Category: 13 and Up

EP498: Everyone Will Want One

by Kelly Sandoval
read by Erin Bardua

author Kelly Sandoval

author Kelly Sandoval

about the author…

I live, work, and write in Seattle, Washington. Gray sky days, abundant restaurant choices, and distant mountains are my idea of paradise.

In 2013 I abandoned my cat, tortoise, and boyfriend to spend six weeks studying writing at Clarion West. The experience taught me to commit myself and do the work, which is a lot less fun than just thinking about writing. It also introduced me to some of the best friends I’ve ever had. If you’re a writer considering whether you should apply, I’m happy to share my take on things. It’s not for everyone. But if it’s right for you, it’s worth it.

My tastes run to modern fantasy with a lyrical edge, though I’ve been writing science fiction, lately. If you’re looking for funny stories with happy endings, I fear you’ve come to the wrong place. I can’t seem to write anything without a dash of heartbreak.

narrator Erin Bardua

narrator Erin Bardua

about the narrator…

Erin Bardua is a Canadian singer and performer. She lives in near-rural Canada, where she assembles a living from singing and teaching others to sing. She always has about a dozen projects on the go; some of the more interesting ones have included acting and singing in a serialized film-noir murder mystery, and a collaborative clown opera. Erin is the artistic director of Essential Opera ( which operates in Atlantic Canada and Ontario (so far), and recently rediscovered her writing habit, which she indulges in whenever the house is quiet enough.


Everyone Will Want One
by Kelly Sandoval

On Nancy’s thirteenth birthday, her father takes her to the restaurant he likes, the one with the wood paneling, the oversized chandeliers, and the menus in French. Around them, people talk in low voices but Nancy and her father eat their soup in silence. After the waiter takes the bowls away, her father sets a wrapped box the size of a toaster on the table.

She doesn’t open it, just smoothes down the ribbon and rearranges her silverware. The unsmiling waiter is watching her; she can feel it. She can feel that he doesn’t want her in his restaurant, opening her birthday present. It isn’t a birthday present sort of place, isn’t even a thirteen-year-old in her best dress kind of place. She tries to be very small in her chair.

“Go ahead,” demands her father. “Open it.”

He’s frowning and his frown is much closer than the waiter’s. Nancy picks at the bow, undoing the knot as best she can with her fresh manicure. Checking to make sure the waiter’s not looking, she picks up her knife and slides it under the tape, easing it loose without tearing the shiny paper.
The box inside has the logo of her father’s company on it. Nancy’s tangles her fingers together, stalling. She wants, very much, for it to be a toaster.

“Hurry up,” says her father.

She wants to fold the paper into a crisp square or turn it into a giant origami swan. She wants to pretend that is the present, a sheet of white wrapping paper. Her father clears his throat and she cringes. The box isn’t taped and she tugs it open. Inside, there’s a layer of packing foam, which she picks through, not letting any spill on the table, until her fingers meet fur. The thing in the box is soft, cold, and the size of her two closed fists. She traces the shape of it, four feet, a tail, ears pointed alertly upward.

When, a minute later, she gets it free of the box and shakes the last of the packing foam from its fur, she sees it has the shape of a kitten. Its fur is black and silver, with patterns that look nothing like a real cat’s, all loops and whirling, dizzy spirals. It looks like a synth-pet. They’re popular at her school and her father’s company does make them. But Nancy has a kitten, a dog, and a tiny jeweled unicorn at home. He wouldn’t give her another.

“Thank you,” she says, setting it beside her bread plate. “What is it?”

EP494: The Retgun

by Tim Pratt
read by Rachael Jones

author Tim Pratt

author Tim Pratt

about the author…

Tim Pratt lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, Heather Shaw and their son River. His fiction and poetry have appeared in The Best American Short StoriesThe Year’s Best Fantasy and HorrorThe Mammoth Book of Best New HorrorStrange HorizonsRealms of FantasyAsimov’sLady Churchill’s Rosebud WristletSubterranean, and, among many other places (for complete details, see his bibliography).

His debut collection Little Gods was published in November of 2003. His second collection, Hart & Boot & Other Stories, appeared in January 2007, and was a World Fantasy Award finalist. Third collection Antiquities and Tangibles and Other Stories appeared in 2013.

First novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl was published in late 2005. It was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award, and won a Romantic Times Critic’s Choice Award for best Modern Fantasy, and an Emperor Norton Award (which has the coolest trophy ever: a bust of Joshua Norton).

narrator Rachael K. Jones

narrator Rachael K. Jones

about the narrator…

Rachael K. Jones is a science fiction and fantasy author, and the co-editor of Podcastle. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, PodCastle, the Drabblecast, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, and Penumbra. She has a degree in English and is currently pursuing a second degree in Speech-Language Pathology. She lives in Athens, GA with her husband and perpetual alpha reader, Jason.

You can follow her on Twitter @RachaelKJones.

The Retgun
by Tim Pratt

If you find yourself squatting over a pit toilet while wearing stiletto heels, you’ve made a few bad choices at some point during the evening. I could have taken off my shoes, but then I’d be barefoot, in the woods, in the half-light of a lantern dangling from a tree branch, standing in whatever you can expect to find on the ground around an artisanal hand-excavated poop hole.

