Escape Artists, Inc
The Fantasy Fiction Podcast
PodCastle 827: Mom and Dad At the Home Front
* Author : Sherwood Smith * Narrator : Kaitlyn Zivanovich * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Devin Martin * Discuss on Forums Originally published by Realms of Fantasy Rated PG-13 Mom and Dad At the Home Front by Sherwood Smith   Before Rick spoke, I saw from his expression what was coming. I said the words first. “The kids are gone again.” Rick dropped onto the other side of the couch, propping his brow on his hand.  I couldn’t see his eyes, nor could he see me. It was just past midnight. All evening, after we’d made sure our three kids were safely tucked into bed, we’d stayed in separate parts of the house, busily working away at various projects, all excuses not to go to bed ourselves — even though it was a work night. Rick looked up, quick and hopeful. “Mary. Did one of the kids say something to you?” “No.” I had a feeling; that was all. They were so sneaky after dinner. “Didn’t you see Lauren —” I was about to say raiding the flashlight and the Swiss Army Knife from the earthquake kit but I changed, with almost no pause, to “— sneaking around like . . . like Inspector Gadget?” He tried to smile. We’d made a deal, last time, to take it easy, to try to keep our senses of humor, since we knew where the kids were. Sort of knew where the kids were. How many other parents were going through this nightmare? There had to be others. We couldn’t be the only ones. I’d tried hunting for some kind of support group on the Internet —Seeking other parents whose kids disappear to other worlds — and not surprisingly the email I got back ranged from offers from psychologists for a free mental exam to “opportunities” to MAKE $$$ IN FIVE DAYS. So I’d gone digging again, this time at the library, rereading all those childhood favorites: C. S. Lewis; Edward Eager; Eleanor Cameron; Edith Nesbit; and then more recent favorites, like Diana Wynne Jones. All the stories about kids who somehow slipped from this world into another, adventuring widely and wildly, before coming safely home via that magic ring, or gate, or toy rocket ship, or pair of shoes. Were there hints that adults missed? Clues that separated the real worlds from the made up ones? “Evidence,” I’d said, trying to be logical and practical and adult. “They’ve vanished like this three times that we know about. Doors and windows locked. Morning back in their beds. Sunburned. After the last time, just outside R.J.’s room you saw two feathers and a pebble like nothing on Earth. You came to get me, the kids woke up, the things were gone when we got there. When asked, the response was, and I quote, ‘What feathers?’” But Rick knew he had seen those feathers, and so we’d made our private deal: wait, and take it easy. Rick rubbed his hands up his face, then looked at me. And broke the deal. “What if this time they don’t come back?” We sat in silence. Then, because there was no answer, we forced ourselves to get up, to do chores, to follow a normal routine in hopes that if we were really, really good, and really, really normal, morning would come the same as ever, with the children in their beds. I finished the laundry. Rick vacuumed the living room and took the trash cans out. I made three lunches and put them in the fridge. I put fresh bath towels in the kids’ bathroom. At one o’clock we went to bed, and turned out the light, but neither of us slept; I lay for hours listening to the cl...
Feb 20
30 min
PodCastle 826: TALES FROM THE VAULTS – Study, For Solo Piano
* Author : Genevieve Valentine * Narrator : Laurice White * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producers : Eric Valdes and Pria Wood * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Fantasy Magazine Originally PodCastle 233 Rated PG Study, For Solo Piano by Genevieve Valentine The Circus waits in leaking trailers while Boss takes her lieutenants through the house. Then, her lieutenants are Elena from the trapeze, and Panadrome the music man, who presses his accordion bellows tight to his side to keep it from sharp edges, and Alec, their final act, who folds his gleaming wings tight against his back so he can fit through the hole in the wall. Inside, the ceiling is waterlogged and sagging, but when Alec opens his wings even the nails sing for him. Alec laughs, and the birds in the rafters scatter as if he’s called them down. (Alec will be dead in a year; these are the last birds he sees.)
