Pseudopod 126: The Ashen Thing

By Paul Mannering

Read by Ben Phillips

I dropped the half-eaten turkey on rye back on my plate and stared
darkly at the new wheel-chair ramp, a big yellow exclamation mark
visible from the sidewalk. Warning! Freak in Residence! Imagining the
whispered concerns of our new neighbors was fuel for the fire of my
self-pity. I was so lost in my gloomy fantasy that I did not notice
the first tapping until it became a knocking, and then a scrape. As if
someone had hit the wooden deck under my wheels and then dragged a
hands worth of nails along it. I glanced around; Tammy had not
re-emerged. I looked down. A glint of something wet. Something like an
eye or wet flesh, staring up from the darkness under the deck. I
twisted the steel rims under my hands and adjusted my position to look
again. The thing was gone. I listened, and for a moment, I heard a
sound like a wet blanket dragging on dirt, then Tammy re-appeared and
the sound was lost under her footsteps and sigh of satisfaction.

“You done?” she asked, indicating my abandoned plate with one moisturized hand.

“Yeah, thanks,” I was still turning the fragment of a moment over in
my mind. I had seen an eye. Someone was under our house. Crawling in
the dust and dirt, under the decking, under the floors, slithering
around the concrete pilings, the ducting of the central heating that
terminated in black metal grills in our floors and doing what?
Listening? Searching for a way to break in?

01
January 23rd, 2009 9:04 pm

Fantastic! Horrific! Really wonderfully frightenly chilling!
Thanks for the chills!

02
devora
January 24th, 2009 6:18 pm

Ben, you master of readers spinning your web! Amazing work to spook us all to hell. High quality audio w/ no extraneous noise is so welcome. And what a creepy oooogy story. Glad I listened during the day. I’d like to try it in the dark but I can’t. And that dog we were thinking of getting, that’s out altogether.

03
Kenneth Linck
January 25th, 2009 12:57 am

Wow. Did not go in the direction I expected, and the ashen thing is going to give me hours of fitful sleep. Very reminiscent of MR James, and more than a little bit of the TV movie classic Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

04
phignewton
January 25th, 2009 5:11 pm

OIIIYYY! What a warm soupy gooey glob offa story! The bugaboo is just a buggaboo though, right? not the girl, which would have put it into truly disturbing territory.

05
ChangwaSteve
January 26th, 2009 4:14 am

Very well-written this time, and a masterful reading by Ben, as always.

06
mmarlett
January 26th, 2009 2:52 pm

I will think of this story for years to come every time my damn dog jumps on the bed in the middle of the night and drops a drool-covered something on my head, wanting me to give it a toss. It happens about twice a week, so I’ll be thinking of this story a lot. And I’m not sure I feel good about it … for all the best reasons.

07
Sgarre1
January 26th, 2009 7:38 pm

Solid monster story.

Extra points for not trying to explain what the thing was or where it came from, having an indeterminate ending and using a disabled character to good advantage. Also, plus points for the dog being neither hero nor villain, just a dog.

A few points lost for needing a little more editing – All that build-up, like an unimportant description of a picnic and a totally unnecessary sex scene, feels like padding when one reflects that the thing just shows up and attacks. Could have done with more tease from the actual threat. The description of the creature, while starting nicely pulpy, went a bit overboard in the florid writing area (did the author really intend to use the word “fecund”, meaning overly fertile, to describe some aspect of the creature?) and where were the editors when the paralyzed man with the severed spinal column feels the dog pass over his ankles (the bit where the dog is biting his foot was good, although written in a way that we can’t tell whether this was painful for him or just distracting, given the fact that’s he’s crawling after his wife).

I’m unsure about the Giger reference. Part of me thinks that any 19th century writer would just have easily referenced Bosch or someone and this is the modern equivalent of same. Part of me thinks that modern society, at least in America, is so culturally fractured that almost any reference to anything outside of the main-mainstream comes off as a bone thrown to a niche group. Undecided.

Nice monster story, though.

Thanks for listening.

“Demons are like obedient dogs; they come when they are called.”

Remy De Gourmont, “Pehor”

08
January 27th, 2009 6:43 am

I have never liked the oozing tennis balls that dogs bring to me and have always suspected that this is the sort of thing that happens if I should humour this behaviour.

