January 2023 Metacast


Presenters: Marguerite Kenner and Alasdair Stuart

Hey folks, welcome to an Escape Artists metacast. I’m Marguerite Kenner. And I’m Alasdair Stuart.

For those of you who have never heard a metacast before, think of this like a mini State of the Union address, a way for us to update you about what’s been happening at EA. The big thing is our news that EA now stands for the Escape Artists Foundation — we’ve become a nonprofit. We want to share with you how we got there, answer some questions, and explain what it means for you. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 772: “Mama uat-ur”

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


Mama uat-ur

By Z. K. Abraham

 

Pressing her forearms against the first-floor window’s metal frame, Temesghen watched aegean-blue waves splash against the concrete walls, searching for another flash of the being’s presence in the sea below. The stars were partially shrouded by the clouds; the sky was a milky greenish swirl like rotting leaves and tree sap, while the taste of sour algae and salt hung in the air. In the distance, several tall, concrete structures loomed: the Stacks, all that was left in a now-drowned world. Every Stack was the same inside as hers — at least, that’s what the overseers assured them. No way to tell for sure, since they weren’t allowed to sail or swim to the other buildings.

A flicker in the sea below: she perked up, but it was only a silverfish. The yellow beam of a flashlight danced over the waves. Temesghen dove to the ground, cursing herself for losing track of the time between patrols. The guards opened the windows above, searching for any illicit activity in the water, their torches passing over the windows of the lower level where she now hid, hoping she’d left no trace of her presence. A bloom of sweat drenched her chest under a loose tunic. Pushing down gurgling nausea, she leaned back against the gritty stone wall and crouched as still as possible. Wandering alone at night on the upper floors was considered trespassing, punishable by only a few months malnutrition and some light torture in the barracks, but those who went down to the forbidden lower floors were often never seen again. Her elderly parents were hard of hearing; she was able to sneak out without disturbing them. As long as she wasn’t caught by the patrols now, no one would ever find out about her desperate desires. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 771: Wapnintu’tijig They Sang Until Dawn

Show Notes

Rated PG


Wapnintu’tijig: They Sang Until Dawn

By Tiffany Morris

 

In the time of fever, the marks of the animals changed. Waterbirds shone with new radiance: a bright blue iridescence clung to their feathers, glimmering, soaked with the sacred oil of daylight. Their language changed along with their plumage: the chirrup chirrup from their open beaks had transformed into a lilting sort of caw. A shiver jolted through Pi’tawgowi’sgw. As she worked her way through the swamp, she discovered that the world, her world, was newly alive with alien tongues, each one bellowed with an odd sense of certainty. It was as if the creatures’ mouths had always known these sounds, that these new sounds belonged to them entirely. Each odd caw and chirp formed the words that the creatures had been born to speak. The nighthawks, for their part, now screeched owllike into darkening sky, swooping and diving over the water in search of the tiny silver fish they so loved to devour.

It took special eyes to see the full radiance of the swamp. In weaker times she’d thought of it as her swamp, but Pi’tawgowi’sgw knew it was a place too ancient and vast to belong to her, or to anyone; rather, she belonged to it, sprouted up from the water the way the humans had the land. She had heard it said in their tongue: Weji-sqalia’timk, literally, the place they sprouted up from. She’d watched the one with silver hair threaded together tell this to the small ones gathered around the edge of the water, their eager faces murmuring words she did not know. She belonged in the deep stillness of the water. The many creatures in the water with her were not like her. The humans were, at least, sort of like her — more than the fish that shared the water, anyway. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 770: The Dragon Killer’s Daughter


The Dragon Killer’s Daughter

by MacKenzie R. Snead

 

Gayamiza was no stranger to pilgrims, but these two were not welcome — an old man and his daughter, foreignness sewn into their clothes, engraved in the blades they carried. The city let them in, as it did all acolytes, but as if swallowing food it was not accustomed to and ’didn’t particularly like. It coughed and gagged, people on the streets looking the other way, mothers ushering their young indoors. There was something about this pair the city didn’t trust, something more than the peculiarity of the father’s beard and the daughter’s burning hair. Any village fool could tell that they carried misdeeds in their pockets, that their pilgrimage was dishonest.

The journey had taken months, and now the father was too tired to walk. His daughter pulled him down the narrow streets in a wooden cart, bumping across unfriendly cobblestones without so much as a stumble. The locals found her strength disquieting, staring from their windows as she pulled her father along like some aged product nobody would buy. Strength like that was not natural in a girl, and shouldn’t be encouraged.

The old man squinted through heavy eyelids at the shining buildings, stiffly adjusting himself atop the armor and longsword that served as his bedfellows in the cart. “Where are we?” he asked hoarsely.

