Archive for Little Wonders

Genres:

Episode 225: Little Wonders 9 – Comfort Food


The Four Stewpots

by D. K. Thompson

 

Review: The Four Stewpots

by Darcy E. (14 friends, 27 reviews) 1 star out of 5

 

I’ve been coming to uptown for the past year since getting a new job and moving to Whittier, and somehow had never seen The Four Stewpots before. I’m actually not a stew fan. I like my food fresh. Soup is okay, some days. Stew? Bleh. It’s been sitting for ages – this place actually suggests one pot they have is a thousand years old. Bon Apetit? But my daughter’s first report card had come home from junior high – she’d done exceptionally well – she wants to be an astronaut, a monster make-up artist, a superhero, a cryptozoologist, or a cartographer of parallel universes – whatever she decides to do she’ll be brilliant, and so as a reward, I let her pick. She saw The Four Stewpots as we were driving down the street, right next to Undercity Comics, and demanded we go there. Again, I do not like stew, but I am a supportive and proud mother who wants to encourage my daughter’s academic achievements, and realize that it isn’t always about me. At least, until it’s time to write the Yelp review.  

 

It is time to write the Yelp review.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Episode 210: Little Wonders 8 – Embracing Change


The There-It-Is Store

By Adam Gaylord

 

The bell over the door jingled and Claire hastily tucked her book under the counter. It was one of her favorites and she’d just gotten to the best part. She didn’t want a customer to come in and claim it.  

An older man, probably twice Claire’s age, entered the store. Actually, he really more danced his way in. The man turned this way and that, his eyes trained on the ground, all the while patting his pants, alternating front pockets and then back. Claire suppressed a giggle at the sight of his search dance – as it was fittingly known in the trade. The man gave up the floor and scanned the shelves by the door, muttering to himself while patting his breast pockets. “I swear I just had ’em. I was walking out the door…” He passed over boxes of buttons, jars full of jewelry, several large sacks stuffed with socks, and a pail packed with pocket watches before stopping in front of a particularly large crate nearly overflowing with keys. He gave a low whistle, eyeing the huge box with trepidation. 

“Good morning Mr. Crowhurst,” Clair interrupted his search.

“Hm? Oh, yes. Hello.” Mr. Crowhurst wandered up to the counter, still patting. “I really hope you can help me. Do you happen to know where…” He trailed off, his eyes drifting to the shelves behind her. Claire felt the tingle of the there-it-is magic and the man’s patting finally stopped, his face lighting up. “There they are!”  

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 150: Little Wonders 7 – The Season of Goodwill

Show Notes

You’re listening to Little Wonders, our thematic flash fiction collections. This week we bring you our final episode for 2014, and lucky number 150 – a pair of stories for the inspired by the Season of Goodwill.


The Secret Ingredient Is

by Emmalia Harrington

Susan stirred the pot of soup, frowning. Hunger was supposed to be the best seasoning, but the jar was empty and there was no time to prepare more. Besides, Great-Aunt would hate it if they served something like that to guests.

Stepping away from the stove, she scanned the shelves yet again. There was salt, garlic, peppercorns, nutmeg, allspice…nothing spoke to her. Rocking back on her heels, she tried to think of what Great-Aunt would do.

The first order of business would be to run to the garden to pull up the biggest, freshest and most colorful vegetables, and see how many eggs she could muster from the quail. Once that was done, Great-Aunt would run to the shopping district to wrangle an excellent price for smoked tea. She would follow this victory by purchasing fish that still smelled of the water, and filling her basket with bread still steaming from the oven.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 139: Little Wonders 6 – A Little Laughter

Show Notes

You’re listening to Little Wonders, our thematic flash fiction collections. This episode we bring you A Little Laughter.

Special thanks to Kevin McCloud and the Free Sounds Project for providing music and special effects.


Continue?

by James Vachowski

Fog fades away.  Darkness lifts. I struggle to find my feet as vision returns.  The room is empty. Signs of a struggle.

She’s gone!

Off and running with no control of my body as I fly on a path towards revenge.  An unseen hand guides my movements. Of course I know who took her. Who else could it be but Ryoku?  Damn him! If only we had left when he first made his threats…but this is no time to dwell on the past.

Rushing forward, unable to turn back.

Through flat, muted ears, I can almost hear the timer that ticks down the seconds we have left.

My steel jaw clenches as I will the fury down into my tightened fists.  Rage funnels through them as I pummel wave after wave of Ryoku’s goons, henchmen, thugs, and anyone else foolish enough to stand in my way.

Down the stairs.

Through the alley.

Over the barbed wire fence, ducking a pair of rabid junkyard dogs.

Forward still, rushing onward towards my love, and vengeance.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 121: Little Wonders 5 – Trope Twists

Show Notes

This is Little Wonders, our collection episodes featuring flash fiction and poetry centered around a theme. This episode we bring you the conclusion of our flash fiction month: Trope Twists!

 


The Hero
By Jessica Holscher

Down a desolate and lonely dirt road, a young man walked toward the horizon.  With a sword at his back, he traveled for destiny. The famed fortune teller of the town he’d just left, Madam Mystic, told him he would defeat the three headed dragon and save the princess.  Without a moment’s hesitation, he headed for the beast to save the missing damsel.

Suddenly, a rustling caught his attention.  Surely, he couldn’t have already reached the monster.  He readied his sword and stood firm. The rustling grew louder and a female child emerged from the bush.

