I could not take my eyes off of him, even in such a simple moment. He was at the kitchen table, morning sun cutting through the windows and setting him aglow. After all that had happened, seeing him there made my heart race. I took a deep breath; it was important to be centered.
He smiled at me, watching me watching him. It was a perfect moment, everything still. I breathed in deep, inhaling the scent of fresh coffee. I just needed to stay in this reality as long as possible.
“You know I love you, right?” I asked, laying my hand over his.
He took a sip of his coffee instead of answering, but I could see it in his eyes. I knew he appreciated all I had sacrificed to give us this.
It was almost perfect enough to forget it was magical. To forget that the glamour would fade and I’d be left alone with the dregs of reality once again. I willed with everything I had to keep the charade up longer this time. Eventually, it had to stick, and we’d get the happily ever after we deserved.
I was concentrating so hard I almost didn’t hear him.
“Please,” he whispered, his eyes pleading with me from behind the broken smile. “Please let me go.”
I felt a surge of panic, of rage. How dare he threaten what I had made? Boiling anger spilled into the world, distorting the image until it finally broke apart. I was left staring at a bloated corpse across the table.
I pushed from the table and assessed the wards. His spirit was not getting away, because I would make it right. I would make it work. He promised me forever. It was not my fault he tried to break his promise.
James settled into his accustomed spot on the couch. His eyes began their habitual trip out the window—nothing was there, as always—before he snapped them back to the doctor across the room. She smiled, clipboard balanced on her knee.
“So, today’s our last day?” she began.
He shifted in his seat, reaching for one of the decorative pillows and pulling it into his lap. “That’s what you keep telling me.” It was supposed to be good-natured, but even he heard the edge at the end.
“It’s normal to have some anxiety. This is a change.”
He nodded but did not immediately respond. She left that silence long enough before leaning forward. “We’ll wrap things up today, but first, how have the past few weeks been?”
This was familiar, a comforting routine. In the beginning, this discussion had been full of stress, anger, anxiety, and grief. Now it was…boring. They checked in on the usual things—all going fine. She was right, of course; it was time to end. And he had even suggested it. But facing the reality….
“So,” she said after a while, “if you could go back to the beginning, what would that James think?”
He laughed at the image. “He’d think I was trying to trick him into something.”
“Yeah, I mean, look at me.” And James finally paused to do just that. “I went to my daughter’s recital last week,” he said quietly. “And I finally called Ricky. He’s doing good.”
“He wasn’t upset?”
James shook his head. “Hell, I haven’t had a nightmare this week.” Once he started, it was hard not to see the fruits of his determination.
At the end of the hour, he stood outside the office door, business card in hand “just in case.” It was time for the next chapter.
“You know the only option is to accept it,” she said, her words gentle yet firm.
“I know. I just–” the words broke. It was hard to see anything through this wash of tears. He brushed a hand across his eyes and the world blurred further. “How do you know?” he asked after a long, shaking breath.
“You don’t,” was the simple reply.
He studied the room around him, its chaos and senselessness. Things that had been overlooked now stood in stark relief. There was the picture of his sister, the keychain his friend had picked up on vacation, a t-shirt from a forgotten concert. This detritus of his life, now a testament.
“But what happened?” he asked. Clawing through his mind, he could find plenty of memories. But the end was blank. The empty space of a recently pulled tooth.
She shrugged, eyes wandering the room with polite curiosity.
“Can I say goodbye? Call my dad?”
She smiled, an ancient smile worn many times, as she softly shook her head. “The time for goodbyes has almost passed. Only one is left.”
She reached out her hand. He stared at it, world reeling and snapping into focus in succession. One moment, there was peace and acceptance. The next a maelstrom of doubt and uncertainty.
“They’ll miss me, though,” he said. His eyes searched hers, seeking mercy. “I don’t want them to be sad.”
“It is a human’s lot to love and lose.” She made a small gesture with her hand, urging him forward. “But joy comes with reunion. You can wait for them, just beyond.”
He did not try to wipe away the tears now, letting them fall as he took her hand. He looked at the world behind him–his corner of the universe–as it began to grow dim.
The Premise: Samantha Williams is an investigative journalist uncovering the truth behind unusual events. When she starts to dig into what happened to four teens in a mental health hospital, the missing Filmore Four, the story takes her deep into dangerous territory.
