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Cast of Wonders 279: Random Play All and the League of Awesome


Random Play All and the League of Awesome

by Shane Halbach

Cyrus sat on the couch and crunched on a bowl of frosted wheat. Normally he would have sat at the table, but the table was currently covered with papers, folders and charts. His mom was finalizing her budget with her new business partner, Herman. There wasn’t much room in the one bedroom condo, so Cyrus was bumped to the couch.

He was sick to death of business plans and marketing and how much will it cost, so he put in his ear buds and switched his mp3 player on. He hit next to get a random song.

Can’t trust me but it’s not about trust
I make no sense, I am the walrus

Cyrus sprayed milk all over the coffee table.

He had been looking directly at Herman when that line played. He always though Herman looked like a walrus, with his droopy mustache and big belly.

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 278: Strong as Stone

Show Notes

The Sword and Sonnet Kickstarter is running now!


Strong as Stone

by Effie Seiberg

I thought Halloween would be different. The one day where I could go out and run around with kids my age, and be myself – truly myself, with nothing to hide. I was right, but not in the way that I thought.

For you see, I’m made of stone. My skin is rough granite, my teeth are like river-washed pebbles, my hair crystalline gypsum. I’m streaked in grays and whites and browns. All the races of the world shoot through my palms and ankles and stomach. I am the melting pot, where the stones of the earth liquefy and boil together. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 276: A Secret of Devils

Show Notes

Southern Gothic recommendations:


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


A Secret of Devils

by Cassandra Khaw

The devil came to Georgia on a Saturday night. Atlanta, specifically. His arrival was heralded by no omens; he took a bumblebee-black cab to the city’s heart, a little suitcase in tow. His attire was sharp enough to kill, of course, but you expect that sort of thing with the devil.

“Where we going?” asked the driver.

“Where we’re needed” came the reply. (Continue Reading…)

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

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


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


The Wayfinder & His Sister

by Maria Haskins

 

Lizzie

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

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

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

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 259: Seer’s Salad by Barbara A. Barnett

Show Notes

 

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


Seer’s Salad

by Barbara A. Barnett

 

There would be no snatching my laptop back from Diya. She slapped my hand every time I reached across the café table for it. I had been a keystroke away from deleting the amateur-hour comic panels cluttering up my hard drive–months of wasted effort that Diya was now inexplicably determined to keep reading. Her gaze remained glued to the screen as she shoveled forkfuls of salad from bowl to mouth.

“Tam, these are awesome,” she said, voice pitched at a chirpy, bird-like frequency. “It’s like George Romero meets Dostoyevsky meets Thelma and Louise meets an alien invasion flick.”

I shrugged. As much as I wanted to believe I had enough talent to create a successful webcomic, it was hard to take Diya’s encouragement seriously. I had seen her get equally excited over blueberry pancakes, after all.

“They’re nothing special,” I said, ninja-seizing my laptop before she could dribble dressing all over the keyboard. “Just drafts, really.”

Diya responded with a chiding wave of her fork. “You need to publish this shit,” she said–at least that’s what it sounded like through her mouthful of salad. Another bite, and she erupted into a violent coughing fit that sent bits of lettuce and tomato spraying across the table.

“Are you all right?” I asked, half standing. “Do I need to Heimlich you or something?”

Diya grabbed her water bottle and chugged. “I’m fine,” she said between gulps. “I just wasn’t expecting that.”

“Expecting what?” I studied her meal for possible culprits, only to end up with a case of lunch-buyer’s remorse instead. The scent of mango vinaigrette made me wish I hadn’t opted for the same chicken noodle soup I always bought. “Is there something wrong with your salad?”

“No, the salad’s great. But the guy who made it? Total scumbag. We’re talking shoots-stray-cats-with-a-BB-gun levels of scumbaggery.”

