He stood in front of the machine that made clothes and fretted. He already had a fur suit, a carpet suit, and a brick suit. Everyone had a water suit; it was practically cliche.
Last week he’d had a Pop-Tart suit for a lark. That had been popular, but he couldn’t go back to that well so soon. Anyway, it smacked too much of the bacon suit fad from last year. He’d had to shower for an hour to get un-sticky afterward.
He’d even done a suit suit, which had helped keep his reputation for the sartorial avant-garde.
Harriet, their aging basset hound, shuffled into the bedroom and plopped down beside him. He looked at Harriet and pursed his lips.
The Brindletom woke after Erdi had already finished her eggs and was on her second cup of coffee. He swung down from his nest in the rafters and slid along the ropes to the table. Erdi pushed the plate of bacon toward him.
“I had a dream last night,” he piped, plucking a bacon strip up with his clever forepaws and gnawing on it.
“Do tell,” Erdi said, somewhat blearily. She was considering a third cup of coffee.
“I dreamed that I was a man accursed, trapped in a hideous mannikin body, and bound to a cruel sorceress who had promised to help me, to return me to my place and my true form, but upon whose pleasure I must wait and serve in the interim. I dreamed that my servitude would have no end, for I was sworn to her unto death and she would live forever.”
They met in a birdcage, in those last precious days before they became birds themselves. They were too panicked to ask each other’s names. The boy beat his palms against the wire bars as impotently as he had beat them against the giant’s fist; the woman brushed her fingers first against her sternum, then along the cage floor, even through the boy’s kinky hair, to prove that she was not mad or dreaming.
“Don’t touch me,” he said, making the order into a question.
The woman drew away. “Are you hurt?” Her hands still moved restlessly, diffident as butterflies. They were in a ramshackle attic full of cages whose inhabitants were sparrows as big as she was.
“I didn’t know,” said the boy. He slumped against the bars of the cage. The woman watched the wire press indentations into his shirt. “I didn’t know there were giants in Ohio.”
“Oh.” The woman squatted next to him, careful to keep their shoulders from brushing. “I didn’t know there were either, until today.” She paused. “What’s your name? Where did the giant take you from?”
“Avery.” The boy’s eyes were as brown as tree bark. “I was in the backyard, working. Who are you?”
Avery blinked. “Jack is a boy’s name.”
Her expression did not change. “But if we’ve been kidnapped by giants,” she murmured, “the only way we’ll ever escape is if one of us is named Jack.”
by Nathaniel Lee Read by Graeme Dunlop Hosted by Kitty Niclaian
A PodCastle Original!
The seas are full of wives, and our nets strain to hold them. The Greyling is the largest of the fleet, and our catch the greatest. The wives are the source of our great wealth.
When the wives are pulled up in the steely silver nets, they are poured in a shimmering stream onto the deck. Vikos and Broun work the crane, and they sit up high in the control booths, rocking and swaying with the motion of the ship. I couldn’t do that job. I’m a knife man; I cut the skins away and put them in the holding tanks, wives in one and skins in the other. It’s very important that the skins be kept separate. It’s a simple rhythm, once the catch is coming in. The wives are disoriented, confused, sometimes dead. It’s a long haul up from the deeps, and some of them drown or smother on the way in. I throw the dead ones overboard, skin and all. The skins are no good once they’re dead.
The ones that stay alive, I slit open. One stroke along the belly. Two strokes at the forelimbs, two strokes at the rear. There’s a trick to shucking the skin then, and more than once I’ve seen a new knife-man get it wrong in the unfamiliar wet and the noise of a ship at sea. There’s squalling and crying, then, and the whole mess has to go to feed the sharks. I try to slit their throats first, to be merciful. You can tell right away who’s not fit to be a knife-man by the way they handle a ruined skin.