Apparently there was a fashion for high-and-low cultural juxtapositions in this particular dimensional node, hence a full fancy-dress party being held in and around a homemade earth-and-sod house lit only by torches. The hors d’oeuvres were processed cheese foam sprayed on mass-produced crackers, served on silver platters passed around by leggy supermodels dressed in hair shirts and stinking rags, plus prune-wine brewed in a ramshackle still and passed around in crystal goblets. Let me tell you something: prune wine goes right through you, so I didn’t even have to pretend I needed to use the facilities when the time came to get in position.

The pit toilet was well back in the woods, some distance behind the sod house, but it nevertheless came equipped with a scrupulously polite bathroom attendant–he was standing on the lowest branch of a nearby tree–dressed in a green velvet tuxedo and prepared to offer towels, breath mints, and cocaine on demand. Interdimensional travel is often way more boring than you’d expect, but this was not one of the boring times.

Earlier, when I was mingling among the partygoers–the worst human beings this node had to offer–a guy wearing a moth mask had lunged over to me drunkenly, tried to touch my cheek and slurred, “Your skin . . . so beautiful . . . like porcelain . . .”

I’d knocked his hand aside and said, “My skin is like the stuff toilets are made out of?” Proving that I’d had a way overly optimistic idea about the quality of the local toilets.

EP492: The Silent Ones

by Erica Satifka
read by Angela Davis

author Erica Satifka

author Erica Satifka

about the author…

Hello, my name is Erica and I hate writing introductions. But hey, when in Rome. I have published over a dozen short stories in such venues as ShimmerClarkesworld MagazineDaily Science FictionLady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and PodCastle. If you want to read some of my fiction, check out the “Stuff I’ve Written” tab. I am an active member of SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) and am a member of the Codex Writers Group. I am currently at work on a novel for which I will be seeking representation. I work as a freelance editor, and teach classes on SF/F writing at Portland Community College.

I used to live in Pittsburgh, then in Baltimore, and now, Portland (Oregon)! I have three cats and a spouse named Rob, who writes the review blog Panel Patter. When I’m not writing/editing/teaching, I enjoy riding my bicycle, knitting, playing outdated computer games from the early aughts, and adding to my collection of tattoos.Twitter: @ericasatifka
E-mail: satifka at gmail dot com

narrator Angela Davisabout the narrator…

I am an American voice talent living in Norway. When not admiring mountains, I can be found recording for a variety of projects at home.

