The crone had been clear with her instructions. Davalon had left the bottle under the full moon, had only water from the Halcyon Lakes since dawn, and now held the sweet-smelling elixir uncorked in his hand.
“Drink it before your task, and you will be guaranteed success. No follies will find you.” Before he left, she placed a hand on his arm, one finger raised in final warning. “Take care. This is a powerful spell. Do not squander it.”
He did not intend to. Steeling his nerves and belting his scabbard to his side, Davalon tossed his head back and drank the elixir, feeling a tingling swim through his body alongside the adrenaline. He prepared to leave for the arena, where his opponent was already boasting loudly.
The curtain to his tent swirled, and Maryalei appeared. There was a new stutter step to his heartbeat as she looked at him.
“I was not sure I would catch you,” she said.
Davalon felt his whole body vibrating with life; he was not sure if it was anticipation, fear, lovesickness, or the effects of the draught. “Marya,” he said before the words stuck. He felt like a schoolboy, not a knight-to-be. And yet, if the crone’s magic failed, when would he have this chance? “I am glad you came.”
She smiled, a hint of laughter in her eyes.
“After this,” he started, feeling a growing sense of confidence as his head swam with opportunity, “I would have your hand in marriage, if you’ll have mine?”
She rushed to him. “Of course,” she sighed, an unexpectedly easy victory.
At that moment, Davalon felt an empty feeling as the confidence fled and fear and nerves remained. One task, he recalled and hoped he might live long enough to enjoy what his potion had granted.
Theme: They never saw it coming
Trevor bounced from foot to foot, waiting for the doors to open and admit his soon-to-be wife down the aisle. He felt sweat run down his collar, a heavy smile on his nervous lips. He had not seen her since yesterday’s rehearsal, per tradition and her request; he imagined her resplendent for him alone. So he looked to the heavy wooden doors at the end of the aisle as the organ geared up and started the notes.
It was a bar too far into the song and the doors had not opened. He shifted again, smile shuddering, still waiting. Then, a creak and groan as the aged wood slowly edged open.
His eyes found hers just above her harsh smile. And then confusion and panic settled in as another figure in a white dress started down the aisle as well, hand in hand. Her father was supposed to be walking her down the aisle, but instead, there was a second bride.
The nerves settled firmly into a knot in his stomach.
Anna walked down the aisle in time to the song, never letting her gaze deviate from his. His eyes swung back and forth between his bride and the other woman, trying to wake up from this nightmare. Finally, the song ended and Anna stood at the bottom of the steps. They had rehearsed; he would go down, take her hand, and help her up. Only he froze.
“I figured since you thought you could date both of us, you wouldn’t mind marrying us both?” she said with acid dripping from her voice.
Louisa smiled too, and he was trapped beneath their withering gazes. “Only I’m not sure either of us wants to say ‘I do.’”
Trevor fainted, the only way to save any dignity he had left.
Episodes: 9 in the first season
Length: 25-45 minutes per episode, with most around 30 minutes
I’ve listened to… All of the story
Transcripts Available: Not that I could locate
The Premise: Mike takes a job to run a fire lookout tower in the remote forest, hoping to get away and work on his novel. But once there, he begins to hear and see strange things, eerily similar to the fate that befell his predecessor in the tower.
My Review: Tower 4 is from 7 Lamb Productions and tells a spooky story of isolation and conspiracy. I stumbled across the show and quickly was drawn into the narrative style and lives of the characters. The focus on nature really caught my attention, and being someone a little more constrained by the responsibilities of life, the freedom of being in the wild is, well, intriquiging.
The story focuses on Mike’s life in the eponymous Tower, including his relationship with his one and only contact to the outside world, Amber–the lookout for Tower 3. The story manages to weave the two personalities together into a very interesting narrative. Both appear unreliable at times. Mike is harboring his own hurts and demons, and maybe the isolation is a bit much for him. The constant question as I listened was what was coinicdence and what was something sinister. Amber provides a skeptic’s balance to the events. But as Mike begins to distrust her, I as the listener did as well. She manages to easily dismiss the events–is that because she knows more than she’s telling, or because Mike is making more of the events than they are?
