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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 275: Perdita, Meaning Lost

Show Notes

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


Perdita, Meaning Lost

by Edd Vick

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

(Continue Reading…)

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


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

Show Notes

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

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

 


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

 

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

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


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


The Wayfinder & His Sister

by Maria Haskins

 

Lizzie

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

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

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

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

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

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


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


The Forbidden Books of Da Lin Monastery

by Andrew K. Hoe

 

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

The untamed writing made Hoong-Lung want to vomit.

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

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

Even a rabid attack-book was precious.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

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

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


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


The Lives Beneath

by Katherine Inskip

 

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

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

(Continue Reading…)

Cast of Wonders 270: Banned Books Week – Bibliopothecary

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


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


Bibliopothecary

by Dani Atkinson

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

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

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

“I’m feeling sad,” Gretchen said.

(Continue Reading…)

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

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


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


The Scent That Treason Brings

by Holly Schofield

 

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

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

(Continue Reading…)

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

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


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


Below the Serapeum

by Kelsey Dean

 

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

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

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

(Continue Reading…)

Cast of Wonders 267: Banned Books Week – For

Show Notes

Don’t miss our other Banned Books Week episodes.


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


FOR

by Sandra M. Odell

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 266: The Immobile God of Secrets

Show Notes

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


The Immobile God of Secrets

by Jamie Lackey

 

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

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

She bowed.  “Thank you for your hospitality.”

“You are welcome anytime.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe not.”

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

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

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

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

“But they’re her parents.”

“Yes.”

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

“I know many things,” the scarecrow said.

“Do you know about me?”

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

“How do you know all that?”

“That is my secret, child.”

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

Jun tried to keep her pity off of her face.

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

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

“Why does what bother me?”

“That I’m faster.”

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello,” Jun said, bowing.

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

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

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

“Well, what do you think she’d do?”

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

“Why don’t her parents love her?”

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

“No.  I suppose not.”

“I will tell you something else, instead.”

“Okay.”

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

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

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

“What will happen if it catches me?”

“I do not know the future.”

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

“It eats them.”

“I’ll run as fast as I can, then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reiko rolled her eyes.  “No.”

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

“Are you bleeding?”

Jun nodded.

“Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

“Oh, thank goodness.  Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m feeling much better.”

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

“I went to visit a friend,” Jun said.

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

“No, I met her on my way home.”

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

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

“A monster.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re mine, too.  Thank you.”

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

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

“I’ll believe you.”

“My mother doesn’t believe me.”

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

“You saw it?”

She shrugged.  “I saw something.”

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

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

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

“It must have been a pretty fast monster.”

“I guess.”

“It probably would have caught me.”

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

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

“I had a question.”

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

Jun shrugged.

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

“No, that isn’t what I asked.”

“Was it about me?”

Jun looked down at the floor.  “Yes.”

“What did he tell you?”

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

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

“I’m sorry,” Jun said.

“Did he tell you why?”

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

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

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

“Okay.”

 


 

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

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

“Let’s go.”

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

“Hello, children.”

Jun bowed.

“The scarecrow really can talk,” Reiko said.

“I can.”  It sounded amused.

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

She turned away and covered her ears.

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

“Are you okay?” Jun asked.

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

“You’re welcome.”

“I’m sorry I was such a jerk to you.”

“It’s okay.”

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

“Yeah?  Okay.”

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

“I’d like that.”

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

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

“Can we come back?” Reiko asked.

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

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

“A hot pot.”

“Is there enough for me?”

“Of course.”

Reiko grinned.  “Awesome.  Let’s go.”

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

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

“And Reiko does too, right?”

“You’ve already answered that question.”

Jun bowed, then ran back to her friend.