Episode 88: BMSE-Cenizas And The Ash King by Lizanne Herd

The Dunesteef is proud to bring you the first of the Broken Mirror Story Event finalists, “Cinezas and the Ash King.” The time to choose a new king and queen has come. One will be made ruler of the land…and the other will die.
Also, Big talks about difficulty pronouncing names in Fantasy, and Rish talks about sacrificing children in the name of religion. Rish wonders if Big would kill his own child if he had to. Would you?

WARNING: this episode touches on religious and political themes in a way that may offend listeners sensitive to such subjects. Listen to the post-story commentary at your own risk.

Special thanks to R.E. Chambliss for producing today’s story and to Rhonda Carpenter, Emerian Rich, and Kenn Crawford for lending their voices to today’s episode.

Right click HERE to download the episode, select Save Link As, and save the file to your hard drive.


Related Links:
Lizanne Herd’s Site
Lizanne Herd’s Blog
Lizanne’s BMSE Finalist From Last Year
R.E. Chambliss’s Site
Rhonda Carpenter’s Site
Emerian Rich’s Site
Kenn Crawford
Some sound effects were provided by freesound.org.
Music was Folk Round by Kevin MacLeod.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


22 Responses to “Episode 88: BMSE-Cenizas And The Ash King by Lizanne Herd”

  1. I was about to go to bed when I saw the ping on Facebook, so now it’s after four.

    I liked the story. It was pretty solid. I think the story of Abraham and Isaac is an interesting comparison. One thing that may help with that particular parable is if you recall that the off-brand gods of that time period often DID require child sacrifice as part of their big fertility dealies, and so the idea didn’t come out of nowhere for Abraham, thus it was kind of a real brand-establisher to have YHWH jumping in to say, “Hey, hold up, don’t actually do that stuff. I want you to be just as devoted to me as those psychos are to their gods, but I don’t actually want you killin’ yer babbies. Very much against babby-killing, at least for my Chosen People.” (OT God wasn’t averse to killing babies during wars, but He did at least draw the line at demanding them as sacrifices.)

    I wonder, given that magic apparently exists here, what the effect of drinking a dog’s ashes would have on the village of this story. I think that having the resurrection power be so relatively cost-free makes the other thing a bit wonky. Like, decent weather costs one Burned Child, but insta-resurrection just takes a bowl of water? It’s not even that cheap in D&D!

  2. Nathaniel – You are absolutely right. The ending was way too easy. About 2 minutes after I submitted it I knew I had about 3 major plot holes that I had not filled. The ease of the resurrection being one. The other is why anyone would stay in that town. I thought about creating a religious/military element, but the story was so long at this point and time was running short. The last, which is a bit obtuse, is why wouldn’t people just marry off their children as young as possible to prevent them from being chosen. I’m sure there are more, but I’ve not been writing all that long and I make so many mistakes in my plotting. I still like it, though, even though it is an accidental rip-off of The Lottery, and probably countless other stories as well.

    • Eh, the latter two aren’t much of an issue. Cognitive dissonance and tribal identity are powerful tools; your protagonists happen to have close family in another relatively nearby village, and it makes sense to me that most people in such an early agricultural setup wouldn’t ever gather the gumption to leave. Indeed, the sheer cost of staying might well make people stay, the same way people will stay committed to bad relationships and bad investments.

      I like the thought of super-early marriage; I think that could make for some really interesting cultural implications without actually ruining the plot (if you ever wanted to revisit this concept.)

  3. Good job, Lizanne and Renee!

  4. When I offered to produce one of the Broken Mirror Stories, I warned Big and Rish that I’d never put together a full cast production and had no experience with sound effects. I was a little stressed out about that part of it because I know how much time and finesse can be put into sound effects and I don’t have the experience or the temperament to do them well. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the Cenizas experience! Putting together a fullcast fiction podcast is story-telling and I hadn’t realized that before. I always love story-telling.

    The best thing about producing the story was that I got to hear the unedited lines from Big and Rish! So entertaining! And really, it was easy to edit the voice track into something that sounded good because they do such a great job with the narration and their characters. It was also fun to give lines to Rhonda, EMZ, and Kenn. They were awesome about getting them back quickly and did a great job with them! Kenn also helped me with the production–the lines that were said in unison–because I was not getting that to work. My kids had a blast doing the kids’ voices and they also liked hearing the story come together.

    The crowd noise was probably the biggest challenge–well that and the sound effects for the fountain scene, which I think could have been much better. Oh and all of the spitting, which wasn’t challenging, but wasn’t my favorite part to listen to. I was provided with lots of loogie-hawking that didn’t make it into the final version!