Out-of-the-blue segues like that were why I loved hanging out with Diya. She was random. Unpredictable. One of those people who seemed to walk on fairy dust with her big flowered hats and the sparkly nose ring that set off her brown skin. The one time I tried dressing like Diya, people looked at me like I was a Christmas tree on display in July. So I accepted my lot in life: I was doomed to remain boring old Tamsin, trailing one step behind in Diya’s glittery wake.

Diya stared toward the café counter, neck craned. “I should find out where this guy lives and report him.”

“How do you know he shoots cats?”

Diya’s eyes went wide, like a sparkly deer caught in headlights. “Oh crap, I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s just that the cat thing caught me off guard and–“

“What are you talking about?”

Diya cringed. “If I tell you something, you have to promise not to make fun of me.”

Diya self-conscious? That was a first worth hearing more about. “I promise.”

“It was the salad. The romaine didn’t show me much–bad pickup lines at the bar, jerking off at the movies, that kind of crap.” With her fork, Diya pointed from one tomato to another, as if their positioning spelled out a secret code. “The really twisted stuff is in the tomatoes.”

She had to be messing with me. I had only known Diya for a couple months; we both belonged to the army of underemployed twenty-somethings slinging lattes down the street at the Bean There, Drank That Café. But it had been long enough for me to know that psychic salad visions were over the top, even for Diya.

“You know he shoots cats because of the tomatoes?” I said.

“I’m afraid to even touch the artichokes.” Diya downed more water. “Anyway, so I was telling my brother about that awesome ginger beer you made and–“

“Whoa, back up, I’m still on the salad and the cat shooting.”

Diya let out a dramatic sigh. “I see things about people, okay?”

“When you eat food?”

“Not just any food. Salad. Salad the person made.”

Definitely messing with me. But I decided to play along and see how far she was willing to take this new addition to her manic pixie dream girl routine. “So you knew seeing something awful about this guy was a risk, yet you ordered salad anyway?”

“He was hot. I wanted to find out if he was a decent guy.”

“Isn’t that kind of creepy stalker territory?”

Diya started to object, but snapped her mouth shut. Her face took on that pinched, tight-lipped look she got in the rare moments when someone got the upper hand on her. “You’re right,” she said. “It’s creepy. Lesson learned. But he’s a psycho, so in this case, I think it all evens out.”

I could have dropped the whole salad thing at that point; I had just scored a Diya concession, after all. How often did that happen? But no, I wasn’t going to let her off the hook that easily. “And you developed this power how? Exposure to a radioactive crouton?”

Diya shook her head in annoyance. “It’s a family thing, okay? Some people inherit blue eyes or curly hair. I got the psychic crap.”

“So does this family gift of yours work with pasta salad? Fruit salad? Or is this strictly a lettuce-based thing?”

“Great,” Diya snapped. “First I get the psycho cat-shooter salad, and now you’re making fun of me after promising not to. Thanks, Tam. Way to be a friend.”

Diya sank back in her chair. Instead of commanding the room with that larger-than-life way of hers, she looked deflated, her traffic-cone-orange jacket suddenly two sizes too big, her polka dotted scarf two feet too long. A sulky, Diya-style overreaction, sure, but she was right: I had broken my promise.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But most people would have prefaced this whole salad thing with something like, ‘I know this sounds crazy, but…'”

Diya sniffed, shifted in her chair, glanced at everything but me. The café chatter became deafening in her silence, conversations about workplace drama and the latest episode of some hot new sitcom amplified beyond tolerance. But as I listened to those conversations–those normal­­ conversations–my pity for Diya turned to annoyance. How did she expect me to react when everything she said and did was as outrageously kooky as possible? And this salad thing–play along with it, and I’d end up the butt of the joke, silly Tamsin blushing furiously as Diya burst into a fit of giggles. But call Diya on her bullshit, and she’d assault me with those wide, watery eyes, like she was a child and I had just taken her favorite toy away.

“Bring on the eyes,” I said.

