Stories from the Hearth

From the Bauer of a Larch in Autumn (Mental Health) - Story #12

Episode Summary

Avery is about to turn 28, which means that soon she'll have lived longer than her father, the legendary rock-star Kash Bauer, ever did. She's been dealing with that fact all year, and this morning she can't seem to escape it. By the boughs of a larch in autumn, Avery Bauer seeks the answers to her questions. Dealing with depression, mania, and suicide, this is a story about mental health, family, and the healing power of closure. This episode is dedicated to the memory of my friend, M.S.

Episode Notes

Avery is about to turn 28, which means that soon she'll have lived longer than her father, the legendary rock-star Kash Bauer, ever did. She's been dealing with that fact all year, and this morning she can't seem to escape it. By the boughs of a larch in autumn, Avery Bauer seeks the answers to her questions. Dealing with depression, mania, and suicide, this is a story about mental health, family, and the healing power of closure. This episode is dedicated to the memory of my friend, M.S.

CW: mental health, suicide, reference to drug use

Stories from the Hearth is an experimental storytelling experience ft. truly original fiction and thoughtfully produced soundscapes. The aim of this podcast is to rekindle its listeners' love for the ancient art of storytelling (and story-listening), and to bring some small escapism to the frantic energies of the modern world. Stories from the Hearth is the brainchild of queer punk poet, environmentalist, and anarchist Cal Bannerman. Vive l'art!

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Exlibris by Kosta T is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. To read more about this license, click here.

Episode Transcription

Welcome to Stories From The Hearth, the podcast for tall tales and fantastical fiction, short stories the likes of which you might once have heard a wandering bard tell, to a group of villagers, gathered around the fire. Explore the history of storytelling in bonus series The Wandering Bard, or escape your surroundings with a brand-new story, written and performed by me, Calum Bannerman, on the last Sunday of every month. Historical, romantic, science fiction, or fantasy; these are tales to transport you, doorways into another world…

Hi, I’m Cal, and if you’re new to Stories from the Hearth, there’s a few things you might like to know. This podcast is an experimental artistic space, kind of like a painter’s studio or a DJ’s headphones – it is a place where I can try new things, make art, and share it with others in the hope that it might bring some comfort, value, and escapism to their lives. It is also a means to an end; after all, it has been my dream ever since I was wee to tell stories for a living; just like the wandering bards of old, who I read about in my history books and fantasy novels. Each episode of Stories from the Hearth features a stand-alone work of fiction, performed to an immersive soundscape, which allows you to lose yourself in the tale. Usually, the stories are short enough to be contained within one episode, but a handful of them are split over two. If this particular episode isn’t your jam, don’t worry – there are heaps of stories to choose from, and no two are the same. This podcast is also a safe and inclusive space for all, which means that its stories actively embrace queerness and otherness, right alongside more mainstream walks of life. If you’re enjoying it, then please do tell your friends and review it on your favourite podcast app, Spotify, or iTunes. If you’re really enjoying it, then you can support Stories from the Hearth on Patreon and help yourself to early access, behind-the-scenes insights, bonus content, physical copies of the stories, shout-outs and much much more. Just head to or hit the link down below. And speaking of shout-outs, a huge thanks to these fine folks who help make Stories from the Hearth possible: my warmest thanks to Nick, Vivian, Jen, Charlie, Rob, Sandy, Jane, Ruathy and Mully. 

Today’s episode is dedicated to an old friend of mine, who left this earth when we were still very young. Today’s episode deals with depression, suicide, mania; many mental health issues which are experienced by many, many people all around the world, and are never easy to deal with. I myself have experience with both depression and suicidal thoughts, and they’re not easy to talk about. But talking about them is the best thing that you can do. Talking about them with friends, with family, with somebody that you happen upon, in a pub, or on the street. Talk and you can overcome even the darkest of times, even the cloudiest of days, even the times when you feel like there’s nothing good left in the world, and never… there never will be. All of these things can be a part of the past, and have been for many of my friends, thanks to the fact that they opened up: to a doctor, to a friend, to a family member. If you’re experiencing any of the things that are dealt with in this story, then I urge you to reach out to those around you, and to know that you are not alone. You are never alone. And that whatever you are feeling will pass, and can pass, and can be treated and looked after, and that you are loved. Remember these things, and remember that life always does have beauty in it, even if it can feel hard to find.