The Silent Ones
by Erica L. Satifka

The year travel opens up between alternate Earths is the first year you fall in love, with a strapping farm boy from one of the rural worlds named Paul. He takes you to a barn dance thrown by his people, where you learn to smoke a corncob pipe. His sister, a tiny girl with saucer eyes and dirty hair, steals your purse. You’re too hammered to mind.
You get drunk on apple wine and fuck Paul behind a haystack while a band of his cousins screeches on their fiddles and moans in that unintelligible alternate-world dialect of theirs. At the pale green Formica kitchen table, Paul gives you a stick-and-poke tattoo of his initials inside a heart.
But when your six days are up, it’s back through the travel gate with you, and no more Paul. You mope for weeks, watching but not performing the calisthenics exercises on television, alternating handfuls of candy and amphetamines. Finally, your two best girl friends drag you from your home – “Don’t be such a drag!” – and bring you to the club.
And that’s when you see your first silent one. With the robes and everything. Shit. He’s sipping a martini, looking totally out of place, bopping his head to a spastic electroclash beat. Club soda rises up your nose, coming close to spilling out.
“Hey, get a load of that,” Sydney says, poking you in the ribs.
You laugh. It’s pretty hilarious.
“Rocks pretty hard for someone who dresses like a Druid.”
“Shut up,” you say. “He’ll hear you.” But when you look over again, he’s already left the bar area, his martini abandoned.
“Beam me up, Scotty,” Sydney jeers through gulps of rum and Coke.
You’re disappointed. You wanted to watch him more; it’s a new thing to you. But already you can tell that the band’s as weak as the club soda. No wonder he left. Bum scene.
“Hey, I’m out of here. Tell Randa.” You escape Sydney’s talons and light up in the parking lot. Thirty yards away a glowing red orb that pulses like your cigarette’s tip hangs at crop duster level. You turn away, vaguely ashamed. It’s like when you were seven and accidentally spilled milk into the aquarium, becoming an instant murderer. Your parents didn’t really care, but you did.
Not everything happens all the time, everywhere.
That’s the first line on every bit of literature dealing with the alternate worlds. Want to visit a world where the triple World Wars never happened? You can. Want to see a place where computers run on steam power and even the horses wear corsets? Go for it.
Or you can just muck about in a world full of beautiful hillbillies or debauched Atlanteans. That’s more your personal speed, anyway.
Most of the planes open for travel aren’t that different from your world. The atmosphere has to be breathable, at least, and it’s helpful if the inhabitants are roughly human, and mostly your size. Nothing will destroy a plane’s Yelp rating quite like a tourist crushed by forty-foot-tall giants.
Nobody stays in an alternate world for long. The languages aren’t remotely learnable, and the social structures are often even denser. But it sure beats a week at Grand Cayman!
You keep the glossy travel brochures in your nightstand. Sometimes you fan them out, a little universe. And only fifteen days of vacation a year, you think wistfully.
The following autumn the government finally decides to do something about the widespread cultural cross-contamination propounded mostly by visitors from the more religiously-inclined planes. Cops catch saffron-robed adherents of a syncretic faith wheatpasting suras onto the sides of subway cars; a Ming vase with a detailed depiction of the Crucifixion shows up in the Smithsonian. Big deal, you think. Histories are made to be broken.
You are given the opportunity for a sabbatical, but you can only afford to go to one of those really crappy Central American commune worlds that don’t even have bathrooms, so you postpone it. You think of Paul every morning when you layer foundation over your tattoo. His sister took out a credit card in your name that first month. It was a bitch to cancel; you’re glad he’s gone.
Sydney and Randa take you to the beach instead, and you lose two weeks’ salary in a slot machine. A little peeved, you lounge on the pier in your sheerest camisole, watching the red lighted orbs dart and scatter along the darkened shore.
They’ve been showing up more frequently now, eliciting a minor amount of concern by the tinfoil hat crowd. On the beach below, teenagers lob beer cans at the orbs, which scuttle away, only to be herded back to a central location. You watch as a baker’s dozen of red lights are forced into congregation, then look back at the teenagers on the sanded ground.
“Blast-off!” yells a jock in a white cap. A firecracker shoots from a puny metal stand, and you remember, yeah, it’s Independence Day. The orbs flicker wildly and scatter like birds at a shot. One falls, and another teenager rushes to intercept.
“Ow, fuck! It’s hot! My hand!”
“Serves you right, idiot,” you say, loud enough for everyone on the beach below to hear you. It’s not loud enough to reach the teenagers, who have already dispersed to pick on a tribe of old people foolishly walking the beach after dusk.
A deaf man hands you a card with three globes and a squiggly line printed on it.
“Sorry, I don’t have any money.” As if your camisole had pockets or something.
But as you look at him, really see, you realize it’s a silent one convincingly dressed as a beachcomber, in a rumpled tee shirt, red visor pulled low over his eyes. His eyes are a light purple that just doesn’t exist in your world’s genetics.
“Well, what do you know.” Except for the eyes he’s not a bad-looking guy, a bit flabby around the middle, fitting in better than the one in the club a year ago. You hold up the card. “So what does this mean, hmm?”
He smiles with all his teeth, points up.
“You’re from space, is that it? You come from those red things?” He shakes his head no. “Okay, I give up. What are you doing here?”
Another grin, and a sound from his throat that sounds like a grinding gear. He flaps his hands frantically and spins in a close circle.
“You want me to buy you a drink? Hey, I’ve got some friends with me, how about we all go out for some drinks, big guy?” You’re taunting him, and it makes you feel sick, like you’re no better than those teenagers on the beach. But the guy’s almost asking for it. You cock a finger. “This way.”
He follows like an eager puppy, his pointless visor attracting attention. There’s no real code of etiquette for the silent ones, but you have the feeling that what you’re doing is so totally wrong. They’ll serve him, of course. But this kind of thing just isn’t done. You halt, and he collides with you.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was doing. Stay here.” His eyes glisten, quizzical. “Don’t follow me in.”
He understands. He starts to pace away, but then breaks into a full run, diving off the pier onto the beach, the weirdo. Only a few people have gathered at the edge. You look down and there is nothing there.
You are cold in your camisole.
That autumn, a red lighted orb runs for Congress on a write-in campaign. It doesn’t win, but it’s a step forward. So say the major television commentators, anyway.
Randa takes a long weekend in an orgy world and never comes back. Rumors spread that travel between planes is being severely restricted. You wire Paul, no response. It’s hard not to think of the alternates as being fake worlds, their inhabitants somehow lesser. You wonder if maybe that’s the reason you slept with Paul.
At the grocery store, you wait in line behind an orb with two small satellites circling it. Children? You think you should know more about these things. After all, you’ll be working for them next week; they bought the firm. But what do you do? Tap it on the shoulder and say hello?
You feel, for a moment, hunted. Like something small, furry, and endangered.
It passes.
In the parking lot you spy a hooded woman kneeling next to your car. She is siphoning the gas with a black hose.
“Get out of here!”
But she just watches you, blank-faced, the siphon hanging out of the side of her mouth like a piece of black licorice. With a gulp she swallows a mouthful of Texas tea, then reaches into her pocket, hands you a card.
One word, scrawled in ballpoint pen by a childish hand: GO.
“This is my car, psycho.” You take her by the shoulder and pull her to her feet, rough. Her thousand-yard stare is directed at the grocery store. Looking behind you, you see the family of red lights, the small planetoids of children spinning around their mother. You look back to your car. The silent woman opens her mouth wide, as if screaming. Her face glows with rage. You realize that she is screaming.
The silent woman takes the opportunity to wrest herself from your grip. She uncaps the bottle of gas and launches it at the largest of the red lights, the mother. Within five seconds, she’s removed a match from her pocket and struck it. You slap her wrist.
Her face droops in disappointment. Shaking her head, she walks behind your car, of course disappearing as soon as you think to follow her. The orb family drifts away, gasoline dripping from them with a pat-pat-pat.
A family of red lights moves in across the street. It keeps you up with its constant glowing, like a burning brand.
Be more tolerant, you tell yourself. It’s how they communicate. Or, so it would seem. What other reason?
You keep the two index cards gathered from the silent ones, the card labeled GO and the card filled with chickenscratch, in your wallet. You don’t know why. Maybe they are the last silent ones you will ever see. You haven’t seen a single one since that hooded woman attempted to burn the family a month ago.
I should have let her do it. The thought comes unbidden, unwanted, and you hate yourself for it. An alien species comes to Earth for the first time ever, and you want to kill it. Some shining example of humanity you are.
Still, as the light on your cigarette’s tip reflects in the curve of your wineglass shaped like a woman’s torso, you think about a dead culture inhabiting some shitty South Pacific island, stringing broken beads around their conquerors’ necks, not realizing that it was too late to do anything until it was, in fact, too late.
Slowly, your neighborhood becomes a red light district.
As the red lights move in, the city is remade. Doors are widened, then dropped altogether, in favor of three-sided buildings open to the elements. It’s November and you freeze in two layers of clothing and three scarves. When you ask the super why she’s done this terrible thing, she just shrugs.
But thank the heavens above, television still exists. You flip through the three hundred entertainment options until you find some news, any news, you don’t care about the slant.
It’s a Presidential press conference. In the three-walled White House, the President stands bundled in four coats behind a thicket of fungus-like microphones. Behind him, the White House dog roasts on a spit.
Well, that’s weird, you think, until you see how gaunt the President is. No surprise there. You haven’t had a decent meal yourself in a week.
He opens his mouth for a hearty my-fellow-Americans, but nothing comes out. He grins sheepishly and shrugs. You throw a stiletto heel at the television, expecting it to crack, but it doesn’t even make it halfway there.
You attempt a test. Leaving your house you turn to the sky and scream. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you! Get off our planet!” Nothing comes out at all.
Well, that settles it. You go back inside. The president warms his hands over a burning pile of papers. Enough of this. You pack. You prepare. You wait.
You’ve Amtraked it to a travel gate they haven’t yet shut down, somewhere in a Dakota, similar to Paul’s version of Earth. You didn’t know places like this still existed, cut away like this. All the houses here still have four walls.
You touch your stick-and-poke tattoo, and smile.
Standing on a street corner, you take out the small pile of cards you assembled on the train ride. Writing them was difficult. You can still speak your name and the phrase “Here’s my ticket,” but when someone asks you what you’re doing here, even that is glued over.
No matter. You have the cards. And some of them are even legible.
There must be Earths they haven’t yet reached, planes still untouched. You remember what the glossy travel brochures said about the alternate worlds when they were first discovered: not everything happens all the time, everywhere.
In another place, people are free. All you have to do is get to the gate. Just get to the gate. It’s a golden half-moon, like a giant dull penny sticking out of the prairie. Just get to the gate.
The attendants, clad in super-serious black and silver uniforms, aren’t saying much either. As you go down the line, into the barely-used travel gate, you hand each of them a card.
FIGHT, you say to the man with cornrows who hands you the ticket.
FIGHT, you say to the old woman who punches it, her lips puckered tight like a coin purse.
FIGHT, you say to the young woman who hands you a sack lunch. Not all alternate worlds have food that you can digest.
Almost as an afterthought, you raise the hood on your parka, shielding your face from detection. It’s not as good as a robe, but maybe you’ll get that in the next world, if it’s still untouched by the invaders.
The gate’s set to random, and that’s just the way you want it. You feel the familiar slicing sensation, like a cheese grater being taken to your skin, and then another plane of another Earth opens up before you like a vista on a transcontinental flight after you’ve broken through the clouds. There’s a street, and a bus stop, and an orange sky, and not much else.
The people here will mock your stolen voice, sure, and the way you act and the clothes you wear, but enough will pay attention. You’ll devise new ways of communicating without writing or speech. Sidelong glances and interesting smells, perhaps.
This time, this world, it has to be different. You shoulder your bag, ruffle the cards in your pocket, and start walking.

