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It’s hard to call Tina Gower a newcomer any longer. This is her fifth appearance in Galaxy’s Edge. In addition, she had an incredible five novels out in 2016. Somewhat earlier she won the Writers of the Future Golden Pen Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award for best Mystery/Suspense, and was nominated for the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. She also collaborated with Ye Editor on INCI, a Stellar Guild novel.

DO NOT CALL ME BENTO
by
Tina Gower

The first cow vanishes in the night on a full moon. My godson brings me the news. I hear no sounds, and my sheep dog, Proteção, doesn’t bark. The heifer was thin; truthfully her death relieves a burden. She had no market value, so I let the mystery wither.

The second cow, however, would have brought a fair price. So I camp in the pasture. The long, chilly nights with no theft leave me sloppy, and I sleep. I wake when Proteção licks my face whining and shaking. I know before I count--a third cow has been taken.

When the fourth cow disappears, its shredded body found on the road to the village, I have to do something drastic. I strum my guitar absently watching the wind command the grass to dance in my field. Music helps me think. I pause, forgetting the song my father taught me: B, B7, C minor--it’s gone, but I have an answer. The only way to fight a monster is with another monster.

* * *

The breeze carries the rot and brine scent of the sea. The cattle huddle close to the house as if they know something else is out there, lurking. Proteção paces and a high-pitched whistle comes with each of his pants. I'm thankful that Antoine will collect my goods for market even with the troublesome accounts on my land, but we are long-time friends.

And he is not superstitious.

Antoine hefts a bag of wool into the wagon. He tugs the bags to the corner, making room for my dried meats. “You’re a fool, Bento. A name doesn’t hold that much power.”

He will take the supplies to the big island, Sao Jorge, for trade. He usually pays me with two jars of milk, a box of vegetables, and a bag of wool, but supplies are short today. Antoine’s word is good. He'll bring the difference tomorrow.  

“Just the same, do not call me Bento. I’m a seventh son. I should have been cursed to become a beast, but my name blesses me from that fate.”

“You’re not a beast. It’s an old witch’s tale meant to coax children to behave. Bento means ‘blessed,’ nothing more. Nobody believes in old curses.”

“The curse is real.”

Antoine waves his hand like he’s pushing away my words. “Bah.” 

I don’t bother retelling the legend of the seventh son and the conquistador’s raids in Africa and the curse from the Nganga. Hundreds of years ago my ancestors chose money over morality. Now every seventh son is cursed to become a beast, the body of a gorilla and the head of a bore, unless we take the necessary precautions to avoid the pull of the moon. “Then why don’t I have a wife? Children? Why do the villagers fear me?”

“Tomé is your child,” he says and gestures to my godson filling the trough. “The beasts are a myth--”

“--Because we’ve followed the precautions for generations. Because we remind the younger generations of our mistakes.”

“The middle islands are protected,” he explains in a bored tone. “Terceira is filled with Jews and Moors who refused to convert. My own family is Jewish. We’re Portugal’s dumping ground. And thank goodness, we came out the better for it.” He makes a face that indicates his distaste for the mainland. “Nobody on this island can claim pure bloodlines to the conquistadors.”

“What if a drop of guilt is enough? What if that is all we need?” 

He shakes his head. “You’re paranoid.”

But he doesn’t look at me or offer evidence to the contrary.

Antoine wheels the cart away. The squeaks and rattles create a beat that reminds me of a song. I retire to my porch and strum the chords. Tomé finishes his chores early and practically vibrates with energy.

“Uncle,” he calls to me. He dances around like a puppy testing the stones in a creek for crossing. “Is that a new song?”

“Yes.”

 He wipes his finger under his nose, leaving a smear of mud. “Will you teach me to play?”

“Not today. The neighbor boy will be wondering where you are. Go run and play.”

He shoots off, dust swirling in puffs at his heels before I can finish excusing him of his duties. The neighbor boy spies at me from the fence. The scent of rot and urine fill my nostrils until the wind changes and it's gone. The boy is gone, too. 

