Archive for Episodes

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Cast of Wonders 275: Perdita, Meaning Lost

Show Notes

Theme music “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


Perdita, Meaning Lost

by Edd Vick

When Ailsa and her husband the King lost their firstborn daughter to the fairy maid who spun gold from heather, they were broken in heart and sought their child in every way they knew. They offered rewards, they sent freemen and peasants to scour the country, diplomats and spies to seek her in other lands, and rogues and privateers to search the seas. They consulted witches and wizards, wise crones and learned fools, and even a talking horse; who truth to tell was not nearly so intelligent as he claimed.

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Cast of Wonders 274: Won’t You Please Give One of These Species-Planets a Second Chance?


• by Nathan Hillstrom
• Narrated by Chris Williams
• Audio production by Jeremy Carter
• Originally published in Unidentified Funny Objects 5 (UFO Publishing, 2016)
Read along with the text of the story
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Listen above or download here.

Show Notes

Nathan Hillstrom has a sad but overwritten backstory involving computer science, a first career on Wall Street, and ruinous sashimi cravings. He now lives and writes in beautiful Southern California. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Compelling SF, and elsewhere. Nathan is a graduate of the 2015 Clarion Writers’ Workshop. You can follow him online and on Twitter.

Chris Williams a professional voice actor of just about every variety you can name. He works with private agencies, New Zealand TV and NZME, radio and a variety of international brand companies, drawing on experience in theater and documentary broadcasting dating back to 1981. He is in demand as a lead singer and MC for hire, working with big bands and variety shows since 2001. Contemporary songwriting is an exciting part of Chris’s passion for expression as he often reflects sociopolitical trends. He also composes music and songs designed to stimulate memory recall to help Alzheimer’s sufferers reconnect with family and friends using the power of music vibration backed by a knowledge of therapeutic harmonics. Chris’s hobbies include, cooking, scuba diving, energy therapy and stress release counselling and vocal coaching.

 


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.

 

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Cast of Wonders 273: Banned Books Week – The Wayfinder & His Sister

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


The Wayfinder & His Sister

by Maria Haskins

 

Lizzie

Mama always said that the best stories are true and needful, even if they’re not real. I know that’s heresy, punishable by lashes or prison if you’re caught, but I don’t think mama has ever been much for following rules and orders, anyway.

She also used to say, that if you tell yourself the right story about who you are, and what you want to do, you can achieve pretty much anything. Last time she told me that was the night before she left. She was in her workshop; crystal goggles strapped to her face, curly hair tightly braided, bent over her workbench in her oil-stained overalls, wielding her tools as she assembled and tested the latest iteration of her metallic creatures, fitting together gleaming gears and polished alloys, tempered glass and minute atom-spirit engines.

I believed her. I believed her, even after she left for Old Vancouver with papa, even as Titus and I toiled on the farm every day without them, even as they did not come back after two or even three weeks. I believed her even as Titus and I set off on this desperate journey to find her and papa, but today, as an almighty storm breaks on top of me and Rex and Titus, turning the bruised-black sky into a writhing snake pit of lightning, I feel as though I’m losing my faith in mama’s words for the first time in my life.

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Cast of Wonders 272: Banned Books Week – The Forbidden Books of Da Lin Monastery

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


The Forbidden Books of Da Lin Monastery

by Andrew K. Hoe

 

Hoong-Lung watched, horror-struck, as the book slid along the flagstone floor of the monastery library. The spine shivered, the cover’s fabric shredded itself, and something like spittle foamed along its edges. The title’s brush-stroked ideographs broke from their calligraphy, ink squirming like black worms.

The untamed writing made Hoong-Lung want to vomit.

In his sixteen years training as a warrior-monk at Da Lin Monastery, he’d never seen anything like it. Judging from Wong-Gum’s bloodless face, neither had he. The book snapped at Wong-Gum’s foot, and he jumped back.

As rivals, they’d battled plenty through the years, and Hoong-Lung wasn’t displeased at Wong-Gum’s panic. But besides Da Lin’s ferocious martial reputation, the forbidden texts were the monastery’s greatest treasure.

Even a rabid attack-book was precious.

