2021 was quite the year here at the Flying Castle. We published fifteen original stories and thirty-one new reprints; we were nominated for Hugo, British Fantasy, Ignyte, and Aurora awards; and we bid farewell to former Co-Editors Jen R. Albert and Cherae Clark, as well as to Assistant Editor and Host Summer Fletcher at the end of the year. Shingai Njeri Kagunda and Eleanor R. Wood took over as Co-Editors, and we’re starting 2022 with a whole new masthead, gazing at the glorious horizons before us, and deeply excited about all the wonderful stories we’re planning to bring you this year.
by Chip Houser
Aiden rests his chin on the back of the living room couch, watching his older brother mow down zombies in ZomPlex. The zombies grab at Zach’s avatar, mouths moving like they’re chewing. Aiden’s not sure if they’re supposed to be hungry or angry or both. Their facial expressions don’t match any of the cards from the game he plays on Tuesdays with Ms. Hampton. Zombies don’t make a lot of sense to Aiden, but that’s okay, lots of things don’t make sense to him, he’s barely seven.
Aiden taps Zach on the shoulder. “You said you’d take me to the pool.”
“Busy here.” Zach jerks the controller.
They’ve gone to the pool almost every day this summer. Aiden even jumped off the high dive with Zach a few times. Aiden loves that feeling in his stomach more than anything. But the past couple of days, Zach hasn’t wanted to do anything except kill zombies.
Memoirs of a Magic Mirror
by Julia Knowles
It started when three magicians, two fairies, a couple of wizards, a witch, and one very drunken sage decided it was a good idea to give consciousness to a mirror that had to answer any question truthfully. Personally, I blame the alcohol.
The sage ended up keeping me. Maybe the others had worked out that something that can only speak the truth and is compelled to answer every question it hears might not be the best house guest. All things considered, the sage coped with my presence admirably. Perhaps he liked having someone who could also ramble about the metaphysical considerations inherent in being an insignificant speck in a vast and uncaring world from time to time.
It wasn’t so bad. Even if it was only one person, with the sage I always had company. After he died I was forgotten in storage for a few decades before one of his descendants sold me off. From there I was passed between the wealthy and privileged — who had varying levels of interest in the knowledge I offered — for generations.
But I suppose the long lineage of my possession isn’t terribly relevant to this tale. Suffice to say that eventually an ageing duke saw fit to pass me on to his great-niece as a wedding present. Which, with the benefit of hindsight, was a stellar example of the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
by Nicole D. Sconiers
I was eight years old when I realized that I never saw my mother sitting. Ever. Or lying in bed or immersed beneath a blanket of suds in our old clawfoot bathtub. She was always upright. Afternoons would find her in the kitchen, tending something on the stove or wiping down counters with a dish rag. This is how I remember her: thick black hair spilling over broad shoulders and sturdy legs clad in a print skirt and drugstore stockings. She loved to cook, to bring a steaming and pungent plate of collard greens to the table, to serve my sister Trina and me a slice of her famous orange pound cake. Even though she was on her feet all day mixing batter at Xavier’s Donuts, the sound of a metal spoon clanking against a pot usually met me and Trina when we came home from school.
It is cold, twilight on the cusp of true night, and they have sent you down to kill a monster. The uncut gems of frost crunch underneath your feet.
The dark lord’s castle is onyx and steel, and it is beautiful. It is a fortress that lurches out over the cliff face like a three-fingered hand jutting into the sky. It resonates and sings to you, drawing you forward. The windows are frosted glass and obscure what lurks behind.
There are guards by the jagged portcullis, but they step aside as we pass. They know the duty we have been sent here to do. They cannot change the prophecy. You grip my handle tighter and wonder what the guards fear more — you, or your destiny. I, linked to your thoughts by the bond we share, suggest that they are one and the same.
If I wasn’t me, you ask silently, do you think the guards would try and fight for their monster? Do you think that they would die for him?
People always die for dark lords, willingly or not, I say. That is their purpose. We have ours.
Purpose. Destiny. You shake your head and stride in to meet yours.
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, our final episode of the year, was chosen by our departing assistant editor and host, Summer Fletcher. “Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes on the Day I Graduated High School” originally aired as PodCastle 336.
Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes on the Day I Graduated High School
by Nathaniel Lee
When I came out of the coffee shop with my latte and my fresh walnut
brownie, the Archangel Michael was beating the ever-loving shit out of
Satan down on the corner. I could see the impact crater, right in the
middle of the intersection, and one of the poles holding up the
traffic lights was cut right in two so the wires had all fallen in the
street and also it was on fire on account of the flaming sword, so it
was a real mess. All higgledy-piggledy. Michael was holding Satan up
by the neck with one hand and just slapping him across the face with
the other. Which also by the way was still holding the sword, so it
wasn’t so much like slapping as it was punching with brass knuckles.
Also it was still on fire.
People were honking, but only the ones far enough back that they
couldn’t see what was going on. Everyone else was kind of looking the
other way. Fiddling with their cell phones. Avoiding eye contact.
You know, like you do around angels.
I figured it was time.
“Hey,” I said. Michael turned. I lifted the hand with the coffee in
it and pointed at Satan, who was pretty beat up by then. Missing some
teeth and all bruises and stuff. “Not cool,” I told Michael.
The angel looked down at me with his bronze wings all clanging in the
wind. Then he snorted and tossed Satan to the ground and just took
off. I stumbled a little and nearly spilled my coffee. Angels got
By then Satan was staggering upright. “You okay, dude?” I asked him.