Feb 13
34 min
PodCastle 825: Flash Fiction Extravaganza!
* Authors : Samantha Murray, Avra Margariti and Devin Miller * Narrators : Eliza Chan, Matt Dovey and Srikripa Krishna Prasad * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Devin Martin * Discuss on Forums This Blue World Previously published by Fantasy Magazine (Issue 83) The Light At the Edge of the World Previously published by Flash Fiction Online Directions to the House of Unnumbered Stars Previously published by Flash Fiction Online, October 2022 Rated PG This Blue World By Samantha Murray   You leave while it is still dark. Your lover sleeps on his stomach, the sheet draped only to his waist. You don’t want to go. You want to slide back into bed and listen to him breathing. And for him to make you coffee later, dark and sweet. But you’ve never let anyone haunt you. And you’re not about to start now. Your car takes a few tries to get going, as if it is reluctant to move out of his driveway, as if it wants to stay, not to glide down his street in this blue world that exists just before dawn. There is light in the sky when you pull off the highway and wind through the suburban streets to your house. A woman is walking down the road, and she is surrounded by her ghosts. You try to count them unobtrusively . . . eleven? Crowding and cluttering behind her. She doesn’t look that much older than you, and how easy is her heart, did it just throw itself at anyone who came along? You wonder if any real people are waiting for her at home or if their ghosts were the only part she kept. You’ve always been able to see them. Most people can only see their own ghosts; only a rare few can see those that belong to other people. You’d confronted your mother once, when you were not much more than five. “But you should only love my dad,” you’d declared stridently, flushed and righteous. You knew which ghost was your dad, although he’d died when you were a baby. You’d curl up next to his ghost sometimes and tell him about your day. He never spoke back to you and his eyes were always on your mother. “I do, my dear,” your mother answered. And yet there was another ghost in your house, too. A younger man, with hair that fell forward over his forehead. “Once, it was something that was true,” your mother said when you’d huffed and puffed about it. The ghosts lingered, even once you’d stopped loving them. “I wanted to deny it later. Pretend he never meant anything to me, just a crush, an infatuation, a fling. But here he is, so . . .” she shrugged. “Do you haunt him too?” you’d asked. You hadn’t thought of this before; it was a new idea with tricky edges. Your mother looked very far away and oddly younger. “I should think it likely,” she said, with a very non-mother-like smile that you hadn’t seen before. You are in the middle of making yourself a cup of tea — peppermint, your tea of choice for afternoons, when you look up and see him. Sitting in your window seat, one hand folded under his chin. Too late. You are too late. Your hands grip the benchtop and you bite down hard on your lip. Too late. Surely your heart is sinking but if that is the case why is it hammering so hard in your chest?
