Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 49
Into Dust
by Sofie Bird
Souls Are Like Livers
by Aurelia Flaming
...Or Be Forever Fallen
by A. Merc Rustad
Going Green
by Jennifer Noelle Welch
The Soul Mate Requirement
by Kelly Sandoval
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
Accept the mystery
by Chris Bellamy
Vintage Fiction
Yesterday's Taste
by Lawrence M. Schoen
Bonus Material
Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
A Novel by Lawrence M. Schoen

A Love Story, Told in My Monstrosity
    by Anna Yeatts

A Love Story, Told in My Monstrosity
Artwork by Scott Altmann

The chains on the swings were uneven. If we kept swinging, we'd collide, both of us flying higher and higher, closer and closer, until our legs tangled and our monsters touched. Even then they knew each other. My monster and yours.

When I laughed and tasted sunshine in my mouth, my monster reached out its black tongue and tried to touch you. You clamped your hands over your mouth, your elbows locked around the creaking chains of the swing to hold on, but it wasn't enough. The black tendrils of your monster hungered for mine.

I swung too high and touched the sky. Marble clouds tossed me to the ground, a pile of broken girl pride. I skinned my knee. You jumped off your swing and came to my side. Your monster slithered from the corner of your puckered mouth as you considered my red-knitted knee. With shaking fingers, you picked the grass away. Together, we watched dewdrops of blood well up, fat and shiny.

I touched the back of your head, barbershop fresh, and the hairs tickled my palm.

You looked up. I looked down.

Our monsters looked out.

They said hello. I see you. I'm here too.

But you bit down on your monster and it writhed against your lip. You shoved my hand away as if I'd stung you. Your jaw worked as you chewed and chewed, making your monster behave. I crawled away on hands and sore knees. My monster beat against the inside of my eyes, begging me to let it out.

But I couldn't. Not while you kicked up a clod of grass, swallowing the last gulp of your monster, angry and full of boy. I brushed myself off and went inside without a word.

You didn't even try to follow me.

My monster shivered up my spine, its thousand ant-like feet spiking my nerves like stolen vodka. It recognized your monster's presence, your voice in the hallway. I slammed my locker and shoved my sweaty hair out of my eyes. But you never looked at me anymore.

What control you must've had over your monster, to lock it away, when my own begged me day and night for a glimpse of you, the faint scent your cologne left in a room, the echo of your footsteps.

I turned my back to the direction from which I knew you'd come. My monster pounded my temples. I closed my eyes, but my monster beat harder.

You spoke of homecoming, of calculus assignments and college plans. Your footsteps stopped and my breath stopped.

My monster couldn't bear the nearness of you. It swarmed from my nose, my ears, my eyes - a hungry grasping thing that blinded me. I heard you suck in your breath.

You touched my shoulder. I turned my head, pretending nonchalance, but in reality, I was about to fall.

Yes, I said. Yes. I would meet you after school.

Where was your monster? I looked for it in your eyes, thought I saw it peeking through the black windows of your pupils but I couldn't tell.

Maybe that was just you.

You looking at me. Me looking back.

We met in the auditorium, stage left, behind the dust-filled curtains. My knees shook so I leaned against the prop table full of drama club leftovers - a broken fan, a plastic rat, a chipped teacup.

My monster rippled through my skin. It wanted to dance and cavort but I made it be still. We didn't want to frighten you. The look on your face pinned me to the table.

You looked hungry. Not your monster. You.

And my monster was starved. It didn't even ask me. It gave me to you. It spilled out of my gullet, hoping your mouth on mine would sate its belly-burning fever.

How I ached - the turning inside-out of myself as my monster pulled me into you, searching for its other half. But we couldn't find it. You'd hidden it too deep. There was only emptiness. We shrank back into myself, tiny and sad and miserable.

My lips were swollen and the back of my arms budded with ten small, round bruises that matched your fingertips.

You backed away. I wiped my mouth, tucking inside my monster's loose entrails. In your face was the horror of what we were.

I didn't blame you when you turned and ran.

I didn't even call after you.

Maybe it was locked-up desire that let your monster loose that night. Or maybe it was the steamy southern night full of screeching cicadas and too-tight clothing.

Maybe it was two not-yet-adults, no-longer-teenagers who stumbled into each other at the local dive bar, each reeking of cheap beer and pheromones.

No matter how it happened, it did. I wish now I'd been less tipsy around the edges. Things might have turned out differently when you hooked the belt loop of my jeans with your finger and tugged me away from the bar. We lost ourselves in the forgotten corner behind the pool table. I don't remember the song playing but I'll never forget the feel of your hands on my hips. I burned. My monster did too.

I tipped my head away into air thick with strangers' breath and unspoken trouble, the world swimming this way and that, but your monster watched me through your eyes. Its tendrils came creeping through your tear ducts, unfurling like black banners.

When your monster reached past my lips, slid over my teeth and tasted my tongue, it left behind the smoke of campfire marshmallows and lickety-split promises. My monster didn't wait. It slipped up my throat. You flinched as your monster poured out faster and stronger.

I gulped it down. For the first time, you saw me. Us. You accepted this darkness we shared.

But instead of pulling, your hands pushed. My monster tried to hold on. Yours did too. They tangled together, trying to fuse into a deep, dark whole that we couldn't break, you and me.

