Archive for July, 2008

PC018: Illuminated Dragon

By Sarah Prineas
Read by Steve Anderson
First appeared in Strange Horizons (full text online.)

The neatly lettered sign hung askew. Shards of glass spilled out from the front window, and scraps of charred paper blew around the front door, which hung crookedly from one hinge. Rafe came closer and, shaking, peered into his shop.

Shredded papers lay everywhere, in drifts on the floor and the worktable. Any representation of human or animal, Rafe knew, had been hacked out and burnt; the hearth was choked with ash and half-charred pages. Across one wall was a splash of vivid vermilion. The other colors had been tipped onto the floor and ground underfoot. Rafe crept further in, shards of the broken window crunching underfoot. With trembling hands, Rafe opened the book.

The bestiary was missing from its wooden stand in the corner. Rafe fell to his knees, pushing tattered papers aside, searching for it. A shard of glass cut his hand, and he left bloody fingerprints on every page that he touched. At last he found the book underneath his worktable, and for a moment his heart leapt; it seemed to be unharmed. With trembling hands, Rafe opened the book. He looked at it for a long moment, then closed it and laid it gently on the floor.

Most of the destruction in the shop had been done by unsubtle thinkers, typical Men of Truth, all brutality and swagger and the knowledge that they were, absolutely and rationally, Right.

But someone else had done the book. Someone subtle, surgical. The pages were nearly untouched. Except that every illuminated picture, every dragon, pard, gryphon, or mermaid, had been carefully and neatly excised.

Rated G. Warning: contains mythical creatures such as dragons and mermaids. May be illegal in some jurisdictions.

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PodCastle Miniature 007: Tooth Fairy

By Jeffrey Valka
Read by Stephen Eley of Escape Pod
“Tooth Fairy” makes its debut in PodCastle. It was submitted as an entry in Escape Pod’s Flash Fiction Contest, February 2007.

“The first thing you need to understand is that there isn’t just one tooth fairy…there are hundreds of them. Thousands. To them, your baby tooth is precious as a diamond. They make tremendous piles and sit on them just like dragons sit on treasure. They can never get enough.” I pause for a moment to allow this information to sink in for her. “The next question you should ask me is this: where do the tooth fairies get the money that they leave under your pillow?”

“Where do they get the money?” she asks.

Rated PG. Contains adorable postmodernism.

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PC017: Goblin Lullaby

By Jim C. Hines
Read by Christiana Ellis (of Christiana’s Shallow Thoughts)
First appeared in Fantasy Gone Wrong (DAW)

“I’ve never seen a goblin infant,” said the elf, stepping closer.

“You thought goblins sprang fully formed from the rocks for you to slaughter?”  She jammed a knuckle into Jig’s mouth for him to suck.  His baby fangs were just beginning to pierce the gums, but the pain in her finger was better than listening to him cry.

“We slaughtered nobody.”  The voice came from below the outcropping.  The elf relaxed his bow and knelt, hauling his companion up onto the ledge. “You goblins attacked us.  We defended ourselves.”

Grell stepped to the edge and studied the woods below.  Goblin blood turned the earth a gruesome shade of blue.  Elves wove through the trees, making no noise save the twang of bowstrings and the ripping sound of blades tearing through goblin armor and flesh.  ”Defended yourselves?  Next time, why don’t you defend yourselves over in the hobgoblin tunnels rather than sneaking onto our land to do it?”

The archer caught his companion by the arm.  ”She’s an old woman, Jonathan. With a child.”

“She’s a goblin, Rindar.”  But he relaxed slightly.  He was bulkier than his companion, and the mane of red hair meant he was no elf.  Red stubble dotted his chin, though he was too young to grow a proper beard.  He wore a heavy mail shirt, with a green tabard depicting a white dragon coiled around a tree.  ”If we let her live, she’ll lead another attack against us.”

Grell kicked the corpse of the goblin drummer.  ”If you let me live, I’ll go back to the nursery and get some sleep.”

“I won’t risk letting you go free,” said Jonathan.  ”Not until my quest is complete.”

Rated G. Contains not necessarily overlapping groups of heroes and good guys.

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PC016: Magnificent Pigs

By Cat Rambo
Read by Matthew Wayne Selznick
First appeared in Strange Horizons (full text at link)

The spring before it happened, I went upstairs and found my ten-year-old sister Jilly crying. Charlotte’s Web, which we’d been reading together at bedtime all that week, lay splayed broken-backed on the floor where she’d thrown it.

“What’s wrong?” I said, hovering in the doorway. As Jilly kept getting sicker, I tried to offer her the illusion of her own space, but remained ready.

“I was reading ahead because I liked it so much—and Charlotte dies!” she managed to gasp between sobs.

The big brass bed creaked in protest as I sat down beside her. Gathering her into my arms, I rocked her back and forth. It was well past sunset and the full-faced moon washed into the room, spilling across the blue rag rug like milk, and gleaming on the bed knobs so that they looked like balls of icy light, brighter than the dim glow of Jilly’s bedside lamp.

“It’s a book, Jilly, just a book,” I said.

She shook her head, cheeks blotched red and wet with tears. “But, Aaron, Charlotte’s dead!” she choked out again.

