Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 35
Stories
Tangible Progress
by Edmund R. Schubert
Last Resort
by Michael Greenhut
Wet Work: A Tale of the Unseen
by Matthew S. Rotundo
Southside Gods
by Sarah Grey
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
Beautiful demise
by Chris Bellamy

Tangible Progress
    by Edmund R. Schubert

Tangible Progress
Artwork by Nick Greenwood

Rem'n tribes around the globe travel posing as gypsies, earning money as blacksmiths and fortune-tellers and musicians. Or the occasional con job.

They also secretly hunt werewolves. They are a cursed people whose tangibility is tied to the phases of the moon. During the full moon, when they are strongest, they fight werewolves, often hand-to-hand. During the new moon -- when they are completely intangible -- they hide from outsiders until the moon returns to view and they are solid once again.

Pretending to be gypsies was particularly easy during the Great Depression because so many vagabonds and homeless families already wandered across the breadth of America. However, just as not every aspect of American life in the 1930s revolved around money, not every aspect of Rem'n life centers on werewolves.

July 29, 1935 - The Shenandoah Valley, Northern Virginia

Despite the lack of the moon, the star-speckled heavens shone brilliantly -- radiant enough for the Blue Ridge Mountains to throw stark shadows across the grassy field below. Eleven-year old Gabrielle Ortello walked halfway across the meadow with her mother, then took off running to catch up with her lean, intangible, naked friends. There's just no way to be intangible and clothed at the same time.

The four other girls had almost reached the dense stand of pine trees on the other side, and as Gabrielle ran, her mother, also intangible and naked, called out those all too familiar words: "Watch out for people!"

Gabrielle waved without looking back. "I know, Mama," she said, rolling her eyes. "I know."

She had heard it all a thousand times. Make sure no one sees you walk through the tree trunks. Make sure no one sees you pass in and out of the boulders.

What was Mama worried about?

Gabrielle knew her history; she had sat through the Elders' endless lectures about how the Rem'n had once tried to reveal themselves to the outside world, only to be feared and hunted themselves.

Besides, walking through stuff was fun. And the Rem'n were only intangible for a handful of days each month. Did they really have to be that careful?

Apparently so, because every time the moon disappeared, the whole Rem'n tribe -- nearly twenty families -- hid from the outsiders, the estraneos. They took off faster than a flock of crows at the sound of a farmer's shotgun. They took their horses and wagons, their rickety, spoke-wheeled pickup truck, and they camped out in the middle of nowhere, hiding, waiting for that first pie-crust slice of moon to peek out and turn their people solid again, so that the men, women, and children could all get dressed and walk amongst the estraneos again.

Sprinting across the meadow, Gabrielle caught up to her friends, joining them as they strolled across the last few yards of the tall, swaying grasses. When they reached the woods, the group chattered on, walking deeper in. All except Gabrielle, who paused. She listened to the breeze as it rustled through the pine trees. She gazed up at the silhouettes of the swaying branches, which looked like airborne brooms trying to sweep the stardust out of the sky.

It was a perfect night to be intangible, to explore the world.

The wind rustle-rustled, whispering to her, but the other girls called loudly, breaking her reverie. They waved, beckoning from within the woods, gesturing for her to join them.

Gabrielle sighed. She didn't agree with so many things some of them did, but they were the only friends she was permitted to have. Though they were only intangible during the new moon, the rest of the month the Rem'n didn't interact with estraneos any more than they had to.

And how, Gabrielle wanted to know, was she supposed to make friends like that? Real friends and not self-centered, self-important nitwits like . . .

"Come on, Gabrielle," called Celia.

At twelve years old, Celia was the oldest of the young girls -- nearly a teenager -- and she never let anyone forget it. "You're supposed to be the werewolf. We can't start without you."

"I played the werewolf last time. We agreed I could be a Hunter this time."

Celia crossed her arms over her thin, translucent chest. Her eyes and lips narrowed like a set of blacksmith's vices. "That's right. I forgot; it's Diana's turn."

Gabrielle immediately saw her mistake. Poor Diana may have been named for the goddess of the moon and the hunt, but she was only eight; playing the werewolf gave her nightmares. And Celia knew it.

"You know," Gabrielle said irritably, "if you're going to be manipulative, you could at least try to be subtle about it . . ."

"Why? It works just fine this way." Celia gave the other two girls in the group -- Julia and Leabe -- a satisfied waggle of her black eyebrows.

Gabrielle walked up to her, close enough to touch, if that were possible. Celia was always pushing people around and Gabrielle was sick of it. "If I were solid right now, I wouldn't pull your hair, and I wouldn't smack you . . ." She raised her fist and put it right under Celia's nose. She had to reach up to do it because Celia was taller, but Celia stepped backed regardless. All the other girls gasped.

"You wouldn't dare!"

In Rem'n culture passing yourself through someone else's space -- invasione -- constituted a serious violation.

Gabrielle continued, ". . . I'd punch you, right here," and she pushed her fist through Celia's nose and out the back of her head. "Torment my friend again and you'll find out what else I'm capable of."

"We'll see," Celia retorted. But she retreated another step.

Gabrielle pointed to a fat pine tree. "Are we going to play werewolves and Hunters or not? Stick your heads in that tree and count to fifty. No cheating."

The four girls walked to the scaly-barked pine. As they inserted their heads into the tree, Gabrielle said a quick prayer to Diana -- the goddess, not her friend -- that Celia would stick her face into a rotten section filled with beetles and ants and grubs. Or better yet, a hollow spot with a snake in it.

