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Author Topic: Pseudopod 126: The Ashen Thing  (Read 11949 times)

Bdoomed

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on: January 24, 2009, 08:53:56 AM
Pseudopod 126: The Ashen Thing

By Paul Mannering

Read by Ben Phillips

I dropped the half-eaten turkey on rye back on my plate and stared darkly at the new wheel-chair ramp, a big yellow exclamation mark visible from the sidewalk. Warning! Freak in Residence! Imagining the whispered concerns of our new neighbors was fuel for the fire of my self-pity. I was so lost in my gloomy fantasy that I did not notice the first tapping until it became a knocking, and then a scrape. As if someone had hit the wooden deck under my wheels and then dragged a hands worth of nails along it. I glanced around; Tammy had not re-emerged. I looked down. A glint of something wet. Something like an eye or wet flesh, staring up from the darkness under the deck. I twisted the steel rims under my hands and adjusted my position to look again. The thing was gone. I listened, and for a moment, I heard a sound like a wet blanket dragging on dirt, then Tammy re-appeared and the sound was lost under her footsteps and sigh of satisfaction.

“You done?” she asked, indicating my abandoned plate with one moisturized hand.

“Yeah, thanks,” I was still turning the fragment of a moment over in my mind. I had seen an eye. Someone was under our house. Crawling in the dust and dirt, under the decking, under the floors, slithering around the concrete pilings, the ducting of the central heating that terminated in black metal grills in our floors and doing what? Listening? Searching for a way to break in?



Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


deflective

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Reply #1 on: January 25, 2009, 07:19:56 PM
gah! good job with this one



Zathras

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Reply #2 on: January 26, 2009, 12:17:17 AM
I'm undecided about this one.  I want to give it another listen in a couple of days before I get into what I think of it.



Sgarre1

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Reply #3 on: January 26, 2009, 11:37:24 PM
Solid monster story.

Extra points for not trying to explain what the thing was or where it came from, having an indeterminate ending and using a disabled character to good advantage. Also, plus points for the dog being neither hero nor villain, just a dog.

A few points lost for needing a little more editing - All that build-up, like an unimportant description of a picnic and a totally unnecessary sex scene, feels like padding when one reflects that the thing just shows up and attacks. Could have done with more tease from the actual threat.  The description of the creature, while starting nicely pulpy, went a bit overboard in the florid writing area (did the author really intend to use the word "fecund", meaning overly fertile, to describe some aspect of the creature?) and where were the editors when the paralyzed man with the severed spinal column feels the dog pass over his ankles (the bit where the dog is biting his foot was good, although written in a way that we can't tell whether this was painful for him or just distracting, given the fact that's he's crawling after his wife).

I'm unsure about the Giger reference.  Part of me thinks that any 19th century writer would just have easily referenced Bosch or someone and this is the modern equivalent of same.  Part of me thinks that modern society, at least in America, is so culturally fractured that almost any reference to anything outside of the main-mainstream comes off as a bone thrown to a niche group.  Undecided.

Nice monster story, though.

Thanks for listening.
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Remy De Gourmont, “Pehor”



MacArthurBug

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Reply #4 on: January 27, 2009, 11:52:59 AM
I have a disabled uncle who I briefly was reminded of in this story. I kept picturing him being in the chair. That said- since I have a hard time liking said uncle I had a hard time liking lead character.  I'm glad my dog dosn't play fetch- and though my cat does- he dosn't drool.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2009, 12:50:08 PM by MacArthurBug »

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Reply #5 on: January 27, 2009, 07:48:39 PM
I really enjoyed this. I liked the fact that there was no real explanation, no neat summing up and that the monster really was monstrous. Yes there were a few overlong descriptive passages but they didn't spoil the overall nastiness of the piece for me. I liked the fact that the dog was simply a dog too. The touch of the normal emphasised the abnormal, making it more horrific.

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Kaa

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Reply #6 on: January 28, 2009, 05:33:03 PM
Whew!  This one was gruesome, horrible, disgusting, and made me cringe.

I loved it! :)

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gelee

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Reply #7 on: January 28, 2009, 10:16:12 PM
This one had it's flaws, but I really liked it, mostly for the reasons Sgarre1 pointed out.  I'm glad I'm not the only one who caught that comment about feeling the dog on his ankles.  I thought it might be one of those things that the narrator would notice later..."Hey!  I can feel my ankles!" 



Kevin David Anderson

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Reply #8 on: January 29, 2009, 12:24:01 AM
A good old monster story.  And yet one more reason why I will never own a dog.  Loved the Giger reference.  Excellent read Ben. 


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Reply #9 on: January 29, 2009, 06:08:38 AM
This one had it's flaws, but I really liked it, mostly for the reasons Sgarre1 pointed out.  I'm glad I'm not the only one who caught that comment about feeling the dog on his ankles.  I thought it might be one of those things that the narrator would notice later..."Hey!  I can feel my ankles!" 

