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Elie Hirschman

Elie is a friendly individual and likes to exchange pleasant words with pleasant people. He's been called a "vocal chameleon" with a penchant for accents and has been the voice of may horror, sci-fi, and fantasy stories in various fiction podcasts.
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PseudoPod 657: Waxworks
Episode of
PseudoPod
Author : W.L. George Narrator : Simon Meddings Host : Alex Hofelich Audio Producer : Chelsea Davis Discuss on Forums “Waxworks” originally appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1922 under the title “Waxworks: A Mystery” Sound attribution: Spoiler Inside SelectShow</> Drip: https://freesound.org/people/tack00/sounds/399257/ Rain: https://freesound.org/people/InspectorJ/sounds/346642/ Door slam: https://freesound.org/people/DBproductions/sounds/60031/ Waxworks by W.L. George Henry Badger rapidly paced the City churchyard; his air of anxiety seemed to overweigh his small, though not unpleasing, features. He was an insignificant little man, dressed in pepper-and-salt tweeds. His hair was cut very close, except where a love-lock, plastered down with jasmine-oil, trailed over his forehead from under his hard black hat. Whenever he completed the circuit of the churchyard he peered towards the gate through which must come disturbance and romance. Henry Badger was in love, and he could not escape the consequences of his share in our common delight and affliction. Suddenly brightness overspread his sharp features. It was she! She, in a pink crêpe-de-Chine blouse, disconnected rather than connected with her white serge skirt by a patent-leather belt. Above the pink blouse was an equally pink neck, and a rather pretty face, all soft curves. She was bright blue of eye and tumbled in pleasant fairness about the hair, under a large straw hat from which drooped on one side a fragment of ivy that might with advantage have been placed elsewhere. But her name was Ivy, and she liked to live in harmony. “I’m late,” she said, with pretty-briskness, as they shook hands. “So sorry, Henry. Only the boss got dictating, and he likes to hear himself talk, even if it is only to little me. Still, better late than never,” she added, with a smile indicating wit. Henry Badger replied “Yes,” and wondered if it would be good policy to attack her for being late. Since he felt at fault, no doubt it would. Only—an argument with Ivy, one never knew what that would lead to. “Well, you dummy,” she said, “is that all you’ve got to say? Got the tickets?” “Er—,” said Henry Badger, “no.” “What do you mean?” said Ivy, crossly. “What I say,” replied Henry Badger, with feeble determination. “Fact is, Ivy, I’m sorry, but I forgot.” The blue eyes stared at him, incredulous. “Forgot! What you been and done that for?” Henry Badger explained profusely. The night before he’d had an awful headache, and it had slipped his memory to go round to the Imperial Music Hall, and this morning the manager— Ivy trampled upon these confused excuses. “All I can see,” she said, “is here we are landed on a Saturday afternoon with nowhere to go except the pictures. And it’s so hot in those places. Last time I was fair melted. I do think it’s too bad of you.” It was then that Henry Badger expressed himself. “Fact is, Ivy, I been thinking.” “Hope you didn’t break anything,” said Ivy, “but since you done it, what’s the ideer?” “I been thinking that we don’t know the town we live in. I was reading a book the other day. Strange Sights of London, it was called. And, would you believe it, Ivy? there’s lots of things I got to learn.” “Ah, I do believe it,” said Ivy. “For instance,” said Henry, “did you know that the church of St. Ethelburga wasn’t burnt down in the Fire of London?” “No,” said Ivy, “and now I do know it I don’t seem to be much better off.” “Ah!”, said Henry, “that’s where you’re wrong, Ivy. It improves your mind to know that sort of thing. And that’s how I got my ideer. I been thinking we might go round to the docks.” “What for?” “Oh, I dunno. Just to mooch round. Ever been to the docks? No? Well, why not try ’em? You know, Ivy, people spend a lot of money going to the Riviera, and they never see the place round the corner. See your own country first,” he added, with originality. “Well,” said Ivy, after a moment, “seeing you’ve mucked up this afternoon, and mother’s gone out and there won’t be any tea, I suppose we may as well.” The two little people, for neither of them was quite five-foot-six, made their way along the East India Dock Road, where an omnibus had deposited them. For an hour they wandered the tragic land where none live for pleasure, and where slowly the soot falls to obliterate sooty footmarks. They were too tired to be pleased when, behind a long brick wall, they found the docks. They perceived the smell of the East, oil of macassar, piled logs of sandalwood, barrels of copra; at a point against the sky, where now the dark clouds were racing, they saw outlined tall spars, while a funnel striped in yellow and blue threw out a shower of sparks against the sky like a dun veil touched with tinsel. The heat seemed to grow. They lost their direction, not liking to ask their way of the rough inhabitants, not knowing where they wanted to go. They were astray, unprotected lambs in a land of slender law. Ivy began to drag her feet as loudly as she could, to show that she was displeased. Both were secretly oppressed because that day they had not kissed. At that moment came rain. Very slowly at first in separate warm drops that made upon the pavement spots as large as a coin. “My!” said Henry, “it’s going to come down like billy-oh!” “I don’t care,” said Ivy. “Come on,” said Henry, “let’s see if we can get under shelter somewhere.” But they were still progressing along another brick wall; opposite, the warehouses were closed. They ran, for now the rain was beginning to fall with greater determination. “Here,” gasped Henry, as he ran, “we must get in somewhere; you’ll be sopped through. Let’s go into a shop.” They stopped irresolutely at the corner of a side-street. As it was almost entirely occupied by warehouses no living creature could be seen. But just as they prepared to run on through the rain, Henry observed a tottering post, bearing a battered sign. The sign was in the shape of a hand pointing up the lane, and upon it were painted the words: “To the Waxworks.” “Here,” he cried, dragging Ivy along, “that’ll do. I didn’t know they had waxworks in this part of the world, but it’ll save us getting wet.” They ran up the street, expecting a veranda and a commissionaire. At the end of the lane they had found nothing, and paused irresolute, when upon the door of a three-floored house Ivy saw the word “Waxworks”, with the addition: “Mrs. Groby, Proprietress.” Henry seized the door handle, which resisted for a moment. The door jammed, but with a great effort he forced it open. It made a great clatter as he flung it against the wall. Breathless, and wiping their wet faces, the two stood giggling in the hall. Then, feeling alone, suddenly they kissed. The excitement of the run and of the caress sheltered them against an impression which the place imposed upon them only by degrees. They were in the hall of a house, of a house like any other house. There was no noise, except for a slight sound. It felt deserted. The door handle on the right was covered with dust. Nobody had gone into that room for a long time. An unaccountable emotion developed in them. The house was still except that at last they identified the slight sound: far away a tap was leaking. They found themselves listening to the drip which came regularly from the basement. “Well,” said Henry, with forced cheerfulness, “here we are.” And as if to reassure himself: “Anyhow, we sha’n’t get wet.” They stood for a moment looking out at the rain, which now came faster. The effect of this falling water, soft and hot, the dusty silence of the place except for that regular drip far away, combined to cast upon them a sort of uneasiness, an almost physical oppression. Ivy began to look about her with unexplainable anxiety. The darkness of the stairs, the banisters broken in several places, the dusty door handle, stirred in her a vague fear; she looked about her like a cat in a strange place and preparing to flee. As the feeling communicated itself to Henry his manliness revolted. It would be too silly to have the jumps. So he said: “Ive, since we’re here, why not go upstairs and see the show?” After a moment’s hesitation, Ivy dominated her disturbance and said: “All right.” They went up the stairs, firmly, but with instinctive slowness, troubled by the sound of their feet upon the boards, followed by the fainter drip of the distant tap. The first floor was like the ground floor. Here, too, the door handles were dusty, and here, too, there came no sound from beyond the doors. They had to make an effort to go up further. The sense that here was emptiness made emptiness frightful. But Henry was leading and still went up. He didn’t know why, but knew he must go up. Perhaps because he was a man and couldn’t run away from anything, not even from nothing. The second floor comforted them, for here was a pay-box, empty it is true, but marked: “Pay here.” Henry released a great sigh. It really was a show. It had a human air. “Come on, Ivy,” he said, in a loud voice which rang unpleasantly down the uncarpeted stairs. “Since there’s nobody down here we can pay when we get to the top.” Ivy silently followed him up, and so they reached what seemed to be a large attic. Once again a reluctant door yielded to their hands, and Henry stepped into the doorway with a sort of jauntiness, but Ivy paused for a moment at his back. Waxworks, yes, but, she didn’t know why, at once she was terrified. One couldn’t see very well in the attic, for the dust of years lay upon the skylight, and the avaricious light of the sullen sky hardly penetrated. The walls had been whitewashed, but now were stained black with damp, soiled by the touch of hands, the smoke of lamps. About the door hung rags of dirty red damask. And in the immense silence of the place, hearing not even the drip of the distant tap, they found themselves alone with the wax figures. Some stood upon little thrones of red-painted wood, here a man in day clothes, staring emptily from a yellow countenance, here a woman spreading crimson nostrils to an absent scent. The two were still in the doorway, not knowing why they did not go in. They were conscious of a secret vileness in these faces. The things stood so still, but sure of themselves, as if they had always stood in the dust and twilight. But at last Henry seized Ivy’s arm more firmly and they went in. Altogether there were fourteen figures. Three of the men were labeled Charles Peace, Dr Crippen, and Gouffé. The woman with the intense gaze was Mrs. Maybrick, and there were two other women, one with bright red hair over which a spider had built its web. But Henry and Ivy, as they stood before them, did not at once read the legends telling how Crippen had killed his wife and burnt her body in the furnace, nor did they gaze at Gouffé, the bailiff, who had been carved into pieces and packed in a trunk. A little later Ivy read that ticket to the end and shudderingly stepped away from the invitation to draw apart the figure’s clothing and see indicated the lines along which the body had been cut up. At that moment she was cowering against Henry, who instinctively had laid an arm about her shoulders, for the single figures were less terrifying than two groups represented in action. One of the groups comprised a man and a woman in a pink flannelette dressing-gown. With an expression of pinched determination the murderer was forcing the female figure down into a bath, where a sheet of mica, tinted green, represented water. In the grasp of a bony hand, the female figure held the edge of the bath, wildly raising the other arm, while into her distorted mouth floated the green