* * *

Many of the villagers challenge my request to call me João, the name of my father’s youngest brother. As usual, the children wrap themselves in their mother’s aprons when I pass, staring at me from their fabric fortresses. The women ignore me. The men laugh and shake their heads.

Bento is not blessing enough for you?” Madeira calls.

One old woman spits at my feet. “Choose any surname you wish, that is your right, but change your Christian name? Disrespectful.” She throws her hands in the air and mutters about curses while I skirt around her.

I swing my guitar on my back and retreat behind a mound of hay, but I still hear their laugher at my public chastising. 

I dig my palms into my eyes. I’ve asked several neighbors to help keep watch, but none will risk roaming the pastures with me at night. Others have experienced disappearances and there is talk that a beast is already in our midst.

Tomé and I take shifts through the night. Last night while I slept another attack plagued our herd. Tomé dragged the mangled calf into the barn. He bent his head and hunched his shoulders when I discovered him, waiting for his beating. “I must have fallen asleep,” he offered as an excuse.

The boy’s chin wobbled. He fetched a mound of clean cloth. “Will he live?”

“No,” I said. I didn’t glance at the boy.

I turned away from him and told him to go to the house. No boy this close to adulthood wishes to have his tears acknowledged. I skipped the punishment.

I know what’s next. Next they will run me from my home. I’m the only seventh son they know. My antics have thrust me into the light. They say I embrace the evil eye. 

I take a deep breath. My lungs fill with the sweetness of dry hay. Chickens cluck in the distance at the market. I promised to play a tune at the Holy Ghost Festa, so I must regain my composure.

When I open my eyes a young girl stands before me, staring. “You’re the seventh son?” she asks.

I nod.

“I’m a servant to a seventh daughter, a bruxa.” She offers me a charm and I take it.  “There are no names mothers can give to protect their daughters from the curse of becoming a witch." She smiles at the word curse. Witches are tolerated, in some places revered, not shamed on our island. "She can give you what you need.”

Folded in the fabric charm is a symbol I have seen before. I know the seventh daughter, the bruxa, she mentions. I press her charm to my heart. Obrigado,” I whisper.

The girl scurries off into the market, frightening the pigs in their pens. They squeal and knock over a bucket of muck. I hear a familiar laugh. It is Tomé and the neighbor boy. The air fills with the scent of hot piss. I glare at the boy and motion for him to leave. I take Tomé by the arm and guide him to the path for home.

I cross my arms and wait for him to go. "Stay away from that boy."

He looks confused, but leaves, glancing back and shooting me with hateful looks.   

* * *

The witch’s house is a hunt made of stones by the springs. Steam rises from the fissures along the path to her door. The gate and doors are open, which means anyone may enter. A pot is boiling over a fire a few feet from the house. I peek into the pot and discover bones and bubbling water.

“Come to join me for dinner?” A woman with a hooknose and a gray shawl tied around her head chuckles from the window. Her dress is black. As a widow, she will only wear black. Some say she keeps her gates open so the spirit of her dead husband may come and go freely. “Or are you the Bento my girl has instructed I care for?”

“I am Bento, although I wish people would stop calling me that so I can fight the monster on equal ground.”

“You can’t break a name from your body until first you break it from your spirit.” She holds a long green glass bottle to me. “Here. This is how you become a monster.”

I inspect the glass, but don’t take it. She quarks a brow and her lips tilt into a half smile. She sets the glass on her crooked windowsill and places a weaving of dried wheat that looks like a cross inside a circle. “And this charm will hold the blessing of your name until you restore it. Drink half the potion; carry the charm around your neck. Dissolve the charm into the rest of the potion. This is all I have, use it wisely. Be sure to drink it all when you’re done.”

“Done? You mean after I kill the monster?”

She sighs. “Men. Always for blood. And always assuming the world is the way you see it and nothing will dare change." She grins like she knows some secret I don't. "Yes, you can kill the monster--" she emphasizes the words using my Sao Miguel accent that has a hint of English, "that’s one way to rid it of the curse, but if you can get close enough to the beast all you need is to cut off the left hand.”

