Archive for June, 2009

PC059: On the Banks of the River of Heaven

by Richard Parks.
Read by Barry Deutsch.

On the seventh day of the seventh month as it had for the previous two years, it rained.  And it rained.  The cranes still came at Kaiboshi’s bidding to stand by the shore and form the base of the bridge.  Next came the geese and the ducks and other waterfowl, who fared well enough creating the platform and first few degrees of arc for the bridge.  After that, however, came the hawks and crows and sparrows and smaller birds, and the rain beat down on them incessantly, and their wings became sodden and would no longer support them and a bridge, too.  The cranes held on gamely as the river swelled into flood, but their skinny legs began to tremble.  Kaiboshi reluctantly concluded that the enterprise was doomed, and he dismissed the birds with thanks rather than risk seeing them fall in the river after the inevitable collapse.

Three years now the rains had come on the appointed day.  For three years the Bridge of Birds that was his only way to cross the Celestial River had been unable to form.  Kaiboshi began to wonder if he was cursed, but more he wondered if Asago-hime had started to forget him.  He sat down on the banks of the river and let the rising waters chill his feet as he indulged in a bout of melancholy, since he knew of nothing else he could do.

“Three years is a long time to be apart from the one you love,” he said aloud.  “Even for an immortal.”

Rated PG. Contains anthropomorphization, fish, and stars.

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PodCastle 58: Nine-Fingered Maria

by Hilary Moon Murphy.
Read by Christopher Reynaga.

…this girl appeared from behind a door and caught my ball.  She was probably my age: several inches taller than I am, with long straight black hair pulled back in a ponytail, plain white t-shirt, denim jacket and jeans with a hole worn in the knee.  She stared at me with intense dark eyes and said, “What are you doing here?”

“I was just getting my ball,” I said, stepping out of the way of two movers carrying a large red bureau with multi-colored wax stains all over it.

“No, you weren’t.”  She cocked her head to the side, and raised her eyebrow.  ”You were spying.”

“I wasn’t!”

“That’s okay, I like spies.”  She gave me back my ball and showed me her hands.  ”I have nine fingers.  I’m a witch.”

Rated PG. Contains boyhood, and witchcraft, and jars full of preserved things.

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PodCastle 57: In Ashes

by Helen Keeble.
Read by Marie Brennan.

From the time my twin brother and I were four, our mother only gave us raw food. Before then I can remember sometimes eating cold, cooked things—porridge congealed onto the bottom of my bowl, soups with a white floating scum of fats—but that stopped after our fourth birthday, when my brother laughed and said “Hot!” as he tasted the cake that my mother had spent an hour baking and three days cooling. She whipped him for that, while I howled and hung onto her arm, and sent us both to our beds in the cowshed. Later she came out with two handfuls of dried apricots and hugged us in the dark, her great rough hands pressing our faces against her chest—but the next day there was only raw food for dinner, withered apples and sliced turnip, and the day after that, and the day after that.

The next time our birthday came round, I whined for a cake, but she said we could only have one if my brother would blow out a candle. For me, he tried, drawing in huge breath after huge breath while I gripped his crippled hand under the table, squeezing encouragement; but each lungful of air trickled out unused as he stared rapt at the flickering light. My mother sat opposite us, expressionless and still, the flame reflected in her eyes. The candle burned down to a melted pool of wax and went out. My mother never made another cake. I never saw her cook anything ever again.

Rated R. Contains potentially disturbing imagery and unkindness toward children.

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PodCastle Miniature 33: The Sad tale of the Tearless Onion

by Ann Leckie.
read by C. G. Furst.

Matthias Fenstermacher loved onions, but hated slicing them, and so he labored to produce a tearless variety. His first attempt was indeed tearless–instead of weeping, the slicer was overcome by fits of uncontrollable giggles. The potential hazard was obvious.

Rated G. — but don’t listen while chopping onions.

This story was one of the honorable mentions named and purchased by Stephen Eley after the Escape Pod Flash Fiction contest for short fiction under 300 words.

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PodCastle 56: Shard of Glass

by Alaya Dawn Johnson.
Read by N. K. Jemisin.

“Get in the car, Leah,” my mother said. Her already husky voice was pitched low, as though she’d been crying. That made me nervous. Why was she here?

“Ma, Chloe was going to show me her dad’s new camera. Can’t I go home on the bus?”

My mom pulled on the cigarette until it burned the filter, and then ground it into the car ashtray—already filled with forty or so butts. She always emptied out the ashtray each evening.

“Get in the car, Leah.” My mom’s voice was even huskier as she lit another cigarette and tossed the match out of the window.

I sat down and shut the door.

We rode in silence for a while. Despite her shaking hands and the rapidly dwindling box of cigarettes, she drove meticulously, even coming to a full stop at the stop signs. She never stopped at stop signs.

“Ma . . . is something wrong?” I asked hesitantly.

Her fingers tightened on the wheel until her knuckles looked even paler than my skin. “We’re going on a trip, Leah,” she said finally, jamming on the brakes at a stop sign.

Rated R. for violent and possibly disturbing images.

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PodCastle 55: Bottom Feeding

By Tim Pratt
Read by Kip Manley (of the serialized fantasy novel City of Roses)

The salmon of knowledge lived a long time ago, in the Well of Segais, where the waters ran deep and clear as rippling air. He swam there, thinking his deep thoughts, coming to the surface occasionally to eat the magical hazel-nuts that fell into the water from the trees on the bank. Every nut contained revelations, but the salmon was not a mere living compendium of knowledge — he was a wise fish, too, and so chose to live quietly, waiting for the inevitable day when he would be caught and devoured. The salmon dimly remembered past (and perhaps future) lives, experiences inside and outside of time, from the whole history of the land: being blinded by a hawk on a cold winter night, hiding in a cave after a flood, running from a woman who might have been a goddess, or who might have been a witch.

The salmon did not look forward to being caught, and cooked, and eaten, but knowing what the consequences would be for the one who caught him, he had to laugh, insofar as fish (even very wise ones) are able to laugh.

Rated R. for fish-related hijinks.

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