Now, come and gather round the fire, for I’ve got a story to tell.  This is Episode Fifteen: From the Bauer of a Larch in Autumn.


Avery Bauer woke on the morning before her 28th birthday with a peculiar, though not surprising, feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach. She was alone. The girl from the night before was gone. Avery tried to push aside the fog of her hangover to locate the woman’s name. Orla? She remembered thinking of a killer whale, lone and determined, hunting the waters of the club with its pristine eyeliner and bleached-bone skin. Remembered feeling like a seal on a melting ice float, helpless to the whale’s advances. Determined to avoid the whale’s gaze, and continue dancing; yet, still seduced, surrendering to the intoxicating pull of the whale’s fin: so velvety black in the evening waves. Probably Orla, she thought.

            On her sheets, the girl’s scent still lingered. Salt water and sea air. A true idol of the Pacific Northwest. Avery brought a corner of the bedclothes to her nose and inhaled, filling her nostrils with the soft fabric, dissecting notes of sweat and alcohol, smoke and sex, like a sommelier huffs malbec. Through curtains half-drawn, a soft dawn broke. Granulated light the gold of chocolate coins, wide and layered, pressed against the sheer drapes, as it struggled to break through the morning haar. 

            This close to the sea, mist hung heavy on all but the hottest of mornings. Seeing as Avery was a child of the fall, this morning mist hugged the trees behind her house like a burial shroud. For Avery, the days leading up to her birthday were rarely anything but bleak, grey and rain-soaked. Thankfully, she tended to like it that way.

            This year, though, something was different.

            Avery’s father, Kash Bauer, had taken his own life at the age of 27, when Avery was just shy of two years old. Loggers had found his body swinging from the boughs of an old larch, his shock of strawberry-blonde hair almost lost among the leaves, turned the same colour by the changing season. His wife, Avery’s mother Juniper, could not have seen his suicide coming. Kash had been a successful musician, an icon to those his music touched. His band, Peyote Preachers, had not long completed the recording of their second studio album, following a surprise commercial success with their first. The follow-up, maintaining the raw, visceral poetry of their debut, addressed a complexity which had been missing from the earlier recording. Only in retrospect did Kash’s fans, band manager, friends, family and bandmates recognise the darkness n that album for what is was: a final farewell.

            This morning, on the day before Avery’s 28th birthday, she could not help but think of her father. She had dreamt of him last night, in the boughs, and woke to a picture of his face framed and grinning, holding a little baby Avery up to the camera like a prize pumpkin. Tomorrow, she would have officially spent more time on this earth than Kash ever had, and the thought weighed her down like a gargoyle on her chest.

            Avery rolled over in bed, pulling the covers up past her head to shut out the light. To shut out more than the light. From some part of the forest a cuckoo called, and down the cul-de-sac from her house a gaggle of neighbourhood kids squealed, the rumble of their bikes’ wheels on the tarmac faintly audible below the mirth. 

            She thought again of the girl from the night before. Orla. Orca. She did not blame her for leaving in the night. Their sex had been ordinary, drunken and fun, but ordinary, and vaguely Avery remembered a feeling of numbness in the immediate aftermath. Still, she wished that the girl had stuck around, if only for something to hold in the morning light. If only to give the eager sunlight a happy scene to shine on. If only to suppress the rising lump in her throat, the depressive conviction which she had been nursing all year.

            Slowly, Avery mustered the energy she needed to rise from bed. A small victory, she thought. And yet, immediately it was overshadowed by the sight of her reflection in the mirror, leaned lazily against the far wall. A garland of flowers hung decaying around one corner of its gilded frame. The scarf she had used to cover the glass was on the floor, perhaps fallen of its own accord, perhaps removed by the killer whale this morning.