My Review: The Gloom is a remarkable horror story told through the investigative journalism frame. It sets out to tell the story of the Filmore Four, teenagers who died or vanished in relationship to a mental health hospital, all with a shared elusion related to The Gloom. It hints at a whole lot going on beneath the surface, and the reveal of information and the power of The Gloom is handled very well throughout.
One of the things that makes this audiodrama standout is how well it plays with uncertainty. Throughout the story, it is hard to know who or what to trust. The characters may be legitimately experiencing delusions with no ties to the real world. Or perhaps they are all tied together by this supernatural presence. Or maybe it’s an extended metaphor. Or maybe it’s medical experimentation. Even as the story comes together in the end, there are threads of uncertainty that make it hard to distinguish what is really going on. I absolutely love that constant ambiguity. And yet the end leaves enough that a listener can certainly settle on a conclusion.
The story is primarily told through Samantha’s experience, in addition to tapes of the Filmore Four. The frame of a radio production has been used regularly in audiodramas, and it works well here. It provides Samantha an initial impetus for the story, before the events begin to draw her in. The other characters in the world are also well developed and provide skepticism and expertise throughout, giving it a very realistic feel. I appreciate that there is a constant push to find the underlying cause, because I don’t think most people are ready to throw rationality out too easily, even when confronted with incredible things. Yet there are pieces left that lack logical explanation, leaving room for that delightful uncertainty.
As a therapist, I was also overjoyed to hear someone finally mention HIPAA when the journalist comes knocking. In general, I felt the mental health aspects were treated fairly. Some of the specifics about symptoms and disorders was clouded by the supernatural elements, so I give a bit of leeway in the accuracy. It is not, after all, a case study in diagnosing and treating mental illness. However, it was refreshing to have the realities portrayed and have someone call out unethical behavior from mental health providers directly. Since shining a light on the mental health system is one of the initial aims, that and understanding what The Gloom might be, it handles those elements well.
It comes from Violet Hour Media (who also created In Another Room), so the production value is there. I found the sound quality and use of sound effects to be great. The writing is well paced and engaging from start to finish. Characters show real emotion, and the world comes alive.
Overall, I enjoyed The Gloom from start to finish. The story has some familiar notes, but yet comes alive with the strength of the characters. It introduces a compelling mystery that only gets deeper as the details come out. It could be easy for this to come apart, but the story stays together to the end. For a spooky, supernatural story that manages to stay firmly anchored in our world, definitely give this a listen.
Theme: When you looked inside, you knew things would never be the same.
The water lapped against the boat, and I leaned back, letting the salt bake onto my body. It was time to head back to shore, but my boat was lighter than I had hoped. A little longer, a few more casts.
Then, there was a new sound. I shook off the afternoon doldrums and leaned my ears toward the sound, a steady tapping coming from the side of the boat.
It was some detritus caught in the tides. A mundane explanation, certainly. I started to settle back and lose myself in thought again. But the sound changed. A tap, then a splash, then more taps repeating a pattern. As if the ocean were playing a rhyming game from my youth.
I stood, shaking off fatigue and the inertia of a long day. As I leaned over the edge and gazed down into the water, I froze.
Events that change the way you view the world should come with some sort of fanfare. I got nothing besides a still day on the ocean and the traditional melancholy of my thoughts. Yet my world was reeling. For in that water was a face.
It was mostly human, I reasoned. A swimmer, here, far from shore, I irrationally reasoned. But that did not account for the graceful swoop of its lower body, the tail splashing water at my boat. The face smiled, golden eyes reflecting familiar friendliness. I had no way to understand what I was seeing, but I knew it was beautiful.
The creature tapped on the side of the boat with a playful twist of its head. Those were human hands, but for the webbing. One hand reached out to me, warm, inviting, and kind. I accepted.
Cheryl sat stiffly in the metal chair, taking deep breaths as Dr. Brown taught her; she studied the woman across the table. That woman had familiar blue eyes, a kind smile, and hair tucked into a nostalgic messy braid. Cheryl forced a smile.
“Hi, mom,” the woman said, hope and pain in her eyes.
“Addie?” Cheryl started. Dr. Brown nodded optimistically from where he perched on his chair in the corner.
“Yeah, mom, it’s me. It’s Addie.”
There were tears brimming on either side of the table. Cheryl let the edge of a true smile form. She reached across the table and took the young woman’s hand.
But something wasn’t right. Cheryl recoiled, all the joy vanishing.
