August 4, 2020
* Author : Dan Micklethwaite * Narrator : Austin Malone * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 638: Slipping the Leash is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. Slipping the Leash Dan Micklethwaite It is 1958, and Aloysius Proctor has survived a war, and survived the clap, and he is married to Delilah, with whom he has fathered two beautiful children, both of them sons, and he is the second-ranked salesman in the premier automobile showroom in town, and he should be happy with life, shouldn’t he, or at the very least content. He should have put this behind him; buried it deep with his friends from the Corps. You’re thirty-five, for Chrissake! — what his daddy had told him. You’ve got to grow the hell up! You’ve got to be a good family man, just like I’ve done. The belt-buckle scar tissue burns Louie’s torso, scorches his forearms, singes his back. The shrapnel scars too, on his upper right thigh. He tries not to laugh. He tries not to cry. Tries not to think that he should have stayed home, and spent time with his kids just to prove that he loves them. Shouldn’t be toting this battered black case, with the scratch-marks tattooed on the stainless steel clasps. Shouldn’t. Should not. All of these rules, these enforced expectations, they bristle the hairs on the nape of his neck. They carry him back to patrols in the forest, with gunfire and mortars, and the bark of trees splintering close to his head. Ears always ringing. Nose always streaming with the cold and the fear. Teeth always chattering, chewing through cigarettes before they caught light. And he couldn’t re-spark the Zippo, because what about snipers? Couldn’t retreat or go AWOL, because what about Freedom and what about God? What about whatever his daddy would say? His daddy knows nothing. Nobody does. They don’t understand that Louie can’t help it, that he cannot stop tracking the shape of the moon; all of the moons, a whole multiplicity. Nobody warned him there were so many out there, their gravities wrenching and leading astray. There’s the one in the chrome of a Cadillac’s hubcap. The three on the ’58 Thunderbird’s dash. The button on the front of his seersucker jacket, which pulls ever tighter the further he walks. Against ingrained discipline, he moves to undo it, and then the top two on his white shirt as well. At first, he just loosens his tie to make room, but then he removes it, slipping the leash. A trend of defiance that started with theft. There were souvenirs everywhere, even in churches — crosses they took for good fortune in combat, as they stood beneath angels that shimmered on glass. And sometimes they saved you and sometimes they didn’t. The ones left alive took from those who were dead. He had lifted the Zippo from a gut-shot lieutenant, and a watch from a sentry whose throat had been slit. Other men would pull teeth, which they studied like diamonds; they would claim a few fingers, which they planned upon rendering down to the bone. Would bear them around like the holiest relics, like pieces of saints in a pouch on their belt. Some even took skulls, so he’d heard, which stank to high heaven, and then worried which creatures the scent might attract. He sniffs the street deeply and stares at the sky. Feels the noise building,
July 28, 2020
Ink, and Breath, and Spring by Frances Rowat The wheelbarrow thumped a jolt into Palwick’s arms with every third step as he led Mattish back to where he’d found the corpse, out in the northern reaches of the garden. The trees waved dimly at them under the grey sky, and the thin morning light crept across the rolling ground with its whispering carpet of dead grass. Out in the north of the garden, the wind never really stopped. Mattish had sent for a page when Palwick told her about the corpse, and had scarcely said anything since. She certainly hadn’t offered to take the wheelbarrow for a little while. The flat silver sun had cleared the trees and eastern wall by the time they reached the corpse. Palwick had found it on the ground, gloveless and naked. He’d wrapped it in his overcoat and set it upright against the bayberry bushes before going to find Mattish; he’d never dealt with a corpse before, but couldn’t stomach the indecency of letting it lie there. Three birds squabbled in the air above it; two crows and something paler. As Palwick and Mattish approached, the smaller of the crows darted off, shedding a feather. The pale bird shrieked after it, a flat sound in the wet morning. The corpse was a man who might have been a little taller than Palwick himself, but waxen and crisp as a rose petal. Its left hand was missing, and it had an oddly unremarkable smell, like laundry and a rasher of raw bacon. The skin left on it — Palwick’s coat hid the raw wound covering its back — had withered a little from the cold. He guessed it had been there a week or more, even if nothing had been at it yet. Mattish glared at the corpse for a minute. When it failed to apologize and leave, she reached for its remaining hand. The joints were stiff, but she wrenched it palm up and examined it. “Well,” she said after a moment, dropping the hand. “He’s soft-handed; unless he’s from inside, or new staff from somewhere else in the gardens, he must have come over the wall. The page’ll know.” She started working the corpse free of the bayberries, glancing up as the birds wheeling overhead screamed again. Palwick stepped up to help. The bayberries smelled bitter and bright, and the thorns bit at his gloves. Their branches were pliant and strong, snagging the sleeves of his overcoat. “Might be easier to pull him out,” he offered after a moment. “You really think he came over the wall? With one hand?” Mattish shrugged, pulling the bayberries free and keeping them away from the corpse with her elbow as she worked. She had thinner gloves than Palwick’s, but tough ones; the fingers were pieced and tanned leather, and she ignored the pricking thorns. “He might have been wearing more when he got in,” she said. “It’s still winter. If he snuck in and tried to hide in the garden, the cold might have taken him.” Palwick nodded. Cold wet wind wouldn’t kill as fast as a winter storm, but it would cluster blood around your gut and heart and leave you stunned and sweating. Then you’d do something stupid, like strip from the heat, and then there was nothing left but to pray you were found sooner rather than later. He’d found the corpse later, that was all. Still. “I didn’t find his clothes.” “Wind might have taken them.” The bayberries slipped under her elbow and sprang back to whip around the corpse and snag the overcoat anew, and she cursed and stepped back. “You’re right; get him out, and get the coat out later.” The second crow broke away from the squabble above them and fled eastward, tacking into the wind. The remaining bird wheeled down and perched on a thin bayberry branch.
July 22, 2020
* Author : Jen Brown * Narrator : C. L. Clark * Host : Emmalia Harrington * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in FIYAH. Rated PG. While Dragons Claim the Sky By Jen Brown [Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part novelette. Please visit last week’s post to read Part 1.] When marble cracks, it isn’t loud — or at least, not in the way I thought it’d be. Thera the Thrasher demonstrated this by cleaving her warhammer into the space where Myra’d lain moments ago. Instead of shattering, the veiny rock split with a squelch that came from sliding against itself; too dense to crumble, yet still capable of being broken. That rockface would’ve been Myra, had she not pitched away at the last second. Clambering up, she swayed gracelessly, swiping away the blood marring her chin. She could’ve been killed. That thought haunted me while I watched her match from a cramped stadium seat, wedged in between two bettors who could only complain about how boring the ‘underlands scruff’ were. “How long?” I choked out to man one on my left. “How long have they been fighting?” I’d arrived minutes ago. “Half an hour,” he grumbled. “Abyss and shit, let’s end it already. We’re all really here to see Giralt the Grand, am I right?” He elbowed my side just as Myra rolled from another of Thera’s crushing blows — but this time her shield split, leaving her gasping for breath and clutching her side. I shot up, fighting nausea. Myra was losing. She might actually die here, among uncaring skyfolk, before I’d gotten a chance to — “Finally!” screamed the woman on my right. With a deft foot sweep, Thera pinned Myra’s weakened form with ease. Abandoning my seat, I practically vaulted the stadium stairs while the crowd roared anew. I had to get to her. Then, everything shifted in the span of a blink. Thrusting sharply, Myra rammed her knee into Thera’s spine. Off guard from the unexpected blow, Thera wobbled right into her grip, allowing Myra to slash up against the arm pinning her throat; then low as Thera staggered backward, welling her shin red. It was a game of quickness after that, one that ended with Myra smashing her mailed boot into Thera’s chest plate. Despite tepid applause, Myra shouted when the Empress called it, laugh-jogging to the preparatory tent as if her life hadn’t been in danger. Though when she saw me enter, her excitement dimmed. “There’s the non-believer,” Myra called loudly. “Convinced yet?” My lungs were still convulsing, breaths coming hurried. “Convinced? You could’ve died!” “It’s called a feint.” Myra rolled her eyes, though the left one had already grown puffy. “Anyway, shouldn’t you be heading toward the cloud ferries by now?” I deserved her ire, even if it stung. “Not without apologizing.” Though washrags littered the competitor’s tent, I tore cloth from my good trousers; pressed in close to hold it against the cuts peppering her chin. “I’m so sorry, Myra. For judging you unfairly. For doubting you.” Myra’s jaw quivered, but she didn’t back away. “Fine. Apology done. You going now?” “No,” I shot back. “Because I’m stronger than you think, and I’m not leaving until I find my way into the coif program.”
July 14, 2020
While Dragons Claim the Sky By Jen Brown When a breeze shook the reed curtains in mama’s salon, I thought it might be another dragon gliding low, stopping to drink from Lake Mritil. ‘Course, mama and I weren’t afraid; we loved watching them soar overhead, wings gusting hard enough to free cotton fibers and coffee cherries across Gyrixëan farms, so that croppers only had to scoop them up. So, you can imagine my disappointment when it wasn’t a dragon aloft, but a lanky huntress pushing into mama’s parlor. She burst through our straw door, letting in the noon sound of Gyrixëans haggling over pouches in the nearby spice house; testing winter tunics in the adjacent tailor’s gallery — but this wasn’t any old villager, like the rest of them. Her wolf-pelt cloak, engraved walking staff, and curved daggers marked her as a traveler. And instead of looking journey-weary, her umber skin practically glowed beneath the gauzy afternoon light. “Dragon’s ass!” she exclaimed, lilting accent stretching the vowels. “And I thought I wouldn’t find another black coif mage before I hit the goblin ferries.” Mama couldn’t hear anything while her Sight was up. She was busy slicking greased fingers through Ama’ktu’s ‘locs, plying the hidden gossamer magicks that only us mages could materialize, to try and loosen the old woman’s phlegm. A few quick blinks sealed away her powers, returning sound and touch and every other sense the Sight dampened. “What’d you say?” Mama asked. “I’m looking to get Han’enfol twists. The long, chunky kind.” Pressing inside, the girl flung cold and snow and mud across our best mats. “Signpost says you specialize in healing coiffery, yeah? I’ve got a bad back that needs tending before I leave tonight. D’you take walk-ins?” “Omani and I take payment for services offered.” Mama flicked her head in my direction. “Black opal, benitoite, copper stones. Even upland banknotes if you have ‘em.” Her lips flattened into an unimpressed line. “But I’ll bet you haven’t so much as a pebble on you, little girl.” “Little?” The huntress snorted. “My eighteenth name day just passed, ma’am — ” “Then you’ve adult currency, girl?” She frowned, chin stabbing upward. “I will soon enough — ” “Pah! I knew it.” Mama motioned her away. “Out.” I hardly cared about the argument brewing. Instead, I was nestled on one of the salon’s colorful divans, neglecting all of my responsibilities — cleaning the wash basins, beating our yarn dyed throws so that waiting clients would go “Oh, how soft!” — to re-read a letter delivered via messenger raven last week: From: Mistress Carolyn Ames Department Chair, Coif Magery Imperial College of Allied Mages   To: Omani Sudyha of the Gyrixëan underland, Upon reviewing your application, I found your provincial use of “wish” magery an interesting method for the study of hair magicks. Therefore, I am pleased to offer you admission —   “Now, hold it ma’am!” The huntress backpedaled. “I can pay you easily in three days’ time!” While mama and Ama’ktu fell out with laughter, I shimmied deeper into the divan, swathing myself in daydreams of meeting Ames; seeing the College’s campus. My imagination fissured around the letter’s last line: At your earliest convenience, have your sponsor contact the bursar’s office to arrange payment for Fall term.  Only a fool would apply to the empire’s oldest Department of Coif Magery, under a Professor who’d pioneered hair magicks for thirty-odd years, without having any idea how to pay for it — yet, that’s exactly what I’d done. “I’m serious,” the huntress barked, loud enough to draw my gaze. “As a finalist in the Dragonscale Melées, I’m this close to becoming an imperial knightess. My winnings’d be large enough to pay back your kindne...
July 7, 2020
Originally published in Gilman’s collection When I Was a Witch and reprinted in Fantasy Magazine. This story is in the public domain. When I Was a Witch By Charlotte Perkins Gilman If I had understood the terms of that one-sided contract with Satan, the Time of Witching would have lasted longer — you may be sure of that. But how was I to tell? It just happened and has never happened again, though I’ve tried the same preliminaries as far as I could control them. The thing began all of a sudden, one October midnight — the 30th, to be exact. It had been hot, really hot, all day, and was sultry and thunderous in the evening; no air stirring, and the whole house stewing with that ill-advised activity which always seems to move the steam radiator when it isn’t wanted. I was in a state of simmering rage — hot enough, even without the weather and the furnace — and I went up on the roof to cool off. A top-floor apartment has that advantage, among others — you can take a walk without the mediation of an elevator boy! There are things enough in New York to lose one’s temper over at the best of times, and on this particular day they seemed to all happen at once, and some fresh ones. The night before, cats and dogs had broken my rest, of course. My morning paper was more than usually mendacious; and my neighbor’s morning paper — more visible than my own as I went down town — was more than usually salacious. My cream wasn’t cream — my egg was a relic of the past. My “new” napkins were giving out. Being a woman, I’m supposed not to swear; but when the motorman disregarded my plain signal, and grinned as he rushed by; when the subway guard waited till I was just about to step on board and then slammed the door in my face — standing behind it calmly for some minutes before the bell rang to warrant his closing — I desired to swear like a mule-driver. At night it was worse. The way people paw one’s back in the crowd! The cow-puncher who packs the people in or jerks them out — the men who smoke and spit, law or no law — the women whose saw-edged cart-wheel hats, swashing feathers and deadly pins, add so to one’s comfort inside. Well, as I said, I was in a particularly bad temper, and went up on the roof to cool off. Heavy black clouds hung low overhead, and lightning flickered threateningly here and there. A starved, black cat stole from behind a chimney and mewed dolefully. Poor thing! She had been scalded. The street was quiet for New York. I leaned over a little and looked up and down the long parallels of twinkling lights. A belated cab drew near, the horse so tired he could hardly hold his head up. Then the driver, with a skill born of plenteous practice, flung out his long-lashed whip and curled it under the poor beast’s belly with a stinging cut that made me shudder. The horse shuddered too, poor wretch, and jingled his harness with an effort at a trot. I leaned over the parapet and watched that man with a spirit of unmitigated ill-will. “I wish,” said I, slowly — and I did wish it with all my heart — “that every person who strikes or otherwise hurts a horse unnecessarily, shall feel the pain intended — and the horse not feel it!” It did me good to say it, anyhow, but I never expected any result. I saw the man swing his great whip again, and — lay on heartily. I saw him throw up his hands — heard him scream — but I never thought what the matter was, even then. The lean, black cat, timid but trustful, rubbed against my skirt and mewed. “Poor Kitty” I said; “poor Kitty! It is a shame!” And I thought tenderly of all the thousands of hungry, hunted cats who stink and suffer its a great city. Later, when I tried to sleep, and up across the stillness rose the raucous shrieks of some of these same sufferers,
June 30, 2020
* Author : Rachael K. Jones * Narrator : Tatiana Grey * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Rated PG-13. The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles By Rachael K. Jones In the desert, all the footprints lead into Oasis, and none lead out again. They come for water, and once they find it, no one returns to the endless sand. The city is a prison with bars of thirst and heat. Outside the gates the reptiles roam: asps and cobras, great lazing skinks, tortoises who lie down to doze in the heat. Where they go as they pad and swish and claw their way through the sand, no one knows, save the women who look over the walls and feel the deep itching pressure in their bones, the weight of skin in need of sloughing. Though Hester has sold asp eggs at the night bazaar for five years, she has never become a reptile herself, no matter what she tries. She takes eggs wherever she finds them. She has eaten those of skinks and geckos. She has tasted sun-warmed iguana eggs. She has traced water-snake paths through Oasis and dug for their nests. She has braved the king cobra’s sway and dart, and devoured its offspring too. Once, she found an alligator egg, and poked a hole in the top and sucked out the insides. But no matter what she tries, Hester has never broken free and escaped the city like the other women do. She even tried the asp eggs once, the ones that were her livelihood. It was the day after Marick the mango seller asked to take her as his sunside lover. Hester left home and dug asp eggs from the clay by the river. The sun spilled long red tongues across the sand, over the footprints always entering the city, never leaving, and Hester’s skin itched all over, and her flesh grew hot and heavy, and she longed for cool sand sliding against her bare belly. One, two, three eggs into her mouth, one sharp bite, and the clear, viscous glair ran down her throat. The shells were tougher than she expected. They tasted tart, like spoiled goat’s milk. She waited for the change, but the sun crawled higher and nothing happened. She has never told anyone about the day with the asp eggs. Not her mother the batik dyer, who spatters linen in hot running wax and crafts her famous purple cloth. Not Marick her sunside lover, who sells indigo cactus flowers and mango slices on a wooden tray. Not Shayna the butcher, her moonside lover, whose honey-gold verses roll from her tongue, smooth and rounded as sand-polished pebbles. Hester hasn’t told them, because they are why she longs to leave. The night bazaar meets on a different street each week. Each morning before, at sunrise, Hester finds three blue chalk symbols sketched on the doorjamb behind the perfumed jasmine bush. Sometimes she sees a falcon, a crane beneath a full moon, and a viper climbing a triple-columned temple portico. This means We assemble where the Street of Upholsterers intersects the Street of Priests, when the Crane rises. Or it might be a hand holding an eye, a wavy river, and a kneeling woman, which would mean Meet where Oasis runs to mud, and beware the police. Hester memorizes the message and wipes off the chalk with her sleeve. They meet in secret,
June 23, 2020
Previously published in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction. CW: grief and mentions of suicide Our Chymical Séance By Tony Pi To thoroughly inspect the spacious Silverbirch Room before the séance would take more time than we had, but I did what I could. No clockwork cheats lay hidden between the wall of books and the arched windows, and no mystical runes had been etched onto the crystals of the chandelier or cut into the fossil calygreyhound skeleton on display on the mantelpiece. All that remained was the grand salon harmonium, also the most troublesome. Madame Skilling could have hidden a charlatan’s trick anywhere among the instrument’s countless parts, from its mahogany upper casework to the hundreds of pipes at its heart. Cesar De Bruin rolled the key to the room between his palms as he stood watch, peering through the slightly ajar door. “Anything yet, Tremaine?” he asked. “Too many so-called spirit mediums have preyed upon my family’s grief, but they were charlatans with parlour tricks, all. I would rid myself of this one quickly as well. We haven’t got much time.” I couldn’t fault my friend’s dander. His only son Poul had shot himself with a palmcannon last summer, a year to the day. Cesar had this lounge closed to the guests at Château Banffshyre ever since. Had his wife not insisted on the séance, he would have been content to leave the Silverbirch Room sealed. “Laroux said he’d stall her, and he will. He’s nothing if not resourceful.” “Let’s hope. This Skilling woman’s convinced my wife that her ‘chymical’ method will not fail to contact the other side. I know too little of alchemy to prove her and her Ektoptikon device false, and Fay will not see sense. Have you nothing?” “In all likelihood Madame Skilling hasn’t breached this room, Cesar, judging by the dust.” I gave the lion’s-head handle on my new walking stick a quarter-turn clockwise, revealing a clever compartment in the shaft beneath the collar. Freed from its cherrywood cocoon, the foxfire-in-amber within shone brightly from its silver setting. I ran the illumination along the pedal keys, but they showed no signs of tampering. Discrediting a medium had not been my intent when I came to visit Sir Cesar De Bruin at Château Banffshyre. My team would always visit his Château before and after a dig in the badlands east of here. What better way to bid adieu to civilized comforts than to indulge in them? Or afterward, to wash away the patina of antediluvian dust in the thermal springs? The grand hotel had much to recommend it, thanks to Cesar’s vision: scenery, hospitality, and luxury unparalleled. The railway baron had built a formidable chain of grand hotels across the Canadas and ensured that tourists would choose his line when they traveled across the continent by train. The Banffshyre was the jewel of his endeavours. Cesar and I had become friends on my first foray to the fossil valleys of Canada Northwest nearly a decade ago, when rumours of newly unearthed Leolithic skeletons had lured me across the Atlantean Ocean. Though my doctorate was in Aigyptian archaeology, my research into sphinx cults had led me to fossilized specimens of countless leonine hybrids worldwide. By chance I had boarded the same empyreumatic train from Montraal to Calygrey as the De Bruins. I was surprised the President of Pacifica Railway of the Canadas was onboard and that he had heard of me. He had invited me to talk fossils over dinner with his wife and son in his parlour car. At journey’s end, Cesar wouldn’t let me continue to the badlands without a stay at Banffshyre at his expense. The palatial mountain hotel among the pines was Sir Cesar De Bruin’s dream rendered real with unparalleled workmanship. During that first unforgettable stay, I walked Cesar and Poul through the hotel,
June 16, 2020
* Author : Tim Pratt * Host : Hamilton Perez * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published at Strange Horizons. Rated PG for superseded oracles, despots past their expiration dates and probability witches. Another End of the Empire By Tim Pratt “I am here,” Mogrash said. “Give me the bad news.” “A child dwells in the village of Misery Chin, in the mountain provinces to the east. If allowed to grow to manhood, he will take over your empire, overthrow your ways and means, and send you from the halls of your palace forever.” Mogrash relaxed. This was, at least, not an immediate threat‚ not like the pronouncement of metastasized bone cancer she’d given his grandfather. He sighed. “So I’m expected to send my Fell Rangers to the mountains, raze the village, leave no stone upon a stone, enslave the women, and kill all the younglings to stop this dire prophecy from coming to pass.” “It’s what your father would have done.” “Yes, but I’m more modern than he was. Besides, we’ve seen this happen a thousand times‚ the attempt to stop the prophecy will make it come to pass, won’t it?” To read the rest of this story, visit Strange Horizons. 
June 9, 2020
A Cruelty That Cut Both Ways By Aimee Ogden The thunderbird had left two carcasses by the barn overnight. Ezra refused to call in the hands to help. It was Sunday, after all, and their God-given day off, whatever the devil’s own bird might have done. It was only divine providence that the rest of the cattle hadn’t escaped when the bird ransacked the Greens’ barn — the blank-eyed creatures stood and stared from where they’d crowded at the back when Ezra cleared the wreckage of the door and let in the morning’s light. He and Sarah cleaned the two dead cattle while Liza read the Bible to herself in the kitchen and prepared the Sunday meal. Sarah had assigned her daughter the story of Ruth and Boaz for today, and she could hear her daughter’s voice drifting out through the open windows in between the rap of the knife on the wooden counter. She struggled over certain words — Moabite and guardian and foreigner — but her voice was clear and true as she sounded out the story of faith and patience rewarded. Sarah hoped she took the tale to heart. Not much flesh to salvage from the dead cattle. The blood had run out to make dark mud of the dusty ground, and the hides had been shredded by the thunderbird’s talons. But the livers and the tongues were still fresh and mostly intact, and Sarah used her best kitchen knife to cut them clean of the beasts. There would be gelatin from the bones too. Sarah said as much to Ezra, and he spat into the soil. Spittle clung to the dark whiskers on his chin, and his blue eyes glittered like ice chips in his face. “So we’ll eat for a day or two, and I’m meant to smile about that?” When he stood, his knees creaked. But she pressed her lips tightly closed against a retort, and he didn’t come any closer. Finally he shuffled himself back down into the dirt, muttering curses as he sawed at the cartilage in the steer’s hind leg. Sarah peeled a slimy shred of muscle away from her steer’s shoulderblade and added the bone to her pile. She hadn’t changed out of her best Sunday dress — the only one of the three she owned made of store-bought cloth and not patched-up flour sacks — and she was brown to the elbows and knees. Well, it would wash, and so would she. She wiped the damp hair from her forehead with the back of one wrist and said, “You reckon it’s brooding season?” This time Ezra shot to his feet despite his crackling joints. He crossed the space between them in three steps and cuffed her across the cheek. “I look like I’ve sprouted feathers to you, woman?” he shouted. “How the hell should I know when a creature like that sees fit to drop an egg? I raise cattle, not goddamn demon birds!” She murmured her apologies, but he didn’t return to stripping the other dead steer. He put his head down and stormed across the corral, muttering, hands clenched at his sides. She put her head down too. There was still work to be done, however many pairs of hands were set to it, and the blood that ran down Sarah’s chin mixed in the dirt with the blood of the cattle. The pain was a reminder, and one she’d earned. Not just that she had bought that sting and then some, with the secret sins she carried. But this too: that Ezra was more right than he knew. That bird was surely a demon, and the fate it bore on its leathery wings was Sarah’s and no other’s. For what wrong she’d done Ezra, whether he knew it or not. And what wrong she’d done Liza as well, of course. It would be a sin to deny that twist of the knife too. When it came for her and bore her downward, she would be ready. So long as her daughter was left safely behind, at least. Ezra had never, would never hurt the girl. And the thunderbird could bear her no ill will. If she’d played a part in Sarah’s misdoings it had been entirely a passive one. Sarah’s lip had stopped bleeding, though it felt puffy.
