Tales of Old
Summary: Audio magazine for historical fiction and alternate history. Each week we feature a historical fiction short story. Historians and literature fans will enjoy these great stories that span history from Ancient Greece to World War II.
By Teel James Glenn Read by Shawn Robertson “Tain’t never cottoned to outsiders no less Yankees tellin’ me what to do, sonny,” the wizened woman called Granny Liz said. “And I sure as hell ain’t gonna let none traipse about up them hills.” She waved a thin hand at a wooded section of the countryside. “Specially not were Cloud family bones is buried.” The Arkansas State Trooper who stood before her sighed. “I know, Liz,” He said. “Miss Cloud,” the silver haired woman corrected. She was dressed in layers of blue and red gingham with a grey shawl tossed over her narrow shoulders but at barely five feet tall she still looked painfully small next to the burly officer. “Miss Cloud,” he said. “They are not going to hurt the land and they have a perfect legal right with documents from the state government to harvest turpentine.” “Ain’t no government that can give no permission to desecrate graves-”
By Gretchen Tessmer Read by Jane Osborn Caleb and I played jacks on the sun-drenched planks of Deck A for more than three hours this morning. We’ve changed the rules and now require a length of string, three nails and a bit of white chalk to play. Caleb, in his customary discontent, insisted that we needed matches to give the game some spark. But I informed him that a child of seven has no business experimenting with fire. The youngest of the three Jewish brothers played with us for a short while. Unfortunately, he speaks no English and neither Caleb nor I speak Yiddish. The language barrier proved inconvenient. He went back to his brothers after only two rounds and they spent the rest of the afternoon just staring out over the harbor. Sitting and staring have become a regular activity among the passengers of our ill-fated Meridian, though not for me. I’ve found that my brother’s constitution is one of constant motion and infuriating energy. Frankly, if he were to sit still for any amount of time I would doubt the quality of my senses. As it is, considering our long separation, I’m pleasantly surprised by my ability to entertain a brother not even half my age. It’s been six days since steerage was quarantined. I think. I did not take the time to write it down. They moved us all so quickly and everyone was in such a panic. Everything has settled now. The remaining steerage passengers, including my brother and myself, mix here and there on the decks of what were formerly first and second class. But honestly, I don’t think anyone is paying much attention to distinctions of class anymore. Just yesterday, a woman in pearls and a Parisian silk dress asked me, an orphan girl from Yorkshire, if I needed anything. I feel as if I’ve stepped into a Dickens novel.
By Roberta Branca Read by Shawn Robertson Cover Art Copyright © 2010, Susan McIntyre Get the story at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, or Kobo Books Darts of arctic air puncture my skin through layers of underclothes, dress, coat, and wool blanket. Ari huddles against my bosom, his small arms wrapped tightly around my waist. Like my fellow passengers, I try to limit my movements so as not to rock the boat further. The waves around us all seem to defeat our purpose. Children in ours and other boats cry, “Where is papa? Where is papa?” At age two and six months, Ari rarely strings more than two words together. He cries pitifully, kitten-like. Wrenching metallic bursts of noise cover the distance between lifeboat and ship; the mournful sound defies human language. Ari screams. Far ahead, the bow disappears beneath the surface. The stern stands on end. My body trembles. I clutch Ari, press his head into my shoulder and bury my face in his warm body. The stern founders slowly as if it were being sucked down into quicksand and not water. Through the fog a geyser of water, salt spray and dense mist rises from the roiling sea at the spot where the bow disappeared. I cannot peel my eyes from this spot. Was my beloved John dragged beneath the waves in the stern of the ship? Or was he stricken instantly when hitting the icy water? Or trapped within the towering, upright bow?
By J.R. Lindermuth Read by Shawn Robertson Period: Post Korean War Setting: DMZ The cat stopped in the middle of the road and turned, eyes flashing red in the light of the jeep’s headlamps. The dust kicked up when Kim slammed on the brakes descended like a luminous halo around the animal, a specter transfixed in the white glare, so close they could hear it breathing. It stood but a moment, then it was gone. Major Don Dorsey stood up, craning his long neck and peering into the dark woods after the tiger disappeared. “Good God, Fenwick,” he said, “Did you ever see the like of that? And, me with only a shotgun!” Fenwick, the other American, squirmed nervously in his seat, tapped the Korean driver on the shoulder and said, “Come on, Kim, get this machine moving before he has us going after that beast.”