Feb 6
30 min
PodCastle 824: The Portal Keeper
* Author : Lavie Tidhar * Narrator : Eleanor R. Wood * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Devin Martin * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Uncanny Rated PG The Portal Keeper By Lavie Tidhar   October 1st   The rabbit was back this morning. It stopped outside the portal like it always does and it checked its pocket watch like it always does. It doesn’t matter — the rabbit’s always late. So far I’ve never found out what the rabbit is late for. It wore a jazzy waistcoat. It looked nervously from side to side and mumbled to itself. Then it hopped through the portal and was gone. I trimmed the grass hedges and washed the flagstones and placed fresh seeds in the bird feeder. I’m a portal keeper. The portal just sits there, a circle of heavy etched metal the height of three men or one small giant. It shimmers like a mirror inside. I cleaned and wiped the metal, applying polish. The metal is etched with what could be ancient runes or could be manual instructions. I don’t know what it means. I’m just the keeper. October 2nd   Two unicorns wandered past the meadow this morning and stopped in the courtyard. I greeted them formally and didn’t approach. They chewed on the grass for a while, and one pooped on the flagstones, but apologetically. Then they ambled into the portal. I scooped the poop and washed the flagstones. I trimmed the grass and fed the birds. I made a cup of tea and sat in the last rays of the sun and let them warm my face. It is always warm inside the polder of the portal. Outside it is October, and frost lies on the field. October is a busy month in the portal calendar. October 3rd   A man with a knife came through this afternoon. His clothes were bloodied and the knife was very big and very sharp. He was not a bad-looking man but he had a mean look in his eyes and he was clearly in a hurry. He left a tip, though. After he went through the portal I waited a while but no one came hot in pursuit. The coin he left was heavy, gold, and with the portrait of a woman on one side. I put it into the cash box. October 4th   No one came at all today. I read a book and made my rounds. I polished the portal. The metal felt warm. I often wonder what it’s like to go through it. Sometimes I want to put my hand through the shimmering haze. What would I find? I know the destinations change. I swept the courtyard and in the early evening watched a shower of meteorites high in the eastern skies, beyond the snow-capped mountains. I lit the night beacon. It shines bright, and I find it lifts the gloom that sometimes falls even in the polder. It lights the way for travellers who come to us. The portal never shuts. October 5th   A woman came through the portal today. She stood in the courtyard and blinked, looking around her with curiosity. She wore a summer dress and glasses with black frames. “Hello,” she said. “Hello,” I said. “You are the portal keeper?” I said I was. She looked around some more. “It’s nice,” she said. “Where am I?” I did not know how to answer that question. The woman indicated my table. “May I sit?” “Please,” I said. “Would you like tea?” “If you would be so kind,” she said. She sat down and brought out a large book and an assortment of mechanical devices she proceeded to...
Jan 30
44 min
PodCastle 823: Your Great Mother Across the Salt Sea – Part Two
* Author : Kelsey Hutton * Narrator : Samantha Loney * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Eric Valdes * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies Content warning for racism and racial slurs Rated PG-13 Your Great Mother Across the Salt Sea by Kelsey Hutton  PART TWO     “And just like that, Endersby was eating out of the palm of my hand!” the queen crowed to Miyohtwāw a week later. Miyohtwāw still wasn’t entirely sure who the queen had bent to her will, but she understood he was important. From a neighbouring nation, perhaps? They met in a small salon, this time a place of Miyohtwāw’s own choosing. She liked the large windows and the wheat-coloured wallpaper, even if it did still come with a faint smell of must. The queen had acquiesced. “He is Gallish, you know, and has never truly forgotten the Hauthasan conquest of Gallish lands, generations ago. But I convinced him to let bygones be bygones. A woman’s touch, you know. We must all forgive and forget, don’t you agree?” the queen asked, her tone attempting to be light, but coming out forced instead. She paused intently, teacup halfway to her lips. Miyohtwāw briefly allowed herself to close her eyes. She was tired; tired of this self-involved queen, and tired of this self-righteous land. She took another sip of her own weak tea, thinking of beaten-up kettles just starting to hiss over the coals; missing the smoky scent of leather stretched out to tan over the fire. “If harmony and justice have been restored, then yes,” she said and tried desperately to suppress a sneeze. The queen tsked, as if this wasn’t the answer she wanted. Words bubbled up Miyohtwāw’s throat, but she carefully swallowed them down. Miyohtwāw knew the queen was acting differently around her. She was not a servant, or a seamstress, or truly a friend. The queen’s upholding of her proclaimed responsibilities as a mother was . . . uneven. But then the queen said, “He was reluctant at first, but the Earl of Endersby will be eminently suitable as the new governor of La Foursze, I am sure,” and Miyohtwāw allowed herself some hope. “We welcome the opportunity to work with a representative of our Great Mother who respects the rule of law,” Miyohtwāw responded. She had yet to meet this earl, but thank the Creator that help was finally on its way. She took advantage of a sudden surge of boldness. “This means I must soon make the journey home,” she declared, and set her teacup down with ill-disguised relief. Which of her relations would still be there, holding out at La Foursze? Last year, three Otipēyimisowak women had been attacked by Hauthasan farmers. Several of their orators had been thrown in Hauthasan jails for little more than publicly defending their rights. Others — even much-loved mothers-in-law — were taken every winter by typhus. The outbreaks had been vicious last year. It wasn’t a question of if there would be faces missing when she finally made it home. Only a question of which ones.     “Of course,” the queen continued. “But first, I need another dress.” Miyohtwāw sagged back in the plush chair. It was not often she felt old, but her back had already been aching for days. “Great Mother, that will not be possible,” she said, trying to hide her frustration like new stitches in a seam. “The snow has already thinned to slush; there isn’t much time left before —...