June 2, 2020
Though She Be But Little By C.S.E. Cooney Emma Anne had a tin can attached by a string to her belt. Lots of things on strings bounced and banged from it: some useful (like the pocket knife), some decorative (a length of red ribbon longer than herself, looped up), some that simply seemed interesting enough to warrant a permanent yo-yoing to her person (a silver hand bell, a long blue plume, the cameo of an elephant head wearing a Victorian bonnet). “Emma Anne’s Heavy Weight Stacked Plate Championship Wrestling Belt,” Captain Howard called it. Captain Howard often capitalized the first letters of words she spoke out loud. The belt was leather and embossed bronze, like a python wrapped twice about Emma Anne’s torso. It had appeared along with Captious and Bumptious the night the sky turned silver. So had the tin can. They were all part of Emma Anne’s endowments. (“Endowments” was the pirate word for objects or traits materializing Post-Argentum. “Post-Argentum,” another phrase of their design. Pirates had words for everything. But pirates were liars.) Emma Anne hadn’t known how to use any of her endowments at first. Nothing was obvious until it was. She brought the tin can up to her mouth and spoke into its cavity as clearly as she could. Endowments obeyed intent. “Emma Anne to Margaret Howard. Come in please, Captain Howard.” Captain Margaret Howard, Way Pirate of Route 1, did not deal in tin cans. What she had was her parrot, George Sand. George Sand got reception. “Rrrawk,” Emma Anne’s tin can blatted back at her. “Whaddya want?” “What do you want, over,” Emma Anne corrected. She wouldn’t have corrected Captain Howard to her face, but George Sand never failed to get on Emma’s nerves. “Rrrawk! Take it and rrawk yourself,” said George Sand. “Over.” There was a pause while Emma Anne’s chest tightened. The tin can blatted: “Cap’n Howard makes her apologies for her rude bird, over. Please continue, kid, over.” She took a deep breath and decided not, after all, to cry. “Captain, I’ve had a second visitation. It’s the Loping Man for sure. I think he’s coming for me tonight. Can you please meet me at Potter Hill preserve? He’s been showing up around eight o’ clock, so if you could come before that, I’d be really . . . But I understand if you’ll be out, out . . .” Emma Anne knew the word she wanted to say, or knew that she had known it not too long ago. It dissolved at the back of her throat like a Vitamin C tablet. Left a tang. George Sand provided. “Carousing!” it squawked. “Roistering. Wassailing. Possibly pillaging. Pirate Banquet tonight up at The Grill. Starts at seven. Mandatory.” Another pause, wherein (Emma Anne surmised) Captain Howard related something to her parrot even it would not repeat. “Er . . . over.” “Bye,” said Emma Anne in a much smaller voice. She let the tin can fall. It bonged hollowly against her knee. Captious sighed. “Well. That went about the way we thought.” Bumptious let out a gentle “Oof” as Emma Anne flopped against his head. Being composed of fake fur and synthetic fiber batting, he was barely fazed by Emma Anne’s constant, casual assaults upon his person. “Margo Howard’s not reliable,” said Bumptious. “She used to be, before the sky turned silver. Remember how she organized the book club? Volunteered for every church committee? She made loads as an X-ray tech, too, Emma Anne, and always so modest not to mention it. But she did have one of those halfie cars that ran on lightning as well as gas, and you know they didn’t come cheap.” “Electricity,” Emma Anne murmured to herself, to make sure she remembered it. It was hard to think, with the Loping Man looming close as nighttime. “Hybrid. Hybrid cars.” “She sure ain’t modest now,” Captious observed. Captious was a weasel, stuffed,
May 26, 2020
Vincent’s Penny By Chris Barnham  May 1941 I’m a child this time. Five or six years old. Fully clothed under a bed, on a wooden floor. I touch a hand to my throat, but there is nothing there. I examine my hands and arms, astonished by the smoothness of the skin. At last, I crawl out from beneath the bed and leave the room. Light from a jagged hole in the roof, blue sky beyond, streaked with horsetails of cloud.  The floor is dusted with splinters of wood and brick. The window at the end of the hall has daggers of glass clinging to the frame. Over the banister, more rubble and destruction below. Some of the stairs are broken, but I pick my way downstairs, helped by the fact that I am so light now, in this child’s frame. I could skip across a field of grass and barely disturb the dew. There is a door at the foot of the stairs. I turn the handle and push, but at first it does not move. Maybe the wall has shifted in the raid. I try again, ramming my tiny shoulder against the wood. The door releases its grip and tumbles me outside.    The Previous Day Before they take me out, they put a hood over my head. A hand on my arm guides me down a flight of stairs. On the flat, they shove me forward. Hands pull me to a halt and there is the sound of a car door, before someone pushes down on the top of my head, pressing me inside. As the car engine starts, I hear a loud wailing in the distance. “Air-raid siren,” I say. “Are you sure we should be going for a drive?” “No need to worry about Hitler’s bombers,” a familiar voice says. “Nothing he can do to you that’s worse than what Vincent’s got in mind.” The car gathers speed. The sirens fall away and another sound comes; a strengthening growl high above. I can picture the swollen metal bellies of the Heinkel bombers, stuffed with high explosives. With the motion of the car, I feel the ancient metal disc move on its chain beneath my shirt. Vincent’s penny; maybe it can bring me luck again. “You can let me go. Who will ever know?” “Why would we do that?” “If you let Vincent do this, who will stop him doing worse in the future?” The car stops, doors open and close. As they lead me away from the car a succession of explosions in the distance makes me flinch. A sound like a giant striding towards us, wading through houses and shops. The hood is snatched away, revealing a large empty space, an abandoned warehouse. A table and three chairs in the centre of the room. I know I will never leave this place. May 1593 Two men on horseback approach early in the morning. I see them from my perch astride a tree branch overhanging the river. They cross the bridge and turn right on a path that will bring them to Father’s workshop. I scramble down and I’m in front of the house when they arrive. They look tired. One of them hangs his head low as he rides, close to falling asleep in the saddle. The other is more alert. His dark eyes catch and hold mine as he draws close. “Can we get water here, boy?” “Them horses need more than water.” “What are you talking about?” “Not meaning to be rude, sir. Your friend’s horse, look at its foot.” The right hind shoe has broken. The man jumps down and hands me the reins, before crouching to examine the hoof of his companion’s horse. “Clever boy.” For the first time he looks at the house. The door to Father’s workshop is closed, but a metal outline of hammer and anvil is fixed above it. “And by a stroke of providence this appears to be a smith’s establishment.” “My father’s, sir.” “What is your name, boy?” “Sebastian, sir.” “Well, Sebastian, does your father pay you to stand outside and attract business?” “No, sir.” “Perhaps he should. Here.” He puts a silver coin in my hand,
May 19, 2020
* Author : Claire Humphrey * Narrator : Jen R. Albert * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 627: We Are the Flower is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. Includes copious F-bombs. We Are the Flower By Claire Humphrey I didn’t clue in until I saw the ghost bike chained to a signpost on Adelaide, near a corner. I was stopped up close, and I looked down and the angles of the frame were familiar. A Cannondale CAAD 5, just like mine. You could even see flashes of the same red and yellow logo underneath the white spray paint. It’s, like, a pretty iconic bike, and you see them around a lot. So nothing too weird, right? Only then I noticed the luggage tag dangling from the handlebar. The neon green stood out against the white spray paint, and where you’d write the address someone had written, in silver marker, MISS YOU, MC. Which is my name, or at least what I’m called. I paused there a moment, one shoe clipped in, the other out and braced on the curb, then I looked at the rest of the bike again and saw, under the paint, the shape of my Trogdor sticker on the top tube. Just like the one on the top tube of the red and yellow CAAD 5 I was currently riding. Got to say, it shook me. I knew in my feelings even though I didn’t quite know in my mind. So what did I do? Well, honestly, I turned into a bird. That was not super useful, I know, but it just happened. Then I spent like five hours flapping around, screeching and shitting. Eventually I calmed the fuck down and stopped being a bird. I found myself back at the ghost bike on Adelaide. My own bike — I mean the one I rode there on — was nowhere to be seen. I held still and looked at the ghost bike again, closer. It was definitely mine. And there was the dangling luggage tag, and there was a bouquet of daisies hockey-taped to the rear triangle. That’s what you do when someone dies in a bike accident. You paint their bike white and you set it up where they died. On rural roads people set up roadside crosses. In the city, you make a ghost bike. That’s what you do when someone in the cycling community, a frequent rider, a bike lane advocate, dies. Someone like me. That’s what you do. I said it like twelve different ways to myself, and it didn’t feel real. Only it did feel real, because of some things like how I didn’t really know how I’d come to that corner that day, or where the other version of my bike had gone, or why the fuck I’d turned into a bird. So, like, that was a lot to take in, you know? And I guess no one would blame me for freaking out a bit. And having an existential crisis about whether I was a ghost or a soul, and whether I was going to stay stuck here at the place where I died, and what the hell happened in the first place, and was I here to take vengeance on the driver who probably doored me and then backed over me or some shit. And, uh, turning into a bird again for a bit, because it seemed like that was my thing now. Is there a religion where dead people turn into birds? Asking for a friend. I’m telling this to you, but I don’t know if you can hear it. I’m right beside you in your bed. You’re flat on your back, snoring. You aren’t wearing your sleep apnea mask. You smell like booze, which kind of bothers me: you aren’t supposed to drink with your antidepressants, but also, I’m a fucking ghost,
May 13, 2020
* Authors : Tina Connolly and A.C. Wise * Narrators : Tina Connolly and Dani Daly * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums “A Sharp Breath of Birds” was originally published in Uncanny Magazine. “A Guide to Birds by Song (After Death)” was originally published in Clockwork Phoenix 5. Rated PG-13. “A Sharp Breath of Birds” is a companion piece to Laura Christensen’s artwork “Swan Dive.” A Sharp Breath of Birds By Tina Connolly You are two on the day you see your first personal bird. It is the sort of thing you barely remember later, at six, seven, twenty. And yet you cling to it as your first memory: a sleek black penguin waddling through your nursery, it in black, you in white lace, mended and re-mended because you will not stop pulling off the threads to suck. You remember, later, a surprising softness to its feathers. You remember that it went right on past, even though you lunged for it. Your two-year-old images end like this: dark, warm, comforting, gone. At seven, you see the birds regularly. You incorporate them into all your pretends; there is always some princess carried off by a bird to a nest made of raven feathers and filigreed spoons and shiny bits of silvered foil. Alice from next door easily accepts all the bird imagery as a fact of life; surely everybody plays games with birds in them, and she finds you books with more; the seven sparrows, and the dove maiden, and the nightingale at sea. Sometimes the princess is rescued by Alice, or Alice by the princess, and sometimes both girls rescue themselves, and sometimes nobody rescues anybody and they settle down as gainfully employed bird-bandits and bring more spoons and candlesticks and hand mirrors to the nest until your mother puts a stop to that and the bandits have to put all the things back. At twelve you swear to keep playing princess-bandits forever, swear it under a double moon with a flock of geese flying past. At fifteen you, drunk, try to remind her of this. At seventeen Alice says nobody gets to make nests in real life and she says it louder, ten times, as if enough repetitions will get you to accept it and then she hands you a letter from her sweetheart inviting her to the next dance and asking if she could please bring a date for his cousin, recently home from the war. The paper trembles between you and you look at it for a long time. You fold it up and hand it back. Why not, you say, and a murmuration of starlings on the carpet takes skittish flight. The rain is falling on the day you marry Alice’s sweetheart’s cousin. It seeps under the cracks in the chapel door, floods the aisle. It soaks your white silk shoes and you are supposed to be paying attention to the words you are saying but instead the words repeat like a metronome: I paid seven dollars for these shoes and I will never wear them again. The water does not seem to bother anyone else, they keep smiling fatuously at this charming double wedding, though the winds lash outside and the windows are blinded by it.
May 6, 2020
* Author : Gem Isherwood * Narrator : Eve Upton * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 625: Salt and Iron is a PodCastle original. Rated R. Salt and Iron By Gem Isherwood There’s a gash across her cheekbone, glass in her arm and her lower lip is twice the size it should be, but Dagna Müller is hardly a stranger to pain. She slumps on the steps outside the tavern, feeling her nose to check if it’s broken again. Without sensation in her fingertips it’s hard to tell. She can’t bring herself to care much either way. Her muscles ache from the weight as well as the fight: a dull hurt that courses along her shoulders and down her arms, turning to a chafing burn where the skin of her wrists meets the solid metal of her hands. That pain never fades. At least the injuries provide some variety. The tavern stands on the seafront, where barques and schooners are berthed like horses stabled for the night. The tide is low and the air reeks worse than an undine’s armpit; between that and the cheap gin in her belly it takes all of Dagna’s willpower not to retch. Six months ago, she wouldn’t have lost a fight. If she hadn’t drunk herself halfway into oblivion she could have knocked all three of them out inside of a minute. Or at least noticed the bastards were cheating before they’d taken every last coin in her purse. “Here,” a voice says from above her. “You’re a damn poor advertisement for my business.” She looks up to see the landlord – an old mariner, face wrinkled from the sun and sea air – offering her an almost-clean rag. She takes it and dabs at her bloody face. “I’ll pay for the damage,” she says, busted lip muffling the words. “Oh yeah? With what?” He leans against the doorframe and folds his arms. “Them’s good hands for throwing a punch. Strong arms for throwing weight behind it too.” “Four years on the merchant ships’ll do that.” The glass splinters in her left bicep are leaking spots of blood like freckles. She’ll have to dig them out with a penknife later. It’s times like these she misses fingernails. “Yeah,” the landlord grins, “I’ve heard of you, Ironhands Müller. I heard you’ve pissed off every captain from here to Seligheim with your brawling and now there’s none’ll sail with you. I heard you broke a navigator’s face in eight places, and I didn’t even know there were eight separate bits of a face that could break.” “There are if you count teeth.” The landlord’s eyes crinkle when he laughs. He has an anchor and two nautical stars tattooed on his own wiry arm, crudely executed and faded with age. Many sailors bear similar designs, but Dagna does not share their love for the sea. The salt irritates the skin at her wrists and flays her temper red-raw. She remembers when she found tattooed sailors coarse and frightening. She remembers when she would rather cower than fight. She tastes her own blood at her lip and thinks of the stubborn flecks of rust that won’t come off her hands no matter how hard she scrubs. Salt and iron. This is what she’s made of now. “Cards is no way to make money, girl,” the landlord says, coming to sit beside her on the steps. “You know every reprobate around here has aces stashed up their sleeves. Right next to the daggers in most cases.” Dagna scowls, and the movement sends a burst of pain along her cheek. What is she supposed to do?
April 28, 2020
Author : Eden Royce Narrator : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali Host : Eleanor Wood Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums This story was a PodCastle original back when we ran it for the first time in 2017. Rated PG-13. Crickets Sing for Naomi By Eden Royce “If these danggone crickets don’t stop following me,” Naomi […] The post PodCastle 624: TALES FROM THE VAULTS — Crickets Sing for Naomi appeared first on PodCastle.
April 22, 2020
Author : Allison Thai Narrator : Jennifer Tran Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums PodCastle 623: Caring For Dragons and Growing a Flower is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13, for found footage and lost loves. Author’s dedication I dedicate this story to my grandfather and father: one who I’ve […] The post PodCastle 623: Caring For Dragons and Growing a Flower appeared first on PodCastle.
April 14, 2020
Author : Evan Kennedy Narrator : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali Host : Jen R. Albert Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums PodCastle 622: Spoken For is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. Spoken For by Evan Kennedy Twenty-five years after the magic came back, Auden’s wife got turned to stone. It was the dog’s fault. A […] The post PodCastle 622: Spoken For appeared first on PodCastle.
April 7, 2020
A Salt and Sterling Tongue By Emma Osborne I found my dying boy curled up in a pile of straw wet with his blood. Seamus rolled over as I entered the barn, and I saw then that he’d chewed his fingers down to the first knuckle. I gasped. “I can taste my King in my […] The post PodCastle 621: A Salt and Sterling Tongue appeared first on PodCastle.
April 1, 2020
Author : Gerri C. Leen Narrator : Tina C. Connolly Host : Laura Pearlman Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Artist : Matt Dovey The Thing in the Basement by Gerri Leen You can hear it, in the basement, behind the metal boxes that your human puts her outer-coverings in just when they start to smell […] The post CatsCast 289: The Thing in the Basement appeared first on PodCastle.
March 31, 2020
Author : Nin Harris Narrator : Chang Yiun Yee Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums PodCastle 620: When Hope Is Lost, Touch Remains is a PodCastle original. Content warning for violence and sexual content. Rated R for steamy friction, physical and ethical. When Hope Is Lost, Touch Remains By […] The post PodCastle 620: When Hope Is Lost, Touch Remains appeared first on PodCastle.
March 28, 2020
Transcript (Alasdair) Hi everyone, Alasdair here. We’re not going to ask how you are right now, because we have a pretty good idea. You’re fine. You’re FINE. You’re the same version of fine as everyone right now, the one Aerosmith sang about. The one where you’re alternately anxious, terrified, furious and calm. We empathise. We’re […] The post March 2020 Metacast appeared first on PodCastle.
March 24, 2020
Author : Sofia Samatar Narrator : C. L. Clark Host : Peter Behravesh Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Originally published in The Starlit Wood. Rated PG-13. The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle By Sofia Samatar This story is at least a thousand years old. Its complete title is […] The post PodCastle 619: The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle appeared first on PodCastle.
March 18, 2020
Author : Vida Cruz Narrator : Don Pizarro Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Previously published by Writers of the Future vol. 34. Rated PG-13. Odd and Ugly By Vida Cruz I. You come to my tree at high noon in July, sweating, panting, young. So very, very young. […] The post PodCastle 618: Odd and Ugly appeared first on PodCastle.
March 10, 2020
Author : Greye La Spina Narrator : Wilson Fowlie Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums CW: illness and plague; references to violence and sexual assault Rated R. The Dead-Wagon Greye La Spina I “Someone’s been chalking up the front door.” The speaker stepped off the terrace into the library […] The post PodCastle 617: The Dead-Wagon appeared first on PodCastle.
March 3, 2020
Authors : Ian Muneshwar and Eleanor Wood Narrators : Sienna Tristen and Jen R. Albert Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums PodCastle 616: DOUBLE FEATURE! Telomerase; Mycelium is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. Telomerase By Ian Muneshwar You lost your first word when I began to lose my hair. […] The post PodCastle 616: DOUBLE FEATURE! Telomerase; Mycelium appeared first on PodCastle.
February 25, 2020
Author : L. Chan Narrator : Curtis C. Chen Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Previously published by Future Fire in the Making Monsters anthology. Content warning for domestic abuse and violence. Rated R, for a rowdy band of righteous monsters. Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement […] The post PodCastle 615: Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement appeared first on PodCastle.
February 18, 2020
Author : Aidan Doyle Narrator : Julie Hoverson Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums PodCastle 614: White Noon is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. White Noon By Aidan Doyle The dogs’ barking let me know I had visitors. I reluctantly left my chair by the fire, pulled on my […] The post PodCastle 614: White Noon appeared first on PodCastle.
February 11, 2020
Author : Heather Rose Jones Narrator : Sarah Goleman Host : C. L. Clark Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums This story was a PodCastle original that aired back in 2015. Rated PG. Hoywverch By Heather Rose Jones Elin verch Gwir Goch oed yn arglwydes ar Cantref Madruniawn wrth na bo i’w thad […] The post PodCastle 613: TALES FROM THE VAULTS — Hoywverch appeared first on PodCastle.
February 4, 2020
Author : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali Narrator : Stephanie Malia Morris Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Originally published in Sword and Sonnet. Content warning: domestic violence Rated PG-13. She Searches for God in the Storm Within By Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali When I arrived at my grandmother’s, in the stillness of predawn, like some restless […] The post PodCastle 612: She Searches for God in the Storm Within appeared first on PodCastle.
January 29, 2020
Author : Kyle Kirrin Narrators : Alasdair Stuart, C. L. Clark, Setsu Uzume, Matt Dovey, Jen R. Albert, Peter Behravesh and Mur Lafferty Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums PodCastle 611: Yo, Rapunzel! is a PodCastle original. Rated R, for ridiculous, with sprinklings of boardgames, box wine, and profanity. […] The post PodCastle 611: Yo, Rapunzel! appeared first on PodCastle.
January 21, 2020
Author : Ranylt Richildis Narrator : Dominik Parisien Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums First published by Myths Inscribed. Rated PG. Charlemagne and Florent By Ranylt Richildis This is what happened to les deux bretons before I met them, back in the 70s when they were boys in Vannes. […] The post PodCastle 610: Charlemagne and Florent appeared first on PodCastle.
January 14, 2020
Author : Shari Paul Narrator : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Previously published by Fiyah Lit Mag Issue 5. Rated PG-13. The Epic of Sakina By Shari Paul [Note: This is part 2 of a two-part novelette. Visit our previous post to read Part 1.] The […] The post PodCastle 608: The Epic of Sakina — Part 2 appeared first on PodCastle.
January 7, 2020
Author : Shari Paul Narrator : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Previously published by Fiyah Lit Mag Issue 5. Rated PG-13. The Epic of Sakina By Shari Paul The moon was a pale, golden disc in a lavender sky. Sakina, in a brilliant blue caftan that […] The post PodCastle 608: The Epic of Sakina — Part 1 appeared first on PodCastle.
December 31, 2019
Author : Claire Humphrey Narrator : Julia Rios Hosts : Jen R. Albert and KT Bryski Audio Producer : KT Bryski Discuss on Forums Originally published by Strange Horizons. Previously appeared at PodCastle. Rated R. Who in Mortal Chains by Claire Humphrey I almost had friends in 1965. Ryder was a brewer in those days, […] The post PodCastle 607: TALES FROM THE VAULTS — Who in Mortal Chains appeared first on PodCastle.
December 24, 2019
Authors : Heather Shaw, Tim Pratt and River Shaw Narrator : Kyle Akers Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : KT Bryski Discuss on Forums PodCastle 606: River’s Giving is a PodCastle original. Rated PG for jolly old beasts of terror. River’s Giving Heather Shaw, River Shaw, and Tim Pratt Once upon a time, there […] The post PodCastle 606: River’s Giving appeared first on PodCastle.
December 18, 2019
* Author : Aimee Ogden * Narrator : Dani Daly * Host : C. L. Clark * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Violence, sex, and graphic content related to child-rearing. Rated R for secrets, science, and sexuality. Blood, Bone, Seed, Spark By Aimee Ogden Upstairs, in the little rowhouse on the thirty-sixth meridian of the city of Leth Marno, the scuffling grows louder. Heels ring out against the floorboards, and shouts are muffled; by the rugs, perhaps, or a hand that grasps to cover a mouth. Anell Nath sits downstairs by the flower-arrangement pedestal. Her hands shake as she trims leaves from a bundle of pale peonies. She is more certain with the tools of her trade than with the instruments of the gentleperson’s art, but dissection scissors would make slow work of the thick waxy stems. As she works she counts the blows from the level above; categorizes and classifies each cry that makes its way down to her. Cool observation distances her from what is happening up there. That is her job, and always has been: to study, to take notes. To seek understanding, or at least knowledge. Hasn’t she had enough understanding for a lifetime by now? How deep must understanding be, before she drowns in it? The blades of the shears snap methodically, and leaves fall to the ground between her bare feet. Years of hard, grinding work in the library and the laboratory have honed the great desire of Anell’s heart into a scalpel, a sharp point ever driving toward that goal. The blade is so keen, though, that by its very nature it has flensed away everything else. The shears are heavy in her hand. A scalpel would have been defter. She sits, and cuts, and waits. At twenty-three years old, a graduate of the Hollow Universities of Kinnam Nath with all high honors and newly granted the privilege of a surname for her academic excellence, Anell Nath knelt and pressed her forehead to the carpet of Countess Liel’s study. The Countess’s bare feet crossed beneath the hem of her lily-white robes. Her House color was represented too in the pale petals that littered the ground at either side; lilies, yes, daisies too, and the frail wisps of baby’s-breath. Anell did not dare look up at the massive arrangements that flanked the Countess, nor past her purple-veined ankles; only waited and counted the whispers of pages turned. At last even the faint murmur of paper against paper fell silent. Anell’s breath cut through, separating the stiff body of the silence into parts smaller and more manageable. An exhalation, like a scalpel piercing rubbery flesh; a slow inhalation like cold fascia peeling away from the organs within. Until at last the Countess’s decision could be revealed. To secure patronage now would put Anell’s dreams within reach; to secure it here would put those dreams outside the grasp of the doubters at Kinnam Nath. “Your credentials are impressive.” A swish of fabric as the Countess uncrossed her legs. Anell did not look up to study her face or guess at her mood. She had researched the customs of Leth Marno and the country of Walchem before coming here, a study no less desperate than what she had poured into any quarterly exam.
December 10, 2019
* Author : Bennett North * Narrator : C. L. Clark * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 604: No Mercy to the Rest is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13 for super-villainous violence and attempts to raise the dead. No Mercy to the Rest by Bennett North Sadie parked in the lee of Castle Inferno, where she would be spared from the wind, and sat while the engine ticked, trying to convince herself to let go of the steering wheel. The castle stood stark against the sky, dark stone walls leaching the saturation from the blue. One tower was burned out and soot-streaked. No sign of repair. Was Dr. Inferno hard up for cash or did fresh tarmac interfere with the mad scientist aesthetic? Sadie grabbed the swinging St. Christopher medal from the rearview mirror and squeezed it. “Keep an eye on me, Gemma,” she said. “This is for you.” The stairs that hugged the foundation ended at a pair of wooden doors set into a stone arch that had to be thirty feet tall. Sadie ducked into the corner of the arch, out of the wind, and pressed the plastic doorbell button. Something heavy thunked inside, then one of the doors opened enough for a woman to lean out. She was white, with frizzy, graying hair, a Red Sox T-shirt, and jeans. “Sadie Jones?” the woman asked, looking her up and down. “That’s me,” said Sadie. “I’m looking for an . . . Igor?” “You found her.” The woman opened the door another few inches. “Come on. If the wind catches this door, it’s impossible to close.” Sadie squeezed through the opening into a dark, echoing foyer. Igor forced the door closed while Sadie looked around. The floor was smooth stone, worn down under a thousand years of footfalls. Arched doors led left and right, and a helical staircase rose up ahead. In one corner, a Wi-Fi range extender blinked green. “So.” Igor clapped. “Right. Hello! I’m Igor, and this is Castle Inferno.” She led Sadie through the left archway to a staircase leading down. “I’m so glad you could make it. Would you like coffee before we start? Tea? Water?” “No, thanks.” This wasn’t what Sadie had expected. She hadn’t really known what to expect. More of a background check, certainly. Perhaps armed guards or dogs. Barbed wire fences at least. So far, she’d only seen one killer robot and that was down at the entrance to the road up the mountain. She wasn’t even convinced that that one was anything but decorative. The stairs descended farther down than the level of the parking lot. They debouched into a round tile-paved room with scorch-stained sconces on the walls. The room had been modernized with fluorescent lights, a floor drain, and metal countertops — not quite up to the standard Sadie was used to, but she could made do. Two crates on a counter held chickens, clucking softly. A gurney in the middle of the room held a corpse. Sadie stopped at the foot of the stairs. “We’re not interested in your recommendations,” Igor said. She indicated the corpse without looking at it. “We only care if you can raise the dead. I have to admit, I thought you’d be . . .” Igor trailed off. “Whiter?” Sadie said before she could help herself. Igor’s eyebrows flicked upward in surprise for a second. “Older.” “I’m older than I look.” Sadie crossed to the corpse. She wasn’t squeamish around the dead,
December 3, 2019
* Authors : K. A. Teryna and Alex Shvartsman * Narrator : Yaroslav Barsukov * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Strange Horizons. Rated PG-13 for cunning felines and strong language. Copy Cat  K. A. Teryna and Alex Shvartsman Imagine a Russian cat. Not just any Russian cat, but a cat from Leningrad. Those who claim passing familiarity with Russian literature might imagine a cat straight off the pages of Pushkin or Bulgakov. An eloquent cat, dispensing folk wisdom while chained under an oak tree, or schmoozing the Moscow intelligentsia at parties, probably in a soothing baritone. But those are fictions, lofty lullabies from literary luminaries. In real life, cats don’t recite fairy tales or ride the tram. In real life, cats don’t talk.  This one is a typical cat from Leningrad. A mature cat, but not so old as to have one paw in the grave. He’s lived his whole life with a prim old lady. You know, the born-and-bred-in-Leningrad sort of woman, one who could recognize tourists and recent transplants at a glance by the way they carry themselves, and smack them with her umbrella for the temerity to ask for directions. Now, this old lady has not one but both feet in the grave. Which is to say, she died. The cat is at a loss for what to do. On one paw, the old lady deserves a proper sendoff. She deserves a funeral with a small band playing sad music, a priest waving a censer, that sort of thing. On the other paw, the cat realizes how that would play out. As soon as the word of her having kicked the bucket gets out, some thrice-removed relatives from the boondocks will descend upon the old lady’s prime real estate — an apartment on Nevskiy Prospekt, no less. And they’ll evict the shit out of the aging cat.  Not wanting to become a vagrant, the cat shakes off the indecision, comes up with a plan of action, and begins implementing said plan. Back in the day, the old lady used to work as a radio announcer. Two of the three rooms of her apartment are packed with reels of magnetic Svema brand 6mm tape: hours upon hours of the archives of her broadcasts. It’s midnight in Petropavlovsk . . . In today’s news . . . We’re taking your requests by phone . . .  Broadcasting live across the Soviet Union . . . The first exercise in this morning’s radio calisthenics is . . . An Aurora reel tape player occupies a place of honor in the living room. The old lady used to listen to these recordings, at all hours and at high volume because her hearing wasn’t so great. She would play the tapes and inflict the old Soviet broadcasts on her long-suffering neighbors. The neighbors became so indoctrinated by these obligatory concerts from the Soviet past that some had trouble falling asleep without them, and banged on pipes on especially quiet nights. The cat, naturally, was part of the captive audience. He listened enough that he memorized many of the recordings, enough that he could’ve easily worked as a prompter for any radio announcer. Given how sophisticated the old lady had been, it stood to reason that her cat wasn’t a simpleton fur ball, either. He was a well-bred and intelligent cat, and he, too, would probably whack uncultured tourists and transpl...
