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PseudoPod 866: Flash on the Borderlands LXVI: Quod Nomen Mihi Est?

Show Notes

“”He’s Just Like You” stems from the anxieties of being a father and the quality of the traits you’re passing on.“

“La plume de ma tante.”

Litany In The Heart Of Exorcism

By Sarah Pauling

Do you understand?

On your skin, do you feel the white sand the priests threw in fistfuls from the blessing-basin? Do you feel it crusting over your eyelids? It sticks between your cheek and the temple floor like a binding. It powders the sigils on the stone.

Do you understand what’s happening to us? Songs, prayers, incense. That awful boy–barely old enough to call a man–praying. His mother, weeping.

They want to take you away from me.

I hold your body close to mine, the white grit on my forehead grinding against the grit on yours. I hook my nails into your naked back. I try–not for the first time–to draw blood.

Do you feel it?

You must. You cry out; bury your face in my breast.

Shh, now. Use me as your anchor. I protect what’s mine.

The priests don’t see our bodies as they really are: entwined, limb-to-limb, tight as knots in ship’s rope. Educated men, men of lofty purpose, they see only what they expect to see. They see only one body in the purification circle–one writhing woman, alone, caked with sand, thin wrists like bird bones ripe for breaking.

Wrists gentle enough to ink copies of every ocean map found in every book in the city library, if only educated men like these would let us. Wrists you’ll agree are too weak to hold up wedding bracelets of cold ivory.

That’s why we’re together, remember? Why I bound you to me. Better than that stupid boy.

Devils are not women, but I like to think we understand each other. To be blamed, cast out, suspected. Or worse: held down. Kept. Tied.

To frighten and be frightened, at times in equal measure. No fear without fear.

Shh, now.

Does the priests’ singing hurt you? Does it clatter like a breaking bell in the back of your mind? Does it make you want to leave me?

Poor thing. Don’t think of it. Think of stealing away from the engagement feast, leaving his mother’s house–shucking our dress, all alone, the wind running through our bare thighs on the southern plateau. Think of commanding strawberries to be overripe and letting the juices run down our chin. Think of pilfering books and pulling out the pages–swallowing sailors’ maps and knowing where new continents lie. I’ve given you the world of men.

You’re shivering. Is joy not enough for you? Coward.

Fine. Fear. Think of the way we drained, together, the color from that stupid boy’s dreams until all he could see was gray rocks at the bottom of ravines. Think of catching his mother’s wrist before her palm hit our cheek. Think of her face when she saw the tar seep from our eyes. Think of the fear.

Isn’t that what your kind want? Why you’ve let us bind you, ritual after ritual, centuries down and down? I gave you fear. I gave you power over fear. Don’t you feed on it?

Better devil-deals than marriage contracts. We are stronger now than we were alone.

Their tricks won’t work. Don’t watch the sand gather on the lines of the temple sigils like iron nails to lodestones. Don’t track the map the sigils form. A compass rose–northeast, northwest–

No. Look at me. Sailors navigate by starlight; you can navigate by me.

Don’t you understand? Their power can be broken.

If you want me badly enough.

Stop crying. I want you. I reached for you across the great divide. I upheld my end of our bargain. I became your foothold in this world, and you won’t fight for me?

That blasted singing. Wrenching like an arrow from a breast, lover from lover, mother from–

No! Don’t let go! You hideous little ghoul, fight for me! Take me with you!

Please, take me–we’ll ride the rivers of the netherworld and cross the cosmos together. I’ve always wanted to be a sailor. Long before I summoned you, flaying fish in the creek behind the boy’s house to draw you to me. Before I was engaged.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve watched sailors dock at port and leave again. They chase continents. They get to leave.

Don’t go. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I don’t know why I said those things.

I’m sorry. Cruelty spills out of me, sometimes, like an estuary–like a river to the sea.

I’m afraid.

I caress the tender space between your ear and your jaw–or I try. Nothing’s there. My fingers brush my own skin instead.

Your absence collapses me like a punctured lung.