EP490: Flowers for Algernon

by Daniel Keyes
read by Dave Thompson

Flowers for Alfernonabout the author…

from Wikipedia: Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction short story and subsequent novel written by Daniel Keyes. The short story, written in 1958 and first published in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960. The novel was published in 1966 and was joint winner of that year’s Nebula Award for Best Novel (with Babel-17).

Keyes was born in New York City, New York.[2] He attended New York University briefly before joining the United States Maritime Service at 17, working as a ship’s purser on oil tankers.[2] Afterward he returned to New York and in 1950 received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brooklyn College.[2]

A month after graduation, Keyes joined publisher Martin Goodman‘s magazine company, Magazine Management.[2] He eventually became editor of their pulp magazine Marvel Science Stories (cover-dated Nov. 1950 – May 1952) after editor Robert O. Erisman,[3] and began writing for the company’s comic-book lines Atlas Comics, the 1950s precursors of Marvel Comics. After Goodman ceased publishing pulps in favor of paperback books and men’s adventure magazines, Keyes became an associate editor of Atlas[1] under editor-in-chief and art director Stan Lee. Circa 1952, Keyes was one of several staff writers, officially titled editors, who wrote for such horror and science fiction comics as Journey into Unknown Worlds, for which Keyes wrote two stories with artist Basil Wolverton.[4]

