Gabe walked out hand in hand with the girl from the party. Her name was Jessica, he thought. It had been loud inside, and he was always terrible with names. He did know that she was pretty, laughed at his jokes, and kept smiling at him all night. Those, for the moment, were certainly more important than names.
“You know how they do those stupid human trick shows and stuff?” he asked her. It was cold out, and he remembered seeing the words coalesce in the early morning darkness.
She pulled her arms around her and nodded. “Yeah, like burping the alphabet backwards or fitting into a shoebox or something?”
“Yeah, that kind of stuff.” He paused and gave her a smile he hoped came across as intriguing and not creepy as it felt. “I’ve got one of my own.”
He could almost see the eye roll. And to be fair, it did sound like a bad pick-up line, now that he played it back. But that wasn’t the point. The bad pick-up line would come later. “Not like that,” he added quickly, the false bravado and charm fading away.
She took a step or two away, looking at him with a subtle smile. Then she raised an eyebrow. “Show me.”
He smiled. “Okay, look up at the sky and pick a star,” he explained, hurrying over to stand just behind and to the side of her.
“Alright, that one,” she said with finality.
“Can you point to it? So I know which one?”
“Well, this isn’t going to be much of a magic trick if I show you my star, but sure.” She lifted her arm and pointed to a middling bright star in the middle of the sky.
“Good choice,” he said thoughtfully, then raised his arm. “Keep your eye on that star, and—“ he extended his finger, pointing to the star as well. “Poof.”
Like that, the star blinked out, leaving a little patch of black in the sky.
“Whoa, did you just—can you do it again?”
He laughed, then answered her. “Yeah, of course. Choose another one.”
She did, and they repeated the process. Four times total.
“That’s amazing. I mean, you just point and they disappear?”
“Yeah,” he said, with insincere humility, “just something that I’ve been able to do since I was a kid. Don’t show off too much or else the government might track me down.” She leaned back against him, staring up at the sky with its covering of stars that now seemed not quite so far away. “And if you think that’s impressive, “ he said, leaning close to her ear, “you should see what else these fingers can do.”
And there was the bad pick-up line.
It was later, lying in bed, that Jessica—that was her name, he had confirmed surreptitiously—brought the trick up again.
“So, like, do the stars just stay out or…?”
He blinked his eyes open and shifted his position, trying to stay focused despite a wave of grogginess. “No, they come back, at least by the next night or so. I’ve never really timed it.”
“And you can just do that? Like, you weren’t hit on the head with a meteor or born in a spaceship or anything?”
“Not that I know of. Just found out when I went star watching with my grandpa one year.”
“And you primarily use this power to get women to sleep with you?”
“What?” he asked, a hint of offense coloring his words. “I definitely do not do that. It’s just that the only people I trust with my secret ability are those that are willing to sleep with me. I can’t just let everyone know I’m the world’s most useless superhero. If my secret identity got out,” he chuckled and let the sentence hang incomplete, settling comfortably into the pillows.
“Well, your secret is safe with me,” she said, rolling over and pulling the covers around her contentedly.
Gabe closed his eyes, breathing a deep sigh as he let the drowsiness take over. He was nearly asleep again when her voice broke through.
“But what if there are, like, planets round those stars?”
He shook his head, as if that would shake off the sleepy feeling. “Planets?” he asked, trying to quickly replay the last few seconds to make sure he knew what she said. “I’m sure there are planets around them. Aren’t there tons of planets out there?”
“Yeah, yeah, but” she sat up, suddenly looking excited, “but what if there are people on the planets? And you just turned out their sun?”
“Oh no,” he said, throwing his arm over his face and rolling to the side with theatrics. “I picked up the crazy chick. Don’t tell me you believe in aliens.”
She gave him a playful push on the shoulder, laughing herself. This was one of those moments he would go back to after their relationship eventually dissolved. Her in the bed, hair tousled, eyes sleepy, but a wide smile on her face as she laughed. Through the laughter, she thought out her response. “I mean, no, not really, but who knows, right? There’s so much out there, and—“
“Listen, if there are aliens out there, they can come and ask for an apology. I’ll give it to them. But I think it is mighty suspicious that sightings of aliens have dropped now that everyone has a handy camera with them 24/7. So I think I’m safe.”
