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Author Topic: Pseudopod 302: Singing By The Fire  (Read 1728 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: October 05, 2012, 12:28:26 AM »

Pseudopod 302: Singing By The Fire

by Jamieson Ridenhour

“Singing by the Fire” is original to Pseudopod, though an earlier version was briefly available on the author’s website as a piece of free fiction. This story is directly inspired a decade of recurring snake nightmares and by a masterful little poem by North Carolina poet Robert Morgan, called “Mountain Bride” -but that near-decade of snake dreams underpins it like venom. He has recently had the story accepted for publication in the print anthology Hunting Ghosts, forthcoming from Black Oak Media (see link).

Jamieson Ridenhour is the author of the comedy werewolf murder-mystery Barking Mad (Typecast 2011) and creator of the short horror films Cornerboys and The House Of The Yaga. He used to live in a log cabin in the mountains of North Carolina, though one with electricity. He now lives in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Your reader this week is the Nathan Lowell, who you may know from Escape Pod #357: Connoisseurs of the Eccentric.


“‘I don’t know that I’d call it a ghost story,” Whithers said, looking at the reflected firelight caught in his brandy glass. “I don’t think I really believe in ghosts. It’s been twenty-five years, now.’ He fell silent again, studying his drink.

We leaned forward, eagerly awaiting his next words. A potluck feast of grilled salmon, tomato and basil couscous, and oven-fresh bread was digesting comfortably in our stomachs as we settled round the fire in our accustomed places. The chairs in Whithers’ townhouse were soft and leathery. The rosy feeling in our cheeks and bellies was a combination of good food, wood smoke, and an amiable brandy that Patterson’s wife Deirdre had brought back from Ireland last fall.

The weather had suggested ghost stories; the storm outside was one of those summer gullywashers that swept down from the mountains unannounced, outing power and flooding streets. When the power had gone out we had scurried to find candles and hurricane lamps, and the fitful illumination put us in the mood for some spectral entertainment. Not that we needed any encouragement. Our monthly get-togethers often turned towards the ghostly, but until this particular night Whithers had stayed out of the story-telling sessions, becoming withdrawn and sullen when talk turned ghoulish. So when Henderson asked Withers for a ghost story, his acquiescence had surprised us all.

‘I feel sort of silly talking about this,’ he continued, not looking up. ‘I’ve never told anyone but Melinda, and I don’t think she believed me. But I assure you it is true. It’s the strangest thing that ever happened to me.’

We stayed silent, not wanting to break Whithers’ train of thought for fear he would reconsider. The candles and fireplace combined with the lightning outside to create a weird shifting of shadows across Whithers’ face as he continued.”



Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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dragonsbreath
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« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2012, 12:06:13 PM »

Wow. This was a great story. The best one yet on the pseudopod.
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« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2012, 03:25:30 PM »

Thanks for the opportunity to do this story.

It was a great challenge for a Yankee like me and I had a lot fun.

Where by "fun" I mean, about 40 takes on some of those lines Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2012, 08:43:20 PM »

A good, old-fashioned ghost story.  Enjoyable.  Solid.  Entertaining.  I got my hopes up for something really disturbing during the brief mockery moment early in the telling, but I'm satisfied by a decent Tragic Death, well-told.

Great reading, btw.  Did you research Appalachian pronunciation or just wing it?  (I don't know the area well enough to gauge the accuracy, myself.)
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« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2012, 03:22:10 PM »

I love me a good old fashioned ghost story, and this did not fail to disappoint.  So much of Horror has become Overt and verbose in its description of blood guts and gore, it was nice to hear a ghost story for a change. 

Good Story, and Good reading.

Thanks to all involved in bringing this story to us.

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« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2012, 02:05:33 AM »

Wish I had time for a full review. Too busy, unfortunately, so I'll chime in and say this:

The bit about our narrator realizing there was a ghost laying beside him in the bed was creepy as all hell.

Really enjoyed this one.
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« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2012, 09:46:51 AM »

This was a fantastic ghost story! I do wonder about the title itself "Singing By The Fire". If I remember that phrase was only mentioned the one time by the wife, what was she referring to? Just echos from the past?
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« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2012, 01:19:40 PM »

I am absolutely certain that I have heard/read this story before. I know that a shorter version is on the author's website, but I also know that I have never been to that website. Also, this story is a bit too much like Zelia Bishop's "The Curse of Yig". I am not claiming plagiarism or any such thing; it just that I am certain this isn't new to me. Particularly the scene where the body is described (the dozens of snake bites).
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« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2012, 01:31:07 PM »

This was a fantastic ghost story! I do wonder about the title itself "Singing By The Fire". If I remember that phrase was only mentioned the one time by the wife, what was she referring to? Just echos from the past?

