PodCastle 306: Flash Fiction Special – Tales of Strange Inspiraiton

“Beauty and Disappearance, by Kat Howard, read by Ann Leckie.

Originally published in Weird Tales, 2010.

The statues were disappearing from the museums.

Not as a result of theft, petty or otherwise, nor from careless misplacement. This was quite clear, as soon as the disappearances began, because the statues were not disappearing in their entirely. Rather, only certain pieces were lost.

The open hand of an elegant marble woman, outstretched as if in welcome, gone. The laurel wreath and lyre of an ancient poet, vanished.

Art experts and detectives were called in, inquiries made, vandalism quickly ruled out. The statues were otherwise undamaged. There were simply pieces, small fragments of beauty, missing.

“A Duet in Reyes,” by Caleb Wilson, read by John Michnya.

Originally published in A Journal of Sein and Werden.

One Saturday evening around the turn of the century the composer Arnauld Reyes was walking home along Vi Tuba when a tentacle of wind licked his hat straight off his head and over the rail into the Magoro River. He watched the hat sink as the current whisked it south, and then decided that since his route home was through the market square he would purchase a new hat on the way. At the market, he browsed several hatter’s kiosks until he found a hat which was identical to the lost one, but for a dark red velvet band–which, he hoped, would set him apart from the crowd. He bought it, placed it directly on his head, and continued home. He did not notice that, as he walked, several dozen powdery pink moths emerged from beneath the band and crawled into his ears.

While Reyes slept that night, the moths chewed his brain, severing certain synaptic connections. When he awoke, his brain had been split into two separate minds. At first the composers noticed nothing amiss. They breakfasted–during which their housekeeper was either very attentive or strangely shy–and walked to Zarbigny Park, where they intended to work on a suite of rustic dances.

“Ten Cigars,” by C.S.E. Cooney, read by Anna Schwind, Graeme Dunlop, Amal El-Mohtar, Norm Sherman, Tina Connolly, Ann Leckie, M.K. Hobson, Dave Thompson, Wilson Fowlie, and Peter Wood.

Originally published in Strange Horizons, 2013. Read it here!

“Not much is known of Danaus Incendiarius, family Nymphaidae, order Lepidoptera,” writes popular entomologist Aurora Bismarck. “Mentions crop up through history, usually signifying the birth of a great statesman or the ratification of a peace treaty. They are dark gray, with a wingspan of six to eight inches, and black markings that look like roses in bloom. Once, on vacation in Edinburgh, I was privileged to see a swarm. Director Amy Riedel had just won Audience Choice Award at the film festival. Her friends were laughing, passing around champagne and cigars. Suddenly the room was full of rare Incendiarius butterflies . . . .

Rated R. It May be Beautiful, but it ain’t Always Pretty.

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PodCastle 305: Heartless

by Peadar Ó Guilín

Read by Veronica Giguere (Check out her audiobooks and ACX profile, if you want to hire her for voice work!)

Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Read it here!

“No one asks for death.” This was the proud boast of the city of Kalegwyn. “No one ever asks for it.” Until Malern did. A bad move for her, as it turned out. She awoke on Castellan Garvinger’s operating table with his favourite surgeon elbow-deep in her chest.

“This is going to hurt,” said Garvinger from somewhere in the background. “Scream all you want.”

And she did. She couldn’t help herself, although she knew her cries were being conveyed magically to the people in the plaza beyond.

She screamed until something seemed to snap in her throat, and after that the best she could manage was a wheezing, bubbling sound that carried no hint of her former insolence.

The surgeon kept working, ripping and tearing. He made sure she could see everything. They had pointed a mirror at her chest and had pinned her eyes open.

Swinging from the roof hung a cage with Garvinger’s window witch inside. The creature babbled spells to keep Malern alive and conscious throughout the whole operation. Malern could not see its mad, warty little face, but now and again, cool drops of its sweat fell onto her fevered skin.

“Remember,” Garvinger told her, “you don’t have to die. You can be a witch instead.”

Rated R. Contains Graphic Violence, including Gore.

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PodCastle 304: Titanic!

by Lavie Tidhar

Read by Ian Stuart

Originally published in Apex, 2013. Read it here!

10 April 1912

When I come on board the ship I pay little heed to her splendour; nor to the gaily–strewn lines of coloured electric lights, nor to the polished brass of the crew’s jacket uniforms, nor to the crowds at the dock in Southampton, waving handkerchiefs and pushing and shoving for a better look; nor to my fellow passengers. I keep my eyes open only for signs of pursuit; specifically, for signs of the Law.