“No,” she barked, “you aren’t Addie. Addie died. I saw her. She died.” The words were spilling out now, each more agonized than the last.
Dr. Brown was beside her in a moment. “Cheryl,” he said gently, “remember, we talked about this. Addie was taken to the hospital. She li–“
“No, my baby died. You are trying to trick me. It’s all a trick.” Now the words were a full-on yell, and none of Dr. Brown’s soothing made it through. He shared a glance with Addie, then tapped twice on the door behind him.
The orderly helped Cheryl out of the room, a mix of firm and gentle born of compassion and years of experience.
Once the door closed, Dr. Brown turned back to Addie, the customer service smile fading.
“That was a pitiful performance,” he spat. “We’ve got that woman as drugged as we can while keeping her conscious, and she wasn’t fooled for a minute.” His gaze was cold and Addie met it in kind. “Do better,” he hissed as he exited, “or you’ll get us all killed.”
The Premise: Two followers of an outlawed god travel rural lands in an attempt to find miracles and workings of their god. It exists in a world where consumerism and religion have melded, and where belief begets existence in many ways, whether you want it to or not.
My Review: Billing itself as a mix of weird fiction and horror, The Silt Verses manages to tell a story horrifying in its content and implications in equal measure. It is a tough one to explain, because it is so different than a lot of what is out there. It is most similar to I am in Eskew, a show by the same creators. The Silt Verses continues the strong tradition of blending the impossible and the macabre into a complex world with serious stakes. The powers that rule the world are fickle and often cruel, highlighting the precarious fragility of humanity within the web of their power.
From moment one, the tone of the show is dark, brooding, and mysterious. Things that are explained as commonplace and expected are subtly (and not-so-subtly at times) wrong, leaving a sense that something is deeply wrong. In many ways, it it like the uncanny valley, but for existence rather than entities. The world has some similarities to our own, and yet the early signs point to things being horribly wrong.
One of the factors that I find most intriguing is the blend between consumerism and religion. Say what you will about the mix in our current world, but this takes it to a new extreme. Brands rely on gods, create gods, bring worship to them. Throughout the show, there is this idea that belief, want, and need can at times combine in terrible ways to create monstrous power. And once that power exists, it requires worship and sacrifice. These are not merely metaphorical concepts, either, but eldritch horrors that reach into the world on the behalf of companies. There is also the unsettling feeling that everyone is playing with powers much grander than they can understand, that one change in the fickle nature of these gods could bring about disaster.
The two main characters are Carpenter and Faulkner as they seek out miracles from their outlawed god, the Trawler-Man. They form a competitive, unwilling partnership for such a pilgrimage, and their conflict reveals uncomfortable truths about the religions of their world. As the story progress, Officer Hayward is introduced, an investigator specializing in uncovering and stopping those who try to follow forbidden gods. The characters are incredible. their backstories unfold over the course of episodes, displaying various degrees of reverence, despair, confidence, disillusionment, and cynicism. The world continues to expand with more characters, more perspectives, and more details about the way this strange world works. Each character that appears feels complete and driven, with a chaotic network of aligned and conflicting goals existing between them.
The story does not rush, but steadily draws out the world and the characters. It is paced well, lingering on those uncomfortable, impossible moments. Each episode either adds a new complication, a new facet of the world, or a new step forward in the character’s competing quests. The writing is dramatic in style, often introspective in its focus. Dialogue between characters feels realistic and well-crafted. As the characters deepen, the dialogue showcases who they trust and how much through what is said and left unsaid.
Since The Silt verses released, I have been eagerly listening through each episode, getting pulled further into the world being created. It is a dark story, set in an unpleasant and threatening world. As far as horror goes, it does not rely on jump scares or gore, but on existential dread and unsettling imagery. The writing is polished, intentional, and beautiful in its stylized way. As far as exceptional horror podcasts go, no list would be complete without including the Silt Verses. There is more to come in this story, and I am worried about where it may take us.
The music poured around her, filling the car with sound and energy. Kyla moved with the music, belting out the tunes as she shot down the highway towards lands ahead. She felt alive, invigorated, and so she drove on, car diving in and out of pools of light as streetlights flickered overhead. It was a path set out for her.
The car moved with her, acting as an extension of her own body. She was dragon and rider, knight and steed, moving with one singular purpose to the rhythm encompassing her. The road, now conquered, faded away beneath her tires and she pressed on.