As Keyes recalled, Goodman offered him a job under Lee after Marvel Science Stories ceased publication:

Since my $17.25-a-month rent was almost due, I accepted what I considered a detour on my journey toward a literary career. Stan Lee … let his editors deal with the scriptwriters, cartoonists, and lettering crew. Writers turned in plot synopses, Stan read them, and as a matter of course, would accept one or two from each of the regulars he referred to as his “stable.” As one of his front men, I would pass along comments and criticism. … Because of my experience editing Marvel and because I’d sold a few science fiction stories by then, Stan allowed me to specialize in the horror, fantasy, suspense, and science fiction comic books. Naturally, I began submitting story ideas, getting freelance assignment, and supplementing my salary by writing scripts on my own time.[5]

One story idea Keyes wrote but did not submit to Lee was called “Brainstorm”, the paragraph-long synopsis that would evolve into Flowers for Algernon. It begins: “The first guy in the test to raise the I.Q. from a low normal 90 to genius level … He goes through the experience and then is thrown back to what was.” Keyes recalled, “[S]omething told me it should be more than a comic book script.”[5]

From 1955 to 1956, Keyes wrote for EC Comics, including its titles Shock Illustrated and Confessions Illustrated, under both his own name and the pseudonyms Kris Daniels and A.D. Locke.


narrator Dave Thompson

narrator Dave Thompson

about the narrator…

Dave Thompson is the California King and the Easter Werewolf, and is the host and co-editor of PodCastle. He has narrated audiobooks (by Tim Pratt, Greg van Eekhout, and James Maxey), written short stories (published in or forthcoming from Apex, Drabblecast, Pseudopod, and Escape Pod), and lost NaNoWriMo twice. He lives outside Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

EP489: Uncanny

by James Patrick Kelly
read by Dani Cutler

author James Partick Kelly

author James Partick Kelly

about the author…

James Patrick Kelly is an American science fiction writer born April 11, 1951, in Mineola, New York. He began selling science fiction professionally in the mid-1970s, and has subsequently become one of the field’s leading writers of short fiction.

He has won the Hugo Award twice, for his 1995 novelette “Think Like A Dinosaur” and for his 1999 novelette “Ten to the Sixteenth to One.” His 2005 novella “Burn” won the Nebula Award. His novels include Freedom Beach (1986, with John Kessel), Look Into the Sun (1989), and Wildlife (1994). Also with John Kessel, he co-edited the anthologies Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology (2006), Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology (2007), and The Secret History of Science Fiction (2009).

A prolific teacher, Kelly has taught at most of the major science-fiction writing workshops, including Clarion, Clarion West, Viable Paradise, and Odyssey. Since 1998, he has served on the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts; he chaired the council in 2004. He is the Vice Chair of the Clarion Foundation, which oversees the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop; he has served on the Board of Directors of the New England Foundation for the Arts; and he is currently on the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. He also writes a column about SF on the internet for Asimov’s SF.


narrator Dani Cutler

narrator Dani Cutler

about the narrator…

Dani Cutler last narrated for EP in 454: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One. She has been part of the podcasting community since 2006, hosting and producing her own podcast through 2013. She currently works for KWSS independent radio in Phoenix as their midday announcer, and also organizes a technology conference each year for Phoenix residents to connect with others in the podcast, video, and online community.


by James Patrick Kelly

A month after I broke up with Jonathan, or Mr. Wrong, as my mother liked to call him, she announced that she’d bought me a machine to love. She found it on eBay, paid the Buy It Now price and had it shipped to me the next day. I’m not sure where she got the idea that I needed a machine or how she picked it out or what she thought it would do for me. My mother never asked advice or permission. I dreaded finding the heavy, flat box that UPS left propped against my front door.

I called her. “It’s here. So what does it do?”

“Whatever you want.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“You always say that, but it’s never true. We all want something.” I hated it when she was being patient with me. “Just give it a chance, honey. They’re more complicated than men,” she said, “but cleaner.”

I muscled it into the foyer. I retrieved the box cutter from Jonathan’s neurotically tidy toolbox and sliced carefully through the packing tape. I decided that I’d try it, but I also intended to send the thing back, so I saved the bubble wrap and styrofoam.

There was no manual. The assembly instructions were in twelve pictographs printed on either side of a glossy sheet of paper. They showed a stick figure woman with a black circle for a head building the machine. Black was just how I felt as I attached the arms and headlights, fit the wheels and drawers into place. It stood five feet, eleven and three quarter inches tall; I measured. I had to give Mom credit; she knew quality when she saw it. The shiny parts were real chrome and there was no flex to the titanium chassis, which was painted glossy blue, the exact blue of Jonathan’s eyes. It smelled like the inside of a new car. I realized too late that I should have assembled it closer to the wall, I had to plug the charger into an extension cord. The power light flashed red; the last pictograph showed the stick figure woman staring at a twenty-four hour clock, impatience squiggles leaping from her round, black head.

I didn’t sleep well that night. My bed seemed very big, filled with Jonathan’s absence. I had a nightmare about the dishwasher overflowing and then I was dancing with the vacuum cleaner in a warm flood of soapy water.

