Psychopomp Magazine Contest Chapbook
We’re very pleased to announce that our 2014 contest chapbook is now available for purchase here. You can now order the book containing the first-place story by Allie Marini Batts, “Summer of the Cicada,” as well as runner-up Teresa Giordano’s “Reina.” We’ve also included an interview with each author so that you can learn more about them and the inspiration for their winning stories.
Please enjoy a short preview of each story below!
Allie Marini Batts
It is just past sunset when we breach, husband and I. But breaching only delivers us from the dirt; it takes more light than the yellowed haze of dusk to pull ourselves fully free. It takes wide swaths of bark and the slowdive of leaves to become unbound from our larval skin, more sturdy than the frail pink skin of ourself from the time before. It doesn’t slough off the way we thought it would; we weren’t sure what to expect. Time means less to us now than it did when hours were still the measure that ruled us. Husband doesn’t understand hours. It seems less important to reach backwards to explain hours than it does to just move forward together without them, so we focus our effort on breaking away from our shell, instead of the human measure of time it takes. Because we are something separate now. Separate of human, separate of hours. Separate of skin. Separate of all but Husband, and this fire inside.
After so long in the dreaming beneath the dirt, digging up to meet the air is grueling, and is only the beginning of our labors. Molting is not without its pains. Made strong from feeding on thick root juices, our digging legs are bound to this effort. The cracking of our ribs echoes inside and bounces back outward again. From our shell borne of the earth, we dig ourselves out a second time. We feel each break of our husk as we tear ourselves away, wing from shell, shedding the last bits of nymphal casing and skin ribbon that has held us together for so long. We peel ourselves away, each leg and thorax like papery layers of onion. When we free ourselves fully, the moon is fat and white as larvae hanging low over the spread of live oaks, cresting the bottom sweep of the sky. Hours are just notes in a song we’ve forgotten. Time is the melody that echoes inside our rib cage but goes nowhere; just bounces back off our shell, and ricochets back inward before softening, and falling back into forgotten. We emerge bigger than we ever could have been alone, strong and fearful in our beauty. We are perfectly complemented, as nature intended us to be. However long it takes to unfurl our wings doesn’t matter, because now we have wings to unfurl, and our whole life cycle to finish this song. Hours don’t matter anymore. All that matters is now, when we have shed our skin for the last time, when we climb to higher ground . . .
The accepted account of Reina’s birth—if one can call it that—places it in Latin America. Historians acknowledge that the circumstances giving rise to her existence occur in many places on earth but most agree that her Latina name, along with certain oral histories, indicate she came to be somewhere in Latin America.
They say it took place in a village alongside the Amazon River. An old woman sat dozing, her bare legs splayed across the wooden platform of her house on stilts. It was February, summer, the sun was nearing its zenith when the woman, Alvita was bothered by the call of a macaw—persistent and unusual for that time of day. Alvita roused herself from her mid-day torpor and struggled her bulk down her ladder to the dusty path where she picked up a stone to throw at the miserable bird that was disturbing her snooze. She followed the call to a guayaba tree just on the edge of the village, where the forest began. But now the bird, so loud and persistent just minutes ago, stopped calling. Alvita heard only the rustle of wings, the scrape of guayaba leaves and then the thud of a guava fruit hitting the ground. Her eyes followed the sound to discover that the fruit had fallen alongside a leg. It was, without doubt, a woman’s leg. Smooth and strong looking: foot, ankle encircled by a thin gold chain, calf, knee, and thigh, propped up against the tree trunk.
The old woman was taken aback but not shocked by what she saw. People in Alvita’s country disappeared regularly. That parts of them might end up alongside tree trunks made as much sense to her as their disappearance. For years now, nervous young soldiers had been arriving at villages to accuse daughters and sons, sisters, mothers and fathers of disloyalty and betrayal. But to whom and to what was never clear. No amount of pleading, no bribe could dissuade these red-eyed boys in shoddy uniforms from taking away loved ones. Families wept and prayed and waited. But the taken never returned, and in time they were referred to as los desaparecidos—the vanished: Maria la desaparecida, Paulo el desaparecido, Celestina la desaparecida. And where did they go? Alvita had heard rumors of dark rooms deep underground where the young soldiers performed monstrous acts, sending electric currents through men’s bodies, violating women—girl children even—drinking and spitting, excited and eager to take their turn. Afterwards girls lay praying for death. Tales of dismemberment had circulated, too—soldiers carving flesh to pieces, the better to dispose of their victims, make the vanishing complete . . .