Jan 23
42 min
PodCastle 822: Your Great Mother Across the Salt Sea – Part One
* Author : Kelsey Hutton * Narrator : Samantha Loney * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Eric Valdes * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies Content warning for racism and racial slurs Rated PG-13 Your Great Mother Across the Salt Sea by Kelsey Hutton PART ONE   Kwayask nātohta. Listen carefully. There once was a woman who sewed clothes so powerful they made you become the person you needed to be. Children’s feet wrapped in her flower-beaded moccasins never stumbled. Otipēyimisowak orators, backs held straight by her finger-woven sashes, never lost a vote. Loved ones, buried in family robes storied with a thousand hand-dyed quills, were never forgotten. This woman, called Miyohtwāw, used her gifts with bead and shell and calico and stroud to sew kin relationships together all across the Plains. Then, at the direction of the grandmothers, she was asked to do the same between the Otipēyimisowak and the distant Hauthasan kwīn. Yes, she remembered their language from her time with the nuns. Yes, she could still count their coin and twist her hair up like a “lady,” though it was now touched with grey. A Hauthasan lord sailing home was even willing to present her in the Hauthasan court. This lord assured the Otipēyimisowak that his great woman leader across the salt sea was a compassionate and upright woman, who cared for the people of the lands she ruled from afar like a mother cared for her children. No matter how different they might be. But Miyohtwāw was no ambassador. She always spoke through her clothing if she could. And yet, the Otipēyimisowak Nation badly needed to be heard — before the next great wave of land-hungry Hauthasan moved onto the Plains. The grandmothers heard out her own qualms but insisted nonetheless. Over and over, for the two lonely moons it took to sail across the world, she reminded herself: others, at least, thought her gifts were enough. They finally arrived at the cold Hauthasan palace — a monstrous block of white stone held tightly together by its harsh, straight lines. Inside, Miyohtwāw trailed the Hauthasan lord as he hurried them to the “audience room,” where they were to meet his leader, the kwīn. Every angle and awning was astonishingly cut, with an almost inhuman precision. Miyohtwāw couldn’t help but run her fingers over the gleaming metal banisters, the plush bench covers, even stopping mid-ascent to press her palm flat against the impossibly smooth marble stairs. This earned her a frustrated harrumph from the lord presenting her, just as the nuns once scolded her as a dawdling child. All it took was that one huff of scorn for Miyohtwāw to feel as stripped bare as she had felt decades ago, defenseless before the nuns. She quickly carried on. Soon enough, the palace helpers stopped in front of a set of heavy oak doors. They threw them open and ushered her into a cavernous room that smelt sharply of boot polish. She barely knew where to look — at the great pillars, intricately carved and sparkling with gold? Or the ceiling, painted with hundreds of near-naked figures laying on clouds? The room itself was filled with hundreds of the queen’s kin, dressed in swelling skirts and brass-buckled coats. Furious whispers rose up like a deadly storm of mosquitoes — each word too quick for Miyohtwāw to catch but all together enough to strip a horse of its flesh. She fought to catch her breath.