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Cast of Wonders 271: Banned Books Week – The Lives Beneath

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


The Lives Beneath

by Katherine Inskip

 

She felt it in her bones first: a sideways jolting of reality, as if she’d had her feet swept out from under her while in the middle of a headlong run. Caught wrong-footed, Enys staggered. She clutched at the open passenger door of Tay Slighter’s van, steadying herself as an aching groan built to a crescendo inside her spine, her reflection trembling in the wing mirror.

It was happening, then. It was actually happening! Eight long years of airdrops and broadcasts and public professings, of tactical insertions and skirmishes over thoroughfares, of daily liturgies and the night-time cleansings… and finally, finally, the Curacy were moving on the rebel’s Spire!

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Cast of Wonders 270: Banned Books Week – Bibliopothecary

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


Bibliopothecary

by Dani Atkinson

The Bibliopothecary was writing out the contraindications on the labels for the dystopian sci-fi when Gretchen stepped up to the counter on her first visit.

“Do not consume a second title in this genre less than three days after finishing,” the Bibliopothecary wrote in swooping black letters. “Do not take Orwell with Huxley. Recommended consume one work of optimistic space opera to alleviate possible side effects of hopelessness and fear of the future.” Gretchen waited for the Bibliopothecary to finish before clearing her throat.

The Bibliopothecary peered at Gretchen through red cat’s eye glasses. “What do you need?”

“I’m feeling sad,” Gretchen said.

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Cast of Wonders 269: Banned Books Week – The Scent That Treason Brings

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


The Scent That Treason Brings

by Holly Schofield

 

Wings tightly closed, Scarp bustled around the printing workshop. With smooth, sure strokes, zie inked the wooden blocks of type. The new formulation made from snail mucus and oak bark spread on smoothly. One of zir pincher-like tarsi gripped the printing press’ lever while both zir mid legs slid a sheet of paper over the inked blocks. The large screw creaked as zie lowered the platen and then raised it, releasing the paper. Scarp gave a brief twitch of satisfaction at the clarity of the text, then re-inked the blocks for the next blank sheet.

Slowly the racks of printed and drying pages grew higher. But not fast enough. Every minute counted if a bound copy of the Tract was to accompany each Second Molter on their journey. And Beld had been no help at all in preparation for this molting season. The Head Printer just puttered about in the backroom, working on some special project. What could be more important than the annual printing of the Tract?

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Cast of Wonders 268: Banned Books Week – Below the Serapeum

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


Below the Serapeum

by Kelsey Dean

 

“Lift up your gown, Halena. We’ll settle these around your back and stomach so that you’re at the center of the scrolls.”

Aunt places a thin bandage around my waist and then helps me unroll the papyrus. We wind it back up around my body, covering the bandage like a stiff cocoon, or the crusty, left-behind exoskeleton of a sand beetle.

“It itches,” I say, but I don’t fidget. There is still a smoky film hanging over the whole city from yesterday, when the Epirians set the Great Library ablaze. It didn’t burn the way they wanted: too many scholars ran back inside, screeching war cries like eagles, slopping all the water they could carry over the shelves and cabinets. The ones who survived the fire are imprisoned in the Epirian ships, probably until their executions can be arranged. They were glorious, for a shining moment, but in the end, all they did was thicken the smoke and slow the destruction of our people’s history–it took hours rather than minutes.

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Cast of Wonders 267: Banned Books Week – For

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


FOR

by Sandra M. Odell

 

Maggie Alvarez leaned against the counter of the dry goods store to get a better look inside John’s satchel.  Was that a book beneath the flap?  Had to be.  Dingy white cover, faded black letters along the cracked spine.  All her life she’d watched Lessonkeepers hurl books on the bonfires at purity rallies.  Books were illegal, filled with the lies that caused the crumble of the old world.

Her heart sank, then bounced back twice as high.  A real book!

She eased her weight off her knotted left foot, and shifted hold on her crutch.  “So, John, you planning on settling here for a time?”

He leaned against the other side of the wooden counter.  “Nah.  Pretty soon I’ll head east to the Missip river and winter over in Nuloreans.”

Maggie didn’t catch her disappointment in time to keep it from her face, and John was quick to add, “I’ll be here for a time yet.  People always need their knives sharpened.”

“Of course,” Maggie said, and smiled to hide her relief.  “And you’ll be needing supplies.”

Pink touched John’s tanned cheeks and he picked at the edge of the counter top.  “Of course.”