When I came home from work the next day the machine was fully charged and was puttering about the apartment with my dusting wand, which I never used. It had loaded the dishes into the dishwasher and run it. There were vacuum tracks on the living room rug. I found the packing materials it had come with bundled into the trash; it had broken down its cardboard box for recycling. At dinner time, it settled at the other end of the kitchen table, dimmed its headlights and waited while I ate my Weight Watchers Chicken Mesquite microwave dinner. Later we watched The Big Bang Theory together. I thought it wanted to follow me into the bedroom when I was ready to go to sleep, but I turned at the door and pointed at the hall closet. It flashed its brights and rolled obediently away.

EP488: In Another Life

by Kelly Sandoval
read by Carla Doak

author Kelly Sandoval

author Kelly Sandoval

about the author…

I live, work, and write in Seattle, Washington. Gray sky days, abundant restaurant choices, and distant mountains are my idea of paradise.

In 2013 I abandoned my cat, tortoise, and boyfriend to spend six weeks studying writing at Clarion West. The experience taught me to commit myself and do the work, which is a lot less fun than just thinking about writing. It also introduced me to some of the best friends I’ve ever had. If you’re a writer considering whether you should apply, I’m happy to share my take on things. It’s not for everyone. But if it’s right for you, it’s worth it.

My tastes run to modern fantasy with a lyrical edge, though I’ve been writing science fiction, lately. If you’re looking for funny stories with happy endings, I fear you’ve come to the wrong place. I can’t seem to write anything without a dash of heartbreak.


narrator Carla Doak

narrator Carla Doak

about the narrator…

I talk for a living, and push buttons – some literal, some metaphorical. I get to play music (and for the most part, choose what I get to play!), talk to folks from all walks of life, give away awesome things and generally make people smile.

I search the world (often via the internet) for strange, wonderful, thought-provoking, conversation-invoking things and relay that information to hundreds and thousands, with my voice and with written word.

I listen to new music, old music, new music that sounds like old music, old music that could be new music and music that should never hear the light of day. I share this music with others, willingly and volun-told-ally.

I share my happiness, my sorrow, my anger, my passion, my wisdom, my ignorance. I wear my heart on my sleeve, in a pocket that is buttoned. There’s a small hole in that pocket, near the bottom, slightly frayed.


In Another Life
by Kelly Sandoval

Waking after a night spent slipping, I reach for Louisa automatically, rolling into the empty space where she belongs. I lick the memory of her from my lips, languid with sex. The alarm shrieks from my bedside table but I’ve gotten good at ignoring it.

We went skating. Louisa wore a purple sweater and, giggling and unsteady, clung to my arm. We kissed on the ice and she pressed herself against me, her frozen fingers sneaking under my coat to stroke my back. It’s her laughter I cling to. These days, I only hear her low, honeyed laugh when I’m slipping. I miss the warmth of it.

But it fades. Even the taste of her fades.

I tell myself it’s all right. That it’s necessary. I’ve got an appointment with my therapist at noon. If I’m still clinging to the night’s slip, he’ll know I haven’t been taking my medication.

No help for it. I drag myself out of bed and hit the alarm. My head pounds and the world blurs along the edges. I’ve slipped for three nights straight and ice skating with Louisa is nothing like sleeping. If I don’t take a day off soon, it’ll start to get dangerous.

My therapist would say it’s already dangerous. But he doesn’t understand what I’ve lost.

I’ve got four houses to show before my appointment, and a lot of coffee to drink to be ready for them. He’ll make a thing of it, if I’m late. He always does.

The hours dribble past, hazy and distant. It’s like I left a shard of myself in my alter and can’t quite get back in step with my timeline. When the charming young couple at house two asks me about financing I try to answer, only to be distracted by the ghost of a red-headed boy rushing past in pursuit of a large gray bunny. The woman selling the house wears her red curls pulled back in a tight bun. She’s childless, though abandoned rabbit hutches sit moldering in the back yard, lowering her property values.

Does she slip, stealing moments with this laughing, clumsy boy?

EP484: That Tear Problem

by Natalia Thodoridou
read by Hugo Jackson
guest host Rachael Jones

author Natalia Theodoridou

author Natalia Theodoridou

about the author…

Natalia Theodoridou is a media & theatre scholar based in the UK. Her writing has appeared in Clarkesworld, Crossed Genres, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. Find out more at, or just say hi @natalia_theodor on Twitter.


about the narrator…

Hugo Jackson is an author with Inspired Quill; his first fantasy novel, ‘Legacy’ is available from and Barnes and Noble. He has acted and performed stage combat for years, having appeared in various film, theatre and TV productions, including The Young Victoria, Diamond Swords at Warwick Castle, Cyrano de Bergerac (Chichester Festival Theatre, 2009)  Romeo and Juliet (Arundel Festival, 2005), The Worst Jobs In History, and Ancient Megastructures: Chartres Cathedral. See him at

narrator Hugo Jackson

narrator Hugo Jackson


That Tear Problem
by Natalia Theodoridou

“Now flex your arm,” the controller said. Her voice sounded dry and mechanical through the speakers.

“The real one or the other one?” I asked and immediately received a neuro-ping: You are real.

“Both your arms are real, soldier,” she said.

I always thought of her as a woman, but really it was just a voice. There was no way to tell gender.


“Right. Which one do you want me to flex?”

“The left one.”

