Pseudopod 026: Flat Diane

By Daniel Abraham

Read by Stephen Eley

In the picture, Flat Diane has been taped around a wide pillar, her arms and legs bending back out of sight. A long black cloth wraps across where the eyes might be, had Ian drawn them in; a blindfold.

The man who Ian doesn’t know, has never met, is caressing a drawn-in breast. His tongue protrudes from his viciously grinning mouth, its tip flickering distance from the silhouette’s thigh. He looks not like Satan, but like someone who wishes that he were, someone trying very hard to be.

The writing on the back of the photograph is block letters, written in blue felt-tip.

It reads: Flat Diane has gone astray.

A new photograph comes every week. Some might be amusing to another person; most make him want to retch.

The best trick Hell has to play against its inmates is to whisper to them that this — this now — is the bottom. Nothing can be worse than this. And then to pull the floor away.

February 23rd, 2007 1:25 pm

Hm, interesting concept.

Not my favorite on Pseudopod, but not my least favorite either. Felt a little long in the middle.

Can’t wait for the next story!

February 24th, 2007 5:45 pm

The first pseudopod story to really get to me.
Interestingly, also the first night in 9 or so years a story has kept me up until 1 AM listening to it, and then 4 AM thinking about it.
Damn you pseudopod!

Jaye Sunsurn
February 25th, 2007 12:14 am

This story will be keeping me up tonight… I am so glad I am not working tomorrow. THIS is a good example of why I love PP.

February 25th, 2007 12:45 am

I am commenting on this story even though I chose not to listen to it. I just wanted to thank you for the content warning at the beginning. When I heard (paraphrasing) ‘sexually content involving children, I decided that this a a story I didn’t need to listen to. That is not a judgement of the story, author, or those who enjoyed it, just my personal preference.

Anyway, thanks again for the warning. I know that a horror podcast carries a certain implied warning anyways. I’ll be back next week.

February 26th, 2007 10:28 am

I really liked this story. Great characters and atmosphere…Kind of like a supernatural Law and Order:SVU. I could almost hear the **BOM BOM BOM** between acts.

February 27th, 2007 10:34 am

I’m not sure I understand how the girl was being abused…? I’m sorry. I listen at work, so there are many distractions. If that can be cleared it’ll be one of my faves; and you’re right about the “supernatural law and order: SVU”, Terrence. it did seem like that, in a good sense.

February 27th, 2007 10:38 am

Listen to (or read) the story again, Tatum, and pay attention to the parts where “Real Diane” knows things that only “Flat Diane” could have learned.

This is my favorite of Daniel Abraham’s stories. Thanks for podcasting it!

February 27th, 2007 2:14 pm

I’ve been critical of Pseudopod’s stories in the past. Not this one, though. It was everything I wanted in a horror story, with hints of the supernatural, a steadily dawning feeling that something is going hideously wrong, and an ending that manages to avoid both the happy ending and ominous music-it- isn’t-really-over ending that so many horror stories fall into.

One of the nastiest things was the implications that Ian’s wife might have either been involved, or at least condoned this act. That bit sent chills through me.

Thanks for selecting this story!

Karma Strikes
February 27th, 2007 7:22 pm

What kind of sicko actually fucks a picture of a little girl? A persons soul is connected to their picture, and its one of a fucking little girl! If he knew what he was doing, do you think he would have done it anyway? People….

February 28th, 2007 9:49 am

This was an excellent story. One of the best yet. I was a little put off by the content warning, too. I didn’t really think PP would do something expoitive, and once Steve’s voice came on my nervousness cleared away.

As it turned out, the story does not take child abuse lightly or exploit it at all. It’s like a slightly supernatural take on every dad’s worst nightmare. The characters were well drawn and believable, especially Diane, which is very important. The ending was not what I expected, in a good way. One of the best stories yet.

PP keeps gettting better. Nice work all.

March 1st, 2007 6:11 am

I’ve heard this exact reading before. Did Steve run it on Escape Pod? I knew the entirety of this reading before it was read.

March 1st, 2007 11:17 am

Thanks, Hunty! I need to listen or read it again cuz I totally missed that. I have no business commenting :)

March 1st, 2007 9:16 pm

Genius. Loved it.

March 2nd, 2007 12:54 am

I must say, I have had some trouble getting into Pseudo Pod. Most of the eps up until this point have seemed to have some sort of issue in my mind. Be it the story itsself or the person reading it, I have had some trouble getting into Pseudo Pod (with a few exceptions, of course.)

But now I have ample reason to say I’m hooked. everything about this story just seemed to… work. The characters were believable and subtle (I loved how Ian figured out what was going on, instead of falling to the cliche’ of many other horror stories), the reading was excellent, and the time length all worked together to much better flesh out characters and plot. It was a short story that felt like a little novel all on it’s own.

As a little bit more evidence on just how well everything fit, I didn’t even realise that steve was reading until half-way through, up until then I had just been identifying his voice with Ian.

Once again, nice job! Das ist ganz gut!

March 2nd, 2007 11:13 am

Listened to it twice. Took me a minute to get it, tho –I’m still not exaclty sure what happened. At first I thought it was the dad, but then he murdered this other guy– denial maybe?– hmmmm …. I like the story so I will listen again. :0)

March 2nd, 2007 11:29 am

I like most of the stories that have been posted on Pseudopod but I think this one just set a new standard for the podcast. This is easily one of the best (if not the best) stories that’s been put up here.

March 2nd, 2007 2:38 pm

Didn’t grab me at all. I suspect it’s because I don’t really care about stories that are ‘real-life’ with children in danger in them, stories which are supposed to be more horrific purely because whatever happens is happening to a kid rather than an adult fail to interest me either. I was more engaged at the start when it appeared that Diane was being changed into a more evil and malevolent child, I was anticipating something along the lines of ‘From The Teeth of Angels’ by Jonathan Carroll. When instead it just turned into a regular ‘save the child’ story I lost interest.

