Kris Kringle moved silently through the workshop, making sure nothing had been forgotten by the elves. Normally, they’d be starting their post-toy-making-frenzy party, but this year the group was more subdued, the carols on low, with no one making merry or wearing lampshades.
Kris sighed and lifted his hand in a wave as he passed the break room, but he didn’t go in.
Inventory. Yes, inventory would take his mind in the direction it needed to go.
Lumps of coal? Check.
He peeked out the window. Elves hooking up the reindeer? Check.
Reindeer fat—but not too fat, they did have to fly—and happy? Check.
Rudolph’s nose at full power? Check.
As Kris moved from the workshop to the adjoining kitchen, he sniffed. Apple pie baking, ready to eat when he got home?
There’s a plant in the hedgerow whose berries glimmer like starlight. Gyn passes it every morning on her way to school. Its leaves are waxy beneath her hands, small as the new baby’s fingernails and greener than grass stains on knees. They leave her skin smelling of peppermint.
The berries are blacker than midnight, blacker than her new father’s hair, and Gyn first notices them as her mother stops noticing her. They like to hide under hawthorn leaves or in the joints of holly bushes, but their silver shine in the winter sun gives them away. She’s smarter than the blackbirds and the robins. She understands hidden things.
February is Women in Horror Month, an international 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 WiHM9 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!
by Dagny Paul
The first time Leah turned into a fish, she had been small, maybe four, and she’d been sitting with her daddy on the rock that overlooked the lake. He had turned to her with his stubbled smile and his bright blue eyes and asked her if she’d wanted to dive. She didn’t know how to swim, she’d said, and he had said that’s okay, sweetheart, because we’ll be fish.
He’d stripped off his shirt and pulled her to her little feet, and before she’d even had time to think about it they had jumped. She’d never hesitated, never worried. He had never let her down.
After two hours of work, Daria got the space station’s recycler back online without Hugh there to help her. If he had just waited ten minutes while she tried resetting power. If he had let her double-check his gear before his spacewalk, like he was supposed to by all protocols.
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.
“The best busker in the world never plays in the same place twice. He is too busy searching. But maybe, just maybe, you will hear him once. If you hear him, you will have to see him, even if the first notes of his music drift to you from streets away, completely opposite from wherever you intended to go. Once you hear a single note, it will draw you along like an invisible string, tugging at the knot in the center of your chest where you keep your secret fears and disappointments. Wherever you find him— a dusty back street in a sleepy town, a bustling avenue in the rush-hour of a big city, a lonely campground haunted by only a few brave souls and stubborn wanderers— the sight will burn itself into your memory almost as deeply as the music.”
The love of my life died on July third, 1983, at the respectable age of one hundred and nineteen. Oldest man on Earth, according to the good Doctor Hippen.
I can’t say his death came as a shock; when a man reaches that advanced an age, only the absolutely delusional would suggest he buy denture paste in bulk. Still, I hadn’t expected it to happen so suddenly.
We had just begun a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle (always the optimist, my Edgar). One moment, he was looking for a piece of the sky, and the next, he found a piece of his very own. How convenient that his death would coincide with Lasagna Sunday, the bane of his existence.
Once upon a time, in a valley in Lower Saxony just south of Meppen town, there lived an old woman and her two grandchildren.
Helene had been a weaver in her younger days, but over the years the damp of the fens had stolen into her joints, twisting her fingers until they grew as gnarled and useless as the roots of the scrubby trees that crowded the river bank.
Katarin and Klaus had come north with the Spring floods, refugees from the labor pains that accompanied the birth of French democracy. Their father had gone off to fight Napoleon, and their mother, always sickly and lovelorn, wasted away for want of him.
I’ll tell it like it never happened, Patrick. Like we were childhood besties swapping knock-knock jokes from the tip-top branches of our favorite climbing tree. That we donned towel capes and played at superheroes, that we took turns being sidekicks so nobody had to play the villain. That it went on like that forever. That we never entered the science fair, and my experiment with exothermic reaction never beat out your atomic clock. That you didn’t resent losing to a girl, because I was your best friend, and it shouldn’t have mattered.
