PseudoPod 841: Corporation


Corporation

by Tyler Jones


Sunlight blooms in the sky, rising up from behind all those glass and steel buildings. It burns away the dark blue. The Windows are still tinted from yesterday when I dimmed them. I touch the tablet to wake it up, then press the office icon. A new menu opens, I push the square with curtains. A control panel appears and I drag the fader down.

The glass grows clearer, lets in more light.

A shudder moves through the building. Framed awards, signed photographs of CEOs and politicians rattle against the walls. A golden apple paperweight shivers across the surface of the desk. The window vibrates, warps my reflection in the glass.

Work here long enough you get used to this, this shivering building.

I’m always the first to arrive because I still have some thing to prove. (Continue Reading…)

PseudoPod 821 Special Anniversary Episode: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT!


Featuring the story Celestial Shores

by Sarah Day and Tim Pratt


Towards the end of July 2022 we released a special episode to mark Alasdair Stuart’s 15 years as the voice of PseudoPod. It included the story Celestial Shores, written by Sarah Day and Tim Pratt and narrated by Alasdair and his partner, Marguerite Kenner, as well as special tributes to Al and other bits of voice goodness.

But it turned out there were things we hadn’t, quite, managed to squeeze into that release. So now, as a special early holiday gift, we present… THE DIRECTOR’S CUT! There’s some extra introductory chat, there are new, previously unheard tributes, there’s a beautiful selection of samples from the very best of Al’s outro work from across the years, there are even more hilarious out-takes, and the story itself, Celestial Shores, has a fabulous new sound bed.

We hope you enjoy it. And we promise you, it’s all true.


Britt drove silently while Ray gazed past her at the beauty of the rock-strewn ocean, beyond the sheer drop-offs and flimsy guardrails that separated the coast road from the end of the continent. They were farther north than he’d ever been in California, heading for Celestial Shores, a stretch of property that began life in the ‘70s as an intentional community and was now full of wealthy retirees with strong opinions about quiet hours and the evils of artificial light… and a few vacation rentals, one of which he’d snapped up at a reduced price on short notice as a way of apologizing for certain things without having to actually say he was sorry. (Continue Reading…)

PseudoPod 840: No Hungry Generations


No Hungry Generations

By Johnny Compton


The bird looked like the last descendent of a prehistoric mishap. Fatter than a turkey and wild-eyed even after death, it had small feet and a golden beard on its chest that may as well have been a neon sign reading ‘SHOOT HERE.’ Mother Nature must’ve been nursing a hangover when she made it and rushed the job, just wanting to get the day over with.

Mabel had never felt compassion for any animal the men of the family brought home after a hunt—circle of life and so on—but she felt a twinge of guilt looking at the plump carcass of this unfortunate thing. Hunting it would have been like playing dodge ball against a toddler.

She picked it up by its thick thighs. It was even heavier than it looked. Largest bird she’d ever cooked was a twenty-pounder. This one felt like it was north of thirty pounds. The neck was as fat as the end of a baseball bat, the body so round it was comical.

“Where in the world did you find this thing?” Mabel said.

“Woods, other side of the hill,” her husband, Josey, said. “Don’t think it’s a turkey.”

“I’m sure it’s not. I can’t say what it is.”

“Us neither,” he said, nodding to their sons, Brock and Bennet. “That’s why we bagged it.”

That’s why?” Mabel said. “How do we even know this thing’s edible?”

Josey shrugged. “It’s a bird. Big as it is, got to have some good meat on it.” What he lacked in size, looks, and charisma, he made up in stoicism. If he ever somehow woke up in the middle of sky, found himself plummeting to the earth, he’d probably yawn, stretch, and spend his remaining moments thinking of how others had been worse off than him. To Mabel, there was something irresistible about how he neither worried nor impressed easily. Those moments when she raised a legitimate concern about one thing or another, he just shrugged, as if to say, “It’ll work out, and if it doesn’t, we’ll make the best of it,” made her want to jump him on the spot.

