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PodCastle 728: The Fireman

Show Notes

Rated R


The Fireman

by Christoph Weber

 

I face the forested mountains, raise my hands like a conductor readying an orchestra, and point to my first section. A glow flickers to life in the inky darkness beneath a grove of trees. Arms of flame climb the bark and the canopy explodes, turning trees into torches, illuminating my canvas.

I sweep my hand from left to right and a mile-long slash appears like a knife wound in the mountains, bleeding fire. The flames crawl upslope. Not fast enough. A few twists of my wrists and I sculpt a stampede — orange bulls of fire, a few charging tigers, and one galloping zebra striped red and blue. I pause to appreciate the canvas come to life. It’s my best work.

And I’m just getting started. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 727: [NOWRUZ SPECIAL] “Two Siblings, Seven Fish”

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


Two Siblings, Seven Fish

by Rebecca Zahabi

 

Maybe this story started when Dad inherited the calabash; or maybe when my great-grandfather ran his thumb along its rugged surface, listening to the coins rattling within; or maybe even before then, when it was still green and growing, waiting to be plucked, carved and dried.

But for me, it started with an argument with my sister, Shadi. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 726: The Elixary of the Evanescent Market

Show Notes

Rated PG


The Elixary of the Evanescent Market

by Marina Ermakova

Iris eyed the interior of the carriage with caution as the train came to a screeching halt. Potions clinked against the clamps which held them in their travel positions, but didn’t come loose in a crash of shattering glass. A wheeled cart smashed against the wall it was tied to, yet failed to dislodge from its bindings and turn into a bludgeoning projectile.

There was still the other carriage, the one that served as a workshop instead of a storefront, but Aunt was inside of it. Aunt had decades more experience with combustible potions than she did.

Which meant that everything had arrived intact, and Iris could allow herself to relax.

The creak of metal hinges signaled Aunt’s arrival though the carriage door. The older woman set a brisk pace for the glass cabinets, bolted in place. Iris rushed to help in unclasping the vials, knowing they had a small window of time before the train announced its arrival to potential customers.

“You will be on your own, so remember never to open the orange potions,” Aunt lectured her. “I specifically color the dangerous ones orange.”

“I know,” Iris said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. She was not going to magically forget everything she’d learned in the past few years just because Aunt didn’t remind her.

“And if a customer becomes unruly — ”

“Aunt, I know.”

Aunt stopped loosening one of the clasps and turned piercing gray eyes upon her apprentice. “Iris,” she admonished. “You may believe nothing will go wrong. Most likely, nothing will go wrong. But there is a real possibility of danger, and if that should happen . . . what would you even do?” A glint of concern appeared behind her eyes. “Perhaps I should stay.”

Alarm rose within Iris. “No, no, I’m sorry! I am taking this seriously. I even have a list of all your instructions written down.”

What would she do if Aunt decided not to visit her friend after all? If she continued to hover over the shop, watching Iris’s work, she would intercept customers before Iris could handle them! How long would it be before Iris had another opportunity for freedom, where her every move did not need to meet with Aunt’s approval?

Aunt’s sharp eyes raked over her apprentice’s apologetic form. “All right,” the woman finally said, the words like a weight being lifted. “Hurry up, then, and get this dreary place decorated.” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 725: Miss Bulletproof Comes Out of Retirement

Show Notes

Rated R


Miss Bulletproof Comes Out of Retirement
by Louis Evans

Miss Bulletproof comes home and there’s a god sitting at her kitchen table talking to her kids. “Did you like my presents, children?” says the god. “It was I who got you those gifts, those funny little things, including that long and slithery one, which you both found so amusing.” The children had not found the Malayan pit viper to be amusing; they had found it to be terrifying, and shrieked so loudly in the middle of the night that they had almost awakened Miss Bulletproof’s wife, which, well, that would be bad. And the kids — quite reasonably — had kept on screaming until Miss Bulletproof came sleepily into the room, allowed the pit viper to shatter its fangs on her palm, and then crushed its skull with her trademark efficiency, which she has come these days to regard as maternal rather than professional.

Miss Bulletproof sees the god at her kitchen table talking to her kids and she sees red, in that order. In those days when Miss Bulletproof worked for gods and did their bidding, she would have gotten up in that smug motherfucker’s face and given him a piece of her fucking mind, not sparing the obscenities. But now Miss Bulletproof is a mama, and her two beautiful kids are in the room, looking at her with trust and terror in that classic high-proof childhood cocktail of feeling, and she knows she has to set a good example. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 724: The Cinnamon Thread

Show Notes

Rated PG


The Cinnamon Thread

by Beth Goder

Anna is grateful to lie on the bed in the cool house where there are no expectations, no labyrinthine thoughts to swallow her in the night. Outside, the wrens muck about in shallow water. Waves rush up against the sand. Dusk seeps in through windows thick with salt lines.

She sleeps, dreamless, hearing the ocean trembling against the shore.


In the morning, searchers glide by, crowding through the hallway, meshing into each other and apart again.

One stops to examine her room, a man with a trim beard and thick glasses.

“Which room are you looking for?” he asks.

“I came here last night,” she says.

“Do you know how the house works?”