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Cast of Wonders 266: The Immobile God of Secrets

Show Notes

Theme music “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


The Immobile God of Secrets

by Jamie Lackey

 

Jun slogged through the rice paddy, muddy water swirling around her calves.  She glanced behind her, checking again to make sure that Reiko and her cronies hadn’t chased her.  The only figure in sight was a lone scarecrow, wearing a pointed straw hat and a tattered blue yukata.

Its face, two wide eyes and a softly smiling line for its mouth, was painted onto a rough woven sack, and its wooden pole tilted slightly to the left.  It looked like it could bounce away at any second–Jun couldn’t imagine a single crow braving it.

She bowed.  “Thank you for your hospitality.”

“You are welcome anytime.”

Jun started back and almost fell.  She looked around again, but saw nothing but green stalks, heavy with yellowing rice, and the occasional glint of water.  She walked around the scarecrow.  Even the water was still–the only ripples were from her own passing.  She remembered her manners and bowed again.  “Thank you.”

“If you would stay and keep me company, I will share a secret with you.”

Jun’s socks were soggy and the sun was sinking in the west.  If she was late for dinner, her mother would worry.  But she liked secrets, and she’d never met a talking scarecrow before.  Jun knew that he must be a spirit, or a god, but he seemed kind.  And lonely.  Jun understood loneliness.  “I’ll stay.”

“Thank you.  Tell me, child, what brings you to my field?”

“There’s a girl at school who hates me.  I ran away from her.”

“You must have run very fast to find this place.”

“I am fast.  That’s why she hates me–she used to be the fastest girl on the track team.”

“Maybe she only chases you because she wants to catch up.”

Jun remembered rocks whistling past her ears, and the sting of a stone clipping her calf.  “I don’t think that’s the case.”

“Maybe not.”

“I don’t know why it bothers her so much.  She’s better than me in every other way.  She’s pretty and has tons of friends and is top in our class and her parents buy her anything she wants.”

“I will tell you her secret, if you wish to know it.”

Jun hoped she could use the secret to stop Reiko from tormenting her.  “I do.”

“Her parents do not love her, and she knows it.”

“But they’re her parents.”

“Yes.”

Jun frowned.  She didn’t want to feel sorry for Reiko.  “How do you know that?”

“I know many things,” the scarecrow said.

“Do you know about me?”

“Yes, I know everything about you, Shuuichi Jun.  You love pork cutlets and math class and running makes you feel free.  You want to take care of your mother and you worry about your grades, but have a hard time making yourself study.”

“How do you know all that?”

“That is my secret, child.”

“I need to get home–my mother will be worried.”

“Yes.  And she made you your favorite dinner.”

“Will I be able to come back?” Jun asked.

“The future is always uncertain.  But it would please me to see you again.”

Jun bowed again.  “Thank you for the secret.”  She walked back toward the path.  When she turned around, the paddy was empty.

 


 

Jun had no idea how to use the scarecrow’s secret.  She couldn’t imagine her parents not loving her.  Had Reiko done something horrible?  Or had they not wanted a daughter in the first place?  If they didn’t love her, why did they buy her so many presents?  It didn’t make sense.  Maybe the scarecrow had lied.

But Jun didn’t think so.  She couldn’t help but trust the scarecrow.

Reiko glared at her during track practice, just like she always did.  Then she and Reiko raced, just like they always did.  The coach believed they pushed each other.

Jun won, like she always did.  “Good race,” she said.

Reiko’s expression darkened.  “Don’t patronize me.”

Jun tried to keep her pity off of her face.

Reiko’s hands tightened into fists.  “What is up with you today?”

Jun shrugged.  “Why does it bother you so much?”

“Why does what bother me?”

“That I’m faster.”

“You bother me because you’re ugly and stupid.  I don’t care about track.  I’m only here because my father made me join a team.”

“Is he going to come to any of the meets?”

“Don’t talk to me, Shuuichi.”  Reiko snapped, then stormed off.

Reiko wasn’t waiting to torment Jun after practice, and she couldn’t find the path to the scarecrow’s rice paddy.

 


 

Jun stared down at her homework, but she’d read the poem a dozen times and it still didn’t make sense.  She padded out to the kitchen, where her mother was washing dishes.  “Mom, do you know anything about poetry?”