And yet, here he was.
The abduction didn’t happen like it did in the movies. There was no blinding white light or tractor beam. And Gabe was pretty sure he was not paralyzed, at least not physically. It was, however, very much like those kidnapping movies that took off for a while. A bunch of shadows in his bedroom that suddenly lunged and grabbed him on all sides, sliding something bag-like over his head, and then carrying him out of the house. Gabe heard the door squeak shut behind them, the sound of too many feet on the gravel, and then an electronic whoosh and snap sound. The air around him was cooler, not the humid summer heat, and the light making its way through whatever was on his head was brighter. He felt cold ground beneath him as they set him down, then everything stopped.
His heart was still pounding in his chest, a rapid beat that threatened to burst right out of his chest. He tried taking everything in, tried making the shadows he had seen match anything plausible. He was being kidnapped, that was certain, but he had a very unsettling feeling it was not by anyone or anything he had encountered before.
“You can remove the hood,” said a voice. The sound of English made his heart slow a pace or two. They spoke English. So that meant it was unlikely anything as absurd as his mind had raced to.
“I can leave it on, if you prefer. You know, so I don’t know who you are. So you don’t have to kill me.” The words poured out of his mouth, sounding stupider than he thought.
A sigh. “I’d prefer to speak to you directly.”
Gabe grabbed the hood and lifted it off in a fumbling motion. And as his eyes adjusted to the bright light, the conversation so long ago with Jessica came rushing back.
In the movies, abductions use tractor beams. In the movies, aliens are vaguely humanoid. Gabe was discovering both of these were simply Hollywood magic and nothing at all related to reality.
The gathering of being stood around his cage. There were five of them—no six. One had no form at all, but did appear to be a collection of moving haze. One at least had clear legs, though there were four of them. He could generally find eyes in their various places on the beings, and some had indentions that Gabe thought could possibly be mouths. But beyond that, his understanding of their anatomy stopped. Despite the bright lights, the room started to go dark around the edges. Then the middle. Then everywhere.
The room was still cold and bright when Gabe awoke, and there was a hum of activity off to the side. He was not in his bedroom, which meant something had happened, but it most certainly could not be those things swimming to the surface of his mind.
Voices. He tried to focus on them, if only to stop the spinning in his head.
-not what we really were expecting.”
“Does it really matter what this creature is like? It’s dangerous!”
“I just don’t think we should make any sort of rash decision.”
“No one is suggesting we act rashly but just—“
“Me. I suggest we act rashly. Who knows? It could wipe us all out before we even—“
“Now we have no reason to think—“
“You don’t get to just—“
The voices began to meld into a stream of babble and yelling that was indistinguishable. Gabe slowly rolled over, letting himself finally take a look at his surroundings.
It was, unfortunately, exactly as he remembered. A white room, bars surrounding him, and a menagerie of completely alien creatures standing in a huddled mass to the side.
Eventually one of them—some creature with what looked like tentacles and apparently a mouth that opened by splitting their head widely down the middle—noticed he was moving.
“It has awoken,” it said, a sharp tone of panic in its voice. The others turned quickly to stare at him.
“Earthling,” said one of them, taking a step towards him. This one had four legs, three long protrusions with what looked like eyeballs, and no discernible mouth. Nothing moved when he spoke, but Gabe heard it clearly. “We have been sent to neutralize you.”
“You speak English,” Gabe gawked, his mind trying desperately to help him see that was not the important part here. The alien’s face fell, as did the others, and Gabe was amazed to discover he could recognize disdain in completely alien features. Perhaps that was another superpower he possessed.
“Our ship automatically translates all language into something you can understand.”
Curiously, Gabe also discovered that the same disappointed tone was also easily interpreted. He sat staring and they stared back at him. Now that he had a chance to see them without passing out, he realized they were all wearing what looked like armor of some sort. The pieces were all different, fit to their physiology, but made of some thick, dark, shiny substance. They were some sort of military squadron? Or pirates? Or space cops?