Despite this constant duel between potentially unreliable narrators, the relationships between Mike and Amber is nice to hear. There are some really natural, friendly moments between them. Throughout the course of the episodes, their relationship provides a platform to deepen both characters through their interactions and snippets of the past. They are both wounded in some way, running from something in the woods. That common hurt allows them to grow closer, showcasing their strengths in their interactions. It also leads to a good bit of the conflict. I’d be remiss to not include the forest as a character here as well, and the way the setting interacts within the world is really well done. It is the backdrop, but also begins to seemingly take on more agency as the story develops. I leave the episodes so far feeling as if the forest is not simply a neutral location, but could be either friend or foe.
The storyline overall is paced well. It starts relatively calm, with Mike learning his role and exploring the area. The strange elements begin to creep in on the fringes, but develop more and more quickly as the story progresses. It shows enough to keep the story interesting without ever really revealing what all is going on. The story balances reveal and concealment very well, with each new piece of information moving closer to the truth. And yet it does not rush the ending. In fact, season 1 ends in a way the opens up a myriad of questions for season 2.
The story has a first person narrative approach, and I found it very easy to listen to Mike throughout. The writing, descriptive level, pacing, and tone of voice are rather relaxing. For me, that made those tense moments stand out all the more from the surroundings. It’s easy to be lulled into a feeling of peace in the forest, away from everyone. And yet this podcast demonstrates one less common reason why that can be a very dangerous thing.
Interspersed are excerpts of Mike’s book, telling about his past relationship and the way it fell apart. There is a real sense of grief, loss, and guilt not only in the narrative sections, but also in Mike’s reflections on this event and other parts of his life. It provides a deeply introspective tone, and the events of the story serve to highlight this. Mike is at once finding similar patterns and trying to respond differently, to choose a new path for his life. And yet it seems like some forces may have other plans.
Overall, I have found Tower 4 to be a wonderful show that makes me happy every time I see it show up in my feed. The characters are inviting and human in their motivations and interactions, and I continue to listen to see how they will play off one another. Each twist of the plot brings it deeper and deeper into the world of the weird, steadily building up strange occurrences. Just as the pieces begin to fall into place, something else takes things off course. I love a story that starts simple and explodes into dozens of questions and mysteries, and Tower 4 does that exceptionally well. If you want to puzzle over some clues and get lost in a conspiratorial mystery, I’d recommend you find a quiet place and tune into the first season.
Theme: “Laughter filled the air.”
Dave sat on the edge of the bed and shifted again, loosening the tie around his neck and grinning at the woman across from him. Susan? Sarah? One of those typical names. However, she was far from typical, he began to realize.
“So, I don’t normally do this. I know, big shock.” His nervous laughter filled the air, bouncing off the freshly pressed sheets and dusty curtains.
She just smiled, that same absent smile that had been plastered on her face since he opened the door. She tilted her head, and Dave got the sudden image of a gyroscope, her head rotating around the stable point of that lipsticked smile.
The woman at the bar had led the conversation, steadily building Dave’s confidence to Icarian levels. When he slyly passed his room key to her, he felt certain of the move. And then instantly expected her to laugh him away. Instead, she raised an eyebrow and tucked the key into the distractingly low neckline of her dress.
And now, that smile.
“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked nervously. “I got ice from the machine earlier, and—“
Her finger was on his lips, gently silencing him. She smiled wider and leaned over the edge of the bed. Maybe, Dave thought, this was normal and he was the weird one. Frankly, that had held true in most of his life.
“You’re the boss,” he said with another burst of nervous laughter.
“Oh, I’m much more than that,” she said. And the smile grew wider, showing more teeth than fit in a human jaw. Had they always been that sharp?
