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Author Topic: PC284: The October Witch  (Read 4345 times)
Ocicat
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« on: October 30, 2013, 02:59:09 PM »

PodCastle 284: The October Witch

by Francesca Forrest

Read by Steve Anderson

Originally published in Kaleidotrope. Read it here!

“Need a lift?” It’s a woman in a pickup truck, maybe Josh’s age, maybe some years older, from the lines on her face. She’s probably been driving this truck since she was fifteen and hasn’t ever left these mountains.

“I’d appreciate it. Just back to the gas station would be great.”

The woman shakes her head. “It’ll be closed by the time we get there. My husband can drop you back in town tomorrow morning—assuming he gets back home tonight; otherwise I will. I’m Audra.” She offers a hand.

“I’m Josh. Pleased to meet you. And thanks.” He climbs in the truck. Audra tells him she works in town at the supermarket and that her husband is a lineman who’s been busy these past two days, restoring power after that amazing thunderstorm (the one that washed out the road where Josh’s car now sits). When she hears that Josh is in a master’s program, studying folklore, she grins.

“Then you must’ve heard about the October witch. I’m surprised you got in the truck with me.”

 “October witch? No, I think I missed that one,” says Josh, returning the grin, wondering whether Audra’s spinning a line or if this is a real folktale he’s about to hear. “I guess she comes out on Halloween? And maybe, what, grabs drivers off the road?”


Rated PG. Happy Halloween!

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
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Moritz
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« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2013, 05:46:28 AM »

I was a bit annoyed that it was clear all along where this would lead to, but then Dave discussed this as well. I mean, it still worked as a spooky story (especially because I was hanging up clothes in the dark attic while listening to it).

The reading was really good.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2013, 06:35:52 AM »

Yes, it was abundantly clear where the story was heading, but what the hey.  I love reading folklore of supernatural beings so this hit the spot for almost Halloween.  And I just love how Steve Anderson sounds so positively naive as Josh then twists his voice around to match the murderous intent (with a hint of sweetness) of the witch.

There's just enough ambiguity at the end.  The men damned to servitude encourage Josh to run for the sake of his soul.  Are they doing it because he might stand a chance, or is the witch just playing with her victim? 
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2013, 07:51:21 PM »

Re: Seeing the end coming.

I wonder if a good fundraiser could be that every member who says they saw a twist coming has to put 2 dollars in the tip jar? (not counting the above because they weren't bragging but discussing how seeing the ending affected their experience)

also- maybe the same should be applied for the 'this isn't fantasy/scifi/horror comments, though I haven't seen too many of those lately.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2013, 10:55:08 PM »

Re: Seeing the end coming.

I wonder if a good fundraiser could be that every member who says they saw a twist coming has to put 2 dollars in the tip jar? (not counting the above because they weren't bragging but discussing how seeing the ending affected their experience)

also- maybe the same should be applied for the 'this isn't fantasy/scifi/horror comments, though I haven't seen too many of those lately.

As one who recently called out a story for not being sci-fi in my book, I'm already in debt Tongue

I liked this story. I agree it followed the path of least resistance, but it didn't bother me because I wanted her to be the October Witch and was just waiting to see what she was going to do to him. And I really enjoyed how open the ending was. Does he get away or not? In some stories an ending like this frustrates me because I want to know what happens to the characters. This one made me care just enough about Josh to cheer for him to run, but not so much that I really care if he gets away or not. That's a fine line and I think Francesca walked it perfectly here.
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bizbrig
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« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2013, 12:05:10 AM »

Steve Anderson is so good, so so good.
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Rain
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« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2013, 04:49:34 AM »

I didn't like this story, i thought it was tedious that so long was spent telling us in great detail where the story would go. If it had had a good ending i would have been ok with it, but it had no ending at all, which is my biggest pet peeve with short stories.
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« Reply #7 on: November 04, 2013, 09:41:23 AM »

The story was okay.  It was clear from the beginning that we were supposed to know that she was really the witch.  I did find it amusing that he was told all of the details directly but because he has a cynical rational mindset, and he furthermore collects myths like one would collect stamps, he fails to take heed of the warnings (not that it would matter anyway, since the witch isn't to be resisted, so we are led to believe). 

I wouldn't say that I hated that it telegraphed the ending, since I did find that aspect amusing, but it did keep the story from having much tension.  I assumed the taking of his soul was a foregone conclusion from very early on, so the mention in the last couple of lines that he MIGHT be able to escape if he can keep away from them until dawn is the first chance for any uncertainty in the outcome, and by that time the story's almost over.