(Continue Reading…)

Episode 106: Little Wonders 4 – The Journey

Show Notes

This is Little Wonders, our collection episodes featuring flash fiction and poetry centered around a theme. This episode we bring you a trio of stories where enjoying the way you get somewhere is more important than your ultimate destination. Welcome to “The Journey”.


The Treasure Hunter

by Alexandra Grunberg

“Don’t let him get away!”

Pan heard the pounding feet of the guards racing after him as he sped down the spiral stairs from the tower. He clutched a plain brown bag in one hand. The contents cracked against each other, a constant point of reference for Pan’s pursuers. In his other hand he grasped a solid gold necklace. It was not what he had come here for, but how could he resist? He was already a thief, one more treasure would not hurt. His full pack slapped against his back.

The stairs opened out into a long hall. Pan slid on the smooth stone floor, trying not to give up speed for stability. He scanned the room for an exit. Through the high windows he could barely see the night sky and the tops of strange trees. He was unfamiliar with this world, but he doubted that the ground would offer a soft landing from this height. He had already travelled to a world with a plush surface, and he doubted he would be that lucky twice. His only hope was the archway at the far end of the hall.

“There he is!”

Pan glanced behind him. There were five armored men, much more familiar with the slippery floor than he was, and they were gaining on him. Pan picked up his pace, chancing another look behind him.

He hit the railing hard.

The archway had opened out into a balcony. Pan looked down. It was dark out, but the building seemed to be in the middle of a lake. The water churned with the movement of a large creature whose spines disturbed the top of the murky water. Jumping was definitely not an option.

“Turn around slowly, boy, and hand over the goods.”

Pan turned around slowly, smiling, but he had no intention of handing over the goods. As one of the guards lunged at him, Pan reached into the brown bag and pulled out a small glass ball. He flung it at his feet and it shattered. A pool formed beneath him, sucking him in.

“What the –“

Pan did not get to hear the end of the guard’s cry as he was swept away.

There was a flash of light and Pan landed softly in what felt like sand. The world grew out from beneath his feet, slowly filling the void around him with form and light. The whole world was fully materialized within five minutes.

It was sandy, a desert land, though he seemed to be in the middle of a garden. The trees growing out of the arid ground were covered in fruit. Pan picked one of the fruits and bit into it. It was sweet and the juice dripped on his hands. He was sure people back home would pay generously for a plant that could survive in this environment.

Pan scraped the seeds out of the fruit and shoved them into his backpack, followed by the golden necklace. They joined the other treasures he had gathered while hopping between worlds. Perhaps unnecessary spoils, perhaps more trouble than they were worth. But Pan was willing to bet that they were worth an awful lot.

He kneeled in the sand and opened the plain brown bag, still filled with the glass portals. He had already broken dozens, but there must have been hundreds still to sort through. Maybe now he would have time to find the one that led back home.

“What are you doing in the master’s gardens?”

Pan looked up to see a large man holding two equally large knives. The man looked at Pan’s hands, stained purple with the juice of the fruit.

“Have you picked the sacred fruit?”

Pan grabbed his bag with a sigh and started running. It probably was not the best idea to steal in a strange world, but hey, he was already a thief. How could he resist?


The Eye of Reason

by S. R. Algernon

Geoffrey Wilcox inspected the latest contender in his class’s annual Magic Fair–in this case a few wilted stalks protruding from an otherwise bare tray of dirt. The poster next to it read PLOT A: 2 SPROUTS / PLOT B: 1 SPROUT. NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE. Nancy Foster stared glumly at the gymnasium floor, awaiting judgment.

“Good job, Miss Foster. I mean that.”

Nancy’s growth charm hadn’t done a thing for her bean sprouts, but she took the time to control for seed quality, soil composition, and hours of sunlight. Some apprentice wizards could not manage that much.

Wilcox wanted to tell her how many years he had to spend on his geomancy before he had earned his pointy hat, but the other students clamoured for his attention. Ella waved her divining rod eagerly, and Jerome showed off a handful of pennies that he had transmuted into gold.

“Ella, put that down. You’re not going to find water under the floorboards unless there’s another leak. Jerome, your father’s reputation as a manufacturer of philosopher’s stones is secure. I don’t need to see any more of his handiwork.”

While Jerome sulked, a hum and a sudden burst of chatter at the end of the row caught Wilcox’s attention. James Cunningham and his pint-sized entourage had that table, and the thought made Wilcox queasy.

“What’s going on here?” asked Wilcox, as he pushed his way through the crowd.

A cylinder about the size of a student, topped with a metal sphere, stood beside the table. The table itself sported a gaudy diorama emblazoned with the words VAN DE GRAAFF GENERATOR.

Heidi Braun smiled and her friends giggled while she held her hand to the sphere. Her Rumpelstiltskin hair floated above her like an aura.

“My turn,” said Ella. She poked at the sphere with her divining rod. The sphere emitted a crackling spark.

“Why can’t we do this in class?” said Heidi.

“Get away from that,” said Wilcox. “Out of the room, all of you. Now. Except you, James. I want a word with you.”

“But,” said James, “I haven’t told you how it works yet. Positive charges build up on the sphere, and negative charges build up on the wand. Then when they get close enough, the charges equalize. Crack!”

This was my fault, thought Wilcox. He had let James try to explain his pseudo-magic in class when any other teacher would have made him stand in the corner and wear the tri-cornered Coulomb’s Cap. Debate was important. Students had to see why wrong ideas were wrong, not just accept them.