09
2for2true
January 27th, 2009 9:45 am

Very good story. The idea of a paraplegic stalking increased the anxiety factor of this tale. Well told, sir.

10
Bug Man
January 28th, 2009 8:30 pm

Simply Horrifying. If I was listening to this in front of a campfire during a new moon I would have peed myself.

11
January 29th, 2009 1:57 am

Thanks Ben, you made my story come alive in a way that just went above and beyond what I could have hoped.

Another fantastic production from the premiere team in horror audio.

12
George
January 29th, 2009 1:12 pm

Delightfully Lovecraftian!

It’s a rare writer who can take the old “The Thing” theme and make it work. Paul is one of those writers. In this he finds himself in the fine company of Stephen king and Clive Barker …

Made me shiver and retch at the same time – true visceral horror. Scott Sigler, Phil Rossi – take notes!

13
George
January 29th, 2009 1:13 pm

… Oh – an d the reading – could not have been done better. Plaudits to Ben Phillips

14
February 2nd, 2009 4:57 pm

I love a good old fashion monster story

15
damian
February 2nd, 2009 5:12 pm

Great story! Good monster, solid characters, sinister ending that doesn’t exactly say what it implies….Great stuff, and very solid reading by Mr. Philips.

My only complaint would have to be the prose (it is a bit florid, like most Lovecraftian prose, but it goes slightly over the top, as another listener might have mentioned.

Still, one of my fav. stories here yet….

Thank-you!

16
mistermorty
February 2nd, 2009 10:46 pm

Excellent writing all the way through, but, sadly, the actual story ended when the “thing” was introduced. After that, nothing but very well-done but, nonetheless, typical over-the-top horror-type describing, turning what had been “literature” into “comic book” (with panels missing) and, toward the end, left me hoping the story would return and reveal the whole business to have been the nightmare fantasies of a guilt-ridden paraplegic. Unfortunately, it was just what it was: an exercise in juvenile gross-out, only for adult sensibilities.

Which… okay. That’s a demographic, too. Just not mine, I guess.

Only other nit: the title. “Ashy” implies nothing but dryness. Yet the “thing” was a study in ooze and goo and slime.

Confusing.

Over-all, though: better than most, enjoyed it muchly.

17
Sgarre1
February 2nd, 2009 11:54 pm

“Only other nit: the title. “Ashy” implies nothing but dryness. Yet the “thing” was a study in ooze and goo and slime.”

I wondered about that myself.

I wouldn’t say “noting but”, I assume it was meant to evoke the thing’s whiteness, a silvered paleness perhaps? But, as I said, I wondered the same thing.

18
Pumpu123
February 7th, 2009 8:42 am

Great story! I listened to this while waiting for the furnace guy to come turn on the gas in my new apartment. It was the perfect story to wait in a old, cold basement with.

19
February 9th, 2009 5:50 pm

Wow, this was disturbing. The helplessness of the main character made it unique, and all the more compelling.

I think we all have dreams where we can’t move or can’t get away, and to me, the poor guy’s situation made it all the more horrifying.

Kudos.

20
March 5th, 2009 10:51 am

This was simply not the story to listen to before going to bed. This piece was great horror, made even better by such thoroughly believable narration. The commentary afterward had me laughing out loud. Well done.

21
Kristen
April 6th, 2009 4:06 pm

Why do I insist on listening to this podcast in bed at night? whimper Scariest story since Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat.” Well done.

22
Speck
April 6th, 2009 11:32 pm

Rear Window x Silent Hill… very creepy. I enjoyed it.

23
July 1st, 2009 6:36 am

I would have enjoyed a stronger thematic resonance. That is, the Ashen Thing is unmistakably reminiscent of the narrator’s helpless and unwilling parasitism. The resonance is touched upon, faintly echoed, but it doesn’t come strongly together under the excess of grotesque description. I’d have liked a lighter touch on the “He runs, it chases” bits and a bit more exploration of the relationship between the Ashen Thing and the narrator’s fears, with the intriguing link of the “assistance dog” between them.

24
August 21st, 2009 12:36 pm

Great story.

Someone up above asked if the bugaboo was the little girl. At the very end I thought it was, because after the man kills the thing he passes out and dreams of doing the things the creature did. i interpreted that to mean that he was still alive but his conscious mind was in a haze behind the outer monster. Also the monster was child-like size, and that would explain the affinity with the dog if the dog knew her when she was human.