Genres: ,

Episode 253: Single Parent by Sarah Gailey

Show Notes

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


Single Parent

By Sarah Gailey

 

The monster in my son’s closet is so fucking scary.

Here’s what happened: Jack screamed in the middle of the night and I came running because I’m his dad and that’s what dads are for. He’s been doing that for a month — screaming like someone’s in his room murdering him with a screwdriver. And even though there’s never, not even once been anyone murdering him, I couldn’t just let him scream his little head off all night. If I didn’t come running, his mom would have risen from the grave just to come and slap me upside the head.

I know what you’re thinking, but the monster in the closet is not his mom. It is not my dead wife, come back to watch over him and protect him. This isn’t that kind of a story. It’s a fucking monster, okay?

Anyway, he screamed like he’s screamed every night since we watched Denise go into the ground. I came running like I’ve come running every night since we threw dirt at her coffin, which seems like it’s supposed to be important and respectful but really just felt like throwing dirt at my wife’s corpse. He was sitting up in bed, sweating and crying and smelling like little-kid-piss and I remember thinking that this was the last straw — that tonight I would be Tough Dad and tell him I wasn’t going to put up with the screaming anymore.

I didn’t end up doing that, though. I’ve never been a tough guy. Denise was always the tough guy, but she’s being tough on Abraham up in heaven somewhere and I’m down here sitting on my kid’s wet bedsheets.

Anyway, I burst into his room and put my arms around him. I kissed his sweaty head and told him that everything would be okay. I asked which nightmare had woken him up this time. Usually they’re nightmares about his mom coming back, which breaks my heart to hear, but the therapist said I have to listen. So I braced myself, and tried to be ready to hear him talk about how Denise’s face is melting off in his subconscious.

Only this time, he shook his head. Not a nightmare. A monster.

I am a bad father because I was relieved. That’s how you know you’re a bad father: your kid is trembling and terrified and you breathe a sigh of relief because it’s only his worst fear and not yours.

The thing is, I thought I knew how to handle the monster situation. From experience. For six months or so before Denise died, Jack had this thing about a monster in his closet. The therapist said that he was processing her sickness through a proxy – that he couldn’t quite understand what was coming, that he couldn’t know what “terminal” meant, so his little-boy brain just decided “there’s scary shit on the way” and invented a monster that was always getting ready to eat him. That’s how I felt for the entire time she was dying. And sure enough, once she died, he stopped having the thing about the monster.

So I did what I had done every other time that Jack had woken up screaming about the monster: I checked the closet. That’s what you do, right? Your kid says “oh god there’s something scary” and you say “I’ll go look at it for you” and then you look, and there’s nothing there, and you tell the kid that nothing is there, and everyone goes back to bed.

Except that’s not what happened.

Look, there’s never been a monster in there before. I can deal with a lot of stuff. I’m a bedtime champion and a dang master at after-school-talks about feelings. I can re-shingle a roof and I’m even okay at plumbing, if the water’s shut off right. I can handle myself, is what I’m saying. But a monster? I had no game plan for there actually being a monster. My game plan was oriented towards getting the kid back to sleep. It’s a fifteen-minute plan at the most. The point is, who prepares for the eventuality that a six-year-old is right about something at two in the morning?

Not me, I guess.

So I told Jack-o I would look in the closet, and I did. I opened the closet door, and then I shut it again very quickly, because guess what? There was a monster in there.

You’ll want to know what the monster looked like. I was too busy clenching to retain details, but here was my general impression: teeth, claws, tentacles. I didn’t know that tentacles could have claws, but apparently the limits of my imagination do not encompass the fullness of God’s creation, so what do you want? Also, eyes — so many eyes, like a spider with a lot of little spiders on top of it. All of them were looking at me.

It was without a doubt the scariest thing I have ever seen in my ever-loving life, and I’ve seen a doctor’s face when he’s about to say the phrase “six months left”, so I know from scary.

I opened the closet door again. The monster made a noise like a percolating coffee maker. I shut the door.

And now I’m sitting in my son’s bed, not minding the piss smell so much, and I’m trying to figure out how to tell him that the monster in the closet is real.

 


 

It’s not fair to Jack, is the thing. It’s not fair that he already had to find out that moms can die and dads can’t stop it – now monsters? In his closet? And I can’t spin this as maybe it’s a nice monster because it’s a monster and monsters are by definition not nice, and something with that many eyes eats little boys. It’s just a fact.

He’s looking at me and his little pink lip is quivering and he’s shaking like he runs on batteries, but he’s setting his jaw like his mom used to. Christ. He’s being brave.

He rubs the back of his head, foofing out his duckling hair, and I realize that it’s a motion he’s learned from me. I do that all the time. I’m doing it right now.

“Well, buddy. What are we gonna do about that thing?”

He shrugs in that little-kid way. When a teenager shrugs, it means “I don’t give a crap, what do you know? Leave me alone, I’ll never get old, I’ll always like this kind of music.” When a little kid shrugs, it’s so honest — a little-kid shrug just means “I got no goddamn idea, pops.” I love the hell out of him when he shrugs at me.

“When did the monster come out?”

The kiddo looks at me like I’m an idiot. “When I let my feet stick out from under the covers.” Of course. His feet are well and fully tucked in now. I lift the corner of one of the blankets just an inch, and sure enough, the doorknob on the closet starts turning. I put the corner of the blanket back down fast and the door stays shut.

“Well, we can’t have it coming out of there.” He agrees with me, nodding gravely. “‘Cause kiddo, I don’t know how to tell you this, but… I’m, like, one hundred and ten percent certain that it’ll eat us.” He nods again, Duh, Dad. Kid already knows this stuff, I don’t need to tell him. He doesn’t look so scared anymore, and I realize that it’s because I’m here. His work is done — he called in the big guns, and now, the situation in the closet will be resolved by someone who knows what to do about situations in closets.