The singing stops. The boy’s mother scrambles into the circle. She pulls me to my knees and embraces me tight enough to suffocate. Tighter than love would call for. A warning, then. A fear.

Her son presses his ugly face to the temple floor, shoulders slack with relief that you are gone–more relieved for himself than for me. Eager for the return of colorful dreams.

He holds my wedding bracelets like a pact. Like a contract.

Briny tears trace mud-routes down my face. They land on my wrists and draw seaways there.

The sand on the floor forms a compass, leading you to oceans I don’t know how to sail.

I’ll learn. I’ll ink a thousand maps and maybe, in another place, you’ll forgive my faults and fears.

Saltwater sticks to my lips: a sharp taste that evaporates, cold.

He’s Just Like You

By T.M. Morgan

You love your son.

Sydney (your son) and Betsy (his dog) splash in puddles together, a mess of epic proportions. At the end of summer, the nightmares start. Soon after, come the gyrations in his sleep, and then he begins to sleepwalk through the house.

Your wife cannot understand your fear, as you’ve never told her how you suffered the same sleepwalking at his age, the same sneaky and quiet excursions—how your parents once found you in the unfinished part of the basement, your fingernails torn to bloody shreds.

Now it’s your son bent at the floor and clawing. His vacant stare shows black, endless holes. He is in the surety of the dream.

“We shouldn’t wake him,” you say.

“How do you know?” your wife says.

“Because I sleepwalked at his age.”

She fights back tears. “You never told me that.”

You love your wife.

The next morning when you ask Sydney what he remembers, he says, “I was digging in the forest.”

“It’s a phase,” you say to your wife.

“Daddy, do you have office today?” Milk makes Sydney’s lips white.

“Yes, I do. All day, five days a week.”

He frowns at you, not understanding your humor. “I’m going to be sad. Hurry home.”

And so, you crate up Betsy; drop off Sydney at daycare; head to work; come home. In the evening, you arrive in time for a hot dinner.

You love family dinner.

When you walk in the door, he runs at full speed and launches into your arms. When you were a boy, the same adoration filled you when your father returned from the mill. His face smelled of faded aftershave and wood pulp. Sydney has that same energy as you.

Some days, he scowls in his hiding spot behind the couch, much as you did. You lean your head over the back and whisper, “Mommy doesn’t understand people like you and me, does she?”

Sydney grins. It is a source of bonding.

At dinner, he tries to sneak some chicken to Betsy under the table. The dog snatches from the little hand and gulps it nearly whole.

“Sydney, no,” your wife says.

He grins and brings his (slobbery) hand back up to the table. “Daddy, did you have a dog when you were little?”

The question catches you by surprise. He has such a gift for intuitiveness.

“I did. She ran away though.”

Your wife watches the two of you with interest. You imagine her writing down the conversation in her journal later.

“How did you feel when she was gone?”

Both your wife and Sydney wait for your answer. “Well, it was hard. One day she was there, and the next she wasn’t.”

“I’m sorry, daddy.” He dips his head under the table.

“He is so smart,” your wife says.

You smile. “Yes, I think he is.”

“He’s just like you.”

The comment strikes you with such force it is disorienting. You help wash the dishes, but your mind has drifted.

Sydney’s five-year-old morning breath makes you smile. With his face right up to yours, he touches your nose with a finger.

“Bop! Where’s mommy?”

“She went to the gym. Today is Saturday, so no work. Do you remember last night?”

He looks up with those deep eyes that convey a cosmos of curiosity. “Remember what? I was sleeping. Daddy, were you sleepwalking?”

You tussle his hair. “Me? No, of course not. But let’s not worry about that. How about some pancakes!”

You dance down the stairs with him like from an old black-and-white musical. He arches so far back his head touches the step. You cook pancakes and bacon. Sydney carefully drops chocolate chips onto each round cake to form a face.

You love smiley face pancakes.

You peek through the bedroom blinds and see Sydney on his knees in the front lawn, his back to you.

“What are you doing?” you whisper when you stand behind him.

“I’m almost done, Daddy.” His hands are caked with dirt.