Her mom paused and pushed her dark hair away from her face with a soapy wrist.  “No, I’m sorry, sweetie.  Have you tried asking one of your classmates for help?”

“Good idea,” Jun said.  She went back to her room and flopped onto the floor.  She pulled her phone out of her pocket and stared at it for a long time.  Reiko was top of their class.  She probably understood poetry.  What would she do if Jun asked for help?

She’d probably laugh and call Jun stupid again.  Jun scrolled through her classmates’ phone numbers.  She wasn’t really friends with any of them.

Jun climbed out the window and ran.  The packed dirt path was hard against her bare feet.

The scarecrow’s rice paddy was different in the moonlight.  Silver and black and clearly magical.  Cold mud oozed between her toes.

“Hello,” Jun said, bowing.

“It is good to see you, but it is dangerous here at night,” the scarecrow said.

“What will Reiko do if I ask her for help?”

“I do not know what the future holds, child.  I only know the now.”

“Well, what do you think she’d do?”

“She might help you.  Or she might lash out.  She is not a happy girl.”

“Why don’t her parents love her?”

“Do you think she would want you to know that, when she herself doesn’t?”

“No.  I suppose not.”

“I will tell you something else, instead.”

“Okay.”

“There is a monster hiding by your path home.”

Chills ran along Jun’s skin.  “A monster?”

“Yes.  It is an angry spirit, hungry for human life.  It is strong, but you are fast.”

“What will happen if it catches me?”

“I do not know the future.”

“What does it normally do when it catches someone?”

“It eats them.”

“I’ll run as fast as I can, then.”

“Good.  I hope to see you again, child.  In the daytime.”

Jun sprinted down the dark path.  The moonlight cast deep shadows, and she imagined figures lurking in each one.  Her bare foot caught on a rock, and pain spiked through her.  She felt hot breath on her neck, but heard no sounds but the pounding of her own heart, the rhythm of her feet hitting the path, and the ragged cadence of her breath.

A shadow engulfed hers and spread before her on the path.  It was huge, with two tapered horns.

Jun pumped her arms faster.  Icy claws ripped through her hair and sliced the back of her left arm.

She saw a streetlight ahead and managed one last burst of speed.

The shadow faded, and she burst onto the road.  She collided with someone and tumbled to the ground.

Jun stared up at the sky and panted.  Blood dripped down her elbow.

“What’s wrong with you?”  Reiko loomed above her, scowling.  “Do you run everywhere?”

Jun blinked up at her.  “Would you help me with my poetry homework?”

Reiko rolled her eyes.  “No.”

Jun sat up and winced.  Her whole arm ached, and it felt like she’d plunged it into an icy river.

“Are you bleeding?”

Jun nodded.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know.  Could you–could you help me home?”

Reiko rolled her eyes again, but gave Jun her hand and pulled her to her feet.  “Just don’t bleed on me, okay?  This is a new top.”

The cold spread up Jun’s arm and to her chest.  She started to shiver.

Reiko pulled Jun’s good arm over her shoulder.  The contact was warm and comforting, even through Reiko’s new top.  “There’s something really wrong with you, isn’t there?”

“I–I’ll be okay.”  It was difficult to speak through her chattering teeth.

Her tiny house looked like an oasis of light and warmth as Reiko dragged her to the front door.  Jun saw her mother’s worried face, then darkness took her.

 


 

She woke tucked into her futon with a clean bandage around her arm.  A hot water bottle was nestled into the crook of her elbow, and another warmed her feet.  Her arm hurt, but she felt warm all through.

Her mother had dragged her own futon in and was sleeping beside her.  “Mom?”

“Oh, thank goodness.  Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m feeling much better.”

“What happened?  Why were you out without your shoes?”

“I went to visit a friend,” Jun said.

“The girl who brought you back?  She seemed very worried.  She offered to bring your schoolwork by today.”

“No, I met her on my way home.”

“Was it a boy?  Did he hurt you?  You can tell me sweetie, I promise I won’t be mad.”

“No.  I–I was running from a monster.”

“A monster.”

“I found a rice paddy with a scarecrow, and he could talk, because he’s really a god, and he told me secrets, but it’s dangerous at night and then there was an angry spirit–“

Her mother pressed the back of her hand to Jun’s forehead.  “Why don’t you lie back down.  I’ll make some tea.”

Her mother didn’t ask what happened again, but she brought a steady stream of hot drinks and made more pork cutlets for dinner.

