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Cast of Wonders 487: Let the Buyer Beware


Let the Buyer Beware

by Michelle Ann King

‘Is it done yet? Is it done, Gran? Is it?’

Willa Rafferty ignores the hopping child at her elbow and peers at the box in her hand. Its roughly printed label–Environment Expansion Kit! Need More Room? Create Extra Magical Space With This Quick And Easy Spell!–is now smeared with small, sticky fingerprints.  ‘Wait a second, Chloe, let me–’

‘I’m Evie, Gran. Is that bug supposed to be in the bucket? Shall I catch it?’

‘What? Oh.’ Willa flinches as a large, black-shelled beetle skitters past her foot. Did that come with the kit? Must’ve done. ‘Shit. I mean, yes. Get the bug, Chloe. I mean, Evie.’

The girl cups the fleeing insect between her palms and drops it into the bucket. It lands with a splash and an aggrieved-sounding hiss.

‘Are we going to set fire to it now, Gran?’

Willa hesitates. Not if there are bugs involved, surely? Aren’t there regulations about not setting bugs on fire? (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 484: Langsuir (Staff Picks 2021)


Langsuir

by Nadia Mikail

The langsuir is a woman who has died giving birth. Malay folktales have a multitude of women featured as wrathful, devious spirits: the hantu kum-kum thrives on the blood of virgin girls, desperate to maintain her youth even in death; the hantu kopek lures men to cheat on their wives, jealous that their afterlife contains no husband of their own; the pontianak goes after the people who have wronged her, tearing out their organs.

People usually shake their heads, they think: oh, well, that is the envious, terrible nature of Eve. Personally I think it is more how humans are treated in life that influences how they behave in death, and in this culture the women are angrier than most. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 483: Armed With Such Stories, I Roamed Into The Woods (Staff Picks 2021)


Armed With Such Stories, I Roamed Into The Woods

by Evan Marcroft

Never trust a wolf’s promise, Atticus, my mother once told me. Remember the tale of Smiling John and Baron Icepelt. They lie between fangs, and their promises will only ever lead you into their belly. She was full of such morsels of wisdom. There was a fable for every lesson I should know. Not all pertained to talking wolves, but this was most relevant to my task. Remember how Smiling John escaped. If you should find a wolf at your heels, throw meat behind you. Wolves are clever but lazy creatures. They will stop for the easier meal.

Armed with such stories, I roamed into the woods to save her life. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 482: In Real Time (Staff Picks 2021)


In Real Time

by Avra Margariti

The kites frozen across the sky dapple the lawn like stained glass. Human statues dot the park, caught mid-motion: picnicking, dog-walking, sun-bathing. They might have been unnerving, once. Now, the utter stillness and silence soothes me like nothing else. In Frozen Time, scents are amplified tenfold. Grass, flowers, sugar. I drop a few coins into a vendor’s tip jar, then fill a clear bag with candy worms, chewing as I stroll down the small hill.

When a shape weaves between the stationary people, I think it’s only an optical illusion. A vase, two faces, now a vase again.

I blink, and the silhouette has drawn closer. It belongs to a kid not much younger than me in appearance, although there’s really no way to tell with people like us, who know how to manipulate time. The kid nods at me, casual like we’re meeting in the street and not in a frozen world, then steals a fistful of my candy.

“Who are you?” I ask once my tongue unglues itself from my palate. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 478: Cats of Fortune (Staff Picks 2021)


Cats of Fortune

by Ivy Grimes

When I was a little girl, I thought Aunt Dee had everything. She had her own trailer, a video game console and six games, dozens of heavy pink-and-purple necklaces, and a yard full of cats. Ten, to be exact. They were all different colors, like the shoes in a rich woman’s closet, and they drank water from the birdbath and ate kibble from old pie tins. Best of all, Dee had a secret she shared only with me—the cats were lucky. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 477: Three Monsters That Are Not Metaphors (Staff Picks 2021)


Three monsters that are not metaphors

by Dani Atkinson

1. The kelpie is not a metaphor for depression.

“You’re kind of like a metaphor for depression, though,” I tell her, and she snorts angrily. Her hide twitches, dark and sticky as tar pits.

Just because she’s deceptively appealing, and wants to trap me and drag me down into cold grey waters, means nothing. Just because I am already drowning does not make it a metaphor. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 475: Miss Tansybaum’s Circus of the Moderately Peculiar


Miss Tansybaum’s Circus of the Moderately Peculiar

by T Kingfisher

By all accounts, Miss Tansybaum’s Circus of the Moderately Peculiar should not have continued to operate. They were a very small operation as circuses went, they had no rides and their menagerie consisted of a single geriatric lion and a handful of obscure species, such as the Sudanese Crooning Lizards, who were obscure for a reason. Sure, Brendan the Mono-juggler could keep a single ball in the air for hours, but you got tired of watching after the first few minutes.

Lord Maggothaunch’s Carnival of the Un-Ordinary should have crushed them out of existence in the first year–indeed, that was among the lord’s stated goals–and its failure to do so was a source of intense frustration for him. Did he not have scantily clad women and a genuine, if sullen tiger? Did he not have a genuine freakshow, with real live freaks, including a pair of dubious Siamese twins and a two-headed calf in a jar?

Miss Tansybaum did not have a freakshow (at least not in the conventional sense, although the less charitable would argue that the entire operation qualified.) Instead she had Sister Rosemary’s Curious Convent. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 474: Little Free Library

Show Notes

“Little Free Library® is a registered trademark of Little Free Library LTD, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.”