edge of the water that was to drown her. It was a work of art of indescribable horror. It was as if the snake-like fingers moved, as if in another moment the head would disappear under that still green surface. With an exclamation Henry turned aside to the other group, that stood dim within the shadow, away from the faint rays that fell through the skylight. This represented a very old woman, lying on her face, her white hair scattered and stained with blood, while kneeling over her, a sandbag still half-raised, was a short man in the clothes of the day, his face set and coated with a horrible scarlet flush. Now a new sound made them start. It was the growing rain, pattering upon the skylight, as if goblins raced across it. In a sudden desire for union again they kissed, quickly falling apart, as if espied. They turned away for a moment, fascinated, they did not know how, in this gallery of crime; the still things about them seemed to have a motion, a vibration of their own. They found themselves looking sharply into corners as if something were there after all, as if these were not creatures of wax, but actually poisoners, men and women experienced in violence and still capable of evil. The great horror, which always drew them back to itself, was that bath, soiled, chipped, and streaked with black rivulets of dirt, into which the murderer was endlessly pressing down the figure that endlessly strove for life. So great was the tension that Henry tried to rejoin the ordinary world. He whispered: “We ought to have paid someone,” but while he spoke he looked from side to side, as if begging some material custodian to appear with a familiar ticket and a sounding punch. Ivy did not reply; she was holding his arm in a nervous clutch; once or twice she moved away from him, and then came back, as if her fingers grasped him independently of the processes of her brain. She was opening and closing her mouth, striving to speak and finding her tongue dry. Only at last did she find a whisper: “I don’t like it. Let’s go.” Henry Badger also wanted to go, but he was so unaccountably afraid that he dared not go. His virility spoke: it told him that if he went now he would be everlastingly ashamed. He was afraid to tell himself that he was afraid. So, in a voice the loudness of which half-startled him, he replied: “Oh, rot! Since we’ve come up we may as well see the lot of them.” So, Ivy still grasping his arm, they circled the attic, stopping in turn before each figure. Ivy did not want to see, but she could not look away. It was as if she must meet material, human eyes. It was always the eyes she looked at. There was a challenge in them. It was the defiance of the dead which she must meet. She must again view the bath, look down through the green surface of the water upon the agonized limbs which twisted in the dimness that was to be their grave. But now there was a change. Perhaps because habit made that first seem less awful, the second group gained in horror. It was not only the sight of the blood coagulated on the white hair, it was something else, something unnamable. The art of the sculptor had gone too far; here was mere and abominable reality. Real hair, and crouching above, with drooping eyelids, the figure of the murderer, ill-shaven and flushed with health. Something twisted in Ivy’s body as she thought that upon the still mask she could discern beads of sweat. They stayed staring, half-conscious that they had been here a long time, though little more than a minute had passed. The beating of their hearts deafened them, and combined with the hissing sound of the rain, as if thin ghosts shod in cloud were racing across the skylight. Her eyes still fixed upon the creature with the sandbag, Ivy whispered again: “Let’s go.” Then, in the far distance, they heard the front door slam. At that sound a confused terror seized them both. The contrast between incoming humanity and the unearthly silence here affected them like a blow. Heat and weakness rushed up their limbs, and in Ivy’s ears was a sound like the distant unwinding of an endless chain. Henry was the first to recover; a compound emotion formed in him: the proprietress—of course—he wanted to get out—they really ought to pay—he’d better see. This summarized itself in an inarticulate sound. Turning, he ran to the landing and looked down the stairs. He did not know what he expected to see, but something, and after a few seconds, as he heard nothing, such a weakness overcame him that he let himself go against the balustrade, his head hanging down over the well of the stairs, where all was silence and darkness. But almost at once he recovered, for suddenly behind him there came a long cry, a cry with a strange, torn quality, like that of a beast in pain, that jerked him to his feet as it dragged from his pores a sheet of cold sweat. As he turned, Ivy came tumbling out of the attic, her arms outstretched before her as if she fumbled for her way. She could not see, for her eyes were so retroverted that only the whites showed under the falling lids. He caught her just as she was going to throw herself down the stairs. As he touched her she flung her arms about his neck with maniacal strength and he could not free himself from that grasp. As they stumbled together down the stairs, he thought that it was like being held by bones. They fell together at the foot of the second landing, and somehow struggled to their feet. There was a moment of incredible effort before they could pull open the outer door, which had been closed by the wind. They halted for an instant upon the steps, close-locked under the falling hot rain, and Henry did not understand what drove him then, what strange relief or exaltation, what insane excitement made him press his mouth to the lips drawn tightly into pallid lines. At the kiss Ivy’s nerves suddenly relaxed. She became a bundle in his arms, something he dragged along, staggering as he fled, he knew not from what. They shared but one idea: to get away. The pavement streamed before them as they ran with downcast eyes. Then, with a shock, they were stopped by two policemen in oilskins, with whom they nearly collided at the junction of the lane and the main road. The policemen stared at these two, instinctively holding them by the arm, not understanding that they were at the limit of terror, and already suspecting that they had committed some crime. Indeed, Henry and Ivy were struggling in their grasp, still dominated by their one desire: to get away. At last, when they grew quiet and stood breathing hard, their mouths relaxed by nervous exhaustion, the elder policeman, who was a sergeant, said: “Now then, what’s all this?” “I don’t know,” said Henry. “Come on,” said the sergeant, “you don’t put me off like that. What you been up to, you two?” Henry did not reply. “Mark you, it’ll be all the worse for you if you don’t talk. What’s happened?” He shook his prisoner, suggesting that he’d make him talk yet, but failing to draw a reply he turned to the girl: “You, why were you running?” Ivy seemed to have recovered more quickly than her companion. Though her eyelids did not cease to twitch, she managed to say: “I saw something.” “Saw something?” said the sergeant. “Saw what?” “Oh, I couldn’t,” said Ivy. “I expect they’re drunk,” said the constable. “No,” said the sergeant, meditatively, “I can’t smell it on ’em.” “Oh, no,” cried Ivy, “no, of course not, only it’s the waxworks—the waxworks.” “Waxworks?” said the sergeant. “What waxworks?” “I know, sergeant,” said the constable, nodding up the lane. “Mrs. Groby’s place.” “Oh, yes,” said the sergeant, “I know now. Sort of chamber of ’orrors. Well, you been to the waxworks. What about it?” “I saw something,” whispered Ivy. “Saw what?” said the constable. “Saw Mrs. Groby, I suppose. Funny old dame, sergeant. She’s been living in that house all by herself for the last forty years, alone with them things. Used to make a lot of money out of them, and they say she’s got a lot saved up. Between you and me and the lamp-post I’m surprised no one’s knocked her on the head yet and walked off with her money.” Ivy gave a low cry: “Yes—that’s it—there’s a man in there—he’s killed her—blood all over her head.” “What’s all this?” asked the sergeant, professionally incredulous. “What’s all this story? And how do you know anything about it?” “There was a noise,” said Ivy. “The door slammed—Henry ran out. I couldn’t move for a moment—she was on the floor, and the man—” Her voice became shrill: “as I turned to look after Henry I just—he raised his arm and rubbed it—just with the corner of my eye—I—” She gave a heavy sigh, and her head fell back upon the policeman’s chest. But she had not fainted, and in a moment the policemen were striding up the lane, followed by Henry and Ivy, who clung to the companionship of these tall, loud-speaking men. As they went the sergeant theorized: “I see the dodge. He did the old woman in; then he heard this pair come up the stairs, and rigged himself up as a wax figure. Got cramp, I suppose, and took the chance to rub his arm when he thought she wasn’t looking. Cheer up, missy,” he added to Ivy, who was crying out of weakness. “We’ll soon get him.” As they reached the door of the museum he winked at her and drew his truncheon. “Better stay downstairs, missy,” he added, as he led the way up. But after a moment Ivy and Henry could not bear their loneliness, and tiptoed up the stairs behind the blue shapes that walked with such assurance, making no attempt to muffle their tread. When they reached the attic, the policeman looked in a puzzled way into the twilight. “Which one is it?” said the policeman, and instinctively his voice fell to a whisper. Ivy, who was just behind him, pointed at the kneeling shape carrying the sandbag. “That one,” she said. The sergeant did not understand his own feeling, but he received some dim impression from the grey place. He walked only three feet into the room. Then, in an uneasy voice, he addressed the kneeling figure: “Now then, my man. The game’s up. You better go quietly.” There was no reply, and the echoes died away, repeating a quivering uncertainty in the policeman’s voice. After a moment’s pause the sergeant, irritated by the silence, strode into the room; raising his truncheon, he went up to the kneeling figure and touched it on the shoulder. He drew back his hand, touched the body again. Then, suddenly, he burst into a roar of laughter, as with a derisive gesture he passed his hand up and down over the waxen face. “Wax!” he cried. “Bert! Have you ever seen such a pair of babies as these two? Been here and got the ’orrors, the two of them, and ran out like a pair of loonies to tell us this dummy is Jack the Ripper posing for the Russian bally. Oh, my!” “Wax!” whispered Ivy, “oh, no. Oh, please don’t touch it. It’s not wax. No, it’s not.” “Come on,” said the sergeant, kindly, “touch it yourself.” “Oh, I couldn’t,” said Ivy, quivering, but with a laugh the policeman seized her wrist, and, drawing her towards the figure, forced her to lay her hand upon the waxen coldness of the cheek. “Wax,” said the policeman, “you silly kid. That’s only wax. And so’s this wax,” he added, as he bent down and negligently laid his hand upon the blood-stained white hair. But, in the same movement almost, the policeman jumped up and recoiled, his staring eyes glaring at his hand. For less than a second did he gaze at it; then, with a cry, as if seized by ungovernable hysteria, he brought down his truncheon upon the head of the kneeling man, which, under the blow, scattered into tiny fragments of tinted wax. Then the other policeman drew back as he saw his comrade’s hand stained with fresh blood. “A waxwork,” he gasped. “What—how? It isn’t a waxwork. It’s Mrs. Groby.” He laid a single finger on the woman’s head, stared at his own blood-stained hand. “Dead—still warm.” His voice rose high: “Killed—by what?” In the silence, far below, could be heard the thin drip of the leaky tap. The post PseudoPod 657: Waxworks appeared first on PseudoPod.
