Letter From The Editor - Issue 56 - April 2017

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Issue 51
Mathematical Certainty
by Andrew Neil Gray
Only Then Consume Them
by Aimee Picchi
The Raptor Snatchers
by Rachael K. Jones
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by Kameron Hurley
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The Gong-Farmer's Daughter
    by Kat Otis

The Gong-Farmer's Daughter
Artwork by Scott Altmann

London, 1604

Only a few fading splotches of paint remained on the rotting townhouse's front door, but whenever Lidea Stockwell saw them, she couldn't help remembering how the door had looked the day she and her family were sealed inside to live or die as God willed. The dull red of the quarantine cross had reminded her of drying blood, while the prayer written above it made her want to scream to the heavens. Lord have mercy upon us. Plague had been ravaging London for over a year, ever since old Queen Bess died and a Scotsman took the throne. By now, it should be clear to everyone that God had no mercy in his heart, not for them.

Lidea paused outside the door and scratched away another few flakes of paint. She had been working to erase the cross, bit by bit, every time she passed by. The childish part of her half-hoped that when it was finally gone, she would wake and discover the past year had been erased with it. The part of her that was fourteen--almost a woman grown--would settle for just having her father re-emerge from his own grief. Unfortunately, the one was no more likely to happen than the other. Sighing, she steeled herself against the coming arguments and opened the door.

It was dark and dank inside, and the stench of death lingered everywhere. Lidea wasted no time in hurrying up the stairs to the third floor, trying her best to ignore the emptiness of the chambers she passed along the way. While she and her father had survived, the house's other tenants all died with her mother and brothers. No one had yet been desperate enough to take leases in a former plague house, especially not one with a resident gong-farmer.

Her father was where she had left him, sprawled across his lumpy mattress. The rest of the eel pie she'd bought from the chandler's sat untouched on the table, but he'd apparently gotten up long enough to acquire a jug of beer so strong she could smell it from across the room.

"That's not small beer, is it?" Lidea demanded.

"Ish good beer." Her father took another swig from the jug. "Veeeeeery good beer."

Lidea snatched the jug from his hands, dismayed to find it was almost empty. He grabbed after it, clumsily, but she evaded him and fled to the window, where she pushed open the crooked shutters and dumped out what little beer remained.

"Blood and nailsh!" Her father lurched to his feet and staggered towards her. Within two steps, he'd thrown off the effects of the beer enough to find his balance again. Three more steps and his hands were steady enough to snatch back the now-empty jug. "That was expensive!"

"Well, then you're throwing our money away!" Lidea shouted. Spending their precious few coins on beer was a waste. One of their long-ago ancestors had gone to the Holy Land and returned blessed so that his four bodily humours would always remain in perfect balance. No drink could intoxicate him for long and no disease could kill him, not even the dreaded plague. That blessing had passed down the generations in an unbroken line of fathers to daughters and mothers to sons, ending with her father and with her.

"I was trying to get drunk!" Her father turned the jug upside down, seeking in vain for a few last drops, then flung it onto the bed in disgust.

"You're done trying for now," Lidea said, scowling. "We have a job tonight--a house near Gray's Inn."

Her father matched her expression. "There is no we. I have a job."

"You don't even know which house it is." Lidea went to the chest where she'd stored her dead brothers' clothes. Nicholas's breeches still fit her well enough, though she had to wear them with one of Richard's larger doublets. "Besides, I've seen their cesspit. It's practically overflowing. You can't clean it out alone." He'd more likely drown himself. And while that would certainly end his troubles, she refused to lose the last parent she had.

"You're my daughter," her father said, firmly, as if that ought to end the discussion.

Lidea began pinning up her hair, the better to hide it under one of Thomas's old hats. "I'm all you've got left. Now are you eating your half of that pie, or should I finish it off?"

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