Archive for 2020

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PodCastle 659: My Country is a Ghost

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.


My Country is a Ghost

By Eugenia Triantafyllou

When Niovi tried to smuggle her mother’s ghost into the new country, she found herself being passed from one security officer to another, detailing her mother’s place and date of death over and over again.

“Are you carrying a ghost with you, ma’am?” asked the woman in the security vest. Her nametag read Stella. Her lips were pressed in a tight line as she pointed at the ghost during the screening, tucked inside a necklace. She took away Niovi’s necklace and left only her phone.

“If she didn’t die here, I am afraid she cannot follow you,” the woman said. Her voice was even, a sign she had done this many times before. Niovi resented the woman at that moment. She still had a ghost waiting for her to come home, comforting her when she felt sad, giving advice when needed. But she was still taking Niovi’s ghost away.

Stella paused. She gave Niovi a moment to think, to decide. She could turn around and go back to her home taking the necklace with her. Back to her unemployment benefits and a future she could no longer bring herself to imagine, or she could move down the long stretch of aisles, past the dimming lights and into the night, alone, her mother’s ghost left behind—where do ghosts return to in times like this? Niovi would be a new person in a new country, wiped clean of her past.

Foreign ghosts were considered unnecessary. The only things they had to offer were stories and memories.

Niovi had prepared herself for this, and yet she had hoped she wouldn’t have to leave her mother behind. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 658: The Cursed Noel

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.


The Cursed Noel

By Tim Pratt & Heather Shaw

It was supposed to be a Very Zoom Christmas, but the internet went out on Christmas Eve, and out here, it usually took a couple of days to get going again. Travis didn’t expect things to happen any faster during the holiday. He could get a bar on his cell phone if he stood in the right spot in the cabin, but that wasn’t enough for a video call. He could always drive into town tomorrow where the service was better, but sitting in some parking lot in the cold, looking at the thumbprint-sized faces of his mother and sisters and cousins on his phone, all broadcasting from their own places of pandemic isolation, didn’t exactly sound festive.

Travis went to the window in the kitchen and looked out at the whitened evergreens. Loneliness settled onto him, like the weight of all that snow on those branches. The smell of his morning coffee was already dissipating in the chill air. The original plan, back when everyone thought the pandemic would surely be under control by the end of the year, was to fly to Chicago for the traditional giant gathering, but the Midwest was even more ravaged by the virus than everywhere else. So he was staying here instead, wintering for the first time in the cabin in the North Carolina mountains he’d inherited from his grandfather, and only used as a summer place before. The isolation hadn’t bothered him much so far, but like the snow in the song, the pandemic didn’t show signs of stopping, and it had all become a bit wearying. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 657: White As Soap

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


White as Soap

By Teresa Milbrodt

I’m not sure what to think when the people from the soap company call and ask about filming a commercial at my unicorn ranch.  They want to feature unicorns wild and free and running across the open prairie and all that other romantic shit.

“Unicorns have a great universal appeal,” says the director.  “They’re mythic and romantic.  That’s the sort of thing that will sell soap.”

“Oh,” I say because I sell unicorns and not soap.  After raising unicorns for twenty years I’ve learned that there is nothing romantic about them.  I also have a vague notion that doing a commercial could be classified as selling out, but I’ve also been told that the kind of people who talk about “selling out” are the kind of people who can’t sell anything.  What matters is if you can live with yourself in the morning.

I’m not worried about being able to live with myself, as my primary morning concern is if the unicorns will get fed, not only on that morning but on subsequent mornings.  People aren’t buying unicorns like they used to.  They’re considered a luxury item, even though I argue strongly against that idea.  Most people overlook the practical uses of unicorns as work animals–a unicorn is no more expensive than a good horse, and just as strong.  Unicorns owners and breeders simply have to be aware of unicorn biology and certain medical concerns like horn rot.  But I digress.

In the end it comes down to having more food for the blessing versus less food for the blessing, so I say yes.  The director says she and a camera crew will be out in two weeks.  She doesn’t sound pleased when I tell her that the nearest airport is four hours away, but this is Wyoming so what do you expect?