PodCastle 583: The Resurrectionist
Episode of
PodCastle
Author : J. P. Sullivan Narrator : Wilson Fowlie Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Previously published in the August 2017 issue of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. Rated PG-13 for waking the dead and disturbing their dreams. The Resurrectionist by J.P. Sullivan “Yes, I can bring your wife back from the dead,” I told the farmer, who had reasonable doubts about my abilities. “Just realize that it might not be what she wants.” “She wants to see her children again,” he said. He’d told me his name, but I’d forgotten it.  Honestly, it’s better that way. He had a smith’s build, muscle on muscle, more beard than chin. I could tell at a glance he’d never had a crooked thought in his life. People like that are awfully hard to negotiate with. Thankfully, I have flat rates. “She signed the consent form?” The local chapel smelled like soot and incense. They hadn’t cremated her. That triples the fee and gives me a dreadful headache besides. “I know I’m asking for a miracle,” the farmer said. “You can really do it for ten crowns sovereign?” It’s not a miracle, I might have said. It’s a clever utilization of certain natural laws, an inversion of a subtle current and a trick played on God. Miracles assume His blessing, this process having none of it. But you start throwing around a word like ‘resurrection,’ and people get all kinds of ideas. “Did you bring the form, or not?” He produced it. And there it was, in hill-country chicken scratch, her name on the appropriate lines. There’s a correct way of doing everything. Why should reanimation be any different? I said the words, laid the hooks and lines and rock salt circles. Not all of that’s important, but the ceremony is part of the service. Like a funeral, it’s for the living. The church was empty of clergy. They couldn’t have run off too long ago; one of the fires was still lit. Every rider on the hill looked like a foreign raid, with the war on. For all I knew, they hid from me. “I don’t like this,” said the farmer. “Don’t worry,” I said, hands at the dead woman’s brow. “I don’t like it either.” Then I was in the elsewhere. White light rippled across the surface of calm water. Grass rustled in warm and silent wind. Overhead was a sky more blue than the one God painted, lit by suns numbered seventeen. My stiff clearly died with a guiltless conscience. “All right,” I said. I was smoking a pipe. I’ve never done that in the flesh; smells bloody awful, if you ask me. But this me knew how to do it, knew just how long to hold it in and just how deep to breathe. It smelled like an old man’s fireplace. I noticed I had an old man’s hands. For a moment I looked into the water. My face had lines and furrows and a hard-earned tan. My eyes were green like hers were green. People see in me what they want to see, and the situation here wasn’t hard to read. So I said, “It’s time to go back, Michelina.” “I just got here,” she said, relaxed as can be. “The angels haven’t come for me yet.” “Time moves differently here,” I said. “It’s been nearly three days.” Which was cutting it razor thin. If a keeper showed up — well, best not to fret over it. I only needed a few minutes to work my technique. Getting in is easy. Getting out requires time. “I have so much to tell you,” she said, eyes welling up. “Can you sing to me like you used to?” “What do you want to hear?” She asked for Lulaj, Stari Hulaj. I don’t speak that language. “You were very ill, Michelina.” I crouched before her with the creak of an old man’s bones. “But you’re getting better.” I took her hand. This, too, was part of the service. “Your husband misses you very much. Someday I’ll sing for both of you.” “He’s a fool,” she said. “And lazy. I never should have married him and I hope he goes to hell.” “He’s not that bad,” I said. Her look said, really? “But maybe I could have picked a better match. Even a father can make mistakes.” She stared at me. “You’re not my husband, are you.” Damn. I’d got it all wrong. She was a remarried widow. “Who are you?” Her hurt turned to anger. “Why do you look like him?” “Look,” I said. “I’m really quite sorry about this.” I punched her in the stomach. As it turns out, you don’t need a body to be knocked out. The ocean began to roil. The white suns turned red. Behind me I heard the scuttling of feet, the movement of the thing that watches the places in between worlds. “Martyn,” came the voice of the keeper. I heard the illusory earth creaking, could hear the stitching of the veil start to come undone. “Martyn.” “Also sorry,” I said, slinging the woman over my shoulder. She was as light as a passing thought. “Really not interested in a chat, today.” I raced for the water’s edge. Water was always the way out. The ocean collapsed before me into an endless funnel, whirling downward, ever farther. I jumped. And then I was in the church again, in my own flesh. I smelled the incense and the soot. The farmer asked, “Is she . . . ?” The woman’s eyes snapped open. The farmer gasped. Then her arms lurched forward. She gripped my throat and choked me. We struggled. I fell. My head struck the hard brass legs of a standing candle. My world spun and darkened, until the farmer managed to wrest his wife away from me. All in all, another satisfied customer. A hierophant is entitled to free lodgings, but after being strangled, I had trepidations about sleeping under the same roof (or in the same town) as Michelina, so I sent for transport immediately. I knew things were bad when it arrived. Not because of the rickety wheels, or because the cart was pulled by a crook-backed nag, or even the illegal battlefield salvage piled up as cargo – what really drove it home was the fact that the carter was a woman. Which of course meant that most all the men were dead. She blew straw-colored hair out of a sun-browned face. Her question was straightforward. “Where you headed?” I told her. “No way,” she said. I showed her the money. “Hop on,” was the new answer. I rode in back and watched the sky. The moon dawned by day that time of year. Zuzanna had always liked days like that. I don’t like to think about her but sometimes it can’t be helped. The carter wanted to tell me all about the war. “Press gangs came out and took all the men between fourteen and fifty,” she said. “If that doesn’t tell you something, nothing will. Suppose I’m grateful, in a way. Carting’s good business. Reckon I’ll keep at it, after.” “Why’s that farmer still here?” “Club foot. Anybody what can work a trade, though, poof, they’re gone, or hiding up in the hills where no one can find them, and certainly they can’t do any work while they’re up there, and naturally they still expect us to feed them. So what can you do?” “Good for the fields,” I said, looking out at fallow grass. “Good for nothing,” she said. “Old Bronislaw’s the only fellow left in the county what knows how to shoe a horse. They got the rest off making helmets, some damned place. I thought all the miracle-men like you got hauled off, besides. Where you from?” “Close by,” I said, pointing. “Off that way.” “That true?” It was, nearly. “No,” I said. We didn’t see a soul for three days, and it was dark when we hit the border. The army was under muster. Their campfires lit the night like so many sparks, a few hours off yet but no less inevitable for that. Fires were already burning in the city by the time we arrived. In a week or so it would all be gone. I wondered, academic, if you could classify what the prince was doing as a kind of amputation. I’ve done a few; hierophants are doctors before anything else. “There’s Jamborek,” said the carter. “Not sure what you’re looking for.” Perhaps a few people willing to let me save their lives. “When I die,” she suddenly told me, “I’m going to stay dead. The cost isn’t worth it.” “That’s a superstition,” I said. “There’s nothing to prove —” “Nothing to prove otherwise, either.” I had a few persuasive philosophical arguments on the merits of resurrection (I prefer the utilitarian), but the cart lurched to a stop. Took me a moment to see why. Three men hung from the strongest branch of a burned out tree, no leaves left to hide its angles. Three more were tied around its trunk. And another six were discarded, no space left for them, even in death. Not a single one of them had eyes. My knuckles tightened until they were white. “We should cut them down.” “No chance,” said the carter. “That’s how they punish deserters.” “It’s not right.” “We do it, we’ll be next.” “I know who did this,” I said. “Everybody knows about Tomasz. And if he’s here, I’m gone. He puts women into service, too. You know what kind.” I didn’t argue. It was only another hour or two to the city, anyway. I got out and walked. Of all the people who survived the war, it had to be him. Isn’t much that separates the new faith from the old, but it hasn’t stopped the princes from using the split to justify fighting all the wars they’d been wanting to fight for ages. The old faith holds that God is a woman; the new faith holds that God is a man. Seems a petty difference, but then folk like me believe that God is above dualities of form, and we’re of course hated by everybody. I weathered that disdain as I passed the gates. The stole of a hierophant is rarest azurite weave, a color to catch the eye. No one would fail to notice it. Some of the other remaining practitioners find it easier to do without, but I wear mine openly. That was mostly stubborn habit, but I’ve got pride, too. I’m doing the right thing, regardless of what others might believe. Smoke lay heavy in the air. The prince had decided to burn down his own city. Idea was, he’d already lost a few towns, and Jamborek was surely next, so he might as well deprive the enemy of spoils. Since he couldn’t afford to pay his own soldiers any more, letting them seize those spoils, pre-emptively, would surely bolster morale. If a few peasants starved, if a few women suffered, well. Wouldn’t be the first time. All that really mattered to him were the historic buildings, and those were made of stone, anyway. I’d seen them rise up myself. The cathedral was nearly as old as me. Generations had worked at it: architects and their sons, and then their sons too, whole generations devoted to the singular purpose of stacking high the stones in glory of God. Devotion writ in rock. The spires and domes were visible from the town’s farthest corners. I saw them now, through the arched and open windows of the cold grey scholarium in which I met the public. “They trained hierophants like me in Jamborek once, in this very hall, did you know that?” “Just fix my arm,” said the cooper. “Abandoned now. Sign of the times.” Many had lined up for aid. They were all poor and most were injured. Some had already lost their homes. Others waited their appointed hour of burning. A town so large had to be destroyed in sections. Many would sleep here tonight on the barren slate floor. I laid out my medicaments. The usual knives and pliers, the bone-saw, the forceps, all newly purified in fire. Add to these the tinctures of root and aqua vitae, plus more exotic instruments with names like lithotome