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Author Topic: Pseudopod 328: The Suicide Witch  (Read 6715 times)


  • Pseudopod Tiger
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on: April 07, 2013, 06:00:32 AM
Pseudopod 328: The Suicide Witch

By Vylar Kaftan.

“The Suicide Witch” originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction, July 2012 and can be read here. She says “I wrote this story for the Codex Halloween contest. Codex is an online group of professional writers, and every year we trade “seeds” to spark new stories. My seed for this story was to write about a mortician who glues hair for special events. Clearly I have some funny ideas about how morticians live.”

VYLAR KAFTAN has published about 40 short stories in places such as Asimov’s, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld. She’s the founder of a new literary-themed science fiction convention in the San Francisco Bay Area called FOGcon, which happens in March (click link under the name). She was nominated for a Nebula in 2011 and blogs at here. Her novella which will be out in Asimov’s in the February issue - it’s an alternate history in which the Incan Empire survives into the 19th century, and bargains with America for a smallpox vaccine.

Your reader this week - Rikki LaCoste - is the creator and co-host of the metaphysical and esoterically flavoured podcast, Kakophonos Internet Radio available for free from iTunes. At this time, Kakophonos is undergoing a further incarnation, so if you visit or search iTunes and cannot find it, check back again in a couple of weeks. His odd, informative, and provocative show often collapses into the silly and the absurd whenever it begins to get a little too serious. Rikki is a writer of strange articles on occult subjects, is a musician and the creator of Panthea, the co-creator of a cartoon strip about Aleister Crowley, a Hermetic Philosopher, a Ceremonial Magician, a summoner of daemons, and teaches piano to happy little children. He currently lives just East of Toronto in a dubious little house that emits strange sounds and eldrich odours all hours of the night..

“The suicide witch crushes glass in her leather gloves. Shards crumble like crackers over soup, filling her metal bucket. The witch’s fingers squeak together in the damp cellar air. Glitter escapes over the worktable’s edge, like white stars vanishing in the low torchlight. A peasant girl lies dead on a funeral board, her dress nailed to the wood in thirteen places.

The witch’s name is Yim, but none call her that. She lives under the noble house of Jiang in the province of Kung-lao, in a cellar with puddles like rice paddies. In the summer, fat flies buzz around her face until she swats them down. In the winter, her knees ache, and she coughs in the dampness as if she were an old hag. But Yim’s ragged hair is black without silver, and her face shows no lines. She can still see in the dark.”




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Reply #1 on: April 08, 2013, 02:57:01 PM
Solid story and narration made better by Alisdair's op-ed at the end. It is all about misdirection. Cool setting too. I do not know if a suicide witch is something that really exists in chinese culture, but the story made me believe.


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Reply #2 on: April 08, 2013, 06:30:27 PM
I really liked the direction this story was heading in the first half.  The threat made by the Duke's son is pure diabolical nastiness.  I awaited an equally horrible retribution.

But in the end, she just slips out the front door in a pair of pilfered slippers.  I understand the power of misdirection.  I also accept that there will be serious repercussions for both the Duke's son and would-be companion, but it still felt like more of an anti-climax.


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Reply #3 on: April 10, 2013, 04:05:33 AM
I have to admit, this story is another example of why I love Pseudopod the best... although I found myself thinking during the story that it belonged on Castlepod.
I was impressed that the story actually drew me in so quickly. I could feel the cold, wet cellar the witch inhabited, and was impressed with both the rich storytelling and the outstanding narration...(seriously, the voice actor is good!!!)
I felt no pity for the Duke's son, nor his lover, they were almost stereotypical in their caustic evil and social they had it coming. I honestly expected (in a Twilight Zone twist) for the witch to be killed coming out the door by the soldiers acting on the Duke's orders. Mistaking her for the "bride to be" after the Duke discovered their deception.
Perhaps it's my own fault, but I keep expecting an ending to many of the stories on the Pods. I guess I'm a fan of closure, or at least an ending that doesn't leave me wishing for additional information...not EVERYtime.
As ALWAYS, Alisdair's opening and especially closing comments complement and define the stories amazingly!

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.
-Blaise Pascal


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Reply #4 on: April 10, 2013, 04:24:32 PM
Very atmospheric and well-narrated story. I enjoyed it!


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Reply #5 on: April 25, 2013, 01:29:53 PM
I enjoyed it.  The mythology here was interesting, with the rules about hair-preparation of the dead preventing the rising dead.  Can you imagine how many risen corpses you'd have to go through before you figured out something so arbitrary?  This was an interesting power balance, this position in the world which is so despised yet so inarguably necessary for life as they know it to continue.  The author did a good job making me sympathize with the witch who in many  circumstances I might have trouble relating to.  It was clear that she was scheming something, but I didn't figured out her plan before it was revealed, so kudos for that.

Well done.


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Reply #6 on: October 08, 2013, 10:26:22 PM
Between this story and the one that ran over on Toasted Cake I think I might have found some Vylar Kaftan that works for me. The gritty setting, the compelling description and worldbuilding, and the thoroughly horrid characters really made both of these stories work. I'm sure at some point in the future I will regret not hitting the next button when I encounter her work, but I'll tough it out anyway in case it's a gem like this.

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