Editor’s Note: Vol. 12 Issue 4...

Our final issue of the year presents a handful of ephemeral endings to round out 2013.

A. Merc Rustad’s “Thread” upends light, dark, alien intelligence, and the symbology of far-future science fiction in a story of quiet revolution. In “The Mammoth”, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam guides us through a near-future landscape of ongoing extinctions and the nuances of a waning father-daughter relationship. And finally, Michael Matheson’s “The Last Summer” twines two hauntings together to grasp at a golden childhood moment about to fade away.

Our poetry this month, from Kelly Rose Pflug-Back, Natalia Theodoridou, Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, and Ada Hoffmann, circles around those tenuous spaces where some things die and others change. And as always, our book reviewers bring us their thoughts on two of this winter’s new releases.

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.

Enjoy the issue and your wintertime, and we’ll see you in 2014.

Leah Bobet

Vol. 12 Issue 4
Editor’s Note
“Thread”A. Merc Rustad
“The Mammoth”Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
“The Last Summer”Michael Matheson
“River”Kelly Rose Pfug-Back
“Blackmare”Natalia Theodoridou
“Skin”Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman
“The Changeling’s Escape”Ada Hoffmann
Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister MineClaire Humphrey
Mary Anne Mohanraj’s The Stars ChangeClaire Humphrey

12:4: “Skin”, by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman...

  They rip out your heart when you’re fighting a war.
  It’s a necessary process, surgical,
  but painful.
  No one talks about it afterward.

More than ever, you are all body-

a pulse, twitching fingers, unquiet nerves.

Your scars, criss-crossing your skin,

are all that contain you.

So when you meet a man with a cleft foot, with an offer,
you think, ‘what the hell –
wearing the skin of a bear for seven years is nothing.’
You think, ‘I don’t want to look at my own skin anyway.’

Your hair grows, weed-quick, concealing your face

as briars once obscured a castle, another enchanted sleeper,

and your scars disappear beneath a map of sweat and dirt.

Your nails lengthen, crack, sharpen into thorns.

You wander from town to quiet town

– or maybe everything is quiet after a war.

No one can look at you, your grotesque form,
and at first you like it.

There’s a certain freedom granted
to the monstrous (as they call you.)
A precise allotment of space and deference
that does not exist on a battlefield.

You forget what water feels like
running over your skin.

Instead, insects run over your scalp,
wake you from your still restless dreams.

When you try to pray,
the psalms choke you,
the begats burn, the catechism scalds,
and your mouth fills with ashes.

Forsaken, your pockets remain full

and money really can buy most things –
soft blankets, the best and worst drinks,
a girl who closes her eyes when you kiss her.

It’s an old merchant who finally does look at you,
and he reeks of whiskey and despair.
You feel the faintest, atrophied stirring of pity,
and toss him a spare purse of dead gold.

You’d forgotten what wealth can do to a soul
and his gratitude feels like a weight in your hands.
When he says “you must marry one of my daughters,”

you feel sorry for them.

You let him take you home despite your better judgment.
It has been years since someone welcomed you into a house
and you had forgotten how it smells–
like clean hair, laundry, flowers, bread.

Only one of the sisters can stand to look you in the eye,
far more than you expected.
She is not beautiful, there is dirt under her nails,
but she smiles and asks your name.

You tell her stories about your travels,
the people you have seen, the foods you have tasted.
She tells you about her garden and the forests beyond –
the way they draw her, call to her. 

And so you break the rusted ring on your finger in two

and tell her to keep a piece close to her heart.
Her fingers brush yours as she takes it –
she slips it under her black dress.

The skin hangs heavier than ever
as you leave the house and the girl,
but three more bear-years stretch before you,
and you’re not ready for her to see you skinless anyway.

You think about how you’ve spent four years –
first gambling, laughing, now feeling sorry for yourself.
You have become the lawless bear: selfish, undisciplined, angry.
this is just what he wanted, what he always wants.

There is nothing left for you but to endure
which is the one thing you know how to do.
You learned that lesson anew with each wound,
dispensed and received, and then again with each scar.

You can outlast him. Three years is not so long.
Perhaps you can give your money away –
help other soldiers to endure, to stay human, 

to turn away from the man with the cleft foot.

The coins pour from your pockets,
filling the hands of your broken comrades,
but it’s your eyes meeting theirs, seeing them,
that makes tears carve new maps on their cheeks.