My face must show my disbelief, because she shoos me away. “Off with you then. Don’t waste more of my time. My dinner is burning.”

"But that's ridiculous. You expect me to believe it?"

"If you believe there is a beast and you are cursed, why is this solution such a stretch for you?" She watches me for acknowledgement, but when I don't move from her home she sighs. "All right. The hand is an offering. The curse survives because of greed. If you make a sacrifice then it is enough for the curse to be broken."

The water spills over the pot. The old woman scurries out the door, tugging the gray shawl off her head to wave the smoke away.

I take the potions and charm and leave her to her muttering. 

* * *

 For months my fields go untouched, so the remedies sit on the dirt floor of my stone hut.

A man is caught thieving in the next village. Villagers believe he was the one stealing our livestock. Perhaps I don’t need to use the witch’s spell. I laugh that I resorted to my superstitious thoughts to explain the mystery.

People begin to ask me to play at the market again. Nobody speaks of the monster.

* * *

A priest visits a few months later.

“Are you Bento?” he asks me.

“Yes,” I say. 

“The people of the village believe you have fallen to the curse of the seventh son. There are many reports of dead animal carcasses by the shoreline and sightings of a man-like-beast with a large hairy body and the nose of a wild pig with horns near your home. They say you’ve visited a bruxa. Is this true?”

“Yes--but I’m not the monster. I never took the witch’s spell. My name protects me--”

“Is your oldest sibling your godparent?” he interrupts. 

“No. . .” I choke on my next words. “My oldest brother was feeble and my parents feared he’d not be able to care for me if they passed. They chose a devoted, honored family member and were told it would be enough to ward off the curse.”

"They say your house smells of rotten flesh and pungent odors." He wrinkles his nose at the words and sniffs the air in confirmation of this observation. "This is the mark of the beast."

"It is not me," I repeat. "I want this beast gone. Do you think I would allow myself to cut into my profits this way?"

The priest shakes his head, convinced not to drag me to the village square for now. “This is a terrible situation. Terrible.” I know in his mind I’m already guilty. When he leaves, he blesses each blade of grass and rock as he walks towards the village.

I'm unable to keep from shaking from anger as I stomp to the neighbor's house. I bang on the door.

Jorge Machado opens the door. "Yes, Bento? Is there a problem? Have my sheep gotten loose again? I will send Little Jorge to fetch them."

I wave away his words. "Do you only have five children?"

He pauses. "What is this about, Bento? Is this about the monster again?" He leans against the doorframe and sighs. "We have five last I checked. Or is this about the market? Little Jorge says you forbid him to play with Tomé. I thought it was because he getting older and you know. . ." He makes an uncomfortable swooshing gesture with his hands. "Jorge would never teach Tomé about things he isn’t ready to learn.”

"You have five children," I clarify. I shift from one foot to the other. I regret I must be forward. Jorge may never talk to me again, but I must know. "Are there any who were. . . lost?"

He laughs. "I haven't misplaced them." He makes a show of looking around.

"You asked me about the beast and now you're deliberately playing with me. Are you hiding Little Jorge's place? Is he a seventh son?"

Jorge straightens and makes the sign of the cross. "I swear on Mother Mary. I tell you the truth. He is my fifth child and we have had no others." He glances into the house to see if his wife is nearby and lowers his voice. "And only one who was taken from us." His expression loses the wrinkles from his smile and I'm sorry to have put that dark look on my friend's face.

I leave him and notice when I look back at his house that he doesn't go back into his home for a long time. His words haunt me all night. I pick at the strings of my guitar and almost find the melody I remember. The wind carries a hint of rancid meat. 

* * *

Later I spy Tomé with blood on his hands and his shirt is torn. He emerges from the barn soaking wet and an oat sack wrapped around his middle like a dress.

How many attacks from the beast has he hidden from me?

I grab the guitar to calm my nerves.

Tomé sits with me for a while. “Will you teach me?”

“No,” I say. “Go to bed.” 

He drags his feet over to his bed.

I play until morning.

