Posts Tagged ‘winter’

episode art - desert snow, for Luchadora

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Cast of Wonders 389: Luchadora


Luchadora

by Melissa Mead

When Alejandra was nine, her mother died of dehydration. When she was ten, Alejandra made her father bring her to the Luchadores’ barracks. The three ancient wizards who would choose the boy who would become the next Luchador weren’t pleased. They almost sent Alejandra’s father to the hellstone mines, where men died with their limbs charred black. Then Alejandra marched up to the eldest of the Magos, the one in flame-red silk, and demanded that he make the bull-man stop waking her up at night. The other two Magos, in silk as gold as the sun and as blue as the sky, gasped. The first wizard scowled.

“What do you mean, child?”

“The bull with the man-face. He came when Mama died. He comes in the dark, and whispers to me.” (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 388: The First, the Second, the Third


The First, the Second, the Third

by Katherine Kendig

In the winter, the mornings are colder inside than out. Lily sings at the window, her voice wending its way toward the barn, the willow grove, the creek, as pure as the snow it floats over. Her breath frosts as she sings, her gaze fixed on the horizon where the church is the only part of town we can see. Margot huddles in bed, her hair tousled over her face, shivering. Margot has never been able to stand the cold. (Continue Reading…)

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Episode 183: Hat Trick by Beth Cato


Hat Trick

by Beth Cato

 

“The pond is open today!”

No one else was in the kitchen, but I had to make the cheery announcement, even if it was just to myself. It was tradition. 

Mom’s St. John Ambulance books sat on the table, one still flipped open. She’d just gotten a job as receptionist at the old folks’ home and they had her taking a first aid course. At the far side of the table, two mugs touched handles like old friends. Two packets of cocoa – the best kind, with the little marshmallows – lay flat behind the mugs. I grinned. The cocoa would wait until we got back from hockey.

She used to always set out four mugs. Maybe I could still pull down at least one more.

“Chuck?” My brother’s door was open a smidge. The lights were off and he was sitting in front of the computer. The faint light from the monitor cast a spooky glow on his face. “The pond’s open, remember? You want to come?”

In the funny light, it took me a second to realize his eyes were shut. His hands were folded on his lap, graceful like when we had to sit all proper in church. It’s not like he needed to touch the keyboard.

“I’m busy, Sara.” His voice creaked like an old floorboard. Since he’d “manifested,” as the local Guild rep liked to say, Chuck had been able to listen and talk to computers. The Guild had even given us a brand spanking new Tandy 2000 so Chuck could hone his skills.

He used to have lots of other skills, too. A husky singing voice. Quick wit. A mean slapshot. 

“But this… it’s the first day.” My shoulders slumped. This had been our tradition since I was five, wearing awful figure skates with pink laces. I mean, the first day on our pond! This used to mean everything to our whole gang – me, Chuck, Chuck’s best friend Jeff, and my buddy Amaud. 

“Fine,” I muttered, shoving myself from the doorway and stalking to the kitchen. If I had a superpower, I’d still play hockey. Maybe I’d even be better, depending on what I could do. Our little town of Red Hawk already had crazy odds, with two manifested kids. Even Edmonton, as big as it was, only had five.

“Hockey day! Hockey day!” I chanted beneath my breath as I rummaged around in the kitchen. I refused to let Chuck ruin my morning. I charred some toast and slathered on gobs of butter to compensate. I glanced at the St. John Ambulance book as I chewed, and all the information flooded back into my head from when I was stupid enough to skim through it a few days back: bloody arms, tourniquets, rescue breathing, brain trauma. I gagged and forced myself to swallow. I should have known better than to even look between the covers, with how my memory was and all. “Eidetic memory” was the fancy term for it. My grandpa memorized the whole Bible and could spout passages on request. Mom said she’d kill to have inherited the family knack, but she didn’t know how things were in school. Everyone hates know-it-alls. Hates in a mean sort of way.

A minute later, I swiped the crumbs onto the floor, grabbed my gear and bolted out the door.

The morning smelled all wet and fresh, ice crystals zinging in my nostrils. The sun glared through gauze-thin clouds, and I glared back. I didn’t want a warm and sunny day that’d make all the ice melt. Snow crunched under my boots, and my tied-together skates swayed against my shoulder. My freshly-taped hockey stick felt perfect in my grip. 

