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PodCastle 780: The Captive River

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

The Captive River

By C.T. Muchemwa


It was Siba’s eighteenth birthday, but instead of having a party to celebrate, she was standing by the Zambezi River in a thin, white, cotton slip, shivering despite the hot October sun. It was Commitment Day, the day she would be given to Nyami Nyami, the River God, to be his concubine.

Nearby stood four Basilwizi singing a doleful song, their voices shrill in the still, stifling air. The women looked sinister in their long white robes and headscarves. Around their necks, they wore wooden statues of Nyami Nyami, the signs that they were the chief servants of the River God. Basilwizi oversaw all religious ceremonies of the BaTonga people, including today’s. Every year, in the peak of the dry season, they took a girl to the River God’s lair to appease him before the rainy season. They had done so since the dam wall was completed in 1957, separating Nyami Nyami from his wife, Mweembe; if they didn’t, Nyami Nyami would abduct girls. It was better to sacrifice them willingly than to have the people of Kariba investigating their disappearance. This was the fate that life had given Siba when she was named one of the Chosen as a baby, to die after serving as Nyami Nyami’s concubine.

But the bold will find a way to subvert their fate. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 779: TALES FROM THE VAULTS – Black Feather

Show Notes

Rated PG


“Black Feather” originally aired as PodCastle 123 

Black Feather

by K. Tempest Bradford

Exactly one year before she saw the raven, Brenna began to dream of flying.  Sometimes she was in a plane, sometimes she was in a bird, sometimes she was just herself–surrounded by sky, clouds, and too-thin-to-breathe air.  In the dark, in the light, over cities and oceans and fields, she flew.  Every night for a year.

Then, on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, the dreams changed.  They ended with a crash and fire and the feeling of falling.  Most nights she almost didn’t wake up in time.

Exactly one year from the night the dreams began, Brenna struggled out of sleep, the phantom smell of burning metal still in her nose.  She reached out for Scott–he was not there.  He was never there.  He had never been there.  She fell back onto her pillows and groaned.

Another dream of flying, another reaching out for Scott; she wished she could stop doing both.

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PodCastle 778: A Thousand Echoes in One Voice

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

A Thousand Echoes in One Voice

by Deborah L. Davitt


You’ve snuck through doors that should have been locked to get here. Here, the subway station is silent, the kind of silence that comes deep underground, isolated from the hum of the human hive overhead. No electric lights. No neon. No vibrations. No voices. Not even a breath of moving air.

You’ve been in many such stations before; you’re ready, prepared. Heavy backpack of gear digging into your shoulders. Fingerless gloves, a frayed duster, steel-toed boots, the tread of which echoes back dully from the walls.

Sunlight streams in through skylights overhead, leaded panes set in loops and whorls like fleur-de-lis. The gold of the ancient brickwork warms to your touch, and the tunnel curves off into the distance like the spine of a living creature.

But the tracks lead into darkness. They always do, except when you’re on the trains.

You dig out the map you’ve been working on. As frayed around the edges as your duster. As your sanity sometimes feels. You check the red line against the violet one. Past and future, twining around each other. Check it against the faded map on the wall. The actual metro line map wouldn’t have been a help, but others have been through here. Others like you. They’ve left paint on the map, sketching in the track lines that they’ve mapped. Some of them tally with your own. Others trail off towards destinations that might not even exist. Some trackers are like that — they set up false trails. Give false information, to keep others away from what they’ve really found. You’ve done it yourself, once or twice.

And of course, some destinations that used to exist, don’t anymore. It’s the way things are.

This station’s been unused for decades, or so it seems. It’s a piece of the past, locked down forever. You can’t see signs of anything more recent than 1955. No debris, no crumpled beds of old newspapers used by rats or bums.

The few homeless that have broken past the locked access doors never make it far into the system. It’s from one of them that you first heard about the abandoned tunnels. You remember it as if it were yesterday, and in a real way, it was — a yesterday that’s lasted a thousand years. Wild, disordered hair, concealing the face beneath a nondescript hat. A checked shirt, probably picked up at a Goodwill, or from an unmonitored donation bin — you’ve worn the same, many times. An overcoat so weathered its original color had faded to gray, swallowing the figure. The clothes, the miasma of homelessness, erasing, effacing, all signs of identity.

But tight fingers caught your wrist. “You’d best be careful which stations you get off at, down there. Set a step wrong, and you’ll find yourself far from home.” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 777: TALES FROM THE VAULTS – Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

“Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree” originally aired as PodCastle 523 .

Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree

By Nibedita Sen

The moment I swallowed the pret, I knew I should have taken my grandmother’s advice. Never yawn under a banyan tree, she used to warn me. A ghost might jump down your throat. Well touché, grandma. I’m sure you’re shaking your head at me in heaven, but consider this: Was it really fair to expect me to believe not just that ghosts were real — and lived in banyan trees — but that they liked to cannonball down people’s throats? (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 776: A Girl is Blood, Spirit, and Fire

Show Notes

Rated R

A Girl Is Blood, Spirit, and Fire

by Somto Ihezue


Scattering through the bushes, blades of elephant grass swaying high above her, Njika could see the Sanctuary etched into the mountainside — she only had to reach it. Across the shifting streams and the trees once men, she made it to the mountain’s foot, sweat glistening down her neck. Njika had ascended Nyirigango’s jagged terrain a dozen times, but nothing ever prepared her for the cold. It seeped into her bones, and the bison skin draped over her body could sparsely keep it out. Her breath forming plumes of white steam, up and up she went towards the Sanctuary walls as hornets of crystal ice stung her face. Stealing in through a window, she latched it shut else the cold whirled in behind her and put out the torches lining the aisles. The sensation in her toes returned, and Njika ran. Past the great pillars ensnarled by blooming vines that crept to the ceiling, down a flight of stairs, and into the archway of songs, its balconies overrun by hibiscus tendrils. Despite the cold outside, the Sanctuary of Nné Riliùgwū, They Who Drowned Seas, was as something alive, like September’s rains had poured right in.

Getting to the Hall of Faith, Njika skidded to a stop. She stifled a sneeze. The daisies sprouting on the marble sculptures always did that to her. At the hall’s centre, her spirit-sisters skirted a fire. She was late, again. An elder priestess waded around the girls — her hair locs of smoke reaching for the stone floor.

“To receive is to — ” Né Olude, the priestess, paused, as Njika inched towards the other girls. “Where have you been?” she asked, her tone suggesting irritation but not surprise.

“Milking the goats, Né.” Squeezing between Dubem and Amina, Njika sat and crossed her legs in meditation. “The stores ran dry this morning.”

Né Olude’s gaze stayed on her, and Njika shifted where she sat. She straightened her hair, composed herself, tiny white flakes showering down her face. Mountain frost. To all the spirits, Njika prayed the elder woman’s eyesight was as bad as they said. Initiates were forbidden from leaving the Sanctuary without a priestess. Orphaned like the other girls, if she got expelled, she’d have nowhere to go. She probably should have thought of that before traipsing down the mountain to go splash in the warm springs with the village children.

“ … to receive is to give.” Né Olude peeled her eyes off Njika, resuming her lecture.

“Né, what must we give?” Dubem asked, keen as ever.

“Everything, sweet child.” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 775: “The Morthouse”

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

The Morthouse

by Maria Haskins


In her forty-two years on God’s wide Earth, Gerda has read no books other than The Bible and Luther’s Small Catechism, but once, after Sunday service, she heard the sexton say that there are places where the dead traverse a river after death, paying a boatsman to ferry them across the water. Gerda knows such a thing must be either blasphemy or fable, and she knows for certain the dead will find no passage here, not this far north in Sweden, not in January when both the creek and inlet by the village lie frozen, the murky, brackish waters of the Gulf of Bothnia slumbering below windswept ice.

Here, in winter, the dead go nowhere at all, not even into the ground. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 774: Yung Lich and the Dance of Death

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

Yung Lich and the Dance of Death

By Alex Fox


My Christian name was Thomas Kanfor but ever since that bastard wizard rose me from the grave I go by Yung Lich. On that moonless night he spoke some words from a tattered grimoire over my naked, somewhat-recently-dead corpse and voila, here I am. He called me a “Young Lich”. When you’re newly risen you don’t remember much else (other than the maggots), so I took that as my new name. I changed “Young” to “Yung” because I think it reads a bit fresher, and when you’re trying to break into the hip-hop scene, you gotta be fresh (though my body is not).

People can’t tell I’m dead unless I remove the mask. They think it’s part of my act. I stand outside of Times Square with my whole getup — long, black, hooded cloak, a ghastly off-brand Scream mask, an old gnarled branch. I lean and spookily sway and try to hand out my mixtapes. I mean, shoot. If there’s one cool thing about being given a second chance it’s that you know what’s important and what’s not. I never had the gall to pursue a career in music while living. Nah. Wouldn’t pay the bills, wouldn’t make my mom proud. But now? I’m free to be me . . .

