Author Topic: Pseudopod 322: Cry Room  (Read 13249 times)


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on: February 22, 2013, 08:37:25 AM
Pseudopod 322: Cry Room

by Ted Kosmatka

Cry Room” is available to read over at fellow horror fiction website NIGHTMARE MAGAZINE. Check out their biweekly offerings of new horror fiction, non-fiction and podcast readings on their main page for current and past horror fiction and recordings by authors like Margo Lanagan & Norman Partridge, all curated for you by the tireless John Joseph Adams - and tell ‘em PSEUDOPOD sent ya and please remember to extend a tentacle in friendship! “Cry Room” was inspired by events that occurred a few years back. The line between fiction and reality is probably not where you’d expect.

TED KOSMATKA set his sights early on being a writer. This mostly involved having all his writing rejected, pursuing a biology degree, dropping out before graduation, and becoming a steel worker like his father and grandfather. Then the mill went bankrupt. After that he worked various lab jobs where friendships were born and fire departments were called. (And where, incidentally, he learned the fine point of distinction between fire-resistant and fire-proof) Eventually, Ted finished college and worked in a research lab with electron microscopes. Then came the final logical step: ditching all that to write video games at Valve. Ted’s fiction has been widely reprinted and nominated for both the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon awards. His first novel, THE GAMES, was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best genre books of 2012 and is currently available on Amazon. His second novel, PROPHET OF BONES will be released in bookstores on April 2.

Peter Piazza - is your reader this week. Pete narrates stories for sites including StarshipSofa and Tales of Old (as well as Pseudopod, of course).

“Around him, ladies fanned themselves in the heat, dressed in their Sunday finest. At the front of the church, the minister began. He was an older gentleman, narrow and angular as the church itself. Somewhere up ahead, among the sea of blue hair and balding pates sat his cousin Jason—along with Jason’s wife, her grandparents, and other assorted relation, both close and distant, all here for the special occasion.

Mitch came from Steel people, north counties, Hammond and East Chicago. But these were rural people down here. Farm people. His cousin’s wife’s side. In Indiana, an hour south might have been another world.

His daughter was good for the first minutes of the minister’s sermon. Then it began: she slid down his knee to the floor.”

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  • Hipparch
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Reply #1 on: February 23, 2013, 04:56:34 AM
One of the things that I enjoy so much about this story is the strangely uplifting ending: she may be a monster, but she's my monster. If only Doc Frankenstein had started from that feeling, that book would've arguably had a different ending.


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Reply #2 on: February 23, 2013, 07:59:53 PM
This story grabbed me from the start and never let go. Maybe because I have a one-year-old at home, and this story is built around every parent's nightmare. Maybe because it's deceptively simple and bare-bones, yet very frightening. I'm very pleased I had the opportunity to narrate this story and think it is my favorite work so far. Great work Ted!


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Reply #3 on: February 24, 2013, 02:27:19 AM
As a recovering catholic, I remember the cry rooms, and the shamed looks on the parents having to drag their children to one.  I always felt sorry for them, because they looked like they were trying so hard to be good parents, and everyone who glared at them didn't think so.  I also really liked the ending, which was very different from a lot of horror I've read.  You don't see a lot of upbeat endings here, and it was refreshing.

...And I promise you, it's true.
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Reply #4 on: February 25, 2013, 01:43:12 AM
Since my son sprang fully formed from my forehead (honest, honey!), I skipped over the crying room phase of life. But when they pointed to the second crying room, I was hooked. Great ending.


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Reply #5 on: February 25, 2013, 03:47:12 AM
as one of the glaring adults I also enjoyed this story.


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Reply #6 on: February 25, 2013, 02:36:05 PM
Frankly, I didn't understand it.


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Reply #7 on: February 25, 2013, 10:50:34 PM
Subtly in horror is hard to do, and it's also my favorite kind of horror. I love how there is nothing "outwardly" supernatural about this story, but because of the mood and suspense, you know that there is something "unique" about the Usher and something about those doors. And they symbolism of choice. Of free will. This is an impressive tale.



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Reply #8 on: February 26, 2013, 12:21:17 AM
Great that I see you working with Nightmare Magazine.  They only put two of there 4 stories a month in audio format.  But with it being John Joseph Adams. You know it's most likely a respected horror writer.

You guys should work more with them.

Oh and you should see if Tales to Terrify will be doing the Stoker Nominees in Audio again this year.  I imagine that is one big job to complete and hope it hasn't deterred them. But maybe it's a project for all of you to put together.