I say she and her crew should schedule three days to be around before they start shooting. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 656: What My Flies Keep for Me

Show Notes

Rated R.


What My Flies Keep For Me

By Shaoni C. White

There’s a dead body on the floor. This is a bad thing. I’m having trouble recalling why that’s the case, but I’m sure it’ll come back to me soon. I fastidiously clean the blade of the knife on the shirt that the body is wearing, because the knife is my brother’s and it’s rude to return things you’ve borrowed in poor condition. That’s what the flies resting on the curve of my ear are telling me. They’re very helpful, although I dearly miss their compatriots. The world is jagged and confusing without them. I look around and see dozens of things that don’t seem quite right, and I can recall the shape of the insect voices that ordinarily remind me why they’re wrong, but I can’t summon up the words they would use to explain it.

Unsure where to put the knife, I carry it loosely in my hand as I step carefully over the puddled blood. “Cleanliness is essential,” hums a fly as it takes off and orbits my head. “It’s important to keep shared living spaces clean and tidy so as not to inconvenience the people you live with.”

Another fly agrees. “It’s bad to inconvenience people.”

“Can you help me figure out what to do next?” I ask, but the flies just hum their murmured endorsements of cleanliness and consideration. “Should I clean up the mess?”

Yes,” buzzes one. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 655: Mariska and Major

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.


Mariska and Major

By Damini Kane

Mariska is not an Indian name. I think that’s what caught my attention. She looked Indian enough, but there was something otherly about her, as though she spent too much time reliving childhood fantasies in her head. Still, she was nice, and we were neighbours, so we became friends.

She was the newest addition to our town. You wouldn’t know where I grew up; it doesn’t exist anymore. The people who lived there have moved on, their children based in expensive countries with jobs like Doctor and Lawyer and Techxpert. Our town was on a mountain. It snowed in the winters and burned in the summers. The little houses there were like grit in a nail bed, clinging to nooks and crevices in the rock, held together by a thread of a road. Sometimes, a bus would come to take us downhill, but we rarely ever boarded it. I believe my town might have been the last idyll in India, my country now full of choking cities. Today there’s a shopping mall over my home. The mountain was blown to pieces and in the winter, it is ash, not snow, that falls from the sky.

But this is not about any of that. Those are big things, Development, Environment, The Passage of Time. God knows I’m too small for such big things. This story can fit inside a coin purse. You could spend it at the corner store. You might drop it on the street and not even notice. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 654: 8-Bit Free Will

Show Notes

Rated PG.


8-Bit Free Will

By John Wiswell

They exist, then don’t exist, then exist again. They are monsters where the game’s probability fields call for them, attached to every tile of the dungeon. They are invisible to the player, whether they are there or not, until combat. If they’re lucky, they’ll get the chance to die.

The player always gets to exist, has always existed, and may as well always exist. The Hollow Knight and HealBlob don’t exist again until the player starts struggling with the other enemies. Then the Hollow Knight and HealBlob are re-spawned, to die in battle and smooth out the difficulty curve. They don’t exist long enough to know they’re in love before the player strikes. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 653: Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?

Show Notes

Rated R.


Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?

By Matt Dovey

In a generational shift that some claim threatens the fabric of existence and the sanity of all humanity, surveys show that worship of the Elder Dark is at a record low for one particular group—millennials.

Bob Rawlins is worried. “When I was growing up in the 1950s, I made my obeisance before the Manifold Insanity every night, uttering the invocations to satiate the Watchers Just Beyond and keep them at bay for one day longer. But young people now aren’t prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.”

I remind him that human sacrifice was deemed unnecessary and illegal in 1985, and animal sacrifice in 2009.

“Well I don’t mean literally,” he says, though there’s a note of longing to his tone.

Bob is showing me round his inner sanctum, a converted basement given over to the worship and appeasement of the Unknowable Gods. He’s the Grand Dark Supplicant of his local chapter, and is continuing a long family tradition: men of his bloodline have been bound to the service of the Elder Dark since the days of the Pilgrims.