I locked my arms around your waist. You made a noise I didn't recognize, somewhere between a whimper and a scream. But we had you, locked together, and it was so right. Only your eyes and your face grew paler by the second, you pounding against your monster, reeling it back in.

But they were stronger than you. Or me.

I couldn't let them do this to you.

I put my hands on your hips and shoved. My monster wailed and clattered her teeth. You shoved too. Together, we ripped them apart.

I couldn't look at you.

When I opened my eyes, you'd disappeared into the drunken crowd. I stood in the bar alone, until the song finished, giving you plenty of time to flee us both.

My husband handed me the invitation to your wedding. Part of me expected you to have forgotten all about me. The other part knew your monster would never let you forget. I didn't even know how you found my address after so many years - the Internet, I supposed.

Or perhaps my monster called to yours, across time and space, dictating the town and street to your monster, you scratching it out on an envelope when your fiancé was asleep.

So you could find me again.

I held the envelope to my cheek. The dark seed of my monster, long curled into the pit of my belly, stirred at the scent of you. My husband glanced at me strangely. But he didn't have a monster. He didn't understand. Couldn't.

You trickled through my nervous system, awakening bright, shiny dendrites of memory, and my monster shook its sleepy head. I pinned the invitation to the calendar and my monster tore a great longing bite of my heart. I circled the date in black ink and my monster roared up my throat and burst through my mouth.

I'm going, it said for me.

The usher escorted me into the sanctuary. The service had already begun. We made no attempt to be quiet, my monster and I. Instead, I let my monster snarl and gnash away inside my head. It was a starved thing, pitiful and near wasted. It swelled until its tendrils pushed from my very pores, shadowy feathers I donned just for your big day.

Your monster stood at the altar next to the reverend. Oh, I knew you were there inside it, as surely as I lived and breathed inside mine. But the seething mass of wings and limbs writhed around you until you were no more than a nucleus for the transcendent being you hosted.

My feet nearly lifted from the floor. I held tight to the usher's arm to hold myself down. This was your big day, not our monsters' to steal. The usher seated me on the groom's side, seventh row on the left. You didn't meet my eyes. But our monsters reached for one another. Reached and reached and reached.

Your bride was lovely, a pale waif with no more substance than a confectionary delight. Of course, she didn't have a monster. And I understood.

My monster sought to drag me up the aisle to you. I dug my fingernails into the pew during the vows and they left crescent moons in the wood. Your left knee buckled as you walked your new wife past my pew. Probably no one noticed but me. Or they chalked it up to nerves. They didn't see our monsters brush each other, feel the ricochet of cosmic collide as the tendrils knotted.

Your eyes met mine. I saw it. I did.

But you had a sunbeam on your arm and I had a husband who mattered.

I ripped my monster away. You shuddered.

I didn't stay for the reception.

You rang my doorbell. I stared through the peephole at your fish-lensed face. You wore your monster wrapped around your hunched shoulders like a superhero's torn cape. You knocked and the door shook beneath my palms.

My monster hid, spiraled in on itself, a snail's shell of tired and no-more. We'd destroyed everything, my monster and I, gobbling up my world to forget.

The doorbell chimed again and again.

Too late, too late, the tinny bells rang. We already ate.

A childhood, a youth, a marriage.

Nothing left.

Your monster crept beneath the doorframe, a shadow thin spy.

My monster shivered. I tiptoed away on silent feet. I hid in the bathroom until the doorbell grew silent.

We were all alone. My monster and I.

I don't know whether you'll meet me now or not. But the coffee is nice here. And they don't mind an old woman like me taking up the corner booth for as long as I like.

I read about her passing in the paper last winter. I didn't have the courage to call. She was a lovely woman. I hope she made you happy. As happy as she could.

But that's not why I need to see you.

There are things that have to be said. My monster is restless. It rises up inside me with an urgency I can't ignore. All these years, I've learned to control its moods and wants, but now, it tears at me until I smother inside its chokehold.

What will happen to them after we pass? Will they go with us to the great beyond, wherever that is, or will they spiral out of us to find other hosts?

Maybe they'll finally be together. All these years, waiting for the two of us to set them free, so they can collide in some cosmic love story you and I never understood.

Even now, my monster flies under my skin like a million fireflies lighting up the blackness I've known for so long. It pushes the chambers of my heart faster and faster. But my heart is thin and flutters. It makes me breathless, not like valentines and heartsick songs do, but in the way of oxygen tanks and emphysema patients.

I wrap my monster around my shoulders. It gives me a momentary respite from its ever-present hunger. But its head nuzzles beneath my chin and its whispers fill my ear.

It tells me you are coming.

Your monster is near.

The hand opening the door is yours. The bowed head, weary from our shared burden, scans the room. Your monster circles you in a shadowy nimbus, a dying star in its final bloom. My monster opens itself and preens with the undying devotion of a thousand lifetimes.

You see us. Your monster flares into motion, tentacles reaching across the divide.

We stand transfixed, you and I, considering one another across the roomful of unknowing no-ones. I cannot contain us any longer.

Neither can you.

Our monsters embrace one another. Blazes of black-hot glory sear them into one flesh.

Our monsters say hello. We are ready now. We love you.

I invite you to sit down.

And you do.

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