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PodCastle 591: His Giant Heartbeat

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.

His Giant Heartbeat

by Natalia Theodoridou

I smoke with my back to the caravan while I wait for B and his client to finish. It’s a drippy afternoon, deep in the fenlands. We’ve parked the caravan next to a mere, marshy and rotten green. The air smells damp, the ground is soft and uncertain, the kind that might swallow you up whole if you put your foot down wrong. There are birds, and frogs, and foxes, far away. I guess it’s peaceful. Two years since humanity flatlined — well, most of us, at least — and the rest of the world doesn’t give a toss.

I inhale. The smoke burns my lungs. I close my eyes and savour the pain — there are so few things one can enjoy these days. B doesn’t like it when I smoke. He clings to old ideas. I get it.

Eventually, the client steps out of the caravan. A balding, pale man in his fifties. He smiles a tiny smile. The poor guy looks like an embarrassed ferret. I beam at him as he hands me a hundred quid. He went for the ultrasound, after all.

“Come again,” I say. I catch a glimpse of scar tissue poking up from the collar of his shirt. Heart surgery, probably. Imagine the irony behind that story.

“Will you be here a while, then?” he asks.

As if. As if there is a here, outside a nothing town in the middle of nowhere marshes. “A couple of days. We’re on our way to a concert down near the coast.” I point at the posters plastered on the side of the caravan. THE AMAZING BEATING HEART. This gig is the biggest one we’ve been able to land in a while. B is a cult sensation in these parts, apparently. “You should come,” I say, trying not to cringe at my half-hearted sales-pitch voice.

The man mumbles a thank you something something and backs away towards his car. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 590: Labyrinth, Sanctuary

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.

Labyrinth, Sanctuary

By A.E. Prevost

Constance carves her timeworn tracks into the thirsty rock. With silent steps her footfalls smooth the stone, century into century, grooves and gullies growing green as time and seed take hold. Stone after stone, her hands build battlements and balconies, repair time-ragged trusses, stack spires towards the sun. Deep in the dark wood, with every aching year, her sanctuary spreads its restless roots.

Constance dreams of colonnades and courtyards, crafts finials from fingernails, weaves tapestries from hair. She climbs her spiral stairs into the storm-bruised sky, flings open feverish arms against the thrum of thunder, batters the balustrades with fists like driving rain. Constance lets rage run through her like the roiling storm, then huddles in the hollows and scratches broken nails across the thirsty roots that thrive between the cracks. So long as she keeps building, she is safe. Her moss-laced maze mirrors the spirals in her soul, and she repeats her one and only truth: in this, her sanctuary, no ill thing can befall her. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 589: The Horrible Deaths of Helga Hrafnsdóttir

Show Notes

Rated PG-13 for the horrible deaths we hope won’t come to pass.

The Horrible Deaths of Helga Hrafnsdóttir

By Christine Tyler

The day Helga Hrafnsdóttir went up the Ævilok tree, the entire village held its breath. From the time of her birth, the Ævilok that grew beside Helga’s home had sprouted the most horrible flowers. In the first week alone, anyone who touched the blossoms of her Ævilok saw visions of her blankets smothering her, her brother dropping her, and a fox dragging her out of her cradle and mauling her. During those days, Helga’s mother kept the doors locked, stuffed up the cracks, didn’t let anyone else hold the child, and barely slept. She watched over every yellowing bud, touched every bloom to see what new horrors she had to fend off. Once Helga survived the premonitions, the blossoms shriveled up and fell to the frosted turf. Thanks to her mother’s vigilance, Helga Hrafnsdóttir outlived all the ill fortunes of her infancy. But from that time on, everyone knew the girl was destined for a gruesome fate. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 588: Willing

Show Notes

Rated: PG-13, for the harsh demands of gods.

Bought bred, the new cow had cost three thousand dollars, and so as night fell with no sign of the calf, it was Arnold himself who trudged back and forth between the house and the barn, waving away the hired hands.

“My money,” he grunted. “My problem.”

A storm struck up, not snow but a roaring haze of fine slush that crusted his beard with ice. Far to the west, visible only by their bluish, luminous heat, the old gods of grass and grain bayed to the cloud-buried stars. Arnold ignored them. It was too early in the year for a sacrifice.

On the fifth trip, his youngest child joined him, silent as ever, silvery hair greased down from the rain, in her oldest brother’s canvas coat. She liked their ancient hand-me-downs, though she was so small that everything trailed in the muck like the train of a wedding dress. Over the splattering sleet Arnold heard her rubber boots squelching in the wallow that had been the path. He waited for her to catch up before continuing to the barn. (Continue Reading…)