I’ve been considering adding to the media that I draw reviews from. Some time ago, I stumbled across PodCastle, which, true to its name, offers fantasy stories via podcast. They also have online text versions. They solicit paid subscriptions of various levels, but the podcast and online versions are readily available without cost. The podcasts appear on Tuesdays and last roughly thirty and sixty minutes. I’ve heard stories by contemporary authors as well as Charlotte Perkins Gilman—and not “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Many stories seem to have an element of magical realism and draw from non-Western tradition traditions and settings. This is refreshing, particularly if the story itself is new or lends a new twist to an old story. Of particular note along this line is “South China Sea” by Z.M. Quỳnh, a fantasy-imbued recounting of people fleeing by boat a land they can no longer live in.
On the News section of their page, they note they’ve been nominated for the inaugural Ignyte Awards.
The first review is “The Beast Weeps with One Eye,” by Morgan Al-Moor:
The Bjebu people have spent three days fleeing through the grasslands after an attack on their village by murderous ravens. The ravens have destroyed the village, and thirty people have died during their flight. Three hundred remain, overjoyed now to see the Nyamba River and give thanks to the Elders.
Word from Mkiwa, the chief huntress, passes the shamaness (“High Sister”): the ravens are returning. They’ve never left. The shamaness communicates with the earth to seek shelter. She’s told they are within the abode of the Keeper of Sorrows. Despite warnings, she begs the Ancient Land to open a sanctuary.
The earth trembles, and the people see a stone structure that wasn’t there before. With the ravens pursuing them, they follow the shamaness into the structure. She realizes it’s the sanctuary of Babawa-Kunguru, the Keeper of Sorrows and the Father of Ravens. He offers the shamaness and the people not only their lives but a home—in exchange for three offerings of sorrow.
What choice does she have? She agrees.
No setting is ever specified, but Eastern Africa is implied, with descriptions of landscape and clothing. The shamaness wears a khanga (also spelled kanga), for example. In his notes, Al-Moor said that he is originally from southern Egypt, near the Nubian border, and that this story was intended to reflect folklore from his country of origin.
The story contains some lovely, evocative language. When the Bjebu people arrive at the Nyamba River, the reader is told:
The grasslands stretched around us, bathed in the early rays of dawn — a rippling ocean of green in the fresh wind. The blue mountains guarded the horizon, gathering around their highest peak — Mount Wawazee, the abode of the Elders. I caught a breath of the dewy air. Deer grazed in the shadow of a far tree, oblivious to our clamor.
This scene-setting might seem out of place after a harrowing escape from a deadly attack and a three-day flight, but the shamaness is taking stock. Are they safe yet? It works. The shamaness spends more time talking to the powers of the otherworld—the earth and the Elders and later, Babawa-Kunguru— than she does to human beings. This also works. She’s fighting a battle on an unseen plane. The rent is coming due, and the landlord has hinted at the deepest of miseries to follow.
In the meantime, the Bjebu start to rebuild their lives. The farmers dig an irrigation canal. The shamaness leads a trading party to a nearby village. These steps forward do not come without setbacks, of course. Babawa-Kunguru wants his offerings of sorrow.
What good do the offerings of sorrow do for Babawa-Kunguru? How does he benefit? This is part of what lends the story its strength. He’s not merely out to conquer the universe.
Laurice White, who does the narration, seems to take the many unfamiliar words in stride. That she can do so is one reason why she does this sort of work for a living, and I don’t. She reads at a majestic pace, making sure her words come into your earphones clearly but not too quickly.
Overall, I enjoyed this tale.
This story can be read (and heard) here.
According to the author’s blurb, Morgan Al-Moor is a doctor, a writer, and a translator from Toronto, Canada, who can sometimes be found dabbling in cartography or admiring another guitar in an old, forgotten store. On Twitter, Morgan noted that this is a first pro short story.
Title: “The Beast Weeps with One Eye”
Author: Morgan Al-Moor
Narrator: Laurice White
Host: Setsu Uzeume
Audio Producer: Graeme Dunlop
Duration: 1 hour, 2 minutes
First published: January 3, 2019, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Listened to: October 15, 2020, PodCastle