Setting: American Civil War By Steven Thomas Howell Read by Shawn Robertson Neck deep in the grave, Sam Watkins paused at the clatter of an approaching supply wagon. Covered with sweat and caked with red Tennessee soil, he had dug without a break for most of the late August morning. He leaned the spade in a corner of the rectangular hole and scratched his dark beard, listening to the sounds of the world above. He wanted a chew from his knapsack, but decided he couldn't afford the moisture it took to spit. The sprawling oak in whose shade Sam worked grew on a small hummock, the only tree in the middle of a wide field. Over the edge of the grave, Sam could see a whitewashed farmhouse gleaming in the sun a quarter mile away beside a field of tall corn. If civilians were about, they had wisely made themselves and their livestock scarce. The sergeant leaning against the oak’s massive trunk drained his canteen as a two-horse supply rig appeared around the bend, a good musket shot up the tree- lined road to Shelbyville. No single horses, so no officers. Sam left his straw hat and gray coat hanging from the low branch overhead. He wiped sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his filthy gingham shirt, nodded toward the sergeant, and looked up the road. Silhouetted against the plume of brown dust trailing their wagon, two straight- spined men bounced toward the lone oak on the hill. A third man rode in the back, bobbing and swaying on the rough road. That would be the dead man.
by Ian Creasey Link to Starship Sofa read by Shawn Robertson Period: Florence, early 1600s. The chamberpots held only dust. Maria picked one up, and sniffed a faint tang of rose-water from the last time she had cleaned it -- three days ago, before the visitors arrived. Did the foreigners think themselves too good to piss in a pot? How could they? Under their fancy robes, everyone had the same bodily functions. Maria had emptied the pots of princes and cardinals, ambassadors and artists; the more wine they drank, the smellier their urine became. But now -- none? Maria shrugged. If the pots were empty, she'd complete her rounds quicker. She needed to finish all these apartments while the occupants toasted the Feast of St John the Baptist downstairs. To remove the dust, she gave the chamberpots a quick wipe with a jasmine-scented rag. Then she left the visitors' apartment. On her way to the next stateroom, she met her daughter scurrying down the corridor. "What is it?" she asked, no longer hoping for an answer in words. At eleven years old, her daughter had still never spoken. Maria hoped the others hadn't been teasing her again. Sometimes they would send Cristina with messages too complicated to be delivered by gestures.
By Bruce Durham Read by Shawn Robertson Anezka stamped the floor and crossed her arms in displeasure. “This won’t do. This just won’t do.” Servants paused in their work, eyes focused on the elderly slave glaring from beneath thick, gray eyebrows. She flicked a wrist. “Move the chairs near the window, but stay out of the sunlight. The King and his guest must be refreshed by the breeze, not suffer undue discomfort. And the table, shade it, the fruit must remain cool. King Prusias likes his fruit cool. Better yet, you there, take that gauze and hang it across the window. Now, those braziers; move those two near the columns. There, and there. And a carpet, we must have a carpet between the chairs. Quick now.” She clapped her arthritic hands, the skin of her thin arms quivering with the sharp motion. Chair legs scraped the stone floor. A curtain was draped over the window, its sheer weave softening the late-morning sunlight. A small stone table was placed between the chairs and the braziers repositioned. Two slaves appeared from a side entrance, manhandling a brightly woven rug. Anezka watched; nodding judiciously as the room was arranged to her liking. She turned when one half of the large cedar double-doors swung open. A young male slave entered and rushed up. “Mother, the King arrives with his guest.”
By Gary Girod Read by Shawn Robertson Period: Ancient Rome Atticus ‘Atti’ Tarsus had spent the entire morning trying to stack grains of rice on top of each other. Unlike the rocks he would stack as a child or the coins that the children of Roman patricians would stack, the grains of rice held no wobbling illusion of stack-ability before falling down. His disappoint was always instant. Occasionally he would pause as he caressed his arthritic fingers against the pain and would look over at the bowl filled with thousands of grains of rice. He realized with some sadness that he would never even pick out a third grain of rice, though that was just as well. If he did somehow miraculously manage to stack a hundred grains of rice it would be so tall he would not know how to add another one.
By Adele Gardner GardnerCastle.com Read by Shawn Robertson Period: 1800's England Genre: Horror LETTER FROM MRS. HARKER TO VAN HELSING "7 October, 1 p.m. "My dear Dr. Van Helsing, -- "How can I tell you of an event that we all so deeply regret? I cannot express how sorry I am to bear such news, for I know that the grief that prostrates us will wound you even more. Your good friend Dr. John Seward was found dead this morning in his office. The police thought at first that he died by his own hand, but the strenuous objections of all who knew him, and the escape of one of the more violent inmates, have called this verdict into question. "I thought that you might wish to conduct your own investigation before the case is closed. We have managed to postpone the funeral until Friday. You are most welcome in our home in any event, but especially in this crisis. Good friends must comfort one another at such a time. I trust that your intelligent inquiry may soon put these troubles to rest. "Yours most faithfully, "MINA HARKER."