Being paraplegic does not mean you don't have sensation of touch in some instances.  It means you can't voluntarily move those muscles.  But according to the various 'plegics I've nursed over the years you can feel touch sometimes.  Everyone is different.



Sgarre1

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Reply #10 on: January 29, 2009, 11:27:17 PM
Would have been nice for that individual's detail to have been incorporated into the story at some earlier point then. There are almost no absolutes in the real world, of course, but generalized understandings are the stuff from which one is able to weave fiction. Exceptions to those generalizations should be noted (or dropped, if they serve no purpose).



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Reply #11 on: January 30, 2009, 07:16:25 AM
I must be thick, because it took until a few minutes after the story ended to realize that the monster was meant to be a perverted mirror image of the narrator.  A paraplegic who feels dependent and useless faces off against a legless parasite that's sucking the life, and everything else, out of his wife.  The wife and monster die, while the paraplegic survives.  This is a really dark story, and not for the usual reasons.

I have to disagree with comments that the sex scene was superfluous.  First, it provided an interesting counterpoint to the narrator's sexual jealousy and fears of rape.  Second, it stopped me wondering whether he could still raise the flag, which would have been distracting.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2009, 07:20:17 AM by Changwasteve »



eytanz

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Reply #12 on: February 02, 2009, 11:18:29 AM
Mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, the buildup was very good, but like sgarre1 said, it felt like there a lot of the atmosphere was lost once the monster suddenly switched to full-out-attack-in-the-open mode. Also, the dog seemed to conveniently switch from being playful to being menacing at exactly the right moments - why did it stand on the urine pipe, or bite the hero, if he thought this was all just a game? And if the dog knew what it was doing, why did it let the hero attack the monster in the end?

For that matter, what did the dog live off? Did the monster feed it? But the monster itself has last killed a person four years ago, and though it may have hunted rats and stray cats and the like, were there really enough of those around to feed both itself and a dog that looked healthy and well taken care of?

But if there was one thing that really sort of bothered me about the story, it's the fact that the wife never reacted at all. We know she was still alive when she was dragged down the stairs, so why didn't she fight back? How could the monster drag down an adult human being - one strong enough to carry her husband out of a wheelchair - without her making any attempt to resist? Maybe she was already wounded or something, but the story never mentioned it. Instead, it makes several references to how it was the narrator's role as a man to defend his woman - I understood that this played with his ego and identity issues because of his disability, but it does make for an unfortunate implication.



alllie

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Reply #13 on: February 02, 2009, 12:37:04 PM
That was horrible. So gross and creepy I couldn't even finish listening to it.

I really don't like horror but with escapepod down I tried.

Just want to say that pseudpod is beautifully produced and narrated ...HORROR. Alasdair does a great job hosting. Just wish it wasn't HORROR. HORROR is HORRIBLE!



JoeFitz

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Reply #14 on: February 02, 2009, 09:46:32 PM
I must be thick, because it took until a few minutes after the story ended to realize that the monster was meant to be a perverted mirror image of the narrator.  A paraplegic who feels dependent and useless faces off against a legless parasite that's sucking the life, and everything else, out of his wife.  The wife and monster die, while the paraplegic survives.  This is a really dark story, and not for the usual reasons.

A very good analysis of this story! It has its flaws, but overall it was well-executed.



JoeFitz

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Reply #15 on: February 02, 2009, 09:51:43 PM
The description of the creature, while starting nicely pulpy, went a bit overboard in the florid writing area (did the author really intend to use the word "fecund", meaning overly fertile, to describe some aspect of the creature?)

I cringed when I heard that word because it sounded so wrong. Perhaps the story had "fecal" or "fetid." Although fecundity can be pretty gross (as anyone who has seen a live birth can attest).




DKT

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Reply #16 on: February 03, 2009, 06:22:45 PM
I don't know if I could say I liked this one, because liked seems to be the wrong kind of word.  But it's one of the first stories in a while that made me go, "Oh, shit" when the wood went through his eye. And the monster actually killing the wife (the monster who did seem to be a perverse mirror image of the narrator) surprised me. And I really felt for both these characters.

It could have been trimmed some, I agree, but I'm not sure what I would cut. I don't think the sex scene should've been cut. It kind of nailed home the relationship between the couple to me.


Chadwicked

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Reply #17 on: February 04, 2009, 02:36:07 AM
Sit Booboo, sit!  Good dog.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2009, 02:39:40 AM by Chadwicked »

the remnants of tomorrow shattering my aspirations . . .


Zathras

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Reply #18 on: February 06, 2009, 07:05:35 AM
Sit Booboo, sit!  Good dog.

I thought the dog's name was Ubu?



