Posts Tagged ‘Women in Horror’

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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 261: Twice

Show Notes

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


Twice

by Imaani Cain

In the beginning, there was a world and the world was Marya.

In every photograph littering my parents’ mantle, there are the two of us, smiling tightly under the heavy gaze of the camera. I am always standing just behind her, my hand cupping her shoulder. She is looking up at me, her own tiny hand reaching up to grasp at mine. Each of us is holding tight enough to be painful: afterwards, when we are finally allowed outside to play, we compare battle wounds. They faded almost instantly but we spent the night recreating them, stifling any winces we might’ve ordinarily made. We created a game out of it, racking up points for endurance and creativity. (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…)

Episode 214: Banned Books Week – The Price of Stories by Shannon Connor Winward

Show Notes

Learn more about Stop Hate and their work to challenge all forms of hate crime and discrimination based on any aspect of an individual’s identity.


The Price of Stories

by Shannon Winward

 

Mother is not the real librarian. You think she has always been here, but that’s the magic working. 

The real librarian – the one who issued your first library card, painted castles in the reading room and taught you about elephants – she never existed, now. That’s why you don’t remember. 

But don’t worry; she’ll be back. 

Mother doesn’t come for the librarians. (Continue Reading…)

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Episode 202: Henkie’s Fiddle by Vonnie Winslow Crist


Henkie’s Fiddle

by Vonnie Winslow Crist

 

Stirred by a bone-chilling wind, the lone tree in the unsanctified section of the cemetery rattled its bare branches. Duffy had the eerie feeling that Witchman’s Oak sensed what was to happen today. He chewed on the hard skin left by a burst blister on his right thumb and studied the tree.

By order of the Edgewater town council and with the mayor’s approval, Duffy was to remove Witchman’s Oak before Christmas despite local lore proclaiming the tree haunted. Personally, he thought it was a terrible mistake to cut down the oak if for no other reason than the shade it provided in the summer. Rousted by another cold gust, the huge iron bell hanging from a rusted hook embedded in the tree’s trunk clanked its agreement.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 190: Staff Pick 2015 – Home Isn’t by Kelly Sandoval

Show Notes

Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge our batteries, plan the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes. As part of joining the Escape Artists family, this year we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re running 10 staff pick episodes over the month, each one hosted by a different member of the Cast of Wonders crew.

We hope you enjoy slush reader Katherine Inskip’s favorite story from 2015, Home Isn’t by Kelly Sandoval and narrated by Katherine Inskip. The story originally aired October 25, 2015 as Episode 178.


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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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 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…)

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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 101: Custom Made by Sylvia Anna Hiven


Custom Made

by Sylvia Anna Hiven

The first time it happened was with a button.

It was gold and shaped like an acorn, and snapped loose from a man’s overcoat as he bumped into Valenka on the street. Clattering into the gutter, it came to a stop against her scuffed boot.

Valenka hadn’t experienced much magic in her life—only gray days spent tugging at sleeves for coins. Still she understood that something special happened when she picked up the button. All the walls of her mind fell away, and into her head, accompanied by the chilly Prague breeze, swept the man’s past.

That man is good, she thought, holding the button in her little fist. He has a wife and two daughters whom he kisses goodnight each day. He kissed another woman once, but only once, and he regrets it still. He gives coins to a lame man in Petrin Hill Park on Sundays. And he loves God. Yes, the owner of this button is a good man.

After that, it happened more frequently. People’s pasts came to her uncalled as she brushed against shoulders in the market, or when she picked up someone’s forgotten glove in an eatery. When she was seventeen and found employment as a seamstress in Dvorak’s Tailor Shop, it became an unavoidable part of her life. Each piece of silk had a story to tell, and each strip of macrame whispered a past. Valenka learned about grief through black funeral gowns, and understood the meaning of passion as she mended ripped lace blouses. Lives, although she did not live them, passed before her eyes.

