Pseudopod 114: The Cellar

By Stephen Owen

Read by Ian Stuart

“I’m Mr. Sinclair.” The smiling old man introduced himself. “Not too early, am I?”

“Whatever you’re selling, I ain’t interested,” said the man, ignoring Sinclair’s offer of a handshake. He was taller than Sinclair by a couple of inches, probably in his mid-forties, with cropped blond-grey hair and a permanent frown etched between tired-looking eyes.

“Didn’t they tell you?” said Sinclair, studying a piece of paper in his hand, then checking the brass door number. “I’ve come to look round your house.”

“No-one said nothing.”

“It is still for sale, isn’t it?”

“Oh sure, just wasn’t expecting…”

“Of course, I can always come back another time,” said the old man. He frowned and scratched his chin. “That would be rather inconvenient, though. I’ve come all the way from Oxford. Traffic was an absolute nightmare.”

Happy Halloween!

01
David
October 31st, 2008 8:48 pm

Nice story, good piece for the holiday. The narrators limited use of voices made things a bit confusing. It would have been easier to piece everything together had I been reading it.

Hope you do something with a Christmas theme this December, that piece by Stephen Dedman a while back was really a great way to spread horror over christmas. I get that it’s hard to find Christmas themed horror, but you must get at least a few of them each year.

02
November 2nd, 2008 3:51 am

I thought that was a little hard to follow, because of the time shifts. I am sure if I was reading it would be easier to follow.

It may also have done with the reader who did not seem to change voices.

I had to listen to this two times, because I was so lost.

My favorite part was what Alasdair said at the end of it.

So this is not bad, but it not something I will listen to for pleasure. Twice was fine.

03
puddlescum
November 2nd, 2008 4:28 am

‘ouch! my balls!’ …this story seemes to lack a clear moral anchor untill one gets to that ellement, it might seem odd to require a moral in horror but i think it is, unless the victim has done something to let the darkness in its just bad things happening to good people.

04
Margret
November 3rd, 2008 3:09 am

Hey, it’s Margret from the zombie walk and the vampire LARP at Icon 33. I dropped in to check the site out, and I love it! I’m only sorry it took me so long to get to it.
I loved the build-up in this story – gave me a certain thrill when those points with the guy being infertile and the kid hitting his nuts added up like I suspected :D

05
November 5th, 2008 6:24 am

Great story. Maybe it was hard to follow at first, but surely that was on purpose. It was never boring or confusing, and I love waiting to understand, as long as I’m interested.

I’m not sure I’d like to meet Stephen Owen’s Ex. I’d either have to give her a hug or run screaming in the night.

06
November 5th, 2008 10:20 pm

I think that despite the elaborate slow-release revelation that this story culminates to, the scariest part was still the mention of ruptured testicles.

07
Luniara
November 6th, 2008 11:19 am

It was hard to follow at first, but once I realized what was going on, I got into it. Totally threw me off. I was thinking it would be the Fat kid the whole time.

08
November 6th, 2008 10:10 pm

Really enjoyed the story, but I agree, in audio there needs to be a way of telling the listener about a scene break. I know that pseudopod is anti-sound FX or music but sometimes its just needed, especially in a case like this, to indicate a location/time/and or POV change.

Once I caught on, I really dug the story.

Happy Pagan Rituals!

09
November 7th, 2008 6:26 pm

Like the other commenters, I had to listen to parts of this story multiple times because I kept losing track of what was happening when, and I still got lost. My suggestion for stories like this, if you’re not going to use sound effects or music to separate sections, is to insert a long pause, the equivalent of print stories that have extra spaces between section breaks. One big problem in this recording is that in a few instances there is actually no pause at all between sections, which leads to major disorientation.

Apart from that — terrific story! I liked how the past/present storylines converged and answered questions I had, like how the husband was so certain his wife’s child wasn’t his. The characters are drawn in quick, revealing sketches that make an impact without getting bogged down with a lot of exposition and backstory. The chilly tone overall really meshes with the cold vengefulness of the main character.

Stories like this are the kind I enjoy most from Pseudopod — character-driven tales that derive their horror from the depths of human nature.

10
Sgarre1
November 9th, 2008 2:47 am

Good story, well written, well-read. The writer has a solid grasp of realistic dialogue.

Oddly, I think the kinda-twist is almost unneeded. It doesn’t really add anything to the story and diminishes it somewhat by making it seem that the kinda-twist was the point and we’ve all learned a lesson about a book and its cover. Stories that just jerk you around should be shorter and more streamlined (see vintage Dahl).