His mind finally ran through and processed what had been said to him before, and panic shot through his system. “Wait, neutralize?”
“He got there!” said one of the creatures, though Gabe did not look quickly enough to tell who. From the gestures being made, he thought it might have been amorphous creature standing towards the back and cycling through different colors, but he could not be sure.
The four-legged alien spoke again. “Yes, that is our mission. We have been sent to save our homes and neutralize you. By whatever means necessary.”
“I think you have the wrong person. I just work in a call center. I don’t have anything to do with aliens.”
“So you aren’t the one who keeps extinguishing our stars?”
Had he been on Earth, Gabe was certain this would be a good time to request a lawyer. But, with aliens, he was not sure if the idea of a lawyer even translated. Or was an option. They had just kidnapped him, after all. Or was it an arrest? He felt out of his depth.
“Can I plead the fifth? Is that a thing?”
The gathered group turned toward one another, then back to him. “That is not an answer. Have you extinguished our stars?”
One of the group stepped forward slightly. Its face, or what Gabe liked to think of as its face, was covered in a smattering of shiny, black spheres. Most likely eyes, but this was all a learning exercise for him. The sides of its head suddenly lifted, two large wing-like appendages stretching into the air. These were connected to the rest of it by shimmering strands of something. It stood there, waiting.
“What would happen if I had?”
“This is going to take all day, Devlox.” Now Gabe was sure it was the large amorphous creature. It turned a striking shade of maroon with impatience.
“We have plenty of time before we reach home system. If it takes many days, it takes many days.”
“Home system?” said Gabe, sitting up straighter and feeling his heart begin to race again. “You mean we’re leaving Earth?”
“Yes, we left some time ago. As soon as we boarded, actually,” responded Devlox. Gabe felt a little better. This…being was at least willing to be reasonable. To answer questions. The good cop, thought Gabe. And bad cop was back there. But that still left a lot of undecided creatures in the wings.
“But then what if it’s not me?”
The collection of haze spoke. Its voice was in the ship, but Gabe also seemed to feel it resonating through him. All in all, it was a very unpleasant situation. “Earthling, we already know it is you. Devlox and his kind are more…skeptical of modern technology.”
“I’m simply not willing to base such a decision on the advice of a machine, Cylantha. There is nothing wrong with being diligent.”
Cylantha sighed, which felt similar to a strong wind pushing against Gabe’s body. “Yes, but this whole interrogation is simply to satisfy you.”
“Fine,” Devlox stomped back, a feat Gabe noted was more impressive with more legs. “Then what do you suggest we do? Go ahead and execute it?”
The amorphous creature turned a shade of green that Gabe felt very unsettled by. “That’s the easiest way, yes.”
Another, tinier voice spoke up as a rather short, squid-like creature piped up. “It is wrong to kill another creature. We must find another way”
“Wrong to kill a creature that could wipe out all our planets in an instant? That’s wrong?” spoke the tentacle creature that had first alerted them to Gabe’s consciousness.
“It always brought them back,” added the little one, not shrinking down from the intimidating figure. “Right?” he asked, turning toward Gabe.
“Well, I mean, I guess so. I didn’t really do anything, you see.”
“So you mean to say you didn’t extinguish the stars?” asked Devlox.
“I guess, I mean, I did. I didn’t mean to. Well, I meant to, but I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
“And you brought them back?” added Devlox.
“They just, always came back. I didn’t have to do anything.”
The creature with the wing-like appendages and many eyes stepped back, the wings folding back in. “It is telling the truth,” it said in a monotone. Somehow, that did not seem to help.
The large creature now stepped forward. “You mean to tell me you just hoped they would come back?” it roared, skin flashing all shades of dark blue and purple.
“You just hoped it would work?” squeaked the tiny creature with a hurt, accusing tone. Gabe shrank back more from the disappointment than the rage. He had always been susceptible to a good guilt trip.
There was a push of wind, something from Cylantha, Gabe assumed, and the group quieted. It was silent, and in that silence Gabe felt guilt pouring over him. The only solution was to break that silence. “So you are telling me I’ve been turning your sun off and on for all these years?”
