Editor’s Note: Vol. 10, Issue 1...

Spring is springing – slowly – into our back yards and back closets and the backs of our brains alike. So in honour of the best new-old thing that happens all year, our March 2011 issue has three stories full of slanted spring sunlight; stories light enough to float; stories about beginnings.

Sandra Odell returns to our virtual pages with “Just Be,” a story about a warm afternoon and a simple renewal and just how good that can be. Emily Skaftun’s “Apology for Fish-Dude” starts our feet down a brand new road, and shows how, in some ways, wherever we are we stay the same. Finally, Su-Yee Lin’s “Ascension” takes us, birds and leaves and all, into the sky and sailing off to summertime.

We’re also trying a new-old thing ourselves: a featured poet. Our March featured poet is Mari Ness, and this issue showcases three of her poems – “Grandma and the Puka,” “Nile Song,” and “Soul Street,” as well as an interview on both the art of speculative poetry and her take on the field itself.

All that, as well as a double handful of reviews!

We hope you enjoy this quarter’s issue, and if so, please consider dropping something into our tip jar. Ideomancer relies on reader donations to pay its contributors for their excellent fiction and poetry, and even five dollars makes a big difference.

Until summertime,

Leah Bobet

Vol. 10 Issue 1
Editor’s Note
“Just Be”Sandra Odell
“Apology for Fish-Dude”Emily C. Skaftun
“Ascension”Su-Yee Lin
“Grandma and the Puka”Mari Ness
“Nile Song”Mari Ness
“Soul Street”Mari Ness
Interview: Mari Ness, Featured Poet
Connie Willis’s Blackout and All ClearMaya Chhabra
Lauren Beuke’s Zoo CityMaya Chhabra
Daniel Fox’s Hidden CitiesLiz Bourke

10:1: “Just Be”, by Sandra M. Odell...

It was a muggy, porch-sitting Saturday afternoon when the stranger came northbound along Rural Route #16. He was clean and well put for a man, save for the dust and sweat of the road. He touched the brim of his weathered hat and set a booted left foot on the worn step of Burt Mitchum’s storefront. “Howdy. You fellas know where I can find the Levendis homestead?”

“Levendis? You mean the old Levi place? Up the way two miles or so.” Partridge Maycomb pointed north with his sweaty bottle of RC Cola. He noticed the stranger’s eyes, goat’s eyes, but didn’t say nothing as it wasn’t his business.

“Out on behind the poplar grove on your left as you go,” Seth Blovett said, and spit chew juice over the railing. He saw how the man’s ring fingers were longer than the middle ones, but wasn’t one to say so.

“Ain’t much to the place. Run down. Been some time since folks lived there.” Carl Mays took in how the fellow’s ears were pointed, but figured it wasn’t his place to speak out.

The stranger brought his boot back to the dirt road. “Thank you kindly.”

Bubba Maycomb, Partridge’s half-wit son, watched the stranger walk on. “Pa, hey, Pa, you see that fella’s — ?”

“Never you mind, Bubba,” Partridge said, and finished his RC.


Near on two miles up the road, the stranger turned left at the crown of summer poplars. The house was small and not much to look at, but he didn’t see it run down at all. The windows were whole and the door clear of high grasses. The plank walls wore fresh whitewash. The yard was a patchwork quilt of asters, goldenrod, and ox-eye daisies. An apple tree with low branches promised good pickings come fall. It was a comfortable place, not so much lonesome as content to be alone. He pushed his hat back and strode up the dusty drive and around the house on the left.

He found what he was looking for past a march of poplar on the far side of the backfield. A golden-haired boy old enough to be summer’s best friend squatted in the thick mud alongside a tumbling creek, faded overalls rolled up to his knees. He turned rocks over with a crooked stick a splash at a time.

The stranger came along side and hunkered down. The mud dried up and cracked around his boots. “Howdy.”

“Howdy,” said the boy without looking up.

“What’cha hunting?”

“Mudbugs. Or treasure, sometimes.”

