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Terse Tales: Creativity and Madness

Theme:  Image Prompt

I always struggled with the line between creativity and madness.

But I finally had it, shaping eccentricity into something that people would have to appreciate. I stood anxious on the platform, waiting for the reveal. So many years, so many failed versions of me: the shy child, lost and alone in my dreams; a demure, conformist adolescent; a rebellious adult; all leading to apathy that watched the world whizz by while I abstained. None of those faces had been what my art needed.

If only I’d known it would take someone believing in me. Landon had seen the beauty in me and my art, and this was thanks to him. I never would have made such an opus without him.

He understood me, was there when the muses fled. I smiled to myself, but the waiting crowd reflected it back. I never thought I would stand in a gallery with him beside me. He had helped me find this place, sell my first painting. And the owners could do nothing but admire my dedication. This reveal would not only make my career, but put them on the map as well.

Ultimately, even his unwavering support began to crack. Yet those prickles of doubt were just what I needed to push me forward to greatness.

Who knew it was a matter of medium, not inspiration.

The speeches slowed, and the crowd was looking at me, waiting. Deep breath, one sharp tug to reveal it all.

The sheet fell away, and I heard their gasps. But I could not take my eyes off the majesty of what I created.

Landon would be immortalized, forever my muse. He was the perfect medium to express the impossible I had always dreamed of.

I always struggled with the line between creativity and madness.

Terse Tales: Breaking the Cycle

Theme: The door hadn’t been there yesterday.”

Julia winced at the sound of the refrigerator slamming. She could hear the irritation steaming out as he breathed.

“Where’s the milk?”

“I think we’re out,” she replied, eyes down. You never made eye contact with an aggressive animal unless you wanted to fight.

He took a breath, hand on the table to steady himself from such an affront. Last night had been all apologies. He would be better, he swore. He saw where he went wrong. And, besides, now she knew, too, and could do better.

“We’re out of milk, and you didn’t think to get any? Or, what, did you empty it for your breakfast?”

“I had toast. I can make you some if you’d like.”

He collapsed into a chair and waved her toward the counter. There was a storm brewing again. He didn’t speak again until the toaster finished, causing Julia to jump.

“I’m really trying, you know. I just need you to meet me halfway. You’re in charge of the house stuff, so it makes me angry when you drop the ball.”

The words were calm, but they cut, and she knew how this would go. As it always had. “Meet me halfway” Don’t drop the ball.” “Carry your weight.” And once the words stop hitting hard enough…

As she buttered his toast, Julia remembered work yesterday, remembered Teresa. Her eyes had been filled with knowing and unsaid words. “If you ever need a place, I have a guest room. It’s yours as long as you need it.”

Escape. The door had not been there yesterday, but Julia felt a certainty growing within her.

He finished breakfast and sulked out of the apartment as a preamble to the evening’s inevitable outcome. She found an old duffel bag. It was time to open that door.

Terse Tales: The Annunciation

Theme: It was February when the Angels arrived.

“Do not be afraid,” they boomed from where they hovered beyond the edge of my apartment balcony.  Jack and Dozer continued their daily walk below me, unaware of what was happening in the sky. Jack waved. 

My brain insisted the amalgamation of wings, limbs, and eyes was human. And yet every angle I considered seemed more alien. The image sawed at the strings of my sanity as I tried to conceptualize a definition of human that encompassed these forms.  “Greetings, highly favored one. You have been blessed by the Lord of this world to bear the one who brings freedom.”

I could see snow falling around them; none had been predicted as it was unseasonably warm for a winter month. And yet there it was, drifting from the sky and piling on the balcony. A miracle.

“Have I gone insane?” I asked mostly myself, but the angel before me heard it all.

“Have faith, daughter. Believe! For even now, a son grows within you. He will grow strong and be the one to rule the heavens and the earth.”

Impossibly, I felt something move within me, a twist of limbs. My hands went to my belly on instinct.

My eyes stung with the sight of them as they hung there, motionless. It seemed as if I could almost see through the outward image to some truer form beneath, but it swam out of focus the more I tried. My head began to pound.

“Take heed, chosen Daughter. Through you, a new world comes.”