“Gayamiza, Father,” his daughter panted, not turning around to look at him. “Don’’t you recognize it?”

“No,” he croaked after a moment. “I’ve never been here.”

She knew that wasn’t true. The countless times he’d ventured to this place when she was a child, only to return with bowed head to a home sunk deeper and deeper in disgrace and poverty. She tightened her grip on the handles of the cart and leaned forward with determination. Her father would know something other than shame before he died. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 769: In The Woods Somewhere (or Stories Never Leave)

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


In The Woods Somewhere (or Stories Never Leave)

by Victor Forna

 

Gods Slap Those Who Summon Them.

We shouldn’t have been there — but we were, hiding behind the kola-nut tree, peering into the silver night, parents worried over our empty beds back home, and that’s why we can tell you today, beside this fire, how the old god was summoned from underneath the earth. Pa Yamba, who had changed his name to Peter —

To Ruben.

Don’t interrupt me.

But we’re both telling the story.

Whatever. Pa Yamba, who had changed his name to Ruben, was the only one who opposed the invocation. “These things always go bad,” he said. Bai Masim, chief of traditions, gave Pa Yamba a reply: “We prayed to the god that those priests brought from their lands, we prayed to his son, we even used their shotguns. Has any of that helped us against these – these – what’s the word?” The catholic stayed quiet, blinking too many times. During his silence, we sighted Thara coming out of a nearby hut. Thara wasn’t even a —

You don’t know that. What does it even matter to the story? And, if she wasn’t a virgin, tell me, would her blood have accomplished the summoning? Tell what needs to be told, or I will take it from here.

You could never tell this story better than me. I only mentioned that so they’d understand why the god slapped Thara when he arose. Anyway, before all that, Thara walked naked, hugging herself to cover her breasts from the cold and the lustful eyes of the elders —

They didn’t look at her that way. Come on.

Whatever. The elders led Thara to a small, rectangular pit. Bai Masim showed her how she must stand over it: feet apart, and resting on the longer sides of the opening. Thara stood so for a while, then her blood, streaking down her legs, began dripping into the pit. One. Two. At the third drop, Bai Masim started chanting an uncanny tune, flinging his feet before him like a rabbit in want of freedom from a snare — (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 768: The Consequences of Microwaving Styrofoam

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


The Consequences of Microwaving Styrofoam

by Leah Ning

 

We meet when we’re sixteen, and the Spark pops bright orange between us the moment our eyes meet. I don’t want to be friends with her. She’s strange and aloof and unkind. But the Spark is the Spark, and everyone saw it, so soon I’m alone. No one else wants to be friends with her either, so they draw away from me by association.

Now she’s the only one who’ll share a lunch table with me. We sit as far apart as possible, me with my sandwich dripping jelly onto the plastic bag I’ve placed carefully beneath it and her loudly slurping microwaved tomato soup from its Styrofoam bowl. I think about telling her she shouldn’t microwave it and don’t. Maybe if it kills her I won’t have to bother with her or that fucking Spark.

It occurs to me that maybe I, too, am strange and aloof and unkind. It also occurs to me that maybe she’s not the reason no one wants to be friends with me.

I search for ways to get rid of the Spark in incognito browser tabs, rubbing at wrists that weren’t sore before we Sparked. Google just brings up dry Wikipedia pages on the first appearances of the Spark fifty-seven-point-five years ago and chirpy blog posts by Spark-bonded best friends for life who just can’t get enough of spending time together. I pretend to gag even though I’m alone in my room and it’s 2 a.m.

Yeah, my Spark was definitely an excuse for my “friends” to get away from me. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 767: TALES FROM THE VAULTS – The Ant King

Show Notes

Rated PG

 

This episode is a part of our Tales from the Vaults series, in which a member of PodCastle’s staff chooses a backlist episode to highlight and discuss. This week’s episode was chosen by audio producer Eric Valdes.

“The Ant King” originally aired as PodCastle 005.

 

 


The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale

by Benjamin Rosenbaum

Sheila split open and the air was filled with gumballs. Yellow gumballs. This was awful for Stan, just awful. He had loved Sheila for a long time, fought for her heart, believed in their love until finally she had come around. They were about to kiss for the first time and then this: yellow gumballs.

Stan went to a group to try to accept that Sheila was gone. It was a group for people whose unrequited love had ended in some kind of surrealist moment. There is a group for everything in California.

 

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PodCastle 766: Lockdown Around the Christmas Tree

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


Lockdown Around the Christmas Tree

by Heather Shaw & Tim Pratt

 

What a colossal crapstorm of a year, the third year of infinite garbage in a row, ever since the lockdowns started. The walls came down around Mischa in March 2020, and here they were, still standing, tall and impenetrable, for Christmas 2022.