and speculum. In this case, I applied only a poultice to the infected wound on the man’s arm. I did not know how he got it and I did not care. I wound it tightly. “This will itch. Do not remove it for two days. Once daily thereafter, drink this.” I gave him a jug of gold-green liquid, taken up from the cellar. I’d mostly found mold and dust and broken shelves, but this was untouched, for the soldiers hadn’t known its value. “What is it?” A special fermented brew, derived from a particular grain, laced with a substance too small to behold with eye or lens, one that would purge his body of the writhing primal creatures, equally small, that are the source of all disease. But I said, “Medicine.” “Aren’t you going to use magic?” “There’s no such thing,” I said. “Only laws we do not fully comprehend.” “But you are a wizard,” he said, in the way of a man who feels cheated. “I’m a hierophant.” “Just a kind of wizard, isn’t it? I came here for some bloody magic; at the price I paid, I expect some bloody magic.” Internally, I sighed. I work with light. That’s really all I can do. The soul, as it happens, is a kind of light. But I bend all kinds. So I stared at the jug and played my trick: the light within it stirred, just briefly. I knew the cooper saw it glow. Conspiratorial, I told him: “I don’t have enough potions for everyone. Just keep it quiet, all right?” That satisfied him. Everyone wants to feel special, after all. I worked through the line. Most folk cursed me on their way out. I had grown used to that; I derived satisfaction from helping them regardless of their spite. They wouldn’t have come if they didn’t know, deep down, that it was the right thing. Last of all came the child. I appreciate children. They are not yet old enough to understand why I must be hated. Unfortunately, this one came to me unconscious. His family carried him, five of them, parents and siblings and a pox-scarred uncle. Two wore motley and another lugged a time-worn harp. Performers, camp followers, maybe. I studied the boy’s colorless face. “He took a fever,” said the mother. I touched his brow and found it cold. “Seems to have broken.” “Did this morning. His breathing’s gotten weaker since. Can you help him?” The boy’s family didn’t know he’d died. I did. A touch of my fingers to his neck confirmed it. “How old is he?” “Only seven.” My gut tensed to hear the words. The father lost it then. He threw himself to his knees, begged me for the miracle their God did not provide, the life of their son. The uncle, more sober, said that they could not pay me but they hoped that I would help. “I can help,” I promised them. “I can even resurrect the dead.” Silence answered that. Silence and smoldering disregard. I saw their necklaces, the heavenly wheels, the mark of true believers. I tried to distract them. “You’re musicians.” Even taciturn folk enjoy talking about their trade. “I always wanted to be a musician.” They stared at me, grave and unresponsive. I kept talking. “They say there’s orchestras that play by the water, in Teresin down south. Never did go see, myself.” What I was really doing was stalling for time. If I told them the truth, that their boy had already expired, they would never let me save him. The smart thing to do would be to walk away. A resurrection without a permit was a killing offense. You care too much, Zuzanna had told me once. I looked at the child and I knew she was still right, even now. I’d already made my decision. I laid my hands upon his brow and it began. The boy’s elsewhere was vast and wet and empty. He sat at the center of scarce dry land. Around him was an atoll, and the waters of a dark lagoon. The sky was twilit, an amber color not quite like our sun. I descended to the island on wings of thought and I saw him look up shivering. “Come,” I told him, my voice like those of the angels in the stories of the churchbuilders. “Do not be afraid.” I wore the armor of heaven and carried the spear of justice. “Am I going to see God?” He sniffled. Liquid ran from his nose even in this insubstantial space. “I don’t want to. I want to see my mother.” “It is not your time,” I told him with the gravity of the divine. I held out my hand. “Return with me to Earth. Speak to no one of what you have seen here, for this place is sacred.” He agreed, and he came. Water was always the way out. We walked beneath the waves and awoke in halls of stone. His eyes shot open, and his family gasped their joy. To them it was the spellcraft of an instant. But then he told them: “I saw the angels!” He did not spare details. They looked at me. If they did not know, they suspected. So they went straight away to the army. If we’re keeping track, and I do, I can tell you that I’ve resurrected sixty-seven persons from the dead. Most of those were in the early days, when we did not fully understand the practice. Imagine the joy: there was something after death. We’d proved it. Even if we could not know the afterlife in its fullness, we’d stood upon the precipice, and gave back to the dying the rest of their rightful years. Churches flourished with devotion. The hierophants became the most prosperous order of magi. The medicinal sciences made great strides, funded by the price of second life. The trouble started when the family of a Ternish duelist wanted him brought back to life a second time. You’d think one failed duel would be enough to make a man swear off the practice, but as it turned out, he was a little high off his first return from the great beyond, and he’d decided to make a business out of betting against his own death. Well, he won the bet, but the man on the scene simply couldn’t get him to come back up again. It wasn’t me that got that case, thank goodness. We figured the local hierophant was incompetent, so we sent Zuzanna, the best in the district. When she failed, and the duelist was still cold past the three-day limit, we had a real issue. Experiments were run on others previously returned. When they met their death, be it of old age, or subsequent accidents, we were there to check. The results were consistent. If someone had already been brought back to life once, there was no helping them. You couldn’t even perceive their spirit. There was nothing left to them at all, not even a whisper of the soul. We all realized what this meant, even if none of us wanted to say so aloud. An enormous bribe kept the duelist’s family happy (they hadn’t approved of his hobby), but from then on it was a losing battle. Some people just can’t stand prosperity — you’d be stunned how many previously irresponsible people eventually returned to the same bad habits that got them dead in the first place. Rumors started to get around. Then the Epicurean Society of Teresin decided that they’d all drink poisoned wine on the first of every month, to try and get closer to God. When the Church got ahold of the news, our glory days were over. A meeting of the Thousand Temples underneath the Cathedral of Heaven’s Wheel came out with a clear-cut pronouncement: Resurrection by mortal hands extinguished the light of the soul. Those who came back no longer possessed the necessary fuel for transmigration to the afterlife. As such, they were to be considered anathema. Soulless, they were outside morality, outside God’s grace. They had no idea what they were talking about. There weren’t even any hierophants in the synod. They just declared it so, and we reaped the consequences. As it turns out, if it comes down to a choice between the certainty of coming back to life, and an uncertain chance at eternity, people generally prefer to bet on God. When the soldiers caught me on my way out of Jamborek it was almost midnight. The moon hung low and orange, blood-tinged from woodsmoke and the deepening autumn dark. Each armored man carried a Lucerne hammer pike, the kind that were popular in the cities we’d already lost. These, then, were veterans. “Don’t throw your lives away,” I said, secretly afraid. They didn’t so much as hesitate. Kite shields moved as one. They sheltered behind them even as they raised their spears. Each shield was polished to a mirrored sheen. Did they think I could use my light as a weapon? I’d use that, I decided. “Martyn Dunajski,” said their leader. “You are in violation of the edicts on unregulated use of arcana.” “Then I suppose,” I said, “that a little more can’t hurt.” All the color in the street lamps bled away. Their fires burned black. The moon’s orange glow grew grey and colorless upon the ground. In my hand, light bloomed brilliant and white. I held it up, like a dangerous thing, and not the glorified candle it was in truth. Most men would flee. These were unimpressed. They’d seen power in the war, and had grown inured to wonder. Alternate plan: Run. I pivoted and looked for alleys. I saw none close. They struck fast. One pike sought my feet. Another sought my chest. Quickly, I moved, but a shaft’s edge still struck my breast. It hit with an audible crack. For an instant, my light vanished, and the color of fire halfway returned to the lamps above. The shadows danced in sepia. The soldiers stepped inwards and the pikes drew closer. I felt the impact before I felt the pain — one spike had punctured my side. My sphere of light shattered as I screamed. With my eyes closed, I was protected from the explosive release of color. The soldiers were not so lucky. While they struggled, blind and disoriented, I made my move. I leaped against a shield and scrambled over an armored head. My feet hit flagstone and I ran. Not fast enough. My blood left a vivid trail. They knew where to follow. A spear caught above the knee. The hammers came soon after. “We should consider a new career,” Zuzanna had told me once, blue-eyed and wry, after it all went wrong. “I’m a physician,” I told her, with customary stubbornness. We walked a flagstone path amidst manicured gardens. “What am I supposed to do, leave people dead on the ground?” “I don’t see why not. Gravediggers make a fine and profitable trade. Your problem,” Zuzanna told me, “Is that you care too much.” We walked a flagstone path amidst manicured gardens. She wore the cocksure expression I’d grown used to, tilting up her masculine hat with its too-large feather. Grey hairs streaked amidst blonde at her temples. Even aged, people noticed her. I knew she was trying to be supportive. She didn’t have to come along. But contracts were growing scarce, and when the prince requested me, there was no denying her. The royal eagle shrieked in graven stone upon the estate doors. We were not allowed to enter. A bearded servant instead directed us to a family tomb in the gardens just behind. “Madame will need to wait outside,” the man said. “The hell I will,” said Zuzanna. The sound of shifting metal alerted us to the presence of soldiers amidst the hedges, their hands now alight upon the hilts of swords. The servant said: “Madame will need to wait outside.” “It’ll be fine,” I assured her. We kissed, perfunctory. Back then I took kisses for granted. I entered the tomb. It was the size of a small chapel, full up with dead royals, plus slots for those yet living. On the floor lay a body. Flies buzzed around its empty eye sockets. Not