She’d have him scratch that itch later. Right now, there was the question of what to do with this odd bird. Worst case scenario, the thing would give off a scent during prep or cooking that would let her know it wasn’t safe to eat. If she had to throw it out, it wouldn’t hurt anything. They already had two good fifteen-pound turkeys cleaned and marinating—one to be roasted, one to be smoked—which was more than enough to feed the family and provide leftovers, especially with the ham she was also making. Josey, Brock and Bennet had only gone out to see if they could find another bird because, what the hell, “more is more,” and what was Thanksgiving for if not feasting? They were blessed with land that was generous, and it had taken generations for their family to come upon such stable fortune. In Mabel’s view, turning down any gift the land provided made them ingrates.

“Need help with it?” Josey said.

“Just the usual before cooking. Brock, go grab Gale. She told me she wants to see how y’all do it.”

“I don’t know, Mom,” Brock said. “She says that, but she’s really kinda squeamish.”

“I’m aware,” Mabel said, and Brock put up no further protest to his daughter witnessing the gutting and cleaning.

“I’ll go get her,” he said.

“Thank you,” Mabel said. Then to all of them, “Go get washed up a little first. You all smell like you need three baths a piece.”

Josey smirked as much as he ever did and kissed her on the cheek before excusing himself from the kitchen. Brock and Bennet followed. Mabel turned her attention back to the bird. Alone with it now, that unexpected guilt for what she was about to do returned. Shouldn’t this thing be in the care and study of some scientist or wildlife expert? What if her men had plugged and bagged an endangered species? Now they were about to eat it. All but erase it from having ever been.

Taking a page from Josey’s book, she shrugged it off, then waited for Gale to join her. The little girl was tougher than her daddy gave her credit for. That, or she was just trying to be tougher, which was good enough for Mabel. It reminded her of herself when she was that young.


The aroma was as appetizing as it was thick. Damn near oppressive, if such a word could be applied as a compliment. Hell, that didn’t seem right at all, yet Mabel could think of no better description for the scent of the gilded non-turkey roasting in the oven. It was smoky-sweet, warm and tangy, and something else she had no word for, had never smelled before. It was meaty, but also light and flighty as the smell of pastries fresh out of the oven. One moment, it seemed to have hooks that dug in deep, then you’d sniff again and it would be gone, and you’d find yourself missing it so much, it ached. There had to be a word for this. Savory? She’d never quite known what people meant when they said something was savory. Was this it? If so, she was upset at having missed out on this flavor all her life. If this bird tasted half as good as it smelled, this was going to be the best dinner she ever had.

“If one more person asks me when that bird’s going to be ready, I’m gonna beat the lot of you unconscious,” Mabel said, after Bennet and his wife Ellie became the sixth and seventh members of the family to ask.

“Just as long as you wake us up when it’s done,” Josey said. That got a good laugh out of the household, although there was a hint of discomfort within the laughter, like everyone was trying to convince themselves that the aroma wasn’t getting to them. Mabel understood how they felt. She was in the kitchen with Gale and the girl’s mother—Katie—putting the final touches on the rest of Thanksgiving dinner. Every minute or so she had to quell the urge to take the bird out of the oven, tear off a leg and have at it. It felt like her stomach was a bottomless well, and wanted no part of anything else they had prepared: five baked pies, two turkeys, a glazed ham, stuffing, collard greens, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, roasted corn, cornbread.

When the food was ready, the family gathered around the two tables in the dining room. They had barely said a word to each other for the last fifteen minutes. During the blessing—which Josey rushed through so quickly that “in Jesus’ name, amen” became “njeeznamen”—Mabel peeked at the beautiful bird at the center of the longer table. She saw that Brock, Katie, and both of Bennet’s sons also had their eyes open and fixed on it as well. A predatory instinct switched on in her, and she wanted to leap across the table and pounce on the bird before the others got to it first. This quickly subsided, replaced by concern.

Get rid of it, she thought. Throw it out, then throw away the trash can you threw it in. That thing is wrong. The thought came and went like a lousy door-to-door salesman, full of initial bluster, then sheepish upon rejection. There was no way she was going to throw that bird out. Her family might tear her apart if she attempted it, which was further proof that she should get rid of the thing, but she couldn’t see it that way at the moment. Beyond that, the anticipation of discovering a new, lovely flavor—feeling that dead muscle between her teeth, licking the juices from her lips—was almost unbearable. You could scrap waterboarding, electric shocks, and any other interrogation tactics. Just roast this bird, sit it in front of somebody and tell them they don’t get a bite until they tell you everything they know. You’d run out of ink and paper before they were half-finished confessing.

