Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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Issue 32
The Temple's Posthole
by M.K. Hutchins
Through the Veil
by Michael T. Banker
Notes on a Page
by Barbara A. Barnett
The War of Peace - Part 2
by Trina Marie Phillips
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

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-   -   -   -   P   r   e   v   i   e   w   -   -   -   -

Through the Veil
    by Michael T. Banker

Through the Veil
Artwork by Anna Repp

Every year in Korea spring felt like an accident, a stutter-breath in nature's rhythm. Between the winter gods blowing dry frigid air down from the mountains and the summer gods fanning sweltering currents off the southern seas, for a brief period the land was still. Spring was when the greater gods rested and the mischievous spirits played.

Ori was not fooled by the tranquility of the season. When the spirits jested, it was humans who came to harm. When the spirits crossed through the veil that separated their worlds to touch them directly, sometimes people took ill, called it spirit sickness.

So it was for Ori's betrothed.

They walked alone, the two of them. Helplessly Ori watched her waver between the bamboo walling them to their left and the muddy rice paddy to their right. Her breath came in sharp gasps and her bare feet slapped the grass irregularly.

Always Ori reached for her, then hesitated. What comfort was he, who didn't even know her? They had met for the very first time at their betrothal ceremony, two days ago. He had bowed formally once and she twice, but on the second time she failed to rise; she arched her back and kicked out her feet and screamed like a woman in labor. That was when a cluster of blue-winged butterflies converged on her exposed skin -- her face, her hands, and her ankles. Ori saw it clearly, just for a moment, before they fluttered off in a shimmering cloud toward the west. It was a sure sign, she was spirit-touched.

Her own family cast her out; spirit sickness was unlucky at best and believed to be catching. Ori didn't know her yet, but she was his responsibility now. That's what he told himself as together they threw themselves upon the mercy of the gods and hoped for a revelation. Until then, they followed the butterflies.

They would spend the rest of their lives together, be it seven decades or seven days.

"Hot," panted his betrothed -- and then she folded to the ground. "Too hot," she breathed, holding her forehead. Her yellow and red ceremonial dress pooled around her like fire. She was very young, more like a little sister than a soon-to-be wife. Ori was uncertain how to behave around her. He fumbled for the water gourd, but she sucked in air through her teeth and lunged for the rice paddy instead. Scooping up fistfuls of mud, she smeared it all over her forehead and cheeks, dripping globs onto her dress.

She sighed contentedly. "Did you know that bamboo is a living instrument?" Her head weaved from side to side and her eyes held the same uncanny depth as Ori's mother's eyes just before she succumbed to fever. "I used to tap, tap, tap. Tap on fat and thin bamboo. Then I'd hum to the spirits, just like . . ." She hummed a tremulous note and smiled. "I'd like to die in the bamboo, if possible."

She stood up, still smiling, and took two steps toward the bamboo before her knees failed her. Ori caught her and sank with her, his blue and purple gown drifting against her red and yellow. Her eyes were closed, but her breath was smooth and untroubled.

Ori scooped her slight form in his arms and plunged into the bamboo forest as she had requested. He had no thoughts left. What was thought, anyway? The whisperings of the gods into their ears? Whenever Ori found a rhythm to his life, the earth seemed to open up beneath his feet. Whenever he carved out a purpose, the rest of the world shifted, rendering it meaningless. His sister was murdered at the hands of the Japanese. His father conscripted into the army, never to return. His mother perished of fever, perhaps touched by the spirits herself. At least the bamboo formed a comfortable green blanket surrounding him. One step looked the same as the next; either his feet carried him or he stood in place while the bamboo flowed around him.

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