Genres: , ,

Cast of Wonders 313: Desert Dogs


Desert Dogs

by Drea Silvertooth and Lian Rose

The vast desert sprawled before Kei, burnt sienna beneath the rising sun. In the distance, derelict buildings of the Old Cities defined the horizon, their dark and splintered silhouettes pointing like daggers at the sky.

Behind her, the city gate clanged shut with a heavy sense of finality. The outer sentries ignored her as she shouldered her supplies—food, water, and the exact number of bullets allowed for intercity travel—and walked toward the stables. Her red cloak dragged in the sand, leaving a path in her wake like a winding snake.

A half-mile out stood a small, hunched figure waiting for her. The faded blue fabric of his robes was drawn up over his face to protect from the stinging wind.

“My driving student,” he said warmly, extending his hand as she approached. “Mister Zhang?”

“Miss,” Kei corrected, taking his hand. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Cast of Wonders 312: Ten Things Sunil and I Forgot to Prepare for, When Preparing for the Apocalypse


Ten Things Sunil and I Forgot to Prepare for, When Preparing for the Apocalypse

by Shane Halbach

1. We didn’t prepare multiple contingencies

When Sunil and I made our plan, we always thought it would be zombies. I mean, we literally imagined nothing else. It just made sense.

Now that I think about it, there are tons of other ways the world could end: aliens from space, nuclear war, some kind of non-zombie disease, maybe nanobots or something. But even then, I wouldn’t have thought of portals to other worlds. I mean, I literally could not have imagined it. (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 311: And Flights of Skuhwiggle


And Flights of Skuhwiggle

by Charles Lee McDaniel

“Hello, children. Quiet down and give me your attention. We have a super-duper treat for you this morning.”

Geez, Nurse Janina was laying it on thick. Jimmy’s hand tightened around the tall stool he held, and his stomach shrank to the size of a raisin.

Why are you worried? the familiar voice inside his head asked.

Because I’ve never done this before, Jimmy thought back.

Excuse me? The gooey green alien perched on Jimmy’s shoulder puffed out its rubbery chest and it squinted its almost-human eyes at him. Have you forgotten how we wowed the crowd at the school talent show? It was only a couple of weeks ago. I know you humans can’t compete with Astrofarians when it comes to memory, but even so…

It’s not that. Jimmy peeked past the curtain hiding him and Skuhwiggle from the rest of the ward. Twenty or so kids looked up at Nurse Janina, drinking in her tale of how Jimmy had supposedly met his alien friend.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Cast of Wonders 310: Little Wonders 18 – Transformation


A Cradle of Vines

by Jennifer Mace

There’s a plant in the hedgerow whose berries glimmer like starlight. Gyn passes it every morning on her way to school. Its leaves are waxy beneath her hands, small as the new baby’s fingernails and greener than grass stains on knees. They leave her skin smelling of peppermint.

The berries are blacker than midnight, blacker than her new father’s hair, and Gyn first notices them as her mother stops noticing her. They like to hide under hawthorn leaves or in the joints of holly bushes, but their silver shine in the winter sun gives them away. She’s smarter than the blackbirds and the robins. She understands hidden things.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Cast of Wonders 309: The Moon, the Sun and the Truth

Show Notes

From the author: In January 2017, Dan Rather “tipped his journalist Stetson” to Anderson Cooper. I had a brief fangirl moment in which I imagined them meeting on some desolate hill and nodding stoically at each other. And then I just kept asking myself questions about what that world would look like. Eventually, I found this story, in a very different time and place than its inspiration, with different faces that echoed very similar fears.


The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth

by Victoria Sandbrook

Dust rising over the next scrub-covered hill gave away the rider’s position even before the incoming trash-guzzler’s growl settled around Andy’s ears. She waited as patiently as you could on a jittery horse that didn’t know you well, in sun that’d singe any hint of bare skin.