Papa Clay, Josey’s dad, handled the carving. He was pushing eighty and suffering from a life of landscaping labor, booze-fueled partying, and, much more recently, rheumatoid arthritis. His hands shook when he took the electric carver to the bird. It took everything in Mabel not to yell at her father-in-law to hurry the hell up or pass the carver to his son.

Any other year, she and Josey made sure Papa Clay was served first, then they helped their sons and daughters-in-law make plates for the children. Now, though, when Papa Clay was done, Mabel speared a piece of breast meat with her fork and took a bite before it made it to her plate. Josey didn’t bother with a fork, grabbing a handful of breast meat instead. Apparently, seeing where this was going and realizing she might be left with scraps if she waited for the adults or her older cousins to feed her, little Gale jumped up on the table and scrambled to get at the bird. By then, everyone was digging in, all with their hands, which was a blessing, because if any of them had taken Mabel’s lead and used a fork, someone would have gotten stabbed.

What prevented them from truly fighting each other was that it would take away from precious eating time. They were content to shove, grunt, throw an elbow here or a kick under the table there, until they could stuff their mouths and be overcome by the taste for a moment, eyes rolling back, obscene sounds of delight coming from them. Then they would swallow and be consumed again by the thought of eating more.

Part of Mabel, well past being appalled at their primitive, unmannerly behavior, was frightened by what was happening. But that small piece of her normal self was like a single, quiet cry for help amidst a crowd roaring with laughter. The intensity of the bird’s flavor occupied every sense she had. It made her skin tingle, it made her hear cool whispers that tickled her inner ear. She saw everyone and everything around her shining like they were made of sunlight, and each time she swallowed a bite and all of those feelings went away, it made her want to cry, until she set her sights on the next bite.

The family reduced the carcass to bones in just under ten minutes. Mabel felt exhausted and overstuffed, and a little regretful that they hadn’t saved any for later. Then, like the others, she fell asleep in her chair as though drugged, leaving the remaining food untouched.


“Gramma, I don’t feel good.”

It was Gale, nudging Mabel’s shoulder to wake her up. Mabel had heard the girl’s voice in a dream she was having, in which she saw a gaunt, sallow face that barely resembled her granddaughter accompanying the voice. When she woke up and saw the girl was still her rosy-cheeked self—a little sad-eyed, but nothing worse—a wave of relief hit her hard enough to restore her mind. She pushed her chair away from the table and surveyed the room. Daylight still beamed through the windows. She hadn’t checked the exact time before dozing off, but knew they set the table a little before two that afternoon. She looked at her watch, saw that the date hadn’t changed and that it was almost three o’clock. At least she hadn’t been out for too long. Around the table, everyone else was either dead asleep or groggily waking up.

“I don’t feel good,” Gale said again.

A gripping pain tightened Mabel’s stomach. It wasn’t unfamiliar. Once upon a time, when she was much younger, she’d known what it was like to go a day or two without eating. She would never forget the hollow pain of going hungry. But that didn’t make sense, given how she had just gorged herself.

“I don’t feel so good either,” she said to Gale. “Probably none of us will. We all ate too much.”

Gale shook her head. “It’s not that. When I woke up, I was hungry. I was so hungry it was like…it was like when I got in the ivy and couldn’t stop scratching. Remember? It was like that, but with being hungry. I felt it all over. I had to eat something. I wanted more of that bird we made, but there’s none left. So I ate some turkey instead, and it tasted so rotten I wanted to spit it out, but I had to eat something. But now I feel sick. It’s getting worse and worse, Gramma. I think I might need to…”

The child choked down a burp that Mabel knew was precursor to her throwing up. She stood up, took Gale by the hand, and rushed her down the hall to the nearest bathroom. She held Gale’s hair back while she purged. Long retches wracked the girl, curved her back and made her sob in pain when she could catch her breath between heaves.

We made a mistake, Mabel thought. I knew I should have thrown that thing out. I knew it.

The sound of someone else in the house getting sick reinforced this belief. Then she heard two others retching.