He thinks I can fix it. He thinks I can fix anything. Even after I couldn’t fix the one thing that mattered most, he still thinks I know all the answers.

We sit on the bed, talking over our options. We could nail the door shut, but then he wouldn’t be able to get any of his shoes or his pants, and he needs those for school on Monday and all. Plus the monster can probably dissolve nails with acid or something. From our combined understanding of monsters, it’s probably allergic to something dumb like mustard or broccoli or spider-man band-aids, but we don’t have time to experiment. I don’t have a gun, because I live in a house with a six-year-old. I’m proud to say that the idea of a gun doesn’t even occur to him until I mention it. What a guy.

We sit in his rocketship bed, trying to figure out what to do about the monster. He doesn’t want to kill it, because he’s six and he’s the best person in the world. I want more than anything to kill it, but I’m pretty aware of my own limitations and frankly, I don’t think I could take that thing on. I take Jack out for ice cream if there’s a spider in the kitchen, okay? Denise was always the one who dealt with those, and I never saw her take out a spider the size of my kid’s closet. This thing — it’s big. And it’s a monster. And did I tell you about the tentacles already?

After a long time spent discussing the merits of just burning the house down – and let me tell  you, spend an hour trying to explain fire insurance to a six-year-old and you’ll feel eager to face a monster – we notice that it’s getting light out. When it’s definitely morning – birds are chirping, sun is shining, the whole magilla – we decide to see if the monster is still there. Maybe it’s only there at night, you know?

My son lifts up a corner of the bedsheets.

Nothing happens.

He pushes the bedsheets down until they’re just covering his feet to the ankles.

Nothing happens.

He takes a deep breath, my brave boy, and whips his feet out from under the covers like the he’s fastest gun in the West winning a shootout. We watch the closet door, eyes wide, hearts pounding.

Nothing.

He looks at me and I look at him and we both know that one of us has to look in the closet. He whispers, “Maybe it’s sleeping. Maybe it’s nocturnal.”

I squint at him. “When did you learn ‘nocturnal’?”

He rolls his eyes and I realize that someday this kid is going to be a teenager, and I look at the closet door, hoping the monster will come out and eat us both before that happens.

“Okay. Okay, buddy, here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re gonna go shut yourself in Daddy’s bedroom, okay? You’re gonna lock the door-”

“I’m not supposed to lock the door.”

“I know, but just this once, you’re gonna lock the door and -”

“But I’m not supposed to lock the door because -”

I rest a hand on his head and deploy the Dad Stare, which is basically the only weapon in my arsenal. He’s polite enough to pretend it’s intimidating.

“You’re gonna lock the door. And then I’ll take a look and see if the monster is sleeping, and then we’ll figure out what to do, alright?”

He nods. His eyes are huge, but his jaw is still set in that Denise kind of way. I put my arms around him and I hug him, I hug my son so tight that I’m sure I’m hurting him, but he hugs me back anyway because he’s the best damned kid there ever was.

“If anything happens to me, you take my cell phone from my nightstand and you call Grandma Irene, okay?” His answer is muffled because I’m jamming his face into my chest. I pull back to let him breathe. His face looks like he has a lot of objections to this plan, but he just says “I love you, Dad,” and I don’t know if I can keep it together much longer so I push him out the door.

I sit on his rocket bed and listen to his little feet pad down the hallway. I hear him go into my bedroom with the one empty nightstand, and I hear him close the door, and God bless his six-year-old heart, I hear him turn the lock.

I don’t want to waste any time, because my son is probably terrified in there. He’s scared and alone, wondering if his dad is about to get eaten by a monster.

I have to open the closet door.

I can’t just sit here and wait – it’ll be the same thing in there no matter when I do it. I have to get up and walk across the room and open the door to my boy’s closet.

I wish Denise were here. I always wish she was here – that hasn’t stopped, not once since she died – but right now I really, really wish she was here, because she would be the one to look in the closet. She would get right up and march on over and yank the closet door open. She would grab the monster by one of those frilly things around its primary eyeballs and she’d drag it out to the front yard and make it feel ashamed of itself.

But I’m not Denise, and I’m just sitting on the rocket bed with my head in my hands because I can’t take on a monster. It’s too hard, and it’s not fair, and I don’t know how. I’m not her. Looking in the closet to confirm that there’s no monster is right in my wheelhouse, but dealing with the monster when it’s real — that’s Denise stuff.

Something tickles between my ears.

Denise stuff. This is a Denise job.

The tickle fades, but then returns again, brighter. Denise stuff. Denise stuff. Why does this feel so important?

And then I remember.

I was six. My ma came into my bedroom because I was screaming at the top of my lungs. She looked in my closet and then she said ‘oh no, no sir. This is Reggie Stuff,’ and then my pop came in and he looked in my closet, and then he sent me out of my own room. I remember I sat in my parent’s bedroom with my ma. We shut the door and put a chair in front of it and then she taught me how to play poker for a few hours.

Of course. Of course it was him.

I run down the hall to my bedroom. The door is shut – locked, of course, damn it, Jack locked it because I told him to. I’m about to pound on the door, about to yell for him to let me in, but then I think better of it. I tap on the door with the pad of my index finger.

“Hey buddy, can you let me in? It’s your dad.”

There’s a long pause, so long I almost tap again, before I he answers. I can barely hear him.

“How do I know you’re not the monster?”

Oh, Jesus, how do I answer that one?

“Kiddo, it’s really me. I… huh. How would you know if I was the monster?”