Reiko arrived with a stack of books just before dinner.  “I’m so sorry,” she said, bowing.  “I didn’t think–“

“Come on in, dear!” Jun’s mother said.  “I was hoping you’d get here in time to eat with us.  I made enough for everyone–I wanted to thank you for getting Jun home last night.  That is if your own family won’t miss you–“

“They won’t,” Reiko said.  “Thank you, Mrs. Shuuichi.”

“I do hope you like pork cutlets.  They’re Jun’s favorite.”

“They’re mine, too.  Thank you.”

After dinner, Reiko followed Jun to her bedroom.  “I’ll help you with your poetry, but only if you tell me what happened last night.”

“What if I tell you and you don’t believe me?”

“I’ll believe you.”

“My mother doesn’t believe me.”

“You appeared out of nowhere, and there was… something behind you.”

“You saw it?”

She shrugged.  “I saw something.”

“When I was running from you the other day, I found a rice paddy with a scarecrow.  The scarecrow can talk, and he knows things.”

“A scarecrow that knows things?  Like Kuebiko–the god in the stories?”

“I think so, but I didn’t ask–I thought it might be rude.  Anyway, I went back there last night, and then that monster chased me.”

“It must have been a pretty fast monster.”

“I guess.”

“It probably would have caught me.”

“The scarecrow told me not to come back again after dark.”

“Why did you go at night, anyway?  And without your shoes?” Reiko asked.

“I had a question.”

“What could be so important that you ran off without your shoes?” Reiko asked.

Jun shrugged.

“Don’t tell me you went to ask Kuebiko about our stupid poetry homework.”

“No, that isn’t what I asked.”

“Was it about me?”

Jun looked down at the floor.  “Yes.”

“What did he tell you?”

“He told me that your parents don’t love you.”

Tears welled in Reiko’s eyes.  “Oh.  That.”

“I’m sorry,” Jun said.

“Did he tell you why?”

“No.”  Jun reached out and took Reiko’s hands between hers. “Do you want to ask him?”

Reiko blinked and two tears slipped down her cheeks.  “Yes.”

“Let’s go tomorrow, right after school.”

“Okay.”

 


 

“We can only find the path if we run,” Jun said.  “Sometimes, I can’t find it at all.  Stay as close to me as you can.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard,” Reiko said.  “You’re still recovering, and I don’t want to have to carry you again.”

“Let’s go.”

They ran.  The path opened up under her feet, and she splashed into the rice paddy with Reiko close behind.

“Hello, children.”

Jun bowed.

“The scarecrow really can talk,” Reiko said.

“I can.”  It sounded amused.

“Go ahead, ask your question,” Jun said.  “I won’t listen.”

She turned away and covered her ears.

After a while, Reiko tapped her shoulder.  Her eyes were red.  “I’m done.”

“Are you okay?” Jun asked.

Reiko shrugged.  “Thank you for bringing me here.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’m sorry I was such a jerk to you.”

“It’s okay.”

“I didn’t mean to hit you with that rock.  We were trying to miss.  I won’t do anything like that again, I promise.”

“Yeah?  Okay.”

“I can keep helping you with your homework, if you want.”

“I’d like that.”

“It is safe to walk down the path now,” the scarecrow said.  “Your mother is finishing up your dinner.”

“Thank you.  We’ll be going.” Jun asked.

“Can we come back?” Reiko asked.

“I do not know what the future holds,” the scarecrow said.  “But I will never shut you out.”

“What is her mother making for dinner?” Reiko asked.

“A hot pot.”

“Is there enough for me?”

“Of course.”

Reiko grinned.  “Awesome.  Let’s go.”

They walked down the path together, then Jun stopped.  “Wait for me here just sec, okay?”

“Sure.”

Jun ran back up to the rice paddy and splashed out to the scarecrow.  “Did you plan all this?  Or did it just happen?”

The scarecrow chuckled.  “How can I control anything?  I cannot move from this spot.”

“Well, I just wanted to say thank you.”

“You are welcome, Shuuichi Jun.  You deserve to be happy.”

“And Reiko does too, right?”

“You’ve already answered that question.”

Jun bowed, then ran back to her friend.