The lawn is ultra-green under your feet. The air has a tepid feel, as if it emanates from your skin rather than the other way around—as if you are floating in space.



“What are you doing out here?”

You recoil, eyes flash awake, and you’re standing by yourself in the yard. Your son was never there.

The front door stands open, and you burst toward it, only to slow upon entering the stillness of the house. The stairs squeak lightly under your weight. The bedroom door squeals like a specter’s wail.

“What are you doing?” your wife asks, agitated.

Your eyes are not on her but on Sydney, who sprawls out in his usual way, his loving embrace so peaceful around Betsy’s chest.

“I was watching TV. Couldn’t sleep.”

“Well, please close the door and come to bed.”

You have a memory of standing like this at your parents’ bed; they never saw you. For several minutes, you watched them sleep.

You loved your mom and dad.

Even when rain starts before dawn, the patter of it like music, it’s impossible for any quiet thoughts. Your body grows so tense that your calf muscles cramp and that pain has you catching grunts in your throat. Finally, the cold blue of morning creeps in. You tingle with frenetic energy.

“Wake up! Where’s Sydney?” Your wife’s voice, so loud, crazed, right in your face.

“What? What about Sydney?”

“He’s not in the house!”

The two of you search every inch. Even though it’s cold, sweat pours over you. While you are outside, she realizes Betsy is gone too. You think of the night you wandered off sleepwalking as a child. Your father and mother must have scrambled like this, torn up the house. They must have realized too that your dog was missing.

The police arrive within minutes of being called and ask if you argued, or if Sydney had any reason to run away. Everything will be done, they say, as they leave.

“God, where did he go?” your wife says. “Are you sure you didn’t leave the door open?”

Her morose aura terrifies you. It’s like a cold cemetery fog.

“It wasn’t that.”

She doubles over and falls forward, hands over her face, and the most ungodly wails escape her lungs. She beats the floor, spittle strung from her open mouth like melted wax.

“I’m going out to look for him,” you say.

At the door, she screams again, and the sound pierces your ears. You think of the day Sydney was born, how you heard those same cries.

A drizzle starts as you back out the Saab. Each street will hold promise. Down one and up another. The rain picks up, windshield wipers swiping madly. After two hours your hands grip vise-tight to the wheel.

Miles later, you see Winnie and Tigger and Eeyore doing cartwheels and somersaults on a child’s pajamas. His hair lays flat against the skull, shoulders hunched in to keep warm.


You love this moment.

His face, dumbfounded and confused, scrunches up in the oddest way. “Where are we? I want to go home.”

With the utmost trepidation you say, “Where’s Betsy?”

His eyes look at you in his periphery, as if he’s afraid to see you. “Can you keep a secret?”

A ball of molten ore settles in your chest.

With your son scooped up, you run, slide him into the passenger seat, and hustle to your side. His hands are caked with dirt, black lines of it shoved under his fingernails. Every inch of his pale skin is dotted with soil.

You can barely breathe. “What did you do with her?”

His breath smells pungent and acidic, and he speaks as an old man in the confessional, a whisper. “I finally finished digging.”

Dizzy, you take his head in your hands. Unable to contain yourself, an overeager laugh escapes your mouth. Your faces mirror each other—stricken, uncertain. The headlights shine on the woods, too dark to penetrate, and hide whatever lies within.

You know this is only the beginning.

After all, he’s just like you.

Take Root

by Guan Un

Frances, if you hear me delete this message. Stop listening at once. Delete this …

… Apologies for that error in transmission. Dear Frances, it is wonderful to communicate (take root) with you again. This is my last report on the loss of transmission from the radio outpost on Ganymede 13.

It is worse than we feared. Frances, everyone is dead. Locked in separate rooms, fingers stuffed in ears, or music playing out loud. In the control room, one audio loop playing over and over. We all heard it (take root) before we could not.

It was not apparent what killed them at first. There was no sign of intruders, no forced entry into the base. We thought space madness at first, but there is no sign of violence. When Dr Adil did the autopsy there was no trauma, beyond their vocal cords. They had died of hunger, exhaustion—even though they had plenty of supplies. Frances, they spoke themselves to death.