Another long pause. The sound of the lock clicking open. He eases the door open a crack, peeks out at me with one eyeball. I kneel down to look through the crack at him.

“Buddy, it’s me, I promise. But if you’re scared, you can just grab my phone from my nightstand and slide it through to me, okay? I have to make a really important phone call.”

The door shuts, locks again. Smart kid. A minute later, my phone slides under the door.

“Thanks, Jack-o. I promise I’m not mad at you for not letting me in, okay?”

No response. I tap on the door with with my pinky finger, soft as I can, wishing I could rest my hand on his fine blond hair; wishing I could give my frightened little boy a hug.

“I mean it. I’m not mad at you. You’re a smart guy, and you did the right thing. I love you.”

There’s a sniffle from the other side of the door. “I love you too, Dad.”

There’s a sniffle from my side of the door. I wipe my eyes on the sleeve of my t-shirt, and head back to the bedroom before he can hear me crying, because what’s scarier to a six-year-old boy than hearing his dad cry?

I make the phone call, and after that, it’s only ten minutes or so before Grandma Irene arrives.

I’m not supposed to call her Grandma Irene – I’m supposed to call her Irene, or Mrs. Hart if she’s mad at me about something. But to Jack, she’s Grandma Irene, so it’s in my head now. You know how that goes. She’s the only grandparent the kid has, what with my ma and pop dead and Denise’s dad having run off way back when. Jack loves her.

“So, what’s the big emergency?”

I don’t know how to tell her, so I just point upstairs. We go into Jack’s room. Her eyes fall on the empty rocket bed.

“Where’s Jack? Is he alright?” Her face is white and she’s gripping my arm with such incredible strength that I know I was right to call her.

“Jack’s fine, Irene. He’s in my bedroom. I – I need your help.”

She’s searching my face, and just like that, she knows. Her head swivels until she’s looking at the closet door. She definitely knows. But she asks me anyway.

“Why did you call me?”

I clear my throat. I’m embarrassed. Wouldn’t you be? Calling Grandma to come help out? Admitting that since your wife died there are some things you just don’t know how to do? Some things you just aren’t ready to take on yet, because you can’t accept that she’s not there to help with them anymore?

“There’s a monster.”

“What? Speak up, I can’t hear you.”

I clear my throat again. I try to make eye contact with her but I can’t, so I settle on looking at her chin.

“There’s a monster. In the closet.”

She ducks her head to look in my eyes, and the way she does it is so Denise that I well up.

She nods. “What kind of monster?”

I am at a loss. What kind? How should I know?

“Uh, tentacles? Teeth, claws, eyes. Frilly things.” I wiggle my fingers around my temples like that’ll clear up the meaning of ‘frilly things.’

Irene looks at the closet, and it looks like she’s doing math in her head. She nods again.

“That’s Irene stuff, alright. Take Jack to the park and play catch. Don’t just look at me with your mouth open, Donovan, do as I say. Go to the park with him and play catch and then come back.” She calls me Donovan instead of Donny and that’s how I know she means business. And I want to take Jack to the park. But even this I can’t do on my own.

“…He won’t come out of my room. He wants me to prove that I’m not the monster, and I – I don’t really know how to do that.”

She stares at me for a long moment, then smiles. “He’s such a smart boy.”

She strides down the hall to my bedroom, raps on the door, and calls to Jack. “Jack, you come out of here right this instant. It’s Grandma Irene. I’m taking care of the monster; you and your father are going to go play catch in your pajamas.” She sounds so much like Denise that I want to curl up on the floor and bite my knees. Her tone is one hundred percent Irene, and I feel a pang of sympathy for what the monster is about to go through. Jack comes out of my bedroom. His eyes are all puffy. Grandma Irene gives him a quick hug and then pushes him towards me.

We go to the park and we play catch. Actually, we’ve never played catch before, so it’s kind of weird – us in our bare feet in the dewy grass, me teaching my kid how to throw a baseball. He’s good at it. I’m good at teaching him.

When we get home a few hours later, there are three big garbage bags piled up on the curbside for pickup. I set Jack up in the kitchen with a bagel and some peanut butter, then head upstairs. Irene’s jacket is draped across the fin of Jack’s rocketship bed, and the water is running in the hall bathroom. I knock on the door.

“Irene? Is everything okay?”

She cracks the door and peers out at me, exactly the way that Jack did when he wanted me to prove I wasn’t the monster.

“Everything is fine, Donovan. I’m taking a shower. Would you be a dear and throw this out for me?” She passes out what remains of her smart pantsuit – it is a wad of pastel shreds, held together by green ooze. “And would you loan me something to wear?”

I haven’t thrown out any of Denise’s clothes yet, and in her side of the dresser I find a set of her pajamas that look like they’ll fit Irene. I pull them out, run a thumb over the penguins on the pajama bottoms. They’re surfing. The penguins, not the pajama bottoms.

How do I do any of this without her? How do I do it alone?

But then, I’m not alone, I guess. I’ve got Irene. And I’ve got Jack. And I know that eventually, I’ll learn to do the Denise stuff. When I’m done looking at the empty places where she should be. When the fact that they’re empty stops being something I need to stare at in order to understand the contours of my loss.

I hear the water in the hall bathroom turn off, and I know Irene’ll be needing these surfing penguins in a minute. I crack the door open just enough to slide the pajamas through, then close it again as quietly as I can.

I walk downstairs, bracing myself for the peanut butter explosion that inevitably awaits me in the breakfast nook – but when I get down there, there’s no peanut butter explosion. My boy has pulled his chair up to the sink, and he’s standing on it so he can reach to wash his own plate. Getting soap everywhere, but still. He’s trying to pull his weight.

What a guy.