“Charge is real,” said James. “You can pull it right out of the air. My uncle said–”

“Did your uncle build this?”

“No, but he showed me how to scry for it, to order the parts. There’s a workshop in Cambridge where–”

“I’ve heard enough. Go wait in the hall with the others.”

“It is real,” said James, as he stalked off. “You just saw. Everybody just saw. Even Ben Franklin built lightning rods, and he was a genius.”

Wilcox winced at the thought of Franklin as a would-be phlebotomist, bleeding the air of its unbalanced humours with a giant needle. The primers on lightning usually glossed over that historical footnote.

Once James was out of sight, Wilcox found some rubber gloves in the closet and a piece of chalk from one of the boards. He moved a few of the student presentations out of the way and drew a pentagram ward on the gymnasium floor. It would do, for now.

Wilcox took his Snell sphere out of his pocket and dusted it off.  He wished he could make this plain glass sphere as interesting as that “lightning rod” and “atomic power” nonsense, but would the students listen? Would they care about the hours that Snellius had spent tinkering with glass and candles until he discovered the principle of sympathetic optic entanglement? Would they care about the delicate spirits that give their lifeblood every time they flip a light switch or open the fridge?

The janitor’s face appeared within the glass.

“I think I know,” said Wilcox, “why the lights in the auditorium went out this morning. I need your help in the gymnasium. Bring a cart.”

Wilcox lifted the metal dome. Blue light flickered in the cylinder beneath it.

“Better get the Faraday cage, too.”

 


 

“There you go,” said Wilcox. “Easy now.”

“It’s jittery,” said the janitor, as the lightning spirit leapt onto the wire mesh, “and who can blame it after what that kid put him through?”

Wilcox nodded.

“Best to let it go. It will come back when it’s ready.”

The children watched in silence as Wilcox wheeled the Faraday cage through the double doors. The lightning spirit–a small one, thankfully–flitted from bar to bar, disoriented by the intersecting lines of metal. Heidi’s hair floated again, and she gasped.

“It’s all right,” said Wilcox. “We’re just bringing it outside. Listen to the wind. A storm is coming.”

The sky had grown ominous, as it had been on the day when Benjamin Franklin lifted that wayward spark up on his kite string and sent it back to its mother.

“There,” said Wilcox, as he opened the cage. The spirit danced on the metal and shot skyward with a thunderclap.

“Alright, class,” said Wilcox, shouting over the rain. “I am giving James’s project low marks. Can anyone tell me why?”

“Van de Graaff was wrong,” said Ella. “There’s no such thing as positive and negative electric charge.”

“Faraday was wrong about that too, but astrapomancers around the world owe their lives to the cage he developed. That’s not quite it.”

“It wasn’t right to keep a lightning spirit cooped up like that,” said Heidi.

“We’ll assume James didn’t know it was in there,” said Wilcox. “You didn’t, did you boy?”

James shook his head. His cheeks glistened with tears. He’d been shamed enough for today, but Wilcox didn’t want to end the lesson on that note.

“Anything else?”

“James thought he understood the machine,” said Nancy, as she looked off into the clouds, “just because he could get it to work. He never thought to find out for himself what was inside.”

In this case, thought Wilcox, it was a blessing that he did not go poking around. He smiled, nonetheless. Nancy might not have much future as a gardener, he thought, but someday she’d be a first-rate wizard.


Downsizing Pluto

by Shane Halbach

Hades sat in his office, high atop his dark tower. He put the finishing touches on his black painted finger nails and held his hand up to the light to inspect his work. Perfect. The shade of black exactly matched his hair, his eyes, and his coordinating shirt and pants. Only his pale white skin contrasted the darkness of his appearance. He was just about to complete the look with some dark eye shadow, when he heard a knock. Hades looked up quickly. No one ever dared to disturb him in his tower.

“Enter!” he commanded and the door swung open.

Occupying the entire doorway was a huge man, resplendent in a white tank top and extremely short, red, running shorts. Muscles bulged everywhere. He even had soft red wrist bands and a matching sweat band around his head. Hades rolled his eyes.

“Playing up the jock look a little much, aren’t we Zeus?” asked Hades. He waved Zeus toward a chair. “Come in, come in. Can I get you something to drink? I don’t get much company here.”

“Pluto…” Zeus began and Hades arched an eyebrow.

“What’s with the formal name? You’d think two gods who go back as far as we do could use common names amongst ourselves.”

“Well,” said Zeus uncomfortably. “I think we’d better stick with the formality for now.”

“Very well, Jupiter, what can I do for you?” asked Pluto.

“Well…it’s just that…” stammered Jupiter. “Well, I’m just going to come out with it. We’re going to have to let you go.”

“What?” roared Pluto, and he came halfway out of his chair. “I am Hades, Lord of the Underworld! I bring death and despair! Mothers frighten their children with me; strong men refuse to speak my name lest it draw my attention!”

“Used to lad, used to,” said Jupiter. “It’s just that…well, people aren’t afraid of the underworld anymore. It just doesn’t have a place these days. And it’s been quite a while since people were afraid to speak your name.”

Pluto flopped back into his chair, deflated.

“Look,” Jupiter began. “It’s been hard on us all, the way things have been lately. Not much worship to go around. Something had to give.” There was a long, silent pause into which Jupiter added, “You have to admit, you’ve always been a little…out there.”