a royal. I could tell by the silver cord around its neck that the stiff was a New Believer. Probably why they killed him. I knew immediately that the body had been dead too long. It contained not a whisper of the soul. I said, “The prince was supposed to be here.” “The prince is busy,” said Tomasz. He wore garish red cloth, red and black and green, all rents and feathers and buttons. It did little to relieve the craggy impassivity of his face. It had seen all kinds of trouble, that face. Pox and breaks and cuts and scrapes. Wasn’t anything left that could be done to it that somebody else hadn’t done already. Missing an eye, too, which said things about his hobby of taking them from others. “Go on, then,” he told me. “Bring him back.” I asked, “Did he sign the consent form?” Tomasz had somehow tricked a knife into his hand. I noticed only when a little ribbon of blood bloomed under my eye just how close he held it to my face. “Do you know why the prince chose you?” I waited for him to answer. “Because you’re disposable.” It was all so melodramatic. I tried not to laugh. Tomasz struck my jaw. I hit the floor. Painful, but professional to professional, I admire a man who does his own dirty work. I noticed from my new vantage point that the soldiers had come inside. “See, what this tells me,” I said, while they hoisted me up. “Is that you know what the prince told you to do is impossible. No one who’s tried to resurrect someone past the three-day limit has ever come back alive.” “Bring in Zuzanna,” Tomasz told his men. “She’s supposed to be the best. If Martyn won’t do it, well. We’ll use him to persuade her to try.” That was when the pain really started. She tried, all right. She held out awhile, but in the end she tried, and after she fell into a convulsive trance, I figured she was gone, the same as the others who’d tried before her. But somehow — somehow she succeeded. Bleeding from eyes and ears and nose, she woke, and the poor dead fool opened his eyes, both grown whole and new. She came to me like a battered angel, smiling, bloody. We left together to the far road, where every step I still felt the ache of absent nails. I asked: “How’d you do it?” She waited for me to say something else. I forced the issue with silence. “I made a bargain,” she said. “What kind of bargain?” “Didn’t you say you wanted to learn how to play the lute? Well, with the money the prince gave us, we can buy you seven of them, and lessons besides. Time you settled down, opened a practice. Always broke and wandering, blowing into my place of a winter; it’s no way to live.” “What kind of bargain?” Her voice turned stern. “Do not speak to them. You will learn things you cannot remember, and go mad in trying.” I meant to ask her which them she meant. But as she spoke, her shadow lengthened. Across the ground it bled, spreading towards me like spilled ink. She touched cold fingers to my jaw, tracing the lines of a smile I did not wear, as if suggestion might make it come. “Someone’s got to look out for you,” she said. “Goodness knows you do a terrible job at it. Might as well be me.” Then I blinked, and saw only the shadow cast by the sun, and Zuzanna’s conciliatory grin. I was just imagining things, I consoled myself. “You know,” the prince told me, “I was really hoping we could do this over tea.” I woke up hanging upside down in what I think was a wine cellar. The giant barrels indicated as much. Probably the cathedral; they were using it as a command post. “You don’t say.” His Highness the Prince Valostin was getting on near forty, with not a single grey hair. His uniform was pristine white and had quite a lot of medals pinned to it; several of these were his own invention. He told me, “I suppose I could have been more explicit about stipulating unharmed as well as alive, but, you know, the red banner boys have a lot of steam to blow off.” They’d done me the favor of binding my stab wounds. “Why am I hanging from the ceiling?” “Promotes blood flow,” said the prince. “For healing. I’ve read your papers.” “Have you.” “I am a rationalist,” said the prince, as though that explained everything. “Anyhow, would you like to come down?” Soon enough I was hobbling along after him. The leg wound hadn’t been too deep. “The way I see it,” the prince told me, “This is excellent fortune. There’s so few of you lot kicking around these days. Real hierophants.” “Mostly we just train physicians now,” I told him, struggling with the stairs. “I’ve heard about you, in particular. Pity about that woman Zuzanna. I didn’t sign off on that, you know.” “I don’t want to talk about it.” “The way I see it,” The prince said, like it were a symposium, “There’s no afterlife at all.” There’s nothing, Zuzanna had said. “You don’t say.” “No God, either,” said the prince. We reached the landing and a steward opened a hardwood door. “I read a book of post-return accounts. There’s no consistency to them. The rational man must conclude: the near-death experience is a delusion, a last dream as the soul expires. So you see? No reason to feel guilty. You didn’t deprive her of anything.” An uncivilized part of me realized I could kill him. A rational part of me realized he had guards. “It’s all very real,” I said. “You’ve never faced a keeper.” “Externalizations of your anxieties,” the prince told me. “A shadow born from a collective, common archetype. A way of showing death, in dream logic. They’re certainly not angels.” “Yet you still uphold Church law.” “You try doing my job as an excommunicate and tell me how it goes. Pre-death contracts are a perfectly reasonable compromise. Anyway, you’re going to bring someone back to life for me.” “We’re a non-political order.” “My executioner is famously apolitical, but he still gets the job done.” The prince was very polite, but I noticed two pikemen behind me. “I’m sure you’ll see it my way.” The room was a guest bedroom, sparsely apportioned. A dead man’s body lay on a table, covered by a sheet. “Well, go on, have a look. Can you do anything for him?” When I pulled the sheet back, I noticed my fingers trembling. They did not shake from fear. It was Tomasz. Tomasz the eye-taker. The man who’d killed my lover. Ten years sharing her bed off and on, you’d think I’d know more things about Zuzanna. I could tell you all about her hair, about the way it was grey at the temples, about how her mouth always pursed, just so. But I don’t think I actually realized I loved her until after she was gone. I have trouble with that. Knowing people. I certainly like knowing about people; I’ve checked in on most of the ones I’ve brought back. One of them cured a plague. Another composed a few famous symphonies. There was a third who was part of the first crew to circumnavigate the Divide, and a fourth carried some important land reforms in the sejm assembly. I derive satisfaction from all that. The greater good. But friends and lovers? That’s harder. I reached Zuzanna’s place on a particular winter, still then broke and wandering. It had gone that way for years. I looked forward to the meeting: I’d tell her about where I’d been, who I’d helped; she’d tell me I was stupid, and speak about her patrons, richer by far than mine. Soldiers with hearts of stone, artists of high distinction. The arts were her passion, and her town-house brimmed with canvas, too many to display and she too fond of patrons’ gifts to sell them for a price. I attained the foyer. “Zuzanna?” I looked between tapestries and paintings. I heard something move, further in the house. She was home, then. Probably just waking up, even at this hour. “It’s awfully dark in here.” I heard her voice down the hall. “I have trouble telling, sometimes,” came her voice. “Do come in.” I didn’t realize what was wrong until I was halfway down the hall. All the candles were lit. But none of them gave off light. I came to her solarium. Outside the glass it was noon. But inside it was the dark of night. Everything in the room was cast in shadow. Everything except her, and the dead man on the floor beneath her. “I’m very close,” she told me, pleased. “I’ve nearly figured it all out.” I’m not sure what expression I wore, but she interpreted it as she pleased. “Oh, he’s been dead quite a while. Would you like tea?” She poured regardless. “You’ll have noticed the original Albercik in the foyer, and you’re probably wondering, how did she get the money? Well, it’s good business, as you can imagine, being the only person in the world who can bring someone back to life after the three-day limit. I keep it quiet, of course. Discriminating clients. I’m wondering now about trying someone really far gone. So many poets, you know, die young.” “Whatever you’re doing,” I told her. “You need to stop.” “Rather too late for that now. I couldn’t rekindle so very dim a soul as this. I gave him bits of mine.” “You what?” “That’s how I do it. It’s no different from taking some oil from one lamp to light another.” “You’ll run out.” “There’s a lot of soul in a person,” she told me, fifth finger extended while she drank. “You hardly need most of it. Imagine all the people I’ve helped! I thought you, of all people, would understand that.” “That’s fine for them, but what about you? Your afterlife?” “There’s nothing,” she told me, with a little laugh. “There’s nothing beyond death. Only a final dream. Oh, I know that for certain now. And isn’t it far better to be awake?” She inhaled the aroma of tea, eyes closed as she settled back against the glass. The sunlight didn’t quite reach her. “Of course, I do miss being warm. But I’ll figure that out too, eventually.” I went immediately to the Archimandrite, head of the order, for guidance. He went directly to the governor. The governor had an especially phlegmatic view on the returned, and he went to the prince. The prince went to Tomasz. We only found out a day later. When we found her, her eyes were missing. I suppose he never would have killed her, if it wasn’t for me. The rabble cut Tomasz down outside the city limits, the prince explained. Desertion had got to be an issue, and he had to make an example, but there was more resistance than anybody expected, and Tomasz took an arrow to the stomach. Anyway, a man like that was worth a whole division. Puts fear into the enemy ranks. Could I do it? On the slab lay Tomasz’s knife, chipped and worn by time. How many eyes had it taken? “I’ll do it,” I said. I wouldn’t want Tomasz to get off so easy. “I thought so,” said the prince. The first thing I felt was heat. The air was like a knife. It was the desert’s heat, no gentler for being dry. The landscape was one of lonely buttes and barren scoria. Strange things moved in the distance, their limbs too long, wavering in the distortions born of warmth. I decided immediately not to look at them. I didn’t see any water. That was a danger sign, but I’d solve that problem later. Step by step I drew closer to Tomasz, who lay in the dust. I spoke. “Tomasz.” He didn’t look up. I made him. “Do you know who I am?” “Someone I killed, probably,” he said, his lips dry and peeling. “How many of those are there, I wonder?” “A few,” he said, “And they’re all coming here.” He pointed up towards the sky. I decided