The stranger picked up a smooth black rock and tossed it into the water. He breathed in the heat of the day, the cool of the stream. “What sort of treasure?”

“All kinds. I found this yesterday.” The boy reached into his right front pocket and pulled out a ragged tube of woven paper-thin strips of wood once red or green, now faded and dirty. “Hold out your hands.” The stranger obliged, and the boy slid one end of the tube over each of the stranger’s first fingers. “Now try to get loose.” He smiled. His eyes were blue as the sky, with sunbeam lashes.

The stranger moved his hands apart; the tube tightened until it was snug around his fingers. “Well.”

“Some trick, huh?” The boy picked up his stick.

“You could say so.”

A shape scurried out from under a tipped rock, and quick-like the boy picked it up for a closer look. He turned the mudbug this way and that, its legs and claws going every which way, then set it back in the water.

“You always let them go?” The stranger eased his hands together and freed his fingers, left, right. He set the tube on his left knee and smoothed it flat.


“Good of you.”

There wasn’t no wrong in the silence that settled between them, but soon the boy sighed and scrunched up without moving. He put himself more inside his skin, like as if he didn’t want to say what had to be said. “I like it here.”

“So do I,” said the stranger. “Real nice place.”

“I don’t got to rush none, or worry.”


“You ain’t going away, are you?”


The boy poked his stick in the mud. Two twigs near the top stood out crosswise. “It’s not fair.”

“C’mon now.” The stranger’s words were gentle. “Deal’s a deal. We take turns, here or anywhere, that’s how it’s always been.”

“It’s so hard.” The boy’s shoulders sagged low as his frown. “All most folks want me for anymore is for wanting. Round here, I can be myself like I used to, even have my name to myself again. It’s all peaceful.”

“I know. No demands or foolery. No deals.” The stranger stared straight on at the sun, unblinking. “We can just be.”

They touched hands and kept company with the creek until the boy sighed and made his feet. “All right.” He rolled down the legs of his coveralls. “You take care of the place, ‘kay?”

“Always do.” Mud oozed around the stranger’s boots. “Take your time comin’ round again.”

The golden-haired boy headed towards the house. He looked back once, only once, as a dark-haired boy with two left feet unlaced his boots so’s to feel the cool mud between his toes with no one around to call Old Scratch out for doing it.


The yellow-haired stranger headed southbound towards the bend in Rural Route #16. His overalls was faded but clean, and he wore a John Deere ball cap far back on his head. He smiled bright and friendly — “Howdy, fellas.” — as he walked straight into Burt Mitchum’s, and equal friendly when he walked out with a frosty RC Cola and fried bologna sandwich and went on down the steps.

Bubba Maycomb watched the stranger walk on. “Pa, Pa, you see that fella’s — ?”

“Never you mind, Bubba,” Patridge said, and took another swig of cola on a muggy, porch-sitting Saturday afternoon.

Sandra M. Odell is a 43-year old, happily married mother of two teenage boys, an avid reader, compulsive writer, and rabid chocoholic. Her writing credits include publication in Jim Baen’s Universe, Ideomancer, and Horror Bound Magazine’s trade paperback anthology Fear of the Dark. She is a Clarion West 2010 graduate, and associate member of the SFWA. She says:

I wrote the scene of the boy with yellow hair by the stream during a writing workshop on point of view and setting conducted by Charles de Lint, and realized afterwards that I was more interested in why the boy was there than the scene itself. I am fascinated by how our perceptions have shaped the concepts of good and evil, light and dark. How might such a duality feel about such rigid roles? Would they long for a moment where they could be themselves without living up or down to our expectations? A getaway where folks didn’t ask too many questions? Wouldn’t you? Thank you for reading.

10:1: “Grandma and the Puka”, by Mari Ness...

Her tales were broken on the Brooklyn streets,
where the old fairies had withered and died.
No one could spare the puka milk,
or take the time to ride a horse to dreams,
or venture beyond the city streets
to sleep beneath a stone cold hill. Her tales
were broken by the guns of war, by tracing
her brothers on Pacific seas, a broken marriage,
scraping for cash.  Her mother’s tales.
Lost and tangled, whispered over
my bears and dolls, my games
of let’s pretend.