Mostly, experiencing memories was effortless and her ability showed her everything there was to know. Other times, the past only seeped into her mind in elusive glimpses. But never had Valenka seen someone’s future.

Not until she touched the hem of a murderer.

#

The couple came into the tailor’s shop on a spring afternoon. The man was tall, with bright blue eyes and a natural wave in his wheat-golden hair. The girl on his arm was petite and pretty like a china-doll, wrapped in a mink coat despite the pleasant weather outside.

Valenka enjoyed guessing things about her customers when they walked in. After all, once she had touched their clothes, she’d know everything about them.

Aristocrats, she thought. He tried to impress her by gifting her that coat, and she is too in love to tell him it’s too hot to wear it. Not yet married, I reckon.

Master Dvorak, a squat man with wild tufts of hair above his ears, met the couple with a wide smile. “May I help you, sir?”

“Yes,” said the man. “Do you make custom wedding gowns?”

“Of course, sir,” said Dvorak. “With the finest Chinese silks, and the best velvets from Cairo. Handmade pearl embroidery is our specialty, too, which is much in fashion at the moment.”

The girl’s eyes widened, and she squeezed the man’s arm just slightly harder.

“Pearls,” she said. “I would love pearls.”

The man glanced at her and smiled with satisfaction. “And you can design a groom’s suit as well, I assume?” he continued, turning back to Dvorak. “I hear you are the best tailor in all of Prague, and we’ll need the gown and suit in a fortnight.”

“Sir, I assure you,” said Dvorak, “my team of artisans can make the finest wedding clothes in all of the country, if not all of Europe. If you let me take measurements today, we can have the garments ready in a week.”

Valenka, who overheard the conversation from the rear counter, resisted the urge to roll her eyes. There was no team of artisans—there was just her. Her master often made ambitious promises to the aristocracy and expected her to fulfill the commitments. Fortunately, she didn’t ever have to think or plan or design—one graze against her customer’s hand, or one touch of their coat sleeve, and she knew what they wanted. She didn’t even have to think about it; the flourish of her needles created the exact garment the customer desired. It wasn’t difficult work, and while Dvorak stole the praise more often than not, he never failed to pay her—and he never asked questions. It was a fair arrangement.

“A week,” said the man. “That would be very impressive.”

“The fitting salons are this way,” said Dvorak, gesturing towards the rear rooms. “Valenka, will you escort the young lady and take her measurements, and I shall tend the gentleman?”

The young girl was barely older than Valenka. She was undeniably pretty with skin like milk and eyes the color of chestnuts; still, she displayed an unpolished gawkiness as she stepped up on the fitting dais on skinny legs. As Valenka took the measuring band and slid her arms around the girl’s narrow hips, bursts of a simple life blinked in her mind.

When she was little, she played in a rose garden behind a white cottage. Deeply pious. She visits her mother’s grave every week. Still a virgin, in body and spirit. It delighted her to sense such a pleasant soul. Her name is Milena. She is a good girl.

“He is handsome, your friend,” Valenka said, standing up and slipping the measuring band around Milena’s waist.

“Vaklav Nuvotny?” said Milena. “Yes, very handsome. He and his brothers are the finest young gentlemen in all of Prague. The Novotnys are from a most noble family.”

“You’re marrying well. And your wedding is merely a fortnight away.” Valenka raised an eyebrow. “That’s not a lot of time.”

Milena sighed. “You imply the engagement is too short. That there is scandal afoot.”

“I imply no such thing, miss.”

“Well, it is fast, and there are rumors. People are cynical when customs aren’t followed.” Milena’s voice sounded injured. “But I am in love, that’s all.”

Valenka knew the girl spoke the truth—love saturated every inch of her slip, her silk stockings, and even the satin ribbon in her dark hair. Valenka saw an accidental meeting in a park, and a first kiss so passionate she almost felt the brush of a man’s lips against her own.