November 26, 2019
* Author : Derek Künsken * Narrators : Jay Odjick, Charlotte Ashley, J. M. Frey, Rati Mehrotra, Sylvain Neuvel, KT Bryski and Brandon Crilly * Host : Jen R. Albert * Audio Producer : KT Bryski * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 602: Franken-Puppy is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13, for revivified urges and the joys of transgression. Franken-Puppy By Derek Künsken In the third yard, the puppy darted a suspicious look back at its tail. Then, as if remembering what he’d been doing, he swung his head forward, panted, and sat in the grass. Beyond the ratty picket fence, patched skyscrapers stood in the hazy blue distance like uneven teeth. The puppy delighted himself with a high bark. The red bricks of the house behind him were re-mortared, but straight. The puppy’s tail thumped the ground. He lay down, rolled onto his back, then looked at her, barking as his tail resumed thumping. Child fingers — some bright pink, others brown, sewn with tiny stitches to a strong dark hand — brushed wonderingly at the soft fur before wriggling and tickling. “Who’s a good boy?” Francesca said. The puppy stretched, then playfully wrapped his paws over her wrist and nipped at the tough skin with teething canines. Francesca giggled and yanked her hand away. The puppy yipped and followed her fingers, his swinging tail swaying his whole body. Two skinny arms, scarred and mismatched, lifted and hugged him. Her brown hair brushed the top of the puppy’s head. The puppy wriggled a bit, his tail stilling. One arm was across his belly and one was under his snout. He struggled uncertainly, his mouth opening wide. “I love you sooooo much!” Francesca said, eyes closed, cheek against the softness of his head as she hugged him with all the love in her revivified heart. A snap sounded and the puppy stopped struggling. She loosened her grip. The puppy was limp. “Mommy!” Francesca wailed. “Oh no!” her mother said from the kitchen doorway. “Francie, I told you to be careful with real puppies! Dennis! It happened again!” “This is the fourth one!” Melanie said. “Why do you keep getting the cheap ones?” Dennis stood in the middle of the kitchen, a trail of oily steps leading from the garage behind him. His gray shirt was clean, buttoned to the bolts on his neck, sleeves ripped off at the shoulder seam, leaving his wiry, mismatched arms showing. “Puppies aren’t cheap!” Melanie eyed him skeptically from under hair piled into a dark beehive. “Mommy!” Francie pleaded. She sat teary-eyed at the table, the plastic straw spearing her unsipped Mummy’s Curse juice box. Melanie wiped Francie’s tears with her palm. “Puppies are filthy anyway!” Melanie said. “We might as well build a dog!” “Don’t be crude in front of Francie, dear.” Francie tugged on Melanie’s arm. “Mommy. No! Pleeeeeease. I want a puppy, not a big grown dog!” Melanie watched Dennis defiantly. “Why don’t you build one?” she said. “Sew an animal? Don’t say adult stuff in front of Francie!” Melanie’s muscled shoulders, both pale with a slight grayish tinge, slumped a bit.
November 19, 2019
* Author : Kate Heartfield * Narrator : Alyson Grauer * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Lackington’s. Rated PG-13. A Thousand Tongues of Silver By Kate Heartfield I am a book. My pages are purple. This is how they made me. First, they flayed the calves, stretched and scraped their wet skins. Then they mixed lichen and leaves, rotted in human urine, to mimic the purple that comes of torturing sea snails to force the desperate spew of sedative. Soaked my pages in all that stink until they turned the colour of violence. Then I was ready to receive the quill. Letters of suspended silver ink, with plenty of copper to prevent tarnish. Why silver, you may ask? Well, look how beautifully it shines against the purple. Isn’t that reason enough? It was reason enough for Amalasuintha. She didn’t question it. Do you see the letter ? That is the letter the scribes call . It means the number 60, sometimes; it also means “year.” The year of my conception was 534, by some reckonings. Let’s go there. To the city of Ravenna, on the northern coast of the Adriatic Sea. A woman perhaps forty years old rules all of Italy and much of the rest of Europe too. Her father’s kingdom. But her father, Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, is long dead. And when her father died, she was herself already a widow, and her son was a mere child. So Amalasuintha rules — in her son’s name, but no one has any illusions, least of all the man who is brought to Amalasuintha in chains. “Theodahad,” she says. “Cousin.” She is wearing a stola of purple silk, gathered at the shoulders with two magnificent eagle brooches that leave most of her shoulders bare. At her ears, two more eagles dangle, silver inlaid with precious gems in all the colours of the world. He is wearing fetters. “Cousin,” he echoes. “Is it really necessary to bring me here in iron?” “Was it really necessary for you to overrun all your neighbours’ land? Every farmer in Tuscany has come to me to complain about you in the last few months, Theodahad. I don’t have time for this. You’re stealing their land?” He shrugs. “If they can’t see fit to protect it — ” “You’re better than this.” He isn’t. He knows he isn’t. Theodahad has always been the problem in the family. The product of her aunt’s youthful dalliance. Italian born and bred, but never quite accepted anywhere. He’s a decade older than Amalasuintha, and when he lets his long hair fall in front of his face to hide his snarl, it’s streaked with silver. Then he tosses it back. “We always have to be better than everyone, don’t we, cousin? Better than the Romans, because we’re Goths. Better than the Goths, because we’ve taken the Roman throne.” “We? You’ve taken nothing. Except for some hills and some goats.” His face moves like an earthquake. “How is your son, cousin?” he asks. “How is the king? He will be old enough to take the throne soon.” She doesn’t miss his implication. He doesn’t miss the pain that rakes its invisible claws over her beautiful face. Amalasuintha sinks into a chair of carved, dark wood. A Roman chair. “Theodahad, if they had only let me have the raising of him! He was such a marvellous child.
November 12, 2019
* Authors : Nathan Susnik, Michelle Muenzler, KT Bryski and R. K. Duncan * Narrators : Kai Hudson, Philippa Ballantine, Jen R. Albert and Wilson Fowlie * Host : Craig Jackson * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 600: Flash Fiction Extravaganza — Flash Fiction Contest V is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. The Cost of the Revolution in Three Marvelous Confections By R. K. Duncan . . . Do you know what we really lost when Tarvagost’s corpse went over the railing and we got the republic? I managed an invitation to the Spire that last night. I was out on the balcony when it started. You could see the whole city rise, the blue witchfire lights going out where the streetlamps toppled and the orange of the bonfires that replaced them. They hurried us inside before the singing started in the streets and met us with pastries. It was a nest of phyllo, full of hollow nuts, painted like robins’ eggs and filled with pepper-honey. They burst in my mouth like sweet fire, and the richness of the nut lingered, like the honeyed nuts the gleaners sell now but ten times more intense. We all had to smile while Tarvagost watched us from his throne with its halo of gold and silver palm leaves. He had the guild leaders paraded up on a stage to pretend the city still supported him, and they all had to give speeches, and everyone clapped, because the whole of his guard was there. They’d given up the streets already. If I’d been in our old room above the printer, I’d probably have gone out to try and steal a second court suit in the confusion. It got so hot with everyone packed into the throne room clapping that they sent round iced wine and little tarts full of frozen berries. The cooks did it specially, drying them over a low fire and cooling them slow on a spelled stone so that the ice never burst the fruit. It stayed firm as fresh when it warmed in my mouth and twice as sweet. It chilled me down enough to shiver, but it tasted of spring and made me want to dance or fight or something. I haven’t seen berries like that in the city since the revolution. I suppose they still pick them, but no one pays for fast horses and cold-spells to bring them in before they spoil. I was barely watching when the Knight of Tears stepped out of thin air and put his sword through Tarvagost. They’d just sent out the subtlety. Each of us got a little lemon-poppy cake shaped like a bird. They flew on wings of sugar glass, driven by sugar clockwork. It lasted just long enough to drop into our hands when it failed, and when we finished there was nothing left that we could not savor, just sweetness and light and the joy of how clever it was. I hear one of Tarvagost’s chefs still has an eating-house in the city. It’s good food, but no one has the money for tricks like those birds. That’s what we lost: not honor or majesty or any of the nonsense the legitimists are still preaching. We lost the wealth that paid for things that were perfectly useless and complex and beautiful. That’s what we traded for empty jails and everyone having enough. By Jingly Bell, By Velvet Mouse By KT Bryski By jingly bell — by velvet mouse —
November 5, 2019
* Author : Tina Connolly * Narrator : Julie Hoverson * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sept/Oct 2017. Rated PG-13. Please check out the Kickstarter for a new anthology, Vital: The Future of Healthcare, featuring work by David Brin, Seanan McGuire, James Patrick Kelly, Annalee Newitz, Paolo Bacigalupi, Caroline M. Yoachim, Alex Shvartsman, Eric Schwitzgebel, Congyun (“Mu Ming”) Gu, and more! The Two-Choice Foxtrot of Chapham County By Tina Connolly There were two things we girls all knew that summer. One, that Tony Latham had turned into the finest drink of water ever to strut this two-bit one-horse no-account town. And two, that Suzie Appleby was gonna have a stone-baby. Suzie never was one for chasing the boys, that was the funny thing. She told me later she’d been sent to get a packet of tobacco for her da at the general store. And there was Tony, sorting out the threepenny nails from the fourpenny screws, and their eyes met over the hogshead fulla metal and that was that. There’s only two choices if you’re gonna have a stone-baby, a course. The first one, and best one, is you get the daddy to marry you, and if you’re quick enough, you can catch most of it in time. Sure, the baby’s born with a little flint toe, or a patcha marble back of her left elbow, but that ain’t too uncommon in this town. Mildred Percy’s got a whole swatch of granite on her skull, where the hair don’t grow. She combs it over and we pretend we don’t notice. Our fathers maybe give Mildred’s mother an extra wink in the grocery store, and we pretend we don’t notice that too. You get good at pretending things here, and we got real good that summer. Because, thing was, Tony Latham knew he’d turned into the finest drink of water, et cetera. And he didn’t have no interest in tying himself down to poor Suzie Appleby. The hot summer rolled on, the air heavy and wet. The boys worked in the fields and swam in the watering hole on their days off. We girls picked the gooseberries from the thorny bushes nearby, our arms scratched through our tight sleeves, and tried not to watch the boys dive into the cold, enticing depths. We jammed the berries and put up the plums and we watched poor Suzie get hotter and heavier day by day, weighed down by her stone-baby. And finally her da came home from the haying, and he saw it too. There are two things a parent can do when they find out their daughter’s rocked up. One, you go hunt down the stone-daddy and you make him marry your daughter, and that right quick. Suzie’s father chose the other way. I guess I’d been nicer to Suzie than I oughta be, cause when he turned her out, she came to me. It was thundering, too, lightning fit to crack the skies, and Suzie all drenched, the cotton wrap she’d let out twice clinging to her rock-hard belly. There are two choices for a girl in my situation. One, ask her in, and have my da turn me out, too. Two, turn Suzie away, and go back to embroidering pillowcases that say His and Hers in real fancy writing. But I looked at Suzie’s eyes and I listened to that rain and somehow I went of...
October 29, 2019
* Author : L. Chan * Narrator : Leeman Kessler  * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by The Dark. Rated PG-13 for ghosts and the terrors that make them. The Sound of His Voice Like the Colour of Salt By L. Chan The ghost boy was the colour of bone, of gossamer spider web, of salt trails of dried tears. He still had his shape, his outline. No one had said his name in thirty years, even though he’d scarred the house with it, carved onto a tree in the garden, scratched into the paint under the outdoor kitchen. Scars unseen, name unspoken. The house had stood for close to a century, waking to kiss the sea breeze decades before, still standing when the red dirt roads had hardened to dark tarmac and the state had stolen the sea from it. The house called the dead unto itself, and so the boy persisted, him and the others, outnumbering the living. Walls skinned with the colour of the ocean meeting the sky, a driveway of parched and cracked stone, girded with the garishness of bougainvillea and the shyness of orchids. The newest owners had furnished the house with a television screen the same size as a car door, computers in every room, tiny bulbs the size of candles with the glare of lighthouses; ripped out the old worm-eaten flooring in favour of inky Burmese teak. Now, you can do that, strip a house down to the bone, flay the walls from it and pull tiles like teeth. But the marrow of the house remained, so the living never stayed and the dead never left. On the thirtieth anniversary of his death, a new ghost came to the house. The ghost boy first consulted with the lady of the house, as was custom. Bibik Neo was a colourful woman in life, and so she was in death. According to her wishes (and such was her power that no one countermanded them), she was interred in the peony pink of a finest nyonya kebaya, slick across waist and hips, flowers twining round the waist, climbing to the collar and back down long sleeves. “Bibik,” said the ghost boy, head bowed. The dowager approved his salutation with the slightest of nods, inviting him closer with a crooked finger weighed with a heavy band of jade. Her throne room was the kitchen, the heart of a home, and that was where the lady of the house spent her afterlife. She watched over the servant girls cooking in the black and white and sepia days, she watched over the domestic help in the high definition days. “Rendang cannot come out of a bag, you see, boy? No pounding of the rempah, no slow heat of charcoal,” she sighed. The ghost boy, who had never cooked in his life, save the time his brain baked in his skull from the fever, said nothing, only looking at Bibik Neo for permission to continue. The lady of the house had a face that was immaculately powdered, ground talc filling up furrows like so much grout; eyebrows delicately tattooed; lips rouged blood red. Her tongue hung low, down to her collarbone, as it was rumoured in life, so it was in death. Bibik Neo sucked at her teeth. “Speak boy, and then leave me be.” “There is a new one in the house, I’ve seen her. A girl that tastes of static and smells like fresh plastic.” “There is nothing new in this house, boy. No ghosts come and go without my say-so. This is my place.” She leaned over the bubbling pot,
October 22, 2019
* Author : Charlotte Ashley * Narrator : Setsu Uzume * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March-April 2018. Rated PG-13. The Satyr of Brandenburg By Charlotte Ashley [Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part novelette. Please visit last week’s post to read Part 1.] Donshead Doombellows accompanied La Héron to confront Piacere, for she knew better than to go alone. “Witnesses,” she told the ogre. “We can remember each other. That will help.” The satyr was in the villa’s common room entertaining a party of young nobles from the castle, fiddle at his chin and wine at hand. There was an air of camaraderie in the room, the warm togetherness of a family feast, cloying and intimate. One by one, guests drifted into the satyr’s orbit, their expressions and demeanors softening as Piacere’s presence enchanted them. The smell of roast boar and uncorked wine embraced them, delicious on undertones of crackling cedar logs. “This really is a fine tavern, though,” Doombellows murmured, moving to sit at a table by the fire. La Héron pulled the chair away from him before he could settle into it. “Focus,” she snapped, slamming the chair down. “Watch me, not him, or you’ll be applauding as he peels the skin from my bones.” The ogre shook his head and affected an intimidating grimace. “Brokemasts and bracken,” he swore. “He’s good.” La Héron grunted in acknowledgement and pushed her way past the satyr’s admirers to his table. The satyr returned her scowl with a merry smile. “La Héron!” he cried. “My old friend! Sit! You will drink at my generosity tonight, in celebration of your great victory!” Drunken revelers raised their cups to her, roaring congratulations as the rosy-cheeked tavernkeeper arrived with an armload of bottles for the table. La Héron crossed her arms. “You cannot even pretend, can you, Piacere? The match ended not an hour ago—I am the first to arrive. How could you know I won, if you had not intended Angeli to lose?” “Why, I know because you are here and he is not! My great friend Don Angeli, he would have come straight to my table to drink by my side if he could.” The satyr’s smile turned into a sneer. “He is, I must conclude, with the barber. I hope you did not hurt him too badly.” “I? Let us speak plainly, Piacere; your companions are too befuddled to need lies. You know bloody well what is become of Angeli, and you’d better produce him alive and unharmed or I will have your reputation made clear to the marquess and every noble in Sardinia.” “My dear Héron, are you saying Angeli was not alive and unharmed when you left him?” Piacere affected a shocked look. “How is that possible? How could you, such a decorated duelist, who is always so careful, who is so celebrated for her control and sangfroid, have left him otherwise?” The satyr leaned back in his chair, tipping it onto its rear legs. He plucked the first notes of a dance on his fiddle, narrowing his eyes at her. “Unless you had dispatched him deliberately.” “Do not threaten me,” La Héron growled, laying her hand on her hilt, “unless you intend to answer for it. You forget that I know you, satyr.
October 15, 2019
Author : Charlotte Ashley Narrator : Setsu Uzume Host : Matt Dovey Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March-April 2018. Rated PG-13. The Satyr of Brandenburg By Charlotte Ashley By the inebriated light of dawn, October the 23rd, 1700, a swarthy figure skulked […] The post PodCastle 596: The Satyr of Brandenburg — Part 1 appeared first on PodCastle.
October 8, 2019
* Author : K.C. Mead-Brewer * Narrator : Jen R. Albert * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Carve Magazine. Content warning for violence against women, suicide, and cannibalism Rated R. The Feast By K.C. Mead-Brewer We took Emmaline on what promised to be a particularly stormy night. It wasn’t hard to do, especially since all the police and alarm company people were right there in the mob with us. Her mother, Rebecca, had to be restrained by five different people; the sheriff had to lock her in a holding cell to keep her secured. We brought Emmaline to the closest beach and tied her to a giant lightning rod that we’d planted in the sand not far from the water. The choice of sacrifice via lightning strike surprised a lot of people, but we didn’t have a volcano to toss her into or any grand golden steps like the Mayans to push her down from. And if we were going to make the sacrifice count, if we really wanted our crops to flourish and satisfy, it made sense to us that the more drama we could build up, the better. The noises she made! She sounded so much like an animal it actually became easier for us to see it through to the end. We waited all day and half the night with her until finally the promised rain began to fall and a flash of light slipped down to snatch her up. Our fillings all buzzed in our teeth and Mrs. Johnson lifted a hand to her heart as her pacemaker gave a startled little jolt in her chest. The lightning-struck sand turned to liquid glass around Emmaline’s bare feet. We all agreed to let it harden some before trying to move her body. But when old Maurice and a couple of his fishing crew finally went to untie her, they discovered she was still twitching. Of course, we’d all dissected frogs in school and killed plenty of chickens for plenty of dinners, so initially this didn’t worry us much. But then Maurice put his entire callused hand up against her throat. Heart’s still beating, he told us, and some part of this revelation must’ve made him real itchy, because he took to scratching the back of his neck and the crusty caps of his elbows. We were all surprised at the news, but mostly we were disappointed. Emmaline came back to her senses around the time her feet finished cooling. She started begging all over again, saying that her survival was proof the gods didn’t want her dead, but it wasn’t enough to convince us. If anything, it only seemed like her life might make for an even more valuable sacrifice. Something hard-won and fought for. So, Maurice and his crew hauled her up into one of their rowboats, her chunked-glass feet clunking against the wood as they did so. We all pitched open our umbrellas as the rain picked up and lifted our flashlights high to watch as they rowed her out and dropped her in amid the waves. Weighted down by her glass slippers, she sank feet-first through the purple dark. We waited a long while, perhaps expecting another lightning strike or some other divine message confirming Package Received, but it only continued to rain and rain as if we’d done nothing at all. Blond, beautiful, lemon-fresh Rebecca was famous across our little island for her preserves: jams, pickles, jerkies—she knew how to make things last.
October 1, 2019
The Deliverers of Their Country By E. Nesbit It all began with Effie’s getting something in her eye. It hurt very much indeed, and it felt something like a red-hot spark — only it seemed to have legs as well, and wings like a fly. Effie rubbed and cried— not real crying, but the kind your eye does all by itself without your being miserable inside your mind — and then she went to her father to have the thing in her eye taken out. Effie’s father was a doctor, so of course he knew how to take things out of eyes — he did it very cleverly with a soft paintbrush dipped in castor oil. When he had gotten the thing out, he said: “This is very curious.” Effie had often got things in her eye before, and her father had always seemed to think it was natural — rather tiresome and naughty perhaps, but still natural. He had never before thought it curious. Effie stood holding her handkerchief to her eye, and said: “I don’t believe it’s out.” People always say this when they have had something in their eyes. “Oh, yes — it’s out,” said the doctor. “Here it is, on the brush. This is very interesting.” Effie had never heard her father say that about anything that she had any share in. She said: “What?” The doctor carried the brush very carefully across the room, and held the point of it under his microscope — then he twisted the brass screws of the microscope, and looked through the top with one eye. “Dear me,” he said. “Dear, dear me! Four well-developed limbs; a long caudal appendage; five toes, unequal in lengths, almost like one of the Lacertidae, yet there are traces of wings.” The creature under his eye wriggled a little in the castor oil, and he went on: “Yes; a batlike wing. A new specimen, undoubtedly. Effie, run round to the professor and ask him to be kind enough to step in for a few minutes.” “You might give me sixpence, Daddy,” said Effie, “because I did bring you the new specimen. I took great care of it inside my eye, and my eye does hurt.” The doctor was so pleased with the new specimen that he gave Effie a shilling, and presently the professor stepped round. He stayed to lunch, and he and the doctor quarreled very happily all the afternoon about the name and the family of the thing that had come out of Effie’s eye. But at teatime another thing happened. Effie’s brother Harry fished something out of his tea, which he thought at first was an earwig. He was just getting ready to drop it on the floor, and end its life in the usual way, when it shook itself in the spoon — spread two wet wings, and flopped onto the tablecloth. There it sat, stroking itself with its feet and stretching its wings, and Harry said: “Why, it’s a tiny newt!” The professor leaned forward before the doctor could say a word. “I’ll give you half a crown for it, Harry, my lad,” he said, speaking very fast; and then he picked it up carefully on his handkerchief. “It is a new specimen,” he said, “and finer than yours, Doctor.” It was a tiny lizard, about half an inch long — with scales and wings. So now the doctor and the professor each had a specimen, and they were both very pleased. But before long these specimens began to seem less valuable. For the next morning, when the knife-boy was cleaning the doctor’s boots, he suddenly dropped the brushes and the boot and the blacking, and screamed out that he was burnt. And from inside the boot came crawling a lizard as big as a kitten, with large, shiny wings. “Why,” said Effie, “I know what it is. It is a dragon like the one St. George killed.” And Effie was right. That afternoon Towser was bitten in the garden by a dragon about the size of a rabbit, which he had tried to chase, and the next morning all the papers were full of the wonderful “winged lizards” that were appearing all over the country.
September 24, 2019
Balloon Man By Shiv Ramdas If it hadn’t been for the camel, Mithun might never have noticed the old balloon seller at all. He almost didn’t notice the camel either. If he’d been looking for it, he probably wouldn’t have. Like so many other parts of Northern India, Qaisarbagh Bazaar wasn’t so much a place that time forgot as much as it was a place that had forgotten time, or at the very least, had pointedly refused to acknowledge its existence. To Mithun’s left, men in pathani kurtas herded goats past cellphone towers, never looking up. To his right, vendors pushed carts piled high with sweet-smelling fruit, bright clothes and trinkets under dangling electricity lines, ignoring the half-buried cables underfoot as they called out to passers-by as a steady stream of cars, bicycles and cycle-rickshaws swerved and cursed their way down the narrow cobbled streets. All in all, it was an explosion of sights, sounds and smells, a patchwork of colour and chaos of the sort that is so much more appealing on Exotic India postcards than when experienced in the flesh. Partly because it makes a lot of things rather difficult, such as the mundane yet surprisingly useful exercise that is finding things just by looking for them. As Mithun stood there, he found the camel staring back at him, unblinking. Then slowly, deliberately, it jerked its head sideways, at the old man with the bent back and straggly grey beard, standing there between the paan-seller with bad teeth and the cigarette-vendor shouting discounts at schoolchildren, half-hidden in the shadow of the crumbling clock-tower. And that was when Mithun noticed the balloons. Indeed, he couldn’t help but notice them, for these were no ordinary balloons. No, they were massive, lustrous, the most wondrous balloons you ever saw. Above the spotless white Gandhi topi on the old man’s head, a beautiful blue-green globe, the earth itself, or perhaps not quite, floating right there. Beside it, much larger, the fiery citrus glow of the reluctant red of the setting sun giving way to a soothing orange. Next to that, a small one, half translucent, half black, the moon being eaten by Rahu, just like in the myths the teacher read out every Friday. Mithun looked at his mother, but she failed to notice him, being still engrossed in the vital task of securing an extra half kilo of lentils at no additional cost. An additional half kilo that he already knew it would be his destiny to spend the evening carrying around the bazaar. He looked back at the balloons, and as he watched, one of them, an impossibly radiant five pointed star, floated heavenwards, and then exploded in a shower of iridescence, each fragment now a star in its own right. This was the first thing Mithun noticed. The second was that he seemed to be the only person who had noticed it. “Come here, boy.” He looked around, but could see nobody who had spoken, just the usual whirling dervish of a small town economy hard at work all around. “Are you deaf? I said come here, boy!” He swung around, looking across the street to where the voice had come from, and discovered he was looking at the camel again. Mithun blinked. The camel didn’t. Instead, once more it jerked its head towards the balloons. And then Mithun found himself far away from the channa vendor, skirting vehicles, making his way towards the talking camel and the magical balloons. But when he finally got there, he found the little stall in the shadows of the tower deserted. This gave him pause, but only briefly. Because just then he noticed the most amazing balloon of them all, a huge, black oval affair that was still translucent enough for him to see the other shapes inside it, too many to count, some round and revolving around bigger round ones, sometimes colliding, some impossibly bright,
September 17, 2019
* Author : David W. Goldman * Narrator : Eric Luke * Host : Craig Jackson * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally appeared in The New Haven Review, Winter 2011. Rated R for language, violence and sexual content. This episode is a part of our Tales from the Vaults series, in which a member of PodCastle’s staff chooses a backlist episode to rerun and discuss. This week’s episode was chosen by associate editor and forum moderator Craig Jackson, also known as Ocicat. “The Axiom of Choice” originally aired as PodCastle 221. The Axiom of Choice by David W. Goldman The three of you have lingered outside the darkened club an hour beyond the show’s end. Your palms rest atop your guitar case, which stands vertical before you on the cracked sidewalk. Standing not quite as vertical, Paul steadies himself by pressing a hand against the club’s brick wall, just below a photocopied poster bearing an image of his face looking very serious. (DYNAMIC SINGER-SONGWRITER PAUL MURONI! says the poster. Your name appears lower down, in smaller type.) One corner of the poster has come loose. It flips back and forth in the unseasonably warm gusts that blow down the narrow street. “But really,” says the guy, some old friend of Paul’s whose name you’ve already forgotten, “why should you two spend tomorrow driving way up the coast for one damn gig, and then all the way back the next day? I’ll fly you there tonight in my Cessna — tomorrow you can sleep in as long as you like.” His arms sweep broad arcs when he speaks, the streetlamp across the road glinting off the near-empty bottle in his grip. Paul rubs the back of his hand against his forehead, the way he always does when he’s tired. You’re both tired, three weeks into a tour of what seem like the smallest clubs in the most out-of-the-way towns along the twistiest roads in New England. Paul looks at you, his eyes a bit blurry. “What do you think?” There’s a blur to his voice, too. “I’m in no condition for decisions.” End of text sample. 
