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PodCastle 680: Ashwright

Show Notes

Rated PG-13, with a content warning for rituals for the dead, including children.


Ashwright

by Robert Luke Wilkins

 

The plains town still smouldered, its once-strong gates blackened and ruined, but the bandits were long gone. The townsfolk were gathering the bodies of the dead into a great heap, and though he had caught the smell on the air hours earlier, Moran still arrived in time to see them working.

It was easier if he arrived when they were finished.

One of the men threw an infant girl’s body onto the heap, and Moran turned away as he fought down old memories—it was neither the time nor the place. Today was about their grief.

He walked up to the gates, and waited to be invited in. The townsfolk who noticed him at first threw him strange looks, which came as no surprise. He was a tall man, with a warrior’s build—if he were carrying a sword, he could easily have been mistaken for a bandit himself.

But the muscle was as much a tool of his trade as any he carried, and the robes he wore were unmistakable. Unchanged in more than a century, their gray-trimmed white contrasted with his sun-darkened skin—but the silver that had crept into his brown hair matched them well enough. And beneath it, always hidden, he wore a necklace—a single length of thick black cord that held twenty-seven forged steel pendants.

His heavy pack held all he needed to practice his art. His shovel and long-handled sledgehammer were tied together across the top beneath a rolled blanket, and the mighty bronze hammer’s head leaned the entire pack a little sideways. A broad brass pestle and two copper pots were tied beneath with rough brown cord, and they clattered as he walked.

It never took people long to realize who he was—and today was no exception. The whispers grew, crept from mouth to ear, and soon enough the Town Elder came out to meet him.

“You’re Ashwright.”

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PodCastle 679: Pull

Show Notes

Rated PG-13 with a content warning for end of life care.


Pull

by Leah Ning

 

I could already feel her mind tugging at mine from upstairs, a warm, familiar pull that threatened to separate me from my body. Are you there? the pull seemed to ask. Are you coming back?

I took her bowl of oatmeal from the microwave and tested it with a finger. It had to be a little cooler than she liked now. She couldn’t blow on it herself anymore.

That tidal pull came again, stronger this time, and I had to close my eyes for a moment to fight it. She was harder to resist now than she ever was. For one thing, she never used to pull this hard. For another, her pull had become the only way she would talk. Words escaped her more often than not now.

When the pull abated, I shuffled up the stairs, dirty white slippers whispering on linoleum that hadn’t been swept in…I couldn’t remember how long.

“I’m here, Amy, I’m coming,” I said when I felt her latch on again. She didn’t let go, but the feeling of building strength faded.

She looked at me from against her mound of pillows, her grey eyes watery. Thin lips nestled in a cacophony of wrinkles I’d watched the hand of time etch across her face.

I sat on the edge of the bed. “Oatmeal.”

She made a face.

“Well, I snuck some maple syrup in there this time. How’s that?”

This delighted her as it did every morning. She let me spoon the oatmeal into her mouth and I chatted idly while she worked it across her tongue and swallowed it. My mouth poured sweetness into her ears while my spoon poured sweetness into her mouth.

When the food was gone, she closed her eyes, smiling.

I didn’t notice her strength gathering again until it was too late. I scrambled for a handhold in my mind. The warmth of her pull cradled me, loosening my hold on myself with gentle mental fingers until I gave in and let go.

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PodCastle 678: Once and Future

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.


Once and Future

Dan Micklethwaite

 

Early mornings, before the tourists show up, Gordon Barrow likes to lean against the hotel roof and watch the trains. There are two of them, each carriage as big as his size seven shoes, and they circle the village at a leisurely pace, with a gap of about nine or ten feet in between them. Today, nearing winter, steam wreathes the whole track, and the engines race onwards through each other’s ghost.

He takes out his hip-flask — with ‘Teesside’ engraved on it — and has a quick swig of the whisky it carries, telling himself it’s to keep out the chill.

He thinks of his father; looks at the church.

It’s one of many reminders of his childhood around here, in the stone of this village. Actual sandstone, dressed by actual masons, set down by school kids from his time and after. He’d personally laid many of the blocks in the hotel — formerly the manor house — which is why he often stands beside it. He feels sure that it will not collapse with his weight.

Some of the cars as well, they had been his. The older, tin-chassis ones. A Rolls Royce Silver Phantom that was the pride of his collection now rests by the door of the old village hall. A pair of Mini Coopers, one red and one blue, are parked half on the kerb a short way down the road. A rust-freckled E-type on a cul-de-sac driveway, with a figurine placed by the passenger door, to cover the void where it should have a wheel. An old cream and brown bus by the solitary stop; never driving its appointed route, but then never late either.

Timing is important.

Gordon keeps track of everything, due-dates for bills, for bank statements, electricity readings, in a series of pads on the desk by his bed.

Routine is important.

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PodCastle 677: Our Roots Devour

Show Notes

Rated PG-13 for violence, including child abuse.


Our Roots Devour

by Lora Gray

Momma always told us the Tree ain’t got a taste for our family’s blood. But it’s hard to keep my heart from hammering when I lay that blackbird, swaddled like a baby in one of Momma’s old blouses, against its roots. The Tree’s face is pinched and lurksome in the afternoon light. And those roots? They crawl out the river like spider legs, knots and whorls winking at me like we got secrets between us.

Maybe we do.

But I don’t rightly know how to share them, I don’t know how to Sing to that Tree. Hannah’s the one who got Momma’s voice, not me. 

I try not to think about what that blackbird’ll look like all chewed up and wrung round the Tree’s branches like an old dish towel when I run back up the gully and through the woods. I think about my momma, even though she’s dead and gone under the earth. And I think about Hannah in the cellar where Aunt Marylou put her, tied up and gagged, all her magic silent.

I run faster.

I only stop when I reach the edge of the woods, my side stitching, my bare arms sweaty and bramble scratched. There, across the tangle of grass that used to be our tomato garden, is Aunt Marylou’s house, that shack with the old barn leaning against it, rotted planks slumped on busted gutters. The hayloft window gapes like it’s surprised to see me there, crouched in the chicory.

One of these days that barn’s gonna fall right over and smash Aunt Marylou’s shack. Maybe Aunt Marylou’ll be there when it happens, sitting like she is now on her back porch in that rocking chair of hers. There’s a half-gone jar of hooch in her hand. It’s the strong stuff she trades Pickle Nelson for, and the turpentine stink pulls tears out the corners of my eyes when the wind shifts. She takes a drink. The hooch sloshes. The jar clinks.

There’s an axe in Aunt Marylou’s lap, the handle long, the blade shining, and she touches it. She prays. “Show me what You want me to do,” she says over and over again. “Show me what You want me to do.”

Closing her eyes, she lights her cigarette.

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