“Ecdysis” was previously published at Kaleidotrope (Spring 2016)
“Viens Jouer Avec Moi” and “End of the Line” are Pseudopod originals.
Music credits for “Viens Jouer Avec Moi”:
“End of the Line”:
by Kurt Hunt
narrated by Hollis Munroe
Only one rule: do not speak to them.
Even when they crawl into your room at night, their claws gripping the floorboards — do not speak to them. Even when their breath is hot on your tightly closed eyes, their double-jointed elbows braced against the headboard above you — do not speak to them. Even when they chitter about their loneliness — do not speak to them.
You knew the rule. Your grandfather taught it to you before you could read. He tucked you in one night and you breathed the cedar smells of the cabin at the foot of the ridge and asked “when is she coming home?”
Strange, the way he turned his face away.
“She’s not,” he said to the wall after a long silence, then turned back and told you: when they come — and they will come — do not speak to them.
You knew the rule, but you didn’t understand it. Maybe grandfather did, but he’s been gone for many years while your conviction faded and your resolve weakened.
Eventually, the weight of their carapaces became too much, too familiar to bear alone. You felt your lips part one night and you heard your voice rasp at them in the darkness.
And now look at you.
No more grandfather. No more cabin. No more softness. You left those scraps in your bed.
Nothing now but gnawing hunger, that hollowed-out feeling in your armor as your chitinous legs scrape against the others, as you whisper about your loneliness to a succession of faces, all of them closed to you. Sometimes you think one will break, but the lips only ever form the words in silence: “do not speak to them do not speak to them.”
Viens Jouer Avec Moi
by Lisa Baldinelli
narrated by Larissa Thompson
“Mummy,” the young girl asked quietly, “where did you get the music box? I want one for my own.” The mother looked down at her daughter, taking in her alabaster skin, rose-tinted cheeks, and wide innocent eyes as if it were the last time she’d ever see them in person. “It’s so pretty, Mummy. Can’t I please just play with yours?” she tried again.
The mother began to tremble, lips quivering. “Listen to me, Violetta,” the older woman pleaded, “that box is not a toy. You cannot just play with it as you please.” She knelt down and brushed her daughter’s hair behind her ear. Her hands held her head delicately between them as she begged, “Please, Darling, do not touch my music box.” Violetta let out a defeated nod and complied with her mother’s wishes – for the time being.
Day after day she would pass her mother’s expansive boudoir, littered with rich jewels of all colors and fine fabrics of all patterns, eyeing the music box dreamily, and then continuing on her merry way. Day after day she would pass, interest in the music box rising like the tide, her curiosity being further piqued with every view of the mysterious container. Curiosity, that treacherous black widow, spun the young, defenseless cherub in her web, trapping her forever.
“Darling?” her mother’s voice rose from the living room. “Would you be a dear and fetch my emerald scarf? I believe it lies on the top of my bureau.” Violetta nodded, then scurried off.
She entered her parents’ bedroom in search of the item her mother requested. The room was essentially a mirror image of itself in structural layout, with each side occupied by either her father’s or her mother’s belongings (her father’s always on the left, her mother’s always on the right). Her eyes locked on to the accessory on the right side of the room instantly. Within a few steps, the soft fabric was in her hands, uncovering the music box that laid underneath. She stared at the intricate wood carving for a moment, admiring its beauty, and then turned around to return to her mother.
“Viens jouer avec moi.”
Violetta stopped in her tracks, facing the door on her father’s half of the room. While she did not recognize the delicate, enticing voice, she did, however, recognize the words the voice spoke; come play with me.
“Viens jouer avec moi,” the voice repeated, light and airy with a pleasing hum underlying her tone.
The young girl turned around in search of the owner of the voice, but saw no one.
“Violetta,” the voice purred, “viens jouer avec moi.”
She stepped forward, drawn towards the music box once more. The mysterious woman sang out again in her hauntingly melodic voice. Violetta felt an overwhelming desire to answer the voice’s clarion call, despite her mother’s warning sounding off in the back of her mind.
“Viens ici, mon doux enfant,” the voice encouraged.
She nodded at her words—come here, my sweet child—and erased all doubt from her thoughts, thus moving to stand directly in front of her mother’s dresser. Her hand lifted and touched the top of the music box, smoothing her fingers over the edge, then gripped it and meticulously lifted the lid up. A soft tune comprised of twinkling bells emanated from within. The girl peered into the box and looked at the figurine that was twirling to the song. The ballerina was posed in a typical form, one Violetta had seen, and had accomplished herself, many times before; arms above her head, raised up on the tips of her toes, and eyes gently closed as a look of pure serenity washed over her porcelain face. Oh, how she wished to be as beautiful and happy as the graceful ballerina was!
“Violetta…” The voice was louder, but somehow just as gentle as before.
