Archive for Little Wonders

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.

Episode 93: Little Wonders 2

Show Notes

This episode marks the second time Cast of Wonders has aired poetry. Our first was the excellent Eggs Under Moon from Episode 29, where three different narrators brought you their interpretation of the one poem.


Golly

by Laura DeHaan

A girl and a boy stood at opposite ends of a clearing in the woods. As the girl’s family lived nearby, and she felt it was therefore her clearing, she spoke first. “What’s your name?”

He was a handful of years older than her, with knees and elbows and eyebrows he’d eventually grow into. “Raff,” he said. “What’s yours?”

“Goldilocks,” she said, and looked it.

“That’s a dumb name,” he announced without deliberation. “I can’t take you serious with a name like that.” Indignation made her sputter. He went on carelessly, “Want to play?”

Goldilocks’s family was one that had fled the Eastwise Kingdom after the Bad Enchantment had settled there, and she hadn’t met any other children since. “All right,” she allowed. “But I’m going to call you Ruffian.”

“I’m going to call you Golly,” he said, and Goldilocks needed no other enticement to follow his cry of, “Catch me if you can!”


They stopped by a stream and looked for frogs and fish and enchanted princesses, and climbed trees and dared each other to throw rocks at a hornet nest and ran hollering when they were chased by the angry hive. Raff led them further and further afield with a wave of his hand, claiming dominance over the woods.

“Only don’t go that way,” he said, and to Goldilocks it seemed his nonchalant gesture encompassed a good deal of that way. “There’s bears in those parts. Bears are the worst.”

“What do they look like?” said Goldilocks, who had never seen a bear.

“Oh, they’re big — bigger than that tree, I guess,” he said with another lazy gesture towards a mature pine. “They’ve got big blunt faces and big blunt teeth and they sneak up on you when you’re wide awake and POUNCE!” He leapt on her back and they fell in a tangle.

“Get off, dope!” She kicked and pounded with her fists and he rolled off, laughing.

“Anyway, they do,” he said.

“One more game,” she said. “I need to get home soon.”

“We’ll need a flag,” he said. “Hand me your apron.”

It was stained from various trips to collect berries. Goldilocks undid the knot and passed it to Raff.

“Right,” he said. “Let’s play… Capture the Fleeing Flag!”

“Raff!” she yelled. “Ruffian! Come back here!” She pursued, quickly losing sight but following his laughter. “You wait ’til I tell my brother, he’ll skin you!”

“You don’t have a brother!” Raff yelled distantly. “You told me so yourself!”

“Raff!” She was lost and confused. His voice echoed strangely, when she heard it at all. “Raff, tell me how to get home!”

It was getting dark and Goldilocks cast about anxiously for a familiar path while trying to remember in which direction the bears lay. “East? Or, or… no,” she muttered, turning in place.

There were notches in a tree near her, three atop each other. “Someone must have done that,” she said to herself, “to mark their path and keep from losing their way.”

After a quick search she found another tree nearby with the same three notches. Whether they were going to or from she couldn’t say, but she followed them eagerly and soon came upon a little cottage.

“Hallo?” she called. “Please, I’m lost. Could you… could you…” And she trailed off, not quite knowing what could be done.

There was no answer. Goldilocks pushed on the door and found it opened in two sections, top and bottom. “Perhaps the lower one is for the children to run through?” she said, though it seemed doubtful as she still had to stoop down to get inside.

It was one room, with only some supporting beams and a partition to separate the space at all. A fireplace sat in one wall, ashes and embers in its pit. The floor was covered with animal skins, great big ones with coarse, shaggy hair. A few long bones lay scattered in a corner, looking gnawed upon. “They must have dogs,” she said, and laughed suddenly. Of course, the lower door was for the dog to come through! And there was a distinctly doggy smell about the place.

More importantly, there was a bowl of raspberries on the table. “It’s been so long since lunch, and perhaps if I don’t eat very many…” The sound of her own voice was comforting in the quiet room.

Soon her eyelids started drooping. “I do hope whoever lives here gets here soon,” she said. “Otherwise they’ll find me asleep on the floor!” Her eyes went to the partition. “Maybe there’s a bed behind there. It can’t be worse to find me asleep in bed like a sensible person rather than stretched out on the rug!”

She looked behind the partition at the other end of the room. There was one large bed tucked into the corner, with more furs around its base. The bed was neatly made. It would have been hard to not make it neat, as there were no pillows or blankets on it, only a thin sheet. Goldilocks took off her shoes and snuggled under it. It was not warm at all. “I wonder if they have any children,” Goldilocks mumbled. “I hope not. They’d freeze. But perhaps they sleep all piled together…”


The sound of a door being shut woke her up. Goldilocks held her breath, fearful of discovery. “But how silly!” she scolded herself a moment later. “They must be kind people, to sleep together and own dogs. It’d be worse to stay in bed. I’ll go present myself.” So saying was so doing, and she slipped out from under the sheet and peeked around the partition.