“Could’ve taken him,” Satan said. He spat out a tooth and flared his
nostrils. “Didn’t need your help.”
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 associate editor Srikripa Krishna Prasad. “Nightfall in the Scent Garden” originally aired as PodCastle 271.
Nightfall in the Scent Garden
by Claire Humphrey
If you read this, you’ll tell me what grew over the arbor was ivy, not wisteria. If you are in a forgiving mood, you’ll open the envelope, and you’ll remind me how your father’s van broke down and we were late back. How we sat drinking iced tea while the radiator steamed.
You might dig out that picture, the one with the two of us sitting on the willow stump, and point out how small we were, how pudgy, how like any other pair of schoolgirls. How our ill-cut hair straggled over the shoulders of our flannel shirts.
You’ll remind me of the stories we used to tell each other. We spent hours embroidering them, improving on each other’s inventions. We built palaces and peopled them with dynasties, you’ll say, and we made ourselves emperors in every one, and every one was false.
If you read this, you’ll call your mother, or mine. They’ll confirm what you recall.
By then, though, you will begin to disbelieve it yourself.
If you think on it long enough, you’ll recall the kiss. I left it there untouched, the single thread you could pull to unravel this whole tapestry.
You’ll start to understand none of these things happened the way you remember. If you read this, you’ll learn how I betrayed you.
Candy Canes, Comics, and Christmas
by Gary McKay
I met Marlene atop Lily Hill on December 17th 1983, two weeks after my tenth birthday. The news of the Harrods bombing — the IRA’s crime against Christmas — was all the talk in Ballykey that afternoon, but I was too young to understand. I’d popped out to get some sweets and on a whim, decided to climb Lily Hill while the weather wasn’t awful. This was one of my favourite places to read superhero comics in peace — at home, Ma told me I was filling my head with nonsense and at school, both the boys and girls teased me. It’s grown in popularity in recent years as a tourist destination, but back then, not many people came to Lily Hill, which suited me just fine.
I didn’t realise someone was already there until I rounded the final bend of the hill. It was a girl with short, blonde hair, dressed in a jumper and skirt. A necklace with a series of stars on it hung from her neck. I paused and considered retreating, but she’d seen me. The girl waved and skipped over before I could move.
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. Today’s bonus episode was chosen by associate editor Kaitlyn Zivanovich. “Thorns” originally aired as PodCastle 279.
by Martha Wells
We reached the landing above the Hall. Below, Electra’s husband, Mr. John Dearing, was personally receiving a guest, a young man in the act of handing his greatcoat to the butler.
There were no guests expected, and just before the dinner hour is not considered an appropriate time for casual calls, yet Dearing was greeting this presumptuous fellow as a prodigal son.
He was a striking figure. (The guest, I mean. Dearing is a stout bewhiskered muskrat of a man, a fit mate for Electra.) Blond curls, broad shoulders, a chiseled profile. I felt a feather of unease travel down my spine; old instincts rousing, perhaps. His garments, though somewhat the worse for travel at this rainy time of year, were of fashionable cut and fine cloth.
Frowning, Electra caught the attention of one of the footmen stationed at the bottom of the stairs, and called him up to her to ask, “Why, William, whoever is that?”
“Madame, they say it’s a foreign Duke, the son of the King of Armantia.”
“I see,” Electra dismissed the man and looked to me, her mild dove eyes vaguely troubled. “Oh, dear. A prince.”
This episode was previously unrated by PodCastle staff.
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 our tech barbarian, Graeme Dunlop. “The Red Priest’s Vigil” originally aired as PodCastle 256.
The Red Priest’s Vigil
by Dirk Flinthart
I believe you are correct. Tomaso Dellaforte is the most dangerous man I have ever met.
I followed your instructions to the letter. Your information as to the whereabouts of the condottiere de Mortibus was accurate. It was with very little difficulty that I purchased the inn, and as a matter of goodwill, I was careful to retain all of the long-term tenants. De Mortibus lived in a room on the upper floor, and made a poor living as a teacher of weapons. I had expected more from the man who led the sack of Mallorze.
I allowed the passage of a month, in order to allay suspicion, before I began to administer the draft. Once again, I congratulate you on the accuracy of your information. Administered in wine, in precisely the proportions ordered, the poison produced in the man every symptom of a most terrible, wasting illness.
Though he had little money, to my alarm de Mortibus was afforded a chirurge by a patron: an old friend, I believe. I did not manage to ascertain who it may have been. In any case the chirurge professed himself puzzled, and bled the man profusely, to no avail. Indeed, I suspect his ministrations were responsible for a sharp decline in de Mortibus’ condition, and I was forced to reduce the proportion of the draft in the wine for a time. De Mortibus continued to fail.
Perhaps two months after I began this work upon him, de Mortibus confronted me in the kitchens. By this time he was much weakened, and could get about only with great effort. He had not been able to pursue his livelihood for some time, and had come to depend upon my charity, as I had planned. Therefore, something of trust and familiarity had grown between us, and I was not surprised when he sought me out alone.
“Take this, good Marotti,” he said to me, and pressed a sealed packet into my hand. “I beg you see it delivered to the hand of Konrad Heisenck, whose Free Company you will find in the city square this month. There is no other I may entrust with it, and I swear to you that it means more than my very life.” He forced the packet upon me, and even produced a gold coin which I made much play of refusing. I promised his letter would be delivered, and sent him to his bed with a stoup of hot wine.