Great reading, amusing idea, but not particularly enthralling.

but it had no ending at all, which is my biggest pet peeve with short stories.

Lots of short stories have endings.  Most, even, I would say.  I wouldn't say it's a really fair criticism of ALL short stories.  Un-endings are not limited to short stories either--I'm looking at you Sopranos (which I've never seen but the ending raised enough talk that I heard it anyway)
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Procyon
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« Reply #8 on: November 04, 2013, 08:40:14 PM »

Wow, wow, I loved the narrator! What a performance!
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #9 on: November 04, 2013, 09:17:01 PM »

I'm super tremendously torn. On one hand, it was so obvious what was happening; which also made it hard to feel bad for the folklore collector--who didn't have a lot else going on to make me care about or interested in him. On the other hand, the slight weirdness of it all was effectively creepy--at least for me, when I walked my dog at 4am.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #10 on: November 05, 2013, 04:09:24 AM »

You guys are so missing the point it's almost funny.
Yes, the ending was telegraphed.
Yes, Josh was cynical and that's why the witch got him.

The point is (and this is my interpretation. Remind me to tell you about the time how in a literature exam I explained Richard Corey completely opposite from what we were taught in class but was able to convince the teacher that that was my interpretation of the poem and therefore completely valid, and I had the quotes to back myself up), the point is that this is either a cautionary tale or a derogatory piece, depending on your inclinations.
See, Josh is an academic, a university student, studying of all things, folklore. And he is all of the cliches that you can think of. Self confident and knowledgeable, but completely clueless at the same time. Convinced of his own superiority but easily taken down.
He's driving fast on a winding mountain road at night, but he's OK, he's a good driver. After all, he's used to driving in all sorts of conditions (read: he's studied a lot). And yet, he crashed his car without even knowing about it OR he was so clueless that his car ran out of gas without his knowing (read: academia does not prepare you for real life).
He studies folklore, and was probably in that area collecting and/or corroborating stories. And yet he's never heard this one, the one that will be his downfall. He has excellent encyclopedic knowledge of folklore, but doesn't know a thing about them. It's like learning to swim from a podcast. The knowledge is there, but not the right kind of knowledge. He knows all the what about folklore, but not the why. He thinks the story of the October Witch, like many other folklore stories, is a cautionary tale or to scare children. He doesn't know that folklore is there for a reason. Every story has a grain of truth in it. But to the academic in his ivory tower that is, of course, preposterous.
You can add another layer. We don't know a thing about Josh, what he was wearing, where he lives or what kind of car he drives. But from the story we know all about Audra. And the descriptions, from Josh's point of view, are all steeped in derision. Poor pathetic Audra has only ever driven this one old truck her entire life (Josh probably drives a car that's less than 3 years old). Poor pathetic Audra has never been 30 miles from her place of birth (Josh probably studies in a university far from his home town and travels the country for his research). Poor pathetic Audra lives in a two room cabin in the middle of the woods (Josh probably has a nice, modern apartment on campus). Poor pathetic Audra has this old decrepit dog (Josh might have a young Yorkie). Poor pathetic Audra loses power so often that she has hurricane lamps and candles around the house (Josh apparently needs a flashlight to get out of the car). Poor pathetic Audra needs to use Wall Mart utility candles (you get the picture). And yet, despite all of that all it took was a warm fire and a bowl of soup to render him completely incapacitated.
It's the academic's self-important and supercilious outlook contrasted with how easily that bubble is burst.
You can even take this a step further into the "<insert field> majors are completely useless" or "what's the point of a degree in something that is only good in academia", but I'll stop here.

The author was trying to tell us something, to get her point across. We have to look beyond the surface of the story into its deeper meaning. We need to read the intent between the lines.
Or this story just popped into her head and she had to get it out. Whichever you prefer.
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Rain
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« Reply #11 on: November 05, 2013, 10:36:52 AM »

Lots of short stories have endings.  Most, even, I would say.  I wouldn't say it's a really fair criticism of ALL short stories.  Un-endings are not limited to short stories either--I'm looking at you Sopranos (which I've never seen but the ending raised enough talk that I heard it anyway)

True, what i meant to say was that it is much more common in short stories than anywhere else. The vast majority of stories i hear on Podcastle and Escape pod have satisfying endings.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #12 on: November 05, 2013, 10:33:07 PM »

I liked this simply on the strength of the narrator. I know how you don't like to show favoritism to your children in feedback, but, oh man was Steve Anderson golden on this.