not to look at that either. I’d considered words, but in the moment, I didn’t know what to say. “You killed someone dear to me.” “Anyone special?” “Her name was Zuzanna.” He looked up at me, vacant. “Pretty common name.” I suppose I choked him then. He didn’t spend much effort fighting back, and eventually I realized that you can’t kill what’s already dead. When he was able to speak again, he laughed. “See, it was very important for you. But for me, it was just work. And that’s why I’m here.” “Everyone goes here.” “Everyone goes somewhere.” Tomasz spoke with an odd satisfaction: “I’m going to hell. The things out there told me.” He pointed at the shapes at the horizon. I looked up, instead. That was a mistake. The sky was full of eyes. Some were solitary. Most in pairs. They opened, one after another, dozens, hundreds, a thousand. Man-shaped shadows bloomed behind them, twisting in upon one another, an intricate knot-work of insubstantial bodies, large as the buttes. Pupils dilated in silent accusation. Shapes like hands pressed against some impermeable barrier. I wondered, madly, what might happen if it broke. “I’m here to take you back,” I told him. “No,” he said. He struggled to stand, but I did not let him. “No, don’t do that.” “Your prince needs you. For the war.” “He’d turn me into ashes. Into a puppet. God help me, man, don’t do that to me.” I wondered why I was arguing with him. “You only get one trip back. But that doesn’t mean anything about the afterlife.” “I can’t take the chance,” he said. Then I heard the skittering feet. The dark shapes were coming. “Say you’re right,” I said. “Say hell comes next. Isn’t a longer life better than suffering forever?” He said, quietly: “Better suffering than nothing.” I thought of him living, certain he was hollow. Feeling a pit in his chest, ever sure of his own emptiness. I liked it. “You’re coming with me,” I told him, “Whether you like it or not.” The bastard turned and ran. I chased after him. He was faster: the dead don’t get tired. We approached the shadow of a butte. As we ran, I saw the distant shapes grow clearer. Every one of them was a keeper. Each keeper is different. They all approach humanity, but none of them quite make it. Legs that articulate at impossible angles, arms too numerous, talons instead of hands. They move sideways, one part at a time, like mechanisms. Some are made of metal and some are made of flesh. Some have both, or neither. They all wear masks. The closest was almost a kind of centipede, a woman with the limbs of insects. Her neck twisted, birdlike, six eyes blinking. “Stop,” I warned him. She punctured Tomasz cleanly through the chest. “Martyn,” she told me, “this one is ours.” Do not speak to them, Zuzanna told me once. You will learn things you cannot remember, and go mad in trying. “That never stopped me before.” She chirruped. “We could take you, instead, thief of lives. You would see things. Such things.” “I’m taking him back,” I said. “One life was promised.” She raised her foremost limb. Blood leaked from the taloned end. “But we could take two.” I looked at Tomasz. There was a knife in his belt, but that wouldn’t be enough. Instead I held up a hand and focused. Shadows lengthened, to feed the light that bloomed above my palm. The creature shrieked. It fled at right angles and scurried up the butte. Using only one arm, I hoisted Tomasz, weightless, across my shoulders. “Leave me,” he said, too weak now to struggle. I set off. The keepers clucked in chorus, ten steps behind, wary of my light. They told me of my life. They weighed my sins and virtues, decreed how I would be measured and where I would be delivered. They did the same to Tomasz, somehow, using exactly the same words, spoken at the same time. These truths slipped through me like a sieve. They belonged to some other place, to some other kind of knowing. There is nothing beyond death, Zuzanna said. Only a final dream. It is a kind of dream, they told me, from which there is no waking. Neither was it less real for being dreamed. The furthest buttes began to crack. The ground peeled beneath my feet, like paint. This elsewhere wouldn’t last much longer. I had Tomasz, but I needed a way out. Why wasn’t there any water? It was a desert, yes — but there ought to be an oasis, somewhere. There was always a way out. I began to wonder what would happen if I was stuck there with him. Would I die, or was it something worse? I came to a precipice. I turned to look back at crumbling ground. I dropped Tomasz, and clutched at my brow. Think! “I’ve changed my mind,” Tomasz said, at my feet, looking at the keepers. “Now you’ve changed your mind.” “If I’m going with them — so are you.” Somehow, he’d tricked his knife into his palm. I reached down to stop him. The blade cut into my third finger, deep. Some kind of sinew snapped inside. Spurred by pain, I struck my knee into his face. He fell, and the knife fell. It was time enough for the keeper to come upon me. “Martyn,” she said, and I thought I heard satisfaction in her empty voice. Well, I consoled myself, clutching Tomasz’s knife in my uninjured hand. I’d always insisted there was an afterlife. Soon I’d know for certain. She raised a talon, still red with blood. It came down once, twice, three times. Each impact wetter than the last. I breathed. It had struck Tomasz. The ground beneath him slickened with a sheen of murky, scarlet fluid. Blood, I realized, was a kind of water. Still the keeper came. It came upon me slowly, a nearly sensual quality to the undulations of spine and insect’s limbs. Transfixed, I watched taloned arms extend. Gently, so gently, two points brushed my throat, tracing the line of a smile I did not wear. “Please,” I whispered, all my courage gone. I stepped back. My boot sank into the blood below. More leaked from my throat, so finely kissed by razors. “Come and see,” she offered me. “Come see what lies beyond. The life you take from others.” Quietly, I told her: “Please. No.” One by one, the keepers removed their masks. The woman’s face was familiar. I do not remember it precisely. But I remember screaming. Then, through blood, I fell. The prince asked me: “Have you started yet?” The room was very quiet. Perhaps two seconds had passed. I waited a long time, staring at the body. Then I looked at my hand, fascinated. My third finger was slowly dying, turning grey. The prince watched in open horror as darkness spread across my neck, a livid internal wound. The wounds suffered elsewhere manifested in real flesh. Something weighed down my hand. Tomasz’s knife. A bloodied copy to the one upon the slab, down to the individual notch. The prince noticed. “Where did you get that?” A thin line of flesh split along my neck. Blood ran in scarlet trickle. “Elsewhere.” The prince eventually asked, nearly whispering: “Where is Tomasz?” I placed the knife in the prince’s hand. One after another, I closed his fingers around the hilt. An errant droplet of my blood stained his pristine cuffs. “Tomasz didn’t want to come.” The prince’s fingers tremored, carefully but incompletely concealed. “I need him, Martyn. You see how the war’s going.” “He felt guilty,” I lied. “Worn down by life.” “Damn it, if I could just talk to him!” I looked at the body. “I told him you needed him. He said he’d rather go to hell.” Behind the prince, I sensed the growing discomfort of his guards. “We’ve got other dead,” he finally said. “Young men, good men.” I saw the manipulation for what it was. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard a woman’s echoing voice, and saw a keeper’s familiar face. But like a dream in morning, it refused to be grasped. Something was waiting for those young dead men, something beyond the elsewhere. Even without me, they’d be all right. I felt certain. It was only the reason that I could not describe. I unwound the hierophant’s stole from around my shoulders and left it on the slab. I approached the door. The prince objected. But no one stopped my leaving. # Some years later I stopped in Teresin, where the river becomes the sea.  It is a cold place with warm people; there are a hundred kinds of fish, and water is harder to get than vodka. Seagulls wheeled above the docks, where players chased the dream of patronage. Harp and lute and viol competed for attention, each performance a bubble of sound that pressed up against the others. “You’re terrible,” a man told me, as he dropped a copper in my hat. “You’ll never make it here. Who do you think you are?” “A musician,” I told him. And his sneer didn’t make me wrong. I earn more coins than some. The missing finger, I think, inspires charity. It’ll have to do, anyway, until I’m less awful. And even being awful isn’t so bad. When the sun dipped low I packed my things and walked the sand, out to where the orchestra plays before the waves. There was a performer there, a lutenist, one I’d traveled a long way to see. She’d grown famous after the war, wandering up and down the coast singing songs of husbands lost and children never born. Her name was Michelina, a woman twice widowed. Our eyes met for a time. First she showed suspicion. Then recognition. And soon a quiet and abiding hate. I wondered what words we might share, when the concert ended. I sat on the waterfront and listened to the strings; the sound reflected off of dusk-dark waters. The post PodCastle 583: The Resurrectionist appeared first on PodCastle.
NoSleep Podcast S13E04
Episode of
The NoSleep Podcast
It's episode 04 of Season 13. On this week's show we have tales about unwanted connections between family and friends."Eggshells" written by Daniel Hale (Story starts around 00:06:05)Produced by: Phil MichalskiCast: Narrator - David Ault"The Barn Fire" written by L.P. Hernandez (Story starts around 00:19:45)Produced by: Phil MichalskiTRIGGER WARNING!Cast: Narrator – Atticus Jackson, Jen – Jessica McEvoy, Cultist 1 – Peter Lewis, Cultist 2 – Graham Rowat, Farmer – David Cummings"Mom and Dad" written by A.E. Stueve (Story starts around 00:39:45)Produced by: Jeff ClementTRIGGER WARNING!Cast: Narrator – Jeff Clement, Mom – Addison Peacock, Madison Lariby – Nikolle Doolin"Can Spiders Actually Lay Eggs Under Human Skin?" written by Rene Rehn (Story starts around 01:05:00)Produced by: Jesse CornettTRIGGER WARNING!Cast: Narrator – Addison Peacock , Lisa – Nichole Goodnight, Nurse – Mary Murphy"Tick" written by M.J. Pack (Story starts around 01:36:00)Produced by: Phil MichalskiTRIGGER WARNING!Cast: Carrie – Jessica McEvoy, Man on Ledge – Peter Lewis, Mike – Dan Zappulla, Cashier – Sarah Thomas, Guy at Store – David Cummings, Molly – Nichole Goodnight, Frank – Atticus Jackson, Carrie’s Mom – Nikolle DoolinPlease visit www.thenosleeppodcast.com for full show notes and links to learn more about our authors, voice actors, and producers.Executive Producer & Host: David CummingsMusical score composed by: Brandon Boone"The Barn Fire" illustration courtesy of Krys HookuhAudio program ©2018-2019 - Creative Reason Media Inc. - All Rights Reserved - No reproduction or use of this content is permitted without the express written consent of Creative Reason Media Inc. The copyrights for each story are held by the respective authors.
