PodCastle 296: Ill Met in Ulthar (Featuring Marla Mason)

by T.A. Pratt (Find out more about Marla Mason here!)

Read by M.K. Hobson

Originally published in Witches: Wicked, Wild, and Wonderful, edited by Paula Guran.

Dr. Husch slid the panel over the window shut as the beast continued battering against the door. “Don’t worry, it can’t get out. The interior of the room is lined with rubber, reinforced by magic. We used to keep a paranoid electrothaumaturge locked up there. There are no electrical outlets or light fixtures, either—when we found the creature in Barrow’s room, it had smashed the light bulbs, and was suckling at the outlets like a hamster at a water bottle.”

Marla took off the glasses and rubbed her eyes. “What is that thing?”

“Barrow calls it an arc-drake. The live in the haunted mountains called the Lightning Peaks, north of the Sea of Surcease, a vast lake of liquid suffering.”

“You sound like the trailer for a bad fantasy movie,” Marla said.

“Appropriate, as Barrow was a fantasy writer. Though he wasn’t a particularly bad one, especially by the standards of his time. He was a pulp writer, mostly, published alongside the likes of Clifford Simak, Doc Smith, Sprague de Camp, Marsham Craswell—did you ever read much science fiction and fantasy, Marla?”

“Not really. I was too busy smoking and having sex with boys. I was always more interested in this world than in imaginary ones.”

Husch sniffed. “As a sorcerer, you should be ashamed. Magic is the act of imposing your will on reality. But without imagination, what good is even the strongest will? So what if you can do anything, if you can’t think of anything interesting to do?”

Rated R. Contains, well, Marla Mason. Also violence and profanity.

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PodCastle 295: The Gunner’s Mate

by Gene Wolfe

Read by C.S.E. Cooney and Dave Thompson

Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

“There’s something about this island—“ Muriel began.

Liza shook her head.  “I don’t like it either.”

“I didn’t mean that.  I didn’t mean that at all.”  Muriel put down her piña colada.  “It feels, well, welcoming.  It keeps telling me I’m home, that it’s where I’m supposed to be.”

“You’d better quit drinking this pineapple stuff.”

“I’ve only had one,” Muriel protested.  “This is my second.  You’re on your third.”

“Kirk drank my first one.  Can’t you feel the hostility?  The terrible loneliness?  It’s like – I don’t know.  It makes me think of a haunted house fifty miles from nowhere.”

Rated R. Really, this pretty well straddles the line of dark fantasy/horror.

Dave’s review of Gene Wolfe’s The Land Across audiobook for the AudioBookaneers!

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PodCastle 294: Sand Castles

by Desirina Boskovich

Read by Dave Thompson

Originally published in Realms of Fantasy. We miss you!

“We’re on a journey,” Radley says.

“We have a map,” Audra says. She speaks quietly, barely above a whisper, but I have no trouble hearing her, even in the noisy bar.

“Yeah,” Radley says. “We have a map.”

“But what we don’t have…” 

“Is a car,” Radley finishes. 

I’m amused, but not surprised. Artists—this is about all you can expect. “So exactly where is this map leading you?” I ask.

“Somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico,” Audra says. “A beach.”

“There’s one outside, you know.” 

“We need this particular beach.  Because of the sand,” Radley says.    

“What?”  

“Because we need it,” Audra says. And they won’t say anything more.

Rated R. Contains some drug use. HELLO, COLORADO!

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PodCastle Interlude: Wing (Miniature 78)

by Amal El-Mohtar

Read by Danielle Daly

Originally published in Strange Horizons. Read it here!

In a cafe lit by morning, a girl with a book around her neck sits quietly at a table.

She reads—not the book around her neck, which is small, only as long and as wide as her thumb, black cord threaded through a sewn leather spine, knotted shut. She reads a book of maps and women, turns every page as if it were a lock of hair, gently. Every so often, her fingers stray to the book that sits above her sternum, twist it one way, then the other; every so often, she sips her tea.