Then the man in red showed up, and made his offer, and everything changed . . . but before you can understand all that, you need to understand how Mischa ended up alone for the holidays, when seemingly everyone else in the world was out kissing strangers under mistletoe and drinking from communal punch bowls and breathing unventilated indoor air with all their out-of-town relatives again.

Mischa had gotten a kidney transplant in January of 2020, donated by their cousin, which meant they were alive, so that was great, but they were also immunocompromised, which meant when everyone else decided to play pretend that the pandemic was over, Mischa didn’t have the option of joining the game. They had to keep living in reality.

And what a reality it was. It turned out Mischa’s partner didn’t like having a sick lover-slash-housemate-slash-best-friend who’d need help in recovery, so she bailed right before the surgery (and right around the holidays), meaning when the pandemic lockdowns started two months later, Mischa was living alone, taking immunosuppressants, and stewing in a constant broth of anxiety and fear and loneliness. Getting sick and dying alone had been abstract worries for the far future, but now they seemed like immediate possibilities. Mischa’s family lived thousands of miles away, and though their Mom offered to come out and help, Mischa could tell it would be a hardship for her, and lied and said they’d be fine. Then the plague hit, and Mischa was glad they’d declined. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 765: The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship – Part 2

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


The soundtrack featured in this story was composed by our audio engineer Eric Valdes


[Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part novelette. Visit our previous post to read Part 1.]

The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship

by Timothy Mudie

PART TWO

 

Portico. Threshold of the frontier. Jewel of the prairie. A town of graded roads and running water. At least, it had been in the nicer parts, where the rich folk lived, devising their schemes to fleece the desperate men and women passing through on their way to make a living on the frontier. A living that would become much harder once they were taken for whatever meager belongings they had. And no one batted an eye at that. But try turning it around and conning the rich for once, and suddenly you’ve gone too far and get declared persona non grata. Fair play, Al has learned, to his unending chagrin, is not a virtue held by the city mothers and fathers of Portico. His own father least of all.

On the way to town, Al tried to disguise himself with what sparse implements he could lay hands on. With the same knife he uses to play-battle Snake, he lopped off hunks of hair and crudely fashioned them into a push-broom mustache that he affixed to his upper lip with pine sap and prayer. He considered trying for a full beard but couldn’t commit to shearing off all the hair on his head. His hairline has been receding for years; no need to encourage it into a full retreat.

He is supposed to wait his customary one and a half days after Snake begins menacing the town — snatching livestock, hissing and snapping threateningly at passing stagecoaches, the old standbys — but Al’s impatience gets the better of him. This isn’t some newly erected settlement; the people of Portico will fight back, and hard. Despite Al’s warnings, Snake doesn’t truly savvy what she’s in for: doesn’t realize that this town may well outmatch them both.

Al rides into town at full speed, wagon clattering along the uneven dirt until he gets close enough that suddenly the road is graded and even and the wheels fairly slide along it. Snake is nowhere to be seen, hopefully hiding somewhere, biding her time between attacks, ensuring she is seen by enough people to cause panic but not so many as to put her in immediate danger. It’s a dangerous balancing act, their game. The trick to getting people to drink the snake oil is convincing them to fear the snake but trust the salesman. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 764: The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship – Part 1

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


The soundtrack featured in this story was composed by our audio engineer Eric Valdes

 


The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship

by Timothy Mudie

 

Aloysius P. McNutt arrives in town one-and-a-half days after the snake, as per usual. Earlier would be too suspicious, and later risks that the settlers will have attacked the snake themselves, which simply won’t do. Aloysius needs to sell the snake oil to them, which he can’t lay claim to unless he slays the snake himself.

He grins lopsidedly as he sidles into the saloon. “Hear you got yourselves a snake problem.” In these settlements out in the territories, the heart of the community tends toward the saloon or the church, and Al has made a quick presumption that these aren’t a particularly churchly folk.

Rough men and a lesser number of equally rough women line the bar and circle the tables. Clusters of prospectors and farmers sip brandy and rye and harsher libations. All lift their heads in Al’s direction when he pushes through the doors and declaims his customary opening. None respond.

Al is wondering if maybe he should have tried the church after all when a man in a beaten hat wearily pushes himself from the bar. Maybe twice Al’s twenty-nine years, with eyes half again as old, this is a man who’s lived more than most. Despite the drink and the day’s problems weighing on him, the man carries himself with the posture of a lawman. This is Al’s mark. He strides across the room, ignoring the following eyes, and extends his hand in the man’s direction.

“I know a sheriff when I see one,” he says. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir. Aloysius P. McNutt, at your service. But I recommend you call me Al. All my friends do, and I’ve a premonition that we’re to be fast friends, you and I.” (Continue Reading…)