            Reluctantly, she observed herself. Avery was the spit of her deceased father, or so she had often been told. Tall, lithe to the point of emaciated, with sunken eye sockets framing irises as green as the mist-fed coast. Her hair was straw-blonde in its natural state, and boyishly curly. She’d dyed it, of course, mostly to stop the stares from Peyote Preacher fans on the streets of her state’s capital, where she played the odd gig, and sold paintings on the weekend. Now, as the person in the mirror mimicked her movements, she saw that same strawberry-yellow in her roots. The bubble gum-pink of her dye-job lank and greasy in the half-light. She was naked except for an oversized band t-shirt, once borrowed from a friend she hadn’t spoken to in years. She observed her arms and legs, milky and translucent limbs, limbs of a woman who rarely saw the sun. 

            And as she looked at those limbs, turning them this way and that as if seeing them for the first time, they began to change. First, came blotches – little bruises, purple and yellow, rippling under the skin as if from the impact of miniature meteors. As the impact craters spread, and Avery trembled at the image, pinprick scars began to surface. Track marks, she realised. The archaeological evidence of battles fought against the self, ancient and new. The track marks appeared a few at a time, slowly, until her legs and arms were covered with them; a chicken pox rash of abuse and misuse. When finally her skin resembled a starry sky, inverted as if in some hellish, black-starred universe, there appeared the first of the abscesses. Huge bulging welts like horsefly bites gone infected, full of black pus and congealing green. For a long time, Avery could not peel her eyes from the image in the mirror. When finally she did, she found to her horror that the picture had been no trick of the light. In the crook of her elbow and toward her armpit, leaking welts. Along her forearms, where only tattoo guns had previously pierced, boils of angry black blood. In the bend of her knee and by her crotch, even in the spaces between her toes, those screaming, ugly spots pulsed. They expanded and contracted before her eyes, living and alive, feeding on the beat of her heart.

            Avery let out a low moan. She stepped back from the mirror and the moan twisted into a dull shriek as she brushed and slapped frantically at peppered limbs, terrified by the sight of them, by the brooding understanding of what they represented. Avery caught her ankle in one of the bra straps from last night’s outfit, still strewn on the floor. Carried by the momentum of her urgency, she fell, hitting the wooden floorboards with a crack that jolted her brain. She almost passed out as a choir of abscesses compressed and exploded beneath her back in an intoxication of pure, opioid pain.

            When the flashes of light speckling her vision eventually faded, Avery saw that the marks were gone. Her translucent limbs decorated in ink, and ink only. 

            She closed her eyes tight. Some last spectral stars navigated the fuzzy nothingness behind her eyelids. She focused on her breathing. In and out through the nose, hand on her chest so she could feel the breath filling her lungs, make sure that it was indeed real. Though calming, the effort involved made Avery suddenly nauseous. In the bathroom down the hall she threw herself, hands and knees, to the cold tiles. Unable to scrape her hair back quickly enough, she spewed a riot of last night’s vodka-limes, whisky chasers, and an ill-advised cup of box white wine through the muslin of her locks, and into the toilet bowl.

            She hated being sick like this. Hated the acid burn at the back of her throat. The uncontrollable muscle spasms. The watery eyes. The helplessness of it all. She heaved a breath and threw up again, this time only bile. 

            Against the porcelain of the bowl, Avery saw red. She blinked, pushed her matted hair from her eyes. Blinked again. Red. Chunky, viscous, slick red. Blood.

            ‘Fuck,’ she breathed. Why had she thrown up blood? There had been no drugs last night, nothing to corrode the sinuses; few cigarettes, even. Avery blinked again and rubbed her eyes, stinging from the sickness. When she opened them again, the blood was gone. Her vomit just vomit. Beige and grim, and not a speck of scarlet.

            ‘What the hell!’ shouted Avery. Exasperated, hungover, scared.


Back in her bedroom, Avery dressed in a daze, all the while feeling like the walls were a ribcage, crushing in, piercing her vitals, frustrating her senses. Clumsily, she pulled her favourite pair of Levi’s on. As she yanked up the zipper, snagging a straggle of pubic hair, she realised she’d forgotten to put on underwear. Never mind, she was too scared of looking at her legs again to change. Over the band t-shirt she’d worn to bed – sporting the Melvins’ Houdini album on a black background – she threw a loose-fitting flannel shirt which had once belonged to her father. Avery sat on the edge of her bed and methodically laced a pair of dirty Converse, tying them as tightly as she could; perhaps trying to strangle her mind free of thoughts of Kash. She snorted at the inadvertent word choice. Strangle. How cruel her subconscious could be. 