Jan 16
37 min
PodCastle 821: TALES FROM THE VAULTS: It Takes a Town
* Author : Stephen V. Ramey * Narrator : Bill Ruhsam * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Eric Valdes * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Strange Horizons Previously published as PodCastle #024 Rated PG It Takes a Town by Stephen V. Ramey “They ain’t really going through with this,” Tom said. “Are they?” The pig smell intensified, driving off more pleasant fumes of paint and honest sweat. “First the casino. Then the amusement park. Now a rocket?” He chuckled. “Won’t you crazy townies never learn?” “This is different. This will really put Thornhope on the map.” Anthony turned back to his work. “The whole town is pitching in.” He finished outlining the final T and selected a sash brush from his tool belt. The brush’s upper portion was crusted but the tips were flexible enough. He dipped it into black paint. “What about materials?” “Folks are donating–” “And what about the rocket? Where you gonna get that?” Anthony licked his lips, trying not to lose concentration. “There’s talk about that old silo on your property–” “My silo!” Tom laughed hard and slapped his thigh. “What in hellfire makes you think a bunch of morons and a queerball crossdresser can launch a silo to Mars?” Anthony rolled his eyes. This was exactly the attitude he hoped to escape. “Who’s to say we can’t?”
Jan 9
34 min
PodCastle 820: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Holy Banana Peel!, Pot, and Ferryman
* Authors : Jane Brown, Chuck Rothman and Joshua Jones Lofflin * Narrators : Tina Connolly, Eric Valdes and Rick Vicens * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Eric Valdes * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 820: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Holy Banana Peel!, Pot, and Ferryman is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13 “Holy Banana Peel!” was previously published by AntipodeanSF “Pot” was previously published by Daily Science Fiction “Ferryman” is a PodCastle Original! Holy Banana Peel! by Jane Brown “Would you like underpants on the outside?” Celeste asked as she flicked her blonde curls out of her eyes and adjusted the tape measure. The man’s body tensed. His green eyes darted around her shop, digesting the array of superhero outfits. Celeste placed a hand on his shoulder. “Jim — was it? — I know it’s overwhelming. But you need to trust me. I’ll make you the perfect suit. I’m exceptionally good at my job.” She winked. He looked into her eyes and laughed. “All right. I trust you. But no outside underpants, please.” Celeste smiled. “It’s a bit old fashioned but you’d be surprised how many still request it.” She wrote down his arm measurements and began the inner leg. Underneath his baggy jeans and t-shirt his body was in good shape. Really good shape. Lean and muscular. With his thick black hair and light stubble, he was undeniably attractive and for a second her mind wandered before she shook herself back to reality. “So . . . Jim, have you had your powers long?” “A few months.” “Radioactive spider bite? Magical ring? Experiment gone wrong?” “I have no idea how it happened. I saw a lady getting mugged in an alleyway and before I knew it, her attackers were on the ground and I’d rescued her.” “Ahh, genetic mutation. Born with powers but needed a traumatic experience to release them. Same as my dad. He could freeze objects. That’s how he met my mom, actually. Saved her from a falling piano. After they married, she started making superhero costumes. Said it was more fun than sewing wedding dresses. I inherited the shop from her.” “You’ve obviously inherited your mom’s talent too! These suits are amazing. You’re very gifted.” Celeste blushed. She wasn’t used to compliments. Most superheroes were so narcissistic she wondered if they performed good deeds purely for the adoration. Jim seemed different. He hadn’t even mentioned his superpower yet — usually the first thing her clients bragged about. “Jim, I tailor make every outfit to suit the owner’s superpowers. What are yours? Super speed? Strength? Elasticity?” He gazed at the floor. “I generate and shoot weapons from my wrists. Kinda like Spiderman with his webs.” “Ooh, how cool! What kind of weapons?” He hesitated, then mumbled something. Celeste looked up. “Sorry?” “Banana peels. I shoot banana peels.” Celeste giggled but immediately stopped when she saw the hurt in his eyes. “Wow. How . . . unique! I think you’re the first superhero I know to have a food-related power.” “It’s a rubbish superpower. If I’d had super strength instead maybe I could have stopped the truck that ploughed down my parents.”
