Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 68
Stories
Domus Lemurum
by Donald S. Crankshaw
Schrodinger's Grottoes
by Andrew Gudgel
A Giant's Rightful Due
by Amanda C. Davis
IGMS Audio
Out of the Belly of Hell
Read by David Thompson
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
Everything Mimsy
by Samuel Marzioli
Bonus Material
The Story Behind the Stories
by Donald Crankshaw

Out of the Belly of Hell
    by Max Sparber
    Read by David Thompson


  Listen to the audio version


Although the sea monster washed ashore on Monday, it wasn't until Wednesday that the fishermen found it.

There had been a festival the previous weekend, the feast of San Felipe de Jesús, one of the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan and the patron saint of the village. As happens on feast days, there was carousing and drinking, and so the fishermen did not work for several days to recover.

It had been a good February anyway--the fishermen had pulled net after net of calico bass, white sea bass, and halibut out of the fishing cove near the village. Maybe it was this abundance of fish that brought the sea monster. Who could say?

Hernandez was the first to see the monster. He was always early to the cove, arriving at sunup to repair nets and then perching on his favorite rock. There he would plunge net and pole into the deep waters of the cove, a spot that had been good to him for fifty years.

This morning, a half-mile before he reached the cove, Hernandez was met with an overwhelming odor. He had smelled something like it before, on another beach, years earlier, where a school of salmon had inexplicably beached themselves and rotted.

Hernandez wrapped his cotton pañuelo around his mouth and nose. The garment was lightly perfumed with orange blossom--a daily gift from his wife, and a mildly erotic one, so that he might think of her, and her own orange blossom smell, while he fished, and hurry home to her. Many of the fishermen had similar gifts from their wives.

Hernandez was surprised to see the sea monster, but only briefly. His town provided salted fish for the sailing community in the Monterey Bay. These men told many stories of enormous creatures they would see on their way round the Cape Horn, on their way to sell hide and tallow in Boston. Some ships would be wrecked on the way, smashed in two with a single twitch of a writhing tail.

This must be one of those beasts. Hernandez was certain of it.

It was large enough that Hernandez could only compare it to buildings. It was a little smaller than the mission church on the hill above their village, and that was large enough for 25 families to comfortably sit in.

The monster filled much of the cove, pressed up against the jagged, flint-colored stone promontory that circled the area. Great dunes of sand rose up on the sides of the beast, like waves, as though it had come ashore at great speed.

It was fishlike, with an enormous mouth and huge, unblinking, watery saucers for eyes. But instead of one set of fins, there were many, hundreds of fins ringing the monster. Its tail was pointed like the two prongs of a fork and covered with a thin layer of brown filigreed skin, looking like a dragon's tail from a book of children's fairy stories, or like a wooden decoration from a festival day.

Hernandez marched over to the beast. One might say he moved incautiously, but Hernandez was not afraid of it. He knew the look and smell of a dead fish, and this had both the look and smell. He touched its side, and it was rough like sandpaper, cold and dry.

Suddenly it heaved slightly and a ripple rolled across it, as though in response to Hernandez's touch. In an eyeblink he saw its muscles flex, moving from back to front, and then the creature's mouth opened. It happened very fast, and then Hernandez was running.

He stopped himself. He had seen this before. Sometimes a fish can be long dead, but you splash a little salt water on it and it twitches as though alive, sometimes strong enough to leap from table to floor.

Hernandez turned and looked back at the sea monster. It had stopped moving again. Its enormous mouth was now open, its tongue extending slightly. And there was something on its tongue.

Hernandez walked back to the creature, not so incautiously this time. He rounded the front of the monster, and, when he saw what was in its mouth, he crossed himself and knelt in the sand.

Entwined in the monster's tongue, propped upright in its mouth, was a cross. And attached to the cross was a man.

"Dios te salve, María," Hernandez said, and then rose again. He stepped closer to the monster's mouth, peered in.