Mabel called out to the household, “Y’all, don’t eat anything else! Something’s wrong with the food!”

That wasn’t the real truth, she knew. Nothing was wrong with any of the other food. Gale had said the turkey tasted rotten, but that couldn’t have been true. No truer than the stabbing, brutal hunger Mabel was fighting against now. It tried to pull her from her granddaughter, pull her back to the dining room to eat the first thing she saw. Ham, pie, greens, anything. But even thinking of what those things smelled like, seeing them in her mind, made her gag. It was like she saw them with flies or worms crawling out of them. Smelled them after they’d been outdoors for weeks. Still, she had to try to eat something soon. She was so hungry, she was getting a headache.

Someone knocked on the bathroom door as Gale spit up the last of what was in her stomach. “Who’s there?” Mabel said.

The door opened and Josey walked in. The only thing that could have made Mabel forget about eating, even for a moment, was the look on his face. She recalled the time Josey helped a woman who went into labor at the state fair deliver her baby before paramedics arrived. The whole time, he had looked like he was talking to a neighbor about the weather. The same went for the time Josey told a knife-wielding man at a bar that he either needed to come on with it—get to fighting—or go home and get a head start on sleeping off his hangover. She had thought Josey was incapable of getting scared. As it turned out, he was saving all of his fear for a moment like this, when he needed to say more with his wide eyes, parted lips, and heavy breaths than he could with a ten-minute speech.

“We’re in trouble, Mabes,” he said. “Something ain’t right.”

“I’m aware,” Mabel said. When Gale whimpered, Mabel put her arms around the girl and brought her close, but resisted the urge to say things were going to be okay. She couldn’t see how lying to the girl would do any good.


It didn’t take long for the family to sample the remaining food and discover it all tasted contaminated or spoiled, to put it mildly, and that swallowing any of it made you ill. Bennet, Ellie, and their two sons remained in denial long enough to make themselves sick thrice. Everybody else took their first and only experience as all the evidence they needed.

“What’s happening to us, Mom?” Bennet said. “I feel like I haven’t eaten in a week. I’m exhausted, I’m hurting. I don’t understand what’s going on. You think maybe that bird gave us some kind of food poisoning?”

“Could be,” Mabel said, though she didn’t believe this, and saw on their faces that no one else did either. Food poisoning. If only they were so fortunate. They could go to a hospital for that. The bird had done something else to them, and none of them could pretend otherwise. She sighed. “I really don’t think that’s it, though. I wish it was that simple.”

“What are we gonna do?” Brock said.

“Y’all said you found that bird where, again?” Mabel said. “Other side of the hill?”

“In the woods out there,” Josey said. “Where we should’ve left it.”

“Too late for that,” Mabel said. “If there was one of them there, there has to be more. And we all need to eat something soon.”

“I’m not sure that’s the best idea.”

“I don’t have a better one, Josey. Do you?”

He shook his head, and if his headache were as bad as hers, she thought that must have been blindingly painful. But he didn’t show it.

“You’re right,” he said. “Boys, get your rifles. Let’s go.”

“Let’s all go,” Mabel said. “We need as many eyes looking out for it as we can get.”

Brock said, “That ain’t the best thing to do when you’re hunting, Mom.”

“No, she’s right,” Josey said. “We don’t have to worry about scaring it off. That thing didn’t even turn its head when it heard us, remember? It stood there and waited like it wanted us to get it.”

You should have told me that, Mabel thought. I would’ve trusted my gut and gotten rid of it if I had known that. But she couldn’t know if that was true, and blaming her men for doing what she was normally happy to see them do wasn’t a productive course to take. “You heard your father. We’re all going. Come on, we’re all in this together.”

A few minutes later, as they shuffled out of the house like malnourished prisoners on a forced march, Mabel gave the beautiful house she and Josey had built a long look. She hated to leave it in such poor shape, with some of them having gotten sick on the dining room floor, others in the kitchen. What would other people think when they saw how her family had left the house? Lord, why was she thinking of it that way, like it was going to sit there unoccupied until some friends stopped by to check on them and were stopped dead at the door by the smell? Why was she thinking of it like they weren’t going to come back tonight, or at all?


