Stories from the Hearth

The Bard - A First Birthday Special!

Episode Summary

It's our very first birthday! Come gather round the fire with us once more in this special birthday short story. Take a look at what the future holds for Stories from the Hearth, and learn how you can be a part of it. Wrap yourself in some fiction and hunker down by the hearth, it's getting cold out there.

Episode Notes

It's our very first birthday! Come gather round the fire with us once more in this special birthday short story. Take a look at what the future holds for Stories from the Hearth, and learn how you can be a part of it. Wrap yourself in some fiction and hunker down by the hearth, it's getting cold out there.

The next story episode of Stories from the Hearth is out 27th February 2022.

Stories from the Hearth is an experimental storytelling experience featuring 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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Original Artwork by Anna Ferrara
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Episode Transcription

By the sputtering embers of a hearth in a cabin of primeval pine, in a moon-soaked clearing at the centre of a quietly chattering wood on the slopes of a valley – once the resting place of giants – below the jagged lunar spines of mountains birthed from the magma of the earth millennia ago; by azure seas, shifting, glittering, teaming with strange and sunken life; below the impossible spread of a trillion suns dancing in the great vast space where ships and astronauts, aliens and deities reside, a storyteller stirs from slumber.

            The bard wakes frost biting at their nose, their hands – clasped to the bindings of a huge and ancient book – are cramped and swollen in the cold. Tired flames lick silently at the grate by the bard’s fur-bound feet, too weak to emit heat. The bard turns to them and smiles. Slowly, like a golem frees itself from the rock of its making, or a lasting love comes to bloom, they rise from their chair, wicker and weathered, as their bones crack and their muscles wheeze. Down on their knees, the storyteller inspects the last few matchsticks of kindling glowing dully against the blackness of soot, spreading out from the fireplace to colour the bricks above.

            ‘Hmmm,’ mulls the hunched figure, running grubby hands through grubby hair. ‘So you’re still hungry, eh?’ 

            They laugh then, and the sound is heard by a nearby convent of nightjars, whose odd replies cackle through the night like a thousand frogs or crickets, trilling to their neighbours. Somewhere on the edge of the forest a tawny owl stalks her prey; the rodent is startled by the click-clacks of far away birds, and pauses momentarily in its path. The owl swoops and strikes, returns to her nesting babies with a fat mouse in her beak, and there elicits a shout of triumph. Ta-whoo, ta-whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo! The night bird’s call ripples across the sparse bracken and heather of the valley floor, up the other side and to the den of an old lynx – a rocky and unkind place – whose tall, feathery ears prick up. Her eyes are ambergris; once striking amber, they have greyed now thanks to the unblinking machinations of time. In them, the world of her mountainside home is captured and condensed to the sensations on her whiskers, and beneath her feet. Woken by the owl, the old lynx decides to stretch her legs. There is a patch of mossy ground further up the hill which feels especially good between the pads of her climber’s paws, and though her bones ache against the gradient, the reward is worth it. From here old lynx can feel free again, the whole mountainside at her talon-tips. Under the waxen moon, the cat’s ambergris eyes flash like starlight.

            Faeries, conducting a midnight vigil atop the highest peak of the range, spot these flashing celestials on the hillside. In hushed whispers they pass on news of what appears to be an omen from their god – the Great Shadow, whose return shall beckon the end days, and consign the earth once more to darkness. Horned teeth chittering and clacking, legs dangling scarlet and half-formed beneath the choirs of stolen rags with which they fly, the faeries giggle and hoot, their black eyes wide, and unleash from thorny fingers an anarchy of fireworks into the sky. Far, far below this eldritch moot, on the docks of a small fishing village, a boy without a home turns restlessly beneath a holy scarf he’s fashioned as a blanket. He is annoyed. Annoyed that sleep, like all other things in his life, should be abundant to everyone except him. The boy sighs and rolls over, turning his snot-encrusted face to the heavens. It is then that he sees the lights.

            Though, come morning, no one will believe his tale, the display of colour and chaos that he sees this night will stay with the boy ‘til his dying day. Green wheels across the dark expanse like a dragon royal, chased by its own flaming tail of valiant oranges and yellows. Pinks, purples, blues and reds dance a tapestry of romance and heartbreak among the stars, whilst crackles of fizzling ivory-gold burst and implode like cannon fire. Down at the foot of the mountain, the boy jumps at the distant bangs, popping out of sync. Little does the boy know, he is not the only witness to this lightshow, conjured by the magic of the forest folk. Out to sea, a kraken breaks the surface waves; lending its giant, cephalopod eye to the ether. 

            The kraken, into whose eye you could thread an elephant, has been stranded in these waters since crash-landing here three million or more years ago, its ship lost to the ocean depths. Since then, the kraken has seen many generations of animal come and go, each of whom thought this alien world their rightful domain. And patiently it has waited, knowing that its final distress signal, cast back along its crash-course in the milliseconds before impact with the earth, will be answered. It has to be, does it not? The kraken waits to be rescued, rests all of its hope on the thought that one day it shall see another of its kind, and can then finally tell the story of this place in the words of its own language.