You ask a blind boy to share your meal,
and you eat together on the side of the road.
A cobbler with one leg mends the holes in your boots
when you pay to thatch his leaking roof.

Their tears fall on your hands,
wash away a thin layer of the packed dirt.
You hope it’s not cheating, this small purification,
but your heart knows it’s not.

Three years pass, and you are washed clean,
though you have to cut your hair yourself.
You buy new clothes but you keep the skin –
it taught you how to be a bear but also a man.

As a man you lumber up her garden path,

reluctant, still ashamed of who you were.
In the window the curtain flutters,
a white hand disappears.

You want to tell her who you are
but showing her your face is hard enough.
Instead, you drop your ring-half
into her cup, watch her drink.

The piece of gold hits her teeth and she glances down.
A strange expression comes into her eyes –
wonder, hope, fear, hope. Hope.
She bites her lip and raises her careful gaze to you.

“Where is your skin?” she whispers.
You press her hand to your cheek,
let her trace your scars. “Here,” you say,
“and here,” gesturing towards your army bag.

She leans forward, smiling,
her scent so clean and new.
“Here,” she agrees,
“but with me you need no skin at all.”

Sara Cleto is PhD student in English at the Ohio State University, where she reads, writes, and sneakily teaches her students about fairy tales and folklore. Her creative work can be found or is forthcoming in Cabinet des Fees: Scheherazade’s Bequest, Niteblade, Metastasis, and others.

Brittany Warman is a PhD student in English with a concentration in Folklore at the Ohio State University, where she concentrates on the intersection of folklore and literature, particularly fairy tale retellings. Her creative work has been published or is forthcoming from Mythic Delirium, Cabinet des Fees: Scheherezade’s Bequest, Jabberwocky, inkscrawl, and others. Her website is www.brittanywarman.com and she journals at briarspell.livejournal.com.

They say:

We wrote this poem after attending the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts and participating in conversations there. We were thinking about how fairy tales rarely engage directly with the theme of war and we wanted to retell a narrative, “Bearskin,” that explores that concept. Our intention was to create a vivid piece that would explicitly show the ways in which the echoes of war could be felt throughout the story.  

Der Findling von Christian Griepenkerl by an unknown artist for a palace in Vienna’s Ringstrasse, circa 1870, is in the public domain.

12:4: “The Changeling’s Escape”, by Ada Hoffmann...

  A child, night-creeping
  far from the whitewashed porch.
  A winding aisle through pillar-trees
  to lie in hallowed darkness
  as the summer creatures hum.
  Something floats in these trees,
  viewless, mind-visible,
  sharp-limbed and laughing,
  not luring.

The child grasps wind-thin hands,
laughing along, not thinking
of a screaming mother miles behind
and the dark of an empty cradle.
She rolls in the crackling leaves
and sings, and says, “home”–

borne away in forest’s arms
to a tree-tangled, night-quiet land
without the piercing flicker-flare of the sun.
Without the smack-handed women calling her “fey”.
She carries the word in her pocket,
not stolen but wild
as she climbs.

Ada Hoffmann is an autistic computer scientist from Canada. Her poetry has appeared in Strange Horizons and Goblin Fruit. You can find her online at ada-hoffmann.livejournal.com or on Twitter at @xasymptote. She says:

As a disabled person, I’ve always been of two minds about the idea of changelings. To a modern reader there’s something very romantic about the idea that there is a good reason you are not like the people around you, that it’s because you are really from another, more magical place.

But historically, folklore about changelings is not romantic or value-neutral. It has served as a way of dehumanizing disabled infants and children and justifying horrific abuses against them, including burning them in fires or household ovens, in order to get one’s “real” child back.

(Some facets of modern medicine do pretty much the same thing now, but without any faeries being involved.)

I’m not sure exactly what this has to do with the poem, except that I wanted to show a changeling child “wandering” and discovering the place where she really belongs. 

Photograph of a tree trunk in the Olympic National Forest is by Erin Hoffman.

12:4: “Blackmare”, by Natalia Theodoridou...

   “Melanippe is a horse of a woman,” the men say, joking among themselves,
   because there is no word for
         what Melanippe is.
   “When you fuck Melanippe she neighs like a mare,” they say.
   “She’s bloody dangerous too,” they add and laugh. “Kicks like a horse.”
   “Her hoofs have broken men in half,
   cracked their skulls into a million pieces.”
   And yet they come,
   keep coming,
   and Melanippe keeps kicking and cracking.