Genres: ,

Cast of Wonders 265: A Wish and a Hope and a Dream

Show Notes

Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


A Wish and a Hope and a Dream

by M. Darusha Wehm

 

You have always been a princess.

When you are six years old, your hat is a cardboard cone covered in glitter glue with a cellophane veil. Your dress began life as a pillowcase in the free box at the Goodwill. Your best friend Ines has a store-bought costume, her gown soft and sky blue like Princess Karima’s. You aren’t envious, though. You love your pillowcase dress and hat that makes you almost as tall as your mother.

Ines twirls around and around until she nearly falls over, clutching you to stay upright. “Ooh, I’ll never get used to riding a magic carpet.”

You giggle and say, “That’s why I ride in a carriage pulled by eight golden ponies.”

“Can I come to the ball with you, then?” Ines sinks to the ground, her skirt billowing around her like a cloud.

“Aren’t they adorable?” Ines’s father says, his eyes crinkling.

“Yeah,” your mother says, “off in their own little world.”

“Come on,” Mr. Solano says, “that’s one of the great things about being a kid. All that imagination, all those dreams.” He looks at you then his eyes dart back to your mother. “They can be anything they want at this age. Might as well let them enjoy it.”

“You’re right,” your mother says, handing him an old ice cream bucket. “Thanks for taking them. I can really use the rest.”

“It’s no trouble,” he says, then kneels down to where you and Ines are sitting, playing with the material of her dress. “Come on, my two little princesses, let’s go get some candy.”

You get up and your mother adjusts the sash on your dress. “Only two pieces on the way home,” she says. “You want it to last until Christmas, okay?”

You nod, excited about the prospect of even two pieces of candy. It’s been forever since you’ve had candy.

Your family has been eating spaghetti with ketchup for days. You love spaghetti and ketchup, not realizing that it’s just what’s left at the end of the Food Bank hamper. You also don’t know that your mother lost her job, which is why she is there when you get home from school and has had time to make your costume. You know your father is working double shifts, though. That’s why he isn’t there to see you in your pretty dress. Your mom goes to take a photo as you and Ines stand together, grinning at each other while she fumbles with her old phone.

“Come on,” Ines says, grabbing your hand. “We need to hurry if we’re going to get to the ball on time.”

 


 

When you are nine, both your parents are working. You get the official Princess app for your birthday and each day after school you and Ines lie on the Lady Dawn Pink™ comforter she’s had on her bed since you were little, looking at the latest photoshoots and reading about the princesses.

“Did you see that Cheyenne just got back from a trip to New Zealand,” you say, paging through the latest updates. “They wouldn’t let her bring Wolf into the country with her. Isn’t that awful? It’s not as if he’s some ordinary dog. He’s, like, partially part of her.”

“It’s like last year,” Ines says, “when that one country wouldn’t let Princess Karima travel on her flying carpet within their border.”

“I know, how dumb. What’s airspace security anyway?” you say, rolling your eyes. You both go back to the pictures.

“I can’t decide if Karima or Cheyenne is my favourite,” Ines says a few minutes later.

“Rhona,” you say, your fingers tracing the flowing curls of her beautiful red hair.

“Rhona?! But she doesn’t even look like you. She’s so… pale.”

You don’t look like any of them, with your skinny legs and bitten fingernails. You shrug.

“She’s beautiful.”

“They’re all beautiful,” Ines says, her forehead wrinkling. “When I’m ten, mom says I can get my hair cut like Karima’s.” She holds up the ends of her long, black hair, effecting a makeshift bob. “She said no to the eyeliner, though.” Ines lets her hair fall back down. “How about you?”

You don’t know what to do with makeup. Your mother wears little, but one afternoon when both your parents were at work you spent an hour in the bathroom with her eyeshadow, blush and lipstick. The best you could do was make yourself look like a clown. You can tell that Ines would never look like a clown. But she’s pretty to begin with, everyone says so. You are clever. Or strong. Never pretty.

“My hair’s okay the way it is,” you say, running your fingers though the short cut. “I’d look dumb with long hair.”

Ines shrugs and the two of you look at pictures of her with with different haircuts until it’s time for you to go home.

At night, when you can’t sleep, you imagine you are Rhona, with a gown of green velvet, a mind sharp enough to trick a wizard, a face pretty enough to bewitch an entire kingdom and a long trail of flaming red hair.