“You want the cream-colored silk,” Valenka said as she made notes of Milena’s measurements. “And the pearl embroidery, I suspect. How about a pattern of roses on the bodice?”

“I love roses. You must be a mind-reader.”

“And lace sleeves? It’s old fashioned, I know, but—”

“My mother had lace sleeves when she married my father.” Tears gathered in Milena’s brown eyes. “That would be the gown I’ve dreamed of.”

Valenka finished her task, told Milena to get dressed, and then moved to the other fitting salon. Master Dvorak was busy making idle conversation about wedding customs and the tedious obligations of Vaklav’s brothers, and he had made little progress on the measurements.

“Can I help?” asked Valenka.

“Yes, yes, take the inseam length,” said Dvorak. “I fear Lord Nuvotny has been distracting me with tales of his family history. Did you know his older brother is on the City Council? And that the wedding ceremony will be in Saint Vitus Cathedral? How grand!”

Dvorak chattered on, and Valenka thought it best to take the measuring band from him.

As Valenka kneeled before Lord Nuvotny and brushed against his pant leg, she prepared to see a past of careless play on emerald lawns, hunting parties and frivolous balls. But what flowed into her was a shadow, dark and cold. She pulled her hand away to cut off the visions, but it was too late. They had already weaved into her mind, and no shears in the world could cut the connection.

He killed two kittens when he was six, and a Labrador puppy when he was ten. The sights of the butchered animals made her nauseous. He cut a prostitute in an alley when he was eighteen because she would not relinquish payment. She was the first, not the last, and he is not done. She shuddered. He wants to kill someone innocent. He is a bad man. No, an evil man.

Valenka released a breath, waiting for the world to return, the impressions didn’t stop in the present. Instead her mind raced forth, skipping into events that hadn’t yet come to pass. There was a wedding in white and cream, and it smelled of roses. There was a swirling wedding dance, and then a rush into a darkened wedding chamber.

And there was a bed with Milena’s body spilled over it, her throat sliced open and her dark-red blood staining satin sheets.

#

“Valenka, what is the matter with you?”

Dvorak, usually a gentle man, turned toward Valenka as the couple left the store. His eyebrows were shoved together in a deep scowl of disapproval. Valenka couldn’t blame him for his anger. She’d nearly fainted at the foot of the fitting dais, and as Lord Novotny had tried to help her to her feet, she’d screamed, for his touch had been like daggers into her mind.

“I’m sorry,” she said, sinking down on her stool behind the counter. “I felt ill, that’s all.”

Dvorak’s eyes narrowed further. “Ill? You are not in the way, are you?”

Valenka sighed. “Of course not.”

“Good. And keep it that way.” Dvorak shook his head, the contempt flaring in his eyes. “That pretty little thing got herself in the way on purpose, that is for sure, and now they must marry, as the aristocratic custom demands. It’s disgusting how some take advantage of traditions for their own gain.”

“You don’t know her intent,” replied Valenka. “She’s just an innocent girl.”

Dvorak’s tone took on an inflection of contempt. “You may know what dress a girl likes to wear, and what coat a gentleman prefers, Valenka. But you know nothing about the hearts of people. You be mindful of your place. Now, get to work. They return tomorrow afternoon and we should have the muslin pattern and sketches ready by then. We must work well into the night if we are to be ready. ”

Dvorak left the shop to go to the weaver at the edge of town, leaving Valenka alone as the darkness lowered outside. She sat by the light of her oil lamps well into the night, cutting the patterns. She didn’t bother with a sketch—she knew she didn’t have to. The couple would love her designs, just like everybody always adored the garments Valenka created.

As she worked, she tried to concentrate on her shears and needles, but she couldn’t stop the visions of Milena’s lifeless body, the bodice of her dress ripped and the pearls strewn across the floor. The scene replayed before Valenka’s eyes with such ferocity, she almost smelled the blood that soaked the bed. Eventually, the visions colored everything a maddening red—the flickering light of the lamp, the skin on her hands, the fabric of the muslin. Frustrated, Valenka tossed the needles aside and buried her face in her hands.