With that, they were gone. I could still feel something new within me, impossible yet true. I reached out a hand to touch the snow that remained, somehow unmelting in the sunlight.  It smudged across my fingers as I did. Not snow.


Terse Tales: Destiny Begun

Theme: Coming of Age

To be one second so ordinary and the next so transformed was a shock no one would handle gracefully. Lucia was, however, doing far worse than even that. 

When the bandits had sprung the ambush, she had been jarred out of daydreams by a flurry of adrenaline. Her eyes widened, heart raced, and her hands tightened on the reins. When they pulled her from her horse with blades at the ready and ill-intent in their eyes, something had changed. 

Some recess opened up within her mind and a hundred lifetimes exploded into her consciousness. Operating on a blend of habit an instinct, her body moved through the would-be attackers. One moment she was in their grasp, the next with a sword, the next watching those who could still do so flee. 

She had never held a sword before in her life, but it was clear one–maybe all–of those other lives had. 

Now she sat in the muddy middle of the road, still holding the sword that felt natural in her uncalloused hands. 

“I am the chosen avatar,” said a voice in her mind that both was and wasn’t hers. 

“I don’t want to be chosen anything,” she replied, satisfied that at least her spoken voice was unchanged. 

She poked the edges of the revealed memories, but delving deep seemed like an overwhelming endeavor. It was a morass of magic, battle, loss, and triumph. Always repeating. A line she would undoubtedly continue. 

But maybe not if she stayed here, mired in the mud. If she did not move, she could not be chosen. 

The new multitude in her mind reminded her this was utterly foolish and impractical. Yet she stayed until it grew dark, holding on to the moments when she had last been Lucia and only Lucia. 

A Listener Reviews: Someone Dies In This Elevator

Someone Dies In This Elevator

Episodes: 9 so far

Length: 15-20 minutes

I’ve listened to… all current episodes

Transcripts Available: Yes, available on the individual episode pages at their website

The Premise: An anthology series based on spoilers. In each episode, someone dies in the elevator. The who and how are what keep things exciting episode after episode!

My Review: The premise of this series is remarkably simple. Each episodes takes place within the bounds of an elevator, and in each episode, someone will die within the elevator. It may sounds too simple at first glance, but the degree of creativity brought into each story has made it truly remarkable to listen to.

Each story so far has been surprisingly unique, tied together by setting and outcome. However, even within the setting of the elevator, there has been remarkable differences and creativity. Ancient elevators, futuristic ones, and even you everyday hotel. Combined with the variety of genres present, it has become a surprise each time the story unfolds. This is a premise that could become stale, yet so far each episode has felt like a good story in its own right. And even knowing where the story will end, I am guessing and wondering how it is going to get to that point. Like any anthology, there are certainly standout episodes and those which are not my particular cup of tea. Yet even the stories that have not been my preferred genre or style have been entertaining and well-developed.

Episodes are relatively short, and yet they pack a great deal of story into that space. In a few lines of dialogue, distinct and developed characters come into focus. The dialogue is easy to follow, but always leads closer and closer to someone’s inevitable end. Additionally, the additional sound effects and background provides needed context, helping to crate the world and scene so that the listener can follow along. The stories also manage to balance danger and levity well. There are some big themes addressed (and the content warnings at the start of each episode do a great job of preparing the listener without revealing too much), yet it manages to do this without feeling heavy or overly dark.

Overall, despite giving away the big reveal in their title, Someone Dies In This Elevator manages to take a simple idea and iterate on it to create some really engaging pieces of fiction. It is cleverly written with a diversity of tones, settings, and genres to keep the surprises coming episode after episode.

You can find them here: Someone Dies In This Elevator and support them on Production Funder

Terse Tales: A Final Farewell

Theme: Lost Outside Image

Krul sat on the ridge and looked out at the landscape. It was the world he had seen since the day his eyes opened, and there was a melancholy in his posture. His limbs felt heavy, body seeming to sink into the loamy soil. Perhaps, he mused, he would take root there.

Quiet, unobtrusive steps approached. He knew it was Shala without looking at her. The ground flexed as she sat down next to him.

“It is a beautiful sight, ” she said after sufficient time had passed. He stayed silent.