Two people were already looking in her direction, a man and a woman. They were middle-aged and lean and watched her with neither frowns nor smiles. “Excuse me,” Goldilocks said politely. “I’m sorry to intrude, but I lost my way and I heard there were bears in the woods…”

The couple’s faces relaxed into smiles. “Right you are,” the man said. “Terrible things, those bears. Are you hungry? There’s a bowl of raspberries on the table… which I see you’ve already found,” he added, pointing at his lips.

Goldilock’s hand flew up to her mouth and she felt stickiness there. “Oh!” she said, but the couple only laughed. The woman joined her at the table while the man put a log in the fireplace and stirred the embers to flames.

“It’s perfectly fine that you’re here,” the woman said. “We’ve plenty of space in the bed.”

“It’s very big, for the two of you,” Goldilocks said. “Do you have any children?”

“We’ve had our share,” the man said, standing up from the fire. “They grow up so fast. Sometimes one of them drops by.”

“And dogs?” said Goldilocks. “Have you a lot of dogs?”

“Just one at the moment,” the man chuckled. “We let him tire himself out before he comes in at night.”

“It is getting rather late,” said the woman. “Perhaps we’d better turn in. You must be tired after today.”

Goldilocks followed the woman behind the partition while the man went outside to call for the dog. They slipped into bed, although the woman stayed on top of the sheet.

“Do you see many bears?” said Goldilocks.

“Oh no,” said the woman. “They know not to come around here.”

“Your dog must be very fierce, to protect you against bears.” Goldilocks yawned. The woman stroked her hair. Comforted, Goldilocks nuzzled her nose into the woman’s thigh..

“Very fierce,” said the woman. “Bears. Nasty creatures, mean things. Why, a bear would gobble you up feet first while you were looking.”

The door opened and closed again. With the partition between them, Goldilocks didn’t see the gangly young wolf trotting cheerfully beside the man, a berry-stained apron in its sharp-toothed mouth.

“A bear would make all sorts of fuss and noise.”

The smell of dog grew stronger as the man dropped to all fours, shook himself, and was replaced by another, larger wolf in man’s clothing.

“Wolves, now,” crooned the woman, and Goldilock’s breathing deepened and her eyes twitched behind their lids, “wolves will wait until you sleep.”


An Alchemist’s Limit

by Brian Griggs

A flick and a flip

then a proton gloms on

with the heat and the flash

of a miniature star.

 

Subatomic junk

push Nickel down the Table

‘til it shifts and it shines

as Palladium’s smile

But the Guild, oh the Guild

takes a chunk of the loot

for the lessons, for protection

of the alchemist’s craft.

I pause and I think

about the Yakuza’s cash.

How long could I run

‘til I’m caught by my Guild?

Split the O from the H

to make flammable blood.

I slump and I sigh – 

You don’t double-cross gods.


Empires of the Red Dawn
by Jack Murphy

He is ancient and wise

Aware of far distant regions

And the treasures there

 

The breeze carries his word

In chariots of golden light

Pulled along by glass horses

 

Towards children of the crown

Who hunt across bright deserts

With intelligent precision

 

Can we unwind this grey mystery?

Let us build crystal palaces

In honor of his eternal hunt

Episode 87: Little Wonders 1

Show Notes

Hello everyone! Surprise! Today, July 21st, is the two year anniversary of Cast of Wonders. We couldn’t be prouder, and to celebrate we’re debuting a new type of episode. You’re listening to the very first Little Wonders, a collection of flash fiction and poetry centered around a theme or genre. We’re going to start things off nice and easy with a pair of science fiction shorts.


Immersion

by Kara Hartz

Silvia stared at her Teddy, which moved laboriously into her outstretched hand. 

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“Dunno,” she said, “Just thought it.”

She didn’t move objects with the grace the native beings here did, but she still moved them.  Before accepting this ambassadorship I’d worried how it might affect Silvia. She got along well with the Teppim children though, and not having human playmates didn’t seem to bother her.

Moving things was natural to them, like learning to walk or talk for us.  Something picked up by being around it. 

I thought about my pen putting itself away.  Nothing happened.


Influx Capacitor

by Eric J. Juneau

Eleven-year-old Martin had nothing to do on his day off from school.  So he sat alone in his room, doodling in his diary and watching talk shows, since it was too early for cartoons.  The particular topic today was “What would you say if you could go back and tell your fifteen-year-old self one thing?”

Every forty and fifty-year old confessed some regret or mistake.  Half of them broke down in tears. One balding, grizzled man even looked like him.  

“I wish I knew my future,” Martin said to himself.  He wrote down If I read this in the future and someone’s invented a time machine, I’ll be alone on June 22nd, he looked at the clock, 1:45 PM.