The man on the cross was a monk. He wore a brown hooded robe tied with a rope. His hair was cut in a tonsure, and his eyes, rather than being closed, were open and rolled upward, as though staring to heaven. Spears pierced his body in an x-shape, entering under his arms and exiting through his shoulders.

It was San Felipe de Jesús, one of the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan. There was a wooden statue of the saint inside the mission church, and it looked exactly like this. San Felipe de Jesús, who had been marooned off the coast of Japan in 1596. There, the Japanese had falsely accused him of planning to invade the country, and the saint had been martyred on a hill.

What strange providence had brought San Felipe de Jesús to this shore, back to lands owned by Mexico?

Hernandez crept closer. There was one last detail on the statue in the mission church, and if this body on the cross had the same detail, Hernandez could be sure of what he was seeing. And there it was--the ears on the statue were missing, and so, too, were the ears missing here. The body had rough stumps of flesh where his ears once were, and where they were cut off as part of his punishment.

The saint suddenly rolled his eyes forward, staring at Hernandez, and Hernandez cried out.

What was this miracle?

Other fishermen arrived after a while, and, like Hernandez, they gathered around the beast. By then, Hernandez was inside the monster. They could hear his voice, deep inside the belly of the huge fish. They called out to him, but he did not seem to hear them.

Hernandez could sometimes be heard to be praying, and sometimes he could be heard to be crying out in amazement. His words were hard to understand, but some were sure they heard him exclaiming that it was beautiful, it was like a cathedral.

The fishermen did not know what to think. They too examined the monster, and they too looked at the crucified saint on its tongue, all the while hearing Hernandez's ecstatic shouts from inside. They talked among themselves, and then they decided they should send for the priest.

Hector agreed to go. Hector was the youngest of the fisherman, more of a boy, really. Aside from his youth, there was another feature that distinguished Hector from the other fishermen: His mother was Pomo, from the tribe of people who had lived here long before the Spanish came, long before this was part of Mexico. Hector's mother had raised him after his father had drowned when he was a boy. She spoke a language that nobody in the village understood, except for Hector, and Hector only half understood, and she told him stories in that language that nobody in the village knew, but for Hector, and he only half knew them.

The Pomo were a fishing people, and Hector's mother told stories of men riding out to the ocean on boats made of braided tule, leaving in the morning and returning in the evening, bringing back baskets of fish. At night, eating the fish they had caught, these men would tell of their adventures out at sea.

They too had stories of monsters. There was something about the monster here in this cover that Hector felt he knew, felt that he remembered from the old stories, although he was not sure why.

The beast reminded him of the story of his grandfather, who had sunk to the bottom of the sea. His grandfather had been attacked by a monster, but it was not like this. That one was like a long snake, and the side of its body was lined with eyes.

Hector ran the entire way to the church atop the hill. At first, the priest, Father Sanchez, did not understand what Hector told him. Then he did not believe. Finally, he agreed to go outside and look. From the church's position on the hill, he could just see over the promontory. And there, squinting, Father Sanchez saw the decorated tail of the monster.

Hector helped the old priest down the hill and into the cove, and, when Father Sanchez arrived, the fishermen surrounded him. They all spoke at the same time, excited, and told of how Hernandez, inside the monster, was now saying the word "miracle" over and over again. And the crucified monk entangled in the tongue? The monk did not speak, but his mouth moved. Every time Hernandez said miracle, the saint silently mouthed the same.

Father Sanchez raised his hands to calm the fishermen. "Take me to the saint," he said, and the fishermen led him to the mouth of the monster.

Father Sanchez stared at the monk for a long while. Then he knelt and crossed himself, and all the fishermen did likewise, all but Hector. As Father Sanchez led a prayer, Hector turned the story of his grandfather over in his mind.

As his mother told it, Hector's grandfather had gone to sea with a hundred men, each in his own tule raft. The fishing had been exceptional, and, at the end of the day, all the men had baskets overflowing with fish in their boats.

That was when the monster attacked, and all but five died in the attack. It swallowed boats whole, biting men in half. Those who were not killed at once sank into the sea.