There was plenty of music, designed precisely for an occasion such as this. The disc spun in the player and dozens more awaited, each promising a mix of nostalgia and joy. Lyrics poured out of her from places mostly forgotten as tears trailed down her cheeks, unacknowledged except to wipe them away when the road dissolved into a blur. She drove onward.
With the bursting light of dawn, she turned off the highway and onto the city streets, eventually coming to stop in front of an unfamiliar apartment she would call home. Silence settled in heavily once the car was off, and she felt her mind surging ahead. It would be a few hours yet before the office opened to get keys, but moving in would not take long. She hazarded a glance at the flotsam of her old life lying in boxes in the backseat, fragments of something before, but turned away. No time for the past now. She had made sure to fill the road behind her with enough noise to keep her thoughts from wending back that way.
It was a new day, and she planned to keep it that way.
The Premise: The story begins in the city of Highgate, introducing most of the central cast. When raiders attack, the five not-yet-heroes set out on a journey of various aims, from supporting one another to vengeance. Set in a wide fantasy world full of danger and magic, it centers on the six adventurers soon to be known as Aurora Nova.
My Review: The Legacy Saga is a classic fantasy adventure following the origins of our heroic groups as they set out on their first true quest. It is a familiar, comfortable fantasy story that develops a host of interesting characters striving to make their ways in a deep and fantastic world.
The story starts with introductions and orientation to the general themes. It gives the characters an opportunity to stretch and develop their skills and motivations early on, pushing them into the rising action through magic and misadventure. It begins with five of the six characters as they live in the city of Highgate, a city no one has left for years. Azrael, Atarah, Sabin, Rowan, and Naiea provide an introduction to the world of the Legacy Saga. Each one has a unique background with differing drives. It certainly has its connection to the RPG world, and that provides a wonderful structure from which the story grows.
When tragedy comes to Highgate, the heroes are forced to decide if and how they will respond. Their friendship and individual needs pull them together and out of the safety of Highgate. One clever thing this audiodrama does is include a cast of characters with little exposure to the outside world. As the world expands beyond the gates, the characters are learning right alongside the listeners. It provides a very natural way to develop the world. And the world itself appears well-developed, with its own conflicts, technology, magic, and politics. I am interested to learn more about how differing factions and fantasy races fill in the world.
This is certainly the kind of story that hinges on its characters, and the six main characters each provide a different facet to the overall story. They balance each other well and provide competing motivations for the group as a whole. The relationships within the group continue to develop and evolve episode by episode, developing strong ties and tenuous alliances.
There is a very light frame story in play, only referenced with occasional audience comments. Personally, I have found these moments tend to reduce some of the tension and at times undermine some clever foreshadowing. However, these are very brief moments and do not generally detract from the events and the story. And the story is intriguing. It hits on familiar fantasy themes, but I am certainly invested in learning about what is going on, who the good and bad guys are, and how the heroes will manage.
I’m always going to be a sucker for good fantasy, and the Legacy Saga has drawn me in. It has a cast of interesting characters thrown into a complex world. I’ve never played DnD, but the influences are clear in the structure and development. I find it enjoyable to hear those beats without worrying about the dice rolls or fine details of actual play. If you want to get pulled into a fantasy world with someone new to root for, then the Legacy Saga is worth a listen.
When I was a child, I used to wish I could fly away. I had seen Mary Poppins, watched her float through the sky, and wanted the same. I’d grip my umbrella tightly as I jumped from puddle to puddle, one part joyous with each satisfying splash from my boots, the other part wishing to feel the earth fall away beneath me. I never knew where I would go, only away. On an adventure. Wasn’t that how the stories always went?
I grew up and, like all children, dropped those foolish notions. No adults flew around on umbrellas. She’d asphyxiate before she ever got high enough, anyways. And, to be honest, maybe Mary Poppins wasn’t even that good of a nanny, right?
But standing there, umbrella up against the rain, I felt all the old yearnings resurge. The handle was smooth plastic, the cheap nylon canopy–in an appropriate black–popping with each raindrop. There was a steady stream falling around me as I stood protected in my bubble. I was vaguely aware of comforting hands on my arm, my back. Gentle squeezes of encouragement. But all they seemed to do was further tether me to the ground.
And so I gripped the handle. Here I would not jump, but I would wish. As I looked at the looming grave, dirt steadily falling on the lid below, I hoped every moment to feel that lift beneath me. I did not know where I would go, but wherever it was would be away from here. And maybe wherever that was would be a place you still were.