With practiced ease, she flew to his throat, successfully cutting off the scream before it could bubble out. The hunt looked different nowadays, but the outcome never changed.
Episodes: 10 in the story
Length: 45-70 minutes per episode
I’ve listened to… every episode
Transcripts Available: Currently up through episode five, linked here
The Premise: The city of Everton, built by two brothers after World War II, was meant to be a sanctuary. And then it disappeared. Now two agents must find out what happened to the people of Everton. The journey will take through impossible realities, astral existence, Arthurian legends, and danger in every step.
My Review: Margaret’s Garden is created by Midnight Disease, the same folks responsible for the wonderful podcast that is SCP Archives. They bring the same talent and excellent production to this standalone story set in its own fantastic world. I finished listening to Margaret’s Garden about a few weeks ago, and I am still thinking about the incredible story that unfolded in these ten episodes. It is amazing how much work and creativity was poured into this story, and the final product is truly remarkable.
The podcast takes place both in semi-present day and the time shortly after WWII. It switches between the two timeframes, guided deftly by the wonderful narrator. The narrator plays an integral role, acting as an omniscient presence guiding the story, providing context, and bringing listeners along. There is ample direct address to the audience, creating a sense of familiarity with the world and experiences. And when things get hard to follow, the narration provides an anchor to tie information together.
The story also alternates between the world we know and the world of the astral plane. Each setting is slowly explored over the course of the story, developing into their own world with rules and expectations. This, of course, adds a remarkable degree of complexity to the storyline. However, it always feels manageable based on the talented storytelling. When I say there is a lot that happens in these ten episodes, I mean a LOT. There are love stories, horror stories, legends, wars, conquests, and universes all contained within the ten episode run. I do not think I have really come across a podcast telling a story quite like this, though it certainly shares themes and concepts seen elsewhere. The breadth and complexity of the story is standout.
The writing, in both dialogue and narration, is phenomenal. Each character has their own tone, motivation, weaknesses, and story. The decisions they make, especially how they react to what they do not know or fear, drives the plot forward in a very organic way. It provides ample opportunities for characters to learn and grow…or stay in their faulty ways of thinking and sacrifice everything. Given how, frankly, bizarre some things can be, the use of description and narration is balanced carefully with the dialogue and sound design to ensure scenes are comprehensive and engaging, even as it stretches the bounds of what one can imagine.
The themes addressed are weighty. What would you do to be safe? To be loved? To build a better world? To be powerful? In the character’s successes and missteps, a remarkable world rises and falls. It does not try to maintain simplistic views on the good guys and the bad guys. Each character is complex, with understandable motivations and, often, questionable means to meet their needs. And that make sit hard to know what will happen next or even what outcome the listener should be rooting for. And yet it manages to tell a powerful story that addresses this complexity and refuses to stoop to solving it with a neat bow.
Overall, Margaret’s Garden is a beautifully constructed story with a whole group or intriguing and realistic characters. The production team behind it is talented, and so every aspect has been carefully polished to be a wonderful listening experience. The acting is engaging, creating characters a listener can know and care about. The writing balances a host of competing storylines and themes in order to tell a full and satisfying story in multiple times and places. It is a wonderful piece that blends sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, and horror themes into something new and different. And you should definitely buckle in and listen.
Theme: Image Prompt
My feet could no longer feel the earth beneath them, but I remembered it.
I remembered the feel of dark soil under my soles, thrumming with the vibrancy of earth and whispering ancient ways to me. The sway of Mother Earth, the loving gaze of Mother Moon. The exaltation of all things feminine and trampled by the day-to-day life.
We danced, my sisters and I, beneath that moonlight. We leaped, held aloft in the arms of our two mothers, cradled in that space. In the smoke and stars, we saw visions.
I remembered breathing deep the perfume of wilted flowers and sweat, mingled with the bonfire scent. It was intoxicating and every time my feet dug into the soil, I could feel the bounty of life surge through me. We joined together to celebrate the divine around us, the divine within us.