The ship is named the Titanic. I purchased a second–class ticket in London the day before and travelled down to Southampton by train. I had packed hurriedly. I do not know how far behind me the officers are. I know only that they will come. He made sure of that, in his last excursion. The corpses he left were a mockery, body parts ripped, exposed ribcages and lungs stretched like Indian rubber, he had turned murder into a sculpture, a form of grotesque art. The Japanese would call such a thing as he a yōkai, a monster, otherworldly and weird. Or perhaps a kaiju. I admire the Japanese for their mastery of the science of monstrosity, of what in our Latin would be called the lusus naturae. I have corresponded with a Dr Yamane, of Tokyo, for some time, but had of course destroyed all correspondence when I escaped from London.

And yet I cannot leave him behind. I had packed hurriedly. A simple change of clothes. I had not dressed like a gentleman. But I carry, along with my portmanteau, also my doctor’s black medical bag; it defines me more than I could ever define myself otherwise; it is as much a part of me as my toes, or my navel, or my eyes; and inside the bag I carry him, all that is left of him: one bottle, that is all, and the rest were all smashed up to shards back in London, back in the house where the bodies are.

Rated R. Contains violence.

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PodCastle 303: The Wrong Foot

by Stephanie Burgis

Read by Renee Chambliss

Originally published in Daily Science Fiction. Read it here!

“You must know,” I began, “I’m not the girl you’re looking for.”
“Mm-hmm,” the prince murmured absently. “Very honored, yes, I understand, they all are. You needn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t,” I muttered.
The other man bit back a grin.
“Shhh!” Mama hissed. “Your Highness, may I offer you and your friend any–oh! Oh!” she squealed, raising both hands to her mouth. Her eyes misted over with tears of delight. “Oh, Sophia, it fits! It really fits!”
I stared. I blinked and stared again. But she was right. The glass molded to my foot as neatly–and as chillingly, for glass is a cold material–as if it had been made for me.
I regarded it as I would a poisonous plant that had thrown its tendrils through my bedroom window. The prince looked equally shocked, but more surprised than horrified. He stared at my foot. He wiggled the shoe. Nothing he did made any difference. The fit was absolutely perfect.

Rated PG.

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PodCastle 302: Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Read by Eleiece Kraweic (Check out her voice acting work in Star Trek: Outpost, Star Trek: Excelsior, and Misfits Audio Productions!)

Originally published in Strange Horizons. Read it here!

Jump up! Take arms! Bare teeth!

We fight for these sands.

Sink iron knives and white teeth into their scented flesh, their soft city flesh, those stealers of our homes. This is our city now, this desert with its winds that scour our cheeks, its dunes that join us in song, its rare springs that we lap at so gently. We once gulped rivers of rubies and pearls; now they do and we will never be able to claim them back. We will not let them take this final city of air and graveyards from us! Jump up!

We fight for these sands with everything we have and sometimes we forget the feel of a sister’s shoulder beneath our heads, we’ve been so long without sleep–but today will be remembered for more than this.

Today we retrieve the bodies of our Saints.

Rated R. Contains foxes and violence. Revolutions are rarely bloodless.

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PodCastle 301: In Metal, In Bone

by An Owomoyela

Read by MarBelle (of the Directors Notes podcast)

Originally published in Eclipse Online. You can read it here!

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.”

Rated R. Contains war.

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PodCastle 300: Ilse, Who Saw Clearly

by E. Lily Yu

Read by Wilson Fowlie (of the Maple Leaf Singers)

Originally published in Apex, 2013. Read it here!

Once, among the indigo mountains of Germany, there was a kingdom of blue-eyed men and women whose blood was tinged blue with cold. The citizens were skilled in clockwork, escapements, and piano manufacture, and the clocks and pianos of that country were famous throughout the world. Their children pulled on rabbit-fur gloves before they sat down to practice their etudes, for it was so cold the notes rang and clanged in the air. It was coldest of all in the town on the highest mountain, where there lived a girl called Ilse, who was neither beautiful nor ugly, neither good nor wicked. Yet she was not quite undistinguished, because she was in love.