            Avery Bauer didn’t know where she was headed, but she figured she had a ways to go. Into the pockets of her raincoat she stuffed a packet of Camel Lights, a lighter, and a handful of loose change she found crumpled on the dresser. 

            She lit one of the Camels the moment she stepped outside, and as the thin, fragrant smoke soothed her throat, it occurred to her that she’d failed to brush her teeth. She ran her tongue across them and found them fuzzy. She grimaced, but decided if she returned inside she’d only stay there, succumbing to the inertia her melancholy was just dying to smother her in.

            Cigarette smoke seeping and staining the skin of her fore and middle fingers, Avery put one foot in front of the other, then again, and again. And, with the languorous gait of a ghoul on Halloween, she started off on her walk, allowing instinct to choose her direction. 


The morning mist was thicker than it had seemed from the safety of the house, and visibility was limited to as little as twenty or thirty yards. As Avery started up the hill away from her street, she soon lost sight of the children on their bicycles. Now, their laughter haunted her through the fog, somehow warped by the density of moisture in the air so as it sounded animalistic, and hungry. She hugged her coat closer about her, regretting not having donned something warmer.

            The day was quiet. Leaving the tarmacked road for a side street, then a dirt track, the sounds of domesticity were soon drowned to nothingness. Even the perpetual presence of ocean waves, crashing on the Washington coast, and the gulls which cawed ceaselessly, were silent. I must have reached the gully already, thought Avery, though her Camel Light was only halfway-smoked. Strange.

            As Avery wiped a little snot from her nose, conjured by the chill wind, she fancied she heard something unnatural on the breeze. At first, she thought she recognised it as the creaking of trees, an eery disturbance in an otherwise deathly landscape. But then the pitch of the sound changed, and she knew it could not be branches. A low whining, the sound jerked and morphed to a juddering, saw-toothed buzz. She shook her head, suddenly angry, though it took her a moment to realise why. Sense memory. For the sound was now unmistakable. It was feedback static. The feedback of a jack, circling the socket of a pedalboard. The feedback of a bass guitar pressed to an amp like an anxious lover. Avery relit the fag-end of her cigarette and stood, straining to hear, trying to determine the direction of the noise.

            As she did, it changed again, and now there were notes. Distinguishable notes. Chords she recognised, try as she might to sever the ropes of recognition. They were the opening chords of a song, from many, many years ago. They were the chords which had once filled the basement of her house on the hill, the basement where those chords were first formed and performed to an intimate audience: the Bauer women, her and her mother, Juniper. 

            Avery put her hands to her ears, but the song only grew louder, now accompanied by a voice. His voice. She felt herself well up. Sense memory. Avery grit her teeth.

            ‘Fuck you,’ she cursed, under her breath. The mist was thicker than ever, now, and it clung to her exposed skin like a cold sweat. She shivered and wiped the corners of her eyes with a flannel sleeve. She was tempted to shout into the void, tell the source of the singing to shut up. But, with the vivid hallucinations of that morning still plaguing her, Avery knew that she would only be screaming at her own mind. She worried that should she surrender to the taunts of her consciousness, she may only stoke the fire, may only fall deeper into what she was becoming more and more convinced was a manic episode, the likes of which she thought she’d left far behind. 

            Just then, she caught sight of a figure. Stood a little further along the track, it appeared to be holding something in its hands. Avery’s smoke burned itself down to the filter, singing the hairs on her knuckle and causing her to jerk in shock. She dropped the cigarette to the dead earth. As it hit, the music in the fog suddenly stopped. Slowly, the natural rhythms of the woodland surround faded back in like they were a track on a soundboard, nudged audible by a producer’s delicate finger.

            ‘Hello?’ called Avery.

            Hands in her jean pockets, she secured the sharpest, pointiest of her keys between the knuckles of her middle and forefinger, and balled a fist.

            ‘Hello?’ she called again. ‘Was that your music?’ 

            It was a dumb question. She’d known it was dumb before it had even passed her lips. And yet, still she hoped she might be onto something. That the song was coming from some physical source.

            At the sound of her voice, the figure stopped whatever it was doing with its hands. Avery willed it to look at her, show itself to her, but the figure only turned, and disappeared into the mist. 

