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Author Topic: Pseudopod 190: Wearing the Dead  (Read 8934 times)

Bdoomed

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on: April 16, 2010, 06:33:10 AM
Pseudopod 190: Wearing the Dead


By Alan Smale
Read by Kris Johnson

Trixie’s dead claws scrabbled faintly against the wooden stairs. The hairs on my arm came alive. It was clear Robbie hadn’t heard a thing.

What the heck could I say next? “I see you have tattoos.”

“Yep,” he said, and pushed up the sleeve on his right arm. “Check this out.”

They were hard to figure; dark shadows against his black skin. Against my better judgment, I was intrigued. I stepped forward.

It was a Celtic knot in a thick swirly pattern that went all around his bicep. He pushed up his left sleeve to show the silhouette of a heart with a long dagger thrust through it, ornamented with scrollwork.

“Neat,” I said. “Got any more?”

Robbie hesitated, and I realized what a potentially stupid question that had been.




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kristin

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Reply #1 on: April 18, 2010, 03:50:18 AM
eh... I didn't really think of this as scary. I just ended up feeling sad for the boy. The one person that liked him, he inadvertently killed. At first I thought something was going to be different about Robbie, but nope. The only thing supernatural about this story was the ghost dog. I don't know if the dog was actually a ghost or if the boy was crazy and it was his guilt. Either way I just end up feeling sorry for him. I guess it could be scary that this environment will probably lead him to become a serial killer.



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Reply #2 on: April 18, 2010, 04:59:43 AM
Well, you knew it had to have a downer ending.  I wasn't thrilled with the Ganstas ex Machina, but I appreciate the difficulty of getting all the disparate elements into place in the short timeframe of a short story.  (Though I think some of the blather about Dad could have been trimmed away to give a little more room for some feinting on the plot threads.)  I am, as always, not a fan of plots which revolve around people carrying the Idiot Ball, but in this case the protag is pretty thoroughly characterized as a general all-around fuckup, so I wasn't too unhappy with it.

I saw the ending coming as soon as Mom had that anomalous reaction to the shooting, and I was smiling in anticipation.  I *do* appreciate a good, solid ending line, and the implications of that final scene amuse me enough to forgive the blatancy of some of the backstory bits.

One thumb solidly up, and the other hand giving that little ehhhh waggle.  Pretty good, just sometimes with stylistic flavors that didn't appeal.  Can't please everyone, and I have weird tastes.

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Changwasteve

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Reply #3 on: April 18, 2010, 05:42:58 PM
I enjoyed this story, but the ending did not make sense to me. If the dog is just a manifestation of the little boy's guilt, then he laughs at the driver so that he will feel that guilt so that  in turn his "ghost" will stick around. He already killed the guy-- shouldn't that be enough guilt for one day?

If the dog is not just a manifestation of guilt, that means the little boy has some kind of magical hoodoo power that makes ghosts stick around when he laughs at them. I don't like that interpretation because it robs the act of any emotional content. To me it feels like the author took something that was mostly metaphorical and then took a sudden turn to treat it as entirely literal, with a direct, predictable causal relationship to a desired result.

I'm not criticizing so much as admitting that I don't really get this story. Any help?



kibitzer

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Reply #4 on: April 19, 2010, 09:25:03 AM
The title was actually way better than the story. Now, before y'all jump on me, the story was in no way crap. I enjoyed it. It's just that the title -- especially on Pseudopod -- suggested some kind of Hannibal-Lechter-I'm-wearing-your-face kind of thing.


countblackula

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Reply #5 on: April 19, 2010, 12:57:35 PM
I enjoyed this story, but the ending did not make sense to me. If the dog is just a manifestation of the little boy's guilt, then he laughs at the driver so that he will feel that guilt so that  in turn his "ghost" will stick around. He already killed the guy-- shouldn't that be enough guilt for one day?

If the dog is not just a manifestation of guilt, that means the little boy has some kind of magical hoodoo power that makes ghosts stick around when he laughs at them. I don't like that interpretation because it robs the act of any emotional content. To me it feels like the author took something that was mostly metaphorical and then took a sudden turn to treat it as entirely literal, with a direct, predictable causal relationship to a desired result.