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Episode 252: The Forty Gardens of Calliope Grey by Aimee Ogden


The Forty Gardens of Calliope Grey

By Aimee Ogden

 

In her fourth-floor apartment on Wrightwood Avenue, Calliope Grey kept forty gardens of varying size and composition. She had gardens in drawers, in old hat-boxes and mixing bowls. In the drawer that pulled out from beneath her stove, she had a desert garden of cactuses and sagebrush; in the plastic freezer box that was meant to store ice cubes, she grew bearberries and arctic moss.

Real gardens, in miniature, not models or mere toys. Calliope didn’t go out looking for them, but they’d found their way to her one by one. It had been some years since she’d discovered a new one, but she still harbored hopes every time she opened a cupboard or peered beneath the furniture. Once, she’d opened a box of cereal only to have a jumble of dirt and tangled roots go spilling into her bowl. Another time, she’d left a coffee cup out on the end table overnight and found it overflowing with a tiny raspberry bramble the next morning. It didn’t matter where they come from, only that they found their way to her. She had room in her heart for all of them, and plenty more to spare.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 250: Blood and Water by Jason Kimble


Blood and Water

by Jason Kimble

The year we turned nineteen, the boy I loved disappeared under the waves of Lake Michigan, but he didn’t die. I never told anyone. That he was alive. That I loved him. That he

My fingertip goes white as I smash down on the delete key and the cursor devours my words.

The broken swimming trophy lies sideways on the kitchen table. I stare at it as I dial, ignore the cat mewling, exiled, on the other side of the door. I count the rings of the phone at my ear. Seven rings (for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone) before Mr. Gravere picks up.

“Why are you calling, Mike?” Gravere says.

“It’s about a book,” I say. “I … think that I loaned it to Andy, before–”

“That wasn’t his name.” I can’t decide if the ice sheathing Mr. Gravere’s voice is better or worse than his scalding anger at the funeral.

“It’s special. A first edition. Return of the King. My mother–”

“So special it took you five years to notice it missing?”

“It’s just … ” I turn the gilded swimmer in my hand.

“I told you when he died, Michael: you’re not welcome here. Live without the book. I’m living without a whole lot more.” Mr. Gravere hangs up. (Continue Reading…)

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Episode 249: Lost in Translation by Afalstein Kloosterman

Show Notes

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


Lost in Translation

by Afalstein Kloosterman

 

“It turns out,” said the High Ecclesiarch of the Writ, “that when the prophecy says ‘the hero’s body shall stand resilient against the flame,’ a more accurate translation would be ‘resistant against the flame.’”  He gave a pained grimace.  “Ancient Nearnoxian can be… ambiguous, at times.”

Phillip Stalford, Hero of Nearnox, Chosen One of the Golden Age, Bastion of Chastity and Valor, Banisher of the Dark Torch, V’lthaern d’Sng’ssn, and Paladin of the Holy Writ blinked back from within the mass of bandages that healer Ziva was carefully tending to.  “Oh.”  He said.  “Well, I suppose that’s better than finding out I hadn’t been ‘pure of heart’ enough.   Or that the Great Scriptor had taken a dislike to me.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 246: Old Teacups and Kitchen Witches by Kate Baker

Show Notes

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


Old Teacups and Kitchen Witches

by Kate Baker

 

On the night my grandfather died, we all sat around his kitchen table and marveled at how he’d been able to raise six kids in such a tiny house. While creative with the cramped living space, one bathroom seemed to be enough despite the hustle to get to school and work in the mornings. Especially as children grew into teenagers and time preening before the mirror was at a premium.

There is chaos that comes with illness and death, yet despite piles of unopened mail and neglected dishes and floors, my eyes lingered on the subtle touches that made this house a home. Especially in this kitchen. A wooden hutch still held the “good” glass and dinnerware that my grandparents cherished and thought to protect. Pots and pans of every shape, size, and color hung from racks and peeked out from crowded cabinets. And despite a very thin layer of dust, the spice rack stood at the ready for whatever recipe came along.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 236: Beats by Brent C. Smith

Show Notes

 


February is Women in Horror Month, an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Check out the hashtag WiHM8 for plenty of suggestions. Or if you have the stomach for stronger fair, our sister show Pseudopod.

You can find all our own Women in Horror episodes here!


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


Beats

by Brent Smith

 

“Both his parents got killed in a fire when we were in junior high. He’s been a freak ever since.” Missy Jenkins paused, and I waited, letting her build the drama. Finally she grabbed my shoulder and pulled me so close I could smell her strawberry lip gloss. “I heard he started it.”

David McKee, or “Beats” as he was called in the high school hallways, slouched at a table in the farthest corner of the lunchroom. I’d only been at Ridgefield High for a year and had never talked to him, but I knew his reputation. Everyone did. No one sat near him. That would be social suicide. Even the math whizzes and band geeks hung out one step above the level of high school outcast hell Beats had claimed.

“Now he lives with his grandparents. They’re like a hundred years old. Can you imagine? No wonder he’s so weird.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 234: Why I’m Asking For An Extension On My Paper by Jennifer Hykes

Show Notes

February is Women in Horror Month, an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Check out the hashtag WiHM8 for plenty of suggestions. Or if you have the stomach for stronger fair, our sister show Pseudopod.

You can find all our own Women in Horror episodes here!

 


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


Why I’m Asking for an Extension on my Paper

by Jennifer Hykes

 

Hi, Professor Brandt?  It’s me, Lauren, from your morning lecture?  I know this call is really last minute, and I know you don’t normally grant extensions for “anything short of the apocalypse,” but would you be willing to make an exception?  Friday’s storm knocked out my power.  My computer went offline literally as I sat down to type!  And then the zombies surrounded the house, and between them and the genie and little girls crash-landing on my roof and my housemate’s crazy cat making a general nuisance of himself, my weekend was pretty much shot.