Once certain that no one was peeking, Gabrielle ran back toward the edge of the woods. She had learned long ago that backtracking would allow her to circle around and pick them off one at a time. If they were going to hunt her, she would hunt them too. Isn't that what real werewolves did?

When she got to the forest's edge, though, she entirely forgot about their game.

The tribe's campsite on the other side of the meadow had been abandoned. Abandoned by the Rem'n, anyway. "People" walked around the site, poking through things like so many ants at a spilled picnic basket.

Gabrielle stood by the edge of the woods, watching, fascinated. She had to get closer. There had to be some way to sneak near enough to hear what they said, see what they did. Were they like the Rem'n? Were they stealing things? Rem'n would have . . .

She spied the creek bed the Rem'n had made their camp next to. It meandered through the meadow and cut down into the ground about three feet. She could duck into that and work her way toward the people.

She started off --

That's when she noticed a large group of men moving across the meadow in her direction. She didn't think they had spotted her, but they were headed straight toward the pines, yelling. Calling someone's name over and over.

They were searching for someone.

Gabrielle didn't wait to find out who; she ran at once to look for her friends. They had to hide -- quick.

These estraneos couldn't hurt them, but if they discovered them and the adults found out, the girls would be in big trouble. She ran straight through every bush, tree, and rock in her path, the world flashing black each time she passed through one of the bigger ones. Finally she arrived at the spot where she'd last seen her friends.

"Diana! Julia!"

Gabrielle stopped by the pine tree where the girls were supposed to count, trying to guess the most likely direction they had gone. Almost at once she spotted a place where the pines stopped and a rocky outcropping jutted up out of the sloping ground. The Rem'n had been traveling south through the Shenandoah Valley for several days and everyone, kids and adults alike, had been fascinated by the large swaths of rock that appeared among the trees. This stood out as the logical place the girls would have been drawn to.

"Celia," she called again. "Julia. Diana. Leabe. Listen, there are people coming. You've got to hide."

No reply.

"Come on!" Her desperation grew. "This isn't a trick. There are people are coming. Estraneos."

Gabrielle stopped at the edge of the rockface, listening. The wall of rock loomed long and tall, like a two-story train station made of gray stone. At least, she thought it was gray. It was difficult to be certain in this nighttime starlight that appeared somehow blue and yet at the same time silver.

Gabrielle began to repeat, "This isn't a tri-- " when she heard the crunching and crashing of estraneos entering the forest.

"Girls!" she whispered furiously. "Hide!"

Still no reply. However, the herd-of-buffalo-crashing grew louder and louder, and Gabrielle could only hope her friends heard her -- or at least figured out what the crashing noises meant.

She stepped backwards and slipped directly into the wall of rock, intending to hide there while the estraneos passed . . .

. . . and found herself in a cavern.

The cavern itself didn't present a big surprise; her mother had told her that massive caverns littered this valley: Luray, Shenandoah, Endless. Mama had told her some of them even had electric lights and promised they would try to visit one.

No, the surprise came in the form of a light, inside this one, in the middle of the night.

Gabrielle was not alone.

A yellowish light came bouncing around the corner, twitching like a drunken firefly, shadows lurching as the source moved closer. Her mother's words came to her for the thousand and first time: You can't let anyone see you like this, Gabby.

Cautiously Gabrielle backed halfway into the rock until only her eyes, nose, and chin protruded from the rock, the work of a mad sculptor's chisel.

A young man came around the corner. Gabrielle guessed him to be about thirteen, with the finest, blondest hair she had ever seen. Even his eyebrows looked like fine golden layers of spider webs. All of the Rem'n had dark hair and dark eyes, but this blond-haired boy was different. He looked strange: his hair was too bright, his skin too light. But as odd-looking as he was, as she studied his features, Gabrielle found herself with a growing urge to speak with him. To get to know him.

Wearing a pair of coveralls but no shoes and no shirt, the boy toted a railroad-style oil lantern, wandering the network of caverns that displayed an unexpected combination of colors. Pointed stalactites hung from the ceiling, reddish-orange like rusty icicles, while columns of pure white connected ceiling to floor like so much carved snow. And somewhere nearby could be heard the hollow drip, drip, plop of water droplets falling into a pool.

Gabrielle could scarcely believe how different the inside of this cavern looked from the plain stone on the outside. And how insignificant it all seemed compared to the chance of meeting someone new.

Her mother's words came to her again. But she didn't want to watch out for people. She wanted to meet people. She wanted to meet him.

She knew she would startle him no matter what she did, but she waited until he had passed by so as not to outright scare him. Then she stepped out of the rock and cleared her throat. When the boy turned, Gabrielle said, "Hey. What you looking for?"

He stumbled backwards, almost losing his lantern. Shadows rocked around the cavern like black sails above a storm-tossed boat while the flailing lantern threw bolts of lightning around the edges of the stalactites. When the boy regained control, he slowly lifted his free hand and pointed at Gabrielle.

"A ghost!" He paused, then added, "A nů nů naked ghost!"

Gabrielle glanced down at her translucent body, then at the boy, raising one eyebrow. "Well how are you supposed to wear clothing when you're intangible?"

All Rem'n went naked for those days during the Phase of Grace; no one gave it a second thought. Nakedness was commonplace, a monthly part of their life. No one in her tribe had ever looked at her this way, though. This boy made her feel naked.