I'm not criticizing so much as admitting that I don't really get this story. Any help?

I think your second interpretation was the right one. I don't think that the laughing has anything to do with -who- killed the person in question. It has to do with the kid and the fact that he was responsible for the deaths, so he's the one who is going to be able to see Ronnie Dax when he comes back.

I liked the story, even though it was a bit soft on the scary side. B-

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Listener

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Reply #6 on: April 19, 2010, 01:03:21 PM
I liked this one, for the most part, even allowing for the magical black person. I'm not sure how Trevor was so sure it was Zeke's brother's gang that shot Robby -- it could've just been coincidental, or another gang. I mean, how often do you have only one?

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Unblinking

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Reply #7 on: April 19, 2010, 01:43:14 PM
I didn't see him as a magical black person trope.  Yes, he gave some guidance where guidance was needed, but he wasn't exactly a faultless character himself.  He'd committed plenty of crimes in the past, and though he's trying to clean up his act, he only just started trying to be a better person at the end of the story.  And his seemingly good advice is indirectly responsible for getting himself killed, though he couldn't have known that.

Anyway, I liked this story okay.  The whole thing was depressing, but I liked the body of it nonetheless.  The dog especially gave me chills--not so much the fact that it was possibly a ghost, but because the family just left it to drag its ass around the house and that the dog still seemed pretty happy despite that.  And if they mom was going to put the dog's toys in the basement to get it out of the way, why didn't she just bring the DOG to the basement too?  Otherwise the end of that is pretty predictable.  Then again, she wasn't exactly compassionate, so she was probably ready to off the dog anyway.

What I didn't like was the ending.  If the dog is just a figment, then laughing at the man's death will do nothing but drive a bigger rift between himself and his mom, and leave him with even more guilt.  If the dog is a ghost, then, sure, he'll have the guy hanging around.  But what good will that do?  his mom won't be able to see him so he can't exactly mediate.  Sure, maybe he can get advice from him, but look where his last advice gained him.  And what if the haunting keeps him from moving on to a happy afterlife and he's damned him here forever?  No matter how I look at the ending it just isn't satisfying.



lowky

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Reply #8 on: April 19, 2010, 02:47:19 PM
I didn't see him as a magical black person trope.  Yes, he gave some guidance where guidance was needed, but he wasn't exactly a faultless character himself.  He'd committed plenty of crimes in the past, and though he's trying to clean up his act, he only just started trying to be a better person at the end of the story.  And his seemingly good advice is indirectly responsible for getting himself killed, though he couldn't have known that.

Almost like a Trickster God.  I have read some stories especially about Coyote, where he brings about the needed change, but he winds up on the short end of the stick himself.



Millenium_King

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Reply #9 on: April 19, 2010, 10:18:01 PM
Liked this one.  Not great, but definately a step up from the uninspiring "Oded the Merciless."  A few criticisms...

1.  A slow beginning that took a long time to get to the center of the story.  Too much bandying about with the other woman working with the Mom, the drivers and the A/C etc.  Interesting detail, but irrelevant.

2.  Liked the relationship between the boy and his new father figure.  Thought it was well drawn.

3.  Biggest criticism: not really horror, is it?  Not scary - although I knew something awful had to happen to that nice man - which left me with a sinking feeling the entire time.

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That Hirschman Guy

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Reply #10 on: April 20, 2010, 02:40:17 AM
Well, that was horrifying.
Compelling as well.
Interesting that Trev embraces his dark power to his own advantage. Almost a positive note.



tinroof

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Reply #11 on: April 20, 2010, 08:24:14 PM
I didn't think the ending was meant to be quite as serious as some of y'all are taking it. I just assumed it was a "protagonist cracking from the stress" sort of thing - it's "I can't deal with what just happened" logic, not "this is actually the way ghosts work" logic.

My main complaint with the story, before I got to the end, was that there didn't seem to be much reason for the dog to be a literal ghost instead of just a guilty memory. Once the ending happened I appreciate it a little more, but I still really don't think it's horror. More of a tragedy, really. The two can definitely overlap, but I didn't see it so much here. So a good story, but a little confusingly out of place, overall.