Up ahead, Amaud waited for me under our meeting tree. He’d accidentally crushed his glasses a few days back and his face looked bare and weird without them.

Amaud was the other gifted kid in town. He wasn’t a technophile like Chuck. He was big. Like, refrigerator-sized big, and still growing. That also had its own fancy term, “myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy,” but what it really meant was Amaud was becoming some super muscle man.

It was weird to think of Amaud as a man at all. I mean, he was twelve, same as me, but I was still totally average and now he towered over me. 

I wouldn’t be average forever. 

“Where’re your skates?” I called.

He shook his head, like in slow motion. “Don’t fit,” he said in his low mumble. His hockey stick was too short, just coming up to his chest. Even his snow shovel looked stubby next to him.

Amaud never said much. Kids always teased him for being slow, but he was really super-smart except for math; that’s how we met, because our teacher made me start tutoring him back in first grade. But Amaud read Shakespeare for fun. No one else in school did that. No one would want to.

“You said your skates fit in October!” My voice squealed. Snow shivered from a branch overhead.

“My feet’ve gotten bigger since then.” He shrugged.

“Well, you were going to be goalie, anyway. Don’t think you’re getting out of it.” He was no Grant Fuhr, but at the very least Amaud could stand there and let stuff bounce off him.

First Chuck, now this. I stalked past Amaud and blinked back tears.

His voice softened. “I’m not trying to get out of it. I like playing hockey with you.”

I grunted. The pond was just over the rise. My feet crunched through a thin layer of ice with every stomp, the crystals scratching through cloth to my calves. I suppose I could have let Amaud go first and plow through, but I wasn’t lazy like that.

“Did you finish your math homework?” I asked, needing to change the subject.

“Started it.”

I squinted at the annoyingly bright sky. “Started it, meaning you did one page and stopped at the word problem, right? ‘Mary ate 3/8 of a pizza, while Michael ate 1/16, while little Susan ate 1/32.'” I saw the words in my head, clear as if I held the book in front of me. A neat trick but no superpower; superpowers did something. All I could do was bore people to death. Or open my big fat mouth yet again and cause half the class to pin me down on the playground and shove snow down my sweater. “I’ve shown you how to do common denominators a million times. It’s no different when the numbers are stuck between words.”

“Hate math,” he muttered.

“I know.” Amaud wouldn’t have made it past basic addition without me harping on him every day.

I frowned and tilted an ear. I could swear I heard kids laughing and the thuds and whispers of skates on ice, but this was our street, our pond. The kids on the other side of town had their indoor rink and all – why’d they come here? I started to jog. Amaud huffed behind me, his heavy feet pounding.

Older kids in blue jerseys cluttered the ice. These guys had gotten here early. The ice was scraped clean. White gouges gleamed across the surface and cast-off boots designated the goals on either side of the pond. The sweaters were from the high school team, complete with a blazing red hawk embroidered on the front. Chuck used to wear one before his brain started computer-talk.

I recognized a tall mop-head of red hair. “Hey, Jeff!” Angry as I was, I knew not to try and run or I’d just flop down the slope.

Jeff swirled off from the rest and scraped to a stop right in front of me, his face ruddy with exertion and cold. “Hey, Sara.” 

He had been Chuck’s best friend since preschool, like my second brother as far back as I could remember. He always drank his cocoa out of an old Christmas mug showing Santa and his sleigh. About now, I felt like shattering that mug to a million pieces.

“What’s all this?” I jabbed my stick at the players. “This is our pond. Your team can practice at your own rink, or on one of the ponds on the east side.” 

The one time I’d tried to skate at one of their ponds – it had a changing room shack with heaters and everything – the kids demanded I pay admission and laughed the whole time, knowing I could never pay.

Jeff looked past me. “No Chuck?” Sadness flashed in his eyes, and he blinked it away. “Hey, Amaud.”

“No.” My word came out as a growl. “Listen, this is our–”

“Emphasis on ‘our.’ Look, Sara, I live here, too. I’ve been coming here since before you were born. The school rink is hosting some event today and I invited the guys over.”

“So can we play, too?” I met his eye.