"I never heard of no naked ghosts before," the boy said.

Gabrielle tried to cover herself with her intangible hands but they proved to be as effective as windows on an outhouse. "I'm not a ghost. I'm a Rem'n. We're cursed. Have been for thousands of years."

The boy climbed to his feet and reached a tentative hand toward Gabrielle. She took a step back and thought about running. Then she remembered the only other person who had ever gotten this close to her during the Phase of Grace. He had run away. This boy might have been surprised, but he wasn't afraid. And Gabrielle wasn't going to let a little discomfort make her miss something interesting.

"How did you die?" he asked, trying to pass his hand through her head.

"I'm not a ghost!" Gabrielle said vehemently, dodging his attempted invasione. She closed her own hands into tiny fists. "I told you -- I'm a Rem'n. My name is Gabrielle."

"Wow. Dead, and she don't even know it."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. How many times did she have to tell him . . .?

"Watch. I'll show you."

She turned, about to re-enter the rock wall, when it occurred to her that doing so would only prove her intangibility; it would do nothing to prove she was alive. She stepped toward the wall anyway, not sure what else to do. The boy must have thought she was about to leave because he called out almost frantically, "Wait!"

Gabrielle stopped, relieved that he didn't want her to leave. But enough was enough. "Say I'm dead one more time and I'll kick right through you for sure."

Completely unaware he had just been threatened with invasione, the young teen moved a small rock across the floor with his toe. "You, ah, you haven't got anything to eat, have you?" he asked tentatively.

"Oh sure," said Gabrielle, passing her hands through her thighs. "Right here in my pockets." She made sure she had a big smile on her face so he'd know she was only playing around.

The boy sighed. "Yeah, I guess not."

That's when the truth struck Gabrielle. She suddenly felt sorry for him. "You're lost, aren't you?"

The boy squinted, studying her as if trying to decide whether to admit eating one bite of the cake or the whole thing. "Not lost, exactly. I've just been exploring for a looong time. I sure am cold though. I thought it would be warmer underground, not colder. That's why I took my shirt off. I had no idea it'd be so cold down here." He rubbed his hands against his arms and shoulders and Gabrielle noticed for the first time that he was covered with goose bumps.

Gabrielle made a connection. "That explains all those people in our camp. They're looking for you."

The teen perked up. "They're looking for me?"

Gabrielle nodded. "How long have you been . . . 'exploring'?"

He shrugged and the gesture made his lantern rise and fall. The shadows danced, but the boy's expression was sad.

Gabrielle wished she were tangible so she could give him a hug, maybe warm him up a bit. "When's the last time you ate?"

"Breakfast," he replied, kicking the stone across the floor.

"Breakfast? Sweet goddess, that's all day ago. It's the middle of the night! It's a miracle your lamp hasn't run out of oil."

"Is it that late?" The boy lifted the light higher and the shadows shortened. "I've only been using the lantern while I'm moving. When I get tired I rest in the dark so I can save oil. I hug it for warmth and make sure I don't go anywhere. At all."

"Wouldn't you keep warmer if you keep moving?"

"Maybe, but I also almost fell off a ledge the first time I tried walking in the dark. There are some really deep chasms in here. Won't make that mistake again.

"Wait a minute," the boy added, pensively, "if you're, umm . . . what's the word . . . intangible, how can you walk? Shouldn't you sink into the ground or float in the air or something? And how can you talk? How can you do anything?"

Gabrielle knew the answer to this from listening to her father and the other men around the campfire.

"The Rem'n were cursed by Mars, the God of War," she said. "Since when do gods' curses obey rules or science?"

But that didn't seem to mean anything to the boy, and the moment lingered in uncomfortable silence.

"Hey," Gabrielle finally said, not wanting the conversation to die, "you never told me your name."

"Isn't it bad luck to tell a ghost your name?" He set his lantern on the ground.

"I warned you," Gabrielle snapped. She stepped toward him and swung her foot in a perfect arc to kick through his shins. Of course, her foot passed through him with less effect than a cloud through the sky. This set the boy to laughing.

"It's not funny," hollered Gabrielle. It had never occurred to her that someone could think an invasione was a laughing matter. She stepped back and took another swipe at him, which only made him laugh harder. His laughter was pure and infectious though, and before she knew it, Gabrielle was laughing too. He began kicking his foot at her, and the whole thing turned into a bizarre square dance, two lithe young bodies swinging feet and pivoting and twirling, do-si-do-ing until the boy fell to the ground, landing on the rocky floor and holding his sides from laughing so hard.

Gabrielle laughed so hard she started crying. It had been a long time since she had done anything so freely, so uninhibitedly, and she was really enjoying this. She wished she could give him a hug or lean on his shoulder or anything.

But she couldn't, and for the first time she could ever recall, she regretted being intangible.

"My name is Willie," the boy said though glittering tears. But his laughter faded and the tears grew increasingly less funny. "Willie Rinehart . . . and . . . and I want to go home."

That's when Gabrielle remembered that Willie was still a kid, even if he was a few years older than she -- a kid who had been lost all day, hungry and tired and cold and scared.

"I haven't been exploring," Willie confessed, the tears subsiding. "I've been wandering around here all day. I have no idea how to get out."

"I know," she said softly.

The young teen snuffled loudly. "You do?"

"It wasn't hard to figure." With all the confidence she could muster, she added, "But I'm going to find a way to get you out."