    As for the story itself, I think I would have had a hard time playing the mom, if I hadn’t known that she was ultimately going to save her daughter. Still it was a tough doing her lines because I didn’t want to give away the ending. She had to sound sad and defeated or it wouldn’t have been believable, but also strong enough that the ending would ring true.

    I still wonder about Deodar–the other village that no longer does the Ash King ritual. Why not? Did Paulo (the cousin) have anything to do with that? Is that why Callendra knew it was possible? And was it a coincidence that the old Ash King, Yuntan, had his fling in Deodar? I’m guessing it would have been tough to find willing maid servants in his own village because they’d believe the whole village would suffer if they messed around with the Ash King.

    Anyway, the story was very thought-provoking and well written and I was so glad to be involved with it!

    • Renee said; “The best thing about producing the story was that I got to hear the unedited lines from Big and Rish! So entertaining! And really, it was easy to edit the voice track into something that sounded good because they do such a great job with the narration and their characters.”

      I just wanted to reiterate this. Rish and Big both do an amazing job with a minimal need for retakes. I’ve learned more about voice acting and story telling by listening to them work through the tough bits than anything else in the production process.

  5. Other than the ending being too easy (and it felt a bit tacked on), and some word choices I didn’t really care for, I enjoyed the story. There was a plodding dread to it, and until they actually put the kid on the fire you’re never really sure if they’re going to go through with it.

    The ashes thing (and the drug reference that inspired it) was a nice touch, but I wonder how much of Cenizas’s ashes were lost, and how she was different after the resurrection because of it.

    Also, there was a Chekhov’s Gun that no one remembered to fire (the old king’s indiscretion) — unless I flat-out missed it.

    My favorite part of the episode, though, was Barbie Star Trek. That was hilarious. I LOLd mightily.

    • Josh, you pointed out some issues I also have with my story. I knew about the Chekov’s gun and it bothered me early and often. I toyed with the idea of Calendra going to Deodar, finding the girl and switching out her for Cenizas, but that seemed artificial and even more inhuman than what I eventually wrote. I thought about removing the child from the story, but then his sin didn’t seem as bad.

      Word choice – well, that all comes down to experience and talent, two things I still need more of. :)

      As for the ending feeling tacked on, I had to smile at that. The ending was what I had right from the beginning and all I was trying to do was get there. Ironically, then, it’s actually the whole first 95% that’s tacked on. Maybe I could have fleshed out (pun intended) the ending more, but I wanted the reader to be as confused and surprised as Cindri, so I wrote it happening fast with little time to process what he was seeing. A more apt writer could have handled it better, making the ending more organic and integral. That’s not me just yet. *sigh*

      I appreciate the feedback. It all helps me become a better writer.

  6. Many thanks to RE Chambliss for inviting me to participate in this excellent production.

  7. Lizanne, I wouldn’t say “rip-off,” accidental or otherwise, but I’m glad to see you give the nod to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.

  8. The production – you did an awesome job, Renee! I’d like to know how you ended up making the crowd noise.

    The story – Nice job, Liz. I’m a sucker for this kind of story. I wrote a compare/contrast paper in college on Sherley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” I thought you told it well. Even knowing what was coming, it was still excruciating. I also thought the tribal sacrificial system you developed was believable. It played with the harvest myth in which so often it’s the king who must die. In this case, it’s the queen.

    The twist I would have added at the end was this: have the price of the daughter’s resurrection be the sacrifice of the deposed king’s bastard child. This turns the tables on the parents. Now they’ve got to decide exactly how far they’ll go for their kid.

    Abraham and Isaac – I agree with Rish. That is a deeply disturbing story. The idea that it’s an anti-child-sacrifice tale is a modern interpretation that has little support in the text. Abraham is *praised* for his willingness to sacrifice his kid. God doesn’t say, “Dude, bad idea! How could you think I would ask something like this? Don’t you know me at all? Next time you think you hear voices telling you to sacrifice your child, it isn’t me! Don’t listen!” Instead, Abraham is praised for his behavior, both in the Old and New Testaments, where the story is repeatedly referenced as an example of faithfulness. It’s all about Abraham’s willingness to give absolutely anything and to let god’s will define morality. If god says “kill your kid,” that’s moral. If god says, “commit genocide,” that’s moral. There can be no appeal to ethics, because none exist beyond “thus sayeth the lord” (as defined by the individual).

    So, there you go, Rish. I’ve supplied far more heresy than you, and probably created a lightning rod for trolls. But, hey, you kinda asked for it.

    • Joss bless you, Abbie.

      Now let’s talk about Jacob and Esau. A waaaay less uplifting story in my little brain.