Beautiful, yes. Arching canopy that glowed faintly in the twilight. Rich, vibrant earth in shades of blue, purple, and red. He was leaving a world built for him, and he might not return.

Earth. He has been once before. It was a crowded place with the wrong gravity, corridors that hovered too close to his form, chairs without space for his legs. And smells everywhere. Their atmosphere assaulted him every time he chanced a breath.

“I want to remember it,” he said into the silence.

Shala’s presence remained still, but he could feel her humming with thoughts she would not say. The planet was not the only thing being left behind.

“You will not forget. You will come home to us.”

Krul stuffed down his response. She did not need to know the assignment was marked in earth years, years that would leave him aged if he returned at all. Hope was good.

There was a loud buzz that resounded through his chitin. “My escort is arriving soon,” he said as she stood. Shala stayed seated.

Good, he thought as he walked away. She could remember this for him. She could remember him.

Terse Tales: Insomnia

Theme: Song Prompt Why do all the monsters come out at night? Why do we sleep where we want to hide?

Lyla had stared at the ceiling long enough to memorize every crack and imperfection. It was an ineffective distraction, and she felt the thoughts still whispering.

They’re going to figure it out. Figure out the fraud you are.

She tried to turn her thoughts down other paths, but each one ended in the same morass of negativity.

Remember that presentation to the boss? You skipped a whole slide and didn’t realize for ten minutes.

The memory of panic pushed her heart rate up until she felt that familiar heat of embarrassment. She remembered fumbling back in the slides and her words. And that look, the forced smile that betrayed annoyance. Impatience.

Incompetent. That’s what they all think.

Lyla glanced at the clock. 2:46am. For hours she had been trapped by this barrage of her mistakes, from recent to ancient history.

“No one even remembers that,” she told herself through gritted teeth.

You’ve never been good at much; why should it change now?

She rolled over in bed, squeezing her eyes tight as if she could ambush sleep into compliance. If anything, the voices seemed to get louder.

Now you’ll be exhausted tomorrow. Just make more mistakes.

With each new thought, she sought some pleasant place for her mind to hide.

You should call in sick. But then they’ll all see you can’t handle it.

A deep breath slowed her racing heart. She picked up the book from the nightstand and turned on the light. If she was going to contend with these internal monsters, she could at least wield a little magic to shove them back to the darkness.

Eventually, the book lay limp on her chest. She could finally breathe easy, mind free to explore the impossible world of her dreams where such mundane fears could not tread.

A Listener Reviews: Twenty Forty

Twenty Forty

Episodes: 5 full episodes and 4 “Bonus” episodes

Length: 30-45 minutes for each full episode, 2-3 minutes per Bonus.

I’ve listened to… the entire run.

Transcripts Available: No

The Premise: Rani is a genetically enhanced athlete set to break through barriers and compete in the 2040 Olympics. However, the world is divided on whether or not genetically enhanced individuals should be allowed to compete alongside non-enhanced people. This tension spills over into violence, and Rani’s family is left to contend not only with the increasingly dangerous social environment, but themselves and their relationships.

My Review: I was contacted about Twenty forty and asked to listen for a review. And, as is usually the case, I was very glad I did. This is an intense, engaging, and binge-worthy story. Told through five episodes, one from each main character’s point of view and a grand finale, it seeks to uncover the mystery of who was behind a tragic attack and what that means for the family going forward.

The concept of this is incredible. It sits just close enough to our present time to echo some of the current dialogue stirring around transgender athletes, while also pointing toward future challenges and complications. It is uncomfortably familiar at times, which served to pull me even further into the unfolding story. The role of technology is a central point of conflict, not only in the main focus of the Olympic, but also in other ways. How does technology affect how we relate to one another? How we experience emotions? Rather than avoid some of these questions, it tackles them in the content, with the decisions the characters make in these areas having important consequences.

While the concept was certainly intriguing at the outset, the true star of this is in the characters. They are human. Messy, selfish, imperfect, impulsive, and complex humans throughout the story. It echoes familiar ideas from classic tragedies as the story progresses. The competing motivations of characters leads to clashes, and the complex world provides a perfect stage for them to spiral into chaos and comfort. The characters often end up being foils of one another in various ways. Like any family, they mimic each other enough to help highlight their differences. These qualities serve to create conflict and also bring them together. Everyone in the story is far from perfect, and each one makes critical mistakes that, ultimately, contribute to the mystery unfolding.