And when The Agency recruited me young on the strength of my scientific promise, and I really got the cape and powers and sidekick, you withdrew into a mechanical exile of your own choosing, all wires and servos and circuit boards.
• Narrated by Tina Connolly
• Audio production by Jeremy Carter
• Forthcoming in And Welcome Back, D K Thompson’s first collection.
• Discuss this story on our forum
• For a list of all our stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia page
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Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge, plan the year ahead and highlight some of our favourite episodes. A different member of the Cast of Wonders crew will present their favorite story of 2016 each week in January.
We hope you enjoy associate editor Sally Gill’s favorite story from 2016, The Four Stewpots by D. K. Thompson, narrated by Tina Connolly. The story originally aired December 25, 2016 as part of Episode 225, Little Wonders 9: Comfort Food.
Dave Thompson is a good name to know if you spend any time around Escape Artists. (So is “California King,” or “Easter Werewolf”…) He’s a pretty awesome guy, even if he disparages pumpkin beer. He lives outside Los Angeles with his wife and three terribly photogenic children. While he can tweet up to 175 characters, he refrains from using this power for chaos. Together with co-editor Anna Schwind, he ran PodCastle for five years before stepping down to focus on his own writing in 2015. This story is forthcoming in Dave’s first collection And Welcome Back, which he successfully Kickstarted last year. You can find two of his audio book narrations on Amazon: Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhout and Briarpatch by Tim Pratt. Follow him online or on Twitter.
Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked series, from Tor Teen. Ironskin, her first fantasy novel, was a Nebula finalist. Her stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and many more. Her narrations have appeared in audiobooks and podcasts including Podcastle, Pseudopod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and her Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.
The Little Wonders theme “Neversus” is by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.
by Darcy E. (14 friends, 27 reviews) 1 star out of 5
I’ve been coming to uptown for the past year since getting a new job and moving to Whittier, and somehow had never seen The Four Stewpots before. I’m actually not a stew fan. I like my food fresh. Soup is okay, some days. Stew? Bleh. It’s been sitting for ages – this place actually suggests one pot they have is a thousand years old. Bon Apetit? But my daughter’s first report card had come home from junior high – she’d done exceptionally well – she wants to be an astronaut, a monster make-up artist, a superhero, a cryptozoologist, or a cartographer of parallel universes – whatever she decides to do she’ll be brilliant, and so as a reward, I let her pick. She saw The Four Stewpots as we were driving down the street, right next to Undercity Comics, and demanded we go there. Again, I do not like stew, but I am a supportive and proud mother who wants to encourage my daughter’s academic achievements, and realize that it isn’t always about me. At least, until it’s time to write the Yelp review.
The bell over the door jingled and Claire hastily tucked her book under the counter. It was one of her favorites and she’d just gotten to the best part. She didn’t want a customer to come in and claim it.
An older man, probably twice Claire’s age, entered the store. Actually, he really more danced his way in. The man turned this way and that, his eyes trained on the ground, all the while patting his pants, alternating front pockets and then back. Claire suppressed a giggle at the sight of his search dance – as it was fittingly known in the trade. The man gave up the floor and scanned the shelves by the door, muttering to himself while patting his breast pockets. “I swear I just had ’em. I was walking out the door…” He passed over boxes of buttons, jars full of jewelry, several large sacks stuffed with socks, and a pail packed with pocket watches before stopping in front of a particularly large crate nearly overflowing with keys. He gave a low whistle, eyeing the huge box with trepidation.
“Good morning Mr. Crowhurst,” Clair interrupted his search.
“Hm? Oh, yes. Hello.” Mr. Crowhurst wandered up to the counter, still patting. “I really hope you can help me. Do you happen to know where…” He trailed off, his eyes drifting to the shelves behind her. Claire felt the tingle of the there-it-is magic and the man’s patting finally stopped, his face lighting up. “There they are!”