 


 

When you are twelve, Ines gets weird. All she wants to talk about is romance. You think it’s because of Princess Mei Ling’s wedding last month.

“Don’t you think Cheyenne’s prince is better-looking than Mei Ling’s prince?” Ines asks. You don’t know what to say. You don’t care about the princes.

“I mean, I know he’s older,” she says, not waiting for you to answer, “but I think he looks distinguished. That silver hair at his temples makes him look, I dunno, classy, like one of those actors in a black and white movie.” She flicks through the images on her phone. She bought the Princes app with her first babysitting money and now you sit apart in her room, each looking at your own pictures on your own phones.

“Do you ever dream about your wedding? I think about it all the time. Mei Ling’s was so beautiful,” Ines says, not seeming to notice that you haven’t said a word, “I want gold leaf on my wedding cake. And a dress like hers, but with blue accents, not pink. And what did you think about her prince’s uniform? Guys look great in uniforms.” She stops talking and looks over at you. “Want to watch the video again on the big screen?”

The Solanos have a big tv in their living room, and you often go over to watch movies. You nod, even though you think the wedding was kind of boring. But all the Princesses were there and Rhona looked incredible in her formal gown. You watch it all again for the millionth time, impatiently sitting through the wedding part to get to the ball. When Mei Ling enters the main salon on a flying horse, you gasp with delight as if you’d never seen it before. When Rhona dances with her prince, time stops.

That night, you dream that instead of Rhona’s prince, it is you she dances with, your arm around her waist, her head on your shoulder. You twirl around the ballroom, your feet not quite touching the floor, her hair flying behind you both in a trail of auburn curls.

 


 

When you are seventeen, you work part-time in a bakery. Your alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning, Rhona’s voice singing her theme song sweetly in your ear. It almost makes waking in the dark bearable. You spend two hours each morning decorating the elaborate fairy cakes that each cost more than you’ll be paid that week, then you go to school and try to stay awake in class.

Ines texts you in history:

> new p movie opens 2moro lets go!

You’ve been saving all your bakery money and summer job wages in a college fund. You know now that your parents can barely keep up with their debts and won’t be able to help, and you don’t have the grades for a scholarship. Your father has steady work in construction, but it was never enough when your mother couldn’t find work. Your mother went to college and she’s always told you that an education is the most important thing. “Wishing for something won’t make it so,” she says. “You have to put yourself out to get anywhere in this world.”

She says that it was her degree which got her the job she has now, assistant to a junior manager at a big firm downtown. “Who would you hire?” she asks you, “someone just out of high school or someone who’s been to college? You can’t just expect to get a good job without it anymore.” Sometimes you feel like you want to scream whenever you hear the word college.

But you know your mother is right. Your parents seem to work all the time–you can’t remember the last time the three of you did something together that wasn’t a hasty meal or a half hour in front of the second-hand, tiny tv. Between school and the bakery, it feels like you work all the time, too.

You text Ines back.

> k

You get to the theater two hours early and still barely get in. The audience is mostly teens and college age women, a few boyfriends and just a smattering of guys there of their own accord. But there are hardly any little kids–this isn’t one of those origin story films. It’s a grown-up story about post-princess life, featuring Bianca–the first of the princesses, a stately matron now–and Lianne, who became a princess when you were a kid. The story begins as Lianne arrives at Bianca’s castle in her carriage, glorious and shining with her footmen bustling about. She enters the Great Hall to find a table groaning under a feast of delights.

Ines elbows you and whispers, “Those are the fairy cakes you make.”

It’s true, the bakery where you work specializes in replica royal sweets. Being around such beautiful things is the main appeal of the job. You nod and shush her.

Over the next ninety minutes, you are transported to a magic world that you can barely believe exists in the same universe as your own life. Glorious silken gowns transformed from ordinary box-store dresses. Flying chariots whisking the princesses to fabulous balls or feasts laden with luscious food no one eats. Lives of glamour and leisure. For a moment, you wonder if it is even real.

Then comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Everyone has been talking about the rumour that a new princess would be revealed in the film. Your breath catches in your throat when you see her for the first time. You know it’s her: she is too radiant, too perfect to be working in some grimy urban store. Bianca and Lianne have gotten lost on their way back to Lianne’s château, and walk into a small Korean grocery in some nameless city, looking for directions. The girl behind the counter must be about your age, but her days of worrying about grades and college are over. The princesses recognize her true nature immediately and take her away with them. No one objects. It is as if it were ordained in the stars.