March 2nd, 2007 2:43 pm

I’ve read, listened to, and watched quite a range of horror in my time, and this is one of the few stories I have found to be singularly disturbing. I’m very glad I didn’t listen to it right before bed, and I still won’t be surprised if it gives me nightmares nonetheless. This one’s going to stick with me for a while.

Very well written, Daniel, and very well read, Steve. Keep up the great work.

March 4th, 2007 12:00 pm

que…you’re in possession of very poor reading comprehension.

Figured out my familiarity. I read this in F&SF back in ’04. Liked it then, loved it on the ‘cast. Great story, great reading. You should do more good stuff, as the bad stuff is really irritating.

March 5th, 2007 8:49 am

I really liked this story, though I thinkk I came away with a different interpretation than most people did. I don’t think this story was supernatural at all, though the characters in it (the father, at least) thought it was. At the very least, it doesn’tt have to be spernatural, and I guess my skeptical nature is just as happy with it being that way as not.

Think of it this way. Diane is an imaginative andd passionate young girl whose life has been seriously rocked by her mother abandoning them. Her father is doing his best, but he’s overwhelmed and an emotionall wreck. Now let’s say she manages to see some of the photos of that guy “abusing” Flat Diane, what is that going to do to her? Nightmares and false memories of abuse are far from impossible, kids have been screwed up by less and imagined more.

I think we can alll agree that as children we knew where at least some of our parent’s hiding places were. Diane’s father is an inexperienced only parent, there’s no way he can be there at all times, and she’s angry about her situation and craves answers that he can’t provide. My parents were divorced, and I know that I found things that i shouldn’t that disturbed me greatly. Try reading court documents about your parents accusing each other of all kinds of terrible things, it’s almost as traumatic as having been in the middle of it. Thankfully my parents took shots at each other and left my sister and myself out of it, but I can easily imagine that if allegations of abuse, not to mention pictures, were found it would have been devastating.

For anyone who’s thinking “but she knew things she coulddn’t have”, I ask, did she? Never, at any point in the story does Diane display any knowlege that her father doesn’t already have. remember, she doesn’t detail her supposed abuse at all, it’s alll very ague, he fills in the details for himself. She picked up the fact that her uncle was abusing her aunt, but there’s no reason to assume a supernatural explanation for that. Abuse within families is often a poorly kept secret, and her father doesn’t exactly seem surprised by the idea.

So in the end, it seems just as likely to me that Diane’s trauma is entirely emotional and stems from her fractured family life. Her father, desperate to help and, by his own admission, emotionally wrecked, siezes on this idea of Flat Diane sharing some sort of psychic connection with Diane. This leads him to kill a man in an effort to save his daughter. To me, this adds a whole extra level of interest and psychology to the story. The man he killed was probably guilty of some ccrime, but this leaves open the question of whether or not Diane’s father became a monster in an effort to stop a monster. And of course Diane’s nightmares didn’t end, they weren’t being caused directly by anything that man did, they were caused by ddeep psychological trauma, not actual abuse.

I’m sure I’ll be in the minority here, but i can’t see any reason that this would have to be a supernatural story. personally, that makes it all the more frightening to me.

March 5th, 2007 9:02 am

Wow, I need to lighten up on the keyboard or something, I kept double-typing letters. Sorry about that, to anyone who suffered through reading it.

March 5th, 2007 12:20 pm

Ok… I finally got the time LISTEN to this story, without interruption, at the airport this past weekend. (Instead of in portions here at work.)

Good one! When I was younger I was taught that certain Native American tribes would not allow anyone to photograph them. They believed that the photo contained a part of the soul of the person in it, and things could be done to that soul through the picture.

I must say I loved it! (Though I think because I am female, that I’m a little sensitive to the topic. LOL) This is now in my top three! :0)

Thanks for another good one!

March 9th, 2007 1:01 pm

Splendid analysis JCLARK. sorry I’m late, but I was just getting a chance to re-listen once more. Also, you’re definitely not alone. I agree with your perspective.

March 10th, 2007 2:12 pm

The warning was a bit of a spoiler, and when i figured out what was going to happen, I had to hold back vomit for the rest of the show. Keeping that in mind, this has been one of, if not the best, story on Pseudopod so far.

April 10th, 2007 8:42 am

I started listening to this story at work yesterday and didn’t get through before the end of the day. I couldn’t wait to get back in this morning to finish! It’s really well done, and the story felt original to me. I’m so glad I found this site! :)

April 27th, 2007 3:55 pm

Man this was disturbing. One of the many reasons I don’t want to be a father. I’ll be haunted by this one.

January 22nd, 2009 3:40 am

I agree with the general consensis. I like it and I have to say I don’t think I will never do those draw outs with my kids when I have them eventually. The idea unique and deffinantly hit home on more than one mark. Good reading, good job.

January 22nd, 2009 3:40 am

*I will never do those drawings…sorry for the typo.

July 31st, 2009 2:50 am

I really enjoyed this, but I was almost taken aback by the relatively happy ending. Mostly because of the previous line about “the best trick Hell has to play” being the belief that it can’t get any worse, I fully expected Ian to arrive home to find that his ex-wife had retrieved the drawing and shoved it into a paper shredder or set it on fire, leaving a screaming wreck behind at Kit’s house. Having braced for that, the hopeful falling action and denouement were a bit of a surprise, which created an odd sensation of disappointment. Not that I’d wanted horrible things to happen, of course, but that I’d expected it from the extremely ominous overtones and Ian’s “Ha ha! I got away with it!” attitude, which usually presages a dramatic fall.