How can I possibly do this? she thought. How can I just ignore this warning? How can I let that girl walk into the arms of someone who means to murder her?

The answer was simple. She couldn’t. It was true that Valenka knew nothing of nobility customs or traditions of the wealthy; however, the one thing Valenka knew better than anybody were hearts—and it was time for her to follow her own.

#

Valenka didn’t often go to the riverbank. The port district was a dark place where people with unsavory needs met to strike deals with those that could fulfill them. Criminals exchanged information for coins, and harlots gave pleasure to drunk sailors in the shadows of the dilapidated buildings. Valenka averted her gaze from all that she met, and she tried to not be noticed.

When Valenka arrived to the water’s edge, she found herself blessedly alone. She lifted her skirt and waded out into the black water. Her boots sank into the muddy riverbed, and it stirred a stench of rot and decay. She didn’t care—it was what she had come for, after all. After wrapping her hands in her wool scarf, she reached into the chilly water, grasping at what grew beneath the surface. When she pulled plants up, and looked at the glistening leaves of water hemlock in the moonlight, she felt relief.

I’ll lace the fibers into the cuffs and the waistband. If I weave it into the undershirt too, it should take no more than a few hours for the poison to find his heart. He should fall down dead before the final dance on their wedding.

As she walked back to the shop, the bundles of plants hidden in her scarf, she felt a certain excitement. Someone had given her this task—given her mysterious ability a purpose, finally, beyond creating perfect dresses and coats. She was unraveling a fate, undoing it with her needle, and she was about to save a life. Though she was about to do so by taking another, she felt no fear—only the steadfast beating of her heart.

#

The couple returned the next day. As expected, they found Valenka’s patterns most agreeable. While the gentleman and Dvorak settled the payment at the counter, Milena leaned over the fabric samples for the groom’s suit lining.

“Blue, I think,” she said. “It will match his eyes. And I’m using bluebells in the wedding bouquet.”

Vaklav leaned in over Milena’s shoulder, wrinking his nose at the sample she had chosen. “Blue?” he said. “I abhor blue.”

Milena slapped him on his arm. “I am the bride, and I like it,” she said. “Who cares what you think?”

Her gesture was playful, and so was her tone, yet Valenka saw a shadow of discontentment flow over Vaklav’s face, and his smile stiffened just a moment. He grasped Milena’s shoulder. “We should go,” he said. “Jiri is waiting with the chef at the mansion. You know how busy he is.”

Valenka’s eyes lingered upon his fingers clasping the girl’s shoulder. She knew if she had been touched by Vaklav in the same manner, the horror that had rotted his heart would assault her senses, warn her, remind her of the danger he posed and the ill deeds he had committed. But Milena just laughed at the man, and straightened her back.

“Let us go, then,” she said. “A nobleman should not be kept waiting.”

When they walked out of the shop, Valenka saw a ribbon of darkness flow behind them. It was a ribbon of damnation and death, tying them together in a dark fate—one that she was meant to undo.

She worked well into the night on the silk fabric of the undershirt. Wearing silk gloves, she peeled out the fibers of the water hemlock, twisting them into threads, and sewed them into the seams carefully. The green color shimmered against the blue fabric—an elegant swirled embellishment, inconspicuous in its lethality.

When the first rays of dawn crept along the floorboards, and she finally dropped the needle from her thimbled fingers, she was finished. The shirt lay before her, each seam perfectly straight, with delicate embroideries around the cuffs and collar. It was her best garment yet, and she knew Lord Nuvotny would not be able to resist its beauty—nor the poison that hid within it.

The day that the gown and the suits were picked up, Valenka stayed in the back of the shop. She didn’t want to look at the evil man again, and she didn’t want to see the face of the pretty bride, knowing the danger that loomed over her. In truth, perhaps she was also afraid that she would change her mind—that she would lose the courage, tear the shirt from Nuvotny’s hands and let Milena face her fate, despite its horror. After all, Valenka was punishing a man for a crime he had yet to commit.