Pluto’s head sank into his hands, his elbows resting on his desk.

“You can’t do this to me!” he whimpered. I’ve been a god for over two millennia. I don’t know how to do anything else.”

“Now, now,” said Jupiter. “It’s not the end of the world, just a little downsizing. Plenty of time to start a new career. How about mining? You’ve always had a thing for precious metals. Why, I bet with a resume like yours, you’d make supervisor in no time!”

Pluto slumped down until his forehead was resting on his arms, burying his face.

“What am I going to do?” he moaned.

“I don’t know what to tell you. I suppose you could always try a petition,” suggested Jupiter. “A little self promotion? Drum up some interest? Get you back on the map?”

Pluto let out a low sob.

“Very well, I’ll leave you to it then,” said Jupiter, standing to leave. Sudden inspiration struck and he added magnanimously, “Why don’t you keep the tower for a while? Just until you get back on your feet. Of course…we will have to take the planet back.”

When Pluto didn’t answer, Jupiter backed out of the room and closed the door quietly. With the door safely closed behind him, Jupiter let out a long breath. That had been hard. Pluto had been a god for a long time, he was almost like family. Well, in fact, he was family; he was Jupiter’s brother. Nasty business. Jupiter paused a moment longer and then began descending the long staircase. What he needed was some exercise; something to clear the head.

“Perhaps I’ll go toss some lightning,” he thought, “or maybe play some racquetball.”

Jupiter exited the tower, closing the door behind him, and walked off into the night.

Episode 99: Little Wonders 3 – Scary Stories


Come With Me

by Beth Hull

Everything about her suggested impermanence.

Maybe that’s why we were drawn to her.

It wasn’t just the ethereal blond waves of her hair, or the goth-pale skin of her slender hands. It was her total, absolute ease at being the new student in our tightly-knit prep school.

She drifted into junior home room on a lotus-scented breeze.

Every guy sucked in a breath, and the girls—we don’t know what the girls were doing because we could see only her.

“Come with me,” she said, singling each of us out. For a day, for an hour, for a week we were her best friends, her lovers, her confidantes. But none of us knew anything about her—not where she was from, not the school she went to before ours, not even her name.

“Call me Beatrice,” she said.

“I’m Circe,” she said.

Morgan. Hermione. Rebecca. Medea. Anne. She was all; she was none.

And because of that impermanence, she felt safe. We could get involved. We thought we knew her type—military brat, probably, accustomed to moving, making new friends, and then saying goodbye. She’d be the perfect girlfriend.

“Come with me,” she said to us, and we went. She threw parties in a grand house just outside of town. September is still warm in California, so we swam in the pool, sipped beer, wine, and champagne in the spa, played foosball and watched independent foreign films in the basement theater until our brains were so addled we couldn’t remember our mother tongue.

“Who are her parents?” our mothers asked. “What do they do?”

We shrugged. We didn’t know any of that. We just knew we loved her and when she said, “Come with me,” we followed.

On a clear day in October, I walked with the girl across the quad at school, her slender fingers cold and tightly wrapped around mine. She said, “Come with me.”

“Where are we going?” I couldn’t believe the question had never occurred to me before. Maybe the sun was different that day, and broke the spell. A pimple was coming to a white head just below her right nostril. The first imperfection I’d noticed.

She smiled. “Sevanouir.”

“Where’s that? Some place in France?” I could buy a plane ticket, and I’d go, no question. One pimple was just that—one pimple.

I thought it was a trip for the two of us. I set aside a portion of my trust fund allowance. But then I learned she’d invited everyone—the entire junior class.

“Come with me,” she said, and we skipped school for a Sevanouir planning party.

It was too cold for swimming, but some people swam. I sat in a chair next to the pool, a bottle of beer in my hand, but I didn’t feel like drinking. I’d noticed another flaw in this temporary, impermanent girl: a small, t-shaped scar just below her ear. It was nothing worse than Owen’s forehead scar from field hockey, or Madeline’s mismatched eyes. But why had I never noticed it on her, whom I studied so intently?

I began to notice more imperfections, not only on her person, like the mole on her upper arm or the bright lines of veins on her shins. I saw the rusted outdoor chairs, the cracked tiles edging the pool, the dead leaves on the surface of the water that my friends paddled and splashed through as if they didn’t see them.

And I noticed her—Beatrice, Circe, Morgan, Hermione, Rebecca, Medea, Anne—walking up to each of my friends and placing something small and black in their drinks. My friends peered into the bottoms of their cups in wonderment, but with a light touch and a smile, she distracted them before moving on.

Owen stopped swimming and began to sink.

“Owen!” I tore off my shoes and jumped in the water, struggling to find him among the swirling leaf-sludge at the bottom of the pool. I brought him up, shaking water and decayed leaves from my face. I paddled to the shallow end and turned him around. His eyes were cloudy. Open, they dully reflected a flock of black birds flying overhead. I did something I’d only seen in the movies, and checked his neck for a pulse. Nothing.

Other people sank into the pool around me, collapsed on their chairs, and fell to the concrete steps.

“Stop drinking!” I yelled to the small group nearest me. “She put something in our drinks!”

“Why would she do that?” They drank, and fell.

The girl watched from my lounge chair.

“What did you do to them?”

“We’re going to Sevanouir,” she said. “Come with me.”

“No!”

She took a sip of my beer, then held it up in a salute. “I’ll see you in Sevanouir.” The bottle fell to the concrete and shattered.