Jeff cringed. “That’s… probably not a good idea. Look, Sara, you’re a sixth grader. Some of these guys are seniors–”

One of those seniors zoomed by. “Hey, come on, we’re playing a game here! Tell the little girl to go build snowmen with the other kiddies.” The other players laughed. 

I looked past Jeff to where three girls in puffy coats were building snowmen along the little ridge that separated our pond from big pond beyond. They couldn’t have been older than five or six. Heat flushed my cheeks.

“We’ll be out of here soon,” said Jeff, a pleading note in his voice.

“This was our pond,” I snapped.

“Well, the old gang isn’t what it used to be.” Something shifted in his face then, making him sound colder. Older. He skated backwards and away. Ice spat off the blades.

“Come on,” I said to Amaud without looking at him. “Let’s go shoot pucks on the big pond.”

We trudged along the snowy shore. A few low whistles and utters of, “Damn,” showed they recognized Amaud’s presence – not that he could be ignored. I got angrier with every step. One of the little girls tried to say hi and I just glared until she shriveled into her fluffy hood.

No one was on the big pond. No one was supposed to be on the big pond, really. It was too big to freeze in the middle. But along the shore was okay, and better than nothing. That’s almost what I had – nothing. I fumbled the puck out of my pocket and thwacked it, hard.

“You could have like, done something!” I snarled at Amaud. I knew I shouldn’t take it out on him but I couldn’t help it.

“Like what?”

“You could throw them off the ice! Do something! I’d do something!” I flung my skates into the snow bank. I didn’t even feel like putting them on now. I just needed to hit things.

Amaud walked along the crunchy shore. I could see the puck from where I was, but he walked past it three times before he plucked it up and tossed it back my way. He really needed his new glasses. 

“I dunno.”

“No, you don’t.” I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. Chuck, Jeff, Amaud… everyone was changing. I hated it. And if I had to change, let this be the time. Let it be something brilliant. I could burst out of my skin like a butterfly from a cocoon. 

“I don’t hurt people. You don’t hurt people.”

“I don’t know. Maybe some people should be hurt.” Tears burned in my eyes. I knew I was saying stupid stuff, but I wanted to get it out. See if it helped me feel better.

It didn’t.

“I want to help, not hurt.” Amaud’s voice was soft as he kicked the puck back at me. Anger made me feel too hot beneath my coat, even when I was standing still. “I want to feel like I’m going through… this for some reason. A purpose.” He motioned at his massive body.

I wanted that purpose, too. I wanted to fly. I wanted to heal people with a touch of my hand. Maybe not talk to computers like Chuck, but there were lots of other powers out there – fire from fingertips, cold creation, fast running, amazing hearing. Dozens more, probably. 

“I hurt all the time.”

Those words came from nowhere. I blinked at Amaud. “What?”

“I hurt all the time. I can feel my muscles stretch, even when I sleep. They say – the Guild people say – that I’m going to be so big and heavy it’s going to mess with my joints. I may not be able to walk by the time I’m forty.”

“Oh.” I don’t think I ever heard Amaud say that much at once. “But the Guild, they have healers. They can take care of you, right?”

He shook his head, slow and swaying. “I don’t know.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I still had that awful, raw knot in my chest, that tight feeling that had been there since Chuck started listening inside his head instead of with his ears, since Amaud’s body started changing to something big and foreign. They were special. Different. Isolated in a way, yeah, but… amazing.

I wanted to be amazing, too. Not just the weird girl who had to sit at the front of the class so no one beat her up.

I handled the puck with my stick, then I reeled back and struck it with all my strength. In my head, I could see it like an old cartoon – flames and contrails, like a rocket to the moon. In reality, it skittered over the ice and landed on the far shore.

“I’ll get it,” I said and set down my stick. Amaud would never be able to see the puck that far away.

All of a sudden I felt deflated. Tired. I didn’t know what to think anymore, about Amaud or any of this. The echoes of the hockey players at the little pond seemed to dully ricochet in my head. A small gust of wind slapped my face as I walked along the shore. Icy stones squealed beneath a thin sheet of snow. 

It took me a few minutes to find the puck. It had bounced off a tree or two and landed on a little drift. I trotted back towards the pond.

