By David Nickle
Read by Erik Luke of Extruding America
There is a cathedral in the middle of Radejast. It addresses the approaching pilgrim as a fist of granite and slate and limestone, lifting black iron bells and arches and gargoyles to touch the dangled teat of the soot-cloud that ever hangs low over the land. Within: a forest of stone pillars, some carved with the likenesses of Radejast’s saints, some simply chiseled with the mark of its venerable religion — all surrounding the dome, so high and wide that when emerging from the pillars I stumbled beneath it, madly fearful that gravity might suddenly reverse, fling me from the floor, and smash me against the curved mosaics above the whispering gallery.
The Good News Happening Congregation’s hall was larger than Radejast’s cathedral by half again: a great circular space beneath a peaked roof, lit from high, clear windows on every side. Behind the pulpit stood a crucifix with a painted sculpture of Jesus Christ bound to it, bright lines of blood trickling down his slender limbs, from the crown of thorns he wore. Altogether, it was half-again taller than any similar icon in Radejast.
By Simon Wood
Read by Ian Stuart, voice actor for hire
The place was different but the story was the same. The Japs had won at the expense of the British. They’d been particularly ruthless on this occasion. Besides the bullet-riddled and grenade-ravaged corpses, he recognized the hallmarks of ritual decapitation and disembowelment. The battle over, they’d set about the wounded with their samurai swords.
Blood from hundreds saturated the beach. Clelland hadn’t realized until he became a Bucket Boy that blood had an odor. It wasn’t unpleasant, just overpowering, suffocating, like being trapped in a room filled with stale air.
The soldiers had been dead some time. Twelve to fourteen hours, by Clelland’s estimates. The blazing sun had had a chance to cook the flesh. What should have been pink had blanched and turned beige. Instead of just the usual stench of shit and rotting flesh, a human barbecue was in progress.
By Alan Smale
Read by Kris Johnson
Trixie’s dead claws scrabbled faintly against the wooden stairs. The hairs on my arm came alive. It was clear Robbie hadn’t heard a thing.
What the heck could I say next? “I see you have tattoos.”
“Yep,” he said, and pushed up the sleeve on his right arm. “Check this out.”
They were hard to figure; dark shadows against his black skin. Against my better judgment, I was intrigued. I stepped forward.
It was a Celtic knot in a thick swirly pattern that went all around his bicep. He pushed up his left sleeve to show the silhouette of a heart with a long dagger thrust through it, ornamented with scrollwork.
“Neat,” I said. “Got any more?”
Robbie hesitated, and I realized what a potentially stupid question that had been.
By Camille Alexa
Read by Claudia Smith
He was tall and quiet, and thinner even than Gretel. Cigarette burn scars covered one cheek, and he was blind in his left eye from an especially bad night with his father. Gretel thought he was beautiful.
You’re beautiful, he told her later that night, after her stepmother had driven away and Brykerwoods orderlies had taken Gretel’s leather jacket and the contents of her pockets… but not the lipstick tube they hadn’t found in her bra. After she’d found him, like an uncharted territory, or an undiscovered planet, sitting on the dirty white linoleum next to a vacant chair in an empty TV room without a television. After she’d had handed him one hit of acid and placed the other under her tongue. You’re beautiful.
I’m not, she said. My front teeth jut like fallen tombstones. My nose is the size of a bus and my hair is like strips of rotting bacon and my eyes are small and brown as rabbit turds. You must be tripping.
And he said, I am, but that’s not why I like you.