By Teel James Glenn Read by Shawn Robertson Setting: New York City Period: 1937 The entrance outside of the Combination Club was in an alley that looked like a movie set, complete with an always-wet street (courtesy of the leaking hydrant down the block), steam from the cleaners next door, and a neon sign that proclaimed the club's name. It was located in the Chinatown section of the city on the border of Little Italy so it got what the sports columnists called a ‘colorful’ clientele. The co-owner, Slugger Harris, a little badger of a man and his silent partner, had just helped some of that ‘colorful’ clientele to leave abruptly; and were standing in that same alley. “They won’t be thinking of anyone but you any time they look in the mirror for weeks, Slugger,” the partner said in a rich base voice. The ‘partner’ was a giant of a man, dressed to the nines in a slate gray suit of summer-weight cloth that did little to hide his sculpted muscular physique. In fact, he resembled nothing so much as a sculpture of granite—with skin a pallid gray and prematurely silvered hair brushed back from a high intelligent forehead. All that animated him was a warm smile that went all the way to his eyes.
By Bruce Markuson Read by Shawn Robertson That old iron horse blew its whistle. Smoke belched out of the diamond stack of the Jupiter Steam locomotive. Steam blew out at me as it backed up to hook up another baggage car. The Transcontinental Railroad had just been completed a couple of years earlier, and they were getting ready to build a new line. I had just turned eighteen then and was in the U.S. Army Cavalry. I was on guard duty that day, somewhere in the Wyoming Territory or maybe it was the Utah Territory. I was at some railroad station in a town in the middle of nowhere. They pulled a few of us up from Fort Laramie to relieve the soldiers riding on the train. I had my Springfield rifle as I walked alongside the train, moving slowly along at the station. I was on one side of the train, and another soldier was walking along the other side. It was hotter than tarnation on that day. The local town folk really needed some rain; none had fallen since the previous year. I could hear the bang, clank, and rumble behind me as they hooked up the other baggage car. Then the train came to a stop. A few minutes later a two-horse wagon pulled up next to that new baggage car. The man in the wagon had his face covered with his hat. “Whoa now,” he said as he stood up and opened the door to the other baggage car.
By Stephen R. Wilk Read by Shawn Robertson It all started out with a puzzle, which is how things often begin when Baytim is involved. But it ended in several violent deaths, which, sadly, was how things often ended when Sunny was involved. I think that I am the most long-suffering Philistine in Timnath or the Five Cities. My career in the army was cut short when I took an arrow through both my arm and leg before I qualified for a land grant to retire on, and I had no friends on the staff who could wrangle anything for me. Since I had picked up skills in dosing and bone-setting, I was entitled to a small pension, too small to provide me with a place to stay and to let me eat. One of my army buddies put me in touch with another Lost Soul in similar straits, and together we found a couple of rooms in the house of the widow of an officer, the son of the legendary Black Hood himself. She needed the extra income as well, and so we three Army castoffs lived together on the street of Bread-Makers and looked every day for better things.
By Richard Zwicker Read by Shawn Robertson England Turn of the Century Detective Story Christmas wreaths, tinsel, and stars lined the smoky walls of the White Hart Pub. Memories of holidays, softened by distance, battled the harder edges of my current situation: a widow unsure of whom to give a present. The lack of possibilities in my dark flat once again sent me here, where I’d at least find a cast of characters. I pulled apart a wishbone from the remains of my chicken and chips dinner, the larger piece remaining in my left hand. 1902 had been disappointing. I wished to be a part of something positive in 1903. In hindsight, I advise not to bet the house on wishbones. “Did you make a wish?” I looked up and saw standing before me a young, dark-haired woman with a pleasing face and an expensive fur coat draped over her shoulders. “Yes, I wished there was more meat on this chicken.
1902 Creepy story By W.W. Jacobs Read by Shawn Robertson Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire. "Hark at the wind," said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing his son from seeing it. "I'm listening," said the latter, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. "Check." "I should hardly think that he'd come to-night," said his father, with his hand poised over the board. "Mate," replied the son. "That's the worst of living so far out," bawled Mr. White, with sudden and unlooked-for violence; "of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway's a bog, and the road's a torrent. I don't know what people are thinking about. I suppose because only two houses on the road are let, they think it doesn't matter."
By Bret Harte Read by Shawn Robertson Setting: California Period: 1862 It had been raining in the valley of the Sacramento. The North Fork had overflowed its banks and Rattlesnake Creek was impassable. The few boulders that had marked the summer ford at Simpson's Crossing were obliterated by a vast sheet of water stretching to the foothills. The up stage was stopped at Grangers; the last mail had been abandoned in the tules, the rider swimming for his life. "An area," remarked the "Sierra Avalanche," with pensive local pride, "as large as the State of Massachusetts is now under water." Nor was the weather any better in the foothills. The mud lay deep on the mountain road; wagons that neither physical force nor moral objurgation could move from the evil ways into which they had fallen, encumbered the track, and the way to Simpson's Bar was indicated by broken-down teams and hard swearing. And farther on, cut off and inaccessible, rained upon and bedraggled, smitten by high winds and threatened by high water, Simpson's Bar, on the eve of Christmas day, 1862, clung like a swallow's nest to the rocky entablature and splintered capitals of Table Mountain, and shook in the blast.