“Yes,” came the exasperated sigh from most of the seven assembled beings. It was not in unison, but almost.
“And you had no idea what you were doing?” asked Devlox. Gabe noticed that the wing flaps were back up.
“I knew if I pointed at a star, it would blink out. And then come back later. I had no idea there were aliens—“ he watched the whole room recoil at that word—“up there. I never wanted to hurt anyone.”
“It is telling the truth,” came the same monotone report as the wings closed again.
“So you just kept doing it? With no thought to the consequences?” asked Cylantha.
“I didn’t know anyone else was out there.”
“So this is the great Destroyer,” said Devlox, pacing across the ship. Again, it was remarkable to Gabe how universal disappointment seemed to be. “Sorry there will be no need for an honor duel, Antu,” it finished, waving to the amorphous creature who had settled into a silvery green shade.
“It would not be much of a fight,” snapped back Antu.
“Do we have to kill him, then?” squeaked the squid-like creature. Devlox looked to the group.
“I don’t know,” said the weary creature after a moment. “Things are not going according to the plan.”
“How did you get your powers?” asked Cylantha, wafting forward toward the bars. “Did you purchase them? Performa a ritual? Defeat a great enemy?”
Gabe shrugged, then realized that might not translate to a group of beings with no shoulders to speak of. “I don’t know. I just always could.”
“And you never found that odd?” asked the hazy form again.
“I mean, sure, it was a weird trick. I’d show people sometimes and they’d be amazed. But I tried not to make a big deal out of it. Sounds like it caused you all a lot of problems.”
“Well, mass panic intermittently, irregularities in temperature and gravitational fields, and the crushing despair that one day Kav’nu may not return,” bristled a blue-shaded Antu.
“I’m sorry,” said Gabe.
“See, it’s sorry everyone. We can just forgive it and go on with our lives,” squeaked the squid.
All three of Devlox’s eye stalks peered down at the tiny thing, blinking slowly. “That’s not how this works, Meerk. It could still destroy us all.”
“But it said it’s sorry.”
“And I am sorry. I promise, now that I know, I won’t do it again.” Gabe began to foolishly hope that this tactic might actually work, given his sincerity.
“Oh, we will be sure of that,” said Devlox, eyes returning forward.
“You’re going to kill me?” Gabe whispered.
“Not yet. But we are going to keep an eye on you. You say it happens when you point? Wait, Viremat,” Devlox gestured to the thing with many eyes that stepped forward, raising the flaps on its head again. “It only happens when you point at a star?”
“Speak,” ordered Cylantha.
“Yes,” squeaked Gabe, feeling so many eyes on him.
“It speaks the truth.”
Devlox took a deep breath. “Alright then, Antu, get something to hold its arms down. We’ve got a long trip ahead of us.”
Thanks for reading!
I haven’t written in a long time. I’ve dabbled here and there, but this was one of the first times I sat down with an idea and just got to get it out there. I typed it up on my day off, gave it a read through and made some adjustments, but I’m just so happy that I got something done! This is an idea that I had in the first few weeks after my little girl was born. Those were some rough weeks and, despite being tired, my anxiety was doing a great job ensuring I was not sleeping. “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Haha, okay then.
I started developing this idea then, after singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to her. And having something to think about, a world to play with, it made me start to feel better. So I really wanted to get back to this and flesh out this character. It’s changed a lot from where it started, but I think it was a fun idea to play with. It’s what I needed then, and what I needed now to help me do something just for me.
Episodes: 8 episodes so far
Length: Generally around 30-45 minutes
I’ve listened to… everything put out so far.
The Premise: A group of hopeful actresses show up at Annabelle Crowe’s residence for an acting workshop. Only they accidentally summon a demon overlord, like you do. Now it is up to these women and some helpful (or not) companions to just mostly try to survive the whole demon thing.