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Reply #12 on: April 26, 2010, 08:33:41 PM
Liked it, and great reading.  I thought it was heading in the magical black person direction too, but was happy to find that curbed.  The ghost dog was tragic, particularly the throw-back scene on its origin.  The parallel between Robbie and the ghost dog could have been a little cleaner if the protag had somehow, unwittingly been responsible for Trixie's death as well.

I think you could make a case for it being horror, but that's probably not the section you'd find it in your average bookstore.



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Reply #13 on: April 27, 2010, 04:52:38 PM
I think his degree of agency is pretty close.  For Trixie, he heard her starting down the stairs and could have gone to get her and stop her, but he just sat and grinned instead.  For Robbie, he knowingly violated his mother's instructions, not understanding the full implications.  He killed his dog through willful inaction, not realizing how dangerous falling down the stairs would be; he killed his new father-figure through willful disobedience, not realizing what the result of revealing Robbie's existence would be.

Really, the issue in both cases is his inappropriate emotional responses resulting from the quirks in his personality and upbringing.  He's completely unable to do things for himself.  Even when he takes Robbie's advice and tries to act to protect himself, to stand up to the bullies, the only thing he can think to do is threaten to have someone else come and beat up his tormentors.  He's a fundamentally helpless person, and even in the end, his only use of agency is to claw for assistance from Potential Future Ghost Robbie.  He laughs in the hopes that he can bring Robbie back from the dead because he thinks he needs Robbie to keep his mother around, but his choice of action is likely to be the biggest source of separation between them that he could possibly do. 

In all of the narrator's actions, he views himself and acts as a helpless catalyst, changing situations dramatically for the worse without ever having any insight or realization about himself or his own role in his downfall.

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Reply #14 on: April 28, 2010, 01:25:15 PM
In all of the narrator's actions, he views himself and acts as a helpless catalyst, changing situations dramatically for the worse without ever having any insight or realization about himself or his own role in his downfall.

Good post!  I think I like the story more now.  :)



Nitequill

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Reply #15 on: June 11, 2010, 03:03:23 PM
I liked this one. A classic ghost story updated very well to a contemporary setting. By classic I mean like a sitting around the camp fire story or an 19th century short story. The characters were all realized very well which is impressive given they were standard types. I especially beloved the kid was real which is no mean feat - writing believable child narrators. The reader also did a great job going pretty subtle on the dialog voice characterization and investing the narrator/protaganist with conviction. I think I enjoyed it more than some who have posted because I don't get to caught up in what is litterally "true" in a story... I don't want to know if the kid is delusional as opposed to the ghosts being real. My reading is the ghost are real but in a literary sense rather than literal sense  they are reflections of his mental state. I loved the final bit about laughing because it is a moment of horror and it is classic dream logic and sympathetic magic... and also it functions as a classic ghost story or weird tales 'punch line'. Very well done I think.

BTW there was real horror for me... I know it is dopey to be struck so hard by the death of the dog when two people die in the story but it is the classic murder of the innocent done very well. I had to hug my doggy during that part.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2010, 03:07:28 PM by Nitequill »



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Reply #16 on: June 15, 2010, 01:44:40 PM
BTW there was real horror for me... I know it is dopey to be struck so hard by the death of the dog when two people die in the story but it is the classic murder of the innocent done very well. I had to hug my doggy during that part.

Not dopey at all.  People can generally make their own choices, decide their own fates at least to some extent.  Dogs are at the mercy of people.  Also, I would argue that a dog can't be evil--it is only as good or bad as it's humans train it to be.  While a death of a human can be good or bad, I always feel bad for a doggy death (even though I've written stories where they die).



Millenium_King

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Reply #17 on: June 15, 2010, 07:47:05 PM
I think there was a bunny killed in "Camp," right?  I felt more for it than any of the little brats in that story.

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Reply #18 on: September 17, 2010, 08:23:04 PM
I tend to pick and choose which Pseudopod story to listen to -- horror really isn't my bag. I first learned of Mr. Smale from his novella "Delusion's Song" in Panverse One, and so when I saw a Pseudopod story from him I downloaded it. I enjoyed this one very much, from a number of angles: 1. the soft touch around whether there is more than reality as we commonly know it at work here and 2. the interesting, real characters and most particularly 3. the well voiced younger point of view.