Yeah, it's predictable, but so's Batman; that doesn't hurt his sales. This is an exercise in backwoods atmosphere, of wandering into The October Country; yeah, it's as obvious as the Phantom Hitchhiker, but it's how the story is told that's important here.

People still take pictures of sunsets, and it's not because something surprising is going to happen.

And I figured when I got to the end that people would be dissatisfied by the abrupt ending. I myself am of two minds on this. I think it works just fine, on the one hand- if the story is about he witch, you really don't need more. OTOH, if the story is about Josh, well, then I can understand people wanting to know his fate, wanting see if he escapes.

I think I know what happens, and it's in his reluctance to clearly see his situation. But then, that's exactly who the witch preys upon. And he can't say she didn't warn him....
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« Reply #13 on: November 06, 2013, 09:21:18 AM »

People still take pictures of sunsets, and it's not because something surprising is going to happen.

I love this comment.
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Spindaddy
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« Reply #14 on: November 06, 2013, 08:45:08 PM »

Excellent story and narration!

I found this story amusing for several reasons, but the first was Audra being the witch was telegraphed all through the story so much I thought the story would end with either Josh waking up next to an old stump in the middle of the woods or waking up and Audra saying to him "Aren't you a little old to believe in witches?" Second, I'm not saying that I was taken by surprise at the no twist ending, but it came as a bit of a surprise there was no twist. In a way, I almost felt let down there was no twist, but was otherwise satisfied with the story. Third, I really dug how you don't know if Josh DID actually die and his soul concocted the story that his car ran out of gas.

My favorite line was "Run, dumbass!"

Also, hats off to Steve Anderson. If I ever win the lottery I'm going to spend a substantial portion on it attempting to force him, Cheyenne Wright and Wilson Fowlie into an iron cage and have them read short stories until one man emerges victorious.... or my brain explodes from the sheer awesome. I'm good with both endings.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #15 on: November 08, 2013, 12:49:12 PM »

He can run.  He will not make it.  This protagonist was not set up to win a race against the menbeasts.  As Max noted, this is a guy who is painted as very very easy prey.  It just took him a while to realize it.
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TrishEM
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« Reply #16 on: November 08, 2013, 01:27:54 PM »

I wonder whether the witch MADE his car run out of gas (if he didn't die), even though he's clueless enough to let it happen anyway? After all, she said she had ways to harvest men she took a fancy to, even if their souls hadn't been freed for the taking by death. But actually, it would probably be easier just to make a car crash. Or maybe she just shows up at any death in her territory.
I also wonder why the folklorist never heard of the October Witch. Maybe she's so successful that nobody ever gets away to spread tales. Or maybe he's just not very good at it.
This is a story that's fun to muse about, which makes it a success for me.
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danooli
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« Reply #17 on: November 08, 2013, 03:29:55 PM »

People still take pictures of sunsets, and it's not because something surprising is going to happen.

I love this comment.

Me too!!

I liked this story.  I didn't mind that I wasn't surprised that she was the Witch.  It was still an interesting and creepy story with a fantastic narration.

I also wonder why the folklorist never heard of the October Witch. Maybe she's so successful that nobody ever gets away to spread tales.

That's actually what I thought as I was listening, that she must be so good at it.  Especially if she isn't exactly the cause of the deaths, and she's just harvesting the souls before they are able to go where souls are supposed to go.  Nobody would know about that, assuming nobody goes to the cabin or can see the men to recognize them.  (The men can see each other, but can others see them?)

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benjaminjb
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« Reply #18 on: November 08, 2013, 03:40:02 PM »

Also, I'll take this time to highly recommend Alan Lomax's folk recordings available to stream on Spotify.
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« Reply #19 on: November 08, 2013, 05:40:05 PM »

I also wonder why the folklorist never heard of the October Witch. Maybe she's so successful that nobody ever gets away to spread tales.

That's actually what I thought as I was listening, that she must be so good at it.  Especially if she isn't exactly the cause of the deaths, and she's just harvesting the souls before they are able to go where souls are supposed to go.  Nobody would know about that, assuming nobody goes to the cabin or can see the men to recognize them.  (The men can see each other, but can others see them?)



+1 on that interpretation.  Folklore can't spread among the living if the only ones who experience or hear of it are dead souls trapped into servitude.
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