It is a heavy story, and emotions often run high. Yet the writing does an excellent job at pushing the characters, and by extension the listener, to better understand the roles of these emotions in the story that develops. In addressing such heavy topics, characters seek comfort in many ways, some effective and others likely harmful. Yet those are their missteps to make. It highlights the consequences of trying to silence our emotions, including the personal and communal impact of such decisions.

The story focuses on understanding what happened during the central tragedy, waving a complicated story from multiple perspectives and moments in time. While it is typically easy to follow along, it uses flashbacks and recordings to reveal information in key moments. In addition, characters biases or weaknesses (such as memory problems for one) serve to illuminate and obfuscate different details throughout. This deepens the overall mystery and left me uncertain until the end exactly what happened. It is a chaotic ride through grief, resilience, and heartache. And yet each moment brings things into focus, highlighting the characters in their truth and deceptions.

As a note, whenever I see “Bonus” episodes in podcasts, I always wonder if they are recaps/previews or additional content. For Twenty Forty, the Bonus episodes are an extension of the story that adds depth to the “Free Play” characters. They are an integral part of the overall world and story. The Free Play movement is one of the parts that I found most unsettling, because a lot of the rhetoric already exists. It brings this story of the future uncomfortably close to home. The writers did a remarkable job demonstrating how truth and lies can be woven together for an agenda, as well as how the radicalization process can happen.

Overall, Twenty Forty was a complex story with messy, complicated, and imperfectly human characters trying to achieve their aims. It demonstrates how technology can be a blessing and a curse, how blinded we can be by our own views, and how family can come together to support or wound. The themes are heavy, and the story rests solidly in the realm of tragedy/drama throughout. Yet it was one I was eager to listen to, each episode introducing more layers to the story and keeping me searching for more. By the end, I was eager to see how everything fit together and sad to know it was coming to an end.

You can find them here: Twenty Forty and support them by purchasing the episodes on Bandcamp. You won’t be disappointed!

Terse Tales: Till Death Do Us Part

Theme: “It was magical”

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.

Terse Tales: Recover

Theme: Transformation

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.

Terse Tales: Just Beyond

Theme: The World Upside Down Image

“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.


A Listener Reviews: The Gloom

The Gloom

Episodes: 8

Length: around 30 minutes each episode

I’ve listened to…all released episodes

Transcripts Available: Not that I found

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.

Find them here: The Gloom

Terse Tales: Into the Deep

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.

If only I had known I could never go back.

Terse Tales: Capgras Syndrome

Theme: “Something was wrong”

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.”

A Listener Reviews: The Silt Verses

The Silt Verses

Episodes: 12 so far, with more planned

Length: 40-60 minutes

I’ve listened to… all currently released episodes

Transcripts Available: Yes, available here

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.

You can find them here: The Silt Verses and support them on Patreon.

Terse Tales: A Journey of A Thousand Miles

Theme: Road Trip

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.

A Listener Reviews: The Legacy Saga

The Legacy Saga

Episodes: 9

Length: 20-30 minutes

I’ve listened to… All currently released episodes

Transcripts Available: Yes, available here

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.

You can find them here: The Legacy Saga and support them on GoFundMe

Terse Tales: Floating

Theme: Image

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.

Terse Tales: A Waking Nightmare

Theme: You weren’t supposed to wake up here.

From darkness to light. It all happened in an instant, the world exploding into vibrancy. I gasped— I could remember breathing, yet this felt like my first breath. The oxygen raced ragged down my throat, ripping into my lungs. It ached to breathe, it ached to see.

My brain felt unsure of how to parse the world. Light and shadow. Noises—someone was walking somewhere, something screamed, whether mechanical or animal I could not tell. There was an assault of smells that made me gag, either because they were unpleasant or because I had been so deprived. I gagged, flooding my senses with that bitter taste.

It was too much at once, and I felt myself drowning in sensation. As the flood subsided, I could piece things together, steadily understanding. Above me was the roof, wooden and in disrepair. The walls were dusty and stained. Those screams were certainly not mechanical. Those smells were certainly rot.