Let’s leave the puka a little milk, she says.
Keeps things from breaking. The way Santa
needs milk to feed the deer, the way
we all need to remember that things
can change. That something else
is what spoils the milk. Here, have a cookie
and lemonade. Maybe later,
we’ll drink some milk,
or just let this milk rest in a bowl.

Mari Ness occasionally wonders if fairies are stealing cookies from the cupboard, since, clearly, she couldn’t have eaten that many of them. Her work has appeared in multiple other places, including Fantasy Magazine, Goblin Fruit, Hub Fiction, and Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction. She lives in central Florida. You can follow her on Twitter at @mari_ness, or for longer ramblings, at mariness.livejournal.com.

Mari Ness is our featured poet this month. You can read an interview with her here.

10:1: “Ascension”, by Su-Yee Lin...

“The leaves are falling up,” she says, her mittens pointing to the tree above us.

I smile at my little girl, her face rosy from the cold and excitement. She reminds me so much of myself as a child with her braids and her exuberance and her imagination. I smooth down one of her braids, then look up.

The leaves are falling up.

They are flying from the autumn trees, the gold and red and orange intermingling as they dance up to the sky. The trees are reaching up with their branches as if to say, come back, come back. Or maybe they, too, want to fly up to where their leaves are going. There is no breeze, the sky is blue and clear except for the leaves that oh-so-gently swarm up; some are much higher than others, mere dots in the sky that could be mistaken for lost balloons or lost birds. Even the leaves that had fallen are making their slow ascent upwards. Lily catches one, a fiery red leaf that tugs at her hand until she releases it, where it joins its fellow leaves in continuing the ascent. I catch one of my own, feel the leaf exerting a gentle force upward, then let go.

We make a game of catching the leaves in the park and releasing them until all the leaves are out of reach, making their slow way up. With our arms around each other, we watch the leaves float up into the air in a mass of riotous color until they are just specks floating in the sky.


The week before it had been birds. All of the birds had gone wheeling up in slow circles, birds of every type and every size, until they had simply disappeared into the sky, swallowed by the infinite blueness. Neither bird watchers nor ornithologists could give a clear reason for this phenomenon. Lily and I had been at the park then, too. We had found an eagle feather lying on the ground afterwards and now, it was displayed in the living room of our small apartment. I joked to her that it would now be a rare specimen, worth millions, and she, taking it seriously, barely touched the feather, only looked upon it with awe.

We made up our own reasons for the flight of the birds. We shared stories and hypotheses while huddled under the comforter on my bed, holding each other while telling horror stories of the sky eating up birds, of spaceship abductions, of sky pirates who sold earth birds to other planets without birds. “Why would they take all of ours?” Lily asked when I suggested the last, “They could take some but they don’t have to take all of them. Now we have no birds.” And it was true. We kept expecting the birds to return, in the same graceful swooping circles that they had left in. To descend upon the trees in droves and fill our streets and homes and hearts with song. But they didn’t return.

We played games in which, with certain rituals and circumstances, we could make the birds come back. We made up bird dances, cutting out feathers from construction paper and gluing them together as if we were Icarus and Daedalus before taping them to our backs to make wings. We sang bird songs and whistled with our hands. We tore around the apartment, hooting and flapping our arms before collapsing on the floor laughing together, Lily’s high gleeful laugh echoing through the apartment. The one sound better than any bird’s song.


With the flight of the leaves, conspiracy theorists went wild. The tabloids screamed out, “Alien invasion draws nigh!” and “First birds, now leaves! What will be next?” Lily and I had our own theories. Our newest was that the sky fairies needed the birds to build their castles of leaves. It made perfect sense. We would giggle together and talk about how we wanted to meet the sky fairies, how we would help them build their castles, making one room all orange and one room all yellow and one room all red. And they would reward us with leaf wings of all different colors so that we could come visit any time.