*FLASH*

A man with a receding hairline appeared at the foot of his bed, wearing a green-collared shirt and black pants.  His arrival was accompanied by a loud whirring noise coming from a black box on his arm. The man had a bigger nose and a saggy face, but Martin knew he was looking at his future self.    

“Oh my god, it worked.  It worked,” the man said as he adjusted his box.  

“Jesus,” Martin said.  “Are you…?”

“I’m you, yes.  From the future.  You must have just written…”  Older Martin pointed to the diary.  

“…From a time machine?”

“Yes.  I don’t have much time.  I took a lot of risks to get here.”

Martin managed to nod, mouth hanging open.

Older Martin said, “Okay, first thing, ask out Michelle.  She really digs you. No matter how scared or shy you are.  If you don’t, you’ll regret it.”

“Who’s Michelle?”

“College.  Freshman year.  She lives in Sutherland Dorm.  Second, invest in Giga- Write this down!” Older Martin barked.  

Young Martin started writing furiously.

“Invest in Gigawire, YorkMark, and Torama.”

“Those are companies?”

“Yes, and don’t bother buying those collectible comic books.  They’re worth nothing. And Mom throws them out when you go to college anyway.”

“What college do I go to?”  Young Martin asked.

“Cantrell.  And that’s another thing.  You’ve got to get your grades up.  In tenth grade, study really hard. I mean it.  Maybe you could’ve gone to a better school if you hadn’t gotten angsty and goofed off.”

As Martin scribbled, he realized this man, who he would become, wasn’t very pleasant.

He continued, “And quit hanging out with those friends by the stairwell all the time.  They’re losers. They’ll just get you into trouble.”

*FLASH*

Another man appeared in the room next to older Martin.  He wore a shiny blue jumpsuit and looked identical, but with more hair and freckles.  “Good,” he said, “I’m not too late.” He was holding a black device in front of him like bike handlebars.

“Who are you?” Older Martin said.

“I’m you.  Well, I’m the you that you become,” he pointed at young Martin, “After you’re done with your speech.  Your temporal bubble must be protecting you from disappearing. Listen,” he addressed young Martin, “That thing with Michelle.  Don’t do it. Or, if you do, wear condoms.”

“Condoms?” Green-suited older Martin said, aghast.

“I swear to god, she’s crazy.  It won’t be worth it. And pull your money out of the stock market before the ‘Jefferson-Pershing’ incident.”

Young Martin started writing again at breakneck speed.  “What’s that?” he said.

“You’ll know it when it comes.  Also, while I’m at it, don’t buy a Honda Gaia.  They’re terrible.”

“Is that a car?” young Martin asked.

“Sort of,” blue-suited Martin-of-the-future said.

*FLASH*

Now a man wearing a light periwinkle suit, partially ripped at one sleeve, stood before him.  He took his glass helmet off. “Did you just tell him about Michelle?”

Blue-suited Martin nodded, jaw gaping.

“Okay, I don’t know how bad she is, but she can’t be as bad as Amber.”

“Amber?” young Martin and blue-suited Martin said at the same time.

*FLASH*

A Martin wearing a futuristic visor and tight clothes said, “Amber?  Try Fred.”

“Fred?” All the Martins chorused.

Green-suited Martin said, “I hope that’s a nickname.”

The older Martins started talking at once, asking questions and demanding to know what had happened that necessitated so many return trips.  Young Martin couldn’t understand what they were saying.

*FLASH*

A Martin in a pink and gray dress said, “Listen, ignore all these guys.  There’s something-“

“What’s with your clothes?” young Martin said, his tongue out in disgust.

“It’s the fashion.  Something’s going to happen on November 26, 2017.  And you can stop it. I’ve already got a plan for you.  Write this down.”

*FLASH*

A Martin wearing a tight-fitting white one-piece with rings floating above his head said, “Dude, your plan sucks.  You can’t-”  

*FLASH*

A Martin wearing all black with his hair slicked back said, “Kill them all.  Kill everyone in the world. None of them deserve to live.”

*FLASH*

A man appeared with a gray cat’s head and yellow eyes.  A white orb floated between his hands like he was holding it.

“Oh my god,” young Martin said, “What-“

“Yes, this is me.  There is much to explain.  All of the preceding has been irrelevant.”

*FLASH*

“Você precisa de compreender.  Se você conserva o líder da claque, você excepto o mundo.” said the recently arrived Martin with dark skin and a black box around his neck.

“What did he say?” one of the future Martins said.  

Now the room was full of Martins, arguing and bickering with each other, pointing fingers, yelling like a U.N. debate.  Young Martin covered his ears.

His eye caught the line in his notebook with the date and time.  He tore the page out, ripped it up, and threw it away.  

All the Martins looked up, startled.  In a single bright light, they blinked out of existence.  

Martin held his breath.  Thirty seconds passed, but nothing happened.  When he was sure the quiet had returned, he got up, turned off the TV, and got a soda.