The first thing I saw was glaring pink – a little girl’s coat – way out in the middle of the big pond. My heart just about stopped. Then I saw Amaud crawling out on the ice, halfway from the shore to her.

“Oh, God,” I whispered. The puck fell from my hand. “Amaud! Amaud! Go slow, okay? Be careful!” What had he been thinking?! Why didn’t he yell for help? I’d never heard him yell in my life, but now would have been the perfect time. He probably weighed three hundred pounds. The ice out there’d be thin as skin.

I ran down the shore, screaming. “Jeff! Jeff! Guys! Help!”

They came. I may have wished them terrible pain ten minutes before, but they ran over that crest. There was a split-second pause as they assessed everything, then most of them ran towards me. One headed the other way, to the firehouse.

That’s when I saw the girls, all three of them. One without a coat.

“Amaud, stop! It’s just a coat!” I screamed.

He stopped. The pink coat bobbed about twenty feet away, and had to look like a real kid in his fuzzy sight. He edged backward, slowly. The other guys clustered along the ice, waiting.

“Come on, Amaud,” called Jeff. 

It happened so fast, so very fast. That vicious crack that made my whole world break. His legs sank in, but not his upper body. He clutched the ice with his hands splayed out.

There was another crack. Amaud was gone. Just, gone.

I stopped breathing. Everything stopped. “Please, God, please.” I took two steps forward and stopped. I never felt so helpless in my life. Powerless. Jeff and another guy flung themselves down, belly first, and slid out towards that awful black hole. It hurt to watch, it hurt to think they all could die, trying to save Amaud. Big wonderful Amaud.

An arm flailed upward. A head. His hat was gone, his skin so white, so terribly white, his hair black, then he was gone again.

Another flail. A splash. Seconds stretched out like hours. They were almost there. The pond was so shallow. Maybe – maybe he can stand up. Jump up. Something. Another hand out. A brief gleam of face.

“Hang on!” yelled Jeff. The girls wailed in an awful chorus.

The guys were at the hole. Reaching in. Fishing. I took another step forward, willing something to happen, aching for some kind of miracle.

“We got him!” screeched Jeff.

Then they had an arm, somehow. A third guy joined them. I recognized the slick black of Amaud’s coat. 

Another sharp crack. No one moved. They didn’t drop in, but they were slow to move after, like an old man from a hospital bed. Together, they somehow pulled him out. He was big, limp, and sleek like a walrus. So, so slowly, they eased him backward. They didn’t dare to stand up for another twenty feet, and then they dragged him as a team.

Amaud’s eyes were closed, his head slack. They set him down on the snow and he was just there.

I ran forward. Dropped to my knees. I touched Amaud. He was cold, achingly cold, dead cold. I willed something to click in my brain. That magic, that superpower, a healing touch. 

“What do we do?” asked one of the boys. They were all panting, drenched and shivering.

The images flashed in my head. Page 36 and 37 of Mom’s St. John manual. One of my hands tilted Amaud’s head back, chin jutting up.

Pinch his nostrils shut.

Open mouth and check for obstructions.

Breathe.

I brought down my lips over his. The chill of his lips sank into me and ached in my jawbone. I sealed my mouth over his and released two quick breaths. Releasing his nose, I looked at the rounded wetness of his chest. No movement.

Again.

Again.

As I looked at his chest again, breath warmed my ear. I gasped, recoiling. Amaud’s dark eyes were wide open. A violent shiver quaked through his massive body.

“We need to get him warm, out of these clothes,” I said. Page 63.

“Firehouse,” said Jeff. The other guys moved in and hauled up Amaud by the coat and legs. I worked my way in between them to grab Amaud’s hand. It was icy, like a fish from the freezer. He convulsed.

“Hey,” I said.

His eyes found mine. “Hey-y-y.” His teeth rattled.

“That was amazing, Sara,” Jeff said as he huffed for breath. Water and sweat beaded from his jaw. The guys leaned forward and struggled up the ridge. 

“You guys, too. You got him out.” I grinned down at Amaud. “Hang in there. You’re going to be okay.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. We’d saved a life. I’d saved a life. I hadn’t needed to manifest a thing – no healing, no telekinesis.

I sandwiched Amaud’s hand between my palms and rubbed briskly. Maybe I’d warm him some. 

And maybe, just maybe, my brain would still let me do a little something more.