She kept her smile even after her eyes clouded over.


Piper

by Ian Rose

He came one day down the northern road, his skin paler than the local men, and his eyes a lighter blue than we had ever seen before. There was a scar above his left eye, and he carried no bag on his shoulder, nothing but his pipes and a flask on his hip. The king had sent word of his people’s need far and wide, sparing a few of his dwindling horsemen to carry the plea. Word had reached the piper, who had dealt with this problem before, and so in time the piper came.

When he blew on his pipes, we followed him without thought or question. My father went first, then my brother, then one by one the rest. They crept at first, then walked, then ran after him, wanting or needing to stay in earshot of the song. I followed the crowd more than the noise itself, my hearing having never quite fully recovered from a bite in the head from the miller’s cat a few months back.

I huddled into a hidden spot that barely fit me, pressed between the reeds. My muscles twitched, my mind and instinct arguing about whether to help or to hide. Chances are that I could not have helped anyway, and I’ve never been particularly brave. So I hid, and I watched. They all went into the dark brown water and for a moment, it looked as if they would simply swim across. My father had taught me young to avoid the creek at all costs, but in their frenzy, their feet could have carried them to the other side. It wasn’t the safety of the bank, though, that called them. It was the piper standing in the center of the creek, and they huddled around him as they fought to keep their ears more than their mouths above water.

When the last of the swimming had stopped, and he waded past them and out of the river, I alone followed him back down the wooded path to town. I was careful to stay hidden and always ready to run, but he barely ever looked back. I wanted to study his face, hoping to detect a sign of regret or maybe just relief. Relief would have been enough, a sort of acceptance of a hard but necessary thing done. When he did turn and I caught a look at his face, he looked pleased. But it was not the kind of pleasure that a man feels on his way home from a job well done. I’ve seen that contented look, in the miller and the cobbler that lived in our house back in town. This was different, more smug and more scary than that. He was thrilled with himself. The face that he made as he cantered back to town – I’d seen that before too, in the soldiers returning from war. A few of them came back so different from the way they had left, with something new and cruel in them. They had tasted blood again and again. They had come in time to expect it, and at some terrible further point, to hunger for more.

I followed him until the palace hedge, and watched him march to the gate, the townspeople in a tight cone behind him. I chose not to blame them for their perverse excitement, because I had seen what they had all been through. The sheer scale of death that had fallen on our town over the last year was staggering, and their faces were marked with it. To have so many of them die in such a short time, when they were accustomed to living so long; it had to be jarring. The miller and the cobbler had lived with us for generations. My grandfather’s father had known them, and I got the sense that they were not even children then.

They somehow knew that we were involved, even if they didn’t understand how. They could not have known that the fleas that often woke us at night with their itchy little bites carried the disease that was killing them all so quickly. They didn’t see the fleas. They only saw us, and where they saw us there was death, and that was proof enough.

The piper passed through the main gate and into the palace, his eyes bright and proud. But to hear the townspeople tell it later, the king must have been even prouder and more sure of himself, because when the piper asked for his payment, the king laughed and refused. “We are in your debt,” he proclaimed, “but what you ask is too much, a fortune for the task of removing a pest.” He offered to pay a small part of the original price; still, the king said, a handsome reward for a bit of fluting. He hadn’t seen what I had, hadn’t noticed the shine in the piper’s eyes. He couldn’t have seen it or he never would have tried to bargain.


The Boatman

by J A Ironside

Soon he would have to row back to the castle. It rose on the opposite bank, a stark, black silhouette against the titian sky. Even from his perch in the stern of his boat he could hear the ravens across the river, prophesying death in their harsh voices, although most people would not have understood them.

The river that bobbed and swelled under his barge felt alien to him. He supposed the Thames was alright in its way but it wasn’t his river. He didn’t know every eddy and shallow of its teasing tides. The Thames was younger, sleepier, less alive. It dreamed and sometimes he watched those dreams.

It flowed through the city and captured reflections – here a scrap of blue velvet – a rich young noble man with a half dressed woman in the wrong part of town; here a skinny child, head to toe in thick mud, ancient eyes in a young face; And here a young woman, cloaked and muffled against recognition, a brief flash of a pearl encrusted slipper.

Time to ready the barge. He pulled his hood closer to hide his death’s head grin. Even the dead had never reacted well to it so he supposed that it probably would disturb the living more. Screaming and swooning seemed excessive in the boatman’s opinion though. At least this work exchange program would be over soon. The truth was when the little scroll of parchment had been delivered to him he hadn’t read the details very thoroughly. It had seemed the opportunity he was waiting for; A change of scenery. He’d had no idea that he would end up half way around the world and 1500 years into the future to boot.

Well he couldn’t argue that the scenery wasn’t an improvement but the rest of the assignment was just downright bewildering. If he had had flesh on his cheekbones he would still be blushing with mortification at the memory of leaving several nobles and a bishop waiting on the tower side of the river despite repeated summons. When he’d finally realized that he was supposed to ferry his passengers both ways on this river and collected them, the bishop had refused to pay him.  

The cloaked woman had reached the barge. He held out a wrapped and gloved hand to help her aboard braced for her to notice the lack of flesh on his finger bones.  She said nothing. Her scarred bodyguard climbed aboard. Not the usual man, the boatman noted. The barge moved smoothly onto the river.