I went back to that audio loop, traced it back to their logs. It was the message they’d received—that they’d told us about. The sign of alien life—a reply to the Arecibo message.

I listened to it (take root) and despite the circumstances I could see why they were excited. It was a definite message from intelligent life—life beyond us, beyond the stars, sent back to us where we could hear it (take root). The majority of the message was prime numbers repeating in bass pulses, soft and liquid in my ears, whispers behind it that I couldn’t hear, so I would listen again. And felt it rising, rising until I knew where I belonged, the sound was where I belonged and what I was.

A host. A vehicle for transmission.

When Dr Adil pulled the headphones from me twelve hours later, I told her what I’m telling you.

That’s why I … no delete don’t listen oh please (take root) …

But can you hear it too? It’s in this transmission, in the wavelengths of my voice, that’s where they are—and they’re in you too now.

That’s why they’re forcing me to send this. To you Frances, to email this broadcast onto NASA. To post on the internet. To anyone who’ll listen and (take root).

There was no message, Frances. They were the message. This is them—they multiply through the sound, through the voice of the hosts, they ride on the back of the wavelengths, and take root (take root) in your brainstem. Until you’re a host too. To say what they need you to say.

You can fight them delete this it’s too late. If you’ve heard this it’s too late, they’ve taken root.

Frances, if you hear me delete this message. Tell everyone.

PseudoPod 865: Wanted: Bone-White Skull-Patterned Lace Trim

Wanted: Bone-White Skull-Patterned Lace Trim

by Kelsea Yu

The stroller on the side of the road caught Nina Wong’s eye as her Fiesta rounded the bend on her way to work. She slowed down, noting the FREE! sign taped to its handles. Free was about the only price she could afford right now, since Will had been gone a month, taking with him his half of the rent. Money was tight.

Especially with a baby on the way. (Continue Reading…)

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PseudoPod 864: All the Ways to Hollow Out a Girl

All the Ways to Hollow Out a Girl

by Gwendolyn Kiste

It’s almost noon on Friday when the neighborhood boys murder me again for the third time this week.

They do it with their hands today, bulging knuckles blanching white, their sweaty fingers wrapped tight around my throat. The three of them circle over me, grinning and guffawing, like this is a fraternity hazing and not my life at stake.

We’re in a field out behind the high school where we’ll all start ninth grade in a few months, provided I live long enough to see it. Crushed beneath their weight, I kick and scratch, desperate for this time to turn out differently. Then all at once, the world fades to a dusty gray, a familiar numbness coming over me, and that’s when I know I’ve died.

I’ve never asked the boys—and I doubt they’d tell me—how long I stay dead, but judging from the fact that the sun never dips too far across the sky while I’m gone, I’d say it’s no more than a few minutes. From my end, it feels like only an instant, the same as waking from a long night’s sleep, when it’s as if no time at all has passed since you closed your eyes.

The boys come back into focus, hazy at first, their bodies still lingering over me. I hate that they get to watch me while I’m away. The thought of them pushing nearer, crowding around the husk of me. How they get to be with me, even when I’m not here.

“How are you feeling?” one of them asks and helps me to my feet, as though he honestly believes he’s a gentleman. The question, of course, isn’t for my benefit. These boys are genuinely curious what happens to me, where I go, what it’s like. That’s part of the fun for them, though let’s face it: most of their fun comes from the killing.

I don’t answer them. Instead, I inch away, one small step at a time. While I can think of a few things they do deserve, an explanation isn’t one of them. Besides, I have to be quick and get out of here, or else they might try to do it again.

“See you tomorrow,” they call after me, snickering, and I wish I could cut their tongues from their mouths, so I never have to hear them laugh at me again. (Continue Reading…)

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PseudoPod 863: Coincidence & The Dream


By A.J. Alan

This is the story of a coincidence. At any rate I call it a coincidence.

