Pseudopod 75: The Mill

By Tom Brennan

Read by Ben Phillips

Breathless from climbing, Iwan crested the hill and looked down on his village and its fields of yellow and green. He tried to blot out the mill beside the river but the dark stone building gnawed at him, just as in his dreams.

Again he remembered the words trickling from his father’s ruined face: “A little blood, son, a little pain…”

Iwan spun away from the edge and ran to the pool under the arching trees. As forbidden as mirrors and polished metal, the pool threw back Iwan’s pale reflection. He stared at his features in the clear water as if concentration alone could seal them there forever, make them indestructible. But now a breeze rippled the water and imagination dissolved his face; he saw the mill’s grindstones descending, lower, lower, felt the altar vibrating under his body, smelled powdered grit as the whirling stones inched closer. Closer.

February 1st, 2008 5:11 pm

A good, chilling bit of Dark Fantasy. Well read and well written.

February 4th, 2008 1:11 am

As much as I wanted to disagree with Iwan’s father about every culture having their own flavor of barbaric traditions, a moment’s reflection made be realize the truth of that idea. Are bad as having your face taken off with a grindstone would, I’ve known people who’ve almost died from having ear piercings infected (and I had by ears pierced when I was barely more than a squalling infant), and of course there are those accounts of circumcisions gone horribly wrong. We’re just more comfortable as a society with our own brands of mutilation.

Void Munashii
February 4th, 2008 9:19 pm


I agree with everything you have said. It’s easy to be repulsed by the thought of having your face ground off, especially in light of what happened to Deva, but something is only truly barbaric if it is strange to you.

What might Iwan’s people think about nose jobs? Botox? facial piercings? How awful would those things seem to a people that had never dreamed of such a thing? Circumcision is probably the best example though.

Still, as coming of age stories go, this was a very chilling counterpoint to Escape Pod’s own COA story this week. I liked it a lot more than last week’s story.

February 4th, 2008 9:30 pm

Excellent story. I really wish that kid would have taken a different course f action, you know?

I think this one does what a good horror story is supposed to. It creeped me out, and without the use of some 45 foot monster, or an axe murderer going around. The society itself was the axe murderer in this story, and I love that.

February 5th, 2008 1:42 am

Interesting story, nothing earth shattering. These whole the wheel keeps on turning stories usually don;t impress me, this one was better than most though.

Love to see another story by Stephen Dedman or Eugie Foster, they did some of my favorite stories.

February 5th, 2008 5:54 pm

I was initially turned off by the idea of a culture which would ritualistically maim their male children until I remembered reading about female circumcisions. Then, the bit in the story about the merchants wearing face-concealing veils really got me.

How could those merchants live with the knowledge of those children being tortured in such a way? I suppose, they deal with it the same way every western woman who visits a country in the middle east where she is expected to conceal her hair. Or the western women who visit tribes in the rain forests which practice ritual scarification.

Cultural relativism is the real evil which allows us to accept the barbaric practices of other cultures as just some kind of tradition. That’s the real horror of this story for me. Blind acceptance of blatant evil as just another day in someone else’s life.

On an unrelated note, I’ve noticed something about this podcast as opposed to Escape Pod. EP regularly discusses the feedback the show has received, and often changes in response to it, particularly when it comes to audio quality issues.

I can’t think of the last time Pseudopod has discussed any feedback at all. If they aren’t going to discuss feedback, react to it, or respond to complaints about audio quality, reader quality, etc. why is there a comment section at all?

February 15th, 2008 9:49 am

I thought this was just outstanding. Easily the best story you guys have run in a while.

There is so much dread and atmosphere at work. Mr. Brennan really nailed this one.

Mari Mitchell
March 15th, 2008 1:54 am

As a mother of two boys. I try and raise to value individuality and family this tale brought a tear to my heart.

April 4th, 2008 9:44 am

One word: Crap.

The editor must have lost her mind, never mind her taste over this one.