Jan 2
26 min
PodCastle 819: Skipping Christmas
* Authors : Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw * Narrators : Kaitlyn Zivanovich, Matt Dovey, Eric Valdes and Devin Martin * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Eric Valdes * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 819: Skipping Christmas is a PodCastle original. CW for child injury and references to drug use PG-13 Skipping Christmas by Heather Shaw & Tim Pratt The flight was dead: to begin with. Leo Altman was seated in suite 2K in the first-class section, his usual preference since the first row was too close to the bathroom, and had almost the whole cabin to himself. There were fourteen seats up here in first, and as far as Leo could tell, there were only two other passengers, neither nearby. There might be teeming hordes in coach, but those poor souls boarded through a separate entrance, so he’d never know. He doubted even cattle class was crowded, though. He’d done this same flight a dozen times, the first few in his early thirties, when he could only afford business class, and it was never a crowded route. Not many people chose to take the nonstop flight from Los Angeles, California to Sydney, Australia on the evening of December 24th. If they did, they crossed the international date line on the way, landing in Sydney on the morning of December 26th, and skipping Christmas Day entirely. Leo hadn’t experienced Christmas in over a decade. Oh, Christmas still happened — his nibling Ash always sent a cheerful text about it, for one thing — but it happened without Leo, taking place on a page of the calendar that he didn’t inhabit. The plane taxied and lifted off, and Leo ignored the chatter from the cockpit and settled in. A flight attendant brought merely adequate champagne, but soon returned with a glass of better Scotch. She didn’t even wish him “happy holidays.” Leo was content to spend the next thirteen hours basking in serenity, another annual landmine successfully avoided. His first-class suite didn’t have a door, or even a privacy curtain like some other airlines provided, but given his scheduling needs, it was the best he could do. Usually, it was good enough. But not this time. This time, a stranger slipped into his suite and sat down on the little jump seat across from his recliner, meant for guests to visit and chat. The interloper was short and slender, dressed in white silk pajamas, with an eruption of pale yellow hair on top of their head, but the sides shaved. Their eyes were bright, and their smile wide; the overall impression was of an anthropomorphic candle. Leo couldn’t guess their gender (but then, his nibling was nonbinary, so he was used to that sort of thing) or, more strangely, their age — young, old, neither? “Hello, Leo,” they said in a voice that trilled. “I’m sorry for the lack of warning. I usually work with a team, and ideally we like to send a mutual acquaintance ahead to make introductions, but we’re terribly busy lately, so you’ll have to make do with me alone.” An intrusion. In another five years, if things continued as planned, Leo would be able to stop flying commercial entirely; by the time he was fifty, he hoped to have his own private plane. “Please return to your seat,” Leo said. “Don’t make me call the flight attendant.
Dec 26, 2023
35 min
* Authors : Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt * Narrator : Rish Outfield * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producers : Pria Wood and Eric Valdes * Discuss on Forums Originally published in A Christmas Chapbook. Rated G The Christmas Mummy by Heather Shaw & Tim Pratt Trish led Nate from the room, into the hall — their parents’ door was closed — and onto the stairs. She could hear someone moving down there. Trish crept down the carpeted steps. The only light in the living room came from the bright Christmas tree. Even the yule log in the fireplace had burned down. Two men, dressed in black pajamas with their faces covered, were tying a big red ribbon around a crate that was bigger than the couch. “Ninjas?” Trish whispered to her brother. “Christmas ninjas,” Nate said. One of the ninjas pulled up his mask a little and ate one of the cookies they’d left for Santa. He drank the milk, too, leaving a white mustache on his ninja mask when he pulled it back down over his mouth.
Dec 19, 2023
34 min
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