She lifted her small, slender fingers and reached out towards the twirling woman. The music began to swell around her, building in an intensity and drawing the child closer and closer. Finally, her fingers brushed against the head of the ballerina, and she cried out. Her eyes shut tightly as she released her mother’s scarf, allowing it to freely float to the floor.
Everything was dark. The only noise she heard was the song of the music box playing again, back to its soft tune. She tried to move, but found she was unable.
“Darling?” her mother called. “Is everything alright?”
Mummy! She tried to scream. Mummy, please help me!
“Yes, Mummy. I just dropped your scarf on the floor,” she heard her voice explain.
“Well, hurry, dear. We need to leave soon.”
She heard her mother’s footsteps, along with her voice, fade away, leaving her alone. Except, she wasn’t alone just yet.
The dreamy voice she had once trusted spoke over the quiet music, saying only one thing; “Au revoir, Violetta.”
The music stopped instantly.
End of the Line
By Paul Alex Gray
narrated by Trendane Sparks
“Look Daddy, a girl is in there.”
Adam nodded absentmindedly while fighting to unfurl the soggy tube map. Throngs of passengers pushed past, up the stairs and into the rain.
Now were we meant to switch to the Northern? Or the Piccadilly line?
“Jess,” said Adam. “We need to go back to the platform.”
He looked up from the map and looked to the near-empty corridor but his daughter was nowhere to be seen. His heart sank and he gulped.
“Jess?” He said loudly.
He dashed along the corridor and up the stairs. A few commuters were hurrying away as a black cab drove by, spilling water onto the pavement.
“Jess, where are you!”
He ran back through the corridor as a rumbling sound grew, the deep thudding booms of a train moving somewhere above, or maybe below. A gust of air came, hot and tinged with brake oil and smoke. He was just about to check the platform when a flash of colour caught his eye. Turning, he saw a metal grille in the wall, and within it, something moving.
Blue. Her dress.
“Jess!” he cried incredulously.
Adam knelt, grabbing the edges of the grille, pulling in vain.
“Jess stay there!”
The figure turned. A pallid face with eyes like blots of soot stared back.
“No,” gasped Adam.
It was a girl.
She wore a blue dress.
It couldn’t have been Jess.
The girl ran away as Adam’s stomach churned.
Was that Jess? Had she fallen? Wandered somewhere?
“Jess,” he cried.
“She won’t hear ya, mate. Not from out there,” came a raspy voice.
Looking up, Adam noticed a vent set in the ceiling tiles. Within, a pair of eyes stared back. A grizzled man’s face caked with dirt and soot.
“Who are you!?” shouted Adam. “What have you done with her!?”
“She’s come in mate. Come to find someone. Everyone comes in for someone else.”
Another train began to rumble in the walls. Warm air spilled out from the grille, and with it, the faintest hint of a voice.
“You can find her mate,” said the man. “Just come in.”
Adam roared, grasping the grille, pulling so hard he tore the skin. With a crash, the metal door swung open. He leaned in to a dim space, lit by amber bulbs that cast a sickly glow. With bloody hands, he hauled himself into a narrow passage lined with cables and pipes.
“Yeah, that’s right,” came the man’s voice. “The good ones always come in.”
Adam shimmied along, following the passage left, then right. Every turn led to another and soon he couldn’t see the bright light of the corridor. Delving deeper, his clothes began to tear and his skin grew slick with grime and soot.
She must be in here. I’ll find her, I’ll search the whole place.
The tunnels echoed with the noise of trains, booms and thunderous sighs, screeches and somewhere deep within, he was certain, the sound of a girl’s voice.
About the Authors
Kurt Hunt was formed in the swamps and abandoned gravel pits of post-industrial Michigan. His short fiction has been published at Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, PodCastle, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Kaleidotrope, and more. He is also a co-author of Archipelago, a collaborative serial fantasy adventure.
Lisa Baldinelli is a 19 year old currently working for her double major in English Literature and History at Southern New Hampshire University. She has always loved writing ever since she first started doing it for fun in the fourth grade, but has never had the confidence to publish her work until now. Living on campus has fueled more of her creative spark, and she hopes she’ll have the opportunity to share that spark with the world again.
Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing linear and interactive fiction starring sentient black holes, wayward sea monsters, curious AIs and other oddities. His work has been published in Nature Futures, McSweeney’s and The Arcanist. Paul grew up by the beaches of Australia, then traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. On his adventures, Paul has been a startup founder, game designer and mentor to technology entrepreneurs.
About the Narrators
Originally born in Texas, Trendane Sparks eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.
Larissa is a Vancouver-based voice actor and producer, most recognized for her work on The Centropic Oracle, a science fiction and fantasy short story audio magazine available on YouTube, The Sojourn, an original science fiction audio drama & motion comic, and is the co-founder of the YouTube channel The Templin Institute.
Hollis Monroe is an award winning radio producer, opera and jazz singer and Shakespearean. He served as executive producer and also read for Iowa Public Radio’s “The Book Club” for many years and is an active voice actor, emcee and singer.