Wait, let me back up.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 226: Wished by Amanda Helms

Show Notes

Happy New Year!


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


Wished

by Amanda Helms

 

The wishing well discovered its meaning in existence only through a case of mistaken semantics. In point of fact, it started its existence not as a wishing well but as a decorative fountain. In point of another fact, it was sentient, all of which is most unusual for either a decorative fountain or a wishing well.

The way these three unusual things came to be is this:

On one summer solstice, a mother and her toddler stopped by the decorative fountain in the middle of Longview Mall, a middling shopping center located in a middling town in middling America.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 222: The George Business by Roger Zelazny

Show Notes

Image is “Saint George And The Dragon” in Alexander Gardens, Moscow

Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.


The George Business

by Roger Zelazny

Deep in his lair, Dart twisted his golden length about his small hoard, his sleep troubled by dreams of a series of identical armored assailants. Since dragons’ dreams are always prophetic, he woke with a shudder, cleared his throat to the point of sufficient illumination to check the state of his treasure, stretched, yawned and set forth up the tunnel to consider the strength of the opposition. If it was too great, he would simply flee, he decided. The hell with the hoard, it wouldn’t be the first time.

As he peered from the cave mouth, he beheld a single knight in mismatched armor atop a tired-looking grey horse, just rounding the bend. His lance was not even couched, but still pointing skyward.

Assuring himself that the man was unaccompanied, he roared and slithered forth.

“Halt,” he bellowed, “you who are about to fry!” (Continue Reading…)

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Episode 182: A Troll’s Trade

Show Notes

Dedicated to Graham Joyce, Clarion West 2010 Instructor


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.


A Troll’s Trade

by Sandra M. Odell

Maybe I should have listened to me mudder, been a mason or a carpenter, but I was young, hornstrong, determined to make me own way.

“A what?” she said, and stirred the stew so hard the pot tumbled right off the fire and spilled into the river.

I picked me nose and spread it on a cracker with a bit of brie. “A florist.”

Me mudder scooped what she could of the stew back into the pot and set it back on the fire. “What would your da say? He built our bridge with -”

“With the sweat off his nose before he got tricked by the Maiden of Merriwether and turned to cheese, yah, yah, I know. Chisels and mortar and nails aren’t me thing, is all.”

“You’re a troll! Where are you going to live if’n you can’t find a bridge?”

I tossed a bit more gravel into the stewpot for a proper crunch. “I’ll find something, easy peas porridge.”


Yeah. Me mudder threw me out on both ears and without even the porridge. Too bad, because there weren’t no bridges neither. I looked long and hard. Looked so hard, me eyes bugged even more. Even went as far north as the Pigling Lakes, thinking plenty of water made for plenty of bridges. Did you know some folks think a fairy is a boat?

I figured maybe I could live someplace else, become a trendsetter. I mean, trolls don’t always got to be masons so it don’t always got to be bridge, right? I tried a vine trellis, even a vineyard row, but neither had that special hidey something that makes a place livable. Haylofts were awful high up, and root cellars offered no privacy. Chicken coops? No thank you; I have me pride.

So, I did the only thing I could. I went to live under a porch. It wasn’t proper or even fancy, but it was a roof over me head. The folk family kept goats and chickens, had a garden with lovely sweet peas in the spring and winter squash blossoms in autumn. There was even a field a good skulk away with red and orange poppies, and rose mallow. I grabbed the kids’ ankles at least twice a week to keep in shape. I could have wished the folk mum didn’t always hold the most tender, but, well, florists can’t be choosers.

Though it does make a mouth drool just thinking about it.

Thing is, there isn’t much room under a porch, not like there is under a proper bridge. Always dirty and spidery, no room for flowers or pots let alone a nice vase, and I could never stand up. Made for a nasty belly rash, that. Not even a place to set up a spit or me smallest cook pot.

No, life under a porch was not for me. The local bridges were all taken, all except for the comfy stone bridge south of the city proper with the not so comfy ghosts. I heard tell of a gray beard who lived under a city bridge and was maybe looking for something less busier, so I went to see what we could work out. Well, he worked me out alrighty, right out from under his bridge with a roar and a tumble. Him and his silver coins woven into his back hair sos the trollops might find him fancy. Fah!

And it was such a nice bridge, a right full overpass. Worked stone arches, strong pylons, no ghosts.
Fuddleswort up north said I would be better off going over the Old Bones Range and find me a gulley bridge. Edfart said Fuddleswort was full of stinky soup, and I should get me a big pot, cook up a folk stew with peppers and baby fern, and make meself at folk home. Fuddleswort said baby fern didn’t hold up, and to use kale.

“Baby fern.”

“Kale.”

“Baby fern!”

“Kale!”

They locked horns, and I left them to make out for themselves.

I almost crawled back home, but what with the rash and all I couldn’t take the pain. There was nothing to it but to braid buttercup crowns and thunk trollish thoughts.

The answer? Money. And for money, I needed folks.

The folk pa seemed a decent sort as far as folk go. He did have the heaviest step, but he didn’t tromp over me just because he could. A regular folk with no charms or trickery about him, which is good; cheese is for eating, not being. As I understood it, he worked the market selling fresh eggs and his wife’s bakings, more like burnings, actually, which was perfect for me.

I thunk me thoughts all the way through, and when he came down the two short steps early one morning to gather eggs I was ready for him.

I grabbed his ankle at the bottom step. The folk pa whooped and took a tumble, basket one way, hat another, and me holding on. He tried to jerk his foot away, and I jerked back. “I want to talk to you,” I said. I glowied me eyes so he could see me. I must have glowied them too well because he fainted dead away. Folks. Never scare when you want them to.