“Our ranks are already thin,” he says, resting a hand intimately on an idol of the Ten Thousand Staring Eyes. “I worry the world I’ll leave behind will be overrun by the gibbering horrors of the between spaces, ushering in a never-ending age of nightmares and insurmountable monstrosities. It breaks my heart to think of the Eight Palms golf course getting swallowed by a roiling pit of blackness. Hole five’s a real beauty.” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 652: Apple

Show Notes

Rated R.


Apple

By L. S. Johnson

Her Names

They were twelve, and between them they encompassed Dawn, Dusk, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Seed, Blossom, Harvest, Maiden, Mother, and Crone; that is to say, they were complete. Thus, when a thirteenth fairy emerged from the breath of sun upon earth they were to a one confused. None of them had expected another sister. They waited for some time — perhaps there would be more? For they had come in pairs and trios before, and Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter had practically exploded out of the same minute point of light. But no one else emerged for some time.

Finally, they looked to Dawn, who was eldest, and she looked at the new fairy and sighed. “What are you?” she asked plaintively.

The fairy didn’t know. She was fifteen minutes old and quite astonished at existing.

“We have to call her something,” Crone pointed out. (When her trio had emerged from the breath of the sun and were asked what they were, Maiden had said “beautiful,” Mother had rolled her eyes, and Crone had said “wiser than you.”)

The twelve fairies looked around, trying to think of what this one, singular fairy could be. Time slipped past, and they had other tasks to do, but still they could not think of a thing.

At last Dawn, who had been up for some time and wanted to nap, gestured to the nearest object. “We’ll call her Apple,” she declared, “until she figures out who she is.” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 651: At First Glance

Show Notes

Rated R for strong language.


At First Glance

By Shannon Peavey

On a narrow highway in western Texas, an old Ford pickup hurtles through a curve at eighty-five miles per hour. It slips a little on bald tires, but recovers and swings out to the straightaway, accelerating.

Two girls sit in the cab — one in the driver’s seat, one behind her in the back. The driver chews her lip until it bleeds. Her younger sister has a pair of dark glasses pushed up onto her forehead and her face pressed up to the glass until her nose squashes flat like a bulldog’s. She’s careful not to look up at her sister.

Somewhere behind them, there are posters with their names and faces, policemen canvassing neighborhoods. But they are miles, miles away.

“What the hell’s with all these armadillos,” Brynn says. “I mean, look at this road. It’s a goddamned slaughterhouse.”

Sam glances back in the rearview mirror. Just a quick look, and then back to the road. The air stings her split lip. “Get your greasy face off my windows.”

“You think they’d learn,” Brynn says, without peeling her face from the glass. “Isn’t there some sort of instinct? Species memory?”

“Their mamas didn’t teach ‘em right.”

“Maybe they think you’re gonna stop for them. Maybe they think you’re a merciful lady.”

“Nobody thinks that,” Sam says, and eases off the gas.

They don’t see any live armadillos for the rest of the drive. Only dead ones, splayed carelessly along the fog line. Sam’s mercy isn’t tested.

When they stop for gas, Brynn stays in the truck and drops her sunglasses back over her eyes. She stares at her knees and imagines the scene — the long-haul truckers in their cabs, maybe a family with kids on a road trip, harried mother telling them to be quiet while she fills up the car. Though really she can’t see a thing. The lenses of her glasses are smoked and neatly coated with black paint. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle Has Been Nominated for the British Fantasy Award!


The finalists for the 2020 British Fantasy Award have been announced, and PodCastle has been nominated in the Best Audio category!

The nominee list is bursting with incredible talent in every category, including our sister podcast PseudoPod, also in the Audio category, and Escape Artists owner and host extraordinaire Alasdair Stuart, who is nominated in the Non-Fiction category for his newsletter The Full Lid. We consider ourselves honored to appear alongside all of the incredible nominees and would like to extend their deep gratitude to PodCastle’s wonderful listeners, to the Escape Artists group of podcasts, and to the entire PodCastle team, past and present, who work tirelessly to bring you the best of fantasy fiction every week.

Sincerely,

Cherae Clark, Jen Albert, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Setsu Uzume, and Peter Adrian Behravesh