Pseudopod 029: Light Like Knives Dragged Across the Skin

By Paul Jessup

Read by Ben Phillips

Saw grinned. “Well, come on chicken shits, let’s keep the game going. We can’t call it quits now, we are all defined by our cards in play. So smack that shit down and let’s get going.”

Saw got off on the whole thing, that much I could tell. He probably had a thick inch of wood under the table. He was in love with power, with making people do what he wanted. And now he wanted one of us to die. I guess that’s just how it goes.

March 16th, 2007 12:01 pm

This was the first story from Psuedopod that I’ve so far managed to listen to, and I’ve got to say I’m hooked and need to cruise through the archives now – especially if there’s more like this. I’m normally a scifi fan and roll my eyes at horror – but I love this kind of intelligent semi-Jungian / semi-Lovecraftian mind tangle. Maybe I just haven’t run into much good horror yet.

March 16th, 2007 12:04 pm

That is the best compliment a writer could ever get. A few people have emailed me with the same sentiments- that they don’t usually like horror, but really enjoyed this story. Glad you liked it. I’ve got some more cerebral horror stories coming out from several print magazines this month as well. Check my website for details.

Psuedopod really is a great thing. Definitely browse through the archives, I did. And was happy.

March 16th, 2007 1:32 pm

Great read from Ben, and a well written story. I’m with Mur in that this is the first non-silly card game I’ve wanted to play in quite a while.

March 16th, 2007 5:58 pm

This reminds me of Last Call by Tim Powers–he, too, uses some really wild imagery in the telling of his stories (although in Last Call, the images were based on the Tarot). And I didn’t see that ending coming. Very well done.

Simeon Weinraub
March 17th, 2007 2:02 am

Really? Maybe because I am not a gamer, I just couldn’t relate to the material. But, for me, this story was like someone giving the play by play of some swingers on acid playing Pokemon. To get into it, in my mind, I transmogrified Ben into Howard Cosell. Then, the story became great.

March 18th, 2007 4:52 pm

How much of that story did I understand? Not too much. But I think it was a statement about the quality of the writing and the performance that I enjoyed it more than some stories I’ve heard that I understood more.

March 19th, 2007 8:29 am

I loved this story – I think Ben is probably my favorite Pseudopod reader. Great delivery, and I definitely would play this beast. :)

Toy Bunny
March 21st, 2007 1:47 pm

Best story so far! I’m going to have to listen again. More cerebral horror on the way? Shiny!

BTW, did anyone else catch a couple references to the work of Umberto Eco? I wonder how many other references I missed? Maybe I’m just hallucinating again.

March 22nd, 2007 7:04 am

yupyup, that Umberto Eco reference was a double reference- reference to him, and a reference to Foucult (whose Philosophy plays a big part in my writing). There are lots more references in there as well. Consider them fun little easter eggs :)

Glad everyone enjoyed it so much…

March 23rd, 2007 5:17 am

Anybody here ever watch one of those Japanese shows based on a card game? There are these prolonged moments in the show where a character is thinking to him or herself about what cards he or she can play, and what the opponent can do, and what cards mean what and…it’s really friggin’ dull.

That was just like this story, but with a little kinky sex involved. it wasn’t enough to elevate it to horror, or even something entertaining. Print this, and sell copies at the next Magic The Gathering tourney. You’ll make some beer money off those hopeless, socially retarded morons.

March 23rd, 2007 1:42 pm

Congratulations! You didn’t like it. No reason to be rude about it, though.

March 23rd, 2007 11:41 pm

And yet there is reason: he’s Spork. Incorrigible obnoxiousness is his idiosyncrasy.

As far as the story itself, I found the angle interesting, but as a whole it didn’t quite grab me. I couldn’t relate to the characters when their behavior is controlled by cards that they themselves control, in a dangerous, largely ungratifiying (it would seem) game they can choose not to partake in. I suppose one could see it all as an allegory for addiction, but within this story I just didn’t feel that any one of the characters was someone “real.” Just my take.

March 24th, 2007 7:00 pm

.. personally i prefer Calvinball!

March 26th, 2007 8:14 am

In defense of the story, the characters aren’t real when you read it because they are part of the game. At the end- when the game is over, a hint of the real characters come through in each of their actions. Having them act like that during the play would be contrary to the whole point of what is going on-

which is, this story talks about narrative fiction, and the dangers of symbols, the dangers of reading and absorbing this architecture into your own being, your own person.

I’m glad some people really enjoyed it, since I knew it was different and not an easy thing to write. Might write a blog post later this week on defending the technique and structure to Light Like Knives….

March 27th, 2007 10:34 pm


Okay, I was going to write how, while I liked the story without scratching too deep at the surface, I felt like there was a little bit more going on than I could get, like a Neil Gaiman or Michael Moorcock story (and you may consider that a compliment). That last message you posted pretty much jerked everything into focus. Thanks!

As far as the story on its own, I liked the idea of a CCG that seemed to incorporate Tarot elements, at least in theme. I liked how the game seemed to be more of a personal matter between the four, and I thought that the game itself was something sinister, as the players switched traits as they built their personalities from items in the deck.

And, while I don’t play CCGs but I know people who do, I could see why they’d want to come back again and again, even if sometimes they didn’t want to.

Now, as far as the dangers of symbols and architecture, I’d love to hear you elaborate on this a bit more…I mean, yes, there is a danger of repetition or internalization when reading fantasy, just ask the kids who try to fly like Superman, but I got the sense that you were aiming for something a bit more than that.

Jon Sebastian
April 2nd, 2007 6:05 am

This story was pretty interesting. I also wanted to play the game after hearing it. Also Ben is an awesome narrator. But the characters in this story were dork sqared multiplied by geek plus infinity.

April 27th, 2007 3:42 pm

didnt like it.

way to much time spent on card game development and none on character development. in the end i didnt care about any of them and it didnt matter who would die(was hoping for all).

guy who is being immolated responds to request for pizza with “nah, im good”… seriously?…

May 11th, 2007 7:30 pm

wow. love it or hate it, i guess.

personally, i thought it was great. there are some excellent stories on here, but this was the first i listened to more than once. well-written, creepy, and disturbing. perfect.

June 4th, 2007 12:53 am

This was a great story. Thanks. I’ll be donating, that’s for sure. keep em coming.

September 17th, 2007 9:32 am


February 22nd, 2008 5:32 pm

Tedium with scene description or character development. Obvious result of a deadline without inspiration. When your talent runs out, get a real job. This was a waste of time and electricity.

February 22nd, 2008 5:45 pm

Tedium withOUT …..

Mari Mitchell
April 9th, 2008 10:43 pm

It took awhile for the story to take off. The langue there carried it to the end but I felt the story was a tad too muddy and conclusion did not have enough bite to it.

October 17th, 2008 7:20 am

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October 17th, 2008 9:19 am

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January 22nd, 2009 4:58 am

No Mur its not sad you wanted this game. I am a gamer myself and I think that this would be one of the best games to have. It would never be a dull moment.