“What is written in your book?” asks the man who brought her the tea. She looks up.

Rated PG.

Editors’ Note: This week, we’re taking a small break and bringing you a miniature by one of our favorite authors. We’ll be back next week with a feature length story.

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PodCastle 293: The High King Dreaming

by Daniel Abraham

Read by Cat Rambo

Originally published in Fearsome Journeys.

The High King is not dead but dreaming, and his dreams are of his death.

The sun is bright in the blue expanse of sky, the meadow more beautiful than it had ever been in life because he sees it from above.  The banners of the kingdoms he unified shift in the gentle breeze: Stonewell, Harnell, Redwater, Leftbridge, Holt. The kings who bent their knees before him do so again, and again with tears in their eyes.  The Silver Throne is there, but empty. The scepter and whip lay crossed on its seat.  His daughter, once the princess and now the queen, sits at its foot, her body wrapped in mourning grey.  The pyre on which his body rests has no fuel beneath it. No acrid stench of pitch competes with the wildflower’s perfume. His beard is white, bright in the sun, and as full as frost. His shoulders are thick, as are his arms and his thighs.  His eyes are closed, but his lips hold the memory of a smile.  The blade Justice rests on his chest, weighing him down in death as it had in life.  His cold fingers hold it easily. He is like a statue of himself, and the legend still unwritten below him should be Grace and Power.

He does not recall what brought him low, nor does it matter.  He rose in an age of war when all nations stood against each other, and he forged peace.  The Eighteen Peaks, snowcapped and bright in the spring sun, have not looked down on bloodshed in a decade.  The keeps at Narrowford and Cassin store grain now.  Any child may walk the Bloody Bridge at Hawthor and return across it at nightfall.  Some lands he took at the point of a sword, some with a wise word, some by sharing grief with enemies who had expected their pain to draw forth only laughter, but with Justice in his hand and God in his heart, he remade the world into a better place than he had found it.

Rated PG.

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PodCastle 292, Giant Episode: Scry

by Anne Ivy

Read by Elizabeth Green Musselman

Originally published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Read it here!

By dawn, the house of Eyr Eth Lun had fallen. Dead soldiers and laser-cauterized pieces of soldiers littered the stairs and bridges into the palace. The sun rose slowly over the spires, flushing the sky pink and pale blue, gleaming off broken glass, bringing color to the gore. Anubises, wading into the midst of the detritus, carried the bodies away. The dead, victorious and defeated alike, all went to the crematorium together.

The metal gates into the house hung warped and melted on their hinges. The inside echoed, empty, threatening. The first to set foot on the foyer’s metal floor had been electrocuted.

Eyr Eth Lun and his liege, the fugitive prince Ben Tur Ibren, were long gone. Some of Karnon Nameless Dae’s followers hoped their quarry—Lun and Ibren—was hiding somewhere in the house, sure to be flushed out. Most knew better. Lun’s soldiers had fought with the desperate furor of those who knew themselves dead. They’d been fighting to buy their masters time to escape, not to save their own lives. They’d succeeded, and their ranks—brave, loyal, and dead—lay in unflinching testament to the cost of Lun’s contingency plan.

Rated R: Contains some violence and sex.

Dramatis Personae:

Eyre Isri Esth: The finest scryer on the planet, and the wife, or former wife, of Lun.

Eyr eth Lun: Esth’s former husband, head of a royal house, and protector of the fugitive prince Ibren.

Ben Tur Ibren: The fugitive prince, who is being hunted down by Karnun Dae.

Karnun Nameless Dae: An alien bent on revolution, and overthrowing the prince and his supporters.

 

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PodCastle 291: Seasonal Disorder

by Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt

Read by Christiana Ellis

A PodCastle Original!

I opened my freezer to get some ice for my first gimlet of the day and heard a tiny tapping sound coming from one of the ice trays. I thought about slamming the freezer door shut and running for my car in the driveway, tearing away to the southern hemisphere months early, but I still have some residual sense of responsibility, so I stood there and waited.