The hunger had teeth. It ate her alive as she walked. Enduring it, and being in the woods where her men found the bird, gave Mabel excruciating clarity about what had happened to her family. The suffering was like a darkly religious experience. Enlightening in a hideous way. She thought she understood now why sacrifices were once common, why some even volunteered for it. Why some zealots practiced self-flagellation or wore hairshirts. Pain had revelatory potential. It wasn’t worth it. Mabel would rather remain ignorant. Moreover, she’d rather her sons and her grandchildren didn’t have to go through this.

They hardly spoke as they walked, save for the rare occasion when they mistakenly thought they saw a large bird with a bright beard behind a tree or in the brush. Their collective silence told Mabel more than she wanted to hear. It told her they were all stuck in their thoughts, probably thinking similar things. Like how they were all just made of meat and blood encased in skin. Ingredients. That’s all any living thing was. An eater made of parts meant to be eaten. Destined someday to be soil for plants, or nutrients for bugs, or fuel for a fire if you elected cremation. Before your time came, though, if you went long enough without eating, your own body would turn you into food, eating whatever it could spare, for as long as it could.

These were simple truths. Common knowledge, even, except most people never thought about it. Mabel couldn’t get it out of her mind, along with a few other things. Like how nature—or whatever held seniority above it—might try to curb humankind once it got too voracious. How long would it let people devour more than their share? Let them believe that they were so much more than mere flesh? Why not use their appetite against them? Few among them would resist eating something so delicious it not only made everything else taste rancid, it made your body awaken to the truth of its decay, the truth that it was fated to be a meal far less memorable. Even if they knew ahead of time what would happen, they’d still take a bite.

Mabel imagined Mother Nature grinning at her plot, thinking, Since you all can’t help yourselves, here you go, help yourselves.

The echoing clap of a rifle shot brought Mabel out of her thoughts. She turned back to see Josey pointing his gun at Papa Clay. The older man was dead on the ground, a bloody hole in his chest. Josey’s shoulders slumped. He sniffled once before straightening up and turning around.

“He asked me to,” Josey said.

Mabel narrowed her eyes like she couldn’t make out what she saw, then something told her to look around, pay attention to her surroundings. For the first time, she noticed that dusk had settled in. When had they left the house? No later than four o’clock. They had been walking in the woods for a couple of hours. For an arthritic old man whose body told him he was starving, it might as well have been a couple of days. His pain was more than he could bear. That, or seeing three generations of his family as they were—food in waiting—was too much for him. Mabel had no doubt Josey told the truth. Papa Clay asked to be killed, even if no one else heard him say the words.

The children whined at the sight, too weak to muster a proper cry. Mabel saw Brock and Katie sharing a glance and nodding at each other. Brock winced from the movement.

“Momma,” Katie said, pushing Gale toward Mabel, “would you take her, please? Brock and I…um…”

She turned to Brock, who said, “I think we’ve got to split up if we’re going to find this thing. We got to find it fast before any more of us…Well, we have to cover more ground. But it’s getting too dark, and I don’t want to accidentally shoot Gale out here. She’ll be…she’ll be safer with you.”

Tears filled Mabel’s eyes. “That’s not a good idea. We should stick together.”

“Mom, it’s okay,” Brock said. “I know you’ll take care of her.”

“Listen to me, boy. I’m your mother. Tell him, Josey. We have to stay together.”

Josey was barely present, though. He was still looking at his father, and didn’t react when Mabel called on him.

“Keep looking, Mom,” Brock said, “and if you find that thing before we do, please take care of Gale first, okay?”

Then he turned with Katie to make their own path, away from the group. Mabel moved toward them, intending to run, but she was in no shape for that, and when Gale grabbed her wrist, she stopped.

A few minutes later, after the group returned to walking and searching, a gunshot sounded off in the distance. Mabel let herself hope for a moment that Brock had found the bird and killed it. She started to say they should turn back to find them. Then the second shot rang out. She knew it wouldn’t take two shots to bring the bird down, and that the odds that Brock and Katie had found two of those things were infinitely slimmer than the likelihood that they’d found their own way out of this misery.


Bennet, Elaine and their boys stopped ‘to rest’ around midnight.