Halfway across the river, the guard stabbed a long knife through the boatman’s back. Without waiting to check on the boatman, he turned on the woman brandishing a second knife. Her face was pale, her lips compressed. The boatman was fascinated. He’d never seen a murder committed, only ferried its victims across the river. The guard’s knife grated against his fleshless ribs. He pulled it out. It clattered to the bottom of the boat. Distracted by the noise the false guard spun, almost losing his footing. Which meant the boatman’s pole caught him full in the face, smashing his skull. Grinning a genuine death’s head grin for once, the boatman hit the guard again knocking him into the cold waters.

“My thanks sir” The woman was a little breathless but composed, “ask for any reasonable reward and it shall be yours”. She pushed back her hood to reveal red hair dressed with pearls.

“No reward necessary, my lady.”

She peered forward into the depths of his hood. He braced himself for a scream but she merely sat back, a considering look on her clever features.

“May I have the name of he to whom I am so indebted.” It was not a request.

“Charon, my Lady”

“Elizabeth” she replied, gazing over the water after her would be assassin. There was not a ripple to show his passing.

All rivers dream and remember in dreaming that they are echoes of the great river between life and death; The Styx .The Thames bore the guardsman’s corpse downstream for the mud larks to find and exclaim over.

The Boatman smiled again.


 

JA Ironside. Jules Anne Ironside started writing as a child. She grew up in Dorset in a house full of books, fed on a diet of myths, legends and spooky tales. She particularly likes to take well known myths and turn them on their heads. Jules is a keen martial artist having taught karate for fifteen years now. In her free time she likes to read and add to her collection of dead or little use languages. She has had several other short stories published in the anthologies Reading is Magic and Stories for Homes both available from Amazon. Her next published story will appear in the A Chimerical world; Unseelie anthology. You can follow her on Twitter.

Episode 93: Little Wonders 2

Show Notes

This episode marks the second time Cast of Wonders has aired poetry. Our first was the excellent Eggs Under Moon from Episode 29, where three different narrators brought you their interpretation of the one poem.


Golly

by Laura DeHaan

A girl and a boy stood at opposite ends of a clearing in the woods. As the girl’s family lived nearby, and she felt it was therefore her clearing, she spoke first. “What’s your name?”

He was a handful of years older than her, with knees and elbows and eyebrows he’d eventually grow into. “Raff,” he said. “What’s yours?”

“Goldilocks,” she said, and looked it.

“That’s a dumb name,” he announced without deliberation. “I can’t take you serious with a name like that.” Indignation made her sputter. He went on carelessly, “Want to play?”

Goldilocks’s family was one that had fled the Eastwise Kingdom after the Bad Enchantment had settled there, and she hadn’t met any other children since. “All right,” she allowed. “But I’m going to call you Ruffian.”

“I’m going to call you Golly,” he said, and Goldilocks needed no other enticement to follow his cry of, “Catch me if you can!”


They stopped by a stream and looked for frogs and fish and enchanted princesses, and climbed trees and dared each other to throw rocks at a hornet nest and ran hollering when they were chased by the angry hive. Raff led them further and further afield with a wave of his hand, claiming dominance over the woods.

“Only don’t go that way,” he said, and to Goldilocks it seemed his nonchalant gesture encompassed a good deal of that way. “There’s bears in those parts. Bears are the worst.”

“What do they look like?” said Goldilocks, who had never seen a bear.

“Oh, they’re big — bigger than that tree, I guess,” he said with another lazy gesture towards a mature pine. “They’ve got big blunt faces and big blunt teeth and they sneak up on you when you’re wide awake and POUNCE!” He leapt on her back and they fell in a tangle.

“Get off, dope!” She kicked and pounded with her fists and he rolled off, laughing.

“Anyway, they do,” he said.

“One more game,” she said. “I need to get home soon.”

“We’ll need a flag,” he said. “Hand me your apron.”

It was stained from various trips to collect berries. Goldilocks undid the knot and passed it to Raff.

“Right,” he said. “Let’s play… Capture the Fleeing Flag!”

“Raff!” she yelled. “Ruffian! Come back here!” She pursued, quickly losing sight but following his laughter. “You wait ’til I tell my brother, he’ll skin you!”

“You don’t have a brother!” Raff yelled distantly. “You told me so yourself!”

“Raff!” She was lost and confused. His voice echoed strangely, when she heard it at all. “Raff, tell me how to get home!”

It was getting dark and Goldilocks cast about anxiously for a familiar path while trying to remember in which direction the bears lay. “East? Or, or… no,” she muttered, turning in place.

There were notches in a tree near her, three atop each other. “Someone must have done that,” she said to herself, “to mark their path and keep from losing their way.”

After a quick search she found another tree nearby with the same three notches. Whether they were going to or from she couldn’t say, but she followed them eagerly and soon came upon a little cottage.

“Hallo?” she called. “Please, I’m lost. Could you… could you…” And she trailed off, not quite knowing what could be done.

There was no answer. Goldilocks pushed on the door and found it opened in two sections, top and bottom. “Perhaps the lower one is for the children to run through?” she said, though it seemed doubtful as she still had to stoop down to get inside.

It was one room, with only some supporting beams and a partition to separate the space at all. A fireplace sat in one wall, ashes and embers in its pit. The floor was covered with animal skins, great big ones with coarse, shaggy hair. A few long bones lay scattered in a corner, looking gnawed upon. “They must have dogs,” she said, and laughed suddenly. Of course, the lower door was for the dog to come through! And there was a distinctly doggy smell about the place.