One of the ice cubes cracked, and a tiny bluish-gray hand broke through, grabbing the side of the tray. A creature about the size of a mouse but more-or-less human in form climbed out of the broken ice cube and flopped out to sprawl, panting, on top of a bag of frozen peaches I use to make blended drinks full of rum. “My queen,” it said. “You are needed.”

I sighed. “Why? The world has turned just fine without me lifting a finger for generations now.”

“The sun king.” The creature — you might call it an elf, some people do, or a sprite — rolled over and got to its feet, wobbling. “He… he…” Then the elf burst into tears. They’re delicate creatures in their way, my footmen and handmaidens, and they haven’t coped that well with unemployment. I hadn’t seen one in years, and I thought they’d all turned into snowflakes and icicles ages ago, but apparently a few of them were keeping the faith.

I picked the little beast up out of the freezer and put it down on the counter, then sat on a bar stool and pulled my light summer robe tighter around me, suddenly feeling a chill. I used to love chills, before I retired. Now I like it warmer. “Tell me,” I said.

Rated PG.

 

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PodCastle Miniature 77: The Tome of Tourmaline

by Ken Liu

Read by Wilson Fowlie (of the Maple Leaf Singers)

Originally published in Daily Science Fiction. Read it here!

“Come, come!” the attendants at the gate of Tourmaline call to you. “Come and bathe your feet.”

The water is refreshing, ice cold, straight from the glaciers on top of the mountains far to the west. You wash away the dust of your long journey across the desert, and marvel at the streets lined with twenty-foot slate slabs, the centers slightly depressed from centuries of traffic. You squint at the bright blue murals depicting rearing elephants and leaping lions in smooth jade and lapis lazuli.

When you stand up, the attendants hand you a towel and point you to the center of the city.

“But I haven’t told you why I’ve come,” you protest.

“All visitors come here for the Tome,” they tell you.

Rated PG.

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PodCastle 290: Maxwell’s Demon

by Ken Liu.
Read by Aki Gibbons, of the website Okinawa Blue.
Originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

February 1943

Application for Leave Clearance, Tule Lake War Relocation Center

Name: Takako Yamashiro

Question 27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

I do not know how to answer this question. I am a woman, ineligible for combat.

Question 28: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power, or organization?

I do not know how to answer this question. I was born in Seattle, Washington. I have never had any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor, so there’s nothing to forswear. I will swear unqualified allegiance to my country when my country frees me and my family.

Rated R for violent content, specifically war atrocities.

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PodCastle Episode 289: Rumor of Wings

by Alter S. Reiss

Read by M.K. Hobson

Originally published in Abyss & Apex.

When the shore-men of the Liassen dockyards saw the blinded ship by the first gray light of dawn, they turned their eyes away, and put their backs to their work. When sailors saw that ship, the deep gouges and angry red paint where its eyes ought to be struck them harder. They blanched as they turned away, or they walked back from the docks, spitting twice over each shoulder. One old veteran, deep lines in his face from wind and spray, fell to his knees, and pledged two fine bullocks to the sea, should he survive his next voyage.

There were few sailors who believed that a ship’s eyes would see it through storm and past reefs, but there were fewer who would be
willing to sign aboard a ship whose eyes had been put out, and with red paint, no less. That was the way of sailors–they might have no faith in charms and good omens, but they had infinite belief in curses and foul omens. Whoever owned the ship with the blinded eyes would get no crew at all, even after the eyes were repainted, without some showy exorcism: A half dozen priests in heavy robes, with flute and cymbal, or perhaps some mountain holy man, or witch, or tamed demon.

It was all more or less as Alaneth had hoped, but she could not feel any great satisfaction as a handful of the shore-men were coaxed
aboard by one of the port officers, and set to lowering a length of sailcloth over the ship’s prow, to cover those blinded eyes, so that the other operations of Liassen’s harbor would not be so greatly affected. She was close, but she had been close before. It was too much to believe that this time her leads would prove genuine, that what she sought would not slip through her fingers again.

Rated PG.

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