Moonlight, starlight, dirt, and blood. In those moments, we existed not as human flesh, but as something carved from the essential elements and told to celebrate. I did not need air to live, only those moments of ecstasy. My worship kept my heart beating, my lungs moving, and I thrived on that inhuman diet on those nights of revelry.
The flickering shadows of the fire threw scenes of the future before us, cloudy, mystical. And somehow we did not see what was to come until the sacredness of our space was trampled beneath booted feet, feet that could not feel the hum of the earth. Their bodies were covered so that even the moonlight could not strike them.
My feet no longer feel the earth beneath them, dangling here in the in-between. All I feel is the grip of the rope, punishment for daring to touch the sacred.
Episodes: 13 full episodes with three prologues, and epilogue, and a full supercut available.
Length: 15-30 minutes per episode, with the supercut totaling 222 minutes
I’ve listened to… Everything
Transcripts Available: Yes, linked here
The Premise: Two scientists discover evidence of an abandoned world and set off on a journey to uncover what happened to the missing civilization. The story is told in alternating segments from the perspectives of the scientists, one starting from the beginning and the other from the end of the story.
My Review: As I mentioned last week when discussing Primordial Deep, it is wholly my oversight not to talk about Janus Descending earlier. For sci-fi horror, you really cannot go wrong listening to this story, and they have a sequel story in the works now. When I saw something new show up in the Janus Descending feed, I immediately loaded it up to listen and was so excited. So let me tell you why you should listen.
Chel and Peter are the main characters, and episodes alternate between their personal logs. These logs are made up of descriptive information about the planet and their discoveries alongside personal reflections and monologues. They both know the other may be listening, and so they also serve as notes between the two, messages separated in time. Chel and Peter have very different approaches to the discovery, with Peter often taking a more cautious approach, while Chel is chasing the excitement of exploration. Between their two perspectives, the listener gets a clearer sense of the reality of their situation. It is one filled with wonder and riddled with danger, a fact neither of them can fully understand until later on.
While they give away the ending very early on, the context develops slowly, providing multiple layers of discovery and appreciation over the course of episodes. So, even though I knew the ending from the very start, I cannot say I fully understood or appreciated it until much later, as comments became clear and the reality sank in. The alternating perspectives also served to fill in the gaps, as one character might experience something described by the other at another part. It was enjoyable having the chance to put the pieces together and reconstruct the story as it developed, filling in the missing pieces from both the start and end.
Aside from Directive and Seren, I’m not sure I’ve had as emotional a reaction to an audiodrama as I did with Janus Descending. There is something beautiful and tragic in the unfolding story of these characters. They become so complete in the telling of the story, and something about knowing the end makes it all the more poignant. It is truly a beautiful story set in a very terrifying world.
Of course, the plot centers around exploration of an alien world. And this is handled wonderfully, telling a tense story with excellent pacing, careful reveals, and building unease. The alien concept is not necessarily unheard of, and fans of sci-fi staples will probably recognize familiar ideas. However, the way it develops and is presented sets it apart from other similar works. It takes these familiar threads and weaves them in a different way, using clever moments of obscurity and revelation to savor the exploration of the world they have encountered.
Overall, Janus Descending is a podcast that has stuck with me since I first listened. It is the kind of story I wish I could write, done masterfully. It combines sci-fi and horror elements that are familiar, but through careful work and thoughtful character development, spins those into a new listening experience. It remarkably balances character and plot, developing both in chronological and reverse order simultaneously. The attention to detail in the characters and themes of the story makes it feel cohesive from start to finish, weaving a beautifully tragic tale of space exploration that deserves plenty of listens. If you like sci-fi/horror podcasts, this is pretty much required listening.
And again, they absolutely deserve all the support you can provide. So please, help them keep creating new shows, like the upcoming sequel to Janus Descending, Descendants.