More importantly, there was a bowl of raspberries on the table. “It’s been so long since lunch, and perhaps if I don’t eat very many…” The sound of her own voice was comforting in the quiet room.

Soon her eyelids started drooping. “I do hope whoever lives here gets here soon,” she said. “Otherwise they’ll find me asleep on the floor!” Her eyes went to the partition. “Maybe there’s a bed behind there. It can’t be worse to find me asleep in bed like a sensible person rather than stretched out on the rug!”

She looked behind the partition at the other end of the room. There was one large bed tucked into the corner, with more furs around its base. The bed was neatly made. It would have been hard to not make it neat, as there were no pillows or blankets on it, only a thin sheet. Goldilocks took off her shoes and snuggled under it. It was not warm at all. “I wonder if they have any children,” Goldilocks mumbled. “I hope not. They’d freeze. But perhaps they sleep all piled together…”


The sound of a door being shut woke her up. Goldilocks held her breath, fearful of discovery. “But how silly!” she scolded herself a moment later. “They must be kind people, to sleep together and own dogs. It’d be worse to stay in bed. I’ll go present myself.” So saying was so doing, and she slipped out from under the sheet and peeked around the partition.

Two people were already looking in her direction, a man and a woman. They were middle-aged and lean and watched her with neither frowns nor smiles. “Excuse me,” Goldilocks said politely. “I’m sorry to intrude, but I lost my way and I heard there were bears in the woods…”

The couple’s faces relaxed into smiles. “Right you are,” the man said. “Terrible things, those bears. Are you hungry? There’s a bowl of raspberries on the table… which I see you’ve already found,” he added, pointing at his lips.

Goldilock’s hand flew up to her mouth and she felt stickiness there. “Oh!” she said, but the couple only laughed. The woman joined her at the table while the man put a log in the fireplace and stirred the embers to flames.

“It’s perfectly fine that you’re here,” the woman said. “We’ve plenty of space in the bed.”

“It’s very big, for the two of you,” Goldilocks said. “Do you have any children?”

“We’ve had our share,” the man said, standing up from the fire. “They grow up so fast. Sometimes one of them drops by.”

“And dogs?” said Goldilocks. “Have you a lot of dogs?”

“Just one at the moment,” the man chuckled. “We let him tire himself out before he comes in at night.”

“It is getting rather late,” said the woman. “Perhaps we’d better turn in. You must be tired after today.”

Goldilocks followed the woman behind the partition while the man went outside to call for the dog. They slipped into bed, although the woman stayed on top of the sheet.

“Do you see many bears?” said Goldilocks.

“Oh no,” said the woman. “They know not to come around here.”

“Your dog must be very fierce, to protect you against bears.” Goldilocks yawned. The woman stroked her hair. Comforted, Goldilocks nuzzled her nose into the woman’s thigh..

“Very fierce,” said the woman. “Bears. Nasty creatures, mean things. Why, a bear would gobble you up feet first while you were looking.”

The door opened and closed again. With the partition between them, Goldilocks didn’t see the gangly young wolf trotting cheerfully beside the man, a berry-stained apron in its sharp-toothed mouth.

“A bear would make all sorts of fuss and noise.”

The smell of dog grew stronger as the man dropped to all fours, shook himself, and was replaced by another, larger wolf in man’s clothing.

“Wolves, now,” crooned the woman, and Goldilock’s breathing deepened and her eyes twitched behind their lids, “wolves will wait until you sleep.”


An Alchemist’s Limit

by Brian Griggs

A flick and a flip

then a proton gloms on

with the heat and the flash

of a miniature star.

 

Subatomic junk

push Nickel down the Table

‘til it shifts and it shines

as Palladium’s smile

But the Guild, oh the Guild

takes a chunk of the loot

for the lessons, for protection

of the alchemist’s craft.

I pause and I think

about the Yakuza’s cash.

How long could I run

‘til I’m caught by my Guild?

Split the O from the H

to make flammable blood.

I slump and I sigh – 

You don’t double-cross gods.


Empires of the Red Dawn
by Jack Murphy

He is ancient and wise

Aware of far distant regions

And the treasures there

 

The breeze carries his word

In chariots of golden light

Pulled along by glass horses

 

Towards children of the crown

Who hunt across bright deserts

With intelligent precision

 

Can we unwind this grey mystery?

Let us build crystal palaces

In honor of his eternal hunt

Episode 87: Little Wonders 1

Show Notes

Hello everyone! Surprise! Today, July 21st, is the two year anniversary of Cast of Wonders. We couldn’t be prouder, and to celebrate we’re debuting a new type of episode. You’re listening to the very first Little Wonders, a collection of flash fiction and poetry centered around a theme or genre. We’re going to start things off nice and easy with a pair of science fiction shorts.


Immersion

by Kara Hartz

Silvia stared at her Teddy, which moved laboriously into her outstretched hand. 

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“Dunno,” she said, “Just thought it.”

She didn’t move objects with the grace the native beings here did, but she still moved them.  Before accepting this ambassadorship I’d worried how it might affect Silvia. She got along well with the Teppim children though, and not having human playmates didn’t seem to bother her.

Moving things was natural to them, like learning to walk or talk for us.  Something picked up by being around it. 

I thought about my pen putting itself away.  Nothing happened.