“Want my mixtape?” I wheeze in my dry-as-sawdust voice to a small group waiting for the crosswalk. I extend a robed arm, a white CD in my hand. Across the front is the Sharpie-scrawled label Yung Lich — The Dance of Death. They hardly look my way, and don’t seem to appreciate my pestering.

A man shoves my arm aside and fingers an earbud out of his ear. “Ain’t no one got CD players anymore, pal. Try Soundcloud.”

The crosswalk changes and the folk quickly scramble across the street. My arm falls, dejected. Even though in this “life” I can pursue my true interests, that doesn’t mean anyone is interested in what I have to say. Been standing here for weeks on end and only four people have taken my mixtape, and I think only to be nice, as I saw two of them toss the CDs in the garbage once they crossed.

And what that man said rings true: not that many people have CD players these days. Guess I’m slow to accept change, but I know I need to adapt if I want to get my music out there. I’ve got an old laptop. I can look into Soundcloud — it’s something to go on, at least.

I gather my things and hobble to the Corner Café. They know me there. They let me use the Wi-Fi even though I never buy coffee. I don’t need to eat or drink much, or at all, really — tends to leak out of my swiss-cheesed stomach.

A few people idle in the café, and they look up as I open the glass door, a small bell tinkering to announce my arrival. I keep my head down, my hands well within my long sleeves, even as I hold the obnoxiously tall wooden staff. The staff double-bangs the bell as I amble through, loud as a cymbal crash, and I shrink into myself.

“Sorry, sorry,” I mutter. Wooden chairs creak as the patrons turn to watch me, this weirdo in the horror getup. I try not to pay attention to them. I mosey on to my usual corner, sit, and pull out my laptop. Soon I’m forgotten, like all the other freaks of the city.

On my laptop screen glows a text file with the lyrics of my finest work, “The Dance of Death.” I read it once, twice. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 773: Housing Problem

Show Notes

Rated PG

Housing Problem

by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner


Jacqueline said it was a canary, but I contended that there were a couple of lovebirds in the covered cage. One canary could never make that much fuss. Besides, I liked to think of crusty old Mr. Henchard keeping lovebirds; it was so completely inappropriate. But whatever our roomer kept in that cage by his window, he shielded it — or them — jealously from prying eyes. All we had to go by were the noises.

And they weren’t too simple to figure out. From under the cretonne cloth came shufflings, rustlings, occasional faint and inexplicable pops, and once or twice a tiny thump that made the whole hidden cage shake on its redwood pedestal-stand. Mr. Henchard must have known that we were curious. But all he said when Jackie remarked that birds were nice to have around, was “Claptrap! Leave that cage alone, d’ya hear?”

That made us a little mad. We’re not snoopers, and after that brush-off, we coldly refused to even look at the shrouded cretonne shape. We didn’t want to lose Mr. Henchard, either. Roomers were surprisingly hard to get. Our little house was on the coast highway; the town was a couple of dozen homes, a grocery, a liquor store, the post office, and Terry’s restaurant. That was about all. Every morning Jackie and I hopped the bus and rode in to the factory, an hour away. By the time we got home, we were pretty tired. We couldn’t get any household help — war jobs paid a lot better — so we both pitched in and cleaned. As for cooking, we were Terry’s best customers.

The wages were good, but before the war we’d run up too many debts, so we needed extra dough.

And that’s why we rented a room to Mr. Henchard. Off the beaten track with transportation difficult, and with the coast dimout every night, it wasn’t too easy to get a roomer. Mr. Henchard looked like a natural. He was, we figured, too old to get into mischief.

One day he wandered in, paid a deposit; presently he showed up with a huge Gladstone and a square canvas grip with leather handles. He was a creaking little old man with a bristling tonsure of stiff hair and a face like Popeye’s father, only more human. He wasn’t sour; he was just crusty. I had a feeling he’d spent most of his life in furnished rooms, minding his own business and puffing innumerable cigarettes through a long black holder. But he wasn’t one of those lonely old men you could safely feel sorry for— far from it! He wasn’t poor and he was completely self-sufficient. We loved him. I called him grandpa once, in an outburst of affection, and my skin blistered at the resultant remarks.

Some people are born under lucky stars. Mr. Henchard was like that. He was always finding money in the street. The few times we shot craps or played poker, he made passes and held straights without even trying. No question of sharp dealing — he was just lucky.

(Continue Reading…)

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…)