PseudoPod 656: House Party Blues
Episode of
PseudoPod
Author : Suzanne Palmer Narrator : Halloween Bloodfrost Host : Alasdair Stuart Audio Producer : Chelsea Davis Discuss on Forums “House Party Blues” originally appeared in Black Static #39 (TTAPress) 2014 “I used to live next door to a house rented out to college students, and while they were actually mostly very nice, the near-nightly, all-summer-long, ’til 3am outdoor bonfire & bongo parties when I had infant twins trying to sleep definitely was not my favorite thing about being neighbors. This story was written one of those nights.” House Party Blues by Suzanne Palmer He settles into the house like a new layer of skin, this fresh shell with room to grow and thrive, for a little while. He makes the pipes in the walls sing with his own heartbeat, dresses himself in the wallpaper, clothes himself in rug and woodwork, adorns himself with knicknacks and old family photos full of forced, unconvincing smiles. A husband, a wife, arms around each other, but space evident between. The husband: beginnings of a beard in one, clean-shaven elsewhere, eyes dark, smile thin. Nowhere does it say wife-beater, but so he is, and those memories taste of beer and blood. The wife: always in something floral, often long-sleeved, even at the beach, at the park. Leaning towards her husband, as if to try to draw him in turn towards her. That age-old myth told to women: if you love him enough, if you are a good enough wife, he will stop hitting you. He is surprised by the fury in her now; after all she put up with, the bruises and black eyes and broken bones, she never got to see her husband redeemed, her own sacrifices cashed in at last, and she is enraged. No children; it made taking the house easier. It is not a place stained by laughter or joy. The house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, only one house close by, and that across a wide swath of over-mowed lawn and obscured by hedges and brush. As he had slid beneath the neighborhood seeking a refuge, tendrils moving through the earth, tasting the edges of thoughts, he had found no sign of competing kin, no enemy awareness. He had found home. There is a newspaper on the front door mat, damp from the rain. He brings it in, holds it in front of the husband’s eyes, has him read it to him. The man’s swollen tongue chokes on the words, but his mind is compliant, empty. (The bullies always do break easily.) Stock market swings, late-night car crashes, concerned citizens, failing schools. Nothing new, nothing threatening, no undertones of awareness. The wife still fights him, so he lays her in the basement, still and cold in the dust, to find either resignation or decay, whichever comes first. Spreading wisps, like fine cobwebs, across the roof, he draws in warmth from the last dregs of the day, feeling his presence consolidate and spread through the structure of the house as if post and joist are artery and vein. By the time the moon rises his senses have reached as far away as the neighbors, their distant faint tremors little more than the impermanent skittering of mice feet in a forgotten attic. He leaves the husband slumped on the couch and settles into a contended doze, enjoying having a home again at last. The sun rises, and a few of the more dull-minded birds come back again to the trees around the house. Their dawn warbling is tinged with a vague anxiety that no casual ear could pick out. A cat slinks through the old, rough-barked rhododendrons, then, spooked, tail fat, flees across the street and stares back at the house with animosity and fear. It will not visit again. A mailman passes mid-morning, then all is quiet. Late in the afternoon, still lethargic from the move and occupation, still laden with the beginnings of his slow feast, he becomes aware of commotion next door. Many people, young by the taste of them, spread out on the lawn and porch of the run-down house, loud and laughing and unafraid. More cars arrive, mechanical blights on his organic sense-field, spewing toxins into the air. Around them, a circumference of irritation grows. He rouses the man, dangling the possibility of television later to bring some color back into him, and walks him to the window, looks out through his human eyes. It is not a family group, he speaks in the man’s mind. The man works his mouth for a while before he coughs back out, “Students. Rental.” He does not understand, but he can taste the contempt in the man’s mind like copper and bile, feel the resentment of lives not yet squandered, a price not yet paid too dear. It irks him, who is older than this man’s entire species, that this little man can count so much meaningful difference in a handful of years. So he takes the man back to the couch and leaves him there again in the punitive blank glare of the inert TV. The students, rental are bright spots in the aether, but pristinely unaware; what substantial attention they draw to themselves from the neighborhood is attention drawn away from this house he has claimed, and he can see some benefit and no immediate threat of harm. He withdraws his senses and falls into a wary doze to wait for night, so very like the cat now sprawling on a porch across the street, near-perfect contentment spoiled only by the one narrowed, yellow eye it has fixed intently upon the house. Dozing and dreaming, his thoughts slip back to the old times and his long-lost brethren, the sharp-edged memories of tooth and claw competition balanced against memories of belonging, of not being alone in the world. It has been centuries since he has encountered the dissipate shell of his very last brother, a mad, angry, unseeeing thing reduced to one small alley and its host of rats. Once, he himself filled an entire town, a stone and wood and flesh nest in the foothills of some brutal mountain range, delighting in his own power and wealth of substance, wasting his human capital in profligate exercises of self-amusement. So much smaller now, more compact, more subtle and careful of his resources, he thinks to himself: I have grown. He is healthy, solid, strong. The pulse of his own being courses through this wooden frame, an insistent and rhythmic beat that seems not entirely his own. Not his own. He rouses, hearing the drums through the man on the couch, less distinctly through the woman lying in the cellar below. “Party,” the man murmurs, sweat-soaked brow furrowed, bloated and blackening fingers curling spasmodically together. Then his face falls, defeat written in pallid hue, and he seems about to weep. “Bongos.” He withdraws from the man, seeking out towards the drums, and finds some scent in the air, something with the unmistakable tang of ritual magic, the vision quest. Rafters creak and the foundation groans as he draws back, fear taking a sudden hold on him. The man on the couch whines, his eyes rolling back until only the whites show. The woman in the basement spits and arches in the dust, thrashing with splayed fingers around her as if seeking a handhold or a weapon. The cat, from the far porch, has slunk off somewhere out of both sight and sense. How has he missed it, that these students are adepts? What magic are they attempting to weave? Is he the target, his arrival noticed after all, despite his care? Or has he missed something else nearby, something hidden? A gutter falls loose at one corner, suddenly rusty, and dangles across a window. He forces himself to calm, re-center, regroup his senses around his perimeter. …No, he tells himself, the rhythm of the drums is all wrong, lacking in power and coherent focus, and the consciousnesses falling under the thrall of the magic herb not expanding but contracting into themselves, little spiral eddies of dissolute ego. What, he thinks, borrowing a phrase and memory from his human components, the hell? The doorbell rings, like a shot to his nerve-centers, unanticipated. He’d been watching the students so closely he’s failed to notice one of the other neighbors — the house with the cat — has approached, and is standing on his own porch, shuffling from foot to foot, irritated, anxious, angry, staring over at the party next door. He can pull judgment from the woman’s mind, still mentally thrashing down in the basement: Linda. Nosy. Always up in people’s business. He can also read there the hope that, when no one answers the bell, she will assume the worst and call for help, that someone will come save them. She is still holding out hope for her husband, who has not thought once about his wife since he first slipped into the man’s mind. Best to try to shoo this neighbor away, then. Rousing the man, he cleans him up, pulling what parts of him had started to fall loose back in, sealing his skin back over, making sure his shirt was buttoned straight. The man doesn’t look well, doesn’t move smoothly, but he has done this bit of puppetry before, knows the right words. He rides him to the door, and opens it just before the neighbor can ring the bell again. “Robert,” the neighbor says. One corner of her mouth twitches up as she peers around his shoulder into the house; the neighbor doesn’t like him. Then she looks at him more fully on, in the yellowish, bug-splattered light of the crooked porch bulb, and takes a half-step back. “Are you okay?” “Flu,” he says, the man’s mouth and tongue slurring the words, but making them. “Is Cath in?” “Sleeping,” he says. Doubt in her face. “With that racket?” “Flu,” he answers. “Oh,” the woman Nosy Linda says, and he sees the acceptance of that comfortable untruth settle and stick. “I don’t know about you two, but I’ve had more than enough of this. All summer long!” She glares at him, waiting for agreement. “Yes,” he manages to say. She makes a little sound of exasperation and throws her hands up. “Well? Should one of us call the cops? They did nothing last time. As if anyone in their right minds can’t tell exactly what they’re smoking over there.” Her mind is bare of defense, laid out like a buffet of spoiled food; cops are police, police are authority, authority is danger. “No,” he says, and has to work on the words. “I will go.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” the woman Nosy Linda says. “You want to get in another fight with them? And you look like death warmed over. I’ll just call.” Most authority was just as unseeing, unknowing as the rest of the sheep they imagined themselves herding, but word would seep through, here and there, and eventually find a listening ear. He wants to be long gone from this place, his touch upon it faded and unreadable, before anyone comes hunting. He touches Nosy Linda’s arm, and she jumps. Her face pales. “I will go,” he repeats She backs off the porch, rattled, not sure why. “Fine, Robert. When those stoners beat the shit out of you, maybe the cops can finally find something to arrest them for.” He watches her scurry back across the circle to her house. Death warmed over, she’d said. He likes that, will have to remember it. These creatures, with their shallow, moment-in-the-sun lives, are still capable of enough insight for wit; it is what makes them more than just food. Husband Robert — what remains of him — tries to lift one hand, one salutatory finger in defiant gesture, but manages no more than a faint tremble and low grunt. The deterioration has been sped up by the activity at the door. One lung puckers up and falls flat, tiny bleeders appear under skin and mid-entrail, leeching energy and life faster and faster into the whorl of his appetite. Riding him over the threshold, out of his immediate embrace, would be catastrophic to the body’s remaining integrity. Flu will be insufficient. He shuts the door quickly, before Robert can fall out and apart. The insistent, discordant drums, rhythm off and unpredictable, thunder through the house as if to infect and corrupt his own pulse. One last effort moves the Husband Robert to a corner, where he curls the man as gently as he can upon the floor, builds a glassy shell around him, and lets the remaining substance of the man fall completely into the hungry void. There is still the woman, Wife Cath. Her hours in the basement have not dimmed her fury, but he pulls her to her feet and walks her up the stairs. Her eyes fall on the glassy shell in the corner, and he can feel the grief like bittersweet spice, the loss of the husband she still thought capable of redemption. He was beyond saving, he tells her, but she does not believe, until he opens to her the faint strains of Robert’s mind and memories still left within him. “Bastard,” she says. Then, “Get out of my house.” Willpower, indeed! His incorporation of her is slow, where Robert melted too easily at his touch; the years of him have bred steel into her. It does not happen that way, he tells her. I am the house, the house is me. As are you, now, simply a part. “You could leave if you wanted,” she says. That is true, but irrelevant. Instead, he says, “We have a task.” Across the street, he can feel Nosy Linda’s attention wavering between the party and his house, impatient for conflict. He sets himself in Wife Cath’s mind and releases his hold on her body. Immediately she lunges for the door, bone-white fingers splayed toward the knob, nearly touching before he reasserts control and brings her crashing down onto the worn, dusty carpeting. None of that. Locked down deep in her own body, she can’t respond, but the defiance in her is a hot coal. The neglected and