Willie grasped the lantern's thin wire handle and lifted it high, looking around the cavern hopelessly. "How?"

How. That was the question.

"Have you ever been in here before?"

Willie shook his head no. "My parents told me a million times to stay out." He looked around him again. "I guess they knew what they were talking about."

Gabrielle followed his eyes, but her mind wandered out into the woods where the herd of estraneos crashed through the forest. The local people had lived here for years; some of them probably knew the caverns well enough to navigate in and out in no time. All she had to do was march right up to one of them and say Hi, Willie Rinehart is in there and he's lost. Would you please come save him?

Piece of cake.

"Look, Willie," she said, trying to find a gracious way to explain her dilemma. "If I go out there and talk to people, and my parents find out --"

But the wounded look on Willie's face stopped her before she could finish.

"I thought you were my friend."

"You also thought I was a ghost, and clearly that's not --" Gabrielle cut herself off. Whatever else happened, she wasn't going to abandon Willie like a sack of kittens down a well. There had to be some other way.

"Do you remember what the opening of the cave looked like? Could you describe it to me, the place where you went in?"

"What good will that do?"

"Because I can walk through walls, remember? I'll go outside, find the opening, then pass back and forth through the rock until I find the fastest way back out. Easy as falling through a log!"

Willie's face broke into a grin. "I think you mean easy as falling off a log."

Gabrielle shrugged. "You have your sayings, we have ours."

Willie described the cave opening to Gabrielle vividly, but the more he detailed every maple leaf and granite rock, the less likely she thought she'd ever find it. She didn't know the difference between a cedar and a pine, or shale and quartz. And if she couldn't find the way in, she'd never get Willie out.

Nothing.

Until she remembered the shirt he had left behind.

"Willie," she interrupted. "Every rock and tree looks the same to me. Tell me what your shirt looks like. Spots, checks, stripes? Did you drop it on the ground or drape it over a stump? That's what I need to look for."

He described a plain white t-shirt hanging from an equally white sycamore branch.

"I have no idea what a sycamore tree looks like, but I'll be right back," she said excitedly and walked through the cavern wall. The world went momentarily black.

Emerging on the other side, Gabrielle hoped Willie wouldn't be too scared when he realized he was alone again.

Outside the cavern, it took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the silvery-blue starlight. Before she had entirely adjusted, though, a voice whispered severely, "Hey! Gabrielle!"

She looked around but didn't see anyone.

"Up here, stupid."

Celia squat atop the rocky outcrop. She looked like a frog on a bloated lily pad shooting out whispers with her long, flicking tongue. Leabe, Julia, and Diana stood next to her.

"We know about your boyfriend," Celia taunted. "We've been watching the whole time. You were talking with that human." She said the word "human" as if she were saying "three-legged dog."

"We're human, too," Gabrielle said. "Don't you listen to anything our parents tell us?"

"Look whose talking, Miss Don't-worry-Willie-I'll-save-you." She brought her hands together over her heart and said mockingly, "I'm not a ghost, I'm Rem'n." Her voice took on an extra-syrupy quality when she added, "We're cursed. Have been for thoooooouusands of years."

Celia pointed down at Gabrielle. "You are going to be in so much trouble when I tell your parents. How many times have they told you to watch out for people!"

Gabrielle knew Celia was just using their parent's words because it suited her purposes. But she also recalled the lashing she'd received the last time she had let estraneos see her in her intangible state; it had been hours until she could walk right and days until she could sit without it hurting.

"I don't need to let anyone else see me. And if Willie says anything, he'll probably say a ghost saved him."

She set off toward higher ground where Willie had said he thought his t-shirt would be. But the moment she started moving, Celia said, "Have fun. We'll keep your boyfriend company while you're gone."

"No, you won't," Gabrielle replied sternly, but she knew what Celia was capable of. A hole opened up at the bottom of her stomach and her heart dropped straight down through it.

Celia was already gone.

"You'd better not leave them alone with him," Diana said in her tiny, scared voice, the only one who had stayed behind.

Gabrielle shrugged. "They're as intangible as you and me. What could she do?"

Diana shrugged back. "It's Celia. She'll think of something. Something mean."

Gabrielle fumed. She didn't have time for this nonsense. But Diana was right. Celia would do it -- whatever it turned out to be -- just to be spiteful. She walked back through the rock, back into the cavern, just in time to hear Celia's voice.

It took a moment to realize Celia loomed above her, sticking her face out from the ceiling.

"Ruuuuun," Celia droned in the softest, sweetest voice she could muster, her voice echoing eerily around the chamber. "Run awaaaay!"

"Who is that?" Willie said, twitching. He twisted his head from side to side, raising his lantern. It never occurred to him to look up.

"I am the spirit of the cave," Celia replied in that sing-songy voice Gabrielle so despised. "And I'm here to warm you about the ghost who calls herself Gabrielle. Do not trust her. She's an angry ghost who pretends to be your friend. Follow her and she'll lead you to your death."

"That's a lie!" Gabrielle shouted, emerging from the wall.

Willie jumped back.

Gabrielle looked up at the ceiling, where Celia's face beamed with silent laughter.

"Knock it off, Celia. It's not funny."

"Ruuun," Celia repeated. "Ruuuuuuun."

Willie began, not to run, but to back away.

"Come on, Willie," Gabrielle said, reaching out to him. "You know me. You know I'm trying to help."

Celia wasn't done taunting. "If she wants to help, why isn't she out looking for the entrance to the cavern like she said she would?"

