Posts Tagged ‘Halloween’

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Cast of Wonders 340: Staff Picks 2018 – Widow Bones Makes Her Rounds

Show Notes

Every year in January, Cast of Wonders highlights some of our favorite episodes from the previous year. It’s a great chance for us to take a bit of a breather, and let you, our listeners, catch up on any missed back episodes with new commentary from a different member of the crew.

Today’s episode is hosted by associate editor Karissa Sluss.


Widow Bones Makes Her Rounds

by Gretchen Tessmer

“Brom Bones too, who shortly after his rival’s disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin, which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.”

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
by Washington Irving

 

With everything that happened, I don’t know that I would describe myself as blooming. Willing, I suppose, and certainly compliant. But a flower doesn’t need to bloom to be plucked. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 329: Widow Bones Makes Her Rounds


Widow Bones Makes Her Rounds

by Gretchen Tessmer

“Brom Bones too, who shortly after his rival’s disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin, which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.”

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
by Washington Irving

 

With everything that happened, I don’t know that I would describe myself as blooming. Willing, I suppose, and certainly compliant. But a flower doesn’t need to bloom to be plucked. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 277: Little Wonders 15 – Monster Mayhem!

Show Notes

The Little Wonders theme “Neversus” is by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


Brothers in Stitches

by Dantzel Cherry

I’m sorry to say Master lay charred and inert on the laboratory floor for a good quarter hour before I noticed he was dead. I regret pulling the wrong lever, resulting in an overflow of electricity from the storm, the brunt of which Master received, resulting in his death and a ruined experiment. I’m even sorrier to admit I then ate all his internal organs before I remembered to offer any to Harry the moaning subject chained to the metal chair in the middle of the room or to the rest of my brothers-in-stitches in the downstairs dungeon.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 217: Boys’ Night by Rebecca Birch


Boys’ Night

by Rebecca Birch

 

Walter Ocherman rolled along the two-lane highway at five miles an hour under the speed limit, scanning the road’s left-hand side for the turn-off to his uncle’s old pumpkin farm.  Marked by nothing more than a dilapidated sign-post that might once have been green, the overgrown dirt road hidden between two poplars was easy to miss on a good day. The fog that rolled in off the river made finding the place harder, but nothing was going to wipe the grin off Walter’s lips.  Today was Halloween and his ex, Minnie, had agreed to let their son come out to the farm with him for the night. Their first boys’ night in almost a year.

He glanced at Jason, who had spread his twelve-year old self over the back seat an hour ago, his straw-blond head pillowed on a stuffed pumpkin Walter had picked up at a yard sale to help set the holiday mood.  His steady zzz-snerk snore could have been annoying, but Walter got so few chances to hear it that he turned off the radio. The news was depressing anyway, trying to settle a fog over more than just the river valley.

Walter looked back at the road just in time to glimpse the turn-off.  He slammed on the brakes and torqued the wheel, holding his instinctive curse-word behind his teeth.  His 1984 Civic’s gears squealed a skull-piercing protest and the right front bumper just missed colliding with a poplar.  A sudden pressure in the back of his seat told him Jason was awake and braced.

Walter brought the car to a dead stop, his heart thudding.

“Jesus, Dad!  If we die, mom’s going to kill you.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 178: Home Isn’t by Kelly Sandoval

Show Notes

Hungry for more horror flash fiction? Then head to the Pseudopod forums where this very moment yours could be the deciding vote in the “two stories enter, one story leaves” ritual that is the flash fiction contest. The three winners will be purchased and run in a special Flash on the Borderlands. For those who comment on the stories, Pseudopod will randomly select a few lucky winners to receive copies of the excellent Women Destroy Horror by Nightmare Magazine. Horror stories and the chance of even MORE horror stories and commentary by participating in a thriving horror fiction community? The only thing more sure is that somehow, some way, your trick or treat candy will contain at least one of those strange honey nougat things…

 


Home Isn’t

by Kelly Sandoval

 

They tell him he’ll be happy when he gets there. It was wrong, what was done to you, they say. We’re making it right. You’re going home.