Sounds Great to me =)


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Reply #9 on: February 26, 2013, 02:05:19 AM

Great story. But I didn’t see the ending as uplifting. But I saw him begrudgingly going into one of the three dark passages as accepting a wave of depression brought on by being a parent out of control of his child.

Because of his child's energy which he cant control, he is now ostracised from society. To me this is evident by always being asked to go to the room behind, until finally where he goes there are no other sympathising parents. He is also carries the stigma of being a "bad parent". I love it how one of the rooms had a parent give him advice on "maybe the kid has ADHD”, and a explaining of the child’s behaviour as, "its all in the temperament", as if to say its in a luck of the draw and therefore not accepting any responsibility as a parent. I dont know if listeners without energetic children can appreciate how much these lines can hit to home, and are very true to how I have heard parents talk.

In the end room, its evident his child doesn’t see the dangers that he can see, and does not hesitate to run into the dark passages. Therefore this made me question, is the room really filled with passages of hidden horror or is that his view of the world he will have now from being labelled a bad parent. I know when my son wants to to sit down and play with him, sometimes I have an inability to do so because I just see colourful plastic and not see the objects of stimuli he must see. Sometimes when he drags me to the playground, I don’t see the fun slides and swings, but instead I am looking out for risks and other perils which my son may unknowing blunder into by being naïve.
To me this story was great and I thank the author for allowing escape artists to podcast it.


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Reply #10 on: February 26, 2013, 05:01:09 PM
Excellent story.  Top marks, truly.

I think the only thing that irked me was "You can call me... the Usher," which struck me as rather silly and dramatic, whereas just, "I'm the usher," would have maintained that everything-is-normal vibe of creepiness.  I was reminded of a weird horror movie I watched recently called Yellowbrickroad which had an obvious bizarre/creepy ending coming up and then for some reason decided that dressing Satan as a movie theater attendant and giving him a hit of meth was the way to go, and that gonzo "LOOK I AM BEING CREEPY" scene ruined the whole tone.

This story was not remotely ruined, but it was a mild burr in a similar vein, and it only stood out because the rest of the story was so delicately crafted.  (LOL at the "Little Angels.")


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Reply #11 on: February 27, 2013, 02:46:08 PM
I really enjoyed this one, one of my favorites. 

It probably caught me at opportune time, with Heather 7-months pregnant with our first child.  So I've been thinking alot about situations like this where parents can't get a child to behave and everyone blames the parents and I generally feel as bad for the parents as anyone.  I've also been on 4 hour plane rides where a 5 year old sitting behind me kicks my chair and screams the entire time while the mother ignores him, and when I turn to talk to the mother she says "What do you want me to do?".  To which my answer would've been "Anything at all", if I'd had the guts to do anything but turn back around and try to suppress my anger until I could walk into the next airport.

I didn't find this one scary or disturbing at all.  That's not a criticism of Pseudopod at all, I find it very interesting to  see what other people find scary or disturbing.  At the beginning I was very sympathetic and a little bit worried, thinking about what I would do in that situation (since there is a possibility that could be me in the near future).  When he went to the second cry room, the story became a wee bit silly.  As he progressed further back it became  quite ludicrous and comedic.  And then at the end when he sets off to follow her, I found that ending very sweet.  As benjaminjb said "she may be a monster, but she's my monster".  Whether or not he has done everything he can to make her fit in socially, he has taken his role as a parent very seriously.  He is going to find her and she will still be his baby.


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Reply #12 on: February 27, 2013, 03:02:37 PM
Wow.  This story was amazing, simple, terrifying, and even more it just drew me right in. Grim determined bad choices!
As a church goer with kids I totally identify both the with the MC and with the various folks the MC meets along the way. I kept thinking about how large the church was, how much room it had for the various levels of "doesn't quite fit in". Even though the congregation here was Roman Catholic, it really reminded me of my old Episcopal congregation. That way of making room and a place for everyone, and yet not really doing so at the same time, with the same gestured.  This also really nailed the feeling one can have in a church of somehow always being on the outside, no matter how deeply inside one gets.

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Reply #13 on: February 27, 2013, 04:17:28 PM
Brilliant story! I enjoy how the absurd and sinister slowly sneaks into the everyday situation.

"There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else." -- James Thurber


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Reply #14 on: March 01, 2013, 11:58:45 AM
I can understand how people without children probably didn't really get this. To be honest 2 years ago, I would have turned this story off and waited for the next one. Now that I'm a father, it makes a lot of sense.


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Reply #15 on: March 05, 2013, 06:47:59 PM
I loved this story!  I can fully relate to the cry room.  I was wishing our cry room had a "door in the back" last Sunday.  Can't wait to share this!