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Reply #19 on: February 06, 2009, 12:50:58 PM
It was.  It was an acronym.  Can't remember what it stood for.

I know the behavior of the dog was a little inconsistant in the story.  I figured it was either:
A) Nuts.
B) Not actually trying to eat the guys foot, but just playing with it.  You know how dogs get sometimes.  The big ones can accidently cause some minor harm, especially with no feedback from the foot in question.



eytanz

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Reply #20 on: February 06, 2009, 01:06:11 PM
It was.  It was an acronym.  Can't remember what it stood for.

I know the behavior of the dog was a little inconsistant in the story.  I figured it was either:
A) Nuts.
B) Not actually trying to eat the guys foot, but just playing with it.  You know how dogs get sometimes.  The big ones can accidently cause some minor harm, especially with no feedback from the foot in question.

The inconsistency didn't bother me, as it was stated that the dog was insane. What bothered me was how selective his behavior was - he seemed to only take aggressive turns when it made a concrete difference.

There are plenty of possible explanations - maybe the creature was somehow controlling the dog - but there was no clear indication of this in the story.



Sgarre1

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Reply #21 on: February 07, 2009, 12:14:09 AM
Quote
It was.  It was an acronym.  Can't remember what it stood for.

Really? It wasn't an Alfred Jarry reference?  I'm shocked!



Chadwicked

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Reply #22 on: February 08, 2009, 03:57:42 AM

[/quote]

I thought the dog's name was Ubu?
[/quote]

Yeah . . . my bad.

the remnants of tomorrow shattering my aspirations . . .


gelee

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Reply #23 on: February 10, 2009, 02:29:20 PM
It was.  It was an acronym.  Can't remember what it stood for.

I know the behavior of the dog was a little inconsistant in the story.  I figured it was either:
A) Nuts.
B) Not actually trying to eat the guys foot, but just playing with it.  You know how dogs get sometimes.  The big ones can accidently cause some minor harm, especially with no feedback from the foot in question.

The inconsistency didn't bother me, as it was stated that the dog was insane. What bothered me was how selective his behavior was - he seemed to only take aggressive turns when it made a concrete difference.

There are plenty of possible explanations - maybe the creature was somehow controlling the dog - but there was no clear indication of this in the story.
True, but I don't think the writer could have tipped his cards without comitting an even bigger faux pas, such as the dreaded "Expository Monologue."



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Reply #24 on: February 12, 2009, 04:54:22 PM
Dunno why, just couldn't stick with this one.



eytanz

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Reply #25 on: February 12, 2009, 06:23:05 PM
There are plenty of possible explanations - maybe the creature was somehow controlling the dog - but there was no clear indication of this in the story.
True, but I don't think the writer could have tipped his cards without comitting an even bigger faux pas, such as the dreaded "Expository Monologue."

Sure he could have - he could have added a sentence or two speculating about it, or indicated it in some way (the create waved its appendages and the dog suddenly changes behavior, etc.). It didn't need to be signposted, only hinted at, to turn it from a plot hole to a plot device.



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Reply #26 on: February 16, 2009, 04:27:03 PM
Suitably disturbing. For a while I thought the dog or the monster were shapeshifters.

I wonder if Tom kept the dog.

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Reply #27 on: June 10, 2009, 12:55:01 PM
There are plenty of possible explanations - maybe the creature was somehow controlling the dog - but there was no clear indication of this in the story.
True, but I don't think the writer could have tipped his cards without comitting an even bigger faux pas, such as the dreaded "Expository Monologue."

Sure he could have - he could have added a sentence or two speculating about it, or indicated it in some way (the create waved its appendages and the dog suddenly changes behavior, etc.). It didn't need to be signposted, only hinted at, to turn it from a plot hole to a plot device.

There was a line about the creature following the smell from the ball to get to his victims.  The dog seemed to be similar to a witch's familiar.

Still catching back up.



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Reply #28 on: August 28, 2009, 07:36:31 PM
It was.  It was an acronym.  Can't remember what it stood for.

I know the behavior of the dog was a little inconsistant in the story.  I figured it was either:
A) Nuts.
B) Not actually trying to eat the guys foot, but just playing with it.  You know how dogs get sometimes.  The big ones can accidently cause some minor harm, especially with no feedback from the foot in question.

The inconsistency didn't bother me, as it was stated that the dog was insane. What bothered me was how selective his behavior was - he seemed to only take aggressive turns when it made a concrete difference.

There are plenty of possible explanations - maybe the creature was somehow controlling the dog - but there was no clear indication of this in the story.

I figured that the creature had trained the dog just like a human would train a dog.  Instead of teaching it to sit and roll over, it teaches the dog to bring the ball to food sources and help defend it.  That being said, it doesn't explain why the dog didn't defend the creature at the end, but perhaps it was just too scared.