“Go on ahead, we’ll catch up,” Bennet said.

More than she wanted to tell them to keep on, that they had walked too long to give up now, Mabel wanted to lie down with them. She couldn’t do that, however, any more than she could make them keep going. She had to look after Gale. So she gave Bennet, Elaine, and her grandsons each a kiss, then let them go without a fuss. Let them have their peace instead of dying with the knowledge that they were breaking her heart. They probably knew that, anyway.

Mabel knew she wouldn’t hear shots after she left them. They would let death come to them on its own, in its own time, and it would not take long.

Josey trailed her and Gale as they walked toward the moon like it was there to guide them. Mabel made herself think Josey was protecting them from any threat that could creep up behind them. As if it wouldn’t be a mercy for a cougar or coyote to accelerate inevitability, free them from their final illusions of survival. Maybe Josey really lagged because he was thinking the same thing, that ending things soon and swiftly, as he had with his father, would be the last and best thing he could do for his remaining family. He was back there unsure of who he should shoot first, torn up by the decision. He would lose his nerve if she looked back at him, so Mabel kept her eyes forward, kept Gale moving with her, kept praying for Josey to have strength, for his aim to be true. She did not pray for salvation. Not until she saw the soft, golden light seeping through the branches ahead.

Her heart almost stopped, and she willed herself not to faint. She begged God to let this be real, please don’t let it be a mirage. Please, Lord.

The trees made a hushing sound as a breeze passed, carrying with it a scent that made Mabel’s mouth water. It smelled fresh like fruit, but more succulent. Warm, as well. Her stomach growled and she held it like she believed it would open a mouth of its own if she didn’t put her hand over it.

“Gramma…Gramma, I smell food,” Gale said, panting with excitement.

“Me too,” Mabel said, beginning to wonder if this was a trap. What else could it be? They were just food themselves, after all. Nothing more. What was more likely, that they had lucked upon something as irresistible as that one-of-a-kind bird, or that they were being baited by a clever, unknown predator? Didn’t their hunter know, though, that deception wasn’t necessary? Their prey was ready to fall down, too famished and weak to fight or flee. This trick was pointless, and crueler than killing.

“Josey, do you see this, too? And do you smell that? It’s like…I can’t tell what it is, but we’ve got to try to get to it, don’t we? Josey?”

She knew before she turned around that he wouldn’t be there. How long ago had he left them? Why hadn’t he at least given her a chance to say goodbye? She knew the answer to that last question. She would have wanted to stay with him. Then she would have come to her senses, remembered that she owed it to Gale to keep going, but they would have lost some time, and who knew how much more time they had? Every second might be valuable, and she’d have spent minutes trying to talk Josey out of giving up, then talking herself out of staying with him, then finally telling him to hold her seat at the table wherever he ended up. Those minutes might have cost them this moment, this chance.

“Thank you, Josey,” Mabel said.

Gale pulled Mabel’s armto get her moving again. “Gramma, come on. We’re close. We can eat and take some back to Momma and Pop and everyone else.”

“Yes, we can,” Mabel said, getting more lightheaded with each step toward the light. She could hardly lift her free arm to move the thin, lower branches of trees that brushed and scratched her face. Barely had the strength to duck beneath the ones she couldn’t push away. It was all she could do to keep from dropping to her knees, knowing Gale would try to drag her the rest of the way.

When they broke into a clearing, they slid down a brief slope that brought them before a sprawling tree with a shimmering, bright yellow bark that almost looked metallic. Its unnatural shine stung Mabel’s eyes, and the aroma emanating from it was so tantalizing, she thought its source must be evil. Nothing good could come of something so tempting.

As her eyes adjusted, she saw things that whittled at her sanity. The tree’s size spoke to its age. It had to be ancient to have grown so wide, to have structural roots larger than the trunks of every other tree nearby. But it couldn’t have been here all this time. They’d have seen this glow before. They should have seen it earlier tonight. It was as if it had hidden itself until it wanted to be seen. What had brought it to life now, at this time of year? The answer was in the question. It was the time of year. What the family did every fourth Thursday in November, that’s what brought it to life. It was the day they were least apt to question any bounty granted to them, no matter how unusual. They would count it as a blessing and be thankful for their giving land.

