Archive for October, 2010

PodCastle Miniature 56: The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

Read by Eric Luke (of the Extruding America podcast)

THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

Rated PG: Contains, um, Death!

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PodCastle 128: Something Wicked This Way Plumbs

by Vylar Kaftan

Read by Elie Hirschman (Voice Actor for Hire)

Originally published in Shimmer. (Read the text here!)

It happened last year.  I’d come into the office early, because I was on deadline–and a month behind on bills.  To make things worse, my girlfriend had the flu, and I’d promised to be there by 5 to take her boys trick-or-treating.  So here I was in the men’s restroom, at 7:30 on Halloween morning.  I shook out a few drops, zipped my pants, and went to the sink.  It’s one of those two-faucet deals with handles on each side and a wide central spigot.  I turned the cold water tap.

Candy streamed out of the faucet like the entrails of a slaughtered piñata.  The sink filled with Skittles, candy corn, and jellybeans.  They rattled against each other as they spilled over the basin’s edge.  Startled, I turned the faucet off.

I hoped someone was playing a Halloween prank, because the alternative was disturbing.  Or maybe I wasn’t awake yet.  I glanced at the mirror.  In dreams you’ve always got weird things about your face, like snakes crawling from your eyeballs.  But I looked normal.  A bit scruffy, and my sleepy eyes were bloodshot.  Neither of these were a problem for a freelance writer–in some circles, they might count as street cred.  I looked at the sink.  Still candy.

I went to my office for a paper bag.

Rated PG: Contains tentacles, and a whole lotta candy

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PodCastle 127: The Belated Burial

by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Read by Amy Elk

Originally published in Subterranean Online (Read the text)

Being buried when one is fully conscious and keenly aware of the confines of her narrow house and the stink of cemetery soil, these things are terrible, but, as she has learned, there is always something incalculably worse than the very worst thing that she can imagine. Miss Josephine has had centuries to perfect the stepwise procession from Paradise to Purgatory to the lowest levels of an infinitely descending Hell, and she wears her acumen and expertise where it may be seen by all, and especially where it may be seen by her lovers (whether they are living, dead, or somewhere in between). So, yes, Brylee objected, but only the halfhearted, token objection permitted by her station. And then she did as she was bidden. She dressed in the funerary gown from one of her mistress’ steamer trunks, the dress, all indecent, immaculate white lace and silk taffeta; it smells of cedar and moth balls. Amid the palest chrysanthemums and lilies, babies breath and albino roses, she lay down in the black-lacquered casket, which is hardly more than a simple pine box, and she did not move. She did not make a sound. Not breathing was, of course, the simplest part. Miss Josephine laid a heavy gold coin on each of her eyelids before the mourners began to arrive, that she would have something to give the ferryman.

“She was so young,” one of the vampires said, the one named Addie Goodwin.

“Your sorrow must be inconsolable,” said another, the man whom they all call simply Signior Garzarek, who came all the way from New York for the mock-somber ceremony in the ancient yellow house on Benefit Street.

Rated R: Violence, Sex, and Disturbing Themes

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PodCastle Miniature 55: Ghost Market

by Greg van Eekhout

Read by Kane Lynch

Originally published in the Paper Cities anthology

Every third Tuesday of the month, they hold the ghost market beneath the Washington Street Bridge. You have to get there early if you want the best bargains, before the sun has a chance to warm the day.

“Hey, you wanna be a red-hot lover boy?”

I shrug. “Who doesn’t?”

Behind a folding table, in a stall built of PVC pipe and crinkled blue tarp, she’s shaped like a Willendorf Venus in a Che Guevara T-shirt. “Some people are scared to be red-hot lover boys,” she says, showing me an apparently empty beer bottle sealed with wax. “I knew this one personally. He was my neighbor. He fathered seventeen kids. Energetic, you know?” She winks. “He was in the act when his heart exploded.”

“How romantic,” I say, taking the bottle and holding it up to the gray-lilac sky. There’s nothing to see inside. “But that doesn’t sound like red-hot lover boy to me. It’s more like horny-old-man-who-wouldn’t-give-his-wives-a-break boy.”

Rated R: Violence and Disturbing Themes

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PodCastle 126: Creature

by Ramsey Shehadeh

Read by Norm Sherman (of the Drabblecast)

Originally published in Weird Tales (Read the text of the story here)

And so came Creature out of the wasteland and into the city, bouncing from hilltop to hilltop like a bulbous ballerina skipping across the knuckles of a great hand. He was big as the moon and black as the night, and he came crashing into the city like a silent meteor. The cityfolk watched his approach with wide eyes and open mouths, and then scattered like leaves.

The sun sat smudged and pale behind a grey smear of cloud, and the air stank of scat and putrefaction. But Creature said: “What a fine day it is!” Though he did not say it, of course, he thought it, and so the cityfolk thought it too. And when he released a great bolus of happiness into the air, they paused in their desperate flight, and smiled, and thought: “What a fine day it is!”

Creature surveyed the sea of smiles around him, and was well pleased. He rolled along, growing and shrinking and flattening and widening as he went, dispensing false joy to the destitute and the hopeless, the desperate and the sad. They lined his path like parade-watchers, caught helplessly in his spell.

Rated R: Violence and Disturbing Themes

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PodCastle 125: The Whistling Room

Featuring Carnacki, the Ghost Finder

by William Hope Hodgson

Read by Paul S. Jenkins

“‘The whistling started about ten o’clock, on the second night, as Ibsaid. Tom and I were in the library, when we heard an awfully queer whistling, coming along the East Corridor–The room is in the East Wing, you know.

“‘That’s that blessed ghost!’ I said to Tom, and we collared the lamps off the table, and went up to have a look. I tell you, even as we dug along the corridor, it took me a bit in the throat, it was so beastly queer. It was a sort of tune, in a way; but more as if a devil or some rotten thing were laughing at you, and going to get ’round at your back. That’s how it makes you feel.

“‘When we got to the door, we didn’t wait; but rushed it open; and then I tell you the sound of the thing fairly hit me in the face. Tom said he got it the same way–sort of felt stunned and bewildered. We looked all ’round, and soon got so nervous, we just cleared out, and I locked the door.

Rated PG: For Things That Whistle in the Night

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PodCastle Review 3: Merlin

Merlin, the BBC Television Series

Reviewed by Bill Peters

Merlin, the British tv series, has had it’s ups and downs, but at its best it can be one of those rare shows where the scenes could be allowed to go quiet and be carried by the acting and not the music. It’s what separates it from it’s American counterpart Smallville. Both series are centered around the young life of one of their country’s great heroes, though obviously one of supermortals is of more recent vintage.

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