September 10, 2019
* Author : Natalia Theodoridou * Narrator : C. A. Yates * Host : Jen R. Albert * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 591: His Giant Heartbeat is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. His Giant Heartbeat by Natalia Theodoridou I smoke with my back to the caravan while I wait for B and his client to finish. It’s a drippy afternoon, deep in the fenlands. We’ve parked the caravan next to a mere, marshy and rotten green. The air smells damp, the ground is soft and uncertain, the kind that might swallow you up whole if you put your foot down wrong. There are birds, and frogs, and foxes, far away. I guess it’s peaceful. Two years since humanity flatlined — well, most of us, at least — and the rest of the world doesn’t give a toss. I inhale. The smoke burns my lungs. I close my eyes and savour the pain — there are so few things one can enjoy these days. B doesn’t like it when I smoke. He clings to old ideas. I get it. Eventually, the client steps out of the caravan. A balding, pale man in his fifties. He smiles a tiny smile. The poor guy looks like an embarrassed ferret. I beam at him as he hands me a hundred quid. He went for the ultrasound, after all. “Come again,” I say. I catch a glimpse of scar tissue poking up from the collar of his shirt. Heart surgery, probably. Imagine the irony behind that story. “Will you be here a while, then?” he asks. As if. As if there is a here, outside a nothing town in the middle of nowhere marshes. “A couple of days. We’re on our way to a concert down near the coast.” I point at the posters plastered on the side of the caravan. THE AMAZING BEATING HEART. This gig is the biggest one we’ve been able to land in a while. B is a cult sensation in these parts, apparently. “You should come,” I say, trying not to cringe at my half-hearted sales-pitch voice. The man mumbles a thank you something something and backs away towards his car. I let a couple of minutes pass as I watch the car speed away and disappear in the distance, wondering where they go when they leave, where they come from. Then I go back to the caravan. I linger near the door while B wipes gel off his shaved chest. His movements are slow. Resigned, almost. “You OK?” I ask. He doesn’t look up. “Fine,” he says. He used to say he enjoyed the connection to the people that come to us. Brief, intense. He resents it now. One too many sad sacks pushing their ears against his chest, trying to find something they think they’ve lost. It’s not about his heartbeat at all, of course. His rare, rare heartbeat. He knows that. They know it too. Of course they do. But who would ever come out and say that? Not us, certainly; that’d be bad for business. And anyway, we need the money. I miss you, I want to say. What happened to us? “Dance with me?” I blurt out instead, for no reason at all, or no reason I care to figure out. There are some wounds even I don’t wish to put my finger on. And then I laugh nervously, because I regret asking right away. Remember how we used to dance, love, back when both our hearts beat? We didn’t even need any music, did we? We never dance any more. Why don’t we ever dance any more? B looks at me with the kind of look I don’t want to dwell on because, if I think about it too much, it might turn out to be pity or indifference. Or worse. My hand flies to my left breast pocket,
September 3, 2019
* Author : A.E. Prevost * Narrator : Lisa Hicks * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published in Sword and Sonnet, edited by E Catherine Tobler, Aidan Doyle and Rachael K Jones. Rated PG-13. Labyrinth, Sanctuary By A.E. Prevost Constance carves her timeworn tracks into the thirsty rock. With silent steps her footfalls smooth the stone, century into century, grooves and gullies growing green as time and seed take hold. Stone after stone, her hands build battlements and balconies, repair time-ragged trusses, stack spires towards the sun. Deep in the dark wood, with every aching year, her sanctuary spreads its restless roots. Constance dreams of colonnades and courtyards, crafts finials from fingernails, weaves tapestries from hair. She climbs her spiral stairs into the storm-bruised sky, flings open feverish arms against the thrum of thunder, batters the balustrades with fists like driving rain. Constance lets rage run through her like the roiling storm, then huddles in the hollows and scratches broken nails across the thirsty roots that thrive between the cracks. So long as she keeps building, she is safe. Her moss-laced maze mirrors the spirals in her soul, and she repeats her one and only truth: in this, her sanctuary, no ill thing can befall her. The poet’s path bruises the grass under their ash-grim boots. A hunger howls behind them, spreading fast, a wildfire that feeds on hope and spits out fear like smoke. With sea-green scarf wrapped fast against their face, they fill their mouth and nose with flowers and song, and walk into the woods, and do not rest. The poet’s heart enshrines the memory of colours; an ocean coils within, wine-dark and dormant, which pulses in their throat with every step. There was an ocean, once; the poet walked its coast and paddled in its pearl-kissed waters, trading tales with sirens, learning the songs of stars. Children with laughter bright as birds called them cousin, and families fished feasts of colour from the swelling waves, repeating recipes whispered by the sea winds. The poet plucked gem-hued fruit from swaying shoreline trees, with names they tasted in the juices on their tongue, and flowers sprung from where their bare feet met the fertile ground. The fruit trees, too, have fallen now. All colours are consumed; all names are ash. Only the poet remains, steadfast, song-laden. Their loping strides track sea salt onto the forest floor. The wall juts up among the trees, tangled with roots, jagged and ancient. The poet stops, panting through sea-green silk, brushing their sea-browned hand against the crumbling stone. Songs tell of a labyrinth here in these lands, long-haunted, ill-advised; the poet knows there must be a path through it, for there is a path through all places, in time. The hunger howls in the dust-ridden distance. The poet raises reddened eyes and meets the gaze of a stranger. The stranger steps back, blending into the shadows. The poet presses close against the wall, peering through the crack where they just saw the woman wreathed in vines and leaves. Ahoy inside, the poet calls. Are you a prisoner? Or are you lost inside the labyrinth? I am Constance, the stranger says, her voice a wraith among the whispering trees. I am not lost, and I am not imprisoned. I am Constance. I am Daylily, the poet says,
August 27, 2019
* Author : Christine Tyler * Narrator : Sigríður Gunnarsdóttir * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 589: The Horrible Deaths of Helga Hrafnsdóttir is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13 for the horrible deaths we hope won’t come to pass. The Horrible Deaths of Helga Hrafnsdóttir By Christine Tyler The day Helga Hrafnsdóttir went up the Ævilok tree, the entire village held its breath. From the time of her birth, the Ævilok that grew beside Helga’s home had sprouted the most horrible flowers. In the first week alone, anyone who touched the blossoms of her Ævilok saw visions of her blankets smothering her, her brother dropping her, and a fox dragging her out of her cradle and mauling her. During those days, Helga’s mother kept the doors locked, stuffed up the cracks, didn’t let anyone else hold the child, and barely slept. She watched over every yellowing bud, touched every bloom to see what new horrors she had to fend off. Once Helga survived the premonitions, the blossoms shriveled up and fell to the frosted turf. Thanks to her mother’s vigilance, Helga Hrafnsdóttir outlived all the ill fortunes of her infancy. But from that time on, everyone knew the girl was destined for a gruesome fate. When Helga was old enough to walk, she toddled out to the Ævilok and poked at every flower she could reach. Choking on a piece of hacksilver, choking on a glass bead, choking on a smooth rock her brother found. Helga’s mother checked her mouth every few minutes for a year before those deaths dropped. The villagers often came by to touch Helga’s flowers and speculate as to whether or not it all had something to do with the vast unkindness of ravens populating her Ævilok’s branches. Helga’s mother would go out the door cursing and bat the villagers away with a broom. It scared the ravens too, but they always came back. Years passed, and no one wanted to marry Helga Hrafnsdóttir. She didn’t want to marry anyone either, not when the flowers showed her Úlfur strangling her and Björn hitting her so hard she went wandering off the icy shore without even leaving a note. Normal girls had dozens of flowers that showed visions of contented grandmothers holding their loved ones’ hands. Hard workers who looked up from a long day of gutting cod, then clutched their hearts and closed their eyes. Some girls were lucky enough to find a flower with no vision at all — a peaceful passing in their sleep. When she was young, Helga’s mother had found one in which she died of old age, happy to be alone. Helga Hrafnsdóttir found none of these. Her Ævilok never conjured up a pleasant death, and she supposed it wasn’t the tree’s fault it was so creative. When each girl of the village reached her first blood, she climbed her own Ævilok to find a suitable demise. Once she selected a flower, she cradled it like a precious treasure, fragile as a puffin egg, and handed it to the village elder who declared it so and said words that made it harden like stone. Then the elder placed it atop the girl’s head, and she kept it there for the rest of her life. There was no clip or pin to secure it, so the girl learned to walk slowly and keep to smooth roads, going from day to day and task to task with her death always on her mind. And anyone could touch her stone flower (or ask first and then touch it, if they were polite) and see exactly where she was headed.
August 20, 2019
* Author : Premee Mohamed * Narrator : Peter Behravesh * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums First published in Principia Ponderosa anthology by Third Flatiron Press, March 2017. Rated: PG-13, for the harsh demands of gods. Bought bred, the new cow had cost three thousand dollars, and so as night fell with no sign of the calf, it was Arnold himself who trudged back and forth between the house and the barn, waving away the hired hands. “My money,” he grunted. “My problem.” A storm struck up, not snow but a roaring haze of fine slush that crusted his beard with ice. Far to the west, visible only by their bluish, luminous heat, the old gods of grass and grain bayed to the cloud-buried stars. Arnold ignored them. It was too early in the year for a sacrifice. On the fifth trip, his youngest child joined him, silent as ever, silvery hair greased down from the rain, in her oldest brother’s canvas coat. She liked their ancient hand-me-downs, though she was so small that everything trailed in the muck like the train of a wedding dress. Over the splattering sleet Arnold heard her rubber boots squelching in the wallow that had been the path. He waited for her to catch up before continuing to the barn. The new cow had finally bedded herself for labour; Arnold checked the others, finding another at the far end who looked ready. Often happened like that, several at once. They huffed softly as he passed, as if remarking on what a cold night it was, and how pleasant the new ceramic heaters were. “There’s gonna be two babies tonight,” Arnold said as he returned to the half-open barn door. “So you better go back to the house.” “I’m not cold.” “I don’t want you in the way when it’s go-time,” he clarified. “Crying or whatnot.” “I’m not afraid of the blood.” He gave up. “Well, let’s just wait, then.” She doffed the wet coat and climbed onto a bale, only her eyes and a few pale curls visible in the low light. Strange critter, this one. She never called him “Daddy,” never reached for his hand while they walked, listened to him so carefully that he stuttered into silence in the face of that expectant vacuum. As if she weren’t his child at all, but some over friendly neighbour’s kid, a regular visitor who happened to like cows and chickens and listening to the old man talk. Twenty-four years between her and her next sibling, when Arnold and Marla had believed all that behind them. And then in what seemed the space of moments, it was diapers again, and bottles, and covering the outlets, and hand-me-ups from her own nieces and nephews. Not for the first time, Arnold thought that perhaps she should have been sent to live with one of them — safe in the city, instead of out here with two farmers pushing sixty, and a rotating crew of hired hands too busy to watch for a kid underfoot. The new Simmental’s glossy coat heaved as she worked to get the calf out, birthwaters flowing through the fresh hay and down the drain. Arnold wasn’t worried; her papers said she’d already had two calves, the second almost a hundred pounds. The wind battering the cinderblock walls drowned out the cow’s steady, heavy breathing, her placid moans. Yes, money well spent. “What about the other one?” Clover said. “I’ll go check on her in a minute,” Arnold said, but feeling the pressure of the child’s eyes from her dark corner, added, “All right,
August 13, 2019
* Author : Samantha Mills * Narrator : C. L. Clark * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Strange Horizons. Rated: PG, for a parent guiding herself home. Strange Waters By Samantha Mills Fisherwoman Mika Sandrigal was lost at sea. She knew where she was in relation to the Candorrean coastline and how to navigate back to her home city, Maelstrom. She knew the time of day. She knew the season. She knew the phase of the moon and the pattern of the tide. She did not know the year. Strange waters flowed beneath the hull of her fishing boat, illuminating the midnight darkness with phosphorescent swirls of yellow and green. The thick scent of pepper and brine tickled her nose, and she knew that a juggernaut swam far below, vast and merciless and consuming shield fish by the thousands. Mika squinted up at a familiar night sky, at the Dancing Girl, the Triplets, the Mad Horse. She had fished off this coast for nearly twenty years, eight of them lost in time. She’d seen green waters, pink waters, blue. She’d been to Candorrea when it was a loose collection of fishing villages, and she’d been to Candorrea when the buildings were so tall she could hardly look at them without shaking. No matter what century she washed up in, however, the constellations were there to guide her home. It was a windless night. Mika pulled out her oars and set course for Maelstrom, keen to find out when she had landed. It was the year of the Blade, 992. The city was metal and glass, its gleaming spires and brilliant rainbow lights casting a skyline like an oil painting. A dome was under construction on the southernmost hill, its name written in freestanding stone letters so large they were visible from the water: OCEANARIUM. This was not her time, not even close. Mika arrived shortly after the breakfast hour, when dockworkers and merchants were trickling down from the city in the hills. She bypassed the piers entirely, each of them far too tall for her little wooden boat, and glided into the sandy shallows at the north end of the dockworks. She opened the fish hold in the middle of the deck and hauled out three large nets containing her catch. There were sixty pounds of rainbow-colored senfish, always popular; assorted deep-water crabs, all but one of them extinct since 646, if her Timeline of the Deeps was correct; and a single mammal, as large as a barrel-chested mountain dog and thick with hallucinogenic fat: the rare and lucrative sleepwhale. She wasn’t the first fisherwoman-out-of-time they had encountered, and she wouldn’t be the last. The anachronism of a sixth-century fishing boat had caught the eye of every merchant on the north shore, and soon they came running, eager to beat one another to strange fish. The sleepwhale went to a pair of glossy young researchers from the oceanarium. They wore white rubber gloves and green rubber boots, and Mika didn’t care one whit why they were taking the beast, but they seemed incapable of keeping their thoughts inside their heads. “Gene mapping —” “— reproduction —” “— grafting the fat signature onto land-bound species —” Mika understood one word in ten. She held up a hand and enunciated carefully. “Please. I will take the hardtack and beans, and a crate of apples, and be on my way.”
August 6, 2019
* Author : Auston Habershaw * Narrator : Matt Dovey * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Rated PG-13, incl blood, violence, and many deaths (sort of)! Make sure to check out Broadcasts from the Wasteland, a new podcast featuring chats and interviews with a host of creatives working in the science fiction and fantasy genres. The Masochist’s Assistant By Auston Habershaw Each morning at precisely seven, Georges, famulus to Magus Hugarth Madswom, stabbed his master in the heart. It was a fairly complicated affair as the linens needed to be spared staining and Georges had to make the thrust quickly, lest his master wake up and become angry with him for failing in his duties. He had suggested abjuring the sheets against such stains, but his master claimed that doing so also meant his sweat would pool about his body during the night rather than being absorbed by the sheets, and Georges’ master refused to wake up stinking and slimy. So, no abjurations. As a result, Georges would leave his master’s home at half-past six and go to a nearby weaver where he would purchase the previous day’s linen scraps from her bleary-eyed son. Then, linen draped over one arm, he would return to the house, make his master’s tea (bitter black, no sugar), place cup and saucer on a silver bed-tray along with the teapot (still hot) and a long, slender chef’s knife, as he was not permitted to wear a sword. He would then mount the narrow spiral stairs that led up to his master’s bedchamber, carefully open the door without making a sound, and set the tray on the bedside table. Georges would take the knife in his right hand, drape the linen over his right shoulder, and, with the smooth gestures of a well-rehearsed assassin, pull back his master’s quilts and sheets with a sweep of his left arm and stab the slumbering mage just to the left of the lower breastbone, piercing both the aorta and the heart itself with one plunge. Then, his left hand would dart to the linen over his shoulder and, just as he withdrew the blade, he would cover the wound with the new linen and hold it there as it quickly turned crimson all the way through. On occasion, Georges would find his master sleeping on his stomach, which made things more complicated and was why he brought the longest chef’s knife in the kitchen — one could stab the heart through the back, if needed, and he had done so often enough to count himself a master in that distinctly dubious art as well. This particular morning, though, Georges found his master on his back and stabbed him in the front almost without thinking about it. As his master’s blood soaked through the linen, his mind was on the salon to be held in the Silver Room of Madame Grousand’s château that evening. He had responded to the invitation in the positive without his master’s knowledge, hoping that his master wouldn’t want to go and send him in his stead when Georges pointed out that the event was tonight. This happened often enough to be reasonably certain, despite his master priding himself on his unpredictability. Georges pulled his ruffled sleeve up and away from the bloody linen with his free hand and considered what he ought to wear to the salon while gazing out the open window and over the...
July 30, 2019
* Author : Jennifer Hudak * Narrator : Jen R. Albert * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 585: Getaway is a PodCastle original. Content warnings for disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and mild body horror. Rated PG-13. Getaway By Jennifer Hudak Ten days after her family installed themselves in their summer cottage on Greenpenny Lake, Leena separated from her body for the first time. She peeled from herself like a sticker from its backing, and hovered inches from the ceiling. Meanwhile, her body stretched out beneath her, lumpy under the threadbare blanket: the rise of her belly, the slack softness of her cheeks falling back toward the pillow, the thickness of her neck. Then she plummeted back inside her breathing, sweating flesh. It was the lake water, the doctor said. Not the separation — she hadn’t told them about that — but the vomiting and diarrhea that had preceded it. Something about blooming algae, E. coli, something else that started either with a G or a K. Swimming in Greenpenny Lake was unpleasant in all kinds of ways, even before Leena swallowed a stew of dangerous microorganisms. Seaweed clogged the water near the shore, and shells from the invasive zebra mussel lurked in the silt, waiting to slice open an unwary bather’s foot. Leena had read, too, about the bodies in Greenpenny Lake — rumor had it that every year someone drowned and the water was so deep that no one ever found them. Leena had protested this vacation for the first two stifling days by wilting inside the un-air-conditioned cottage, perspiring on the stained furniture and fighting to find a reliable Wi-Fi connection, before grudgingly following her father’s advice to get outside and go for a damn swim. She wouldn’t separate until a week afterwards, but Leena knew: this was where it happened. That first swim in Greenpenny Lake. Her bathing suit had shrunk during the off-season, or else Leena had grown; the fabric strained and sagged in all the wrong places. The oatmeal she’d eaten that morning was a huge mistake; even without the sugar and raisins, it was too much to hide under a bathing suit. She wrapped a towel around herself from armpit to knee as she walked down the dock and only removed it when she was ready to slide into the murky lake. Underneath the water, her thighs ballooned. Leena ducked down so that the water covered her up to her shoulders. A pair of small girls chased each other along the sand in front of the next cottage, their bellies proudly pooched out in between the tops and bottoms of their little-girl bikinis. In contrast, Leena felt heavy and ungainly, a sinking weight anchoring itself in the silt. That day on Greenpenny Lake, Leena had hidden beneath the water and wished she could make herself evaporate: skin, muscle, and the dimpled layer of fat in between. She’d wished for freedom from her body’s bulk, and then some bacteria or parasite or virus seeped in through her mucus membranes, hijacking her digestive system so that it emptied over and over again, until her body vomited up Leena herself. She bobbed like a cloud near the ceiling and looked down at her body, bloated and soft and alien. Here in Greenpenny Lake, she’d made a wish, and that wish was answered. The doctor at the clinic seemed unimpressed; he wrote Leena a prescription and told her parents to make sure she stayed hydrated.
July 23, 2019
* Author : An Owomoyela * Narrator : MarBelle * Host : C. L. Clark * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Eclipse Online. You can read it here! Rated R, for reference to war and wartime atrocities. In Metal, In Bone by An Owomoyela Colonel Gabriel met him in a circle of canvas-topped trucks, in an army jacket despite the heat of the sun.  he stood a head taller than Benine, with skin as dark as peat coal, with terrible scarring on one side of his jaw.  When his gloved hand shook Benine’s bare one, he closed his grip and said, “What do you see?” Benine was startled, but the call to listen in on the memories of things was ever-present in the back of his mind.  It took very little to let his senses fuzz, obscured by the vision curling up from the gloves like smoke. He saw a room in a cottage with a thatched roof, the breeze coming in with the smell of a cooking fire outside, roasted cassava, a woman singing, off-tune.  He had to smile.  There was too much joy in the song to mind the sharp notes.  This must have been before the war; it was hard to imagine that much joy in Mortova these days. The singing had that rich, resonant pitch of a voice heard in the owner’s head, and his vision swung down, to delicate hands with a needle and thread, stitching together the fabric of the gloves.  Neat, even rows, and as the glove passed between the seamstress’s fingers, he could see the patterns of embroidery on the back. Benine banished the vision and pulled his hand back.  “But these are women’s gloves!” Colonel Gabriel gave him an appraising look.  “So you can do something,” he said.  “Not just superstition and witchcraft.” Read the rest here!
July 16, 2019
* Author : J. P. Sullivan * Narrator : Wilson Fowlie * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published in the August 2017 issue of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. Rated PG-13 for waking the dead and disturbing their dreams. The Resurrectionist by J.P. Sullivan “Yes, I can bring your wife back from the dead,” I told the farmer, who had reasonable doubts about my abilities. “Just realize that it might not be what she wants.” “She wants to see her children again,” he said. He’d told me his name, but I’d forgotten it.  Honestly, it’s better that way. He had a smith’s build, muscle on muscle, more beard than chin. I could tell at a glance he’d never had a crooked thought in his life. People like that are awfully hard to negotiate with. Thankfully, I have flat rates. “She signed the consent form?” The local chapel smelled like soot and incense. They hadn’t cremated her. That triples the fee and gives me a dreadful headache besides. “I know I’m asking for a miracle,” the farmer said. “You can really do it for ten crowns sovereign?” It’s not a miracle, I might have said. It’s a clever utilization of certain natural laws, an inversion of a subtle current and a trick played on God. Miracles assume His blessing, this process having none of it. But you start throwing around a word like ‘resurrection,’ and people get all kinds of ideas. “Did you bring the form, or not?” He produced it. And there it was, in hill-country chicken scratch, her name on the appropriate lines. There’s a correct way of doing everything. Why should reanimation be any different? I said the words, laid the hooks and lines and rock salt circles. Not all of that’s important, but the ceremony is part of the service. Like a funeral, it’s for the living. The church was empty of clergy. They couldn’t have run off too long ago; one of the fires was still lit. Every rider on the hill looked like a foreign raid, with the war on. For all I knew, they hid from me. “I don’t like this,” said the farmer. “Don’t worry,” I said, hands at the dead woman’s brow. “I don’t like it either.” Then I was in the elsewhere. White light rippled across the surface of calm water. Grass rustled in warm and silent wind. Overhead was a sky more blue than the one God painted, lit by suns numbered seventeen. My stiff clearly died with a guiltless conscience. “All right,” I said. I was smoking a pipe. I’ve never done that in the flesh; smells bloody awful, if you ask me. But this me knew how to do it, knew just how long to hold it in and just how deep to breathe. It smelled like an old man’s fireplace. I noticed I had an old man’s hands. For a moment I looked into the water. My face had lines and furrows and a hard-earned tan. My eyes were green like hers were green. People see in me what they want to see, and the situation here wasn’t hard to read. So I said, “It’s time to go back, Michelina.” “I just got here,” she said, relaxed as can be. “The angels haven’t come for me yet.” “Time moves differently here,” I said. “It’s been nearly three days.” Which was cutting it razor thin. If a keeper showed up — well, best not to fret over it. I only needed a few minutes to work my technique. Getting in is easy. Getting out requires time.
July 9, 2019
* Author : José Pablo Iriarte * Narrator : Karlo Yeager Rodríguez * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Strange Horizons. Rated: PG-13, for harsh memories not one’s own. Life in Stone, Glass, and Plastic by José Pablo Iriarte Cleaning up graffiti was an everyday job for Sergio, pero esto . . . Could you even call this graffiti? Graffiti normally was spray-painted. Wait — that wasn’t true. Indoor graffiti typically was done in permanent marker. Or gouged into wooden surfaces with pocket knives or keys, so the only way to remove some gang symbol or racist slur or throbbing penis was by sanding it down. Come to think of it, if anybody was an expert, he was. And he’d never heard of mosaic graffiti. But there it was, on the side of the Westchester Building. Marbles, reading glasses, fichas de Monopolio, a key, all cemented onto the crumbling old plaster, maybe eight feet across. Only when he took a step back could he see it formed the shape of a woman and her two kids, carrying suitcases away from a house while a grim police officer stood by with his arms crossed. Probably not the image the tenant behind that wall — AAAfordable Lending, Inc. — would want to be associated with. He pushed back his USS Oklahoma City ball cap and wiped his brow with his sleeve. Carajo, this must have taken hours. Days. No windows peered into the shadows between this building and the next, but Sergio himself walked this alley once a night, dragging a full garbage canister to the dumpster out back. How could he possibly have missed it? He inched closer to the vent for the Dominican panadería inside the neighboring building. The alley between the buildings was poorly lit and a favorite spot for rats and winos, but when the neighbors baked the next day’s treats you could take a deep breath and imagine you were in heaven. He closed his eyes and let the scent transport him to better days. Before Carolina had to stop working. She used to make magic like this in her kitchen. Estúpido. They paid him to work, not to stand around reminiscing. He shook his head and blinked. Time to do his job. He headed inside, to the custodial closet, and searched for an appropriate tool. He dropped a narrow putty spatula, a chisel, and a hammer into his tool apron, and grabbed a drill too, just in case. He picked up a heavy duty flashlight as well, since the sun already hung low in the sky when he came in for the equipment. Back in the alley, he dragged a trash cart over, leaned the light on it, and directed the beam at the artwork. What were the odds the plaster or whatever would still be loose and come off quickly? He reached into the pocket of the tool apron and closed his right hand around the handle of the spatula. He’d only used it once before, when the building’s management decided to retile all the bathrooms. By the time he finished that three-week job, his hands ached constantly and he’d hoped never to hold the damn thing again. Ah well. Así era la vida. He raised his left hand to the mosaic to feel the objects on the wall, get a sense for how firmly they were att — — he stands on the street holding a woman’s hand she is his mother she pulled him out too fast for him to put his shoes on and little rocks in the sidewalk are digging into his feet he...