            ‘Hey!’ called Avery still clutching the makeshift weapon in her pocket.

            Instinctively, she began to follow the figure down the path, searching for its footprints, but finding none. If she was at the gully, then the last of the houses were far behind her now, and she would be out of earshot of anyone but this unlikely hiker. 

            Ignoring the slickening mud which had started to suck at her sneakers, Avery pressed on, as the trail wound its way closer and closer to the looming treeline, visible only as a deeper shade of grey through the gloom. 

            Now and then she thought she could see the figure ahead of her, each time standing side on to the track, intently working something through its hands. His hands, she realised, gendering the apparition by the shape of its body. But just as quickly as he appeared to her, he would turn and lope off again, melting into grey quicker than she could hope to catch him. At several points, the figure changed direction, branching onto paths less and less used: narrow and gnarled with overgrowth, beating more and more directly for the summit of the hill. 

            After perhaps a half hour of this cat and mouse routine, Avery’s knuckles were blue with the cold. Freezer-burn scalded the knuckles, no matter how far she stuffed them into the recesses of her jacket. Her ears tingled and went numb, and she watched as her breath exited her brittle frame in great plumes of dragon smoke. Still she pressed on. Drawn now not only by the figure, or the need to distance herself from a house too full of memories on a day like today, but by a new sensation: a bitter, ironic, sneering malevolence, nestled comfortably in the core of her, an innate drive toward destruction, like a boatswain turned mad by the endless call of the sea.

            She lit another Camel Light as she trudged, but found it flavourless and ashy on her tongue. It dawned on her that she no longer recognised the part of the hillside she’d been led to, and yet the trees either side of her (those few outliers which had fled the security of the forest) seemed somehow familiar; intimate. 

            Avery blubbed involuntarily, a sob bursting from her throat. Sense memory. A cuckoo call in the forest.

            Soon, she had passed the treeline, and was nearing the top of the hill. Her stomach dropped, weighty as if lead-lined. It hurt. It physically hurt. The tissue behind her nose and eyes tightened and burned, and hot tears stained her cheeks. The weight in her stomach became behemothic, a growling emptiness that might have caused her to collapse, if only her heart were not pumping air and blood about her muscles with all the fervour of a blacksmith at her forge. 

            She recognised these sensations, of course. This was the inverse of her mania, the descension after the ascent, the night to the day. Her train derailed in the mire of depression. Avery had learned long ago that by the time the symptoms started, it was already too late.

            A final beckoning from her phantasmal Pied Piper, and Avery Bauer found herself shepherded to a small clearing at the summit of the hill. As she emerged from a thick growth of Douglas fir, it finally occurred to her what was so familiar about the trees here. She’d seen them before. Seen them printed in the newspaper clippings Juniper had saved for her, so that she would have something with which to explain the death to his daughter, when the child grew old enough to know. Trees Avery had seen earlier, even, than that, on online chatrooms and forums which her mother – a self-confessed technophobe – had known nothing about. Websites ran by conspiracy theorists; the same ones who blamed Juniper for his death, whilst speculating that he could actually still be alive. Trees protected by the State from loggers, who had last ventured there decades earlier.


Avery was shaken from her reveries by a sudden ray of sunshine. It surprised her to find that the sun came from low to the west, only just higher than the thinning canopy. She’d awoken at dawn, of that she was sure, and yet somehow the day had cycled past her in what felt the blink of an eye. Soon, she realised, it would be dark.

            Just in time for the fall of dusk, however, that great star around which the earth revolved had finally deigned to burn off the mist of the day. The firs around Avery seemed to sigh their relief, and skywards let forth their plumage of breath. Gradually, late afternoon light filled the clearing.

            It was then that she saw it. 

            The tree. The larch. Its trunk almost entirely obscured by a feathery coating of golden leaves, a stark contrast to the evergreens which bordered it, standing taller still. Newly exposed to the richness of fall sunlight, the larch’s leaves appeared decadent, lavish and luxurious. About ten or twelve feet from the ground, the first of the tree’s branches reached out, a finger pointed in Avery’s direction. And below that branch, exactly where she had expected to find him, was Avery’s father. 