With the leaves gone, the trees look bare, the ground empty. There are no autumn leaves to jump in, no leaves to crunch underfoot. We go outside and I hold Lily on my shoulders so that she can drape the trees with colorful old clothes to keep them warm. They look less lonely that way.

The next day they are gone. But we imagine that they now clothe the sky fairies who are chilly up there in their leaf castles. Or the birds who are busy helping them build their castles. It must be cold up there in the sky and the work may go faster if they are warm. We draw pictures with crayons of birds wearing clothes swooping back down onto the apartment roof and I tell her the story of the seven swans and their shirts made of nettles.


We go to the park again as autumn seeps into winter without crossing any recognizable boundary. The air is a little bit chillier, the wind a little bit stronger, the white of our breaths a little more obvious.

We go on the swings first. Our favorite. We feel like we are flying, we are meeting the sky feet-first. I give Lily an initial push to get the momentum going, then hop onto the next swing so that we can swing together. We swing slowly, sometimes in sync but most of the time out of sync. We are together at the highest point. We fly up, up, up…the sky is reaching for us or maybe we are reaching for it…

At the highest point, my swing and I start to reverse direction. To head back towards the earth. Lily does not.

Her swing clatters away as she continues her ascent skyward. When she turns around to look at me, her face is apprehensive but excited. Her cheeks are red from the cold, her hair tangled by the wind, her smile a stab in my heart.

I fall. I reach up and realize she is out of reach already but I try. I stand on my tiptoes and call her name and wish, desperately, that I, too, would ascend. The tears are streaming down my face and I hear her say, “I’ll say hi to the sky fairies for you!” I want to be lifted into the sky, I wish myself lighter but she is floating farther and farther away until I can barely see her hands waving goodbye and all I can do is wave back and smile for her through my tears, so that she isn’t afraid, and call her name until she is gone.

And then she is gone. The sky is the same uninterrupted blue it has always been, as if nothing has changed, nothing has happened. But she is gone.


I still think of her every day. I drape clothing on the trees, all the clothes that she would possibly need up there in the sky. In the morning, they are gone and I imagine her wearing them as she dances with fairies, surrounded by sky pirates and birds. Every day, the radio gives a new theory although none can explain the ascension of one child. Nothing else has been swallowed up by the sky since then but every day, I practice. It is winter but I jump on the trampoline I bought, my eyes closed, and I can almost feel the cold air lifting me, the wind against my face. I imagine that I am flying; every second my feet don’t touch the ground is a second closer to Lily.

I am waiting for my daughter to come plunging back to earth; I am waiting for the sky to take me.

Su-Yee Lin is a native Long Islander who just happens to have spent the last several years in New England. She is currently studying fiction as an MFA student at UMass Amherst and has previously been published in Fantasy Magazine. She has a very silly livejournal at http://shadownephilim.livejournal.com/. She says:

This story was inspired by autumn in Providence, RI where I attended college. The image of a young girl watching the leaves flying up haunted me for some time before I decided to try sketching that image. However, my artistic talents weren’t quite up to the task but as soon as I tried writing it, the story practically wrote itself.

10:1: “Nile Song”, by Mari Ness...

I regain the sweet pieces, one by one:
the foot I kissed, the hand
I rubbed with oil, the legs
I mounted, the arms 
I wrestled, all hidden
in sweet boxes,
wrapped in thick mud,
held in dark waters.
I stack boxes
one my one,
sealing them 
with my lips.

I will teach them what it is
to be in love, so in love
with a broken god.

I will teach them what it is
to be a river, a rushing river
overflowing the grasses.

The grasses sing with the songs of frogs.
The river sings with the hope of death.
I lay my lips against the boxes,
and wait, wait for the delirious floods.

Mari Ness occasionally wonders if fairies are stealing cookies from the cupboard, since, clearly, she couldn’t have eaten that many of them. Her work has appeared in multiple other places, including Fantasy Magazine, Goblin Fruit, Hub Fiction, and Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction. She lives in central Florida. You can follow her on Twitter at @mari_ness, or for longer ramblings, at mariness.livejournal.com.

Mari Ness is our featured poet this month. You can read an interview with her here.

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