            As the fireworks of the faeries fade into night, and their burning reflections sear themselves onto the inner-eyelids of this monumental star creature, the kraken contemplates another scenario. What if no help should come? What if his people lost the fight for their freedom? Lost the war? What if there is no-one left to intercept its distress call? It is old now. And though it shall live many hundreds of thousands of earth years more, still there shall come a day when it must halt its bio-replication process, and accept the tentacle it has been dealt. In such a scenario, the kraken would watch itself fall, endlessly and breathlessly, to the ends of these alien waters, where it would come to rest amongst the mulch of the sea floor. Its bones, each the size of redwood trunks, would sink into the mud, picked clean by tiny fish. And there, at the bottom of the ocean, it would lie.

            But then, as time would allow, there would come another day, perhaps many millions of years after that: a time when the oceans ran dry, a time when new land formed atop those ocean floors, a time when the kraken’s bones would be compressed; squished down into a paste comprising a billion other deaths; made dense and solid and composite by years of immense pressure until, one day, when new civilisations walked or trudged or slithered or crawled, darted, swung, swam or flew the earth, the kraken’s grave would be re-discovered. These new intelligences, who would of course – as they always do – tell themselves they are apex, unique, special, would happen upon the alien’s remains when digging for treasure. And treasure they would find, for by then the kraken would have compressed to fuel, black and sooty and powerful beyond measure, and they would take it, and burn it, and move their machines and heat their homes and power their appliances with it.

            Coal – black inky heart of an alien’s soul.


Back in the creaking cabin in the clearing of the forest on the banks of the valley at the feet of the mountains by the shifting waters of the ancient ocean below the watchful gaze of the cosmos, the sentimental old bard throws a last lump of anthracite on the fire. The re-kindled blaze inhales it hungrily, shoots four foot flames up into the chimney, casts its warmth and light out to every corner of the room. The bard rubs their hands together and puts them to the hearth, as if conjuring their own magic of sorts. Satisfied, and warm once more, they take back up their heavy, dusted tome. Across their knees, the book is a great lintel, the setting stone of a doorway, a portal, the entrance to other worlds. The bard clears their throat, and with a twinkle in their eye, turns back to face their audience – a handful of woodlice, a young girl and her brother, their grandfather and his pet toad, a rock, a feather, a twig the shape of a wishing bone, and three families of fauna: mouse, tern, adder. The gathering gathers closer, peers up into the crinkled face of the storyteller, coloured deep umber by the firelight; watches as they open their book to a dog-eared page and say:

            ‘Now then, where were we?’




Stories from the Hearth, an experimental, DIY, and queer storytelling podcast, is one year old today! Happy Birthday! I – creator, writer, and host Cal Bannerman – began Stories from the Hearth exactly one year ago as a means of fuelling my own creative passions, whilst providing some comfort, escapism and down-time to those who, like me, would rather spend their life engaging with stories which expand their horizons, give them pause for thought, and challenge their preconceptions, than scroll through endless algorithmically-generated loops of base and unimaginative ‘content’, whose only purpose is to line the pockets of our corporate overlords; building up their billions until they have finally drained the earth and its human inhabitants of their final vital resources, before jetting off into space to start a colony of white, straight, sociopathic megalomaniacs.

            In other words, Stories from the Hearth is a podcast for the people, not the machines nor the sycophantic parasites who program them. Looking toward its second year, I am excited to create more worlds for you to escape into, more stories for you to relax, laugh, gasp and cry with. But I am also hesitant. The world of 2022 seems fuller than ever of division, selfishness and self-centeredness, whilst emptier than ever of community, conversation, and compassion. To create a thing – this storytelling podcast; designed to act against the forces which seek to keep us divided – using the same platforms dominated by those dividing forces, is a difficult undertaking. And yet, I have reason to be hopeful. Those who have taken the time – who have carved the minutes and the hours back from consumer capitalist culture – so that they can listen to this show, and these stories, they say that this venture is worthwhile. That it gives them hope and happiness, strength and resilience. For those people, then, and for all those who may yet join us around the campfire: let’s pick up where we left off.

            Come gather round the campfire with me – poet, punk, and shameless princessa Cal Bannerman – on the last Sunday of every month, to hear a brand new, totally original short story, dramatically performed and accompanied by a fully-immersive soundscape. Better yet, join Stories from the Hearth on Patreon – a crowd-funding platform – from as little as £2 or $3 a month, to gain exclusive access to bonus content, early access to stories, and to join the community on Discord, where we can discuss storytelling, community, and the dismantling of capitalism for the formation of an environmentally-centric, anarchist future. (Or, you know, we could just talk about our favourite books and TV shows.) Head to, or hit the link in the description. Join the gang, and together we can create something better, more fulfilling and worthwhile for ourselves. 

            Stories from the Hearth will return with a brand-new short story at the end of February. Until then, wrap yourself in some fiction, and keep warm by the fireside. It’s cold out there.