Anna shrugs. The night before, she came upon a tangle of threads in the entrance and followed the one that smelled like cinnamon, the scent like a tangible fragment of her childhood, the kitchen with the cracked red phone, her mother’s famous cinnamon cookies. The thread led her to this room, where she slept, pulled into quiet unconsciousness, pulled back by footsteps in the hall. The skein of thread is now in her satchel, wound tight, along with a pair of scraggly mittens and a kitchen device that is only good for coring apples, this detritus of her life that she isn’t even sure how she acquired.

“You’ll want to have a strategy.” He points to a beige door. “You could try by color or by size. You could try every door until you get tired.” He pulls a hair out of his short beard. “Yesterday, I hiked all day and tried the last door only.”

“What did you find?” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 723: Just One Last Mango

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


Just One Last Mango

by Chaitanya Murali

“Do you want one?” Meghna asked between bites. She was sitting in the upper branches of Balu maama’s mango tree, with half a dozen golden fruits bundled in her podavai and another one in her mouth.

I shook my head, keeping an eye out for maama, and an ear out for his dogs. If he caught us, then that was another day of helping him. Another day of hearing him lecture us about how those mangoes were for selling, not eating. Another day of unpaid labour. Another loss for us. The mangoes I could eat once we were home. For now, I just wanted Meghna to get down so we could go. But my sister, older by a year and therefore infinitely more wise, swayed on the branch, kicking her legs and laughing — giddy from the flavour.

Stolen mangoes always did taste sweeter.

“He’s going to come out soon!” My words were a hissed whisper.

“You better start running, then,” Meghna said, without the slightest urgency to accompany it. If anything, she seemed about ready to fall asleep on the branch, splaying herself across it like a basking cat.

“Meghna! What if someone sees you?”

“Their problem, no? It’s fine, Karthik. No one comes here at this time, anyway. And besides, he never eats them.”

I could hear the dogs stirring now and my bones screamed in the panicked remembrance of a thousand crushing dog hugs. Balu maama’s dogs weren’t the biting kind. They were the aggressively friendly kind, which was somehow worse. They threw themselves at us with abandon, looking only to knock us down and pin us long enough to lick our faces raw.

“They’re coming, toss the mangoes to me!” I said, opening thatha’s veshti that I’d snuck into his room to take while he snored on his wicker cot, a Dhina Thandhi magazine spilled open over his chest. Four fruits dropped, golden splashes in billowing cotton. Gilded and shining in the morning sun.

These weren’t normal mangoes. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 722: Said the Princess

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


Said the Princess

by Dani Atkinson

 

Once upon a time in a far-off land, in a tiny room, in a tall tower, at the centre of a vast and impenetrable maze, the princess Adrienna cocked her head and frowned.

“Who said that?” said the princess.

She looked around the tower room, but saw no one.

“This isn’t funny. Who’s there?” said the princess.

She crouched by the bed. Underneath it she found the chamber pot and a nervous brown spider. The princess shuddered. Straightening up quickly and dusting off her rosy skirts, she paced the circumference of the room, searching every inch. There were not many inches to search, as after all it was a prison, and not elaborately furnished or overburdened with good hiding places.

“Where is that coming from? Who are you?” said the princess, stopping by the barred window.

“No, really, who are you? And quit saying ‘said the princess’ after everything I say!” said the prin . . . Oh.

“Yes, ‘Oh’.”

The princess . . . probably wasn’t supposed to hear that. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 721: A Chestnut, A Persimmon, A Cunning Lie

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


A Chestnut, A Persimmon, A Cunning Lie

By Michelle M. Denham

 

If you are going to battle a tiger, my darling one, you need three things: a chestnut, a persimmon, and a cunning lie.


Haewon’s Omoni brought home the tiger-hearted girl and said, “This is your sister, Hyojin. She has been reborn to us, isn’t that wonderful?”

The tiger-hearted girl had amber eyes that burned, red stripes on her face, and long white teeth that gleamed in the dark. Omoni looked at Haewon like she expected her to do something. (A chestnut. A persimmon. A cunning lie.) So Haewon threw her arms around the tiger-hearted girl and said, “Hyojin-ah! I thought we’d never see each other again. I missed you so much.”

For her efforts, Haewon received a sharp bite into her shoulder. It was like four needles jabbed into her skin all at once. Haewon cried out, but she didn’t let go of the tiger girl.

“Hyojin-ah, how dare you bite your unni? You should show your older sister more respect.” She pulled back to stare at the tiger-hearted girl. She tapped her on the nose, once. “You were always just like this. Even reborn, you’re still the same. Come, I’ll show you our old room.”

Haewon took the tiger by her hand and Hyojin followed behind, suddenly meek.

(Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 720: Where the Old Neighbors Go

Show Notes

Rated R


Where the Old Neighbors Go

by Thomas Ha

 

The man standing on the porch that night seemed like an ordinary gentrifier at first glance: young and tall and artfully unshaven. His jeans were tattered but strangely crisp, and his shirt was loose and tight in all the wrong places. He had the appearance of someone vaguely famous, like his face could have been in a magazine ad or on the side of a bus. And to anyone other than Mary Walker, he would have successfully passed for a human.

Mary widened the opening of her front door, knowing she could no longer avoid him. She clutched the edges of her stained bathrobe and stared up at the man through the tangle of her gray and white hair.

He smiled, and there was something off, as if his features were meant to be stationary, not stretched in that way. “I thought I should finally introduce myself,” he said. “I’m the new neighbor.”

(Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 719: Smilers

Show Notes

Rated R


Smilers

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.

(Continue Reading…)