Worst were the shadows finding permanence. Bodies, lying on a table like the one I occupied. They lay there still, quiet, and unmoving.

And then there were the footsteps.

Something obscured my view, and my eyes struggled to refocus. Then there was a monstrous face, the source of the smell.

The eyes bulged at strange angles, barely contained by the flesh of its face. A ragged gash served as the mouth, a menagerie of teeth standing at lazy attention inside. It sniffed.

“Got another one,” it growled in a bubbling voice. It paused, head titled for a response, then shrugged. “Guess I’ll get this one.”

Rough hands on my body, like coarse stones tearing my skin. “Please,” I heard my voice, unfamiliar and harsh with disuse, “I shouldn’t be here.”

It laughed. “Of course you should. Now back to sleep.”

A needle’s pinch, then darkness.

A Listener Reviews: The Chronicles of Wild Hollow

The Chronicles of Wild Hollow

Episodes: 4

Length: 30-40 minutes

I’ve listened to… all current episodes

Transcripts Available: No

The Premise: The Chronicles of Wild Hollow follows bounty hunter Fandango Boursin (front and center in the image above) as he takes on jobs. However, he unknowingly may be falling deeper into a web of danger with each passing moment. The first trilogy of his adventures is available to listen now, with more content planned.

My Review: If you ever wanted a musical podcast full of adventure, intrigue and sardonic humor, then I have some great news. The Chronicles of Wild Hollow hits numerous notes, creating a serious story in a fantasy world. It creates an endearing cast of characters and a surprisingly complex world. The creators, Shouting is Funny, reached out to me for a review. And I am so glad they helped me discover this absolute gem.

This audiodrama borrows some cues from westerns, noir, and adventure genres. I was impressed with the way it wove in classic genre tropes, and yet turned them around or used them to poke fun at convention. It is self-aware in a pleasant way, calling itself out to deepen characters and the world. The writing is clever, quick, and engaging. It never lingers too long in one moment, but keeps the action moving while still providing ample room for character development. I listened to the Christmas special first, as it was the first in queue. And it had me laughing and shaking my head (in a good way) all the way along my commute. That is a good introduction to the style of the show–dark, but funny. Unexpected, unconventional, and witty.

It uses humor very well to balance out the very serious themes presented, keeping it from becoming too difficult of a story to digest. However, the storylines are well-developed and thoughtful, addressing drug use, conspiracy, community, and crime. It uses these situations to develop a cast of interesting characters, with Fandango being the most complete of those depicted so far. His character wrestles with the reality of his job at times, of money versus compassion, of justice and doing the right thing. This is a fairly classic conflict for such characters, but the execution of this is excellent. As Fandango develops, the listener is kept wondering how he will navigate increasingly dangerous situations while remaining true to who he is.

The background characters are also well-done, but tend to be static and more limited in their involvement. It makes sense given the stories being told, and there are some who get additional development. Even with those brief glimpses, it was easy to like certain recurring characters. I also expect some of those with a briefer role may get developed more as future stories about Fandango are released.

I would be remiss to write this whole review and not mention the musical aspects. This is a charming aspect of the show, using musical numbers to introduce characters, progress the plot, and provide scene development. The music is well-written and placed well throughout each episode. It provides an opportunity for more focused world building, using song to provide background and setting details, but in a way that keeps everything moving at a nice pace. The lyrics maintain the feel of the show and feel consistent with the overarching themes of the show.

Overall, this podcast was one that took me by surprise and quickly became a new favorite. The first trilogy leaves off in a precarious place, so I am eagerly awaiting more. In the span of four episodes, the team at Shouting is Funny managed to create a great character, wonderful supporting characters, a complex world, and fantastic music to go along. I never knew quite how a scenario would turn out, and the clever writing pulled me in right away. I can highly recommend you give this show a listen.

You can find them here: The Chronicles of Wild Hollow

Terse Tales: An Absence of Monsters

Theme: “The door crept open”

The growl came from the closet. There was no denying the fact nor any reconciling it with reality. Lana hadn’t been sleeping and now wouldn’t be anytime soon. Instead, she stared at the wooden door and clenched the blankets about her with the primal instinct they would protect her.