Hector's grandfather sank, his boat smashed. He sank deeper than any man had who lived to tell of it. He sank so deep that the water became like ice and pressed against him like a mountain had fallen on him. He sank until everything turned black.

Father Sanchez rose, and he called into the mouth of the fish. "Hernandez!" he called. "Hernandez, anciano! Can you hear me?"

All the fishermen fell silent and joined Father Sanchez in listening. After a long, unbearable pause, Hernandez's voice came from inside the whale.

"Father, it is so beautiful," the voice said.

"Why are you inside the fish?" Father Sanchez asked, still shouting.

Another long pause. "It is a miracle in here, father," the voice said. "It is like stained glass."

The priest considered this. He held his arms out, and, with the help of several fishermen, stepped into the mouth of the monster. Hector watched, unsure why this caused his stomach to turn over.

The priest looked at the crucified saint. He touched the saint's head, then leaned in to speak by the nubs of flesh where the saint's ears had been.

"Why are you here?" Father Sanchez asked. "What does this mean?"

The saint's eyes met Father Sanchez, and then the saint started to shake violently. His eyes closed, and his head fell forward.

The fishermen cried out in alarm and disappointment. Father Sanchez put his hand on the saint's chest, then turned to the assembled men.

"His heart has not stopped, gracias a Dios," Father Sanchez said.

The priest then turned to look into the mouth of the monster. Hernandez's voice could still be heard, praying and sometimes letting out little shouts of joy.

Father Sanchez sighed. "I think I will have to go in and investigate," he said. He held out his hands, and the fishermen who had helped him into the mouth of the creature climbed in and took his arms.

Hector watched as all three disappeared down the mouth of the monster. He did not know why this reminded him of the story of his grandfather.

There were no more giant fish in the story. Instead, Hector's grandfather felt his feet touch sand, and he knew he was at the bottom of the sea. So he sat down to die in this freezing, crushing darkness.

After a while, he saw a small light in the distance, flashing at him. It grew closer, and grew bright enough that Hector's grandfather could see it was a fish, but a strange fish. He had never seen a fish like this. The light came from inside its mouth, and as the fish swam, it opened and closed its mouth.

Father Sanchez's voice interrupted Hector's memories. The voice came from deep inside the beast. "Oh!" the voice said. "Oh, so beautiful! You must all see how beautiful!"

The other fishermen looked at each other and spoke to each other, nodding. Hector could not hear what they were saying, but they came to some sort of conclusion. They began to climb into the monster's mouth, one by one.

Hector let out a cry. He remembered what his grandfather had seen. Tiny fish darted toward the light, and, as they did, the fish at the bottom of the ocean would close its mouth, swallowing them.

His grandfather had washed up on shore with this story, and had told his mother, who told Hector. The grandfather had told the story with amazement. It was, he said, the first time he had seen a fish fish for a fish.

Hector ran to the monster. All the fishermen were inside, but he could see the last of them, past the saint, walking slowly down the throat of the giant beast.

"Wait!" he said. "Stop!"

The men did not listen. Further ahead, some of the men began to cry out in amazement and delight.

In front of Hector, the saint looked up and smiled.

The monster's tongue curled inward, and, as it twisted, Hector could see it wasn't curled around the saint on the cross. Instead, the saint was attached to the tongue, along with the cross. The saint folded backward onto the tongue, now looking less like a human and more like a fleshy nodule, a bulbous mass in a fish's mouth.

A mouth that now snapped shut.

The monster's many fins dug into the sand around the creature. Slowly, the fins dragged it away from the promontory and back to the sea. As the creature moved, its saucer-like eyes turned in its head, surveying the beach, and, finally, settling on Hector. It beheld him for a moment, then moved on.

The monster convulsed slightly. Inside, the prayers and shouts of joy of the fishermen turned to screams.

And then it was gone, back to the sea, a receding point in an endless expanse of blue, and all that remained was sand, nets, hooks, and a sobbing boy.


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