Cast of Wonders 172: A School Story

Show Notes

Do you love flash fiction? The Escape Artists podcasts are hosting their fourth annual flash fiction contest, starting with Pseudopod this year. The submission window runs from August 15th through September 15th. All the details can be found on their forum.


by M.R. James

Two men in a smoking-room were talking of their private-school days. “At our school,” said A., “we had a ghost’s footmark on the staircase. What was it like? Oh, very unconvincing. Just the shape of a shoe, with a square toe, if I remember right. The staircase was a stone one. I never heard any story about the thing. That seems odd, when you come to think of it. Why didn’t somebody invent one, I wonder?”

“You never can tell with little boys. They have a mythology of their own. There’s a subject for you, by the way–‘The Folklore of Private Schools.'” 

“Yes; the crop is rather scanty, though. I imagine, if you were to investigate the cycle of ghost stories, for instance, which the boys at private schools tell each other, they would all turn out to be highly-compressed versions of stories out of books.”

“Nowadays the Strand and Pearson’s, and so on, would be extensively drawn upon.”

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Cast of Wonders 143: Dagon


by H. P. Lovecraft

I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone, makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below. Do not think from my slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or a degenerate. When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death.
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Cast of Wonders 142: 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.

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

Reading Time

by Beth Cato

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

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

“I can’t do this, Vick, I can’t. Burning books, like Nazis?”

“We are not burning books like Nazis. We’re burning books to keep our kids warm and alive. I’ve torn apart everything else first. You know that. The books are last.”

Dad made some sort of weird moan like a whale from an old nature show. “I know, I know. But if we make it out of here, what sort of world will it be without books? What sort of civilization–”

“Tom. Listen to yourself. We’re one family. There are other survivors out there. You’ve said yourself that a nuclear winter isn’t supposed to last long. It’s a drop in temperature, nothing permanent.”

“I thought it would be over by now. The smoke and debris should have cleared the atmosphere.”
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Cast of Wonders 140: Of Pumpkin Soup and Other Demons / 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.

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Cast of Wonders 102: The Tell-Tale Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart

By Edgar Allen Poe

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

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
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Cast of Wonders 101: Custom Made

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.
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Cast of Wonders 100: Final Time

Show Notes

Today we present Final Time, by Jeff Samson. Jeff has been here before, with Episode 74, The Gods of Stone, the story of a godlet who finds that he is, well, rather rooted to the spot. It’s a short, funny story; go check it out if you’ve not heard it before.

Final Time

by Jeff Samson

The boy stood at the podium, his hands fumbling at its edges, his body trembling.  He was breathing hard into the microphone, the rhythmic rush of air peppered with the hisses and pops of half-formed syllables lodged in his throat.  Sweat slicked his brow, causing his oversized glasses to slip down his nose.  Dampness leeched from his armpits, saturating his blue polo in growing circles.

He shook his head and drew a deep breath.

“Cou…,” he started.  “Could I have…have…”

He flicked droplets of sweat from his forehead onto the chestnut-stained podium.  His shuddering turned his words into a Morse code-like staccato.

“Have…,” he stammered, hung on that single sound.

The audience gasped as he jolted back from the podium, clutching his hands to his stomach.  He stood perfectly still, eyes wide yet vacant, as if he were momentarily elsewhere.  

He brought his hands to his face, covering his mouth as his cheeks swelled.

He bolted past across the stage, past the remaining contestants and the empty seats along the backdrop, past Natalia sitting near the end of her row.  As he darted from the shadows of stage left and into the light of the hallway, Natalia saw the vomit spray from between his fingers.  It looked to her as if the boy had been clenching a handful of mustard packets and squeezed them until they burst.

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, she thought.

She stared into the dimly lit audience that rumbled with confusion and concern. The expressions on their barely visible faces mirrored those of her remaining fellow contestants. Then she looked at the panel of judges, whose wide eyes and gaping mouths unsettled her even more.

Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong.
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Cast of Wonders 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.
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Cast of Wonders 98: Daphne’s Daughter

Daphne’s Daughter

by Jennifer Tiemann

When the man came into her sphere of perception, she had almost not realized he was there, concentrating as she was on the new nest of cardinal chicks that rested high on her south side. So occupied was she on shifting her branches just so to protect the nestlings, it wasn’t until the male cardinal reacted with alarm that she turned her awareness down from her branches to her roots.

At first, she thought he was a sapling – he was so very small. Then she remembered that no, that was the size men generally came in. What was startling to her, though, is that she perceived that he was colored much as she was; his body was a rich green and there was a tuft of bright red at his top end, almost exactly the color that she herself became when the cold winds began at the end of the Summer.

She understood that this was a male man, and not a female man, because deep inside still lived the memory of the part of her that had once been human.  She and all her siblings were female; there were no males in her family- except for her father, whom she saw but seldom.

The man put his hand out and touched her body lightly. She shivered – this had never happened before.  She had perceived men near her in the past, mostly their small ones, (children, she suddenly remembered they were called) but none had actually touched her. She wondered if he saw what some other men had seen when he looked at her. Much had been sung and written of her kind, particularly her mother.

All of her sisters were slightly different, but they had this in common; tall, straight trunks with heavy crowns of leaves; the crowns representing their sovereignty in the sight of the gods. Their gently curving trunks and twin upraised branches hinted at the womanly spirit hidden within.  She doubted that this man saw anything but a birch tree. Most didn’t.
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Cast of Wonders 81: Little Tear

Little Tear

by Philip Meeks

A war had ravaged the city where Little Tear danced for strangers.

In her gilt cage at night she’d hear the sounds of sirens, crumbling stone and worse. Feel the shudder and cracking of timbers beneath the shelf where she was stored. The fall of dust like kisses from the dead followed by a silence so deep and terrifying you could almost hear it.

Some nights, after raid time, Little Tear would hear one of her many sisters sob. Squilly with the sewn on beak perhaps. Zarilla with the purple plumes. Or Moya, the one with the missing arm. Little Tear’s three special favourites. The most damaged. Tucked away in their own cages elsewhere on the shelf they’d shed their sorrows whilst shivering from their fears and there was nothing Little Tear could do to comfort them but call out a soothing word or few, or coo. But mostly she chose not to. And she never cried. Not even when buildings nearby succumbed to the sky bird’s heinous deliveries.

Instead she chose to clasp her eyes and concentrated on her thinkings. Those that would lull her to a shallow slumber. The ones she only ever dared remember when she was betwixt the world of awake and not.
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Cast of Wonders 69: Cosmetic Procedures

Cosmetic Procedures

by Desmond Warzel

When I became a private investigator, it wasn’t for excitement, or for money. The work is humdrum, and whatever noir romanticism the profession ever actually had is long gone (though I’ve got a raincoat, a fedora, and a dusty bottle of scotch in the closet, just in case they’re called for). As for money, there isn’t much–and I don’t need it anyway. I’m a dilettante, and utterly unashamed of it.

It was an ego boost, pure and simple. I suppose I just enjoyed the idea that, when some poor desperate soul was in dire straits, stretched to the breaking point, with nowhere to turn, I would be the one he’d call.

Well, now I’m sitting at my desk, unable to take my mind off the lower right-hand drawer, and the unique item therein, and I have no idea who I should call.

I am, however, extremely open to suggestions.
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