They’d been waiting an hour. Time enough in the desert to dream up how many ways this data drop could go. Could be this rider had the data chip and she’d be drowning her sorrows at the tavern by sunset. Could be he was a Directorship plant and there would be a gun for her.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Cast of Wonders 308: Every Drop of Light


Every Drop of Light

by Rachel Delaney Craft

No one ever said no to Grace, because she almost died when she was a baby. That’s why we always did what she wanted to do, even though I was the older sister. That’s why, when we were kids, I followed her into the woods behind the old factory.

We had no business being there. But Grace just giggled as she skipped down the path alongside the eroded creek bank. “Anna, come on!”

I trailed behind her, imagining the knots in the tree trunks melding into stern eyes and puckered mouths. I felt I was in a giant, slow-moving lung: each rustling breeze was a deep breath in, each creaking branch a collective sigh. I felt the place might inhale me and never let me out. (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 306: The Poet and the Spider


The Poet and the Spider

by Cynthia So

You saw the Empress once, when you were still a pillow-cheeked and blossom-mouthed child. She was tall and severe, and the train of her yellow dress flowed behind her for miles and miles, a river of pure gold. You stood behind your mother and wanted to bathe yourself in that river, and the Empress turned, her crown twinkling like a cosmos of cold stars, and she looked at you. You told everyone in your village afterwards that the Empress looked at you.

It was only for a moment. Her head was briefly inclined in your direction, and then it wasn’t. She kept walking. The river of gold frothed sumptuously past for hours, until at midday a woman interrupted it. She wore a black dress that spilled from her shoulders like ink. She held a brush in one hand, and in her other she held aloft the yellow fabric, on which she wrote in decisive strokes. In her wake, the river was no longer pure, muddied by dense black columns of characters.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 304: The Temple of the Whale


The Temple of the Whale

by Karissa Sluss

Late in the morning I find Terren in our palm tree shelter, packing his few possessions: his bone knife; a collection of coral carved into various whale poses; a square of cloth he uses as a blanket on rare, cool evenings; a flask of water; a day’s supply of food, enough to carry him until he reaches the village. His intent to leave me is clear.

I rub away budding tears and cough to clear the warble trapped in my throat. Stiffening my spine, I square my shoulders, a defense against the urge to melt into quivering lump. “I see you’ve made up your mind.”

Terren rearranges things in his satchel to keep his hands busy, to keep his attention occupied. A poor pretext to keep from having to face me. “I have.”

“And you’re set on going now? It can’t wait another day?”

“Safaro wants to leave tomorrow, at first light.”

Safaro is a peddler, a tinker who regularly visits the village at the other end of the tombolo connecting our small tied island. He has seduced my son with exotic trinkets and tales of travel and adventure in the big, grand world thriving beyond our self-imposed cloister. Terrren is almost eighteen. How can I expect him to resist?

“Who’s going to help me fish and forage?” A petulant tone creeps into my voice, something I would never allow under other circumstances, but I’ve temporarily misplaced my dignity. “Whose breath will lull me to sleep at night? What will I do with myself?” I haven’t been a wife for a long time. If Terren leaves, I’ll have no one left to mother. I’ll merely be a caretaker for the legacy of a ghost.

“You’ll still have the temple,” he says, but mutters something unintelligible under his breath.

“What did you say?” I put a hand to his arm to encourage him to face me.

Terren tosses his satchel over his shoulder. His eyes glitter, hard black stones reflecting a challenge. “I said you still have the temple, but I think you should let go of Bailene, too.”