A few seconds later he came to and tried to get his feet, but I still had one. “I just want to talk.”
His eyes bugged and his face turned all sorts of colors before he settled down. There was enough of me hand and arm showing that he could follow it under the porch to me not so glowy eyes. “You’re real,” he said, rather, squeaked.

“Yah.”

“The children. They said you – ”

“I’m a troll. That’s what I do.”

He gulped. “Are you. . .Are you going to eat me?”

Not without cooking him first. What does Edfart know. Grown folk are best braised. “No.”

He managed a sit and then bent low for a closer look. “What are you doing under my porch?”

“It’s me summer home. I need to use your fireplace.”

He moved his leg. I didn’t let go.

“My what?”

“Fireplace. Your fireplace.”

“My fireplace?”

This wasn’t going like I thunk it would. “That’s what I said.”

“All right. Why? And how did you get under there? I thought you trolls are, you know, big.”

Like that, I pulled his leg all the way under the porch.

The folk pa squealed. “Okay, okay! You’re a troll. Big troll, huge troll, massive, ginormous.”

“Better.” He smelled ripe with sweat, nothing a little oregano couldn’t fix. I gave him his leg back.
To his credit, he didn’t run. He got to his hands and knees, still peering under the porch. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, why do you need my fireplace?”

“I want to cook.”

His eyes bugged again. “Not the children, I hope.”

Kid pie with potatoes and pearl onions. Me drool made the ground all muddy. “No.”

I could have wanted for flowers, but food would do. I set out what I needed from market. He listened, nodding his head with all that floppy red hair. “I’ll, um, I’ll have to tell my wife. Midge. She’s my wife.”

“Yah.”

He squinted his eyes for a better look. I glowied mine, and he decided he’s seen enough.

“Right,” he said, and mopped his brow with a muddy hand. “You’ll do your cooking, and then you’ll crawl back under the porch to eat. I hope.”

“No, then you take it to market.”

That’s when he figured it was best to get on gathering eggs. I liked him more already.

That night, when the candles were guttered and the dark everywhere, I crept inside and found me fixings on the plank table. Houses give me the willies with their shuttered eyes and walls and doors; they’re too housey. I put it out of me mind and set to work. True to our agreement, the grown folks stayed in their beds and left me good and alone. Good thing, too. I eat when I get nervous.

Before the first of them made a noise the next morning, a baker’s make of cherry clafoutis wrapped in checked muslin waited on the table. I snuck out of the house just as the most tender set up a hungry squall. Lucky for him I’d made extra.

With the eggs gathered and whatever folk do in the mornings done, the folk pa set off to market with the eggs, me luscious clafoutis, and two of his wife’s custard pies. “Have a good day,” I said around me last mouthful.

He nodded, and stepped a little faster on his way.

As usual, he was home after sunset, baskets swinging from his arms and a frown on his face. He settled himself on the first step and sat without a word. I heard a muted tinkle, muffled metal on metal.
What was he waiting for? I cleared me throat and he nearly fell off the step.

“Oh, you are there,” he said.

“Sit on the ground,” I said.

He did. I couldn’t see his face, but he worked the cap in his hands like a folk mum on wash day. “You sold them all?”

“I did.” He opened his cap, pulled out a few coins, held them low so I could see. “Five silver and three half-coppers. Your share.”

“What about your wife’s pies?”

His hands drooped, but he didn’t let go of the coins. “Still have them both. Everyone wanted more of your tart things.” He lifted the corner of the cloth over one basket. “I don’t even think I can get the goats to eat these.”

I wouldn’t want to eat the goat that ate her pies. “Too bad.”

He presented the coins a second time.

“Keep them for now,” I said. “You’ll be needing them for market tomorrow.”

“All of them?”

He sounded somehow wistful, and that’s when I was certain.

“We’ll work something out,” I said.


We started small, a few popovers here, a pile of raisin tarts there, on the folk holidays sugar buns stuffed with goat cheese and apricots. I added slugs and potash to me sugar buns, an acquired taste, I know. On the days he came home with empty baskets, I let him keep two silver coins and I buried the rest in a hole at the back of the porch. The kids soon had new shoes, and the oldest kid a red ribbon for her hair.

A baby goat went missing the night the folk pa counted out me hundredth piece of silver. No idea how that happened. Quite tasty with a toe jam glaze, though.

Like a good bridge, good business needed a strong foundation; the folk pa bought the fixings at market, and I did the cooking.

“We’re bringing in enough that I put silver down on Ha’penny Jack’s old stall today,” he said one evening from his place at the front step. “I’m moving over tomorrow. It’s big enough for a stool if I want, maybe even a second body if business keeps up. Midge thinks it’s a good idea.”

I wasn’t in the mood to be happy for his larger stall. The rash was bad enough I had taken to staying on me back, and now the tip of me nose was sunburned from poking up through the porch slats. “Fine.”
“You all right?”

“Just spiffy.”

“No harm. Just asking.”

I thunk about ways to rub me belly against the porch without catching me pelt in the cracks. What he thunk about, I hadn’t a clue or care.

The sun was an orange memory when the folk pa said, “There is one thing, um. . .Heh, I don’t even know your name.”

“Of course you don’t,” I said as testy as I pleased. “Trolls don’t tell folks their names because folks with magic can do nasty things with them.”

“Oh. I didn’t know. What, um, what do I call you? ‘Ginormous troll under the porch’ is a bit awkward.”
I huffed. “Call me Troll.”

“Troll. Makes sense. I’m Sando Loggerson.” He waited, shifted his feet, kicked up dust when I didn’t want to sneeze. I let him wait.