Large, bulbous protrusions grew from some of the roots. Oval shaped and speckled, they did not look like they were made of what the rest of the tree was made of. When one shuddered and cracked, Mabel understood what they were. Eggs. She didn’t need to see one of them open up to know an ugly bird, identical to the one they had eaten, would emerge. The realization should have made her sick, but it just made her salivate more. If only she had the tools on hand to clean and gut one of those birds, the energy to build a fire. She’d break the rest of the shell open with her hands to get to what was inside, have it roasting over a flame in no time.

“Gramma, help. I can’t reach.” For a moment, she couldn’t tell where Gale’s voice came from, and the last reserves she had were spent on panic. She circled the tree and found the girl on the other side, trying to climb one of the lower branches to get to hanging clusters that looked like fist-sized, blue strawberries. Mabel looked up and saw a variety of oversized fruits, all in strange or vivid colors. Silvery grapes, apples with mirrored, ruby skin. The tree trembled, seemingly of its own accord, and sent down a wave of enticing fragrances.

“Gramma, please,” Gale said.

“I’m coming,” Mabel said, but as she stepped toward her granddaughter to give her a boost, a root caught her foot, and she collapsed against the tree.

Not now, she thought, as she felt her consciousness start to fade. Not this close. Let me just help her. After that, take me away. But let me help her, for heaven’s sake, I’m begging you. She wasn’t praying to God, but to the tree, and knew immediately that it heard her.

She didn’t feel the piercing at first, then felt every place that a root was jabbing through her all at once. A tingling sensation spread through her, followed by a softening of her bones and slippage of her skin. It was agony, but nothing she couldn’t tolerate for the rest of her life, given how short that would be. She refused to scream. If her courage broke, Gale’s would, too.

“It’s okay,” she said as Gale stared at her. Mabel wondered if she’d only mouthed the words. She couldn’t hear anything anymore. Her senses faded by the second as the tree fed from her, which was good. It lessened the pain. She thought the tree did this deliberately. Whatever its agenda, it didn’t want her to suffer. Just to be sustenance.

For Gale, it wanted something else. It wanted to nourish and adopt her. Bring her up for some other purpose. Maybe to lure others here to be made food for the woods and its inhabitants. Maybe to help the tree keep others away. Mabel only understood that the tree wanted to keep Gale alive. She could not tell if part of her consciousness—her protectiveness—was infecting the tree while it devoured her, or if it had planned this for Gale all along. Her head said it was the latter, but her heart said the former, and she made the choice to believe that. She deserved that minor relief before dying, didn’t she?

She raised her hand to touch Gale’s face—let her know she would be fine on her own—but shuddered at her own reflection when she saw a large, jewel-like apple sprouting from her palm. Gale hesitated only a moment before ripping the apple from Mabel’s hand and biting it like it was the neck of an animal she meant to kill. Its juice was a lighter shade of red, and it spilled down Gale’s chin. The little girl shut her eyes in bliss before taking another bite, then sat down and held the apple close like it was a favorite doll and she was pretending it was her child.

If Mabel could have smiled, she would have, but she was more soil than human now, and her consciousness joined her body and crumbled into the earth.

PseudoPod 839: The Only Thing Different Will Be the Body


The Only Thing Different Will Be The Body

by J.A.W. McCarthy


My great-grandfather was an angel.

When I told men that, they laughed. When I made it clear I was serious, they looked at me like I was crazy. For some, their eyes took on a blood-flushed sheen as they calculated the kind of fuck I’d be. Those men were the typical ones, the wrong ones. The best ones—the almost, maybe, please be right ones—dared me to prove it.

Tonight’s man—Aaron, as he introduced himself upon pouring my third drink—grinned, lips parted on the edge of a laugh, when I told him. His smile twitched then flattened as I let the silence hang in the air between us. Prosecco sat uncorked, warming in the tepid swirl of bodies all around us. Marshmallowy perfume and patchouli-heavy body spray muddied the rich spice of the bourbon in front of me. Aaron’s eyes wandered somewhere beyond my head, perhaps assessing who might’ve heard my declaration and if they would judge his response. Still, I said nothing. Aaron cleared his throat.

