, so they have nothing to feel self-conscious about, so they have nothing to worry about, so they smile." But she'd only said that because Beck would never play with her. She only wanted to play with her big brother Herb. Her Herbie.

  The only other person who liked him wasn't invited to come, on account of the divorce. It had barely been a day and he already missed his Dad. He'd wanted to stay with him in Michigan. He'd begged to stay. Now, he probably wouldn't get to see him until Christmas. On top of that he'd have to meet a new set of people. Everyone would pretend to be nice on the outside, but on the inside they'd be comparing him to his sister and mom and humming, "One is not like the others," from Sesame Street. And in a week, high school would start. Ninth grade.

  His stomach made a loud rumbling noise.

  "Thunder!" Beck said, startled.

  "No Beck," Herb said. "It was Herbie." He put a hand on his sister's head to comfort her. She was afraid of thunder.

  "We're here," his mom said.

  Outside, closest to his side of the car, a billboard seemed to appear out of nowhere. It read: "Welcome to Sunken Valley Virginia, The Sweetest Place On Earth."

  He'd thought his mom had made that up about going to live in the sweetest place on earth, but it was right there on the sign.

  Under the town's name was a picture that looked like a still from a Hallmark movie. It had a family, dressed in their best Sunday clothes, holding onto each other tightly. If the background hadn't been of a nice summer day, he'd guess they were trying to keep themselves from freezing to death. That's how tightly they seemed to be holding onto each other. They faced a church. On the top left corner, covering a portion of the church's cross was the picture of a lady. A skinny lady, with thick blond hair, tanned skin, and blue eyes. A perfect face. Except for the nose -- it was just a little crooked at the top. She was smiling, but in a way that didn't look right. Something about her smile and her eyes didn't go together. Under the lady's picture was written, Mayor: Endora Blair.

  Herb's stomach made another loud rumbling noise. Beck jumped and he patted her head to calm her down.

  They drove through the small town of Sunken Valley.

  "It's perfect Mom," Fran said. "I totally love all the little shops. They're so awesome."

  He never knew what his sister was talking about. Awesome? For one thing all the stores were closed, and it was only five. There wasn't a single person walking around. He hadn't seen a video store yet, or even a fast food restaurant. All he could see were clothing stores, and shops with little figurine stuff. But that wasn't the worst part. He had already counted three dentists within a few blocks of each other.

  "When I get home I'm going to work on a new cheer," Fran said. "Do we have any paper to write on?"

  His sister had been on the cheerleading team the last two years, ever since she had gotten skinny. She'd been almost his size before that. The whole family had been. But then his mom had gone on a diet when she turned forty and Fran had joined her. Dad hadn't and Herb, well, he wasn't sure why he hadn't, except he really didn't like the way his mom tried to motivate his dad -- by nagging, yelling and calling him names.

  His mom took a deep exaggerated breath and let it out with a loud slow hmm. "This. This is what I wanted. Now, we're getting somewhere."

  "Can I call Dad to tell him we're here?" Herb asked, but his mom ignored him. She took another deep breath and sighed.

  They turned on a street that headed away from the shops and entered a neighborhood. The houses were all white with two stories. Herb saw little kid toys in front of the houses: balls, Big Wheels, cars. The backyards had sandboxes or swings, and almost every garage had a basketball hoop. But where were the kids? Where was everyone? On a Wednesday afternoon he hadn't expected to see a lot of people, but he'd expected to see at least one.

  Outside one of the houses was a short, plump lady, holding a stack of folders against her chest with one hand, while waving furiously with the other. His mom turned in the driveway where the lady was standing. The car stopped and everyone got out.

  "I'm so glad you made it," the lady said. "My husband didn't think you'd make it until eight at the earliest, b
ut what does he know? And who do we have here?" She paused to look at each of them. "I want to meet everyone, don't be shy. Call me Aunt Marcy. Okay? I live five minutes away."

  "Kids," Mom said, "This is Mrs. Lenheart --"

  Mrs. Lenheart cleared her throat.

  "Sorry," Mom said. "This is Aunt Marcy. She's the lady who sold us the house."

  Mom introduced each of them. "...and this is the little one, Beck."

  "Oh my," Mrs. Lenheart said. "What a beauty." She crouched in front of Beck and stared at her.

  Beck took a step back and reached for Herb's hand. His hand felt so big around hers. It was like her hand was a ballerina, and his hand was the snow globe around it.

  "I've always wanted a little girl just like you," Mrs. Lenheart said.

  "Beck, don't be shy. Say hello to the nice lady," Mom said. But Beck squeezed Herb's hand tighter.

  Mrs. Lenheart got up to her feet. "Sorry. Bill and I…Anyway…Come, come, I want to show you the house."

  Herb stayed behind with Beck while the others rushed inside. Fran did a cartwheel on the way in.

  Someone, next door, was looking at him from behind closed blinds. He thought he'd seen fingers sticking out between the blades and now the blinds swung from side to side.

  "I want to call Daddy too," Beck said. Herb had barely processed Beck's words when he heard a scream from inside. The two of them hurried inside. Herb hated running. He felt out of breath just doing this little bit.

  The inside was furnished. He'd been expecting it to be empty. On the couch, he found Mrs. Lenheart fanning herself with her own hand and his mom holding the other hand. Fran was kneeling in front of Mrs. Lenheart asking her if she was okay. She was enunciating each word slowly so that it sounded like, "Are. You. O. Kay?"

  Mrs. Lenheart didn't look okay. She was crying. "They told me they were going to clean the house," she said.

  "It looks fine," Mom said.

  Fran repeated it. "It. Looks. Fieeene."

  For once he agreed with his mom and sister. It did look fine. In fact it looked better than fine. It had furniture and a big screen TV. Then he noticed something on a smaller couch across from them. There were people cookies. Two gingerbread cookies. One looked like a woman cookie and one like a man cookie. They had been propped up against the back of the couch as if they were watching television.

 
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