July 2, 2019
* Author : Merc Fenn Wolfmoor * Narrator : Brian Murphy * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Submerged anthology, edited by S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier.  Content warning: sexual assault Rated R, for lustful magic. Note: Merc recently changed their name, so while the podcast lists an old name, they are now going by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, the name credited on the website. Fathoms Deep and Fathoms Cold By Merc Fenn Wolfmoor Tage lights a cigarette and watches the man in the scarlet fedora come nearer. Hat like that’s hard to miss. This one’s his contact. His heartbeat gets quick. The docks are loud, briny, thick with bodies. Storms scrape the horizon, kick up sharp winds. He can’t show desperation. It’ll get him killed or left stranded. Same difference. “Afternoon.” The man tips his hat. Long black duster hangs about a too-thin frame, but he don’t look weak. Dual revolvers rest on his hips. “I hear tell you’re looking for passage.” Tage grunts, shifts his weight for better balance. He didn’t expect another wizard. The twisty, rusted aura ‘round the man is too fucked to be purely one Clan. It puts his guard up, fast. “Depends whereto.” The man smiles, charming. It never reaches his faded blue eyes. “We’re headed for Aldare. Whale Fall’s a good vessel, and we have room for a couple passengers who’ll work for it.” He speaks with a slow drawl. “You left a calling card with the barkeeper.” “I can work,” Tage says. He don’t have enough to pay even a modest fare. He ran, scarce a fortnight ago. Left everything behind. He ain’t got much experience, and when word gets out he’s VanDrake, a wizard from one of the most feared Clans, no crew will risk taking him on. The Clan thinks he’s dead. He keeps trying not to wish it, too. “You ever been on a submersible?” the man asks. “Not yet.” The man hooks his thumbs through his belt. He might’ve been eye-catching once. Sharp-boned face, shaved, with odd-shaped tattoos across one cheek that match his hair — black and gray. He looks Tage up and down, critical. “It’s cramped. Not much space, and no deck. Can you handle living in metal and glass for long days?” Tage ain’t sure. There’s nowhere to run in the sea. “What’ll the work be?” “Manual, easy enough.” The man’s gaze is iron-hard. “Do what you’re told and no magic. Clear?” Tage’s gut turns. Something’s wrong here — not just the threat. The man should be asking more questions. “Yeah.” “Good.” Suddenly, the man smiles again and proffers a hand. “I’m Marcus Grey.” “Tage. VanDrake.” Last test. If the other wizard balks, shows any sign he’s here to grab Tage, he’ll run. Or fight. Ends the same — he won’t be taken back to the Clan. Marcus Grey’s expression and body language don’t change. “May I welcome you aboard the Whale Fall, VanDrake?” Self-exile. He don’t want to see the ghost-memories of everything he’s lost, the ones that won’t let him rest. It’s Kane’s face, mostly. He got his brother killed and he can’t forget. It hurts too much to stay here. Tage takes a final drag on the cigarette, drops it, then crushes the butt under his boot heel. He takes Grey’s hand, shakes it once. “Yeah.” The Whale Fall ain’t even docked.
June 25, 2019
* Author : G. V. Anderson * Narrator : Tatiana Grey * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Rated: R, for human parts sundered and sold. I Am Not I by G. V. Anderson [Note: This is part 2 of a two-part novelette. Please visit last week’s post to read part 1.] “You don’t look well, Miss Strohm-Waxxog.” I shook the bees from my jacket; they’d got cosy in my pockets and inside the lining. “I’m quite well, I assure you,” I said. I didn’t feel well. The walls and furniture around me seemed to move although I stood still, and small noises crashed in my ears. The honey man had come to fetch Madame hunting, as promised. The days were turning colder, the sun hardly breaking through the early-morning mist. “The perfect conditions. They’ll be sluggish,” said the honey man. But faced with the sobering light of day and the reality of chasing down real, living Saps, Madame refused. The honey man insisted on a partner, so I found myself stepping out into Tanners Row in her place, keeping pace with the only Varian who’d ever made me feel truly uneasy. At least he wore his veil so I didn’t have to look at his awful face. “We’re after a full specimen today,” the honey man said. I sent up silent thanks; a full specimen could fetch an excellent price. Perhaps the whole one hundred and fifty guineas, if I did my best negotiating. As we walked farther down the Row, past boarded-up shops and walls of graffiti, he handed me a dartgun. I turned it over in my palm. “Why don’t your bees just sting them?” “I asked them to, on my first hunts, but it caused too much swelling,” he replied. “Madame will want to pickle and jar immediately, which leaves insufficient time for the bumps to recede.” “Asked?” His bees flew around us, perhaps an entire colony. Some of them had landed contentedly on my shoulders, and I’d given up trying to shrug them away. “I thought you and they . . . Do you not control them?” The honey man laughed. “They do as they like. We have a mutually beneficial arrangement, nothing more: my body provides a strong home; they collect information. They’re spliced, like Varians,” he said with pride. He raised a hand and they danced around it. “They’re clever little creatures, unnaturally strong with an excellent sense of direction. My bees know all the quickest routes through Vak-Ambrah, from the Auxxib district to the harbour and into the heart of the slums. Keep them in your sights and you’ll never be lost. “And they certainly seem to like you,” he said, his head tipping towards the ones on my shoulders. “Perhaps they have a mind to burrow in and make a new honey girl.” I swallowed a surge of bile. The bees led us deeper into Tanners Row. The honey man and I followed close behind, my toes catching on the path. The alleys we took were narrow, the buildings bowed together like lovers’ foreheads, sharing secrets. When I looked up between them, the sky was a distant slash of iron. We stalked through the slums for much of the day. They appeared abandoned, but energy rippled through every building as though they’d been occupied a moment before and swiftly vacated — dust, stirred by phantom feet,
June 18, 2019
* Author : G. V. Anderson * Narrator : Tatiana Grey * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Rated R, for human parts sundered and sold. I Am Not I by G. V. Anderson I found the emporium on old Tanners Row. A prime location, to be sure — within pissing distance from a Saps’ slum. Its proprietor, Madame Qlym, boasted better pickings in her own back garden than any other acristologist in the city. But despite this and every revered thing I’d heard about it, the emporium looked in poor shape: the gilt lettering on the lintel was in mid-peel. Even as I watched, a tiny flake of autumnal gold broke off and fluttered past me. I frowned, but quickly shook away my doubts. Acristologists like their theatrics, after all. With its steep grime banks and lingering stink, Tanners Row provided more than ample ambience for the prospective customer. I glanced round; the Row was empty. I eased open the door to the emporium and slipped inside. There was only one aisle, wide enough to spread out my arms and brush the shelves with my fingertips — not that I wanted to get too close. The shelves creaked under the weight of thousands of dusty jars containing hands tinted amber by formaldehyde; eyeballs trailing optic kelp; and butter-bean fœtuses that watched me with milky, unformed eyes. Sap parts, all of them. Collected and sold for the pleasure of Varians. The preservation of Saps’ bodies is a fundamental aspect of acristology, but it has also become a mark of status, a way to flaunt one’s wealth and intimidate one’s rivals. Almost every Varian household has one or more of these jars — the bigger and more complete the specimen, the higher the prestige for the family. I shivered. Gaslights hung from the ceiling but their greasy glow did more to hide than illuminate. I wiped my hands on my new jacket; I’d not touched a thing and already I felt grubby. “Is anyone here?” “Coming!” The door at the back swung open and out she scuttled. I recognised Madame Qlym’s eight spindly arms and her infamous coiffure, so stiff it wobbled as one mass, but her body had lost its shape like a shrivelling balloon, and her powder — a new layer applied every morning, already months deep — was starting to crack. She bore little resemblance to her old tabloid photograms. Theatrics, I reminded myself firmly. She threw me a generous, moss-toothed smile. “You must be Miss Strohm-Waxxog! Oh, let me look at you!” and before I could protest she was inches away, jerking my chin this way and that to admire the glitter of her lamps in my six eyes, twirling me round to look, to pat — I flinched. My wings, stale as a new butterfly’s, rustled against my clothes as I moved. “Ah,” she said, withdrawing her hands. “No true flight? It happens, it happens. What a pity. And your poor eye . . .” I knew I looked unspectacular. When I’d telephoned to arrange this interview I’d given her my real surname — a reckless move, but I needed her to employ me; few would turn away a member of the city’s most powerful family. She’d probably spent all morning imagining what beauteous manner of mutation would be walking through her door later. And here I was, with sore, brittle wings and a gammy eye. “It’s the Strohm gene,” I gambled.
June 11, 2019
* Author : Matt Dovey * Narrator : Eliza Chan * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Sword and Sonnet. Rated PG. The Bone Poet and God by Matt Dovey Ursula lifted her snout to look at the mountain. The meadowed foothills she stood in were dotted with poppy and primrose and cranesbill and cowslip, an explosion of color and scent in the late spring sun, the long grass tickling her paws and her hind legs; above that the forested slopes, birch and rowan and willow and alder rising into needle-pines and gray firs; above that the snowline, ice and rock and brutal winds. And above that, at the top, God; and with God, the answer Ursula had traveled so far for: what kind of bear am I meant to be? She shouldered her bonesack and walked on. There was a shuffling sound among the bracken, small but definite. Ursula hesitated, a dry branch held in her paws, her campfire half-built. Ambush wasn’t unheard of — so many bears sought God on the mountain that bonethieves couldn’t resist the chances to steal — but it had not been so large a sound, and she couldn’t smell another bear beneath the pine scent. It was something smaller, lurking in the dim light of the forest floor, behind the massive rough-barked firs that filled the slope. “Hello?” she ventured, still holding motionless. “It’s quite all right. I’m building a fire, if you’d like to join me.” A badger stepped out from the ferns, his snout twitching and cautious, a stout stick held warily in his paws. He eyed Ursula for a moment, weighing up the situation, and she gestured ever so gently to the fire she was building, trying to come across as safe, as friendly. As likeable. He straightened and walked forward. He kept the stick before him, but Ursula understood. Bears could be dangerous. Two more badgers followed him, one much smaller — “Oh, you’re a family!” said Ursula. “I’ll make a seat for you!” She stood, turned, dashed back, dropping to four paws in her enthusiasm. She ran to where she’d seen a fallen log not twenty yards away by the river and hauled it back, her claws dug into its softened bark, dragging it and dropping it by the fire pit with a thud. She grinned at the family, proud of her resourcefulness — The badgers cowered, the two behind the father with the stick, who tried to meet her eyes but couldn’t help glancing away for places to burrow and hide. Ursula lowered herself slowly to sit. She made a point of picking up smaller twigs to lay on the fire, the least threatening pieces she could find. “Sorry,” she said quietly. “I forget how I can come across. Please. Sit down.” She concentrated on building the fire, determinedly not looking at the badgers, not wanting to startle them, trying not to let their fear hurt her nor to berate herself for getting carried away and upsetting others. For letting her shyness get to her: for overcompensating for it. If only she knew who she was, instead of pretending so poorly. “Thank you,” said Father Badger from the log, and Ursula smiled at him, keeping her teeth covered. “Forgive us our caution. We . . . have never met a bear before.” “I’m Ursula,” she said. “My name is Patrick,” said Father Badger, “and this is my husband, Willem, and our new daughter Ann.” “And how old are you, Ann?” Another careful smile,
June 4, 2019
* Author : Karuna Riazi * Narrator : Farah Naz Rishi * Host : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 577: Temptation is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. A special episode in celebration of Eid al-Fitr, guest edited by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali. Temptation By Karuna Riazi “We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”  — Christina Rossetti, “Goblin Market” When was the last time food glided over her tongue? It was funny how Kayla couldn’t even remember what it was she ate. Was it a quick jaunt to a local fast food joint — a juicy burger or a chicken gyro that was left half-eaten and balled up in sauce-stained foil in the back of the refrigerator? Had her mother tried to coax her into eating a meal one last time before she walked out the door, shouldering her bag, impatient, sure she was late? (Late to what? To meet who? Even that, she couldn’t be sure of, but that didn’t matter as much.) Shame curdled in her gut as she recalled now all the ungrateful moments in which she’d rolled her eyes and shoved away a plate, or grudgingly grazed on a cold samosa, half-heartedly tugging it through a pool of ketchup and nibbling at it, not hungry enough to savor its heavy spices or the yielding tenderness of a potato chunk. So many regrets, and all of them to do with those bites she didn’t catalog fervently enough while they were being experienced. Now, she sat on that moldering throne They always yanked her toward — mockingly, she felt — with the rusting crown pressing low on her brow, trapping the sweat-laden silk of her scarf against her bruised skin, and she closed her eyes and gave herself over to what she could remember. She’d sucked and laved at the extravagances first until they didn’t hold so much as a brief flicker in her mind’s eye: wedding receptions with several courses, the one time she had attended a friend’s engagement party at a country club and snuck a potentially haraam hors d’oeuvre into her mouth when her mother’s head was turned, a quick melting taste of soft chicken, rich cheese, and olive that anguished her now because God, please, what was that finishing note? Back then, a friend had noticed the sour twist to her mouth. “Didn’t like that one?” “There’s something about it that’s . . . maybe too bougie for me? I don’t know. It was bitter or something.” She could shake herself by the shoulders now. Down here, there was no differentiation between sweet, sour, or bitter. Or perhaps there was, in that one blissful moment of taste They all cajoled her toward: the best, most unforgettable twist of flavors that would make the entire sacrifice worth it. It would leave you smiling, eternally, regretfully, as They tore your soul like a velvet coat off your back and danced it to rags beneath Their feet. No. There was nothing that could be worth that. She could not forget that lesson, taught to her in masjids with images of vengeful personified fire and brimstone, and in school through the insatiable appetite of Faust. Hunger made you susceptible. Hunger made you forget what was poison, what was served by the hand that would see itself wrapped around your neck. She had to remember. She had to suckle the brightest,
May 28, 2019
* Author : Vajra Chandrasekera * Narrator : Peter Behravesh * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Liminal. Rated: PG-13, for cursing at heaven’s door. When Leopard’s-Bane Came to the Door of Third Heaven By Vajra Chandrasekera We stand at attention all day at the top of the green tower. L and I stand on either side of the door to the third nonsensual heaven. The rifle is heavy and I develop a lean as the day wears on, until L hisses at me from the far side of the door and I straighten up, my back creaking and popping. I’m a sloppy guard because I’m new, ink still fresh on the lottery ticket. When you’re always new at everything, you never get a chance to get good. L hasn’t been a guard much longer than me, but she always says she doesn’t want to get good. She says you can’t pry the world open if you don’t have a kink in you. She says how come the lottery is supposed to be so fair but princes always win a king’s ticket when it’s time? She says a lot of things like that and if I say we haven’t been a monarchy in two hundred years or whatever, she’ll say I’m being obtuse. Then we arm-wrestle for it. She usually wins those, but only just. We don’t actually have to stand at attention all day. So we don’t. Sometimes we take turns to nap. The guards of the towers of heaven don’t have supervisors, except someone from the lottery board who shows up twice a year, and of course some of the stewards are informers in case we’re breaking any rules. Here at the top of the green tower we see less foot traffic than every other heaven. There are too many stairs for the pious, who just take the first door they see. The doubters tend to climb a bit, but then they get tired and take the second door. Or they change their minds and climb down again. Maybe go home. Maybe go over to the red tower to try the sensual heavens instead of the nonsensual ones, after the dull ache in their feet reminds them that they have bodies. Nearly everybody prefers the sensual heavens. The red tower is always busy, crowded all the way to the top, a queue that moves step by excited step. Our green tower is for the perverse and our door is its highest, the least accessible. We only see the most stubborn, the axe-grinders, the scab-pickers, the most damaged, the ones who most want nothing — the ones who absolutely need to be sure that it’s nothing that comes after. Of course, sometimes it’s just people who aren’t paying attention. Our first visitor of the day, for example, is a left-path orgiast — we recognise the type as soon as he appears, puffing and sweaty, at the top of the stairs. He kneels there for a little while, blowing out his breath and massaging his thighs. He’s red-eyed, clean-shaven, smoking a roll of something mildewy sweet. We try not to laugh, though L is grinning so broadly her face is all teeth, when he says he thought this was the door to the third sensual heaven. “Nope,” I say. “This is the green tower. That’s the nonsensual one.” “You spent nine hours climbing the wrong tower,” L adds, smiling like this is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. He’s not even the first person to make this mistake since we started working here, but she loves it every time. In the end, he goes through the door anyway. It opens for him,
May 21, 2019
* Author : Mary de Morgan * Narrator : Eleanor Wood * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh This story is in the public domain. Rated G. A Toy Princess By Mary de Morgan (1850–1907) More than a thousand years ago, in a country quite on the other side of the world, it fell out that the people all grew so very polite that they hardly ever spoke to each other. And they never said more than was quite necessary, as “Just so,” “Yes indeed,” “Thank you,” and “If you please.” And it was thought to be the rudest thing in the world for any one to say they liked or disliked, or loved or hated, or were happy or miserable. No one ever laughed aloud, and if any one had been seen to cry they would at once have been avoided by their friends. The King of this country married a Princess from a neighbouring land, who was very good and beautiful, but the people in her own home were as unlike her husband’s people as it was possible to be. They laughed, and talked, and were noisy and merry when they were happy, and cried and lamented if they were sad. In fact, whatever they felt they showed at once, and the Princess was just like them. So when she came to her new home, she could not at all understand her subjects, or make out why there was no shouting and cheering to welcome her, and why every one was so distant and formal. After a time, when she found they never changed, but were always the same, just as stiff and quiet, she wept, and began to pine for her own old home. Every day she grew thinner and paler. The courtiers were much too polite to notice how ill their young Queen looked; but she knew it herself, and believed she was going to die. Now she had a fairy godmother, named Taboret, whom she loved very dearly, and who was always kind to her. When she knew her end was drawing near she sent for her godmother, and when she came had a long talk with her quite alone. No one knew what was said, and soon afterwards a little Princess was born, and the Queen died. Of course all the courtiers were sorry for the poor Queen’s death, but it would have been thought rude to say so. So, although there was a grand funeral, and the court put on mourning, everything else went on much as it had done before. The little baby was christened Ursula, and given to some court ladies to be taken charge of. Poor little Princess! She cried hard enough, and nothing could stop her. All her ladies were frightened, and said that they had not heard such a dreadful noise for a long time. But, till she was about two years old, nothing could stop her crying when she was cold or hungry, or crowing when she was pleased. After that she began to understand a little what was meant when her nurses told her, in cold, polite tones, that she was being naughty, and she grew much quieter. She was a pretty little girl, with a round baby face and big merry blue eyes; but as she grew older, her eyes grew less and less merry and bright, and her fat little face grew thin and pale. She was not allowed to play with any other children, lest she might learn bad manners; and she was not taught any games or given any toys. So she passed most of her time, when she was not at her lessons, looking out of the window at the birds flying against the clear blue sky; and sometimes she would give a sad little sigh when her ladies were not listening. One day the old fairy Taboret made herself invisible, and flew over to the King’s palace to see how things were going on there.
May 14, 2019
* Author : Alex Jennings * Narrator : Laurice White * Host : Eden Royce * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 574: Mister Dog is a PodCastle original. Drug use; abuse to animals Rated R, for sex, drugs, and haunted souls. Mister Dog By Alex Jennings Trenice felt the car more than she saw it. Or she saw it without seeing it. She couldn’t be sure. Had the car’s driver meant her harm? Probably not. Here in New Orleans, sloppy driving was usually accidental. Trenice had worked late again at Chez Lazare, and while the weather was still hot, the days faded earlier and earlier. By the time she made it to Armstrong Park, sunset had come and gone. She had seen the Jackson-Esplanade bus ready to turn onto North Rampart when the streetcar sailed across Esplanade. Streetcars were slower than buses, so if she wanted to catch the 91, she couldn’t wait until she reached Canal. Instead, she’d have to take the Armstrong Park stop and dash across North Rampart, waving her tattooed arms above her head to make sure the driver saw her. Trenice tried not to think about how badly she needed a new car, how much hassle it would save her every day, as she cut across the street. The car that nearly hit her whooshed by so quickly she barely registered it. All she got was a scent of patchouli and tobacco that cast her back ten years. Still, she didn’t miss a beat. She clopped across the asphalt in her business hooves, waving her right arm without thinking about it. The bus sighed to a halt and knelt for her to climb on. “Girl, you gone get hurt if you don’t get some sense,” the driver said. By the time Trenice fit her key into her apartment’s front door lock, she was sure she’d seen Trill gaping at her from the driver’s window of the car that had nearly hit her, but that couldn’t be, because Trill was dead. If he were a ghost, would he be angry with her? Even at the best of times, his mood swings had been unpredictable. His highs had been so high Trenice had felt buoyed along with them, but his lows had been bitter, bleak, and hard to take. She slept fitfully that night, tossing and turning on her secondhand mattress. Her bedroom’s window unit air conditioner was on the blink again. She’d have to scrape some money together to get a new one or have this one repaired. Even at the end of September, the city heat was stifling. It lay on her like the weighted blanket she used in the winter, but its pressure didn’t soothe her. When she slid too close to wakefulness, her mind presented a slideshow of memories. She and Trill sitting on a Red Square bench, kissing hard in the chilly night air. She and Trill making eyes at each other across a Seminar Building classroom. She and Trill sitting, stony-silent, in a darkened movie theater, refusing even to look each other’s way. Trill’s stupid car he so dearly loved, the dog he had viciously abused. Trill and Lemur smoking meth off a makeshift tinfoil screen. Trill. Trill. Trill. Trill. Trill. At seven, she turned off her alarm before it could ring. She felt like the worst version of herself. She checked her reflection in the mirror before heading out to work. Dark skin, hair like Frederick Douglass, lips too thin for a black girl. She picked out her hair and called it done. She sucked her teeth as she glanced at her skinny-fat arms. She was too old and too tough to feel this way.
May 7, 2019
* Author : Sarah Pinsker * Narrator : Dave Robison * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published by Lightspeed and a 2019 Hugo Finalist for Best Short Story. Rated PG-13. The Court Magician By Sarah Pinsker The Boy Who Will Become Court Magician The boy who will become court magician this time is not a cruel child. Not like the last one, or the one before her. He never stole money from Blind Carel’s cup, or thrashed a smaller child for sweets, or kicked a dog. This boy is a market rat, which sets him apart from the last several, all from highborn or merchant families. This isn’t about lineage, or even talent. He watches the street magicians every day, with a hunger in his eyes that says he knows he could do what they do. He contemplates the tawdry illusions of the market square with more intensity than most, until he is marked for us by his own curiosity. Even then, even when he wanders booth to booth and corner to corner every day for a month, begging to learn, we don’t take him. At our behest, the Great Gretta takes him under her tutelage. She demonstrates the first sleight of hand. If he’s disappointed to learn that her tricks aren’t magic at all, he hides it well. When he returns to her the next day, it is clear he has practiced through the night. His eyes are marked by dark circles, his step lags, but he can do the trick she taught him, can do it as smoothly as she can, though admittedly she is not as Great as she once was. He learns all her tricks, then begins to develop his own. He’s a smart child. Understands intuitively that the trick is not enough. That the illusion is in what is said and what isn’t said, the patter, the posture, the distractions with which he draws the mark’s attention from what he is actually doing. He gives himself a name for the first time, a magician’s name, because he sees how that, too, is part of the act. When he leaves Gretta to set out on his own, the only space granted to him is near the abattoir, a corner that had long gone unclaimed. Gretta’s crowd follows him, despite the stench and screams. Most of his routine is composed of street illusions, but there is one that seems impossible. He calls it the Sleeper’s Lament. It takes me five weeks to figure out what he is doing in the trick; that’s when we are sure he is the one. “Would you like to learn real magic?” I send a palace guard to ask my question, dressed in her own clothes rather than her livery. The boy snorts. “There’s no such thing.” He has unraveled every illusion of every magician in the marketplace. None of them will speak with him because of it. He’s been beaten twice on his way to his newly rented room, and robbed neither time. He’s right to be suspicious. She leans over and whispers the key to the boy’s own trick in his ear, as I bade her do. As she bends, she lets my old diary fall from her pocket, revealing a glimpse of a trick he has never seen before: the Gilded Hand. He hands it back to her, and she thanks him for its safe return. By now he’s practiced at hiding his emotions, but I know what’s at war within him. He doesn’t believe my promise of real magic, but the Gilded Hand has already captivated him. He’s already working it out as he pockets the coins that have accumulated in his dusty cap, places the cap upon his head,
April 30, 2019
* Author : Marie Brennan * Narrator : Karen Bovenmyer * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Children of a Different Sky, edited by Alma Alexander. Rated PG. Into the Wind by Marie Brennan The tenements presented a blank face to the border: an unbroken expanse of wall, windowless, gapless, resolutely blind to the place that used to be Oneua. Only at the edges of the tenements could one pass through, entering the quiet and sunlit strip of weeds that separated the buildings from the world their inhabitants had once called home. Eyo stood in the weeds, an arm’s length from the border. The howling sands formed a wall in front of her, close enough to touch. They clouded the light of Oneua’s suns, until she could barely make out the nearest structure, the smooth lines of its walls eroded and broken by the incessant rasp of the sands. And yet where she stood, with her feet on the soil of Gevsilon, the air was quiet and still and damp. The line between the two was as sharp as if it had been sliced with a razor. “I wouldn’t recommend it, kid.” The voice was a stranger’s, speaking the local trade pidgin. Eyo knew he was addressing her, but kept her gaze fixed on the boundary before her, and the maelstrom of sand beyond. She didn’t care what some stranger thought. People came here sometimes. Not the Oneui — not usually — but their neighbors in Gevsilon, or other residents of Driftwood looking for that rare thing, a quiet place to sit and be alone. The winds looked like their shrieking should drown out even thought, but their sound didn’t cross the border, any more than the sand did. As long as you didn’t look at the sandstorm, this place was peaceful. But apparently the stranger didn’t want to be quiet and alone. In her peripheral vision she saw movement, someone coming to stand at her side, not too close. Someone as tall as an Oneui adult, and that was unusual in Driftwood. “You wouldn’t be the first of your people to try,” he said. “You’re one of the Oneui, right? You must have heard the stories.” Oh, she had. It started as a dry, stinging wind, after their world parched to dust. Then it built into a sandstorm, one that raged for days without pause, just as their prophecies had foretold. Eyo’s grandparents and the others of their town had refused to believe it was the end of the world; in their desperation, they gathered up their water and food and tied themselves together to prevent anyone from getting lost, and they went in search of a place safe from the sand. They stumbled into Gevsilon. And that was how they found out their world had ended. But not entirely. This remnant of it survived, caught up in the cluster of fragmented realities known as Driftwood: the place worlds went to die. Gevsilon, their inward neighbor, had gone through an apocalypse of its own: a plague that rendered all their people sterile. There weren’t many of the Nigevi left anymore, which meant there was enough room for the Oneui to resettle. Just a stone’s throw from the remnants of their own world, and everything they’d left behind. Of course some of them tried to go back. The first few returned coughing and blind, defeated by the ever-worsening storm. The next few stumbled out bloody, their clothing shredded and their flesh torn raw.