My Review: As someone who grew up on the corny movies on the Sci-Fi (now Syfy, what?) channel and a healthy dose of MST3K, this show is perfect. It is an audiodrama that lovingly plays with so many of the horror tropes, but takes them in unexpected directions. Or sometimes plays them up for the humor. I mean, they do have a priest there, after all. Maybe. He has a priest ID, so who can question that? If you like horror that knows how to laugh, then this is definitely something worth listening to.
The concept is good, bouncing between some really unsettling horror ideas and some honestly funny moments. The narrator in the series, who I think knows more than she’s letting on, has a great tone about her that helps balance the mood of the story as a whole. It provides some nice transitions, some good foreshadowing, and adds an additional level of mystery to what is really going on in Crowe House. The podcast overall is really well written and well-acted. So often, people try for these self-mocking style stories, but end up falling flat by either taking themselves too seriously or not taking the story seriously enough. Calling Darkness manages to balance those very well so far. The story is good and well-executed, not leaving glaring holes or inconsistencies. The characters are interesting and well-acted by their voice actors. And at the same time, they lovingly mock themselves and other tropes within the genre.
Speaking of characters, I think this is a true strength of the podcast. The characters are all stereotypical to a degree, but play up those qualities for plot and character development. So many stories miss the mark when playing around with stereotypical characters because they leave them in that role. Calling Darkness has already done a great job demonstrating character growth, development, and depth. So what starts out as your stereotypical horror movie scream queen develops into someone much more complicated through the story. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes as the plot continues to unfold.
Overall, Calling Darkness feels like horror-humor audiodrama gold. It brings in demons, guilt, alcohol, running from the past, acting, songs by Journey, pizza, horror, and humor all together into one messy, wonderful pot. If you like this kind of media, then Calling Darkness is an excellent take on the story with some complicated and strong leads just trying to survive. The latest episode released as of this posting, (episode 8: “It’s All Going to Hell”) was one of the strongest of the season and really demonstrates how good this story can be. You want to start at episode 1 so you can appreciate how wonderful that episode is. And by that point, you should probably just keep listening to see where it goes.
You can find them here: Calling Darkness
Episodes: 8 episodes in this contained story
Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes
I’ve listened to… the whole story
The Premise: Five people live alone in a post-apocalyptic world…until one day someone knocks on the door. With this change comes many others that threaten the delicate equilibrium they have established.
My Review: This is another story that is all told in one season release. And, much like The Deca Tapes last week, it tells the story in a packed eight episodes. And again, it is a story I was so sad to see end. It starts quiet and slow, and builds tension in a more restrained way. The stakes are high at times, but the tension built is of a quiet sort that seeps into you and twists into knots. The creators have described it as a “pastoral post-apocalyptic audio drama.” When you break down what that means, it does an excellent job of describing the tone and feel of the story. It’s quiet, subdued in that pastoral sense. But it’s also post-apocalyptic. So the main reason it’s got such a quiet tone? Most of the humans on earth are dead, with all our noise and chaos.
The story focuses on five main characters: The Archivist, the Cook, the Scientist, the Soldier, and the Kid. The Archivist is the main character and the narrator for most events, and she develops as a rather complex character. In fact, all the characters are pretty complex. They are flawed, selfish, and impulsive at times throughout the story. But their wants, desires, and ways of handling situations are so painfully human. They make mistakes–some of them big–and there are real consequences. There are also situations with no good solution that left me feeling bad for the characters put in those predicaments. In eight short episodes, I was able to connect with the characters and see their perspectives, even when I disagreed or knew it was going to lead to trouble. It is that realism that captured me and separated this story from the millions of other post-apocalypse tales that have flooded…well…everything.
This is certainly the kind of story that could go on for many seasons and episodes, meandering through crisis after crisis. However, I think its strength is that it does not try to do that, but instead focuses on telling one story, and telling it very well. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end. There is a central conflict that the characters are working to resolve, each in their own way, and their success or failure is what drives everything forward. I found some episodes a little slower than others, but I think that is a good thing. There is tension in the story surrounding timing, and so it’s fitting that I’m getting nervous and wanting to rush ahead, because rushing feels like it would solve the in-world problems. Even if it might not.