Little Free Library

by Naomi Kritzer

Meigan built her Little Free Library from a kit, because she wanted to make it into art. She sanded the wood and painted it with primer, then glued on the rocks she’d picked up from the Lake Superior shore over the summer and used acrylics to paint indigo swirls around them. When she mounted it on the post outside her St. Paul house, she decided to paint the post, too, and painted a fuchsia road, winding around the post to the box at the top, and outlined the road in smaller pebbles. There was a little bit of glitter in the fuchsia craft paint, and she decided that the book cabinet should have some of that, as well. Finally she screwed on the sign that said “Little Free Library” with the instructions: take a book, return a book. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 473: IF Trans THEN Mogrify


IF trans THEN mogrify

by Hailey Piper

Rosalyn almost has the ladies’ room to herself when an intrusive hand jams the stall’s doorway, nails painted a dull red. The diner’s restroom has three stalls, the other two being empty, and Rosalyn hasn’t heard this stranger try either neighboring door.

“Privacy, please,” she says.

But the insistent hand shoves the stall open anyway. A scowling, middle-aged woman in blue jeans and a pale yellow coat fills the doorway, someone Rosalyn doesn’t know, and yet the look on this stranger’s face and the words out of her mouth have reared their ugliness more than once before.

“Excuse me, but I think you meant to go across the hall,” the woman says. She points at the ladies’ room door. “You know, the other restroom?” (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 472: AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest (Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)

Show Notes

The Annual Migration of Clouds is a “cli-fi” post-apocalyptic novella by author Premee Mohamed. It takes place in the distant future, after the climate crisis has entirely disrupted life as we know it, and a mysterious mind-controlling fungus has wormed its way through the scattered population. The story focuses on a choice: Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to move far away, to study in one of the few communities sustained by pre-disaster technology, but her mother is ill, and in a world where the planting season is planned down to the minute, every body counts. It’s not easy for her to leave her loved ones behind. To set her family up for life, Reid decides to take part in a foolhardy and dangerous mission. To accomplish this task, she must ask others to put great trust in her, but she can’t easily separate her own thoughts from the parasite’s will, making it difficult for her to even trust herself.

If you’re not yet familiar with Premee Mohamed, you’re sure to hear of her soon. She’s an Indo-Caribbean scientist and author based in Edmonton, Alberta, where this book is set, and a rising star in speculative fiction. Premee is a biologist and works in the field of climate science, so the depiction of Reid’s parasitic passengers is eerily plausible, and the climate disaster scenarios in the book are grounded in modern-day research predicting an all-too-likely future.

Yet there’s still hope to be found here: rather than doubling down on the hardships of life-after-technology as so many gritty apocalyptic novels do, this book’s focus is on connection and friendship, the things that bind us together. It shows the world moving forward after terrible hardships — including natural disaster and plague — and reflects upon the importance of community, our duty to take care of one another, and our collective ability to get through difficult times. In other words, it is exactly the sort of book we need right now.

 

 


AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest
(Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)

by Isabel J. Kim

Danny died on a Tuesday which was a real bummer because he was supposed to go on a road trip on Wednesday with the gang, and if he was dead then there was no way his mom was going to be cool with him going. Instead, Danny would have to spend the next three weeks on a mythic journey to regain his life from the demons that dwell below, play dice against a three-headed chthonic judge sitting on an opalescent throne, or ask his mom for one of the GET OUT OF DEATH FREE cards she got comped from work.

And then he’d be grounded for, like, six months.

Danny spent ten minutes lying on the asphalt feeling sorry for himself. Then he sighed and picked his broken body up off of the street. He took out his phone and called the gang.

The dead don’t text. They lack the fine motor skills. Fumbling, he poked his way to a group call.

“Bad news, gang,” Danny said when his friends answered. “I’m dead.” (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 471: The Storyteller’s Wife


The Storyteller’s Wife

by Eugie Foster

Janie Harper felt strange driving home with the sun so high, the tawny-gold of noon instead of the cool, buttery silver of early evening. Ten years of nine-to-five drudgery, lost weekends sacrificed to project deadlines, corporate double-speak, and mind-numbing boredom. All gone.

She’d hated her job, hated her days spent watching the clock and wishing the hours of her life would speed away while she was trapped in her cubicle. But even with three months to prepare for this day, her last one, the morning had passed in a surreal haze punctuated by queasiness and a peculiar chill, like her stomach was lined with ice. She remembered nestling the glass-framed photograph of Tom, her husband, into the box the secretary had provided for her personal effects, but not carrying it to her car. And she couldn’t remember driving out of the concrete monolith of the parking garage, or if she’d obeyed the speed limit in the school zone, or even if she’d fastened her seatbelt.

At least her supervisor had known about Tom, about their situation, and had taken Janie aside before the pink slips went out. Janie, through her upset, had remembered to be grateful. She had needed the head start to make arrangements, to prepare herself and Tom for the now-uncertain future. But even three extra months hadn’t been enough time. No one was hiring: not for secretarial positions, not for retail associates, nor food service, and certainly not mainframe programmers who needed full health benefits. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 469: What If We Remembered?


What If We Remembered?

by Amadin Ogbewe

“Osi, my boy, you’ve got it all wrong. Magic is simply physics with a soul,” Epa Osadolor said to his audience of one, gesturing dramatically, his eyes wide.

Osi’s eyes and mouth were just as wide, his little face frozen in anticipation. His breath stilled. He knew better than to interrupt Epa Osadolor in the middle of a lesson, but found he couldn’t help himself.

“What is Physics?” he asked, unable to hold back.

“Oh, yes, I suppose it’s still elementary science to you,” Epa Osadolor said, snapping abruptly out of character. He scratched his puffy beard as he looked at the boy.

“How best to explain this?” he pondered aloud. (Continue Reading…)