They say that the movie story is based on her real life, that she really was discovered in some store just like that last year. Seo-yeon, an urban princess, elevated from the streets to a castle in the clouds. Your eyes fill with tears. You can’t count the number of times you’ve wished for that moment. To have what you’ve known all your life finally be reflected in someone else’s eyes. That you, too, are more than you appear to be.

If Seo-yeon could be plucked like a flower from her life of toil, surely it could happen to anyone? Even to you?

 


 

When you are twenty-two, you pull a crumpled bill from your pocket. It’s enough for a draft beer at the campus bar and you’ve earned one. You are thirty thousand dollars in debt, you can’t remember the last time you slept more than five hours in a night, but tomorrow you will walk onstage with hundreds of other people and walk off with a degree.

The bartender slides the beer toward you and takes your money, her dark eyes lingering on you for a moment. You’re not in the mood to talk, so you take your beer to a quiet table near the back. You sip and look around. There aren’t as many people in the place as there would be on a Friday night, but at three in the afternoon on the day before graduation, it’s crowded enough. You recognize the students’ uniform of thrift store coats, broken book bags and five-year-old phones.

You notice a guy from your post-structural economics class a couple of tables over; he gives you the eye-contact-and-nod then goes back to his animated conversation. He’s wearing a pale yellow t-shirt with a faded image of Princess Bonita printed on it. You know he’s wearing it ironically, but you had that exact shirt when you were a kid.

You remember working with whatshisname–Charlie, Carl, something like that–on a class project. You made this infographic that showed how many people out of a hundred ever got out of the economic class where they were born. It was a good chart. You got an A minus.

Your phone buzzes and you flip it over. Ines. You haven’t seen her since Christmas, when you were both home and her engagement news overshadowed the holiday. She found her prince.

> going home after grad lets get 2gether

^ ill be back this wkend

^ coffee?

> yah

> wanna ask u about cakes!!!

You wonder how she and Mikhail can afford a fairy cake for their wedding. They are both going to be paying off their student loans as long as you are, and neither has a job lined up after graduation. Your mother told you that they think they will have to live with Ines’s parents after they get married.

“It’s no coincidence,” Carl or Charlie’s slurred voice interrupts your thoughts from across the bar. “We’re living in a new feudalism, ruled by unrealistic hopes to join an unattainable elite. Statistically, the rags to riches dream isn’t real, but we think if we just work hard enough, it’ll happen for us. We all think we’re kings in peasant’s clothes, but we’re just children playing make-believe. It’s time we decided to live in the real world.” Other voices rise to join his in belligerent agreement and you recognize arguments you’ve heard yourself make on other afternoons like this one.

Maybe Ines has it right–buy an expensive cake, have a fairytale wedding day. What’s another few thousand dollars? At least then you’d have something to remember, one moment when you were someone’s princess. But it’s so hard to let the dream go.

You don’t feel like a peasant, you never have. But you know if you keep pretending that one day you’ll meet your fairy godmother, she’ll wave her wand and suddenly everything will all be fine, that you’ll spend your life being a servant to a fantasy.

You finish your beer, thinking of those days when all it took for a magical transformation was a rolled up piece of cardboard and a pillowcase dress. You flick your finger over your phone, Rhona’s beautiful face filling the screen. Those blue eyes. That red hair. Can’t you live in your imagination with her just a little longer?

After all, you’ve always been a princess. Haven’t you?

Cast of Wonders 264: Little Wonders 14 – Lyrical Beauty

Show Notes

The Little Wonders theme “Neversus” is by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


The Best Busker in the World

by R.K. Duncan

“The best busker in the world never plays in the same place twice.  He is too busy searching.  But maybe, just maybe, you will hear him once.  If you hear him, you will have to see him, even if the first notes of his music drift to you from streets away, completely opposite from wherever you intended to go.  Once you hear a single note, it will draw you along like an invisible string, tugging at the knot in the center of your chest where you keep your secret fears and disappointments.  Wherever you find him— a dusty back street in a sleepy town, a bustling avenue in the rush-hour of a big city, a lonely campground haunted by only a few brave souls and stubborn wanderers— the sight will burn itself into your memory almost as deeply as the music.”  

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