“So, Troll. Midge and I were talking last night before you came in, and she wondered.”

“Wondered what?”

“Well, if you could maybe share a few of your recipes.”

There wasn’t room to roll me eyes, either.


One late summer evening while I sat under the moon scratching and fretting on how me plans were taking longer than I thunk they should, Edfart and Fuddleswort surprised me with a visit. I don’t get many visitors; don’t really have a place for entertaining. Still, I set out some field greens with scabby bits and a light vinaigrette. Only the best for friends, I say.

I couldn’t make tails or nosehairs of me troubles, so I settled those two down and told the whole story.

Fuddleswort nodded, and picked his nose to garnish his salad. “Told you you should have looked for a gulley bridge.”

“I don’t want a gulley bridge,” I said back.

“Says the troll with porch rash.” He sniffed and went on eating.

“Why not’s just eats the folk and make a bridge of their house?” Edfart said, picking scabby bits from between his teeth and sucking his finger clean.

Even the thought made me shiver. “Don’t like houses, not at all.”

“Don’t got to keep it a house. Knock out the walls, leave the roof, and you gots yourself a bridge. Easy as mud pie.”

Now, there was a thunk. I rolled it over between me horns. “No, still too housey. It’s a bridge or nothin’ for me.”

Edfart gobbled up the rest of his greens. “Suit yourself.” He stood and headed for the house.

Just like Edfart to not listen. “I said I wouldn’t be knocking out the walls.”

He waved at me over his shoulder. “I heard you. I’m still hungry is all.”

Fuddleswort stood – “Now there’s an idea.” – and followed after.

“Hold on now.” I came up and hurried right behind. “You can’t be doin’ that.”

Edfart rubbed his belly. “The salad was nice, but no ways a meal for a growing troll.”

Fuddleswort smacked his dead-fish lips. “Yeah. You said they gots an oven. We could whip up a crust and make pasties.”

Human pasties with capers and fennel. Yeah. Almost as good as a braise.

Wait. No.

Quick like, I got ahead put out me arms. “There’ll be no eatin’ of the folks, understand?”

“No worries, there’s plenty for us all.” Edfart made to step around me, and I stepped with him. He frowned, and glowied his eyes. “Come on.”

I stood up straight, head and horns above either of them. “They’re my folks, and I says no eatin.”
“Like he said, there’s plenty to go around.” Fuddleswort wiped the drool off his chin. “Seeing’s as you’re the host, you get the first pick.”

They made to go around on both sides. I grabbed a horn on each and shook them up good. “When I says no eatin’, I mean NO E – eatin’.”

I couldn’t give a proper roar or I’d wake the folk, so I choked it off quick.

“Oi!” Edfart grabbed my wrist and tried to pull free. I held on troll tight. “Didn’t your mother teach you no manners? It’s rude not to share.”

“Yeah.” Fuddleswort waggled his head, but didn’t do no better. “What’s all this?”

Yeah. What was all this? It wasn’t like I didn’t have a taste for the most tender, or even the older folk sometimes. So why wasn’t I letting them have a sit down with me?

Maybe because I wanted the folk all to meself. Or could be I’d come to like having the folk around. Possibly. Sort of. A little.

I shook those two until their eyes rattled in their sockets. “They’re my folk and I can do with them what I please, and what I please is no eatin’. Got that?”

I slammed their heads together like pig iron bells and dragged them back to the stream.

I dropped them down, and settled myself between them and the folk’s house. Now and again Fuddleswort would look to the house, or Edfart would make to stand, and I’d glowy me eyes at them until they settled back down.

Finally, Edfart pulled up more greens and rubbed them around the inside of the salad bowl. He stuffed the whole scabby wad in his mouth and muttered around the stems.

I made like to reach for one of his horns. “What was that again?”

He swallowed the mouthful and hunched his head to his shoulders. “I said leave it to a florist to get all flowery soft.”

“That’s ri – ” Me thinking came back and dropped the last piece into place light as a rose petal. Flowers? Flowers!

I grabbed Edfart by both horns and kissed the end of his warty nose. “Edfart, you’re a genius!”
He wiped off the slobber. “Wait. What?”

“Flowers! Don’t you sees? I got so tangled up in thinking folks would pay for good food, I never thought they might pay for good flowers.”

Fuddleswort scratched the side of his head. “Do they pay before or after they wipe?” He covered his face with his hands. “Don’t kiss me!”


Straight away I had Sando bring me flowers whenever he could. I used up the folks’ pitchers and jars until he could bring home proper vases. While sweet and savory memories of me mudder filled the creepy house, I used dried moss and earwax as a base for me arrangements. Balance, proportion, color, and earwax. Lots of earwax.

Sando took me creations to market, and most often they sold better than me bakings. Business was good, as much as nine silver some days. The grown folk talked of finding a house in the city for the family, and a proper bridge for me. I sent me mudder a scroll with the good news. She sent me back a phbtbtbtbtbt, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Fuddleswort and Edfart were dumbfounded.

“What’s all this about?” Fuddleswort said one mid-winter night as I handed him an arrangement of holly berry and ivy. The snow made his bridge look less rickety, more bridgety.

“I made it meself,” I said, proud and a bit self-conscious. I was going places but still lived under the porch.

Edfart gave me a long sniff. “You smell like. . .pansies!”

“Hothouse sweet peas, actually.”

Fuddleswort held up the basket and looked it over. “What do I do with it?”

Edfart picked at a leaf. “I think it’s a salad.”

I slapped him upside the horns. “No, it’s not a salad. You put it somewhere nice to look at it. Here.” I took the arrangement from Fuddleswort and looked for a place where it wouldn’t get stepped on or lost in the snow. No good. I looked at the soffits under the bridge, and then to Edfart. “Behind you! A dragon!”