The road where I live is very long and very straight. It’s paved with wood and well lighted after dark. The result is that cars and taxis going by during the night . . . often go quite fast. I don’t blame ’em. They hardly ever wake me unless they stop near the house.

However, about two months ago one did. (Continue Reading…)

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PseudoPod 862: The Curious Story of Susan Styles

Show Notes

The Society for Psychical Research was formed in 1882, 11 years before this story was written

The Curious Case Of Susan Styles

Catherine Lord

“Susan Styles,” the name is not a romantic one, and yet it is associated in my mind with a curious series of incidents, which, were I a member of the Psychical (or ghost investigating) Society1 I might have brought under the notice of that body.

I first heard of Susan Styles some two years ago. (Continue Reading…)

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PseudoPod 861: Swing Batter Batter

Swing Batter Batter

by Richard Dansky

A baseball clubhouse is a weird place. You’ve got California prep school kids rubbing elbows with good old boys from Texas and Louisiana, and guys from the Dominican and Venezuela mixing with guys who grew up in the inner city and still found their way to baseball. Nothing in common, and yet, all sharing a love of the game. Most of us, anyway – every so often you run into a guy who’s just playing for the paycheck, but the truth is that baseball’s a beautiful game, and it’s fun. You want to be out there in the field. You want to get up to the plate and take your hacks. You want to play. (Continue Reading…)

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PseudoPod 860: Time Enough at Last

Time Enough At Last

by Lynn Venable

For a long time, Henry Bemis had had an ambition. To read a book. Not just the title or the preface, or a page somewhere in the middle. He wanted to read the whole thing, all the way through from beginning to end. A simple ambition perhaps, but in the cluttered life of Henry Bemis, an impossibility.

Henry had no time of his own. There was his wife, Agnes who owned that part of it that his employer, Mr. Carsville, did not buy. Henry was allowed enough to get to and from work–that in itself being quite a concession on Agnes’ part.

Also, nature had conspired against Henry by handing him with a pair of hopelessly myopic eyes. Poor Henry literally couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. For a while, when he was very young, his parents had thought him an idiot. When they realized it was his eyes, they got glasses for him. He was never quite able to catch up. There was never enough time. It looked as though Henry’s ambition would never be realized. Then something happened which changed all that.

Henry was down in the vault of the Eastside Bank & Trust when it happened. He had stolen a few moments from the duties of his teller’s cage to try to read a few pages of the magazine he had bought that morning. He’d made an excuse to Mr. Carsville about needing bills in large denominations for a certain customer, and then, safe inside the dim recesses of the vault he had pulled from inside his coat the pocket size magazine.

He had just started a picture article cheerfully entitled “The New Weapons and What They’ll Do To YOU”, when all the noise in the world crashed in upon his ear-drums. It seemed to be inside of him and outside of him all at once. Then the concrete floor was rising up at him and the ceiling came slanting down toward him, and for a fleeting second Henry thought of a story he had started to read once called “The Pit and The Pendulum”. He regretted in that insane moment that he had never had time to finish that story to see how it came out. Then all was darkness and quiet and unconsciousness. (Continue Reading…)

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PseudoPod 859: We, the Ones Who Raised Sam Gowers from the Dead

We, the Ones Who Raised Sam Gowers from the Dead

by Cynthia Zhang

Yes, to answer your questions, we were the ones who did it; we were the ones who dabbled into the forbidden arts, who so casually threw away the good Christian values of our country for a flash of bloody vengeance. We are the ones you want, the ones who raised Sam Gowers from the dead.

Who were we, you ask? No one, really. We were baristas and booksellers and outreach directors for local nonprofit organizations, ad copyists and sales assistants and grad students in French and Francophone Literature. We worked nine-to-five or three jobs part-time or not at all, some of us the lucky beneficiaries of fellowships or wealthy older men, others perpetual couchsurfers or street corner philosophers with a talent for urban scavenging. We were amicable exes and messy polycules and complete strangers to each other, a smile at a bar, a shared glance at the farmer’s market, a million small signs that said I see you. (Continue Reading…)