Willie's retreating increased in urgency. "That's a good question. Why are you still here? What do you want?"

"Turn off your lantern, Willie," Celia instructed. "If she can't see you, she can't find you to hurt you."

Instant blackness. Not a single star or anything. It was unnerving.

"Use your brains, Willie," Gabrielle said. She was struggling to keep her cool. "The only one who's trying to hurt you is stupid Celia. And blundering around in the dark is the quickest way to do it."

Silence.

"Come on, Willie. I came back into the cavern because I knew Celia would do something mean. I came back to protect you. From her."

More silence. Clearly Willie remained unconvinced.

Gabrielle changed tactics and turned her attention to Celia. "We both know you can't actually hurt him when you're intangible. You're just wasting your time. And mine. Why don't you just admit it and get out of here?"

Suddenly the darkness filled with the sound of high-pitched wailing. At first it was just Celia's voice, but the wailing grew, adding Leabe's voice, then Julia's. Gabrielle prayed that Diana wasn't doing it too, but at this point she couldn't tell anymore; she could no longer distinguish individual voices. Gabrielle was stunned at how much of a racket they were capable of making. A hundred condemned souls being dragged into the underworld couldn't have caused a more horrifying din.

To poor Willie it must have sounded like death itself. Gabrielle heard the sound of his feet shuffling, then running in the darkness.

But that sound was almost instantly replaced by another -- the sound of a whoof of expelled air followed immediately by a short, terrified scream that ended abruptly with a shattering of glass.

"Willie!" she cried.

In the pitch black, Gabrielle couldn't see a thing. But it sounded like Willie had tripped and fallen over a ledge.

"Willie, where are you?"

"Ruuuun," came Celia's sing-songy ghost-voice again. "Run for your liiiiife!"

"It's not funny, Celia. If you didn't just kill him . . ."

"Not . . . dead . . . just yet." It was Willie's voice, sounding incredibly strained.

"Where are you?" Gabrielle asked, trying to locate the source of his voice. The blackness was impenetrable.

"Hanging around," he said.

"Is that supposed to be funny? You're not funny. Not even a little."

"Oh crap." All the humor in his voice was instantly gone.

"What? What's going on?!"

"Slipping."

Gabrielle rushed toward his voice. Without thinking, she put her hands out, trying to feel him, to find his hands, to grab him.

"Help me, Gabrielle," pleaded the voice in the darkness. "Please."

"Willie!" she cried again, clutching at nothing, with nothing, into nothing.

Willie shouted "Gabrielle!" one last time. His shout was punctuated by a terrified scream that ended abruptly with a meaty whump.

Then there was nothing. Blackness and more blackness. Not a single sound besides the far off drip drop plop of water.

"Willie!" she shouted for what felt like the millionth time, but she was already running, sprinting though the darkness, through the cave wall. She kept right on running until she emerged from the cavern and into the silvery-blue of the night. She took a moment to get her bearings, then continued running toward the meadow.

You like being a snitch, Celia? she thought to herself. You're going to love this.

Near the edge of the woods she caught sight of a small group of estraneos and sprinted toward them, yelling, "Hey!"

The people took one look at her and ran screaming.

Gabrielle watched them flee. She had badly miscalculated.

From behind her, she heard hysterical laughter. There stood Julia and Leabe. Celia must have sent them to spy on her, which meant she had was probably still in the cave with Willie.

"That was great, Gabby," Leabe said. "Do it again."

Fool, Gabrielle chastised herself. The only reason Willie didn't run away is because you were careful not to scare him. You have to be gentle with people.

Gabrielle walked back through the woods, searching for other estraneos. There had to be someone still here. Leabe and Julia followed her, chattering noisily the whole time.

"Quiet," Gabrielle snapped.

"Why? I thought you wanted people to find you."

A voice in the distance called out and Gabrielle recognized what it was saying. "Willie."

Gabrielle followed the cry, only this time, when she got close enough to see the men calling for Willie, she called back from a safe distance.

"Hellooooo," she cried. "Helloooo? Is anybody out there?"

"Willie?" a man's voice replied.

"Willie!" came the second man's voice, stronger. "Over here, boy."

As the men came closer, Julia and Leabe vanished inside a nearby tree.

"Hello?" Gabrielle called again, seemingly wandering aimlessly, gazing vacantly and doing her best to act like a ghost.

Both men caught sight of her at the same time and froze in place like they had just looked into a Gorgon's eyes. But at least they didn't run.

Gabrielle wandered in their general direction, careful not to get too close. Not knowing how bad Willie had been hurt made moving this slowly painful for her, but she knew it was the only way her plan had any chance of succeeding.

"Hellooooo? Won't someone please help me? I've been lost for so long."

She started walking slowly back toward the cavern where Willie lay, walking straight through a large tree to reinforce her ghost-like nature, making sure she moved at a pace that the men could easily follow and still keep their safe distance. They weren't going to reveal themselves to her, but they didn't need to.

"Hellooooo?" she called as she fought the urge to run. "Hellooo?"

As she neared the rocky area where she had left Willie -- she had passed in and out of this point enough times tonight that she recognized it immediately -- she checked the men one last time, saying, "Please, someone help me . . ."

She walked right through the stone . . .

Immediately Gabrielle climbed up through the top of the cavern to the same place where Celia had been perched. From up high she had a perfect view of the men who had followed her. Celia was nowhere to be seen.