      • Isn’t that kind of the point, though? From a purely philosophical perspective, if you accept point A, that God is an omnipotent being who created the universe, then by definition whatever God says is good is good and whatever God says is bad is bad. I think you have to remember to interrogate the text from the proper perspective; taking it as a given that you believe in and follow YHWH, the story illustrates the point that *anything* God tells you to do, you do, even if it looks like a terrible idea from your perspective. God won’t lead the faithful astray; if you follow His instructions, even the hideous-sounding ones, things will turn out okay in the end and He won’t ask more of you than you can give.

        Obviously, someone who’s not a follower of that religion would look at that a little o_0, but the story isn’t really for agnostics or adherents of other religions. It’s a teaching tool for the faithful who already have their base suppositions in line.

      • For the record (I was a religion major back when)…

        The common Jewish interpretation is that Isaac was actually an adult when all this happens. There’s support for this in the Hebrew (though I can’t be bothered to brush the dust off my Hebrew and find the proof – you’re going to have to trust me on this). Is the story still disturbing? Certainly. But differently so.

        The other, also differently, disturbing version comes if you take Abraham’s story in greater context. Here goes:

        1. Years earlier, when God promised Abraham that he would have a son, he thought God was lying. So, every time he and his wife Sarah rolled into a new town, Abraham would tell everyone that Sarah was his sister so that the local king would basically buy her off him (Sarah was apparently a BOILF – Barren Older Woman I’d F^&k). Apparently, Abraham’s plan was to run off with the cash, but God would always step in, giving the king nightmares until he gave Sarah back (and payed Abraham to go away). God apparently had specific ideas about who the father and the mother of the chosen people were going to be… and possibly also a thing against cuckold fetishists.

        2. Later in his life, after he’s mellowed out a bit, Abraham is known for arguing with God. He publicly debates with God over the fate of Sodom (a city doomed for treating its guests poorly – don’t let anyone tell you differently!) and haggles over the number of righteous men he has to find before God will save the city.

        In the context of these stories, Isaac’s sacrifice makes a bit more sense. Abraham has journeyed from openly denying God’s power to arguing and bargaining with God to accepting God’s word with meekness and obedience. That’s a story arc. Whatever problems you might have with faith, it’s a story arc you can see having a place in the narrative that is the bible.

        By the way, another thing to remember is that not all the characters in the bible are meant to serve as role models in every moment… which brings us to the common Reform Jewish interpretation: Abraham screwed up.

        That’s right.

        In this version, God never actually intended Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham was getting older and God was getting annoyed at how mellow he was – where was the guy with the guts to stand up and argue for the right to life of a city of rapists, thieves, and murderers?! God liked that guy! – and decided to screw with him a little and see if some of that old fire might come back. It didn’t. God spared Isaac anyway.

        The final version – the Larry Gonick version – holds that Isaac was becoming a real teenage punk and the whole thing was Abraham literally putting the fear of God into the little shit. There’s no textual support for this whatsoever.

        • Not a religion major, just a Jew with Hebrew as a first language and an interest in the bible:
          Isaac is referred to as NA’AR, נער, a Hebrew term used for between childhood and manhood – what we would call an adolescent.
          Immediately after Avraham slaughters a wild goat instead of his son, God makes the most important Covenant with him; that is a reward for loyalty, nothing else.
          In all of Genesis, Avraham NEVER ARGUES WITH GOD. He does bargain for the righteous of Sodom and Gomorrah, but that is not even close to Moses’s bitching and moaning every step of the way. NOTE: God does not tell Avraham to do anything about Sodom and Gomorrah, he INFORMS Avraham of his intentions there. NOBODY ELSE IN THE BIBLE GETS SUCH TREATMENT FROM GOD. This is an example of Avraham’s special status in God’s favor. The reason for this status: Avraham was the first believer in only one god, and he never argued. He did exactly as he was told by God to do, always, without question.
          With all due respect to the jewish Reform movement, they ignore the simple words of the text.
          See Genesis 18 for Avraham’s bargaining with God, http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0118.htm , and Genesis 22 for Avraham’s test with Isaac: http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0122.htm .

    • …”have the price of the daughter’s resurrection be the sacrifice of the deposed king’s bastard child.”

      Dang it, Abbie, that’s such a good idea. Is it acceptable to rewrite a story after it’s been published? It’s not likely this will be republished elsewhere, so there’s the whole “good use of time” argument.

  9. My middle name is Avraham. NO WAY would I ever name my son Yizchak! (Issac)

    But your story made me think of something that has been nagging the back of my mind for years: Abraham was not the only child-sacrifire in the Bible, there was also Yiftach HaGiladi. Before going to war, Yiftach vowed that if he won he would sacrifice to God whatever came out first to greet him when he came back. His daughter, dressed with flowers and dancing to celebrate his victory, was the first to come out the door.

