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Author Topic: PC326: Haunts  (Read 1989 times)
kibitzer
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« on: September 02, 2014, 05:10:23 PM »

PodCastle 326: Haunts

by Claire Humphrey

Read by Julia Rios (of Strange Horizons and the Outer Alliance Podcast)

Originally published in Interzone #249, November 2013.

The chirurgeon’s knife severs my little finger from my palm, just above the mount of Mercury.

“You are permitted to look away,” the chirurgeon comments.

I shrug the shoulder that isn’t locked down, and keep watching.  The knife, obsidian, joints me like I’m a bird.

Somewhere inside my forearm I feel the pull of my tendon loosed.  Little blood, and no pain; the chirurgeon knows her work, and the numbness of the lockdown extends all the way to my breast.  In five minutes the chirurgeon has stowed the finger in its cooler, joined flaps of skin over the hollow socket, and healed it over with a couple of passes of a graft-stick.

“You’ll have minor pain for a few weeks,” she says.  “You don’t need to keep it covered.  The scar will change colour; that’s normal.  If you feel a loss of sensation or have any discharge, come back to me.”

She takes off the lockdown and feeling surges back through my breast, up over my trapezius, down my arm.  I flex my hand.  Sure enough, it hurts.  Nothing I can’t bear.

She walks me to the front desk.  The buyer waits there.  An attendant comes out and hands him the tiny cooler tagged with my name.


Rated R. Contains violence, disturbing imagery, and sex. (The sex isn’t disturbing.)

You can support PG Holyfield’s GoFundMe account here. Please help his family.

You can support Bobby Lombardi’s GoFundMe project here, and read from Matt Wallace how Bobby saved his life.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: September 19, 2014, 08:06:38 AM by Talia » Logged

ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2014, 11:39:13 PM »

Straight up - I loved this story because in it, a big guy got some loving. I'm pretty screwed up in the eating department - my therapist wife tells me that if the diagnostic guides in the DSM didn't assume that only ladies get eating disorders, I'd qualify for Bulimia*, which was an exciting factoid! - and I spent a lot of my life believing that big guys like me weren't attractive or deserving of love. I know it wasn't a main point of the story, but I really appreciated the romance as a result!

Moving on, the rest of the story was also sublime. I loved the sadness of the haunted school, and the dawning, creeping impressing that the main character wasn't doing her haunts any favors by keeping them there. The moment where her unreliable nature as a narrator solidified into a certainty that she had been deluding herself was brilliant. The world-building was consistent, the writing was evocative, and the characterizations were solid. It was an excellent story all-around, and I enjoyed it greatly.

By the way, if there are any other big dudes feeling down on themselves, I recommend the Lies of Locke Lamora, which features Jean Motherf^cking Tannen, the baddest bastard of the bunch, and bona fide big guy, who doesn't have to suddenly slim down and turn into a muscle magazine ad in order to get ladies or kick ass!

* Note: Bulimia actually doesn't require throwing up. That's a common misconception. Actually, it's just characterized by a combination of dissatisfaction with your weight, negative body image to the point of mild delusion, and binge eating.
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« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2014, 09:28:33 AM »

You had plans. You had dreams. You had ambitions.

Then you had them cut out from under you. In this case, quite literally.

Yeah, it can be really hard to let go of what can't be any more, and get on with what still can.

I liked the revitalisation of the school as a symbol of the main character coming to grips with the fact that, while she can never be the star of the fights again, she can still be part of it by bringing on the next generation. I also liked the way she kept telling herself that she was a civilian now, when she clearly didn't really believe it.

And I liked that the happy ending was still tinged with sadness. She still drank, and she still made her Drink Offerings to the haunts. Because we never forget lost friends.
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« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2014, 09:38:00 AM »

For anyone interested, Theresa Frohock's essay "Women Made of Chrome" (referenced in the intro) can be found here.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2014, 10:02:39 PM »

Eh.

I thought on the level of writing, it was a VERY well-done character piece. The writing is excellent, I just wanted for more in the actual narrative or plot.

Though I did find our protagonist's literally being haunted by her past to be a little heavy-handed.
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danooli
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« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2014, 06:45:52 AM »

I generally liked this, but I felt a bit more worldbuilding might have helped. Things like why doing a bit of landscaping would send the haunts away?  I was stuck on that point for a while. The sexual liason also seemed to come out of nowhere.

However, as a 40 year old woman, this resonated with me. I am sort of the opposite of our heroine, I am in better shape now than I was when I was younger (go roller derby!) but I know the feeling of aging. I may try my hand at writing a story with a woman like me as the protagonist though.  Just cause.
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Varda
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« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2014, 08:47:08 AM »

I'm with ElectricPaladin - I straight-up loved this story, both because it starred a really thoughtfully done chrome-ass bitch, and yes, because big guys get some loving. Cheesy (Seriously, big guys are killing the competition when it comes to who gives the best hugs. Just sayin'.)

I especially loved this story as reflection on life transitions, how sometimes we cling to a stage already past for too long, selling off fingers to hold onto it, when in reality good things--perhaps even better things--lie forward. For the woman in this story, this meant letting go of the people who had died and letting herself be loved again. Sure, she was "past her prime" in one way--as a duelist--but she'd entered her prime in another way--as a teacher. Getting older unlocks just as many opportunities as it closes off, because your experience is just as precious and valuable as your body. It was something that resonated a lot with me, as someone approaching her 30's, which seems to be the point in life where the youngest adults start to view you as kinda old. (I disagree, but hey, I probably thought that way when I was 10 years younger, too. Smiley)
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« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2014, 02:39:37 PM »

I liked the story, it is an interesting world.
I am a bit puzzled about the selling body parts thing. Do you automatically get someone else's skills when you get a piece of them?
That seemed to be what was implied but I can't recall that being stated outright.
Of course, I was doing electrical work while standing on a ladder when I listened to this, so maybe I missed that bit?
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« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2014, 03:04:29 PM »

I liked the story, it is an interesting world.
I am a bit puzzled about the selling body parts thing. Do you automatically get someone else's skills when you get a piece of them?
That seemed to be what was implied but I can't recall that being stated outright.
Of course, I was doing electrical work while standing on a ladder when I listened to this, so maybe I missed that bit?