            Kash Bauer sat on the stump of a much older tree in the shadow of the larch, methodically working his fingers over something in his lap. Treating it, Avery imagined, with the same care and attention with which he had once restrung guitars. Kash’s outfit, she realised breathlessly, was almost identical to her own. Faded jeans, battered white plimsols, mud-splattered, a holey green jumper over checked shirt. It was the exact outfit in which he appeared to Avery in her dreams. She tried to call out to him then, but her mouth was so dry it would not form words. Only the slightest creak came from her lips. She stood transfixed, watching the man she’d loved all her life, only ever in theory, pay her no mind.

            And now, for the first time, she saw what it was he held in his hands. Hands protected by a tatty pair of black fingerless gloves. Hands kept warm by gloves the police report said Kash had purchased the morning of his death, in what was explained as a desperate final interaction with society, but which Avery now saw was a calculated last-minute purchase. For only warm hands could have handled what Kash now held. In his hands, Avery’s father, beloved frontman of the Peyote Preachers Kash Bauer, held a rope. 

            Avery felt her knees go out from under her. She slumped to the mushy moss of the forest floor with a force which knocked the air from her lungs. She tried to call to her dad, and again found herself rendered mute. She watched on, helpless, as Kash finished fastening the slipknot which he had been working on all along. In what seemed to her a practiced movement, deftly her father threw the rope up and over the lowest branch of the larch, the noose-end falling to eye level. Kash fastened the length of rope in his hand around the trunk, tugging at it with the deliberation of a deckhand. 

            The knot in Avery’s stomach tightened. Sense memory. Her vision narrowed, great circles of shadow encroaching from all sides, until highlighted in the centre of her perspective was the finality of Kash Bauer. As she watched her father fix the noose about his throat, she felt her own neck burn and tighten. She put a hand to it, and gasped at the pain. Sense memory. There her fingers traced the rawness of a newly-open welt, yawning defeat across her gullet.          Stoked finally to sound, Avery wailed, and this time the noise poured from her in a great deluge, unleashed from her swollen sky. She wailed and she screamed, her pulsing sight affixed on her father, unable to turn away, unable to look anywhere else or to see anything but everything she had expected the scene to hold, and worse. Unable to feel anything but drawn to that same blind darkness which consumed her father in those final moments.

            But no, not darkness. Something more terrible than that. Acceptance. Desire. The eye of the storm. The totality of eclipse. A perfect calmness, bred from the bowels of a depression so intense it had become him, become her, which had once worn them like clothing, yet now was them. Avery Bauer felt in that moment that nothing would ever be good again, that nothing ever could be. She felt decided, accepting the suspicion which had gnawed at her throughout her 27th year, that she wouldindeed not make it through. Destined, like the rock star father that never was, to die never having tasted life in its ripeness, nor having let it ferment to honey wine.

            Avery wailed, and in a clearing at the hilltop, her father listened.

            Kash Bauer stood on his tiptoes on a tree stump in the old forest, raised a few feet from the ground. He slipped the practiced knot behind his ears. He tightened the cord across his windpipe with hands calloused by miles of thankless fretboard. He raised his foot, preparing for one last step into oblivion. And just then, Kash thought he heard a cry. As his weight pulled suddenly down on the taught rope, as his airways constricted, he looked up and saw a girl. About his age and very pretty, if gaunt, she was the spit of his mother, in photos he’d cherished as a child. A Bauer bairn, and no doubt about it. And then his vision went dark, his lungs empty, and his heart suddenly light, freed from its cage at last. 


Avery lay where she’d fallen, gasping breaths between weeping, distraught at the vision now gone.

            For a long time, she lay. Gradually, a semblance of consciousness returned to her, and she realised she must have passed out, for now the clearing was dark, and through trees to the south the first glimmer of silvery moonlight was pouring. 

            Avery let the dew-damp grass soak her clothes. It chilled her skin, numbed her. It occurred to her not for the first time that if she only lay there, she might so easily join her father. The thought carried a familiar feeling, a familial comfort. She felt in that moment like she’d felt that morning, in bed, unable and unwilling to exit the covers, poised on the brink between action and inaction. Yet, whilst this morning’s decision had carried only the weight of shame, this evening’s she knew would change everything. 