* * *

The best way to fight a monster is to become a monster. So I take half the potion on the next full moon and wear the charm around my neck. I secure the potion on my belt, cinching it tight.

My muscles ache. My fingers curl and cramp. The pain comes in waves. Soon I’m forced to the ground because my legs bend to impossible angles and can no longer hold me upright. 

Then I hunt him.

The smells are like rivers. They flow from a well of the present and stream out into the past. As a scent grows older it fades until it’s so faint I can’t trace it. I go to the latest attack and follow a ribbon of scents. Some are dead scents, other cows, other predatory animals that came to clean the carcass, and something other. Something familiar. I know this means something I'm not ready to admit, but now I know it’s the only answer that makes sense. 

I find Tomé on the shore at dawn. His fur falls in patches, the same as mine as we shift. He is relieved to see me. I know this scent, my godson. And it all becomes clear why Tomé’s parents begged me to take him.

Tomé shivers. His clothes are in piled tatters, hanging loose around his waist. “I don’t know what is happening to me.”

“It’s an old curse."

"But I am not. . . ." He swallows in the words as though they’re hard for him to say. "I shouldn’t be a monster. I’m not a seventh son." 

"Your mother may have lost children.” Or his father may have some he doesn’t know about. I clear my throat. "It explains why your parents didn't give you protection when you were born." 

“They thought I was safe. The villagers on my island told them I was cursed. They said they could smell it on me. I didn’t understand. They couldn’t bear to harm me.”

I nod. I show him my knife and explain to him what I must do. His eyes widen to the size of clamshells, his lips press together, chin high, neck long. He places his wrist on the rock. Although his hand is steady his body begins to shake.

“Be swift, Uncle,” he says.

I’m proud. I cut once, twice. Blood wells to the surface. He clinches his teeth and doesn’t cry out. I think of all the times he asked me to teach him guitar and how he’ll never play now.

I stop.

“Don’t draw it out,” he begs.

“No,” I say. “This isn’t right.” I lay the knife between us. I gather the potion and charm, dissolving the charm into the liquid. I say a prayer and offer the bottle to Tomé.

He flinches from me when I hold it to his mouth. “But you cannot!” He scampers from his seat, holding his bloody wrist to his body. “This is your blessing. Your name. How will you keep the monster in you away?”

I glance at the knife.

His eyes narrow. “You can’t mean to. . . You’ll never play again.”

“I will learn a new way. Perhaps my other hand--”

“It will never be the same. You’re good, it will take you years.”

“We can learn together.” I hold the bottle to him. “Please. Don’t draw this out.”

He creeps closer to me, still unsure. I bless him in the saint of my namesake. He drinks. He is now fully my son in spirit. 

“Now me. And be swift.” I give him the knife and present my hand. “This island is too small for beasts.”

Copyright ©  by 2017 by Tina Gower

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
BRAGGING RITES
by Samantha Murray

THE TRAGEDY OF THE DEAD
IS THAT THEY CANNOT CRY

by Sunil Patel

THE LOYAL ORDER OF BEASTS
by Kay Kenyon
YOU CAN ALWAYS
CHANGE THE PAST
by George Nikolopoulos
IT TAKES A SPECIAL-
SPECIAL PERSON

by Andrea G. Stewart

LOCKED ROOM
by Kevin J. Anderson

GOLF TO THE DEATH
by Alex Shvartsman

MY MONSTER CAN BEAT
UP YOUR MONSTER
by Brennan Harvey
THE OBSERVER
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
YOUR GRIEF IS
IMPORTANT TO US
by Yaroslav Barsukov
DO NOT CALL ME BENTO
by Tina Gower

IN THE GROUP
by Robert Silverberg

INTERVIEW
Mike Resnick
by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
Double Star (Part 2)
Heinlein's First Hugo Winner
by Robert A. Heinlein

COLUMNS
From the Heart's Basement
by Barry N. Malzberg
Science Column
by Gregory Benford
Recommended Books
by Bill Fawcett & Jody Lynn Nye

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2017. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (March, May, July, September, November, January) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.