PC046: Secret Life

by Jeff VanderMeer.
Read by Paul Tevis.

A vision of the building from on high: five glittering floors surrounded by a dull concrete parking lot. To the west lay a forest. To the east, the glint of a shopping mall, substantial as a mirage. To the north, highways and fast food restaurants. To the south, a perpetual gloom through which could be seen only more shadow.

The building housed hundreds of people. They worked day and night, as relentless and constant as the seasons. The first four stories lay open to all, but no one could visit the fifth floor without a special key. Few had ever seen the roof.

The stairs were used for emergencies only. Some of the elevators clanked and groaned. Some of the elevators, quiet and smooth as ghosts, rose and fell with limitless grace.

Most inhabitants of the building, even the janitors in the basement, it was rumored, preferred the noisy elevators. When the quiet elevators reached the first floor, a scream could sometimes be heard, as of an animal trapped and then crushed beneath their feet. The screams might continue for several minutes. No one knew what kind of animal it was, or how it came to be trapped there.

Rated R. Contains an office which in turn contains despair which in turn contains hope.

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26 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Bill said,

    April 1, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    Wow a fantasy story about an office building. I think the only thing that could have been more exciting would be a fantasy story about stero instructions!

  2. 2

    Bill Ectric said,

    April 1, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    I think it’s fantastic how a weird, surreal reality is super-imposed over a seemingly mundane office life.

  3. 3

    Wilson Fowlie said,

    April 1, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

    I liked the way all … well, okay, many of the seemingly disconnected tendrils of story were eventually all brought together and shown to intertwine.

    (Those puns were unintentional at the time, but also unregretted.)

    I have to say, near the end of the story, six words occurred to me:

    “Feed me, Krelborn. Feed me now!”

  4. 4

    Anemone said,

    April 1, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

    Love the new artwork, it looks fantastic! (Pun noted …)


  5. 5

    Garbonsai said,

    April 1, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

    I’m guessing this is going to be one of those stories where listeners either love or hate it, with very little in the way of middle ground. For what it’s worth, I loved it. The imagery was fantastic, and I really thought hard about how I spent my day today, slaving away at my desk, heading to the Y, then driving home for a bit of conversation with my wife-to-be before working at household chores until bedtime, only to repeat the process tomorrow.

  6. 6

    JimO said,

    April 2, 2009 @ 1:17 am

    this is my favorite story by this author so I am looking forward to hearing it aloud. excellent choice.

  7. 7

    Jessica said,

    April 2, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

    This story holds more than enough magical imagination to become an EPIC movie!! I Loved it, plan to hear it again; maybe even share it with Both my twin and boyfriend!

    I heart PodcCstle, it allows me to dream

  8. 8

    Jessica said,

    April 2, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

    The new art looks Great!! My only fear was a lack of floating castles, I was not let down ^-^

  9. 9

    scatterbrain said,

    April 2, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

    Although basically a rambled collection of vignettes, I enjoyed the story a lot for its quirkyness and ingenuity.

  10. 10

    dru said,

    April 3, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    I generally enjoy the stories here, but every so often I hear something that just speaks to me and this was definitely one of the best this site has to offer. This is right up there with “Come Lady Death” in terms of stories I refuse to delete from my iPod.

  11. 11

    yicheng said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 9:08 am

    Unique and imaginative! I liked that this story brought the magical into the everyday. My only criticism was that it seemed to meander a bit and lack cohesion. It was almost as if the author took a half dozen Miniatures and mashed them together into a full story. All of the vignettes were interesting at first, but none seemed to really have the depth to hold the reader’s attention for long.

  12. 12

    Traxer said,

    April 7, 2009 @ 10:27 am

    With an incredible mix of odd observations about the realities of office life, dashes of the personalities that work behind the scenes, and some gashes of charmingly morbid humor (oh, to have a little desk hut…), this story encompasses everything I dream of ,and fear of, working in an office building in the future. I adore the way this unfolded in such a way that I was sucked in and intrigued, and not left depressed and confused as some of these sorts of deep stories tend to do.

    I want a mouse as a pet now…

  13. 13

    noname said,

    April 8, 2009 @ 7:21 am

    was I the only one who didnt like this.

    I mean, each to there own but this story expressed exactly why I get into fantasy, “for escape” ..

    hello ??