The snakes were gathered around the hearth (which was where their nest was), all hissing and rattling.  Traditionally, one would gather at the hearth (around the fire, in other words) for conviviality and companionship, such as singing songs and telling stories.  The snakes' actions superficially resembled this behavior, and she made the analogy while in paroxysms of terror (and thus not in a state to make a whole bunch of sense.)
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« Reply #9 on: October 10, 2012, 09:17:50 PM »

I don't know The Curse of Yig, but I'll go find it now. The basic facts of the story I took from Robert Morgan's poem Mountain Bride (you can find it on Robert's website). Maybe you're thinking of that?

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I'm really happy to be on Pseudopod, and love the narration.
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« Reply #10 on: October 10, 2012, 11:10:11 PM »

Love it when the author stops by!

I friggin loved this story. Such a great ghost story, so eerie and just open-ended enough to make it all the more horrifying. I wish I could have been there to hear the tale.  (not there as in up in the mountains in that cabin... ooooh no.)

There's really not much more I can say about the story, it was really enjoyable, well-written, well-narrated, and really just all around great!
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« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2012, 12:58:19 PM »

I don't know The Curse of Yig, but I'll go find it now. The basic facts of the story I took from Robert Morgan's poem Mountain Bride (you can find it on Robert's website). Maybe you're thinking of that?

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I'm really happy to be on Pseudopod, and love the narration.

Haven't read "Mountain Bride" so that's not it. Truthfully, I don't know where this familiarity comes from. I am absolutely certain I have read/heard this story before. Perhaps I am stuck in some kind of time warp or a really, really strong and lasting episode of deja vu.

Don't get me wrong; I think this is a great story. It's nice to have an old fashioned ghost story now and then.
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« Reply #12 on: October 16, 2012, 06:01:10 AM »

Really happy to see these comments! I absolutely loved this story. It had a gentle, real, emotional, personal feel to it, like it was happening to me as I listened. By "gentle" I guess I mean it didn't feel the need for flashy cuts or cheap shocks -- a wonderfully told, resonant story. Excellent!

Great reading as well, which adds immeasurably to the enjoyment Smiley
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« Reply #13 on: October 17, 2012, 08:51:47 AM »

I quite enjoyed this.  It had a very "classic" horror feel to it, reminiscent of 19th century horror, that I really enjoyed.  The framing story of the guys exchanging tales added to that.  It was all done very well, creepy and compelling and interesting, and I cared about what happened to the characters, the ghosts included.  Well done, Mr. Ridenhour, and thanks for stopping by the forum as well.  Smiley

The snakes were gathered around the hearth (which was where their nest was), all hissing and rattling.  Traditionally, one would gather at the hearth (around the fire, in other words) for conviviality and companionship, such as singing songs and telling stories.  The snakes' actions superficially resembled this behavior, and she made the analogy while in paroxysms of terror (and thus not in a state to make a whole bunch of sense.)

Ah, didn't catch the meaning of the title.  My best guess was that it was an alteration of the expression "Whistling by the graveyard".
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« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2012, 12:47:42 PM »

This was an excellent take on the old fashioned ghost story. It made me really happy to see new work genuinely work written in this style, not as a parody or satire, and done it so well.

I especially appreciated the nature of the ghosts here - they were not malicious in any way, but they were still horrific, because they were a very real reminder of mortality and how sometimes horrible things happen for no particular reason. Horror that emerges from an uncaring world is often far more real to me than horror emerging from a world that's actively set against the protagonist.
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« Reply #15 on: December 06, 2012, 10:51:39 AM »

I wanted to chime in and express my appreciation for the story in general and the frame narrative in particular. It was evocative of Ambrose Bierce or M R James without being derivative.

I'm not sure I can agree with the similarity drawn between this story and the Curse of Yig. Fear of snakes is a primal thing that is recurring throughout human culture. Snakes in fiction with the intention to invoke dread are depicted in a fashion that is threatening to a human, whether it's being consumed by a very large snake or poisoned by several small ones. The details in Yig are more culture-wide and primal; the broad plot strokes bear little resemblance to this story.

And a link to the poem where you can see the inspiration clearly for the interior story.
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