The kind ones, who call him Mark, are pleased. They have a party, with foods from his planet. He chews the edge of a gray leaf so bitter it closes his throat. He’s used to coke and animal crackers. You’re going home, they say. No more soda, no more sweets. No more rooms with white walls and bright toys. No more needles, treadmills, tests. Home.

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 143: Dagon by H. P. Lovecraft

Show Notes

Photo10171604


Dagon


by H. P. Lovecraft

 

I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone, makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below. Do not think from my slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or a degenerate. When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death.

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 142: Marrow by Mav Skye


Marrow

By Mav Skye

 

I have eyes but do not see.

I have ears but do not hear

I have a nose but I cannot smell

My mouth wears a stitched frown…

And if I get close, I suck bones out your crown.

 

What am I?

 

A gaggle of teens stalk sugar on All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a beaut of a night and we’ve got ourselves a whole crowd of ghouls. Why there’s Frankenstein and Vampire, Werewolf and Gorilla, also Kitty, Witch, and Dorothy carrying a live Toto in a basket. Toto yaps and all the kids laugh. They’re high on sugar as the moon is full. Werewolf howls, and the girls giggle. They’re carrying pillowcases overflowing with candy, pitching rocks at Mr. and Mrs. Vandyke’s cornfield. The cornstalks are picked clean as bones. And the dry, leathery sound they make when the wind blows is eerie enough to scare the nuts off a squirrel.

(Continue Reading…)

Cast of Wonders 141: Reading Time and A House in the Forest


Reading Time

by Beth Cato

We began to burn the books, and Dad tried to kill himself.

Almost all of the extra furniture had been burned over the previous month, leaving the upholstery and padding from sofas and chairs heaped on the big bed in what used to be just Mom’s and Dad’s room. Me and Taylor stayed in that room all day since heat rises, and we wore so many layers of clothes that it was hard to go up and down the stairs. Anyway, with so many of the walls and rooms empty, the whole house echoed so their voices really carried from the downstairs library.

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 140: Of Pumpkin Soup and Other Demons and The Ghost of Grammy Goneril

Show Notes

It’s October, everyone. That means it’s time for our annual Halloween special. This year we’ve gone for a theme, presenting a collection of horror stories about endings, both figurative and literal. The dead and the undying. Spirits sea monsters. Apocalypses writ both large and small. Welcome to The End of the World.


Of Pumpkin Soup and Other Demons

by Natalia Theodoridou

The shutters rattled in their hinges as rainy fists banged against the wood. Katina rubbed her knuckles. They made a creaky noise. “Old bones, what did you expect?” she chuckled. “Old bodies are as good as coffins.”

She stirred the pumpkin soup boiling on the stove and tasted her wooden spoon. “Almost ready.”

The wind pounded on the door with all his might and fury. It almost sounded like knocking.

“Are you set on tearing my house down?” she asked him.

Then, another knock. And another.

Katina looked at the door, her left eyebrow raised.

“Is someone there?” she asked.

(Continue Reading…)

Episode 102: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe


The Tell-Tale Heart

By Edgar Allen Poe

TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it—oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly—very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously—oh, so cautiously—cautiously (for the hinges creaked)—I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights—every night just at midnight—but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers—of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back—but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out—”Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;—just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief—oh, no!—it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself—”It is nothing but the wind in the chimney—it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel—although he neither saw nor heard—to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little—a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it—you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily—until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open—wide, wide open—and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness—all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense?—now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!—do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once—once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye—not even his—could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out—no stain of any kind—no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all—ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock—still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,—for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled,—for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search—search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:—It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness—until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale;—but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased—and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath—and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly—more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men—but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now—again!—hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks! here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Episode 99: Little Wonders 3 – Scary Stories


Come With Me

by Beth Hull

Everything about her suggested impermanence.

Maybe that’s why we were drawn to her.

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

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

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

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

“Call me Beatrice,” she said.

“I’m Circe,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She smiled. “Sevanouir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owen stopped swimming and began to sink.

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

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

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

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

The girl watched from my lounge chair.

“What did you do to them?”

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

“No!”

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

She kept her smile even after her eyes clouded over.


Piper

by Ian Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Boatman

by J A Ironside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No reward necessary, my lady.”

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

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

“Charon, my Lady”

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

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

The Boatman smiled again.


 

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