She did not have to face that decision, however. When she returned from her midday break, Dvorak met her with a disgruntled look.

“Where have you been?” he said. “The Nuvotnys were here, and I had to fit them on my own.”

“They loved their garments, did they not?” said Valenka.

Dvorak fumed. “Yes,” he said, seemingly pleased and angry at the same time. “And I thank you each time a satisfied customer walks out the door, without asking questions. But whatever skill it is that you possess, it can easily go to your head, Valenka. You are a seamstress, not a magician.”

“I’m sorry,” said Valenka. “It won’t happen again.”

As she sat down to mend a few frayed dress hems, she prayed it truly wouldn’t happen again—not the visions of the future, not the knowledge of treacherous hearts.

#

Three days later, a grieving Lady Milena returned to the shop.

She looked like a different girl as she stepped through the doorway. Her hair was pulled taut in a modest bun, and she wore a somber gown of black lace. Valenka, her heart pounding, didn’t have to touch the girl to know that she’d just experienced a loss.

“Lady Milena,” Valenka said, getting to her feet. “It is good to see you again.”

It was a stupid thing to say, but they were the only words that came over her lips. Milena did not seem to notice the clumsiness of her words, in any case. Her face was pale like that of a corpse, and her eyes flat and without sparkle.

“I have come for a burial suit,” she said. “For my late husband.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Valenka.

“Thank you.” Milena took off her gloves, revealing a pair of delicate, white hands. Valenka noticed that there still sat a diamond engagement ring upon her finger, and it glittered in the sunlight.

“You kept the ring,” said Valenka.

Milena looked down at her hand. She laughed the most pitiful laugh, and shook her head. “Oh. Well, Vaklav would not approve of waste.”

Master Dvorak stepped out from the back room. “Ah, Lady Milena,” he said. “I received your message, and I’m having the suit sketch drawn. Would you like to see it?”

Milena shook her head. “I trust you,” she said. “You did such a wonderful garment the last time, and you have our measurements already. Jiri will look so handsome in the casket, I am sure.”

Dvorak and Milena spoke for another few minutes, about patterns and colors and fabrics, but Valenka was too confused to follow their conversation. As Milena stepped out on the street again, Valenka looked at Dvorak with bewilderment.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “She spoke of Jiri. She is getting a burial suit for her husband’s brother, too?”

“No, Valenka,” said Dvorak. “Jiri was Lady Milena’s fiance, who fell dead to the floor as soon as they left the church.”

Valenka shook her head. “I thought we fitted Vaklav Nuvotny for the groom’s suit.”

“We did. The eldest brother of a lord is lucky to have a twin brother to dispatch for simple duties, like suit fittings.”

Dvorak stared at Lady Milena’s carriage outside. Valenka followed his gaze, and her heart raced as she saw Vaklav Nuvotny help Milena into the carriage. He was alive and well, that much was certain, and his hand curled around Milena’s arm in a possessive manner. As the carriage pulled away, Valenka caught a glimpse of satisfaction in Vaklav’s face.

“I hope Vaklav takes his brother’s place in a marriage as easily as in a suit,” continued Dvorak.

“Vaklav will marry Milena?”

Dvorak rolled his eyes. “I’ve told you that you do not understand nobility, Valenka. Affinity customs demand that a nobleman must marry his brother’s wife if the marriage wasn’t consummated. Vaklav and Milena marry this afternoon.” The old tailor shook his head. “Right after she lost Jiri. It’s a tragedy. Milena will take no pleasure in her wedding night, I am sure.”

Dvorak let out a sigh, and then returned to the counter to prepare Milena’s order.

Valenka remained standing by the window, staring at the carriage, her heart frozen. As the carriage driver snapped his reins, it felt to Valenka as the seams of the very world unraveled and fell apart.

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.