"Did you ever see the like?" one man gasped incredulously.

The other man shook his head tightly, speechless.

"I bet some little girl died in those caverns years ago and that was her ghost, still wandering, still looking for help."

"I think I heard a story about that when I was a kid," the second man said, finding his voice. "My grandfather used to tell us about her. I thought it was just a tall-tale to keep us out of the caverns."

Come on, Gabrielle thought with impatience. Put the pieces together. She debated calling out to them again.

"Hey," said the first man. "You don't suppose . . ."

The second man seemed to catch the idea simultaneously, two men hooking the same fish. "Yes, I do suppose," he said excitedly. They looked back and forth between themselves and the rock. "Willie! We got to go get Fred. He knows these caves better'n anybody. If Willie's in there, Fred'll find him in no time."

Yes, Gabrielle said to herself. Go get Fred. She breathed a sigh of relief. Go find Willie . . .

She watched the men run off, crow-cawing for Fred all the way. Then she slipped through the blackness of the rock and into the equally black cavern.

"Willie?" she asked tentatively, not really expecting an answer yet hoping fiercely that she would receive one.

Drip.

"Willie?" she called, louder.

Drip, drop.

"Wiiiiillie!" She bellowed at the top of her lungs.

Drip drop.

She sat down, her head hung low. "I'm sorry, Willie."

She sat. And waited. She didn't know how long she waited, or even exactly what she was waiting for . . .

. . . until she heard voices off in the distance. Lots of voices.

This time the voices called from inside the cavern and when she saw the lights bouncing around the corner, she called back to them.

"Here! I'm over here!" Gabrielle called, trying to deepen her voice. It sounded silly and not much like Willie, but she hoped in the echoing cavern no one would notice the difference.

"Willie?" came the reply.

"Yes. I'm right here."

"Where, Willie? Call out again."

"Down here. Look for the ledge."

As the approaching torches and lanterns caused a flash-flood of light to wash through the cavern, Gabrielle backed once again into the rock, leaving just enough of her face exposed that she could see what was happening.

"Willie?" The approaching group continued calling.

Gabrielle remained silent. They were close enough to find him on their own.

One of them, a hefty man with a ruddy nose and bushy beard, threw an arm out to stop the others. "Whoa," he said. "There's a big drop-off here." He leaned out over the edge with his torch.

"Whoa!" he repeated vigorously. "It's Willie! He's down here."

Someone tied one end of a thick brown rope to one of the snow-white columns, and then a thin young man tossed the other end over the ledge and shimmied down without a moment's hesitation.

Gabrielle wished she could see what was going on over the edge, down on that ledge. Wished she knew if Willie was alive or dead or hurt or what.

"He's breathing," shouted the voice from the end of the rope. "Looks like he's unconscious, though. And I think his arm's broke."

"Unconscious?" the ruddy-nosed man barked back. "He was just talking with us a minute ago, calling out to us."

"Don't know what to tell you. But he's not conscious now, that's for sure."

"It's a miracle we found him at all. Tie a rope on him and let's get him up here."

Gabrielle watched with anticipation as a group of the men hauled on the thick rope, dragging Willie and the other man up from the depths. The instant he came up over the edge the entire search party closed in around him, though, checking him, talking softly among themselves.

Gabrielle's frustration increased at her inability to see anything. She took one step out of the rock where she had hid, trying to get a closer look.

One of the men stood in the center of the group; he was holding Willie in his arms. Gabrielle froze.

Willie's eyes fluttered open, looking directly at her.

She waved at him. A tiny wave, with only her fingers.

He smiled at her.

Then he closed his eyes again, but the smile remained.

Gabrielle breathed a deep sigh of relief and slipped away.

Back at camp, the estraneos had left, so the Rem'n congregated once again. They sat together, telling each other stories, waiting. It's what they did when intangible: they told stories. It would be at least four more days before they were solid enough to clean up the mess made by the people looking for Willie.

Gabrielle snuck into her family's high-walled canvas tent, hoping no one would notice. It came as no surprise though, when less than five minutes later Mama and Papa appeared along with one of the tribe's Elders, Elder Dukas. Thank the goddess they were intangible; Elder Dukas smelled like rotten garlic when he was solid.

"She told you, didn't she," Gabrielle said.

"Celia told us everything," Papa said.

"And Diana told us another version," Mama added. She glanced at the Elder before adding, "We're not happy about either version, but we are more inclined to believe Diana's."

Gabrielle breathed a small sigh of relief. It hadn't occurred to her that Celia would embellish the tale to get her into even more trouble. Thank the goddess for Diana.

A small chortle escaped Gabrielle's lips. Thank the goddess, Diana, for her friend, Diana. She didn't mean to laugh; it just sort of happened. She had thought of it that way numerous times before, but it never failed to amuse her.

Her father bellowed, "You think this is funny? You break one of our most important rules and laugh about it? We have rules for a reason. We have . . ."

Papa lectured her about rules, lectured seemingly forever. The whole time, Gabrielle thought of all the things she wanted to say in reply. No one ever worried about estraneos seeing them during the full moon when they were virtually indestructible. No one ever worried about Hunters being seen fighting werewolves.

But before she could utter a word, the Elder interrupted Papa's lecture.

"In a few days you will take her into town and find this boy, Willie," the Elder said. "Introduce her to him."

That got Gabrielle's attention. She searched the faces of the Elder and her parents suspiciously. What kind of punishment was this? Was she not going to get a beating?