April 23, 2019
* Author : Maria Haskins * Narrator : Setsu Uzume * Host : Hamilton Perez * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Kaleidotrope. Rated PG-13. The first time Bella, Alice, and I exorcised a demon it was an accident: a pentagram doodled backstage, some quotes from The Exorcist, and suddenly that vocalist from the band we were opening for wasn’t quite himself anymore. Who knew hellfire was so damn hot, anyway? There have been other moments that altered the shape of my life: that afternoon in 1978 when I heard Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and hit puberty in the same instant; or that Friday night at age fourteen when I switched on my first electric guitar in the garage, next to Bella’s drum kit, and heard Alice’s bass rev up beside me. But nothing beats an accidental exorcism for short-term shock value and long-term impact. The scarred fingers on my left hand (barely able to pick out even the simplest chords) and the death of Bella (who stood closer to that demon than any of us) forever twisted my life in a new direction. I don’t play guitar anymore, but according to my spreadsheet, Alice and I have dealt with close to four hundred entities (demonic, fae, malevolent spirits, and others) on the indie music scene since Bella died, turning our pain and grief into a part-time job and eventually a career. With all that experience under my Motörhead-buckled bullet belt, I don’t usually get nervous, but tonight is different. I’m sweating, even though I’ve stripped off my leather jacket, and my hands are shaking on the laptop — every muscle in my body in flux between fight and flight. Excitement and adrenaline, I try to tell myself. Not fear and anxiety. Not doubt. Not hesitation and dread because we’re dealing with something we’ve never handled before. No one to blame but ourselves. This isn’t a paid job, after all, but a personal quest involving the most famous musician we’ve ever dealt with: Slim Rick himself, original member of legendary rock band Slim Chance, guitar hero, riff-god, and — if we’re right – host to an entity that has convincingly worn a human meat-suit for three decades, give or take a millennium or two. None of our jobs to date have been this high-profile. Mostly we deal with third-rate demons, restless spirits of expired roadies, and newbie metal bands that accidentally curse themselves in a quest for satanic cred. We also turn away a fair number of bands who think they’ve signed a deal with the devil, when they’ve actually signed a bad contract with a lousy record label. (Pro-tip: not even the devil gives a shit about new rock and metal bands these days.) The setting tonight is a backstage room much like any other, even though the venue is one of the most prestigious in Vancouver. It smells of sweat and hot dogs, old beer and hockey games, and the props are drab and ordinary. Stackable plastic chairs, a sink and mirror, foldable tables littered with our empty Starbucks cups and the two items specified in Rick’s rider: carbonated water on ice, and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The only hint of luxury is the divine black leather couch. The concrete walls vibrate with the muffled rumble and roar of audience and music. Somewhere above our heads, Rick is playing, flanked by the hired guns he calls his band these days. The old band,
April 16, 2019
* Author : Rafaela Ferraz * Narrator : Carlo Matos * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 570: Elegy for a Slaughtered Swine is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. The PodCastle forums flash fiction contest is on! Visit our Submittable for more details. Submissions are open until April 30. Elegy for a Slaughtered Swine Rafaela Ferraz Men do not often cook, out behind these hills. It’s women’s domain, the kitchen, but they’ve shown me the ways of all that is theirs to rule. I could cook up a soup or a curse without leaving this room. The former is simple. Cabbage and potato and smoked sausage and olive oil. The latter is simpler still. Your mother is expecting. Her womb is the first ingredient. Already you have six older brothers to race you for her love, or six older sisters. When she names you, she is careless with her choice. Later, the priest cannot untangle his prayers, his tongue slips on the edge of the baptismal font. We’re cooking, remember: stir it all with a wooden spoon and the devil will know you are unwanted. Your mother, she doesn’t care for you, for this mistake she’s made in the marriage bed, or out behind the church with her skirts hiked up, or up on the moor wearing as little shame as sin itself. Neither does your father. They have six other, older mouths to feed. They’ll let you feed yourself, may the devil bless them. You will hunt. You will run with the wolves. You will grow hackles and claws and eyes the color of burnt sugar, and you will be gone from their concerns. You will cross seven cemeteries and seven streams and seven hills and seven sins from your ledger every night before Sunday dawns. I was the seventh. I never hunted. I never ran with the wolves. I never grew hackles or claws or eyes the color of burnt sugar. My curse was spoiled halfway in the making, when they called me Benedito and spoke all the proper words and drowned me in holy grace. No precaution was too great, but still they would not have me. Better to find the finest doorstep in the village and leave me to wake the terrible man within with my cries. Say the devil did come for me, against all odds? I don’t blame them for thinking the master of this great house would be the one to ward him off. The second boy’s parents must have thought the same, but Ezequiel was ten on a rainy morning, and I was nine, Ezequiel was filthy, and I was pristine in my Sunday best, Ezequiel was cursed, and I so blessed. It’s been over a decade since we’ve met, and little has changed. He is sometimes man, sometimes wolf. It falls to me, once a week, to await him by sunrise and wrap him in coarse blankets and help him back into his body. It falls to me to make this soup, and to keep my eyes on the kitchen table where his rifle lies in wait for his hands, and to pretend I didn’t use it to kill a man tonight while he was away. “How’s Father?” Ezequiel asks, enunciating every word as if learning how to speak it, eyes flat on the dancing flames in the hearth. He was gone the whole night — a thoughtless beast — yet he won’t waste a moment on himself. His new skin glistens on his bare shoulders. He may be raw and still unfinished, but no matter. Guilt will do that to a man. Guilt and shame and a curse for a legacy, though he just calls it fate. “He lives.”
April 9, 2019
* Author : Francesca Forrest * Narrator : Stephanie Malia Morris * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producers : Peter Behravesh and Peter Wood * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Strange Horizons. Rated R. This episode is a part of our Tales from the Vaults series, in which a member of PodCastle’s staff chooses a backlist episode to rerun and discuss. This week’s episode was chosen by associate editor and social media manager Matt Dovey. “The Yew’s Embrace” originally aired as PodCastle 227. Dream Foundry Dream Foundry is a new organization helping all professionals, especially beginners, working in the speculative arts. Back their Kickstarter to make sure they last and grow, and to get yourself some nifty rewards. Website: Twitter: @dream_foundry Facebook: Kickstarter: The Yew’s Embrace by Francesca Forrest We could still see the old king’s blood in the cracks in the flagstones beneath the new king’s feet when he announced to us all that this was a unification, not a conquest, and that we had nothing to fear from the soldiers that fenced us round. The new king said that my sister the queen would become his wife and that he’d make the old king’s baby son his very own heir. That’s how much he loved and honored our people, he said. A month later, on a stormy day when the rain blew in at the windows and puddled on the floor, and we were huddled round the hearth, spinning by the light of oil lamps, the king burst in, soaking wet. Eyes a-glitter, he told my sister that he had caught Lele, the wet nurse, down by the stream at the edge of the grove of the gods, drowning the baby prince. “She said she wouldn’t permit him to grow up under my authority,” he said. “I tried to save him, but I was too late.” He held up his dripping hands. River weed clung to his arms above the elbows. “She’ll be punished, though,” the king continued, and you could see his whole body trembling like a struck bell as he spoke. It was anger, red anger, that caused him to shake. None of us dared to move. “I’ve ordered her flayed alive in the grove of the gods. It will stand as a lesson,” he said, catching us each by eye, one by one, lingering on my sister. “No one may cross me.
April 2, 2019
* Author : Suzan Palumbo * Narrator : S.B. Divya * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published at Anathema. Content warning for violence against women. Rated: PG-13, for predators and prey. The Pull of the Herd By: Suzan Palumbo My doeskin calls to me from under the woollen blankets in the cedar chest at the foot of our bed. Diya murmurs beside me, eases back to sleep. I cling to her, try to calm the panic welling in my chest by inhaling her cardamom scent. The metallic taste of a skin thief lingers in the air this morning and, though I’ve sworn never to return, every nerve and sinew inside me is screaming: get back to the herd. I swing my feet onto the wooden floor. Human soles are weaker than keratin-covered hooves — less sure, though they suit their purpose. I undress, then pad over to the trunk. My fur stirs as I lift the lid and pull it from beneath the blankets. It twines up my forearm, grip like hardened horn sheathed in fraying velvet. It’s humid when I open the front door. Other than the birds, I’m completely alone. There’s no guarantee the doefolk will heed my warning. I smother my doubts. I must get to them. Pulling the pelt over my head and torso is familiar but restrictive, like a bra that supports but cuts too tightly against your ribs. It winches my back forward, conforming my body to its shape. A jumble of scents: musk, dirt, blood, excrement, and something out of place, something heavy, town-like, collide around my muzzle. Layers of fur envelop my front quarters; tension builds in my hinds. A muscle snaps. I dart into the back woods — an arrow zipping through the trees. The terrain is uneven but my hooves pivot and pick, flying over crumbling logs and brambles. I can’t remember the way. The limits of human locomotion have tainted my visual spatial perception, but my legs carry a compass of their own. They propel me deep into the bush. How long do I run? I can’t tell; time is measured in heartbeats. Then all at once, the air is cooler. I’m at the edge of the old clearing. The darkness has become a greying haze. There are figures with hands thrown in the air, legs kicking in abandon. Their doeskins are strewn on an outcrop of jagged, white rock nearby. I inch toward them. They are performing the Matutinal: a farewell to the night and a greeting of the day, sung in syllables as old as the trees. They embrace me, to my surprise, aunts and cousins patting my neck and back, and for an instant I’m doused in the warmth of their welcome. Then my sister Vashti fixes her glare on me. The granite glint in her eyes strips me of any comfort. I’m an outsider. In spite of her, the convergence continues. Vashti’s disdain for me can halt the sunrise. The herd presses against me, compels me to join, even before I can transform. I scan the perimeter of the clearing for the threat I’d sensed earlier, but they sweep my caution aside — pushing me toward the centre of their circle. I’m caught in their torrent, bucking and prancing. My doeskin chafes against my limbs while they contort around me in their bipedal forms. A twig snaps during a lull in their song. My ear twitches. I jerk my head toward the rocks in time to catch a pair of hands snatching a buff-coloured pelt. I crash through the circle,
March 26, 2019
* Author : Kai Hudson * Narrator : Jen R. Albert * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Artist : Yuumei * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 567, ARTEMIS RISING: The Weaver Retires is a PodCastle original. Content warnings for domestic abuse and fatphobia. PG-13, for needles and blackest thread. The Weaver Retires by Kai Hudson They come from all over: exotic, far-off places with names Weisa can barely pronounce. Australia. Japan. Venezuela. Last week, some alien-sounding place called Pen-sil-vay-ni-yah. Her grandson Ashti says they come because she’s famous. She’s on the Internet, he tells her, this great big place like a temple in the air, full of books and magazines anyone can read at any time. Apparently someone wrote about her a few months ago, and that’s why people come. She doesn’t mind it so much. They break up the monotony of the day, when she comes back from feeding the pigs or killing cockroaches with her sandals to find yet another foreigner sitting awkwardly with Ashti inside the hut. Today it is one of the ones with skin like someone dusted him with bread flour, with a balding head and damp patches decorating his brightly-colored shirt. A fat woman presumably his wife slumps in Ashti’s usual chair, fanning herself with her hat. Ashti has politely moved to the floor. “Ah, Ima,” her grandson says, rising upon her entrance. The foreigners don’t move. “We have visitors.” She’s always amused when he uses that word. When Weisa was little, visitors meant aunts and cousins from the next village over, or perhaps traders from afar, their donkeys laden with bright plastic toys and exotic candies that burst like bubbles of honey on her tongue. If they were really lucky, visitors meant a small group of slightly bedraggled people, lean and dusty from travel, who smiled with gaps in their teeth and offered, in exchange for food and lodging, her absolute favorite thing: stories. The weavers, as they were called, were a spectacle throughout the village. A visit from them meant hot food and laughter shared late into the night, music and dancing around roaring bonfires. And, of course, the stories. Flashes of light and threads of darkness twisting through the air like errant snakes, setting their hearts afire with tales of brave warriors and faraway battles, great floods and seasons of bountiful harvest. If Weisa had been very good, her mother would let her have a story, and many a time she would fall asleep in an adult’s lap as dawn broke over the horizon, dizzy with the magic in her skin. Weisa nods at her grandson and starts across the hut, intending to fetch the small cookie tin sitting next to her sleeping mat. The white man, however, heaves himself up with much effort and stands in her way to jam his hand forward. He smiles and says, “Hah-lo-ai-muh-but,” which she assumes is a greeting in his language. She smiles back and shakes his hand. It’s greasy with sweat and he squeezes too hard, making her knuckles ache, but she makes sure not to show it on her face. They’ve journeyed very far to see her; she doesn’t want to make them uncomfortable. The man’s wife stops fanning long enough to bark something at her husband, but doesn’t seem able to summon energy for much more than that. The man nods and lifts the heavy camera hanging from around his neck,
March 19, 2019
* Authors : Amanda Helms and Hester J. Rook * Narrators : Maxine L. Moore and Nadia Niaz * Host : Julian K. Jarboe * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Artist : Yuumei * Discuss on Forums “Starr Striker Should Remain Capitol City’s Resident Superhero, by Keisha Cole, 10th Grade Student” was originally published by Daily Science Fiction. “All the Fishes, Singing” was originally published by Strangelet Journal. “Starr Striker…” is rated PG-13, for giving zero fricks (3 F-bombs). “All the Fishes, Singing” is rated PG-13, for cuts to skin and scales. Starr Striker Should Remain Capitol City’s Resident Superhero, by Keisha Cole, 10th Grade Student By Amanda Helms Argument Despite the call to ban Starr Striker from Capitol City for “attacking” Captain Thunder, she should remain our resident superhero. Supports, Including a Minimum of Three Citations She tweets cute baby octopus pictures every Thursday. She loves dim sum and cardamom ice cream. She’s kept her hair natural. Even though shooting balls of plasma from your fingertips has to be hella painful, she fights for us anyway. It’s important for young Black women such as myself to have positive Black female role models. It’s important for all people to have positive Black female role models. Starr doesn’t care that she’s been the most popular Halloween costume for Capitol City girls aged five to nine — plus some boys — for three years running, and each year she posts pictures of herself with mini Starr Strikers on Facebook and Twitter. She has a reason for wearing those black stiletto boots that goes beyond looking hot, as when she pinned Magma Master’s hand to the ground with one (“These boots are made for stompin’,” She insisted on changing the name Doctor Corona gave her from Starr Struck to Starr Striker, saying she’s someone who acts, not someone who is acted upon (“About Starr,” She resists the media’s demand that she remain beautiful at all times, as demonstrated in her interview with Capitol City Action News. When the cameraman offered her some powder, she said, “Dude, I’ve spent the last thirty minutes flying into a burning building, saving people. Yes, I’m going to have a shiny forehead.” (“Starr Striker interview.” Capitol City Action News!). After her fight with Wyld Woman, she apologized about the destruction of the Capitol City Humane Society, promised to pay for its reconstruction, and adopted one of the displaced cats (“Episode 1093.” Capitol City News Hour). Even that destruction is still just one-tenth the average of what Magma Master, Wyld Woman, and Starr’s former mentor Doctor Corona have caused (“Scourges or Saviors: Statistics on the Destruction Caused by Superpowered Individuals.” Capitol City Monthly). When female staffers spoke up about being sexually harassed by Mayor White (“Women Accuse Mayor White of Sexual Harassment.
March 12, 2019
* Author : Wendy Nikel * Narrator : Veronica Giguere * Host : Ace Ratcliff * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Artist : Yuumei * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 565, ARTEMIS RISING: I Am Fire; I Am Tears is a PodCastle original. PG, for dragon-sisters and bones picked clean. Ulykke crouched in the darkness, just beyond the sunray’s reach. Before her, along the forest path, an entourage of huntresses passed on horseback, armed with arrows and blades of finest silver and armor too strong for even Ulykke’s teeth to pierce. Among them, on a dappled-gray mare, rode the princess Dania herself: beloved ruler of Crowwell. Maiden most fair. Usurper of the throne. The princess’s horse was ill at ease, its nostrils flaring and its eyes darting into the forest where Ulykke followed, just out of sight. It kept to the furthest edge of the path, so that holly-fern and moonwort and dwarf birch brushed the princess’s boots and snagged the hem of her riding skirts. Ulykke had been creeping along at a distance since they’d left Crowwell and deserted the somber, lonely castle there. She’d peered through the ancient, frosted windows to see the heirloom furnishings draped with white cloth and the furnaces empty of flame, the whole place looking as cold and bleak as that cursed winter day so many years ago — a day of blood and tears and screams and the crying of a babe, and finally, the slamming of a door. Earlier, the guards had engaged in lighthearted chatter and singing, assuring the princess that her decision was wise. Crowwell needed an heir, and the prince of Sedgen needed a bride. The arrangement would be mutually beneficial, even if the groom was a stranger. He had not been the only prince to answer the call, but as the closest neighbor, it made sense to unite their kingdoms. Yet as they descended along the garnet-lined path through the misty forest toward Sedgen, the travelers grew more silent and ill at ease, their shoulders tense and lips pursed. More and more frequently, their eyes flickered toward where Ulykke hid, till she was certain they must have caught sight of her vitreous eyes and iridescent scales. A branch crumpled beneath her clawed feet, and the captain of the guard drew her sword. “Fly, my Lady! Fly!” The princess didn’t need to be told twice; everyone knew of the nightmarish creatures that dwelled in these forests: horrid beasts, vicious abominations, beings who’d once been human but fell to some curse or sorcerer’s whim. Never a season went by without a brave warrior organizing a hunt to rid the forest of them. Never a hunt went by without the death of many of those same men. Dania leaned forward across her horse’s neck and raced away through the forest, leaving nothing but a plume of dust behind her. A low snarl rose from Ulykke’s throat, but she did not pursue the princess. She could have caught her easily, for her muscular limbs were twice as strong as a horse’s and even the vast tangle of bramble and vines would be no deterrent for her claws and teeth, but though her hatred boiled like a cauldron within her, she did not wish to kill the princess. No, that would make her no better than the mother whose greed brought this curse upon her in the first place, no better than the father who tossed her out to the forest to die. Though she despised the princess for being all that she herself wasn’t,
March 5, 2019
* Author : Eliza Chan * Narrator : Sofia Quintero * Host : Elora Gatts * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Artist : Yuumei * Discuss on Forums Previously published by World Weaver Press in their Sirens anthology. Rated: R, for the vengeful justice of seafolk. One More Song By Eliza Chan After Mira closed the door the selkie shed her skin, leaving the mottled grey fur in a heap like stepped-out-of work clothes. Mira handed her one of the many robes hanging on the hat stand and kept her eyes on her blue and green rug, only catching glimpses of the woman’s bruises. There were purple marks the size of fingers on her legs and red, raised lines across her back. Mira blinked rapidly, her hands already clenched into tight fists as she tried to keep her rising anger from bursting its banks. “How can I help you, Ms. . . . ?” Mira asked. “Iona, just call me Iona,” the selkie said, knotting the robe tightly at her midriff. She winced visibly and her eyes darted up. Mira moved to her drinks cabinet, deliberately turning her back so the other woman didn’t have to look her in the eye. “I need help. I, my husband, well you can see his handiwork. I asked for a divorce, I tried to go to the police. They wouldn’t listen. Said I was only on a spousal visa, so . . .” Mira handed Iona the mug. She clasped her hands around the porcelain like it anchored her. “I assume he has some leverage?” The client nodded, tucking her hair back so Mira could see a ragged hole where her right ear should have been — a void of darkness as if that part of her had simply ceased to exist. “He cut a patch out of my skin. I can’t swim far, not out of the city at any rate, or I’ll drown.” She was smart, Mira mused. Selkie skin couldn’t heal like most, but others had tried, even with pieces missing, to escape their partners. Their bodies washed up against the buildings, waterlogged and drowned. “Iona, I’m afraid you may have misunderstood my services,” Mira began. “I’m a private investigator. I watch, find things, report back. I don’t take direct action.” Mira leaned back in the brown leather armchair and waited for her client’s reaction. In the pause she could hear the sea water lapping just below her window sill. “I’ve heard otherwise. You’re the one who’ll get things done.” Iona’s grey eyes were staring at her with hope. She would have been beautiful when she was young but now her silver-grey hair and eyes were concealed beneath weary dark circles and rippling wrinkles around her mouth. No laughter lines. Mira had vowed she was done with all that. It was dangerous work and those who came pleading to her door rarely had the money to pay. Shell necklaces and a side of salmon didn’t keep the landlord from yelling obscenities about stinking fish wasting his time. Even a submerged studio apartment caked in coral cost more than she was bringing in these days. “I’m sorry, I got out of that business years ago,” Mira started. She reached for the box of business cards on the side table. “I suggest you run. I know a kelpie with a small delivery business. He can get you a new ID card and hide you in the van, take you somewhere to hole up.” “I can’t run. I ran before and he paid a seawitch to find me.” Mira looked up and saw the blue tattoo on Iona’s hand...
February 26, 2019
* Author : Victoria Sandbrook * Narrator : Sofia Quintero * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Sword & Sonnet. Rated PG-13. El Cantar de la Reina Bruja By Victoria Sandbrook Mothers, hear me! I am alone but for your graces. My mistakes have bound me. My weaknesses have hobbled me. My pride has torn me from you. Alejandra pricked her finger on her rough iron chains and whispered lilting iambs until all appearance of fatigue fell from her. When they came for her, she would look herself again. Well. Not her true self. Not even the self she’d donned a decade ago to snare herself her king. What chaos there would be if her husband’s guards — nay, the entire kingdom! — discovered that the bruja chained in the metal palanquin had been their queen these ten years. “I must hide you from the priests,” Ciro had said, pallid with self-pity over his own deceit. “They would burn you for heresy.” Thus, Alejandra discovered what husband-kings did with unwilling, powerful wives. Now he risked much by dragging her on this yet unblooded campaign. But he had a rival to conquer: a widowed queen he thought to wed. With his wife’s help, of course. The cabos — honored soldados, yes, but still babes with new chains of rank about their necks — held swords aloft when they opened her door. Unnecessary but flattering. One motioned Alejandra forward, her voice as stern as a sargenta’s. “You’re to survey the battlefield, Doña Alejandra.” Doña! Alejandra locked her jaw against the reply that boomed in her head. I was a goddess, wretch! I am your queen, dung-hurler. Avert your eyes and hold your tongue lest I find a better use for them. She — Alejandra Isabella Celia de Las Vientas, Reina Coronada, Daughter of the Wind Women, Rightful but Secret Queen of the Valle — rose with the power of her ethereal forbears at the tip of her tongue, ready to fell the insignificant caba with the thunderclap of a curse. But her own enchantment stopped her. The same spell she’d originally used to slough off her gossamer goddess soul. The same spell that had given her the form to seduce the delicious young King Ciro she’d spied from above. The form he’d bedded after exchanging whispered vows that made her his queen. The form that could be chained as her windborne self could never have been. The form that could not bear enough magic to break the spell that made it. So she — Alejandra Isabella Celia de Las Vientas, Reina Coronada, Daughter of the Wind Women, Rightful but Humbled Queen of the Valle — demurred and did as she was bid. I will suffer the great pain I have wrought. With a whim, I bought but tears and chains. With my words, I will buy freedom. They skirted around the camp, parting dense, high grasses in silence. Birdsong, ever Alejandra’s companion in the palanquin and in her tower-room in the palace, lilted and swirled on the breeze. The morning air was damp, cool against her wrinkled red gown. The stiff stalks tried to seed her hair with burrs and dry bits, but the chaff fell from her like dutiful supplicants. The insolent caba behind Alejandra would have no such luck. A quarter-mile from camp they stopped at the still-bleeding stump of a newly-felled tree before a field thick with mist. There stood her husband-king, not yet in his mail,
February 19, 2019
* Author : A. M. Dellamonica * Narrator : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Mojo: Conjure Stories, edited by Nalo Hopkinson. Content warning for violence and gore. Rated R. Cooking Creole by A. M. Dellamonica At seventeen, it was music. Guitar. Then, at twenty-four: speechmaking. Rabble-rousing, his mother had called it. Binding a group of listeners — big, small, middling — with his voice. Inspiring the local grocery clerk to dump her useless husband. Selling roses in boxes on lonely street-corners. Swaying a strike vote at a fish packing plant on the East Coast. Stupid, dangerous skill. What had he been thinking? Reinventing himself again at twenty-seven, he took up gambling. Rake in the green, he figured, and the rest would fall into place. For a time he was about nothing but the ins and outs of cards and billiard cues, the snap of dice in his wrist and the chuckle of roulette balls going around and around. Now Steep Dover had finally figured out what he wanted to do with his life. At thirty-five, he looked close to fifty on his bad days, with taut, light-catching strands of white wired through the close-cropped black hair against his scalp. The lines on his forehead and around his eyes were prematurely deep. Instead of wearing the slow erosions of age, he’d been fractured by upheavals: heartbreaks, riot cops. When he faced the mirror in the mornings, he saw himself icing over. Only when he smiled — or so women told him — did he look like the young man he still was. Tonight, though, he felt childlike: vitally awake, keenly excited, and more than a little scared. He was picking his way along the side of Vancouver’s Lougheed Highway to a crossing point that looked — except for the whizzing trucks and fast commuter cars — like it should have been out in a country town somewhere. Squeezed between a shopping mall two hundred meters back and a scattering of machine shops up ahead, a barely-paved and rutted lane transected the busy Lougheed. An abandoned gas station occupied the northeastern corner of this crossroads, unconvincing evidence of human occupation in a wilderness that was otherwise nothing but traffic noise and curving hillsides of blackberry brambles. Narrow grooves of trampled grass bracketed the road — a path for anyone on foot who had business there, though what there was to bring an ordinary pedestrian into this no-man’s land, Steep couldn’t say. The intersection had no traffic light, no sign or marker, not even a pullout lane for the gas station. A pocket of remoteness in the midst of an urban bustle, it sat in the industrial wildlands between the Lougheed and its sister highway, the Trans-Canada, its gas station dark, its blackberries fat and oiled-over with fuel emissions, its pathways abandoned and yet never quite overgrown. It was just after nine. The mall had closed and the sun was setting; on the road, commuters were headed east to Coquitlam and Port Moody. Higher up, crows were commuting, too — sharp charcoal animations, they glided by the thousands across a palette of darkening blue. Steep sat on a halved oil drum. It was still warm, heated through the sunny day that was now passing into dark.