Diya cocked her head to one side, on the receiving end of confusion for once. “What?”

“That puppy-dog eye thing you do. You’ll pout and give me that face until I say I believe you, and then you’ll be the one laughing at me.” I hated how harsh my tone sounded, yet the words kept spilling out. “I love you, Diya, but there’s only so much randomness you get to drop on a person before you lose the right to get snippy when they don’t believe you. I’m tired of playing the boring, gullible sidekick to your Princess Whimsy Pants.”

Diya straightened in her chair, mouth agape. “Princess Whimsy Pants?”

“Salad, for Christ’s sake. You’re making me mad at you over salad.”

Diya gathered up her vintage purse and the duck-shaped notebook she doodled in when she was bored. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you mad. But if you feel boring next to me? That’s not my fault. That one’s on you.”

Diya stood and strode from the café.

This isn’t about me, I wanted to shout after her. You don’t get to be the righteous angry one! But then my gaze fell on my plain old soup sitting next to her half-eaten, cat-torture salad. The drab vs. the colorful. The perfect metaphor for our friendship.

Yet I still ordered the soup. Every. Damn. Time.

“Crap,” I said, burying my head in my hands. Coolest person I knew, and I had just driven her away with my own snarky insecurity. How the hell do I fix this?

 


 

When I showed up at her apartment the next morning, Diya promptly slammed the door in my face.

“That went well,” I muttered, then set to knocking again, another monotonous round of knuckles-to-wood.

Nothing.

“Please, Diya, just hear me out.”

More nothing. I pressed my ear against the door. Not a breath, not a rustle. Just lots and lots of nothing. Time for Phase 2.

I reached into my oversized messenger bag, pulled out a covered bowl, and held it up to the door’s peephole. I just had to hope Diya was still on the other side and not climbing out the fire escape–it wouldn’t be the first time she had avoided an unwanted visitor that way.

“I brought you a peace offering,” I said.

Still no response. Just a long, uncomfortable stretch of non-reaction that had me peering under the door for signs of movement, then looking up and down the hall out of fear that a neighbor would emerge and think me some kind of creepazoid stalker. Which I was kind of starting to feel like.

I could tell them about my cat-shooting habit and my BB gun named Diya. Yeah, that would smooth things over real nice.

Finally, the door opened. Diya regarded the bowl in my hands with narrowed eyes. “It’s salad, isn’t it?”

“I made it. Because I’m sorry I upset you, and I’m willing to believe you about the salad thing, but you have to cut me some slack and prove it.”

“Been there, done that. No one ever likes what they hear.”

“Well, there is absolutely nothing scandalous or even remotely interesting about my life to see, so bon appétit, girlfriend.”

Diya waved me inside, where I immediately felt like a dark splotch of normalcy intruding upon her magical world of pink beanbag chairs and cinnamon-scented incense. But that was my problem; Diya had been right about that. The only thing stopping me from wearing nose rings and sparkly feathered boas was my own self-consciousness.

I peeled the lid off the salad and handed the bowl to Diya. She didn’t bother getting a fork. Just grabbed a clump of lettuce and popped it into her mouth.

“You didn’t make this,” she said, chewing.

“You sure?”

Diya barely finished swallowing before following up the lettuce with a slice of cucumber. “Yeah, this is from the deli on the corner. The chick with the bird tattoo made it. I just really wish she had washed her hands first.”

“Eeew,” I said, though a jolt of anticipatory excitement overshadowed the gross factor. I couldn’t verify the lack of hand washing, but the girl at the deli did have a mean-looking blue jay stamped on her right bicep. Still, Diya could have seen me in the deli earlier. Or it could have been a lucky guess.

I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out another container. “This one I really did make.”

“You sneaky little . . .”

I’m sure Diya was aiming for mad with the look she gave me, but there was no hiding the half-smile that snuck onto her lips. Perhaps I could salvage this friendship, after all.