            She lay there, and all she could think of was the creak and sudden jerk of the rope, of the purple blood rushing to his cheeks, of the spasming limbs, and eventual stillness.

            Avery sensed now that the precipice was close, that she might reach out a foot, let her step be met by emptiness, and so fall.

            And then, another image came to her. A picture, framed by her bedside, of her father grinning like a wildcat, his eyes watery with pride as he lifted an infant Avery to the camera like a prize pumpkin. And as she remembered that picture, she recognised that smile as the same one worn on the purpling face of Kash, as the rope tightened and the two of them had, across the skein of time, locked eyes. And in that moment, Avery Bauer knew that her father had seen her there, in the clearing, all those years ago, by the bough of a larch in autumn. She knew not how, but she knew, all the same.

            Scraping the depths of energy left to her, Avery began to move the digits of her right hand. She felt she could actually hear the rub of the muscles over bone, but slowly, so slowly, they were working. From the fingers of her hand, she siphoned movement upward, through the arm and into the shoulder, placing her hand flat to the sanctified earth and pushing down, leveraging her broken body to its knees. She rose a leg to a lunge and then stood, her figure like a lone sapling in the eye of that clearing, swaying in the breeze which carried owl song and the return of mist. Then, turning defiantly to the call of those golden leaves, she shed a single, silent, glistening tear.


Avery Bauer woke on the morning of her 28th birthday. Through curtains half-drawn, a soft dawn broke. Granulated light the gold of chocolate coins, wide and layered, pressed against the sheer drapes, slowly burning off the morning haar. Avery was a child of the fall, and at this time of the year, morning mist hugged the land around her like a wedding dress. This morning, Avery found she liked the dreariness of it all; the way the golden light looked through the rain. For this morning, Avery was twenty-eight, and older than her father had ever been. 

            Yet, this morning, she realised that this was no longer true; this fable she had clung to with anxious fingers and expectant throat. This parable, which had haunted her adolescence, plagued her brief foray into adulthood. A lie, a falsehood, an invention of her illness. Because Avery had seen her father, and he had seen her, his daughter, grown and well. And today, she was young, alive, thrilled as she had not been in years by the vibrant whisper of life against her skin. And in Avery, she decided, her father would live on, remembered and loved, for as long as she chose breathing, over the vastness of the void.


Thank you for listening to this month’s Story From The Hearth

If you are experiencing any of the mental health issues described in this story – if you think that anyone you know might be – then please reach out to others, or reach out to the person in question. It’s often hard to reach out when you yourself are experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts, anxieties, mania. But if you see the symptoms in somebody else, then don’t ignore it. Please talk to them. Please seek professional help from doctors and therapists. There are ways to combat mental illness, just as we would combat physical illness, and there is nothing to be ashamed about.

This will be the last story on Stories from the Hearth this year. I plan to take a bit of a break – a well-earned break if I may say so myself. I want to take some time off to work on some other projects, and to give me time to catch up with writing the best stories that I possibly can for this podcast. I plan to return in January next year, with a story on the last Sunday, as always. Until then, I hope that you can catch up with what’s come before, if you’ve not listened to them all before; or perhaps get in touch with me, and let me know what you really liked about this podcast, and areas that you thought I could improve upon. It’s my intention to make Stories from the Hearth a community around people who love to listen to and tell stories. So, it’s always my goal to make these stories as rewarding as possible, not just for me, the artist, but for you, the listener. Because at the end of the day, if it was not for you, I would not be here doing what I’m doing.

The response to Stories from the Hearth in its first year has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s really warmed my heart to see how much people take from these episodes, and how much people have enjoyed them. So, do get in touch if you have anything you’d like to say. And tell your friends about it, tell your family, tell anyone you know who could use just a half-hour’s respite from the chaotic energies of the everyday.

As I say, if you wish to support the podcast, and help to make next year an even better and bigger year than this, then please head to my Patreon by hitting the link in the description down below. Similarly, you can check out the podcast’s Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and website via the links below. You can also now rate podcasts on Spotify, so if you’re listening to it there, why not drop us some stars.  

May your last days of 2021 bring you merriment, and may 2022 be full of health, and happiness, and fulfilment. Until next we meet around the fire, I’ve been Calum Bannerman, and you’ve been listening to Stories From The Hearth.