Read Daniel Braum’s story Mystic Tryst at Farrgo’s Wainscot #8.

Jason Erik Lundberg‘s fiction is forthcoming from Subterranean Magazine and Polyphony 7.

Jonathan Wood’s story “Notes on the Dissection of an Imaginary Beetle” from Electric Velocipede 15/16 is available online.

Luc Reid writes about the psychology of habits at The Willpower Engine. His new eBook is Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories.

Our Lady Underground

by Susannah Mandel

The scuffed-linoleum halls of cabal central echo with one more set of approaching footfalls. One last set, at least for the time being. Another new author steps forward today. Susannah Mandel’s mark in the world of words has, so far, been largely nonfictional, but she’s also quite adept in the fictional mode, as we’re sure you’ll discover when she takes us beneath the surface of things in today’s story…

Our Lady Underground is a mystery of the earth. She lies in chthonic dignity under the hill at the center of the island, awaiting her oblations.

Obediently the inhabitants lay their offerings on her monument. Usually, they send the young people to do it. In winter, that means cold; in spring, they slog up muddy paths lugging the baskets. But one has not the right to pick and choose. Our Lady demands her rituals all the year round.

Everyone understands what Our Lady provides in return. In the shallows off the coast, she holds back the waves from surging and flattening the fishing villages. She keeps the cliffs from sliding down and burying the harbor. She grips the soil tight in her powerful arms, preventing it from bucking like a terrified lamb, overturning cradles and trapping young mothers under their tumbled roofs.

What does Our Lady look like? No one knows. There are no effigies on her monument, no pictures on the tiles sunk into earth at the tidelines. Rumors exist of secret cliff-side carvings; of an image cut in chalk on a hidden hill. By the fireside, the nannies tell stories about Our Lady in battle, rising, in vast and terrible beauty, to defend her faithful people against Our Lady of the Landslide, Our Lady of the Earthquake, Our Lady of the Tidal Wave.

(But the young people murmur mutinously, to each other: Has Our Lady ever stirred from under her hill? Does she even know how to stand up? To walk? Fight? Dance?)

Though they live by the sea, this island’s inhabitants bury their dead. The words of the traditional funeral homily, passed down through centuries, imply less a rapturous moment of reunion with Our Lady than a slow growing: a knitting together, as with the roots of trees. The nannies and old men sink into deep calmness, as they approach their eventual rendezvous. Children, whispering in the night, thrill each other with horror.

But the young people conduct their own investigations of Our Lady Underground, up on the hillside’s winding streets, in the basement nightclubs that bear her name. Among the shadows and pulsing music, they seek to answer each other’s questions: about what lies underneath; about where to find the secret hill; about what their elders have always thought to be so dangerous in the rising, shuddering and crashing of avalanches, earthquakes, tsunamis, waves.

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