I flexed my left arm. It’s one of the limbs they rebuilt after the accident. The Neuropage pinged me again, just in case: You are real. All this is real. I wondered if they figured out I had found the glitch. Was that what prompted this ping? But it couldn’t be; the pager was supposed to be entirely incorporated into the nervous system. No outside access available.

Unless that was a lie, too.

“Now the other one,” the voice said.

“How much longer is this going to take?” I asked, flexing my right arm. I could feel my legs getting fidgety. They always did that when I was strapped down for long chunks of time. Ever since the accident. Fidget fidget fidget. Even while I slept, the legs fidgeted. I would much rather sleep floating around, but that set off the security alarm. I had found that out the hard way, on my second day at the space station.

“The muscle-tone examination is complete,” the controller said. “Now on to the neural routine.”

“The neural routine. Of course.”

If she caught the irony in my voice, she didn’t show it.

“Attach the red electrode to your left arm. Good. Now let me know if you experience any pain.”

A moment passed, but nothing happened. “I don’t feel anything,” I said.

“OK. How about now?”

I waited. My eyes started to tear up. I felt the moisture form into little beads around my eyeballs.

“I don’t feel anything in my arm, but my eyes sting like hell. It’s that tear problem again,” I said.

Tears, apparently, don’t flow in microgravity. The little fuckers just stick to your eyes like liquid balls, refusing to let go before they get to be the size of small nuts. Bottom line is, you can’t cry in space. They always get that one wrong in the movies. Who would have known?

“You are reacting to an imaginary stimulus,” the voice said. “Your brain thinks you should be hurting, so your eyes tear up. Hold still. You can wipe them in a minute.”

Maybe the controller was a man, after all. Maybe it wasn’t a person at all at the other end, just a machine.

I waited for a ping, but got nothing.

“All done. You can unstrap yourself, soldier,” the voice said. “Same time tomorrow. Do not be late.”

“The Neuropage will make sure of that,” I muttered, but she had already signed off. She, it, whatever.

The first thing I did was dry my eyes. Then I freed my legs and stretched.

Time to eat, the Neuropage said. One of the scheduled pings. I ignored it and propelled myself towards my compartment. It would ping me again every few minutes. I knew it would get on my nerves–a pun? really?–and I’d have to eat, eventually, but it felt good to ignore it for a while. It was my small fuck you very much to the system. Harry would have tut-tutted at my attempt to play the rebel, he always did, but I think he secretly liked it.

Harry. Right.

I had to do this. I had to test the glitch.


EP483: Boris’s Bar

by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
read by Kaitie Radel

author Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

author Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

about the author…

I was raised in New Haven, Con­necti­cut.  I attended the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necti­cut for a cou­ple of years but left to marry my hus­band of more than twenty years.  I have three beau­ti­ful chil­dren, who like most chil­dren these days, far out­strip their par­ents in intel­li­gence and cre­ativ­ity.
My days, my con­crete life, are spent car­ing for breast oncol­ogy patients as a reg­is­tered nurse.  I love work­ing as an oncol­ogy nurse.  It keeps me grounded and forces me to remem­ber the tran­sient beauty of life, and the impor­tance of doing what one loves while one can.  It also keeps God fore­most in my mind as I jour­ney through this brief life, that my choices might be accord­ing to His will.
My less ordered life (Don’t we all live mul­ti­ple sep­a­rate lives?) is spent mostly in my head.  I am always attempt­ing to order the mul­ti­tude of ideas that rise unbid­den in my mind when I least expect them.  To some peo­ple this makes me look deeply spir­i­tual and wise, to oth­ers I look angry.  I assure, I am nei­ther.  Some­times the voices of half-formed char­ac­ters speak to me, beg­ging to be recorded for pos­ter­ity, that we might learn from them, or them from us.  Some­times the voice I hear is my own, remind­ing me of my oblig­a­tion to this life.  Unfor­tu­nately, I rarely have time for any of the voices cre­at­ing the chaotic din in my head.
narrator Kaitie Radel

narrator Kaitie Radel

about the narrator…

Kaitie Radel is a music education student and aspiring voice actress, has been voice acting as a hobby for two years.  In addition to this project, she has participated as both a VA and administrator in several fan projects such as The Homestuck Musical Project and Ava’s Melodies.  She can be contacted at


Boris’s Bar
by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali


“Orani, tell Boris what is wrong.”    

I told Boris about Enoch and our shared dreams, about how he abandoned me.

“He said I was frigid,” I confided, my head on Boris’s shoulder, his hand stroking my back.

Boris nodded, “What else?”

“He said that for all the credits in the system, I would never learn how to love.”

I’d been drowning in loneliness when I contracted Boris to help me recover from losing Enoch. After two years of long distance communication, Enoch had traveled from Earth to be with me, only to later decide it was a mistake. “You’re not the human being I thought you were,” he said, which was rich because he wasn’t a human being at all.

When I was spent of energy and tears, Boris lifted me into his arms, like steel support beams, and carried me to the bathroom. He undressed and washed me. He kissed my tearful eyes. He rubbed my skin with oil. With Boris I finally felt warm and safe.

“Orani, you are worthy and lovable. I want you to know this,” he murmured to me as he carried me back to bed. “I want you to feel like a little baby.”

“I don’t remember what that’s like,” I told him.