Melanippe trots by herself in her empty apartment.
“My Father Was Chiron the Centaur,” she says, stressing every
first syllable in hopes of making it sound right,
“And I Am Melanippe the”
–but there is no word for female Centaurs–
“Centauress? Centauride?” she twists her tongue and neighs
and she trots back and forth in her apartment,
“Me.La.Nip.Pe,” she says, stressing every syllable now,
every letter
every breath
it all comes out wrong no matter how.
“Horsewoman,” she says, but it sounds more like “hoarsewoman”
or “coarsewoman”
and then words collapse in on themselves in the space around her,
and the room is filled with pointless things that simply won’t do,
like chairbed, no good for sitting or sleeping, not for her;
and blackmare, that vision of herself which visits her sometimes, its legs divided by two;
and everstill,
which is the word to describe the invisible motion of a stillborn babe.

Melanippe tries out this new language of hers:
“In my blackmare last night I saw the everstill creature slip from its chairbed,” she says,
and for a moment her heart catches on something,
but then the words fall flat
on the floor in front of her hoofed feet
and break into a million pieces.

She studies them, uncertain.
They look a bit like men’s skulls,
don’t they?
she thinks as she picks them up,
one by one,
and one by one she lets them drop again.

Natalia Theodoridou is a UK-based media & theatre scholar. Originally from Greece, she has lived and studied in the USA, UK, and Indonesia for several years. She recently completed a short story writing course at City University London. Natalia was the Grand Prize winner for Prose of Spark Contest Three. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Spark Anthology IV, 713 Flash (Kazka Press), and Black Apples (Belladonna Publishing). She is currently a first reader for Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi. Her personal website is www.natalia-theodoridou.com. She says:

Much of my writing starts from a “what if”: what if blood-letting plucked one out of the fabric of time (“The Bleeding Game”)? What if a Centaur was still alive in our times? What if that Centaur was a woman? What would her language be like? What does it feel like to be the stuff of myth? In Greek mythology, Melanippe was often defined by her male ties: Chiron’s daughter, Aeolus’ wife, Heracles’ hostage. In one version of her myth, she was placed among the stars as punishment for revealing the secrets of the Gods. I wanted to bring her down from there and hear her speak for herself.  

Study with Centaur and Two Figures by Hans_von_Marées (1887) is in the public domain.

12:4: “River”, by Kelly Rose Pfug-Back...

When you left
it rained for weeks in the town where I live
the bodies of fish writhing, everywhere on the pavement.

I knelt and held them in my hands as they gasped and drowned
houses, treetops, the sun behind its milky cataract
inverted in the serene black domes of their eyes.

We slept below the surface like sunken islands, in my dreams
and the shadows of oars dipped over our bodies

urchin spines fanning from the soft places behind my ears

your hair a moonless forest
alive with the movements of crenellated fins.

My ancestors were sea serpents, I told you once
and guided your hands to the frilled crests of bone
that still ridge my skull at the temples

coiled turrets of chain link fence,
the lichened beetle shells of cars

rising all around us
in the columned light.

Past the scrapyard behind my house
the river bloats with oil-sheened suds

shallows thick with frog spawn
mosquito larvae flinching
in the dark concavity of upended tractor tires.

On its rust-stained banks I pull my knees to my chest
watching the silhouettes of cranes and excavators
arch their brontosaurus necks

red sun sinking below the skyline’s jagged teeth
as I wait for next summer’s drought

and all that stands to be revealed
by time’s receding tide.

Kelly Rose Pflug-Back is an author, social activist, and student based out of Toronto, ON. Her poetry, fiction, and journalism have appeared in publications such as Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, This Magazine, Counterpunch, Canadian Woman Studies, and many others. Her first book of poems, These Burning Streets, was published in 2012 with Combustion Books. She is a contributing editor with Iconoclast Media and Fifth Estate Magazine, America’s longest-running journal of anti-authoritarian politics. Updates on her various readings and speaking events can be found at www.kellypflugback.wordpress.com. She says:

I wrote this poem while thinking of the ways in which we can learn to embrace loss and loneliness, and view these things as potentially cleansing and rejuvinating rather than wholly negative. A lot of the imagery I used relates to water and submersion; in some ways I associate these images with illusion, submission, and loss of control (being “swept away”): all of which we experience if we allow ourselves to become lost in or overwhelmed by things which are external to ourselves.  

Photograph of Tidepool in Porto Covo, west coast of Portugal, by Joaquim Alves Gaspar, is provided under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Page 1 of 212