"Yes, Elder Dukas," Mama said as if she understood. "There's a farmer's market every Saturday. The whole town turns out. I'm sure the boy will be there, too."

The Elder nodded, but before he could speak, Papa added, "Luray is a particularly close-knit town. They watch out for each other."

"All the better," Elder Dukas relied.

Six days later, with a clipped fingernail of a waxing crescent moon hanging in the sky and the mess the estraneos had made of their caravan cleaned up, Gabrielle and her mother put on matching green-and-white-checked dresses and went into the town of Luray with Papa. They strolled together down the main street, Mama looking casual, Papa trying to, but not quite pulling it off.

Gabrielle was conflicted. She was happy to be in town, to see the farmer's market and the shops and cars and people. And then of course there was Willie. She had no idea how they were going to find him, but she was thrilled about seeing him again.

On the other hand, she was still suspicious about Elder Dukas' motives. He clearly had something in mind when he told Mama and Papa to bring her here.

As they walked down Main Street, Gabrielle spotted a head of hair so blindingly blond that it could only belong to one person. His right arm was in a sling, and there was no mistaking him.

"Willie?"

She released her mother's hand and ran toward him.

Willie turned at the sound of his name.

"Over here, Willie," she called. "It's me, Gabrielle. How's your arm?"

No sooner had she called him than the light of recognition spread across his face.

"Holy begonias. You're real."

Only instead of coming toward her, he took off in the opposite direction.

Gabrielle stopped running.

"Willie?"

She turned to her mother, who glanced over her shoulder at Papa, who now hung back about twenty feet.

Gabrielle wished they would both go away. How was she supposed to talk to Willie with them hovering like that? They were probably the reason he ran off.

However, before Gabrielle and her mother had walked another block, Willie reappeared with four other boys, all about his age.

"Look at this," he said to his friends. "I told you she was real. Hi, Gabrielle." He smiled at her.

A dark-haired boy walked up to Gabrielle and poked her hard enough that it hurt.

"She's not a ghost," the dark-haired boy said, disappointed. He poked her again.

"Ow," Gabrielle said, shoving his hand away. "Quit it."

"And she's sure not naked," said a third boy, sounding disappointed. "You told us she was naked."

"She said she wasn't a ghost," Willie said. "Intangible is the word she used. She called herself something else, too." He turned to Gabrielle and said, "What was that word, Gabrielle? Roman?"

Gabrielle's mother spit on the ground. "We are no Romans," she said with contempt. "We are sons and daughters of Remus, not his murderer, Romulus."

Willie ignored her outburst, putting his left hand on Gabrielle's face. He was clearly favoring his injured right side, and thrown a little off balance by the weight of the cast. His hand warm but rough on her cheek, she closed her eyes and leaned into it.

"I swear, it's true," he said. "You couldn't touch her. It was the weirdest thing."

Gabrielle's eyes snapped open. Willie wasn't touching her because he was glad to see her; he was testing to see if she was solid. Suddenly his hand had all the welcome warmth of a branding iron.

She grabbed his wrist and flung his arm away.

"What's wrong with you?" she demanded. She spun to her mother and repeated, "What is wrong with him?"

Out of the corner of her eye, Gabrielle saw Papa edging closer.

"I'm sorry," Willie said to Gabrielle. "I wasn't sure if you were real. Some of the other adults kept talking about ghosts, and, well, I thought maybe I was seeing things, you know . . . because I hadn't eaten all day." After a second he added somewhat sheepishly, like he didn't want the others to hear, "Thanks for saving my life."

Gabrielle beamed. He had seen and recognized her after the men pulled him up from the ledge

"So you couldn't touch her, huh?" one of the other boys said. He leaned in and grabbed Gabrielle's shoulder.

"I said quit it," she barked.

Willie looked at the boy but didn't say anything, and before Gabrielle knew what was happening, suddenly all of the other boys closed in, touching. Testing and probing. To see for themselves if she were real.

One boy grabbed her wrist; another grabbed her by the elbow. A third boy grabbed her roughly from behind by both shoulders and suddenly there seemed to be hands everywhere, touching, prodding, poking, feeling --

Where is Mama, Gabrielle wondered frantically. Why isn't Mama --

A hand brushed across her chest. Gabrielle screamed.

Papa jumped in an instant, even before Mama could react. Yet despite Gabrielle's screams and Papa's presence, the hands kept touching.

Papa slung one boy to the side, grabbed another of Willie's friends by the shirt and hauled him back, and inadvertently left Willie faced off against the boy who had touched Gabrielle's chest.

"Apologize," Willie spat.

"Make me," replied his friend.

That's when Gabrielle stepped in. She was embarrassed at having screamed. She had just been overwhelmed by all those hands, all those boys.

She punched the boy in the jaw.

He reeled, then rushed at her, bellowing. Willie, broken arm and all, met him head on. Gabrielle jumped in too and the threesome exploded into action, a flurry of mayhem, a blur of arms and legs and angry words.

Almost instantly Willie's friends rushed in as well, followed by Papa, and suddenly everywhere around Gabrielle flew a hum and a whir of catastrophic movement. The boys fought with the kind of abandon that only young boys can, taking sides, Willie using the cast on his arm as both a defensive shield and a weapon.

Papa tried to separate them, though he did so with no more care than he would have shown in separating a pack of fighting dogs. Fists flew and bodies were hurled. Noses and lips bled. Gabrielle landed several more blows, hitting as many people with her elbow when she drew her arm back as she did with her fist when she punched forward.