One afternoon, when the air was glittering with the sounds of innumerable pianos, a stranger as stout as a barrel and swathed to his nosetip walked through the town, singing. Where he walked the pianos fell silent, and wheat-haired boys and girls cracked shutters into the bitter cold to peep at him. And what he sang was this:

Ice for sale, eyes for sale,
If your complexion be dark or pale
If your old eyes be sharp or frail,
Come buy, come buy, bright ice for sale!

Only his listeners could not tell whether he was selling ice or eyes, because he spoke in an odd accent and through a thick scarf.

Rated PG.

Thank you so much for being with us for 300 episodes!

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PodCastle 299: The Little Room

by Madeline Yale Wynne

Read by Eric Luke (Author and Narrator of Interference)

Originally published in Harper’s in 1895. Read it here!

“When Mamma was about ten years old they sent her to cousins in Brooklyn, who had children of their own, and knew more about bringing them up. She staid there till she was married: she didn’t go to Vermont in all that time, and of course hadn’t seen her sisters, for they never would leave home for a day. They couldn’t even be induced to go to Brooklyn to her wedding so she and father took their wedding trip up there.”

 ”And that’s why we are going up there on our own?”

 ”Don’t, Roger; you have no idea how loud you speak.”

 ”You never say so except when I am going to say that one little word.”

 ”Well, don’t say it, then or say it very, very quietly.”

 ”Well, what was the queer thing?”

 ”When they got to the house, mother wanted to take father right off into the little room; she had been telling him about it, just as I am going to tell you and she had said that of all the rooms that one was the only one that seemed pleasant to her. She described the furniture and the books and paper and everything, and said it was on the north side, between the front and back room. Well, when they went to look for it, there was no little room there; there was only a shallow china-closet. She asked her sisters when the house had been altered and a closet made of the room that used to be there. They both said the house was exactly as it had been built–that they had never made any changes, except to tear down the old wood-shed and build a smaller one.

Rated PG.

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PodCastle 298: The Shadowcrafter

by Ken Liu

Read by Aki Gibbons

Originally published in Nine.

This story begins, as all of my creations do, in shadows.

No story is without its particular emphases and elisions, just as no woman goes about without her makeup.  Many women on our home island of Uchinaa (they call it _Okinawa_ here in Japan), and on the other islands that make up our Kingdom of Ruuchuu, copy the rumors of fashion in Nanjing and Beijing, in Kagoshima and Edo, and smother their faces with smooth creams and bright rouge, sweet-smelling powders and red lip wax.

But they do not understand the true secret of the art of enhancing a woman’s beauty, which now I will teach you.

A face is not a flat piece of paper.  Like the surface of our island, it has heights and depths, peaks and valleys.  That means shadows.

Rated PG. Includes war, and violence.

 

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PodCastle 297: The Tower of the Elephant (Featuring Conan the Barbarian)

by Robert E. Howard

Read by Graeme Dunlop

Originally published in Weird Tales.

The shimmering shaft of the tower rose frostily in the stars. In the sunlight it shone so dazzlingly that few could bear its glare, and men said it was built of silver. It was round, a slim perfect cylinder, a hundred and fifty feet in height, and its rim glittered in the starlight with the great jewels which crusted it. The tower stood among the waving exotic trees of a garden raised high above the general level of the city. A high wall enclosed this garden, and outside the wall was a lower level, likewise enclosed by a wall. No lights shone forth; there seemed to be no windows in the tower—at least not above the level of the inner wall. Only the gems high above sparkled frostily in the starlight.

Shrubbery grew thick outside the lower, or outer wall. The Cimmerian crept close and stood beside the barrier, measuring it with his eye. It was high, but he could leap and catch the coping with his fingers. Then it would be child’s play to swing himself up and over, and he did not doubt that he could pass the inner wall in the same manner. But he hesitated at the thought of the strange perils which were said to await within. These people were strange and mysterious to him; they were not of his kind—not even of the same blood as the more westerly Brythunians, Nemedians, Kothians and Aquilonians, whose civilized mysteries had awed him in times past. The people of Zamora were very ancient, and, from what he had seen of them, very evil.

He thought of Yara, the high priest, who worked strange dooms from this jeweled tower, and the Cimmerian’s hair prickled as he remembered a tale told by a drunken page of the court—how Yara had laughed in the face of a hostile prince, and held up a glowing, evil gem before him, and how rays shot blindingly from that unholy jewel, to envelop the prince, who screamed and fell down, and shrank to a withered blackened lump that changed to a black spider which scampered wildly about the chamber until Yara set his heel upon it.

Rated PG. Contains violence.

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