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Reply #16 on: March 07, 2013, 01:23:04 PM
I didn't know churches had rooms like this. My temple certainly didn't while I was growing up. It does make sense, though; it's hard for a little kid to sit through a long religious service, and taking the kid to a separate room beats the hell out of (so to speak) punishing the kid for doing what kids do.

I figured out what was going to happen pretty much the moment the MC took his daughter to the first Cry Room. Didn't impact my enjoyment of the story.

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Reply #17 on: March 08, 2013, 01:49:14 AM
This. Yes. More please.

Yeah, they're dead... They're all messed up.


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Reply #18 on: March 08, 2013, 07:10:06 PM
Loved this so much, so much. Agree with the comment re: not overtly supernatural but you know and accept any surreal/fantastical flourishes cause he's going into 'the next room'. Reminded me of Kafka (admittedly too much, this was the only thing I found distracting, but it was like good, good, good Kafka; Kafka at his best), wonder if the 'Usher' was a deliberate reference to the guard at the gate to justice. I particularly liked when he got sent away from the room where the children flew around and had sharp teeth...his kid was worse...More please. 

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Reply #19 on: March 08, 2013, 10:17:30 PM
This story spoke to me on so many levels:  as a parent; as a parent of children with special needs; as something of an outsider to mainstream culture.  Here is a story of subtle horrors, of things just beyond the norm.  When he finally got to the usher, I didn't find the pause silly or overly dramatic.  It fit perfectly with the location and intent, the final waypoint along a journey into the unknown.

It's rare that a story drives me near to tears and leaves me drained.  I've been the MC, the parent who's child would not/could not/will never fit in, the parent of the child everyone stares at because they can't understand why he's 16 and still wears diapers, the parent who has felt somehow lessened when other parents heave a "thank god that's not my child" sigh.  And the parent who will follow my child into the darkest pits of hell to keep him safe.

Thank you.


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Reply #20 on: March 28, 2013, 05:20:18 AM
My father was a minister, and as a father of three children this story took me down memory lane in many ways. They say a really good story will touch you on an emotional level, this one certainly hit that mark!

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


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Reply #21 on: March 30, 2013, 01:12:06 AM
I have 7 mo old twins and this was such a blend of deep, real human fear of the 'bad seed' and the incredible, super-tensile, unfathomable tie of parent and child.


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Reply #22 on: April 15, 2013, 05:40:26 PM
The development of the anxiety tension was great. We were able to empathize with the protagonist and suffer with him.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


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Reply #23 on: April 26, 2013, 03:22:58 AM
It was this story that single handedly made me need to seek out this forum just so I could say THIS IS MY LIFE.  My 9 month old daughter is very high needs.  Another term for this is "active alert."  Another term for this is "fussy baby."  It basically means she's super smart and super headstrong and there's no telling her what to do or keeping up with her if you let your guard down for a single second.  I actually laughed out loud at the point in this story where he said, "Now she was untying shoelaces."  My daughter DOES THAT.  I go above and beyond all efforts to keep my little girl happy and satisfied and to understand her, with the only hope that somehow she'll one day see that life is good and she doesn't need to be a super villain if only she can be a super hero.  My only goal in life now is to keep her somewhere between the "children" room and the "clay" room.  PLEASE don't make us go any further back...  Because I will follow.  And that will be that for me.

Please forgive my typos and grammatical errors. I'm probably using swype on my phone, or god help me, holding my iPad aloft over my head while the baby sleeps in my arms. Believe me, the errors bother me waaaay more than they bother you...

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Reply #24 on: May 12, 2013, 10:41:19 AM

In the end room, its evident his child doesn’t see the dangers that he can see, and does not hesitate to run into the dark passages. Therefore this made me question, is the room really filled with passages of hidden horror or is that his view of the world he will have now from being labelled a bad parent.

Like many other posters, I laughed and cried because I have been there.  No one explicitly mentioned that with young children, there's
a special vista or panorama of grief extending toward every horizon because as far as you can tell, they will be this way for years to come, and maybe forever.  Happily, my stepson grew out of it.  It "only" took about eight years (the part I was around for ran from ages 4 to 12); he is 15 now.  A lot of great horror fiction focuses on feelings of utter helplessness, and I never felt more helpless and miserable in my life than in my dealings with him.  I liked the posting above because it captures another layer of the guilt and sense of loss--the joy you miss out on because your life has become "managing" the "problem" and you know that's a dead end in so many ways, not least because you can't share in the child's moments of joy.  You feel cheated, you blame the kid, but you also wonder whether you are cheating yourself.  Self-inflicted wounds: another classic trope of the horror genre.