“Define angel,” he said, a hint of a grin still hanging on.

“A celestial being, fallen from heaven.” (Continue Reading…)

PseudoPod 838: Old Haunts


Old Haunts

By Orrin Grey


Kim Parks considered himself something of a connoisseur of the haunted attractions that sprang up every year around Halloween. While he was getting his masters, he had been to haunted attractions all over the country—New Orleans, St. Louis, New York.

He worked as a systems analyst for a major telephone company, a job that required him to travel all over but that kept him occupied only during the daylight hours. At night, he was left to his own devices, and during the month of October those devices took him unfailingly to the doorsteps of the haunted houses.

Every city had one or two, most had more. Some were professionally run, put on by people who attended the HauntWorld trade show in St. Louis every year, but Kim was particularly fond of the more amateur affairs—the haunted equivalent of putting on a show in the barn.

He was not, in any of his other habits, a morbid individual. At work he wore suits in colors with names like “charcoal” and “fawn.” ‘There was nothing to mark Kim out as a habitue of haunts, yet some exploratory urge drove him to them, time and again.

After a while, they became so uniform—dark rooms and strobe lights and men in masks wielding chainsaws with the chains re- moved—that every deviation was like a precious stone unearthed unexpectedly in his driveway. These deviations became what he lived for. (Continue Reading…)

PseudoPod 837: Offerings


Offerings

By Joe Koch


Blaine’s head hurts at the sight of Amelia shuffling up the block. Hot from raking leaves, Blaine stretches as she admires her new house in her new neighborhood. The cold pinch of October air and brisk setting sun anticipate kids pouring in tomorrow at dusk. This is prime candy territory, nothing like the streets where Blaine grew up. Children don’t trick or treat in Blaine’s old neighborhood, not with the fires and gunshots. Down there, they call it Devil’s Night. Blaine’s worked her way up and out, from dishwasher to sous chef to culinary manager. She’s hosting her nieces and nephews at the new house tomorrow, and she expects to show them the flawless picture of safety and charm she’s paying for. Being a member of this community doesn’t come cheap. Looking down the block, it’s a perfect Norman Rockwell until Amelia enters the frame.

Amelia is the neighborhood chimera. Big moist eyes, throbbing temple bones and a perpetual brood in tow mark her as an anomaly. Maybe she runs some sort of daycare. Low cost, out of her home. The couple across from Blaine points her out as Amelia Something—do you think she even has a license? They raise their eyebrows in knowing distaste. Fiftyish and dressed for golf no matter the day of the week, they interrogate Blaine. By the time they spot Amelia, Blaine’s relieved to shift the critique to the other woman’s childcare credentials. She feels wrong about it later when Amelia shambles by. Nervous and harried, Amelia wanders the upscale streets like a restless spirit locked in a magic circle of misbehaving mongrel children. (Continue Reading…)

Anthologies and Collections from 2022: Dream Warriors


Here at PseudoPod we believe that short stories in anthologies (pieces by different authors) and collections (pieces from a single author) deserve to be seen by more readers. We, and our audience, love short fiction and we never have enough slots to run everything we’d like to in a year – but what we can do is shine a light on some of the many, many books that feature amazing selections of stories.

With that in mind, we put out an anthologies and collections call in the summer of 2022. Since then, our dedicated editorial team have been reading and discussing stories and… wooooeee, we have some amazing pieces coming up for you in the coming months.


Here’s a summary of the books we plan to feature in 2022 and 2023: (Continue Reading…)

The Halloween Parade

PseudoPod 836: The Halloween Parade


The 2022 Halloween Parade

by Alasdair Stuart


The parade this year feels brittle. At least at first. It reminds you of that first step into a swimming pool, wondering if it will be too hot or too cold. You brace yourself for sharp contrast, face the suck, breathe through it. And then you’re there.

There’s an opening act waiting for you — the horror of wondering how many participants and attendees will be masked. No float. Just you, your too-conscious breath, and too many visible faces for complete comfort.

Nonetheless, you settle in a good spot. With churros in hand and your own mask nearby, you wait for the parade to begin.

The Controller walks the road as she always does, masked as she always is now, and then turns. Spreading her hands wide, the street fills with smoke… (Continue Reading…)