February 12, 2019
* Author : Lina Rather * Narrator : Wilson Fowlie * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Gamut. Rated R. Baby Teeth By Lina Rather Laura watched from the window while Mama took the salt packets they’d pocketed from a Speedway and sprinkled a circle around the house to hide them from the monster. She tore the top of each one off with her teeth and spread it as far as she could, then dropped the white paper scraps on the ground. Laura had stuffed her pockets with packets, so she knew Mama had enough to walk around the whole perimeter of the property. Not that it was much—the next mobile home sat just ten yards away. When she came back inside, she swept her hands together to brush off the salt and sat next to Laura at the table. “Okay, honey, show me again.” Laura opened her mouth. She’d been probing the sore spots (one in front, on the bottom, and one on the top right) and now her mouth tasted tinny. Mama touched her swollen gums. “These just fell out today?” Laura nodded. She pointed at her top front tooth and the canine next to it, and tried to say, “These are loose, too” but with Mama’s finger in her mouth it came out all garbled. Mama pinched the front tooth and her hands were shaking hard enough to wiggle it. When she touched the canine, it popped out in her hand easy-peasy. Mama stared at it. “You said I should’ve lost them before.” Most of her classmates started losing their teeth in first grade, and that was a whole four years ago. Mama got up and took a cereal bowl out of the dish drainer. She pressed a Kleenex to the raw spot in Laura’s jaw, puffy and red like a hangnail. They moved their folding chairs next to the sink, so Mama could make warm salt water for her to gargle. It was way after both their bedtimes. The canine went ping when she dropped it in the cereal bowl on the kitchen counter. Ping went the front tooth that came out next. Ping went the incisor from Laura’s pocket that had fallen out during gym class, while she was jumping rope. The cereal bowl was half full, a week of lost teeth. Too many teeth, Laura thought. They’d learned about the body in her last school and she knew that kids had twenty teeth, more or less. Her teacher back there was what Mama called a free spirit and she liked to say Humanity is infinite variation so you’re just the way you’re supposed to be, but Laura was pretty sure there was an upper limit on teeth. Laura was nine-and-a-half and for her entire life it had been just her and Mama, and for her entire life they had been running from the monster. She was six before she realized that other people’s mothers didn’t salt a ring around the house every full moon, and that other kids were told to stay out of the street more than they were reminded to wash their hands and feet with black soap so their scent didn’t track behind them. The year she was seven, they lived in Alabama. Laura loved the heat that sat around her shoulders like a baby blanket all summer and hated the humidity that made her hair go to frizz. They left when the monster caught up to them, when the skulls of small things appeared on the doorstep and the air tasted of the monster, of deep, wet loam and burnt green branches. Mama stayed as long as she could, but Laura still missed the last week of school,
February 5, 2019
* Author : Sara Saab * Narrator : C. L. Clark * Host : C. L. Clark * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Rated PG-13. Suddenwall By Sara Saab In the amnesty-city of Vannat, Aln Panette has let guilt go. The city of Vannat is a strict and inscrutable rulemaster, so Panette doesn’t question the rules. She lives a plain, clean life. Keeps her recollections as free of the war as she can. Panette figures she has earned an indulgence or two for her decade as a soldier. Memories of Odarr Harvei are one indulgence. Harvei’s smile of fifteen years ago flashing in the light of the war caravan’s lanterns, her easy company, their mild one-upmanship. The unbroken sky above them. Other small indulgences Panette allows herself: Leading the stallions at Vannat’s racecourse stables through their daily exercises. A now-and-then treat of salted fish in tart molasses that reminds her painfully of Camillon, her home. And in this city of unremarkable languages passed naturally from parent to child, not a drop of magic in the syllables, not the barest trace of rebellion or fury, Panette indulges in the knowledge that — at least in Vannat — the killing has stopped. Seven years after Panette’s last encounter with Harvei, accidental, fraught, a neighbor appears at her door. He’s here to tell her that a veteran from Panette’s war caravan (“Harway? Halveigh? Not so easy to hear through stone — ”) has been trapped by a suddenwall. Panette jogs a long time down dusty side streets, her throat hot and tight and dry. The morning is dull as pewter. Commotion in the city’s Southern Quarter winds her nerves tight. The suddenwall’s appeared inside a house that smells exactly like Harvei, bark and new-woven muslin. A crowd’s concentrated at it: a seamless floor-to-ceiling curve of ochre stone that isolates a corner of the starkly furnished bedroom. There’s a cocksure ruckus, as if every ex-tactician and ex-armorer in Vannat has gathered here. Fists against arcane masonry. Voices pitched to carry through stone. Battering poles hoisted, crowbars hefted. “We’ll get you out.” “How many behind there?” Panette hears an answer hop from tongue to tongue: three. There are three of them walled off by the vigilante immune response of the city. Three that Vannat has judged? Or two, or one, plus collateral? (Three people — in what must be Harvei’s bedroom. That, Panette does not unpack.) Panette pushes to the front, shouldering other veterans aside. Rests fingertips against the suddenwall. “Harvei!” she shouts. The rescue party is so loud. Panette hears nothing from the other side. Questions she would ask, given time and privacy: What did you do, Harvei? How did you make Vannat so mad? Where have you been, these years? Question she does ask, again and again: “Harvei, it’s Panette, can you hear me?” And finally, from the other side, a voice she’d never forget in a thousand years: “Panette? I’m — ”, and something obscured, and “Help.” Panette would have helped her anyway. She can’t turn away. But everyone gathered here knows that whomever Vannat meant to hold here, meant to extrude — there’s no way to stand Vannat down. Not really. Three the city has judged; or two, or one, and collateral. A long time ago,
January 29, 2019
* Author : Troy Wiggins * Narrator : Dominick Rabrun * Hosts : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Jen R. Albert, Setsu Uzume, Peter Behravesh and C. L. Clark * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published at Strange Horizons. Content warnings for violence and racism. Rated R. Sound clips used in the introduction can be found here: Dying Lessons By Troy L. Wiggins I learned how to bend light from my mother. Nights after I came home from math and Spanish tutoring were spent in our backyard, deep in the trees where no one would catch me learning the basics of refraction, drilling the slight movements that would keep me from moving too much air, or creating too large a shadow and revealing myself. “This is a last line of defense,” she would say, telling me over and over again like I wasn’t listening, which I usually wasn’t because I’d rather be in the house playing Final Fantasy or something. Mama didn’t care and would talk right through my distraction. “The number one thing to do in any situation is figure out a way to calm things down before you have to blink out.” “Why not just blink out before anything happens?” Mama was a teacher through and through, and she’d never lose patience with me or breathe hard when I asked a question. Instead, she would smooth back her crinkly black hair, or smirk like she knew all the secrets of the world and didn’t feel like telling me. Then she’d bop my nose or pull my ear. “You can’t let them know everything, baby. If they know everything, they’ll definitely use everything they know against you.” I learned how to spin shadows from my father. Back before the bus company laid him off and he had to pick up another overnight job, we’d go on fishing trips in the early morning. In the dark space before dawn he’d show me a different way to disappear. “You can’t yank on the shadow like it’s a ornery dog on a leash,” he’d say. My Daddy was so black that only his teeth and eyes were visible in the dark morning, even without the shadows bubbling around him. “You gotta caress it, you gotta love on it and convince it to help you out, tell it all you need and all you scared of. That’s the only way it’ll come.” “Why do I need the shadow when I can bend light to where nobody can see me?” I’d ask. Sometimes this would make my father angry, and he’d suck his teeth or skeet a jet of watery saliva into the brush. Other times he’d rub my near-bald head and look off at the rising sun. “Use ya head, boy. You grown in the eyes of the world now. It’s people out there just looking for a reason to take ya ass out, and you better be ready for em. This shit’s real. You hear me?” I would nod. Daddy was good for going off on you when you hadn’...
January 22, 2019
* Author : A. T. Greenblatt * Narrator : Tatiana Grey * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Rated PG. SFX used in the host spot of this episode can be found here: A Place to Grow By A. T. Greenblatt Lillian was wearing one of her uncles’ old suits again. Her family always wore suits when they were going to tear down a world. Trouble was that this world, unlike the dozens before it, had started to feel like home. You don’t know that for sure, Lillian reminded herself as she strode through her dying garden, fists clenched at her side. You never had a home. Trouble was, her uncles got bored of the worlds they built so quickly. So now the last of her daisies, tulips, and lilies surrounded her like sickly, wilting walls, praying for one last glimpse of sunlight before they died. A useless prayer. Her uncles had dismantled the sun two days ago. I’m not going to let them gut this world and put it on a shelf, Lillian thought as she weaved her way through the garden. Not this time. She didn’t bother picking up the hems of her pants dragging through the dirt or tucking in her arms so that her baggy sleeves didn’t catch on the yellowing leaves. She let her garden cling to her like her uncles’ hopes and plans that one day she would be like them and build worlds of her own. Her uncles’ suits never had fit her well. Lillian stole a quick glance back at the house in the middle of her sprawling garden. With a bit of luck, Uncle Simon and Uncle Arthur wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t packing. By now, they should be so consumed with their own preparations, they would forget to look out the window. They would miss her oversized clothes and her telltale face and hands, which even from a distance looked like a quilt made from many different skins. They wouldn’t see her walking away. And if they did . . . well, they’d be furious. They’d tell her she was wasting her time. Her energy. Her abilities, on a flawed, doomed world. Which might be true. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try. You need to understand the risks first, she reminded herself. The Wall. She needed to see the Wall, or rather, what was beyond it now. She needed to understand what it was like to be without a world. Her uncles’ town surrounded the house and garden in a perfect circle. So did the Wall, except that surrounded the town. The flaws in this world became more visible the farther she walked. There were deep cracks in the road, air temperature fluctuations every few steps, places where the water main broke so frequently that the glass foundation gleamed through the patches of eroded earth. A few townies stood on their lantern-lit porches from the homes that lined the road, raising a hand as she walked by. Worry and hope mixed in their expressions. Her uncles had promised to build everyone a new, better home, but right now,
January 15, 2019
* Author : Frank Stockton * Narrator : Jen R. Albert * Hosts : Setsu Uzume and Peter Behravesh * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums This story was originally published in 1885 and is in the public domain. The sound effects used in the host spot can be found here. The Griffin and the Minor Canon By Frank Stockton Over the great door of an old, old church which stood in a quiet town of a faraway land there was carved in stone the figure of a large griffin. The old-time sculptor had done his work with great care, but the image he had made was not a pleasant one to look at. It had a large head, with enormous open mouth and savage teeth; from its back arose great wings, armed with sharp hooks and prongs; it had stout legs in front, with projecting claws, but there were no legs behind — the body running out into a long and powerful tail, finished off at the end with a barbed point. This tail was coiled up under him, the end sticking up just back of his wings. The sculptor, or the people who had ordered this stone figure, had evidently been very much pleased with it, for little copies of it, also of stone, had been placed here and there along the sides of the church, not very far from the ground so that people could easily look at them, and ponder on their curious forms. There were a great many other sculptures on the outside of this church — saints, martyrs, grotesque heads of men, beasts, and birds, as well as those of other creatures which cannot be named, because nobody knows exactly what they were; but none were so curious and interesting as the great griffin over the door, and the little griffins on the sides of the church. A long, long distance from the town, in the midst of dreadful wilds scarcely known to man, there dwelt the Griffin whose image had been put up over the church door. In some way or other, the old-time sculptor had seen him and afterward, to the best of his memory, had copied his figure in stone. The Griffin had never known this, until, hundreds of years afterward, he heard from a bird, from a wild animal, or in some manner which it is not now easy to find out, that there was a likeness of him on the old church in the distant town. Now, this Griffin had no idea how he looked. He had never seen a mirror, and the streams where he lived were so turbulent and violent that a quiet piece of water, which would reflect the image of anything looking into it, could not be found. Being, as far as could be ascertained, the very last of his race, he had never seen another griffin. Therefore it was that, when he heard of this stone image of himself, he became very anxious to know what he looked like, and at last he determined to go to the old church, and see for himself what manner of being he was. So he started off from the dreadful wilds, and flew on and on until he came to the countries inhabited by men, where his appearance in the air created great consternation; but he alighted nowhere, keeping up a steady flight until he reached the suburbs of the town...
January 8, 2019
* Author : Lora Gray * Narrator : Setsu Uzume * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Shimmer. Content warnings for self-harm, suicide, and body dysmorphia.  Rated R.  Shadow Boy By Lora Gray I am sixteen and sitting on the edge of an empty subway platform when Peter, forever small, reappears. His black eyes are bright, and he smells like licorice and cinnamon. He is wearing purple mittens and a pigeon-feather skirt. “Who the hell dressed you today?” I ask. “I did.” Peter tips his head as if considering. “My taste is terrible. Tragic, really, but I didn’t have much choice.” “Everybody has a choice.” “Do they, dear Prudence?” “Don’t call me Prudence.” Tugging my jeans more snugly around my hips, I shift. Chains rattle over the metal platform, and a safety pin fingernails across the yellow line at the edge. “It’s your name.” “Nobody calls me that anymore.” I tap a cigarette out of my pocket. It takes me three tries to light up. “I call you that,” he says. “You don’t count.” I drag and exhale into Peter’s face. Peter doesn’t cough. “Feeling sullen?” “I’m lonely.” I grit my teeth and shrug. “How can you be lonely?” he asks. “You and me, we have a whole city to play with.” He kicks his legs back and forth, heels denting the platform gleefully. Thump. THUMP. A grin stretches his mouth wide. My skin prickles and I feel the familiar lurch, reality threatening to wobble around me. “Why are you smiling like that?” Peter levels his black eyes at me and says, “I found your shadow.” I am eight years old. We arrive at midnight, Momma, “Uncle” Leon, my shadow and I, crammed into a Buick the color of old piss. The long stretches of upstate soybean peel away to reveal an army of high-rises marching into the light-polluted never-dark. My shadow surges up from the floor mats when the headlights hit him. He is excited and starry-eyed. He has never been to The City before. He still believes in adventures. “It doesn’t work that way,” I whisper. Adventures don’t begin with dodging landlords and eviction notices and shoving unwashed clothes into black trash bags. “What was that, sugar?” Leon’s voice is Georgia-thick and he is dirty-grinning at me in the rear view mirror. He strokes the back of Momma’s neck, pressing greasy circles into her hairline, and my shadow bristles. “I’m not sugar.” I tug my sweater over my fingers. “Sugar and spice and everything nice.” Leon’s fingers dip beneath the collar of Momma’s shirt. “Isn’t that what little girls are-“ “I said this car smells like shit.” “Prudence!” Momma whips around, but Leon’s hand turns vise-tight, and he glares the rest of the ride into silence. My shadow seethes and I press my forehead against the rear window glass, neon lights flipping my reflection from infant to ancient. From ugly to divine. From girl to boy. I cling to that last like a secret as my shadow winds himself around me. Sinking into his embrace, I count cars until Brooklyn.By the time we arrive, my shadow is strong. He hefts trash bags easily over his broad shoulders and pounds his new kingdom flat with giant boy feet as we walk to Leon’s apartment. I shuffle, but my shadow struts. He leaps up broken concrete steps and hurdles winos.
January 1, 2019
* Author : Malon Edwards * Narrator : Mandaly Louis-Charles * Host : Aidan Doyle * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in Sword & Sonnet. Rated PG-13. Previous PodCastle episodes in this series: PodCastle 387: The Half Dark Promise PodCastle 495: Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light Candied Sweets, Cornbread, and Black-eyed Peas By Malon Edwards No one wanted to come out of their houses. Not at first. They could see my father’s blood soaking the cobblestones. They could see it dripping from the machete in my hand. They didn’t want to come bab pou bab — face-to-face — with Gran Dyab La, the wicked little girl who had just disemboweled her own father. I wouldn’t either, if I were them. (Vrèman vre, I’m not really the Great Devil Child. Se pou tout bon wi. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. I just swing my machete like her.) These people knew that. I had lived on Oglesby Avenue next to them for the last three years, since I was eight years old. Since Papa and I followed Manmi here to La Petite de Haïti in Chicago. Since Papa and I no longer called La Petite de Haïti in Miami home. I had been nothing but kind to them. I had been nothing but polite to them. I had been nothing but respectful to them. My mama raised me right. But even that didn’t make them come out of their houses. I could understand if Papa had been out there. Wearing the softening shadows of the fading half dark. Long, sharp, hungry teeth slobbering all over the place. I could even understand if Papa was still lying in the street. Me standing over him. Guts steaming on the cobblestones. Blood searching for the gutters. But the half dark had lifted. The Sack Man, papa mwen, my wonderful and horrible father — Eater of Children — was gone. All that was left was me. All that was left was efreyan. (I saw what I did. I was there when I did it. I’d be afraid of me, too.) I was scarier than the Shadow Man. Even though he had stalked timoun yo in the half dark on the way home from school. I was scarier than the Sack Man. Even though he had snatched timoun yo into his gunny sack just steps from their front doors. I would replace the nightmares of all the timoun yo on this street. Instead of having terrible dreams about the Sack Man or the Shadow Man stalking and eating them, they would have terrible dreams of me. Standing over my father. Tonton Macoute in hand. They would tell their friends on Yates Avenue about their terrible dreams. And those friends would tell their friends on Bensley. And those friends would tell their friends on Calhoon. And those friends would tell their friends on Hoxie. And I would become a lougawou. The boogeyman. The monster in the closet hiding behind the clothes. The monster under the bed ready to grab feet and ankles. I didn’t like that. I had to change that. The first person who came out of their house was a little girl. She didn’t see me as a lougawou. She didn’t see me as the boogeyman. She didn’t see me as the monster in the closet or the monster under the bed. Annefè, she saw herself in me. She was about three and a half years old.
December 25, 2018
* Author : Tim Pratt * Narrator : Brie Code * Hosts : Setsu Uzume and Peter Behravesh * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 554: Hosting the Solstice is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. Sound effects used in the host spot are in the public domain and can be found here. Hosting the Solstice By Tim Pratt —for Heather The first note came a week before Halloween. I glanced at an empty parking lot while I was out walking Bradbury and the leaves blew around to form the words “IT’S YOUR TURN TO HOST.” I put my head down and tugged Bradbury’s leash to hurry him up and pretended I hadn’t seen anything at all. The second note came a week later, when my son Rye was working the haunted house fundraiser at the high school — he was only a freshman, but his obsession with monster makeup tutorials from the internet meant his “bloody-face-wound zombie” was good enough to join the seniors-only “scare crew” for the big terror finale just before the exit. My husband, Corey, was handing out candy to trick-or-treaters in the living room. I went into the bathroom and saw the words “IT’S YOUR TURN TO HOST” dripping in blood down the shower wall. I was almost done cleaning it off when Corey came in, putting his hand on my hip in a way that still sends a thrill-shiver up my spine after 18 years together. “Whoa. Did Rye do this? Halloween prank?” I almost said, “It was my sister,” but there was no point, so I just shrugged. “What did it say?” Only the word “HOST” was left. “It said, ‘Boo, I’m a ghost.’” I could count on one hand the number of times I’d lied to Corey, but telling him the truth in this case wouldn’t accomplish anything. Corey snorted. “That sounds like Rye. Come to the living room when you’re done, I’ve got Trick ’r Treat cued up.” My husband loves horror movies. I like them too. They make me laugh and laugh and laugh. The third note came in mid-November, and the words were written in ice on the windshield of my car. It took me half an hour to scrape them off. The fourth came on Black Friday, the day after the annual gargantuan Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law’s house. Me and Rye and Corey were being lazy, eating turkey sandwiches, with Bradbury begging for scraps and being indulged too often. I went to the bedroom and saw “IT’S YOUR TURN TO HOST” written in a spiderweb on the ceiling, Charlotte’s Web style. I was impressed. A few years ago, it would have been written with the bodies of actual spiders, lined up like members of a marching band spelling out the team name on a football field at halftime. Poe’s control was getting better. The last note came in early December. I’d hoped ignoring them would make them go away; it had in the past, once or twice. But I was walking Bradbury one morning, scarf pulled up over my nose, hat pulled down over my ears, when I glanced up and noticed the clouds shifting to say “WE’LL SEE YOU ON THE SOLSTICE” before uncurling back into nonsense shapes. “Well, Bradbury,” I said. “It looks like my family is coming to visit for the holidays.” My dog had no idea what I was talking about. Lucky dog. “I was raised by monsters.” I dished out big bowls of my favorite winter stew — apples and onions and carrots and potatoes, bacon and roasted garlic — and set them in front of my husband and our son. “Or maybe demi-gods,
December 18, 2018
* Author : Stefani Cox * Narrator : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums PodCastle 553: Grounded Women Never Fly is a PodCastle original. Rated PG-13. Sound effects used in the host spot are in the public domain and can be found here. Grounded Women Never Fly by Stefani Cox It is the women of the community who can run, but don’t. The women are the ones who can place a foot just so, another precisely calculated in front of it and leap across yards of empty space. If the women did move in this way, there would be a rhythm. The settling of muscles. A steeling of the mind for the goal of the further rooftop. And the moment when the visualizations and intention explode into movement. For a short time, such a woman would experience flight. There would be a spreading of arms accompanied by weightlessness; the thrill of a body propelled over nothingness. She could bridge impossible distances this way. She could crisscross from building to building among the packed houses. She could scale walls. This magic is not a substitute for wings, for this woman would still be humbled by gravity. It’s just that that such a force would seem a mere afterthought. An inconvenience to be shrugged off. In the end, however, none of what they could do really matters, does it? Because the women do not run. The hardest day of Janae’s twenty years of life was the one that Lila left the family. She remembers this while she beats rugs she’s hung over the frayed drying cord between their home and the Medillas’. The weight of the water-sodden weave pulls the thick string down so the carpets are almost touching the earth. That won’t do. Janae needs to pound more water out of them before she can leave the sun to finish the job. Even if Janae could understand, she doesn’t want to. She beats the rug hard as she imagines again the back of Lila’s head, black duffel bag hung over one shoulder. When Lila went, the family changed. Their mother became dull. Their father left too — Lila had always been his favorite. Janae was left with a shimmering rage and something more tender underneath that she can’t stand feeling too long. The water in the rugs is dissipating slowly. Each time Janae takes a swing, more droplets fly off. The sun beats down on the back of her neck, and she can feel the sweat rising up from her exertions. It is then that Janae catches the barest hint of red fabric at the edge of her vision. A flutter, though there is no wind. Without looking, Janae knows this cloth. It is Lila’s dress on the day she left. The burning shade is locked in her mind’s eye forever. Janae tenses to turn. But no. She will not indulge this fantasy by looking. Some memories are just memories. Lila was the older one, by five years. She taught Janae running late in the humid silences of the night, from the safety of the rooftop. Lila lay flat on her stomach, chin resting on the back of her interlaced hands so she could watch the exact placement of Janae’s feet. “Don’t touch your heels down. You’ll make too much noise.” “Faster. You run as though you are afraid of the edge.” “Where will you leap? Your footing is off.” “Don’t look at me when you are unsure. You have to feel it in yourself.” Her words cut, each phrase leading Janae to believe that she would never master this thing that came to her sister so easily.
December 11, 2018
* Author : Shelly Jones * Narrator : Kate Baker * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Luna Station Quarterly. Rated PG. The Watchers by Shelly Jones He did not know why he had agreed to marry her. For a long time he thought it was because she would hum at everything she did. She hummed while cooking. She hummed while cleaning and sewing. She hummed when she raked leaves and shoveled dirt and chopped firewood. She even hummed, or so he thought he heard over his own grunting, on the few occasions when they had consummated their union. Her humming was an intoxicating low rumble, a contralto line that lingered in the room even after she had left it. He remembered the first time he had heard her. They had been to a funeral service for the local baker, he with his mother and she alone, for all of her relatives had died when she was young. He had known this, of course, but it never really struck him until he saw her alone at the wake. How many other services had she attended as a girl for her family? She wore a grey smock and a thick wool coat, the color of new potatoes. While the other mourners stood silent with their heads bowed, clutching handkerchiefs or wordlessly mouthing prayers, she rocked gently, pushing her weight from one foot to the other and hummed a low, idle tune. But no one minded. No one thought her rude or obscene, though, for some reason, he feared they might. He could imagine an old, dour woman spitting on her, the thick mucus sticking to the wool, and calling her names for dancing and singing at the funerary rites. But no one seemed to even notice her. She was as much a part of the scene as a catbird in the tree or a period at the end of a sentence. Why, then, had he noticed her? He never could answer this question. So many questions about her he could not answer. Or the answers changed as the years went on. But wasn’t that part of every marriage? He could not know. He only knew the conditions and terms of his own. He thought about this as he sat in front of a beehive in the middle of the night, a cheerless moon gaping at him and his chapped hands and lips. It was beginning to get cold at night. He would need to wear gloves and a hat for his nightly ritual. She would provide these for him. She always did. Wasn’t that enough? The old men in the village would say, “Everyman needs only a warm bed and a warm belly. And lucky is he who has someone to provide these for him.” Hadn’t she always kept him comfortable? The older women in the village would smile at him on his way out of town each night as they sat balling up yarn or braiding rags of stained shirts and threadbare pants into rugs. “A good one, that one,” they’d nod his way. “A man of his word is more valuable than next year’s seeds.” He wondered if he was just that. Had he kept his word, and what exactly had he said? He tried to remember. After the funeral of the baker, he had left his mother chatting with the widow and followed the distant hum through the cemetery. He had to almost run to keep up with her loping pace. Breathless, he finally drew up the courage to address her, despite the fact that she was still twenty yards or so ahead of him. “Why do you hum so for a funeral?” he asked, realizing halfway through the accusatory tone of his question. She stopped under a bough of a great elm and turned toward him, placing her hand on the trunk as if needing to rest a moment.