I really liked this story, partially because the man's helplessness really added to the tenseness, and partially because I love dogs and thought the dog was a great plot element in this one. 

My one real complaint is, as someone else stated, that the wife didn't seem to put up any fight.  She must have heard him screaming, and heard the terror in his voice, so I doubt she could've been asleep by the time it got to her, and her kicking feet going around the corner suggest she was still awake at that point.  I found that hard to believe.  She should have easily been able to get to her feet and evade the legless little thing, maybe even ran to the bedroom and locked it out or something.

I'm not sure if this was the intent or not, but I got the impression that the creature was the little girl who had died.  That would explain why the dog is its friend (if the girl had a dog), and why the dog hung around the house later on.  Also, at the end, the protag's dreams sounded like he was seeing through the monsters eyes, so maybe he's turned into a new incarnation of the monster and his conscious mind is just dreaming away in the back of the body.  That made the story all the more horrific, whether or not it was intended at all.



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Reply #29 on: June 25, 2010, 12:07:43 AM
I'm unsure about the Giger reference.  Part of me thinks that any 19th century writer would just have easily referenced Bosch or someone and this is the modern equivalent of same.  Part of me thinks that modern society, at least in America, is so culturally fractured that almost any reference to anything outside of the main-mainstream comes off as a bone thrown to a niche group.  Undecided.

It was a reference to H. R. Giger.  http://www.hrgiger.com/  You are familiar with him, even if you think you are not: he designed the creatures in the Alien movie series.  I thought it an appropriate reference.

As far as the story goes, it gets a lukewarm reaction from me.  I usually enjoy grotesques, but this one just sorta fell flat for me.  Its descriptions were somewhat weak and its initial appearance is robbed of any impact by an overly-long description which slowed the frantic pace.  Overall, I think this story suffered from a lack of proper pacing.  The monster never really seemed all that scary to me because there was no sense of frantic flight.  It just leisurely crawled after our hero, always giving him more than enough time to crawl away and call out for his wife.  The idea of crawling away from a terror that crawls after you at the exact same pace is a scary one, but it did not come across effectively here.

And, of course, the pretty wife was devoured.  I was mostly disappointed by that scene.  It was totally expected and unecessary.

I also felt the buildup took far too long.  A long sequence of characterization without much to interest me in an actual plot.  Ho hum.  It's one of the story formats I enjoy the least: looooong sequence of characterization with a few hints of story followed by the appearance and swift resolution of "the horror."  For exaple, "Acceptable Losses" does the same thing.

I've mentioned this before, but Lovecraft knew what he was doing: he always worked to telegraph the ending a little so that the buildup became all the more tense.  There are other methods, of course, but I sometimes get tired of listening for the umpteenth time about some suburban couple's relationship (cf. "Infestation") for half a story before something comes to devour them messily.

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Sgarre1

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Reply #30 on: June 25, 2010, 12:43:43 AM
Oh, I know who Giger is - I worked for one of his relatives just a few years ago.  What I was trying to get across is that I don't know if the inclusions of such pop-culture references are usually successful or merely "look at me, I like this thing" moments for the reader - it's not a question that there's any objective answer for, of course, just subjective responses, but it's a particular aspect of fiction writing that I find interesting.

In particular, the question comes down to "would the character (not the author) know and make that reference, given what we know about them, character and setting wise?", which sometimes is hard to answer.  Reference "The Simpsons"?  Sure, general popular culture.  Reference Giger, probably not unless we're told the character specifically likes dark artworks or, just as believable, was a fan of ALIEN.  But as a geneal reference by "an average guy"?  Not really sure but it seems unlikely.  The problem, though, as I said, is that popular culture in general is now so fractured that its hard to feel like anything beyond the most ubiquitous examples could be realistically referenced by "an average guy".  The origins and making of an "Exquisite Corpse" is probably about as well-known as H.R. Giger, in a general sense of outre popular culture, but see how well the former went down, unexplained, in the flash contest.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2010, 12:56:22 AM by Sgarre1 »



Millenium_King

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Reply #31 on: June 25, 2010, 05:59:18 PM
Ah, sorry, I didn't mean to imply anything.  It just looked like maybe you were not familiar with it.

Here are my thoughts on it: this is a quasi-Lovecraftian story ("The Shunned House" anyone?). Lovecraft, especially in his early days, would compare landscapes to paintings done by well-known painters (including by his contemporary, Clark Ashton Smith) or to descriptions by well-known authors (including Poe and Milton - particularly in "Dagon").  I thought maybe this author was attempting the same thing.  That assertion, I think, is backed up by the Lovecraftian nature of the story.

That being said: I agree that it felt like it came out of left-field.  Lovecraft's academic tone made comparisons to literary, artistic and classical greats fit right in - this story does not have the proper tone for that sort of comparison (especially when it's attempted objectively in the narrative).

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