    Yiftach was condemned for his rashness (among other things); God did not ask him for this sacrifice. When parents send their children to the Army, nobody mentions Yiftach. But I find myself thinking, more and more often these days, that many parents sacrifice their children for the wrong God, be it religeous extremist who send their children to explode among the “enemy” or mothers to young children who pressure them to win sporting events or pagents, depriving them of their childhood.

    Too many people do as Yiftach and seek reward as Abraham…

    Sorry for the grimm post, it’s just what the story pushed out of my mind. That must be the mark of GOOD fiction, that it makes you think about the real world.

    Sorry too for any spelling mistakes, English is not my native language.


  10. I enjoyed the story, but naming the girl Cenizas completely blew any suspense for anyone who speaks Spanish. OK, so it wasn’t really a suspense story, but still it sounded to me like “Ashes and the Ash King” from the title onward… But I still enjoyed hearing the story.

  11. First off, want to say that I’m a Christian and not offended by the story or dialog.
    I’m with Rish on this. If there was the slightest chance that my daughter might get picked, I’d be headed for the boarder. However was reading about Moloch, one of the gods of the Caanonites, which demanded every womens first born be thrown into the fire. So this isn’t unheard of.
    I do have a different perspective on Abraham and Issac though. Both Moloch and the people in the story demanded a child be sacrificed to make the harvest grow, with no hope for the future.
    Abraham on the other hand had a promise that through Issac his decendants would be as the stars in the sky. He knew that Issacs birth was basically impossible without God, and since God kept that promise, then He would keep His other promise, even if it meant raising Issac from the dead. That’s the big difference between Abraham and the father in the story.
    The father in the story knew that his daughter would die, and that would be it for her.
    Abraham knew that if his son died, God would be a liar, and so it couldn’t happen.

  12. Folks, I appreciate the comments, and I REALLY appreciate people keeping a civil tongue in their communication with each other. I’m not going to close the comments on any story (’cause new people are hearing these episodes fresh all the time, and I hate hearing a story on another show, wanting to say something about it, and seeing comments are closed).

    But the thing is, one of the reasons religion is so divisive is because it’s so open to interpretation. I’ve read the Bible, and Genesis is the most jam-packed movie-trailer MTV-edited short story collection in the book. Some of these stories are so detail-free you’d think they were written via Twitter. If somebody says there’s a character/story arc in one of the tales of Genesis, I won’t call him wrong, but the stories that would be told in later books with several chapters are often told in a few short verses, and immediately, a new prophet’s story begins.

    Every religion sees these stories in a different way. The Catholic Bible, the Torah, the Mormon version, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ revision, they’re all the same stories, but with different stresses, different focuses, and different points being made. Yeah, I’ve often heard that Isaac was a grown man in the sacrifice story, but it’s simply a stronger story when you’re trying to teach a certain lesson if he’s a little boy when his father takes him up there. Sure, Sodom and Gomorrah fell/were destroyed for a number of reasons, but a lot of people choose to focus on the “Send them out so we may know them” line (which, in my irreverent opinion, isn’t nearly as upsetting as “Look, I have two daughters–who have never known the touch of a man–why don’t you take them and do whatever you like to them?” offer).

    We did cut out a bit of dialogue about such things in the episode, because I was afraid people would hear and (have even more reason to) say, “Listen to this heathen speak ill of that he does not understand! We shan’t come here to listen to tales of aliens and zombies hence!” Heck, I’m sure there will be somebody who thinks my use of “stories” is meant to demean scripture too.

    Most of this is my fault, and while I PROMISE to say objectionable things on pretty much every episode in the future, we will try to keep religion out of it. As much as we can.

  13. (Sorry it took me so long to reply, been busy…)

    Religion is INTERESTING – that’s why so many people have one, or refuse to have one [the difference between an atheist and a believer, is that the believer believes in god, and the atheist believes there is NO god…].

    While it is strangely absent in most SF stories and, most notably, novels, what would Dune be without religion? What would His Dark Materials be without a concept of God? Where would A Rose for Ecclesiastes be without religion? What about The Nine Billion Names of God, or even von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?

    I think this discussion is civilized, conducted by mature adults, is not offensive in itself and is not going anywhere dangerous – why is such a discussion of religion so frightening?

    I think good SF, AND good fantasy, SHOULD have something to say about religion – are you at dunesteef going to ignore all of the above stories and writers, because they might invoke a discussion of “the R word”?

    If so it is your choice, of course, and it will not stop me coming here for more – I really enjoy your podcast and think you do a great job, but I will be sorry if such a topic will be ignored here. I’m sure religion can be discussed openly, freely and politely, and I see no problem in marking certain topics as “Religion openly discussed here, if it offends you – keep out”.

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