December 4, 2018
* Author : J. P. Sullivan * Narrator : Tanja Milojevic  * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published by Baen Books, grand prize winner of their 2017 Fantasy Adventure Contest. Rated PG-13, for betrayal and vengeance. A word from host Setsu Uzume: In the host outro for “The Blue Widow,” I talked about how being a professional means you can get away with stuff. I meant that in terms of modeling more liberating and inclusive behaviors; not using your power to oppress other people. It’s an important distinction. The Blue Widow By J. P. Sullivan It was good tea, all things considered, and I really did admire his efforts at being a good host — but the fact was, I was there to kill him. This was, unfortunately, something of a trend in the profession. He spoke with the confidence of his kind. “You’ve made a terrible mistake.” “You’ve poisoned me,” I agreed. That gave him pause. “You knew?” “It was a necessary professional consideration,” I told him. He didn’t have much to say to that. A clock ticked somewhere in the back of the parlor. A very fashionable parlor, full of the most fashionable things. Flock wallpaper, teakwood furniture, a sideboard from somewhere in the unpronounceable east. Beyond the damask curtains I heard carts and voices echo over widening streets. Master Zaleski was a well-heeled fellow. He was also a monster. “I’ve made a good life for myself here,” he said. “I’m an upstanding member of the community.” I set the teacup down. “You ate that choir boy.” I’d found his bones in a church-side grotto. “Do you even remember?” Dark streaks bloomed like ink at the corners of his clear blue eyes. “Do you remember all your loaves of bread?” Well, I suppose he had a point. “This was my week,” he went on. “My year.  My work’s in the most exclusive salons.” His skin, at first too pale, turned now to charcoal grey. “But you.” The voice now grated like grinding stone. “You’d ruin it all. I know what you are.” Claws extended from his fingertips, one at a time. The flesh split audibly. “You’re a Blue Widow.” My order has a reputation among creatures like him. Not a vampire . . . some kind of striga, I thought. “I suppose this means finishing my fitting is out of the question?” “You’ll be dead in three minutes.” On the table I placed my very particular sword. “How fortunate. I only need two.” I drew ancient steel. Two howls filled the room: the cry of the striga, and the keening of a King’s Blade. The striga struck first. He came fast as bowshot, low and hunched and hungry. I pivoted; claws caught; the bustle of my dress shredded in their wake. Pain bloomed where one claw’s edge lanced my thigh. I liked that skirt, I thought, then cursed myself for indulging the complaint. The striga was coming back again. Even with the sword’s power, an unfocused moment could be deadly. Even an armiger, even a Widow, would die to a striga’s bite. I’d seen it happen. So I urged the sword for power. Reluctantly, it yielded. I felt the thrill of it, the seductive heat. Time slowed, ever so subtly, as I watched the striga lunge. Thin and bloodless lips revealed his razored maw. My sword caught his claws. Light flashed at the impact. We both screamed defiance. I twisted in, pushing for leverage.
November 27, 2018
* Author : Danny Lore * Narrator : Dominick Rabrun * Host : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in FIYAH. Rated R for strong language and violence. The Last Exorcist by Danny Lore  Author’s Note: This piece was commissioned and then declined by a prominent magazine. The only information that has been altered/omitted are locations, as those have been deemed a national security risk. Re-post and share at will. Naheem is our last great exorcist. When you point this fact out to him, he barely blinks. It is a title he accepts, not with humility or even resignation, but with frustration. “We should have dozens like me out there on the streets,” he argues, “hundreds. It’s why we’re in this mess.” When Naheem gets worked up, he gestures emphatically, fingers twitching with every word. He tends towards lecturing, and his topic of choice is the accessibility of exorcism in a post-possession America. He is unimpressed by those who say that the art is too complex, too archaic to pass on to the common man. On the contrary, he believes that becoming an exorcist is a task both necessary and easy, if we are to survive as a people. “If only we were less scared” has always been Naheem’s argument, the lesson he’s blasted at us, from his YouTube channel all the way to the footsteps of congress. “My dude,” Naheem tells me with a shrug, “Why you think I made those videos in the first place? ‘Cause I thought ya’ll couldn’t save yourselves?” Naheem tells me this at a Greyhound stop. He’s got his backpack at his feet, filled with supplies. His sweatshirt has the graphic of a black fist prominently centered, and his jeans have splatters of what I later discover is yellow spray paint. He arrived two hours earlier than we’d agreed upon, in order to avoid federal agents on his way through demon-territory. In less than forty-eight hours, our government will likely pass legislation making Naheem’s battle against hell on Earth illegal. The first time I met Naheem was when he fought the take-down of “A Desperate Guide to Exorcisms.” The YouTube video was an instant hit in nightmarish times, even crashing the video site one night due to simultaneous views. At the time, Naheem was a name and a skill set, little more. Over his face was a red ski mask, clearly bought for the video. He covered the logo on his sweatshirt with black masking tape, to conceal the name of the Ivy League university he was filming from. When he stepped back, revealing a large white sheet draped near his bed, he was wearing red Converse. As videos continued to be posted, he became a series of ski-masks- red, navy blue, black, gray, green-, the static of voice distortion, a half-dozen bed sheet backgrounds, all in order to protect his identity. Naheem never masked his goals in similar mystery. “Ya’ll need to protect yourselves,” said the first video. “Every time a demonic contract gets signed those fuckers get more powerful. They’re killing us, they’re possessing our neighbors. Wiping out humanity while wearing our skin. So right here?” Naheem jabbed at his desk with his index finger forcefully. “I’m gonna teach you how to fuck over the devil.”
November 20, 2018
* Author : Natalia Theodoridou * Narrators : Peter Behravesh, Tina Connolly and Jen R. Albert * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published at Shimmer. Rated PG-13. Fixer, Worker, Singer by Natalia Theodoridou Fixer Turns on the Stars The sky creaks as Fixer makes his way across the steel ramp that is suspended under the firmament. It’s time to turn on the stars. He pauses a few steps from where the switches and pulleys are located and looks down. He allows himself only one look down each day, just before sunset: at the rows of machines, untiring, ever-moving; at the Singer’s house with its loudspeakers, sitting in the middle of the world; at the steep, long ladder that connects the Fixer’s realm to everything below. He’s only gone down that ladder once, and it was enough. Fixer caresses the head of the hammer hanging from his belt. Then he walks to the mainboard and turns off the sun. The stars come on. He pulls on the ropes to wheel out the moon. There. Job well done. Fixer senses the coil inside him uncoiling. He retrieves the key from the chest pocket of his coveralls and thumbs its engraving: Wind yourself in the Welder’s name. He inserts the key’s end in the hole at the side of his neck and winds himself up. In the Welder’s name. The sky creaks. Wound up and tense as a chord, Fixer sits on the ramp and rests his torso against the railing. He inspects the firmament under the light of the starbulbs. The paint is chipping—it will need redoing soon. He wonders whether it was the Welder himself who first painted the sky. It must have been him, no? Who else could have done it, before Fixer existed? Fixers, he corrects himself, and the coil tugs at him with what could be guilt, but is not. He imagines the Welder — just his hands; he can’t picture all of him, never has been able to — slathering on the blue paint, then carefully tracing the outlines of clouds. Fixer pulls the wine flask out of the side pocket of his coveralls and takes a swig. It’s just stage booze, water colored red, can’t get drunk on it; he figured that out a long time ago, but he still likes to pretend, especially when the sky creaks the way it does tonight, when his coil is tense just so. What wouldn’t he give to feel things — what hasn’t he given — to be drunk, to be angry, to be excruciatingly joyful. But the world is so quiet now, quietly falling away, even emergencies are rare; and it’s lonely under the stars. He takes another swig from the flask. “Make-believe wine in honor of the Great Welder in the sky,” he says. Another swig. The coil eases some, his back slumps a little against the railing. One of the stars didn’t come on, he notices; the bulb must have given out. Fixer gazes at the concrete shape of the moon haloed by the spotlight that’s reflected off its surface. There is rebar poking through at the sides, the back is crumbling. But that doesn’t matter. Only Fixer can see the back side. Things only have one good side, from which they are meant to be looked at. Yes, the world is quiet now, but for the creaking of the sky. The hum of the machines below has stopped for the night. There used to be thunder beyond the firmament, but not anymore.
November 13, 2018
* Author : Ashley Blooms * Narrator : Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali * Host : Matt Dovey * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by On Spec (under the title “Second Born”). Content warning: Death of a child Rated R. Daniel by Ashley Blooms Ellie watches her husband from the front porch. He makes a lean shadow against the twilight, his arms outstretched, his heels lifting from the ground and dropping again. The wind rustles the branches of the trees overhead, their limbs picked clean of leaves, their roots bitten with cold. The windows rattleshake inside their panes, a thin vibration that the house carries through the walls and into the boards of the porch. The feeling trembles beneath Ellie’s bare toes as she wraps her arms around her chest, cups her elbows in her palms. Her husband looks at her from across the yard. He holds up his hands so she can see a bright pearl of light reflected in the center of the spiderweb. The thin strands shudder, curving away from the twigs that bind it together, but the web holds on. Ellie turns and walks back into the house alone. They tried to conceive a child for years. They pressed themselves together in every position, every room of the house, every single day for months on end. Ellie lay with her legs flat against the wall, a pillow beneath her back to cant her hips toward the ceiling, begging gravity to work a little harder. She ate raw eggs for a girl and honey for a boy. Pete’s mother and his aunts came from the top of the mountain to pray for her. They lay hands on Ellie like it was the last night of a tent revival and there was something deep inside of her that needed to be saved. After each visit, Mother Black would stand in the doorway and look at Ellie with deep-set, mossy eyes. She would tell Ellie that it wasn’t her fault. The mountain was hard on women. It took a certain kind of breeding to survive here. Valley folk were soft by nature. She told Ellie not to blame herself and she smiled as she said it. When she had gone, Pete climbed on top of Ellie and thrust against her as she stared at the ceiling, imagining her womb as two hands joined at the fingers, a cradle she built inside herself. All she’d ever wanted was someone who would love her back for as long and as much as she loved them. Someone who would never leave her, never forget her, never, never. Ellie thinks of the trying as she kneels on the end of the casket and looks at the little boy inside. He never made it to his second year, and his face is still full of the roundness and softness of youth. But there is no pink left to him, not a single hint of bloom, not even along the bridge of his nose or the smooth plane of his cheeks. A bit of dirt falls from the edge of the grave and scatters across his face. His cheeks are freckled with earth and Ellie reaches out to wipe it away. “Ready?” Pete says. She nods without lifting her head. He draws a thin line across his palm with his pocketknife. The blood wells to the surface, dotting his skin with deep red pinpricks. Pete tilts his hand to the side and lets a few drops fall onto the boy’s lips. “Blood of the father,” he says. He draws a handkerchief from his pocket, cursing under his breath as he wraps the cloth tight across the wound. He hands Ellie a Mason jar. There is a smear of blood on the side and she reaches around it to undo the lid.
November 6, 2018
* Author : Evan Dicken * Narrator : Tatiana Grey * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published in the Utter Fabrication anthology by Mad Scientist Journal. Rated PG-13, for the weird ways of houses. Every House, a Home By Evan Dicken “I guess nobody wants haunted houses, anymore.” Derek checked his reflection in one of the Cape Cod’s filmy windows, teasing his hair back to mussy perfection. He glanced back at me. “That was a joke, Natalie.” I gave him my best approximation of a smile. He blew out a long puff of air. “Never mind.” The house wasn’t haunted, which was a shame. A ghost or two would be just the thing to calm it down. The Cape Cod was faceless, without history or meaning. Sandwiched awkwardly on a scrubby half-parcel between two mid-century colonials, it felt out of place and forgotten. A decade ago, the lot had probably been wild, but some developer had come along and crammed a factory home where it had no place being. I even recognized the model: Sea Breeze. There were maybe a hundred in Columbus — same light-blue vinyl siding, same asphalt shingles, same fake shutters, same concrete porch with the same three white-painted pillars. It shouldn’t have had a feel, let alone a personality. “I just don’t get it.” Derek brushed by me to tug the “Open House, Sunday, 1–4 p.m., PRICE REDUCED” sign from the freshly replanted lawn. “Two bed, two bath, decent schools — a good starter house. It’s these millennials, they’re all about apartments and lofts nowadays.” “That isn’t it.” I kept my response short, clipped, careful not to get lost in exposition. Instead of relating an article I’d recently read about how millennial housing choices were related to finance rather than preference, I knelt on the lawn, squinting at the row of boxwood bushes in the front bed. Derek’s landscaper had just put them in, along with a layer of red mulch and a couple perennials for accents. Not a bad job, but I could already see the resentment building — leaves beginning to brown, shoots of crabgrass and shepherd’s purse poking through the beds. Derek came back up the walk to join me. I noticed he kept a good ten feet between us, like he was afraid I might lunge at him. It was hurtful, especially since I’d been working with him for years, but I knew better than to say anything. People think because I have trouble reading emotions that I don’t have any of my own. I’d never been comfortable around others, or them around me — too many expectations. Every word was a potential pitfall, every exchange fraught. I never knew what would set someone off. Places though, they didn’t expect anything from you except to be. “Well?” Derek asked after maybe a minute. “Well, what?” “Aren’t you going to . . . ?” He twiddled his fingers at the front door. “ . . .feng shui or whatever.” Another terrible joke. Another terrible smile. “I’m Korean, not Chinese. And you know that’s not what I do.” He winced. “At least have a talk with it and figure out — ” “Can’t talk to houses.” “Then talk to me.” Derek’s expression might have been sad or angry; I never could tell the difference. “It’s what I’m paying you for.” “It’s a starter house.” I stood to run my hand along one of the pillars, glossy paint cool and smooth beneath my fingertips. I could feel twenty, maybe thirty years of young families passing through, building equity.
October 30, 2018
* Author : A.C. Wise * Narrator : Dave Thompson * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre edited by Paula Guran. Rated PG. Sounds effects used in this episodes under Creative Commons 3.0:
October 24, 2018
* Author : Chris Kuriata * Narrator : Setsu Uzume * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Diabolical Plots. Content warning: Some disturbing imagery. Rated R. The Aunties Return the Ocean By Chris Kuriata Auntie Roberta landed badly on the roof of her escarpment house, scraping her knees across the flagstone shingles and splitting her pantyhose. Her arms were too full of black water to keep her balance so she nearly slid off the edge. She carried so much ocean she barely knew where to hide it all. Inside her stony home, she filled the kitchen drawers and cupboards with cold dark brine. Every pot and tankard as well. She quickly ran out of places, yet her weary arms were still loaded with the stuff. Where would it all fit? Auntie Roberta got on her knees and stuffed the final bits of ocean into the mouse holes. She heard the panicked mice squeak before drowning. What an exhausting evening she’d endured. At the appointed hour, all the Aunties of the world had banded together like a swarm of locusts, and set upon the heart of the ocean. Their grubby hands tore the water apart, breaking up the reflection of the moon as they scrambled to load every last drop into their arms.  All along the empty ocean floor, fish flopped and ships jammed into rock beds. The neighbours had called the Aunties’ bluff, refusing to give in to their demands. So, just as the Aunties threatened, they stole the ocean. During the theft, Auntie Roberta kept close watch on the other Aunties, noticing none of her sisters carried away as much ocean as she did. Auntie Roberta always did more than her fair share and never received thanks. The other Aunties thought they were smarter than her, but really they were just lazier. “Hey!” Auntie Robert shouted. “Get away from there!” A burr covered cat with collapsed ears sat on the kitchen table, lapping away at a mug filled with ocean. Auntie Roberta flung a wooden spoon and sent the cat retreating through a gnawed hole in the parlour wall. “Sneaky thief,” she huffed. “It smells damp in here,” the neighbour woman Marilyn said. She didn’t outright accuse Auntie Roberta of helping to steal the ocean, but she certainly sounded suspicious. Normally, Auntie Roberta threw rocks at nosey neighbours, but the neighbour woman Marilyn came bearing a freshly baked pie and, well, Auntie Roberta didn’t know any spells strong enough to compete with flawlessly executed baking. “Roof leaks when it rains,” Auntie Roberta said, stuffing pie into her mouth with both hands. “Makes the house damp. Can’t do nothing about it.” The neighbour woman Marilyn pointed to the ceramic mugs, each filled to the brim with a curious liquid the colour of midnight. “What’s in all these?” “Coffee what’s gone off.” The neighbour woman Marilyn put her nose to the rim and breathed in the scent of salt and seaweed, triggering memories of her uncle’s tugboat and the baskets of crabs she helped haul from the deep. Auntie Roberta licked the last of the crumbs from the bottom of the pie pan and the neighbour woman took her cue to leave. A neighbour had nothing to fear in the house of an Auntie so long as she was eating, but once an Auntie’s belly was full, staying under their roof was like leaving your head in a lion’s mouth—sooner or later the jaw would get ...
October 16, 2018
* Author : Kelly Robson * Narrator : Heath Miller * Host : Jen R. Albert * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally publishing at You can buy Kelly Robson’s book, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, now. It’s also available in audio. Below are a few links from Kelly’s recommendations and comments during the interview: The Sun King by Nancy Mitford. “A Study in Oils” by Kelly Robson, published by Clarkesworld. The Uncommon Reader, a novella by Allan Bennett. Mysteries by Sarah Caudwell. The Tremontaine serial, seasons 1 to 4 by Ellen Kushner. Kelly Robson’s Tremontaine tie-in story “The Eye of the Swan.” Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson [Note: This is Part 3 of a three-part novella. Visit our previous posts to read Part 1 and Part 2.] 10. Sylvain stood on the roof of the north wing, the gardens spread out before him. The fountains jetted high and strong, fifteen hundred nozzles ticking over reliably as clockwork, the water spouts throwing flickering shadows in the low evening light. The gardens were deserted as any wilderness. Inside, everyone was preparing for the evening’s long menu of events. Outside, the statues posed and the fountains played for the moon and stars alone. Sylvain was taking advantage of this quiet and solitary hour to do one final check of the velvet pipes. He had already felt every inch of the new connection, examined the seams all the way to the point where the fabric sleeve dove off the roof to disappear through a gap above a garret window. Bull and Bear waited by the main reservoir, watching for his signal. There was no point in delaying any further. He waved his hat in the air. The sleeve at his feet jumped and swelled. Sylvain ran from the north wing attics down several flights of stairs to Gérard’s apartments. Pauline greeted him at the door herself. She was hugely pregnant and cradled her belly in both hands to support its weight. Breathless, he swept off his hat and bowed. “Go ahead, monsieur,” Pauline said as she herded him toward her dressing room. “Please don’t pause to be polite. I’ve waited as long as I can.” Not only were the velvet pipes lighter and easier to install, but they could be pinched off at any point simply by drawing a cord around the sleeve. Sylvain waited for Pauline to follow him, then pulled the red ribbon’s tail and let it drift to the floor. Water gushed into the toilet,
October 9, 2018
* Author : Kelly Robson * Narrator : Heath Miller * Host : Jen R. Albert * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published at Rated R for adult themes. Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson [Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part novella. Please visit last week’s post to read Part 1. Click here for part 3.] 5. Sylvain paced the Grand Gallery, eyeing the cracked ceiling above the statue of Hermes. There had been no further accidents with the pipes. He had spent the entire night checking every joint and join accompanied by a yawning Bull. At dawn, he’d taken Bear up to the rooftops to check the reservoirs. Checking the Grand Gallery was his last task. He was shaved and primped, even though at this early hour, it would be abandoned by anyone who mattered, just a few rustics and gawkers. He didn’t expect to see Annette d’Arlain walking among them. Annette was dressed in a confection of gold and scarlet chiffon. Golden powder accentuated the pale shadows of her collarbones and defined the delicate ivory curls of her wig. A troop of admiring rustics trailed behind her as she paced the gallery. She ignored them. “The Comte de Tessé says you promised him a champagne fountain,” she said, drawing the feathers of her fan between her fingers. Sylvain bent deeply, pausing at the bottom of the bow to gather his wits. He barely recalled the exchange with the comte. What had he agreed to? “I promised nothing,” he said as he straightened. Annette hadn’t offered her hand. She was cool and remote as any of the marble statues lining the gallery. “The idea reached Madame’s ear. She sent me to drop you a hint for the King’s birthday. But—” She dropped her voice and paused with dramatic effect, snapping her fan. Sylvain expected her to share a quiet confidence but she continued in the same impersonal tone. “But I must warn you. Everyone finds a champagne fountain disappointing. Flat champagne is a chore to drink. Like so many pleasures, anticipation cannot be matched by pallid reality.” Was Annette truly offended or did she want to bring him to heel? Whatever the case, he owed her attention. He had seduced her, left her gasping on her sofa, and ignored her for two days. No gifts, no notes, no acknowledgement. This was no way to keep a woman’s favor. Annette snapped her fan again as she waited for his reply. It was time to play the courtier. He stepped closely so she would have to look up to meet his eyes. It would provide a nice tableau for the watching rustics. He dropped his voice low, pitching it for her ears alone. “I would hate to disappoint you, madame.” “A lover is always a disappointment. The frisson of expectation is the best part of any affair.” “I disagree. I have never known disappointment in your company, only the fulfillment of my sweet and honeyed dreams.” She was not impressed. “You saw heaven in my arms, I suppose.” “I hope we both did.” A hint of a dimple appeared on her cheek. “Man is mortal.” “Alas,” he agreed. She offered him her hand but withdrew it after a bare moment, just long enough for the lightest brush of his lips. She glided over to the statue of Hermes and drew her finger up the curve of ...
October 2, 2018
* Author : Kelly Robson * Narrator : Heath Miller * Host : Jen R. Albert * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Originally published at Rated R for adult themes. The Drabblecast is relaunching! Help resurrect them by contributing to their Kickstarter. Catch Norm Sherman’s message about the launch at the end of today’s episode to see how you can get a special PodCastle mystery gift. Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson 1. Sylvain had just pulled up Annette’s skirts when the drips started. The first one landed on her wig, displacing a puff of rose-pink powder. Sylvain ignored it and leaned Annette back on the sofa. Her breath sharpened to gasps that blew more powder from her wig. Her thighs were cool and slightly damp — perhaps her arousal wasn’t feigned after all, Sylvain thought, and reapplied himself to nuzzling her throat. After two winters at Versailles, Sylvain was well acquainted with the general passion for powder. Every courtier had bowls and bins of the stuff in every color and scent. In addition to the pink hair powder, Annette had golden powder on her face and lavender at her throat and cleavage. There would be more varieties lower down. He would investigate that in time. The second drip landed on the tip of her nose. Sylvain flicked it away with his tongue. Annette giggled. “Your pipes are weeping, monsieur.” “It’s nothing,” he said, nipping at her throat. The drips were just condensation. An annoyance, but unavoidable when cold pipes hung above overheated rooms. The sofa squeaked as he leaned in with his full weight. It was a delicate fantasy of gilt and satin, hardly large enough for the two of them, and he was prepared to give it a beating. Annette moaned as he bore down on her. She was far more entertaining than he had expected, supple and slick. Her gasps were genuine now, there was no doubt, and she yanked at his shirt with surprising strength. A drip splashed on the back of his neck, and another a few moments later. He had Annette abandoned now, making little animal noises in the back of her throat as he drove into her. Another drip rolled off his wig, down his cheek, over his nose. He glanced overhead and a battery of drips hit his cheek, each bigger than the last. This was a problem. The pipes above were part of the new run supporting connections to the suites of two influential men and at least a dozen rich ones. His workmen had installed the pipes just after Christmas. Even if they had done a poor job, leaks weren’t possible. He had made sure of it. He gathered Annette in his arms and shoved her farther down the sofa, leaving the drips to land on the upholstery instead of his head. He craned his neck, trying to get a view of the ceiling. Annette groaned in protest and clutched his hips. The drips fell from a join, quick as tears. Something was wrong in the cisterns. He would have to speak with Leblanc immediately. “Sylvain?” Annette’s voice was strained. It could wait. He had a reputation to maintain, and performing well here was as critical to his fortunes as all the water flowing through Versailles. He dove back into her, moving up to a galloping pace as drips pattered on his neck.
September 25, 2018
* Author : Brittany Pladek * Narrator : Wilson Fowlie * Host : Setsu Uzume * Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh * Discuss on Forums Previously published by Ideomancer. Rated PG-13. Andromache and the Dragon By Brittany Pladek The dragon stood on the shore. “For every day, I will consume one of your desires,” she told them. “You will not know which. You will not know whose. This is my tribute. Do you agree to its terms?” Andromache nodded. “Then it is done.” Hissing, the dragon arched her spines toward the sky, their nimbus peaks dissolving into vapor. Her foggy belly followed. Last she drew up her claws, their tips thinning to a sting of spray that whipped the villagers as it passed. They shivered in the wind raised by her departure, numb hands longing for the fireplaces that lay behind them in the low houses of their fishing town. Andromache signaled that they should return home. The little group turned, heads hidden like sheep being driven up a mountain. It was suppertime, and they were all very hungry, except one. Dragons had happened to other villages. They were as unpredictably regular as weather and sprung of the same source, bubbling muddily out of the wet earth, sizzling down from a lightning cloud, or coalescing in the dark space between raindrops. They were voracious but not picky: dragons could be bargained with. Which is why, during the meeting to prepare for its arrival — you could tell by certain cloud formations when a dragon was imminent — one villager had suggested the idea. “Dragons eat anything. Maidens, moods, wallpaper. Why don’t we convince the dragon to eat something we don’t need?” After much deliberation, and after eliminating eggshells, envy, fishheads, shit, rot, and ennui as either too dear to lose or too rare to satisfy the dragon’s appetite, they decided on wants. “I want gold,” said one fisherman. “Why imagine what would happen if the dragon ate that! Piles of gold around me, as much as I wanted!” “Which you’d share,” said his neighbor. “. . . of course,” said the fisherman. They chose Andromache to deliver the message, because she was one of the few literate people in the village and because no one could quite bury the suspicion that the dragon might respond better to a maiden. “I’m a widow,” she had protested. “That’s not the same thing.” The dragon wouldn’t know the difference, they assured her. “And besides, don’t dragons eat maidens, not talk to them?” No, they assured her, because she was not really a maiden. “Oi,” she said, and went. The persuasion was not difficult. One morning, a wet gulf opened in the hard packed sand that bordered the dunes. As Andromache dashed from her house, the coralwork webbing the depression filled with water. Each tiny arch swelled to become a silver shield. The shields became scales, and the dragon raised her head over the dunes. “I am very empty,” she hissed toward the town. Andromache stood at the top of the dunes, her hair damp with the dragon’s steam. She gave the ritual answer: “We have what will fill you.” The dragon’s eyes boiled. “Are you the sacrifice?” Andromache said: “I come to offer you a bargain. If you agree, you will never be empty again. We will give you tribute, and there will always be more. Our supply is inexhaustible.” She paused. “If I were a dragon, I would take this deal.” The boiling quickened,
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