My critique does come at the end, in the way things were wrapped up. Without giving too much away, I felt it was too convenient in how it tied up loose ends. There was ambiguity, moral quandaries, and uncertainty all throughout. To have an ending that put a bow on so many things was not as satisfying. I think I wanted more ambiguity in the ending, to leave it a little messy. While I like the clarity about how things end, it felt inconsistent with the other story beats. That said, it did end everything and bring the main conflicts to a satisfying resolution.
While the story was not always positive and uplifting, I found myself enjoying listening simply for the quiet, contemplative tone that it set. The characters were human in all the best and worst ways, the story followed a steady and even pace, and the themes presented were really interesting to hear. I spent a good bit of time wondering about some of the dilemmas presented, trying to figure out right, wrong, and a way out for the characters. It is a different take on the apocalypse, but one that is refreshing in its perspective and treatment of human themes.
You can find them here: Still Lives
The Deca Tapes
Episodes: 8 episodes in this contained story
Length: Generally around 25-35 minutes
I’ve listened to… the whole story
The Premise: Recordings have been released detailing the lives and events that befall ten strangers kept together in a small, confined location. The strangers, each with their own roles in this micro-society, narrate the events. These events are also cut together with news, radio, and interview clips providing more background on who the ten people are and how they arrived there. I don’t want to say much more, because anything else might give away some of the fun twists and turns.
My Review: Looking for a really interesting mystery? Something with a bit of whodunit, a bit of conspiracy, and a whole lot of piecing clues together to uncover the big picture? The Deca Tapes manages to bring a lot of ideas together in a really successful format. It is a very serious mystery and deals with some adult themes and content throughout. But the way it all comes together makes for a wonderful ride. I’m going to do my best to avoid giving too much away, because the slow reveal is certainly one of the strengths of the story as a whole.
Each episode follows a single character and outlines a bit of their life. Some pasts (and presents, for that matter) are horrifying, some are sad, and many live in a messy grey area. Character development is brief, since most only get one episode to really share their perspective; however, they manage to be unique in voice, motivation, and personality. By midway through, a listener can start to recognize and understand how characters are likely to respond as new situations face the group. There are some characters with more thorough development, background, and personality, but each serves their place in the overarching story.
The clips from outside the group serve to provide a lot of character development, as well as push the mystery forward. These ended up being some of my favorite parts, because I felt each one gave some clue to the mystery, and I was hungry to learn more. On top of that, the backgrounds of the characters shared through this format were really creative. I was often surprised by the directions the stories took, and the writing took care to avoid some of the more obvious or expected tropes. As the character backgrounds come into focus, it makes it clear how each was assigned to their role, and why that might not always be for the best. If you do the math, though, you’ll notice that not every character gets their episode. Which I think works in the end, but my greedy curiosity would have loved more.
Another strength is that the writers clearly set out to tell a specific story. The plot is tight and moves at a good pace. Each episode serves to reveal a little more, and I certainly felt a growing sense of dread as the pieces began to line up and the big mystery became clearer. With eight episodes, it does not drag, nor does it feel too rushed. The preparation and storytelling considerations up front really help this story stand out.
My main critique would be the ending. Not because it was bad; it was completely fitting and appropriate given the direction of the story. I think it also threw me for an unexpected loop related to the timeline, but I won’t say more. However, I was left wanting more. I wanted more about these characters, more about their journey, and more about the shady stuff going on behind the scenes. It’s not that the ending did not wrap everything up nicely, but rather that the story really captured my curiosity. I was sad to see my time of studying this tiny portion of the universe end. And if I’m being honest, I really wanted there to be ten tapes. Because the Deca Tapes. But I think that might have been a little too on theme, and maybe not entirely consistent with the overall message.
The Deca Tapes is a well-paced, somber mystery that explores greed, religion, human nature, fear, and a lot of other deep concepts. It take a “found tapes” style approach, but develops those more fully so that it becomes a very vibrant story. While I had figured out a good bit by the end, as I mentioned, there were still some surprises waiting. It’s a solid story, written well, and executed beautifully. At eight well-constructed episodes, it is definitely worth listening to, even if you turn out like me and end up craving even more.
You can find them here: The Deca Tapes