Edfart whirled around. “Where?”

I yanked out one of his back hairs, and wrapped one end around the basket handle. I bent the other end into a hook, considered me options, and hung it as close to the middle of the stretch as I could. I stepped back. “There.”

Edfart rubbed his back. “I still say salad.”

Fuddleswort stared at the bit of color hanging in the middle of the snow and dark. “I dunno. Brightens the place up a bit, don’cha think?”

During spring and such, extra flowers and greenery were kept fresh in a bucket wedged between two rocks in the stream. At the end of every market six-day, I made an arrangement out of what was left for the plank table to make the folk house seem less housey. I didn’t give the arrangements much thought after the fact until the night Sando and Midge came into the kitchen.

Mulberries are a favorite summer treat, me mudder’s mulberry and frog kidney pie in particular. Fresh out of frog kidneys, I can’t eat just one, I’d decided on mulberry pasties for market. In the middle of spooning out the next bit of filling, I heard a step and a low gasp behind me. I whirled around in a splatter of mulberry syrup.

Sando and Midge stood at the door to the loft stair, he shamefaced, she wide-eyed. “She said she would come down with or without me, so. . .” Sando hitched a shoulder and smiled as best he could.
A hand on her elbow, he led her to the plank table where I worked.

The spoon dripped in time with their steps. I licked it, and stuck it behind me ear. “Mind the mess,” I said. Some part of me noticed that she didn’t have the most tender with her, the rest of me was too surprised to care. Sando went to market, but he never did anything without her approval. She could end it all right here and I’d have to live under a porch foreverer. I’d be nothing but rash and stinky soup.

They stopped at the corner of the table. “Troll, this is my wife Midge,” Sando said, gesturing to us both. “Midge, this is Troll.”

Such a small woman; no wonder her step was so light.

Midge looked up, up, up at me. “You really are big, aren’t you?”

I shook me head, the spoon knocking against a horn not as loud as me knocking knees. “Not so much. You’re just short.”

I smiled. She paled. I stopped smiling.

Sando put his arm around her. “What he means is -”

Midge shushed him with a look and a wave of her hand. She pushed the bowl of mulberries and trays of dough circles aside, and climbed onto the table. Her robe and shift bunched up around her twig legs, not that she seemed to notice but Sando did. As he pulled her clothes stuff back down, he flushed and gave me a sidelong look. Folks is the craziest people sometimes.

Midge brushed Sando’s hands away, took two steps towards me, and looked me right in the throat. In fits and starts, she reached up and took me horns in her tiny folk hands. I let her pull me head down until we were eye-to-eye. Right to say that at that moment I’d have rather gone to live with the ghosts.

“Thank you for the lovely flowers,” she said, and kissed me on the peeling tip of me nose. “Tomorrow I’ll mix-up an oatmeal rub for that rash.”


I’m a troll. I don’t believe in happy endings, but comfortable ones aren’t so bad.
The city council approved Sando’s petition for a house, and he set to building. The family moved before the autumn rains. This new house has a room specifically for cooking. Another room; I’m not certain I like it.

Sando did something he calls hired to a kid, and now the kid minds the shop when Sando has other business. Sando’s oldest kid seems quite taken with him. No idea what she sees in him, though; folks aren’t much for looks. Midge helps me with bakings, and almost never burns things anymore. The younger kids love to take their friends across town to feed the ducks, particularly if they know I’m home.
Home. I’m a city troll now, and I have a city troll bridge. I’d paid another visit to the gray beard. He reached for me to show me what for, and I hit him over the head with me bag of silver. All them coins scattered out, and his eyes glowied right up. Said he wanted something smaller, less cluttered. I directed him to Sando’s porch.

The overpass is more than enough for one troll, and comfortable for three. I call the main arch me own, and Fuddleswort has the east arch near the stables. Edfart likes his span bridge over Lockjaw Gorge too much to move. Me mudder is coming to visit this summer, and I wonder if she wouldn’t fancy a place in the city, with rabbits and kids and squirrels fresh for the pot.

Yeah, maybe I should have listened to me mudder, but if I had I wouldn’t have such splendid flowerboxes under a bridge I can call me own.

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Episode 176: Makeisha in Time by Rachael K. Jones

Show Notes

You can find the Uncanny Magazine Kickstarter here.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.


Makeisha In Time

by Rachael K. Jones

Makeisha has always been able to bend the fourth dimension, though no one believes her. She has been a soldier, a sheriff, a pilot, a prophet, a poet, a ninja, a nun, a conductor (of trains and symphonies), a cordwainer, a comedian, a carpetbagger, a troubadour, a queen, and a receptionist. She has shot arrows, guns, and cannons. She speaks an extinct Ethiopian dialect with a perfect accent. She knows a recipe for mead that is measured in aurochs horns, and with a katana, she is deadly.

Her jumps happen intermittently. She will be yanked from the present without warning, and live a whole lifetime in the past. When she dies, she returns right back to where she left, restored to a younger age. It usually happens when she is deep in conversation with her boss, or arguing with her mother-in-law, or during a book club meeting just when it is her turn to speak. One moment, Makeisha is firmly grounded in the timeline of her birth, and the next, she is elsewhere. Elsewhen. (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Episode 154: Staff Pick 2014 – Sundae by Matt Wallace

Show Notes

Every year in January Cast of Wonders takes a break to catch our breath, plan out the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes from the year just passed.

We hope you enjoy Allen’s favorite story from 2014, Sundae by Matt Wallace, which originally aired April 27, 2014 as Episode 122.


Theme music is “Appeal To Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.


 

Click here to read the text of the story