“Get it together,” she whispered through gritted teeth. The impossibility required rationality to reassert itself quickly, shoving the fear to the side. “There are no monsters in closets.”

As if to prove to herself and whatever had growled, she flung the blankets aside and put her feet on the floor. Once grounded, she expected to feel safer. Instead, she felt more certain she was going mad.

Did the knob move? The door shake? Lana strained her ears to listen for anything. Was that breathing or the AC whispering through the vents?

“This is ridiculous. You outgrew this stuff in grade school.” She stood and forced her legs toward the door.

The room was chilled, her palms clammy. She studied the narrow wooden door. It only really counted as a closet so her landlord did not run afoul of housing laws; no room for monsters in there. Lana gripped the handle and took a breath.

“Grow up, Lana,” she growled to herself in a final act of motivation.

The door crept open and–

There was Nothing.

Nothing, vast, infinite, and dark. Stretching into eternity and beyond for impossible depth. How was emptiness so much worse than everything she had imagined?

As the Void reached out to draw her in, Lana longed for fangs, fur, and claws.

A Listener Reviews: The Iron Heel

The Iron Heel

Episodes: 3

Length: The whole things comes in at about 140 minutes

I’ve listened to… all episodes

Transcripts Available: The story itself is based off the Jack London Novel, but I did not find specific transcripts available

The Premise: The Iron Heel is, according to the web “the first modern dystopian novel.” It follows Avis and Earnest, two lovers fighting for worker’s rights against the Iron Heel of the capitalist oligarchy.

My Review: I previously reviewed a podcast by this same theater group and loved the approach. In The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley, the episodes wove together not only the story of the strange JR Brinkley’s rise to fame, but also interviews with experts in various historical fields and adaptations of period music. It was a really wonderful listening experience that was not only enjoyable, but informative. So hearing that there was another show in the same vein, I was incredibly excited.

The Iron Heel continues this style. For me, listening captured the feel of sitting in the theater watching a play. It has the familiar setup and frame as a theater show, and I have missed being able to sit in those seats recently. The acting and writing are styled and paced like a three act play. I found each of the three sections held up well on its own, though the story is understood in completion.

As I mentioned, the production weaves together the actual story alongside interviews with relevant experts. There are also renditions of labor-movement songs. Personally, I found many of the musical adaptations to be clever not only in the wording, but in the tunes used. Throughout this story, there are threads woven together between economics, religion, personhood, and family. It is a theme that touches every part.

The story itself is based off the Jack London novel. It uses a similar frame, a narrator recounting and adapting the found journal of Avis as she describes the fight against capitalism. Her story focuses on her husband, Earnest’s, role in the events. The frame story is set in a socialist utopia, looking back at the often tireless fight that finally succeeded. It takes this dystopia story and adds an element of hope, something I found refreshing. Avis is a really relatable character in many ways, confronting her own prejudices and then serving to hold people true to their stated goals and aims, without giving in to the pressures of the new world.

The way this story is adapted is wonderful. The language retains that more formal, older style. At times it feels a bit stilted because it is not the way we talk, but it serves to keep the past events anchored in their past. There are also a number of clever, fourth-wall-breaking moments. I found these served to help break down the romantization sometimes seen in such works. It focuses on the brutal, bloody systems in place. Those facts are not hidden behind the language, but up front. The frame story also includes intentional misunderstandings, serving to reinforce how far society has come. Both of these techniques wonderfully create that sense of distance from events.

The selected interviews at the end of each episode are also enlightening. I had cursory exposure to labor movements in the US during school, but nothing too detailed. I will always take an opportunity to be entertained and taught, and the Iron Heel delivers. It demonstrates how art is a part of revolution through focus on writings and music of the time.

Overall, the Iron Heel is a well-produced audiodrama that delivers the feel of an in-person play, but through a podcast format. They use that to their advantage to pack in a number of songs and interviews that deepen the context of the story, while also providing some real world knowledge. The story is based off of Jack London’s work, but adapted to this format to tell a quick paced, character-driven exploration of the fight against the oligarchy. A different approach than many audiodramas, but one that is well worth hearing.

You can find them here: The Iron Heel and support them in making other great entertainment here

Terse Tales: Star-struck

Theme: Luck

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.

Terse Tales: Anticipation

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.