  14. 14

    Phthalo said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

    I absolutely loved this one, but not quite sure why. I always listen to these things while falling asleep, and the disconnected nature really worked well for a half-conscious mind!

    Some brilliant images – I can really picture a plant secretly growing throughout the office where I work!

  15. 15

    Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

    I always enjoy listening to Paul Tevis carry on about games on his own ‘cast; the only thing better is listening to him read a fantastical story that had me imagining all sorts of intriguingly secret additions to my own mundane life. I sort of wish a few more of the vignettes touched on each other a little more, at least indirectly (what was the creature encountered in the vine-filled passage? what got crushed under the elevator?) like we discovered how the mice speech sounded human. I feel like there are yet more stories to be told from this setting. I’ve often contemplated a series of interlinked stories about a strangely haunted apartment building, and this was an excellent mirror to that idea.

    Good work, PodCastle!

  16. 16

    FoodScienceGeek said,

    April 16, 2009 @ 12:21 am

    I’m suprised for the anniversary edition they picked a story that has been podcast before. I heard this a year ago on Starship Sofa.

    It is a good story, but I didn’t need to hear it again.

  17. 17

    Grizzly Smith said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

    I suppose this story reminds one that to the characters inside the story, their lives are perfectly normal and “mundane,” if you will, however odd and even magical they may appear to us. And vice versa.

    Or it’s like Mur Lafferty’s “The Takeover,” but not as entertaining. Experimentation is nice. Sometimes experiments fail, at least in the perception of the reader.

    And yes, I think I remember the previous podcast of this story. Glad to see the author given another opportunity, I suppose.


  18. 18

    Zorknot said,

    April 29, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

    I wouldn’t mind too much if office space fantasy became the next big subgenre.

    I loved this story. Vandermeer seems to be tapping into a mythos that was there all along, lurking in our collective subconscious, waiting to attack, while we whistle down the halls of our day-to-day lives.

    Nature reclaiming its hold. It’s a idea both terrible and glorious. As much as I like technology and civilization, I have to say that part of me was cheering on the destruction and subversion in this story. And VanderMeer makes it seem so plausible.

    Creepy good stuff.

  19. 19

    Divya said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    This one did not work for me. I guess I like more people, elves, ogres etc in my stories

  20. 20

    GeekAba said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

    I’m 1/2 the way thru this story and keep feeling like I have to trudge on just to see if it gets better. So far, its pretty boring and non-fantastical. Maybe i’m just not a big fan of ‘subtle’ fantasy

  21. 21

    LaShawn said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    This is a type of story I would love to read on paper. In podcast form, though, I found myself growing bored. The images are pretty, and the storyline of the vine and the lone woman bureaucrat stood out to me as fantastic, but the rest all jumbled together in a bunch of random bits.

  22. 22

    Indentured Mind » Blog Archive » Secret Life said,

    June 13, 2009 @ 10:20 pm

    […] listening to Sercet Life, by Jeff VanderMeer. It’s really good. It’s a fantasy story that takes place in an […]

  23. 23

    Prairiedaun said,

    August 15, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    This is still one of my favourite stories to listen to, months later.

  24. 24

    The Random Planet · Blog Archive » I’ve been writing this post on and off for the last 5 hours. said,

    September 25, 2009 @ 7:24 am

    […] news, I’ve been making my way through old episodes of Podcastle lately. My favourites so far are Secret Life, The Cambist and Lord Iron, and In Ashes. Especially “Secret Life”. It makes me want to […]

  25. 25

    Rachel Swirsky’s Novelette Recommendations, 2012 | Alas, a Blog said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

    […] of being tossed about by a confident, playful hand. There are shades of Vandermeer here (“Secret Life“) but as I write this review, I realize that what it really reminds me of is absurdism as it […]

  26. 26

    Short Story Podcast Reviews: October 2012 | Fyrefly's Book Blog said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 2:58 pm

    […] Secret Life by Jeff VanderMeer is the story of a corporate office building that goes crazy, an office plant that turns into a vine that grows throughout, a chameleon, and an employee that everyone forgot. Strange and surreal, and although I get the obvious point about how corporate culture can take over our lives, I didn’t really *get* this story. Listen to it […]

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