In any case, I wasn’t about to let go. 

 

END

 

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Cast of Wonders 162: Sister Winter by Jenni Moody


Sister Winter

by Jenni Moody

We were just going to bed when the townfolk came, led by Mrs. Hutch with her know-all voice.

I climbed up the cabin ladder to the loft, careful to curl my toes over the rough beams of wood. Ma had fallen off the stairs just a week ago, and now she slept downstairs on the sofa. The cabin was just one big room, so she could still yell up at me and Minn to make us quiet down.

Minnie had the covers pulled up over her head. I could see her eyes shining out from a little hole, like a cat in her cave.

“Move over, Minn.” I swung my legs under the covers. She scooted back, and I pressed my feet against her thighs.

Minnie wrapped her hands around my feet. Their warmth prickled. “So cold!”

The underside of the covers twinkled with little points of light. Minnie touched her finger to the sheet. When she pulled it back there was a warm, red star there. She made two rectangles, a star in each corner of the boxes. An arc of stars lead from the bottom of one rectangle to the center of the other. My feet in Minnie’s hands.

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 111: The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer (Staff Pick 2013)

Show Notes

As our longtime listeners know, Cast of Wonders takes the month of January off each year, so we can recharge our batteries, and get out in front of the next year’s production schedule. And this year is no exception. However this January instead of leaving you with an empty playlist, Cast of Wonders is proud to present our Staff Picks!

Graeme, Barry and I (Marguerite) have selected our personal favorite story from 2013, and even further back in one case. Each of us will introduce the story, and talk a bit about we found so memorable about that particular tale.

But “Ahhh!”, I hear you say, “January has four weeks, and there’s only three of you! What are you going to do the last week of the month?” Well I’m glad you asked, because we’ll re-play our Small Cast, Short Form Parsec award winner, “Now Cydonia” by Rick Kennet, to transition you into a new year of what we hope to be even more award winnings stories, week after week.

And since I’m here, I guess that means I get to go first!

Barry and Graeme invited me to become the Editor of Cast of Wonders right before Christmas in 2012. I had just moved to the UK a few months prior, and the shorter days and significantly colder weather was starting to affect my mood. In January, while juggling a crushing course load in law school and frantically reading slush to be ready for the February episodes, I read the first submission that made me cry.

Jess Hyslop’s wonderful first-person narrative of a frost giant yearning for the touch of summer cut straight through my winter blues and reminded me of how good, how life affirming that first truly hot day of summer feels. Not just spring and rolling forward the clocks, but summer and that prickly, sizzling sensation on the tops of your shoulders when you wear a tanktop outside for the first time each year. Maybe, if you’re lucky, on the way to spend a day on the beach.

“The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer” is also the first story where the choice of narrator wasn’t really a choice so much as a lightning bolt of inspiration. I’ve been a fan of MK Hobson as a guest host and reader on Podcastle for years. I backed “The Warlock’s Curse”, the sequel to her smash hit debut novel “The Native Star”, on Kickstarter. The giant’s sense of humor, the gentle way it scolds as well as instructs the child, and the sensation of wisdom immediately brought MK’s warm and rich-yet-worn-around the edges voice to mind. I was thrilled when she accepted my request. Thanks MK!


The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer

by Jess Hyslop

What’s this–another visitor? How tiresome. I thought I had seen the last of you when the guards departed. I thought I had finally been left to meet my end in peace.

Wishful thinking. I thought I was beyond that, too.

Well, you must excuse me if I do not get up. These chains, you see…

What is such a tiny thing as you doing here all alone, anyway? Do your parents know that you are up here? I doubt that they’d approve. The hillside is steep and treacherous, and there are all sorts of dangers for a little flake like you. How your mother will scold if you tear your skirts! How your father will tut if you scrape your dainty ankle! How they will weep if you tumble from a bluff! And, my, how they will curse and stamp and rage if you end up in the belly of a starving frost giant.

I jest, child. Despite what you have been told, we giants do not eat people. It is only in your stories that such loathsome things occur.

Nevertheless, you should run along. Your parents are doubtless sick with worry, and I do not want to be blamed for your disappearance. Your King has made me miserable enough already. The last thing I need is to suffer more of his so-called justice.
(Continue Reading…)