Influx Capacitor

by Eric J. Juneau

Eleven-year-old Martin had nothing to do on his day off from school.  So he sat alone in his room, doodling in his diary and watching talk shows, since it was too early for cartoons.  The particular topic today was “What would you say if you could go back and tell your fifteen-year-old self one thing?”

Every forty and fifty-year old confessed some regret or mistake.  Half of them broke down in tears. One balding, grizzled man even looked like him.  

“I wish I knew my future,” Martin said to himself.  He wrote down If I read this in the future and someone’s invented a time machine, I’ll be alone on June 22nd, he looked at the clock, 1:45 PM.

*FLASH*

A man with a receding hairline appeared at the foot of his bed, wearing a green-collared shirt and black pants.  His arrival was accompanied by a loud whirring noise coming from a black box on his arm. The man had a bigger nose and a saggy face, but Martin knew he was looking at his future self.    

“Oh my god, it worked.  It worked,” the man said as he adjusted his box.  

“Jesus,” Martin said.  “Are you…?”

“I’m you, yes.  From the future.  You must have just written…”  Older Martin pointed to the diary.  

“…From a time machine?”

“Yes.  I don’t have much time.  I took a lot of risks to get here.”

Martin managed to nod, mouth hanging open.

Older Martin said, “Okay, first thing, ask out Michelle.  She really digs you. No matter how scared or shy you are.  If you don’t, you’ll regret it.”

“Who’s Michelle?”

“College.  Freshman year.  She lives in Sutherland Dorm.  Second, invest in Giga- Write this down!” Older Martin barked.  

Young Martin started writing furiously.

“Invest in Gigawire, YorkMark, and Torama.”

“Those are companies?”

“Yes, and don’t bother buying those collectible comic books.  They’re worth nothing. And Mom throws them out when you go to college anyway.”

“What college do I go to?”  Young Martin asked.

“Cantrell.  And that’s another thing.  You’ve got to get your grades up.  In tenth grade, study really hard. I mean it.  Maybe you could’ve gone to a better school if you hadn’t gotten angsty and goofed off.”

As Martin scribbled, he realized this man, who he would become, wasn’t very pleasant.

He continued, “And quit hanging out with those friends by the stairwell all the time.  They’re losers. They’ll just get you into trouble.”

*FLASH*

Another man appeared in the room next to older Martin.  He wore a shiny blue jumpsuit and looked identical, but with more hair and freckles.  “Good,” he said, “I’m not too late.” He was holding a black device in front of him like bike handlebars.

“Who are you?” Older Martin said.

“I’m you.  Well, I’m the you that you become,” he pointed at young Martin, “After you’re done with your speech.  Your temporal bubble must be protecting you from disappearing. Listen,” he addressed young Martin, “That thing with Michelle.  Don’t do it. Or, if you do, wear condoms.”

“Condoms?” Green-suited older Martin said, aghast.

“I swear to god, she’s crazy.  It won’t be worth it. And pull your money out of the stock market before the ‘Jefferson-Pershing’ incident.”

Young Martin started writing again at breakneck speed.  “What’s that?” he said.

“You’ll know it when it comes.  Also, while I’m at it, don’t buy a Honda Gaia.  They’re terrible.”

“Is that a car?” young Martin asked.

“Sort of,” blue-suited Martin-of-the-future said.

*FLASH*

Now a man wearing a light periwinkle suit, partially ripped at one sleeve, stood before him.  He took his glass helmet off. “Did you just tell him about Michelle?”

Blue-suited Martin nodded, jaw gaping.

“Okay, I don’t know how bad she is, but she can’t be as bad as Amber.”

“Amber?” young Martin and blue-suited Martin said at the same time.

*FLASH*

A Martin wearing a futuristic visor and tight clothes said, “Amber?  Try Fred.”

“Fred?” All the Martins chorused.

Green-suited Martin said, “I hope that’s a nickname.”

The older Martins started talking at once, asking questions and demanding to know what had happened that necessitated so many return trips.  Young Martin couldn’t understand what they were saying.

*FLASH*

A Martin in a pink and gray dress said, “Listen, ignore all these guys.  There’s something-“

“What’s with your clothes?” young Martin said, his tongue out in disgust.

“It’s the fashion.  Something’s going to happen on November 26, 2017.  And you can stop it. I’ve already got a plan for you.  Write this down.”

*FLASH*

A Martin wearing a tight-fitting white one-piece with rings floating above his head said, “Dude, your plan sucks.  You can’t-”  

*FLASH*

A Martin wearing all black with his hair slicked back said, “Kill them all.  Kill everyone in the world. None of them deserve to live.”

*FLASH*

A man appeared with a gray cat’s head and yellow eyes.  A white orb floated between his hands like he was holding it.

“Oh my god,” young Martin said, “What-“

“Yes, this is me.  There is much to explain.  All of the preceding has been irrelevant.”

*FLASH*

“Você precisa de compreender.  Se você conserva o líder da claque, você excepto o mundo.” said the recently arrived Martin with dark skin and a black box around his neck.

“What did he say?” one of the future Martins said.  

Now the room was full of Martins, arguing and bickering with each other, pointing fingers, yelling like a U.N. debate.  Young Martin covered his ears.

His eye caught the line in his notebook with the date and time.  He tore the page out, ripped it up, and threw it away.  

All the Martins looked up, startled.  In a single bright light, they blinked out of existence.  

Martin held his breath.  Thirty seconds passed, but nothing happened.  When he was sure the quiet had returned, he got up, turned off the TV, and got a soda.