I retrieved the book from the middle of the room and set it in front of her. “Look,” I said. “If we open the book up again at the beginning, Charlotte’s alive. She’ll always be alive in the book.”

The sobs quieted to hiccups and she reached for the book, looking dubious. When she opened it to the first chapter, I began to read. “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. ‘Out to the hoghouse,’ replied Mrs. Arable. ‘Some pigs were born last night.’”

Curling against me, she let me read the first two chapters. After she slipped away to sleep, I tucked the blanket around her then went downstairs to cry my own tears.

Rated PG. Contains child mortality. Those sensitive to these themes are advised to take caution.

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PodCastle Miniature 006: Eating Hearts

By Yoon Ha Lee
Read by Ann Leckie
First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

“It’s about not seeing,” Chuan explained to her just after he brought the meal to the table. “The perfect magician is all-blind, all-unknowing. No sound reaches a wall to wake an echo; no touch bridges distance.” He leaned back against the wall where, Horanga imagined, the cloth of his shirt hung over the hollow curve of his back. He lived in a house in the city, by the river, and long ago the sound of fish swimming endlessly in that river would have distracted her from her purpose.

“Then what do you do in this house?” asked Horanga, looking not at his face or his hands, but at the plate between them. The plate was heaped with tender vegetables, slivers of rare meat, and sliced nuts; over the vegetables and meat and nuts, he had drizzled three different sauces in a tapestry of taste.

“A perfect magician, I said.” He smiled.

Rated PG. Contains sex between humans and those who only appear so.

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PC015: The Yeti Behind You

By Jeremiah Tolbert
Read by Elie Hirschman
First appeared in Fantasy (Prime Books)

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Michael takes frequent coffee breaks, even though the caffeine makes him jittery and he finds the taste too bitter. He doesn’t recognize many of the animals, but Google knows all, and identifying the animals is time consuming but not terribly difficult. At lunch, the employee parking lot is full of sauropods and Pleistocene mammals that are too large to squeeze inside the building. A Triceratops, his favorite dinosaur when he was a boy, mingles with a giant sloth and something resembling a nine foot tall carnivorous duck with a bill shaped like an axe. Moas, looking like shaggy-dog ostriches, roam the halls of the office. Marsupial lions and miniature horses guard the entrances to cubicles.

The observers are all members of an extinct species. At first, Michael thought that his own yeti might be an exception–being that a yeti is a mythological creature, not an extinct one—but then he discovered __Gigantopithecus blacki__ on a primatologist’s website. The males weighed twelve hundred pounds and stood ten feet tall, but the females were smaller. Michael believes that his silent observer is a female. He considers the name of __Gigantopithecus__, but ultimately discards it. Yeti is easier to remember.

He finds an interesting quote that he prints out, nervously pacing around the laser printer as it warms up and finally prints. Hibbets would pitch a fit if he found anyone using the printers for personal reasons.

Michael snatches up the printout and reads it once aloud. “An old Sherpa once observed: ‘There is a yeti in the back of everyone’s mind; only the blessed are not haunted by it.’” He stares at the paper for a few moments after speaking the words aloud, then crumples the sheet into a ball and stuffs it into his pocket before returning to his desk.

Rated PG. Contains strong feelings of ambiguity.

Featured Intro Links:
Dr. Roundbottom, at clockpunk.com.

Elie Hirschman’s podcasting links:

http://www.dregold.net

http://www.darkerprojects.com

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PC014: The Grand Cheat

By Hilary Moon Murphy
Read by Rajan Khanna
First appeared in Tales of the Unanticipated.

My finest cheat started long ago, before India was even a country. Most of us were still under British rule, one way or another. I was apprenticed to Sri Ghare, one of the greatest negotiators in the princely states. I lived with him and his wife in a fine manor. Though I was from a poor family, he always treated me like I was his own son.

When Sri Ghare’s wife was great with child, he was called to negotiate for the local rajah. Sri Ghare made me promise to take care of her while he was gone. When my master’s wife went into labor, the female servants shooed me out of the house, knowing that I would only be in the way. But I had promised my master, and I was very worried. What if something should go wrong with the birth?

So I cheated. I sneaked back into the house when the servants were too busy to check for me. At first, I only listened through the sheer, blue draperies that curtained off the women’s quarters, but all I could hear were screams, sobs, and muffled assurances. I crawled under the draperies, coming as close as I dared. The sounds were so awful, I was certain that she must be dying.

I meditated in the doorway to her rooms and prayed deeply for safety of mother and child. I prayed harder than I ever had before. I prayed so hard that I became aware of the god who was trying to slip past me into the rooms don’t ask me how I knew it was a god, I just knew – and I cried, “Hold!

“No one says ‘Hold’ to me, mortal,” the god rumbled.

Rated PG. Contains schemes, cheats, and tricksters.

Featured Intro Link: Clarion West Write-a-thon

Individual Author Pages:
Michael Swanwick
Ada Milenkovich Brown
K. Tempest Bradford
Vylar Kaftan
Cat Rambo
C. G. Furst
Gord Sellar
Kristine Dikeman
Nisi Shawl
Tina Connolly
Stephanie Burgis
Rachel Swirsky

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