But I really enjoyed the trip on this one. Adult characters written in a realistic setting. Hard to come by in Horror nowadays.

As for the breaks in stories, it’s an ongoing problem. A slightly longer pause is the best option but sound editing seems to get in the way of the ability to do that, strangely, instead of making it achievable. LIGHTS OUT used to use a gong to great effect.

Thanks for listening

“We ask only to be reassured
About the noises in the cellar
And the window that should not have been open.”

T.S. Eliot, THE FAMILY REUNION

11
Seraph
November 12th, 2008 9:55 pm

Creepy. The mundane nature of the setting and the characters only added to the sense of foreboding. Nicely done.

I can’t say I had any problems with the change in focus. It seemed pretty obvious when there was a scene change – but maybe that’s just me.

12
November 16th, 2008 4:36 am

Sgarre1, I’m not sure I understand this particular comment: “A slightly longer pause is the best option but sound editing seems to get in the way of the ability to do that, strangely, instead of making it achievable.”

Usually I insert a 2.5-3 sec pause (dependent on narrator pacing) wherever the text has breaks. Does that usually work? I did not do it in this case because I thought the change in vocal tone together with clues given in the text made the segues evident — but admittedly I had an unfair advantage since I’d read the story already, back when I bought it from the author.

While I’m boring everyone with production details… Some authors use very frequent breaks and I make the resulting pauses shorter to avoid dragging the pace — e.g., Paul Jessup’s creepy little dark fantasy, “Fingerbones Hung Like Mobiles”, from June ’07.

13
November 16th, 2008 7:19 pm

Now that was a good story. EP and PC stole too many of what should have been PP stories in the month of October, it’s good to know they didn’t get them all. This story kept me guessing right up to the end. The final line could have been left off, it was anticlimactic after the revelation of who Mr. S really was. But all in all, a well written, well narrated, and genuinely chilling story.

14
November 16th, 2008 7:22 pm

FWIW, I had no problem telling the character voices apart, and in fact thought the misleading similarities between voices from different time-frames was brilliantly effective, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

15
Sgarre1
November 17th, 2008 9:00 pm

Yeah, I could have made that much clearer. I apologize. Probably part of it was that I didn’t actually think the story breaks in this one were any problem at all but then when some people mentioned it, I remembered back to that “old west/eclipse/the dead wake” story, which definitely did have some some “story-distracting, did the scene just shift?” moments for me.

As it turns out, what I was trying to say was based on the incorrect assumption that the readers generally edit their own work and submitted it as a finished product, so I’d got the feeling that the ability to edit out minor mistakes and the like was lending itself toward tightening those gaps between scenes a little too tightly. See, it kinda makes sense when I can take the time to articulate the stuttering neuron signals!

My perception is that 4.5 to 5 seconds might be a little better, mostly because these are readings and not audio dramas, which have the extra hook of a fade-up on sound fx bed to cue the listener that the scene has changed. Either that or perhaps there has to be a more conscious attempt on the reader’s part to intone with a bit more “starting tone” quality, if that makes any sense (I can hear it in my head but don’t have the words. It tends to be a slightly lighter attack on the first couple of words, pitching down the sentence as it continues).

I was joking about the LIGHTS OUT gong but, in truth, it’s not a bad little gimmick. I’m sure it would make more work for all you but picking some particularly themed sound to mark story breaks, different from story to story but the same within a particular story, might be cool. I’m thinking things like low wind moaning, water flowing, creakings, that kind of thing – something tied to the tone or theme of the story.

I should also say that, as much as I complain about various aspects of Pseudopod, I almost always find the technical side of the presentation to be first rate.

Thanks for listening

“Sounds never die, they just lie dormant.”
Marconi

16
November 21st, 2008 4:43 am

This story successfully kept me guessing, “Whom, is the villain in this vignette?”. Well done.
:Eric

17
scatterbrain
November 23rd, 2008 9:04 pm

Really spine-tingling; sort of like a post-modern MR James-type story of English horror.

18
March 11th, 2009 4:29 pm

Loved this one! I loved how the three parts started to ‘unite’. This is one of my favorite stories here on pseudopod, right up there with Bottle Babies. Great work!

19
March 24th, 2009 9:17 pm

Excellent story… I didn’t have any trouble following along… the pauses between scene/time shifts worked well enough for me. One of my favorite episodes of pseudopod.