overgrown shrubs beside the house wilt, their leaves crackling towards brown, and tree roots brushing the foundation shrivel back and away. It would be the work of moments to drain enough life to chill that heat at her core, but then she would not be in a condition to walk out of the house. He will have to ride her, and he hates that, hates being outside his shell of wood and brick and nail and bone. He had planned for a leisurely stay at this house, a feast and a comfortable slumber, a few snacks for the road as relatives and investigators and realtors and strangers trickled through. Now, he thinks, having his next destination planned sooner rather than later would be prudent. We go, he tells Wife Cath, raising her to her feet. He wraps his essence around her, sinking tentacles deep into her body. When he lets go, she seems whole, almost unblemished. They walk to the door, open it, and he steps her out onto the front steps. What little tug he might have felt he writes off to the odd sensation of being now in two pieces: here on the porch, back in the house. It discomfits him. Across the short stretch of yard, the incessant, off-rhythm beat of the drums drives one nail after another into his calm, and he walks the woman quickly, down the sidewalk and up the drive of the student rental. Cars are parked everywhere, packing the driveway and scattered on the lawn to no clear plan or order. People mill in the side yard, noisy and unlistening, bottles in hand. The smoke-filled air is motionless and cloying. Thunderous music and shouting and laughter pour out of the house like a thick syrup, swamping everything in its path, the beat faltering then swelling as each new, unknown, untrustworthy inspiration sets in. A young man with disordered, yellowish hair, his vitality like an aura around him, lounges against the sagging porch, a girl pressing herself against his hip. “What’s the matter?” he calls out, as he walked Cath closer, “your asshole husband too busy to come over and threaten to shoot us himself?” He stubs something out on the porch rail, tosses it into the bushes. The herb in the air and in his blood foul his brain, but he has drawn the attention of others on the porch. “We don’t have a gun,” Wife Cath says, the words truthful if not true. He lets her glimpse the gun anyway, see where it has been hidden all these years, see the care it has gotten, the almost sexual caress of the oiled, gunmetal barrel. All those times after a beating when he’d said, I should just blow your stupid ugly face off takes on new importance, and if he’d let her — he doesn’t — she would have started shaking, would have cried out, may have collapsed to her knees. Instead he fills her with all Husband Robert’s ugly, violent daydreams, his contempt at her for being so weak as to still love him, wondering where her edge is and if he’ll ever push her over it, his naked, raw need to try. Wife Cath is stunned and broken, and he envelops her mind and soul fully now, has driven her compliant at last. Standing her straight, he controls the words. “Flu,” he says, almost having to yell to be heard. “Please, quiet.” “Oh, please, is it?” the woman says, wrapping one arm loosely around the waist of the young man. Her hair is the wrong color, her clothes too tight for her frame, and a tiny fleck of death, like dust deep in her lungs, is starting to breathe and stretch and grow. She holds a cigarette to her lips, lazily blows smoke back out a half breath later. “That’s new. What do you think, Doug?” “It’s Phizz’s birthday.” “Aw, but she said please.” “True, Trix,” the Man Doug says. “So I guess that’s no, then. Sorry. Tell your husband I said hello.” “Police,” he/she suggests. Doug plucks the cigarette from his woman’s fingers, takes a deep pull, and hands it back. His body sends out waves of alcohol-fueled sweat — tainted, stupid meat. “Fuck off,” he says. “You’re trespassing.” “Asshole,” Wife Cath says, without his consent. She is fighting him again. He can feel the hate seething behind her eyes shining anew, and stronger. Wife Cath has opened her mouth, wide. The Man Doug turns pale and stumbles back up a step, nearly falling, nearly knocking Woman Trix over. She’s showing him the tentacles, he realizes, too late. Woman Trix also sees, and screams. Her noise is lost in the din of the party behind them. He draws in energy, feels the small, most-innocent things swarming in the summer air around the light die and drop. Things are ruined now. His house-self is detaching, seeking out the hidden lines under the earth, finding the way to escape. “Monster!” Woman Trix is screaming. Her brain is churning on little more than instinct and primal terror. Authority will come, and if that word is passed on, it will reach the ears of those who hunt. He needs to buy time. He touches the Man Doug, draws him in, steps over the small gristly puddle remaining to reach through skin and bone and take Trix’s mind and its sad meat package as one. There is screaming, but no longer from her. He/she lets the body fall; best morsel taken, the rest will go to waste, but there is no help for that now. To his astonishment, he feels Wife Cath’s surprising satisfaction that the two deaths had been deserved, and overdue. From behind the house, the drums continue uncoordinated, unabated. His house-self has found a small cottage, on a forlorn and toxic lake, whose owners have not returned yet for the summer. A window is broken, and a man is inside, roughly and methodically stripping out all the copper from the walls. It is a small shell, but it will serve as temporary refuge, respite, and refreshment. The energy path leading there is circuitous but clear; he need only finish the unpleasantness next door, separate himself from house and woman, and go. The part of him that rides Wife Cath steps towards the partiers, some of whom are oblivious, some of whom are backing away staring at the blood on his/her hands. The herb has dulled them, made them doubt their witness, and he catches two more while they stand and gape and gibber. A siren whine peaks, at last, above the din. He/she turns and sees Nosy Linda in the driveway, framed by a cacophony of angry blue lights. Too close! The neighbor sees Wife Cath, and rushes forward. It takes a mere flicker of a thought to pull the blood in through his/her skin, assimilate and redistribute it, before Nosy Linda reaches hers. “Cath!” Nosy Linda shouts, over the incessant drums. Then she sees the body of Woman Trix, the remains of other gutted partiers, and shrieks. “Oh Jesus!” the woman screams, and grabs him/her and pulls her away. “Oh Jesus, oh jesus! Did Richard do this?” He is ready to consume her too, to shut her up if nothing more, and flee if he can, but Wife Cath is there wrestling control from him. “He had a knife,” Wife Cath hisses. There is a madness in her, something snapped and broken and wild. “He ran away!” Wife Cath points at the woods. “We have to get you away from here!” Nosy Linda says. She is half-pleading, half-crying. She pulls him/her back away from the student, rental, just in time for two police cars to pull in, in front of them. The first officer gets out, does not yet seem impressed or worried. “Back there!” Nosy Linda yells, and points. He looks to his partner, who has just gotten out of the cruiser to stand beside him. They are bored, irritated. The partner is thinking of violence, imagining himself with his nightstick beating people to the rhythm of the drums. “Okay, time to shut a party down,” he says. “They’re dead!” Nosy Linda wails, and bursts into loud tears. This is not what the officers are expecting to hear. Nightstick Officer moves his hand to his gun. “Ma’am,” he says, “what exac–” A stoned girl, trying to run but having difficulties with balance, comes down the driveway and nearly collides with Officer Partner. Her eyes are wide, pupils like black holes boring into her skull. She has blood on her hands. “Hey,” she says. “Something’s wrong with Trix. I tried to get her up but she won’t move.” “Uh…” The officer says. He is entirely unprepared to deal with this. His mind is racing in panicked circles. “My friend’s husband, he went crazy and he stabbed some of these stoner party losers,” Nosy Linda shouts. “He ran off into the woods! He wasn’t acting himself, like he was on drugs, and I think he drugged my friend here too.” The explanation seems to solidify the officer’s thoughts, and he turns to his partner. “Call backup and have them stand by. Tell them we may need an ambulance and possibly a K9 team. I’m going to go check this out.” Looking at the two women, he starts to say, “You two, stay here–” but Nosy Linda is having none of that. “This woman just witnessed horror,” she says. “I’m taking her back across the street to my house — that’s my house right there,” she points, “and we’re going wait there for you, when you’re ready to talk to us.” She spins Wife Cath around, slipping an arm through her elbow. “Let’s get you some coffee,” she says. “Black, I think, and lots of it.” He sees an advantage in not arguing; Nosy Linda is successfully extracting him from the kill zone under Authority’s nose. From her house, he should be able to pull his fragmented self back together and slip away. Wife Cath is not fighting him, in this; her thoughts are murky, but he can read her craving for distance from the party that more than matched his own. It will be over soon, he tells her. Nosy Linda hauls Wife Cath by the arm through her front door, slamming and throwing the deadbolt behind them. Her cat lets out an ear-piercing yowl and flees the room, his tail a puffed-out standard of terror behind him. “Oh my Jesus, Cath,” she says, standing on tiptoe to peer out the thin window at the top of the door. “I’ve told you a million times that one day he was going to snap and kill someone. I just thought it was going to be you. No offense.” “You’ve been a good friend,” Wife Cath says, and again the words are her own, snuck out under his guard, spoken soothingly but with a bite of fury, barely held back, that is also entirely hers. His house-body is fully disengaged now, seeping through the cracks in the foundation back down into the deeper earth. “Of course I’m your friend,” Nosy Linda says, still peering out the window as more police cars arrived, and an ambulance. There are more sirens coming, some close enough to hear, others just echoes he can feel on the approaching road. “I stood by you, even after everything, didn’t I? Good old Linda, next door. Well, I guess now you understand how difficult that’s been.” Wife Cath begins to raise an arm, and he grabs for full control again, but she is slippery inside his grasp and the arm keeps moving, until she has put her hand on Nosy Linda’s shoulder. Nosy Linda turns. “There’s something,” she manages to say, “I need to tell you…” “Cath…” Nosy Linda says, her face wrinkling into a sad smile. “I–” “Not you,” Wife Cath spits out, “you gossipy, judgmental, self-righteous prune of a woman. You.” He knows she means him. Distended, he can’t draw on his full strength, but he wraps himself around Wife Cath, like a smothering blanket, like walls and shingles and brick, and contracts, trying to crush her back down into nothingness. She is like stone, hard and cold, and they are locked together for moments as Nosy Linda draws back, her face a comical O of outrage. He can feel Wife Cath smiling. “I will not,” she says, “be a victim.” It is a shock as she digs at him from within, getting purchase where none should be gotten, and turns them both inside out. She, for a brief impossible moment, contains him. And she rides him, just as he’d ridden her, her fingers tightening on Linda’s shoulder as she uses him to draw the life out of her, repairing herself, fixing the entropy of his presence within her. Nosy Linda squeaks, tries to pull away, and tumbles to her knees, as he fights to be free, finding the cracks and tricks she does not know yet about how to be a monster. He frees himself just as she lets go of Nosy Linda. The woman is still alive, but drained, weak, stripped. They balance there, in equal control of Wife Cath’s body, himself diminished, herself almost glowing with stolen life. How did you–? he asks her. “My whole life has been learning from monsters,” she says, “now get out.” He does not know if he could take her again. He is damaged and weak, and most of him is in the soil, moving away. He has never been defeated by a host before, never been evicted, and it burns, even as does some admiration. He will not be taken by surprise again. Letting go, he floods out of Wife Cath, leaving her the gift of Husband Robert’s other moments, though few, of heartfelt tenderness and affection, and the terrible fear that resonated through all his waking moments that, someday, he would lose her. Wife Cath is on the phone, and he catches 911, and friend, and stroke, as he spreads down through the floorboards, around the crawlspace beneath the house, through the tiny ways and paths, some physical, some psychic, that breach all mortal structures. The rest of him is waiting, as well as a cabin in the wood and its welcome sanctuary, and time to consider and understand. He takes the bongo player on his way, just for a snack on the road. The post PseudoPod 656: House Party Blues appeared first on PseudoPod.
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Stats
Birthdate
Jan 30th, 1977
Episode Count
892
Podcast Count
5
Total Airtime
3 weeks, 3 days