EP482: Chimeras

author Julie Steinbacher

author Julie Steinbacher (image is © Folly Blaine)

by Julie Steinbacher
read by Jessica Dubish
guest host Gabrielle de Cuir

about the author…

Julie Steinbacher is fully human, whatever that means. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she is an MFA candidate at North Carolina State University. She is a graduate of the Clarion West Workshop, and her fiction appears in Terraform. You can follow her on Twitter @jofthewolves.


about the narrator…

Jessica Dubish is a sophomore Theatre Major at George Mason University. George Mason University; The Merchant (Gypsy Busker), Women and Wallace (Victoria), Slumber Party (Nancy), The Blue Room (The Girl), The Vagina Monologues (My Angry Vagina), Dido, Queen of Carthage (Cupid). Jessica is a Teaching Artist at Acting for Young People.

narrator Jessica Dubish

narrator Jessica Dubish


by Julie Steinbacher

You’ve heard going chimera is addictive. You’ve never done any hard drugs, so you’re not afraid of what this means. The “Free Consultations” sign on the clinic has drawn you in, not for the first time. It’s raining lightly in the city and droplets cling to your long hair and your nose. Bumps rise on your bare arms. You have the money for the first operation–savings you were going to put toward an apartment just for you and him–and the time: your whole life. You push open the door.


The waiting room is full of people. Some have only subtle modifications, pigment alteration to suggest stripes, lengthened earlobes, eyes that shine in the low lamplight. There are others who stare at you with unblinking reptilian irises, or who run sandpaper tongues across pointed canines. And then there are the other naturals like you, all huddled in one corner, stinking to some, probably, like fear and nerves. The bravado leaks out of you, but you force yourself to the desk, where you add your name to the list.

Then you find a place to sit in the center of the room and avoid eye contact with everyone, natural or not. You’re not going to lose your nerve now. You’re making a choice, going against all the promises you made to T–but then, he broke his promises to you.

Magazines litter the end tables to make the room look more homey. Animal women are on their covers, or beautiful animal men. There are interviews in Fur & Scales with a handful of celebrities on their personal journeys to chimera. The season’s fashions are highlighted on a page–lacy webbed fingers, dappled rumps, prehensile tails. Your name is called and you furl the magazine and put it in your purse.


EP480: To the Knife-Cold Stars

by A. Merc Rustad
read by Mat Weller

author A. Merc Rustad

author A. Merc Rustad

about the author…

Hello and welcome! My name is Merc Rustad and I’m a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker who likes dinosaurs, robots, monsters, and cookies. My fiction has appeared in nifty places like ScigentasyDaily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. (More at the Published Fiction tab at the top of the page.)

I’m mostly found on Twitter @Merc_Rustad and occasionally playing in cardboard boxes. The site is updated with publication announcements, completed short films, and occasional blog-like essays. (For more semi-regular blogging, I hang out on LJ and DW.)

narrator Mat Weller

narrator Mat Weller

about the narrator…

<<text redacted>>

Mat last Read for EP episode 466: Checkmate


To the Knife-Cold Stars
by A. Merc Rustad

When Grace opens his newly crafted eye, the first thing he sees is wire. Thick cords of braided wire snaking like old veins up the walls. It’s dim inside the surgical unit, but for all the black metal and mesh shelves, it _feels_ clean, even in the heat. The air still has the unfamiliar taste of crude oil. Sweat sticks the borrowed clothes to his skin. He blinks, a flicker of pain in his head as the left eyelid slides down over cool metal buried in the socket.

He’s awake and he’s alive.

The anesthetic hasn’t worn off. It’s sluggish in his blood, an unpleasant burn at the back of his throat. It blurs the edges of his thoughts like too much bad wine. But it doesn’t dull the deep-etched fear still unspooling through his gut. He survived the demon, survived his own execution. It’s a hard thing to accept, even days later. He wants to touch the new eye, this machine part of his body, the forever-reminder what happened. Doesn’t dare, yet.

“Back with us, eh?” says a raspy voice muffled by a respirator.

Grace turns his head, slow and careful. He dimly recalls the wire-tech mumbling about whiplash in his neck and the horrific bruising along his ribs and back where the welts are still healing. “Guess so.”

The tech is a small man dressed in heavy surgical leathers that are studded with metal sheeting. Old blood speckles the apron and gloves; the metal and rivets are spotless. Only the skin on his forehead is visible under thick embedded glasses and a breather covering nose and mouth. “Nearly died on us, you did. Venom went right into the blood.”

The demon’s venom. Grace doesn’t reach to touch his face where the sunspawn’s claws took out his eye and split flesh to bone. He doesn’t look down, either. A new shirt and worn jeans cover whatever scars the demon left on his belly and thighs. He shivers in the heat. He doesn’t know if he can ever look at himself again; what will Humility think–


Grace trembles harder. Humility will never see him again.

_Don’t think._ Harder a self-command than it should be. _Don’t go back there._

“He’s tough.”

The second voice jerks Grace’s attention back to where he is. He turns his head again, wincing. He craves more anesthetic, and hates that he wants it. Numbness is just another way to hide.

Bishop stands near the narrow doorway, leaning against corded wire that bunches like supports along the wall. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, dressed in travel-worn leathers with a breather mask over the lower part of his face. His mechanical eyes gleam dull green in the surgical bay’s weak florescent glow.