I think it was meant to be a superstition, not a confirmed reality.
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SpareInch
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Will there be sugar after the rebellion?


« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2014, 10:40:17 PM »

I liked the story, it is an interesting world.
I am a bit puzzled about the selling body parts thing. Do you automatically get someone else's skills when you get a piece of them?
That seemed to be what was implied but I can't recall that being stated outright.
Of course, I was doing electrical work while standing on a ladder when I listened to this, so maybe I missed that bit?

I think it was meant to be a superstition, not a confirmed reality.

I was just surprised how many duelists managed to lose fingers. Sword hilts are generally designed to avoid that sort of thing.

Maybe they were all so well bred that they fought with their little pinkies extended?
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« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2014, 10:46:04 PM »

I liked the story, it is an interesting world.
I am a bit puzzled about the selling body parts thing. Do you automatically get someone else's skills when you get a piece of them?
That seemed to be what was implied but I can't recall that being stated outright.
Of course, I was doing electrical work while standing on a ladder when I listened to this, so maybe I missed that bit?

I think it was meant to be a superstition, not a confirmed reality.

I was just surprised how many duelists managed to lose fingers. Sword hilts are generally designed to avoid that sort of thing.

Maybe they were all so well bred that they fought with their little pinkies extended?

They were fighting with a pretty speed and accuracy focused style. Maybe they had openwork basket hilts for lightness, rather than heavy full-protection sort of hilts?
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« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2014, 07:50:17 AM »

This story was okay.  I find it hard to comprehend the mindset of a duelist, which has come up in previous stories about duelists.  Especially the classical belief that dueling somehow resolves disputes.  And I don't think I understand very well the mindset that would make a person fight in duels yet somehow be surprised when they lose their supremacy--if you're in any physical game long enough there will always be someone who is younger, stronger, faster than you.  I did like the unreliable narrator bit about the haunts being supposedly kept there for their own happiness but it turned out not.  But I just find duelist's hard to get into--my own failing, not the story's.


I liked the story, it is an interesting world.
I am a bit puzzled about the selling body parts thing. Do you automatically get someone else's skills when you get a piece of them?
That seemed to be what was implied but I can't recall that being stated outright.
Of course, I was doing electrical work while standing on a ladder when I listened to this, so maybe I missed that bit?

I think it was meant to be a superstition, not a confirmed reality.

I was just surprised how many duelists managed to lose fingers. Sword hilts are generally designed to avoid that sort of thing.

Maybe they were all so well bred that they fought with their little pinkies extended?

They were fighting with a pretty speed and accuracy focused style. Maybe they had openwork basket hilts for lightness, rather than heavy full-protection sort of hilts?

I thought that the fingers were of failed or desperate duelists looking for any way to make a buck and so chose to have amputations?  And, no doubt, the fingers on the market that are supposed to be from duelists are probably often not.  Just like there are more supposed pieces of the cross than could possibly compose a cross, I'm sure the most famous duelist of recent history probably has at least 100 fingers on the market.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2014, 08:13:16 AM »

I liked the story, it is an interesting world.
I am a bit puzzled about the selling body parts thing. Do you automatically get someone else's skills when you get a piece of them?
That seemed to be what was implied but I can't recall that being stated outright.
Of course, I was doing electrical work while standing on a ladder when I listened to this, so maybe I missed that bit?

I think it was meant to be a superstition, not a confirmed reality.

I was just surprised how many duelists managed to lose fingers. Sword hilts are generally designed to avoid that sort of thing.

Maybe they were all so well bred that they fought with their little pinkies extended?

They were fighting with a pretty speed and accuracy focused style. Maybe they had openwork basket hilts for lightness, rather than heavy full-protection sort of hilts?

I thought that the fingers were of failed or desperate duelists looking for any way to make a buck and so chose to have amputations?  And, no doubt, the fingers on the market that are supposed to be from duelists are probably often not.  Just like there are more supposed pieces of the cross than could possibly compose a cross, I'm sure the most famous duelist of recent history probably has at least 100 fingers on the market.

I think it was both.
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« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2014, 01:08:53 PM »

A very interesting world and a great "mood piece." I was also struck by how she kept trying to convince herself that she was a civilian now, but then faulting her would-be patron for not understanding her because he was a civilian. Tongue
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #14 on: October 01, 2014, 09:42:34 AM »

A lot of talented high school and college athletes could stand to listen to this story.  In addition to everything else going on, I saw it as demonstrating how hard it can be for someone who is so good at something like sports to have to suddenly be "retired" from the thing you do best at the age where most of us are still building our careers.

Though I did find our protagonist's literally being haunted by her past to be a little heavy-handed.

I can see that.  Maybe just a couple of centimeters over the top.  I think that I would have liked the haunts to either be more involved with the plot or not there at all . . . .  Still, a minor quibble.
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lynzi
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« Reply #15 on: November 22, 2014, 03:45:51 PM »

Well...it was so depressing to me I almost stopped listening. I don't understand what she saw in the guy, besides his money...so it seems like materialism is considered ok by the main character, which is somewhat understandable considering that she's losing body parts, but still unsettling to me. I like how it ended up, but I rail against the "let go" sort of message - it's useful for some, I guess.
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