Diya traded me the bowl for the new container. Apprehension quickly sent my brief moment of hope packing. If she wasn’t faking the psychic thing, then forget about whatever embarrassing slips of hygiene she might see. My dread stemmed from the vast amounts of boring restraint that had been my life to date. One leaf of lettuce might prove coma-inducing.

Diya frowned at the container’s contents. “No dressing?”

“Dry salad seemed about right to sum me up.”

Diya rolled her eyes. She plucked a cherry tomato from the salad and studied it as if it were a crystal ball. “Oooooo,” she intoned.

“Oh, would you just eat it already?”

Diya snickered, then slipped the tomato into her mouth. Instead of chewing, she pushed it from side to side with her tongue, making each cheek puff out in turn.

I glared; she smirked.

At last, Diya started to eat. First the tomato, then a sliver of carrot, next a clump of avocado. My stomach engaged in a series of somersaults as more and more bits of salad passed between Diya’s lips. Cucumbers, onions, olives, croutons. Her jaw moved up and down with careful, excruciating slowness, as if mastication were a sacred rite that had to be performed ever just so. Diya could have been dragging it out just to screw with me, yet with each swallow, I grew more certain and fearful that she simply hadn’t found anything of interest in her visions, for her expression remained an unchanging, blank-eyed look of veggie-inspired ennui.

“For the record,” Diya said, “it’s kind of insulting that you think I’d have spent all this time hanging out with a boring person. Granted, your social comfort zone is this teeny-tiny microscopic little thing that could use expanding, but boring people don’t teach themselves how to brew their own beer out of every random ingredient under the sun. They certainly don’t create comics about a badass lesbian couple fighting alien zombies in Russia.”

A slight smile found its way onto my lips. I didn’t sound nearly so dull when she put it like that. “So is that what you got from the salad?” I asked. “That I’m cool but insecure?”

“Screw the salad; this is me talking. I love you, Tam, and I don’t want you to be anyone but you. But sometimes I get the feeling that you won’t let you be you. Like you think you have to be me or something.”

Bam. Salad visions or not, Diya had nailed it. My obsessive coveting of her flashy style had sucked away every last bit of confidence I had in my own. But I didn’t need to wear sparkly clothes to be interesting. Hell, I didn’t even like sparkly clothes. What I did like was the would-be webcomic wasting away on my computer. I had the domain and the hosting secured, the site designed, at least six months’ worth of strips ready to publish–all I had to do was launch the damn site. But nope, I kept chickening out, convinced no one would be interested.

Diya chomped on a withered shred of iceberg lettuce. Her eyes widened and she squealed, pointing at the salad as if it held the cure for cancer. “Oh my god, this is exactly what I’m talking about!”

“What?”

“Your comic! You’ve had the whole site ready to go for like months now. And Siberian Genome? You told me you didn’t even have a decent title, you liar. What the hell are you waiting for?”

“Whoa.” I gaped at Diya. I hadn’t shared those details with anyone, making me suddenly certain of two things: my friend really did have psychic salad powers, and I didn’t have a damn thing to lose. Because seriously, psychic salad powers? That was kind of mind blowing. That was the kind of thing that spends hours sinking in before the full impact of it slugs you like a brick-loaded boxing glove in the middle of the night. So if I could hold the interest of a person who received salad-based visions, then I sure as hell could get some eyeballs on my comic on a regular basis.

“What the hell am I waiting for?” With a little squeal of my own, I plopped onto a beanbag chair and whipped out my laptop. “Let’s get this puppy online already.”

“About damn time, girlfriend.” Diya squeezed onto the beanbag with me. “One suggestion, though?”

“I’m all ears.”

“Sparklier background on the web page. As in, it currently has no sparkles. Just purpleness.”

“You’re the sparkly one, salad girl.” I knocked Diya off the beanbag with a playful shove. “This is gonna be my thing, and my thing doesn’t include sparkles.”

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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…)