I gasp and give into the tears I’d been trying to resist.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Cast of Wonders 302: Restoring the Magic


Restoring the Magic

by Ian Creasey

When I had climbed high enough that my breath came in great panting gasps, and the sheep in the valleys looked like tiny flecks of fallen cloud, I heaved off my backpack and looked for the best spot to plant the final sapling. Birch and goat-willow dotted the exposed slopes, hardy species that withstood the storms and chills of the High Tatras. My oak required a more sheltered home. I saw a south-facing escarpment, and scrambled across to investigate. The grey rock felt warm under my hand, retaining the heat of the autumn sun. Behind an outcrop, in a small gully, the wind dropped to a light breeze. I pulled up tussocks of grass to inspect the soil, and found it damp but not sodden, thin but not barren. An earthworm crawled away into the moss and leaf-litter. Instinctively, I felt that a dryad would thrive here. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Cast of Wonders 300: The Death Knight, the Dragon and the Damsel

Show Notes

This week’s episode art is from Le livre et la vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre. It details Alexander the Great battling against two-headed, eight-legged, crowned dragons with multiple eyes along their torsos (Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v). It dates to between 1420 and 1425 CE.

Music attribution: Village Consort by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License.


Escape Pod’s Flash Fiction contest returns to the Solar System this year, running April 15-30, 2018.


The Death Knight, the Dragon and the Damsel

by Melion Traverse

Cold afternoon light stretched in thin patches on the stone floor of the great hall. Jaw and guts tight and trembling, I stood at attention with twenty other squires, armor clean and new as our hopeful futures. For four years, we had trained with sword and shield under the patronage of Duke Amlick. Four years tinged in blood and exhaustion. All for the hope that one of the knights roaming among our lines would pick us from the group like a hound pup plucked from its litter. Twenty squires and only twelve knights—Duke Amlick believed his knights ought to have options. Eight of us would go home with tails between our legs.

One by one the knights claimed their squires and I watched my companions go to their new lives, eyes bright with the glory they would win. I stood with eyes half-closed against the fear that I would be left. I, Cori Forsmire, from one of Duke Amlick’s oldest houses, would have to sell my sword as a common guard. What was I going to tell my father? (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 298: Pocosin

Show Notes

From the author: Pocosins are a type of raised peat wetland found almost exclusively in the Carolinas. The name derives from an Eastern Algonquian word meaning “swamp on a hill.” They are a rare and unique ecosystem, today widely threatened by development.


Pocosin

by Ursula Vernon

This is the place of the carnivores, the pool ringed with sundews and the fat funnels of the pitcher plants.

This is the place where the ground never dries out and the loblolly pines grow stunted, where the soil is poor and the plants turn to other means of feeding themselves.

This is the place where the hairstreak butterflies flow sleekly through the air and you can hear insect feet drumming inside the bowl of the pitcher plants.

This is the place where the old god came to die. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Cast of Wonders 297: Artemis Rising 4 – Where You Get Your Ideas

Show Notes

Cast of Wonders is proud to present the fourth annual Artemis Rising event through March 2018! We have four original stories for you this year, guest-edited by assistant editor Katherine Inskip and associate editor Alexis Goble. This year’s artwork by Geneva Barton.

Artemis Rising is an annual month-long event across all four Escape Artists podcasts, celebrating the voices of women, non-binary, trans, and marginalized gendered authors in genre fiction. The resulting lineup is an incredible collection that celebrates the strength, ingenuity, and brilliance of the artists, the characters they create, and the performers that bring these stories to life. It also features the hosting, editing and production talents of a rotating cast. Part of the project’s mission is to give opportunities and experience in these publication roles traditionally held by men.

Don’t miss the full month of Artemis Rising stories across the Escape Artists podcasts!


Where You Get Your Ideas

by Megan Lee Beals

Bells chimed in the empty storefront that waited for us at the top of the stairs. The boss closed her eyes and tilted her head to assess their tone.

“Iron, pitched low, minimal tuning. It’s probably high fantasy up there.”

I shrugged over the collection of banshee skulls I was cleaning for a future wind-chime. “Cool.” I was her subordinate, and the fantasy upstairs would need a young apprentice to cast aside before she could make a grand entrance as some wizened old shopkeeper.

Were it the eerie insectoid hum of space-opera, I’d answer as the rookie, but the roles are pretty much the same. (Continue Reading…)