Then suddenly Gabrielle saw there were even more people, town people, looking up, looking toward them, then moving toward them.

Papa noticed too and let the boys go, backing away. The entire group of five boys sprinted off together, disappearing into the red brick general store.

"Are you all right?" Papa asked, checking Gabrielle over.

"I'm fine," she snapped, distancing herself from her father. She didn't want to be touched by him either. She didn't want to be touched by anyone.

Mama put a hand up, stepping forward as if to greet the estraneos.

"We don't mean any harm. We were only protecting our daughter."

"From what?" came a voice from somewhere in the crowd. "I didn't see them kids hurting none of y'all."

"And we didn't hurt those boys, either," Papa said.

"Then why was they bleedin' when they ran off?" retorted the same anonymous voice.

"They did that to each other," Papa said aggressively. "It was their own doing."

The crowd didn't like his tone. Their angry buzzing grew louder and they flowed closer like a swarm of bees prepared to sting.

Just as the swarm seemed ready to make its final surge, a roofless black Model T Ford came chugging around the corner. It pulled to a stop directly between Gabrielle and her parents and the crowd of estraneos.

"So many people congregated in the middle of the street always makes me nervous," said the man, standing up inside the Model T. He put his left hand on the front windshield, and his right hand on the gun at his hip, looking back and forth between the two sides. Sunlight glinted off the silver star pinned to his chest.

"That man there assaulted some of our young'uns," said a wrinkled old lady standing on the porch of the general store, pointing at Papa. She looked down at Gabrielle with her one good eye. Her other eye was rolled up into her head, the visible part of it the color of milk and cherry blossoms.

"Yeah!" shouted the mob.

"But not before those boys acted in a most ungentlemanly fashion toward the young lady here," the milk-cherry-eyed old lady continued. She pointed now at Gabrielle. "Called this one here a ghost, too. It was most peculiar."

The sheriff looked at Gabrielle, then her parents, seeming to size up the small group of Rem'n. "They look like regular enough folk to me," he said, delivering his verdict.

He added a little more loudly, "I think it would be best if you all went back wherever you come from." He turned to the mob and waved his hands as if shooing a herd of cows. "All of you. Go on. Go back to your homes or shops. There's no trouble here, so let's not be making any."

The ebbing and flowing crowd slowly, but compliantly, receded.

The sheriff sat back down in the driver's seat, looking at Papa. "Y'all are heading home, right? Not going to see you here again, am I?" It wasn't a question. It was barely polite.

Papa shook his head, and that sufficed. The sheriff chugged off again, his Model T making tuberculosis-sounding coughing noises.

When the car vanished, Willie and his friends appeared one by one from inside the general store. They stayed on the white-painted porch next to the old lady, Willie fidgeting with his cast, trying to get it properly settled into the white cotton sling. Gabrielle marveled at how, despite the blood that was still drying on their noses and lips, they stood together entirely comfortably, as if the fight had never happened.

Mama got down on one knee and pulled Gabrielle close, caressing her hair and inspecting her green-and-white-checked dress for damage. "Those boys weren't trying to be mean. They just don't know any better."

Gabrielle pulled free from her mother. "Are you kidding? I saved him and he knows it. And he brings his friends to touch me. Like I'm some kind of freak! And all you have to say 'They don't know any better?' Whose side are you on?" She felt like hitting somebody. "It's stupid. You're all stupid. Stupid!"

Tears formed in the corners of her eyes and Gabrielle felt her jaw tremble with rage. She looked up the street at the general store where Willie and his friends stared openly.

Then she looked at Mama and Papa, and a solar flare of anger burst up inside of her, burning away her desire to cry. Her parents and the Elder had known this would happen. Known that she would be treated this way by Willie and his friends.

Her parents had done this to her on purpose.

It was unpardonable and she wouldn't stand for it. She wished the moon would vanish, so she could be intangible, so she could run away. Run away from them all.

Try stopping an intangible kid from running away, Mama. Just try. I'll go . . . I'll go . . .

Where would she go?

Where?

Gabrielle shook her head.

That was the problem, and it was inescapable. The Rem'n were her people.

Trying to run away from them would be like trying to run away from her arms and legs. Like trying to run away from her heart and lungs. Only the other Rem'n understood what it meant to be this different.

We call these people estraneos, she thought. But we're the real estraneos. We're the outsiders. And no one else can truly understand what that's like.

Knowing this, however, did nothing to make the moment any less painful, or make the stares from Willie and his friends any less galling.

But looking at them, she realized she was right about staying with her people. As quickly as Willie and his friends had fought with each other, they had immediately come back together again when things got dangerous.

It was all so overwhelming.

She wished once again that the moon would disappear so she could become intangible and disappear, too. Even if she couldn't run away, she wanted to crawl into the nearest rock or wall or tree and vanish.

Disappearing does sound good, Gabrielle thought as she eyed her surroundings.

But not right now. Not in front of all these people. You've got to watch out for people . . .

Imagining where she would go and what she would do if she were intangible, she looked up at Willie and his poking, prodding friends, then over at her parents. She thought about the sheriff and the townspeople and the cherry-milk-eyed old lady. About the other Rem'n in her tribe. About Celia and Diana and smelly old Elder Dukas. About all of them.

Yes, Mama, she concluded. You do have to watch out for people.

The trick is in figuring out which ones to watch out for.


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