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E204: As Good As Gone

The magic business hits a dead end – and Stan receives an unexpected visit.

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Starring Hugo Jones, Art Carlson and Marisa King
Written and directed by Sean Howard and Eli McIlveen
Sound design by Eli McIlveen
Produced by Sean Howard
Supporting producers: Kim Bellinger, Ryan Cushman and Kona

Content warning: bereavement, family struggles and undead creatures.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

SEAN

Hey everyone. Sean here. I’m one of the producers of Alba Salix and The Axe & Crown. Eli and I want to thank each and every one of you for your support, and for being with us as listeners, and also to wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year. And I hope that your holidays are going amazing.

And I also want to give a quick reminder that the special offer we’re running ends in three days once this airs. January 2 will be the last day where you can join in. We are now in Tier 3. For every five new supporters at the $5 level, whether you’re an upgrading supporter or a new supporter, we add a new bonus into what we’re going to be sending out in January.

There’s more information about what we’re giving away and the tiers and all that if you go to patreon.com/albasalix. Or just go to albasalix.com and click on the Patreon link. We would so love to have you as part of this family.

And a super giant thank you to our Supporting Producers, Kim Bellinger, Ryan Cushman and Kona.

Theme music plays.

ANNOUNCER

The Axe & Crown, Round 2!

Episode 4: As Good As Gone.

INT. BAR—MORNING

BETULA

Hey Stan.

STAN

Oh. Hey, Betula.

BETULA

You okay there?

STAN

Yeah, you know me, I’m—

No, actually, not really.

BETULA

What’s up? Do you need a hand?

She takes a seat next to him.

STAN

No…

BETULA

Isn’t your new launch for Meals by Magic happening this week?

STAN

No. I’m afraid Meals By Magic is done.

BETULA

What? Why? What happened?

STAN

I just found out Kalzak got… called away. He left a note, but it’s not very clear. Something about an unpaid debt or something.

BETULA

Oh. That’s too bad. But why does that mean the company’s done? Isn’t he coming back?

STAN

I don’t think so.

BETULA

Wait. Are we talking “called away” to another dimension?

STAN

Yeah. Look, over in the corner there, where he always sits, see? His chair’s gone and there’s just a scorched circle of runes on the floor.

BETULA

Oh. Oh yeah, that’s not a good sign.

And Uncle’s gonna have a fit.

STAN

Yeah. He already lost it on me. I’ll pay to repair it. I just… yeah.

BETULA

That’s rough. I’m sorry, Stan.

STAN

He was a good guy, really. Deep down, I mean. Yeah, he was strange, but also, you know… really strange.

BETULA

Just to be clear, though—he’s not actually dead, right?

STAN

I don’t think so? The note’s in his handwriting. I guess they just need him to pay back his eternal debt or something, whatever that means.

BETULA

Oh. Yeah. That’s good, then. I’m sure he’s… fine.

STAN

(reassured)

Yeah. Thanks, Betula.

BETULA

Right.

Does he have next of kin? Do they need to be told?

STAN

He’s got some family, but they’d been estranged for a long time.

BETULA

That tracks.

STAN

Gubbin’s upstairs sorting through his stuff. I’ll ask if he can find a name or an address or something.

Gubbin comes downstairs, followed by a rattling, flapping noise.

NEV

Grawk!

GUBBIN

Okay, can someone please deal with this goddamn bird? Stop it!

BETULA

What is that?

STAN

Oh, that’s another thing. This is Kalzak’s… friend, Nev.

NEV

Rawk! Not any more!

STAN

Nev, Betula. Betula, this is Nev.

BETULA

Hi?

NEV

Rark!

STAN

I think Kalzak raised him as part of this big thesis project when he was at school, and he’s just been taking care of him ever since.

NEV

Not any more! Caw!

GUBBIN

Agh!

So when you say “raised”, I’m guessing you don’t mean raised from a baby.

STAN

Yeah, more like raised from… a skeleton.

GUBBIN

Uh huh.

BETULA

A skeleton with eyes. That’s the part that’s creeping me out.

STAN

Yeah, I get that. You know, hanging out with a previously-alive raven, takes some getting used to, but Kal was really fond of him.

NEV

Not any more!

BETULA

Does he say anything else?

STAN

Not that I’ve heard. I think maybe it’s a punchline to an old joke that Kal taught him?

BETULA

Yeah, that’s… pretty funny.

NEV

Not any more!

GUBBIN

Yeah, you try sleeping with that going on in the room above you.

NEV

Rawwk!

GUBBIN

Gah!

This is typical. Frickin’ wizards, disappearing and leaving us with their weird familiars.

BETULA

Yeah, gosh, ’cause that happens so often.

GUBBIN

Oh, you weren’t here when that sea witch was here with her friend the squid. I had half a dozen guests yelling in my face that the cleaning staff stole all their jewellery.

BETULA

Wait a minute. When did you ever have cleaning staff?

GUBBIN

I didn’t! It was the squid! It kept sneaking out of her room during the day. She would lock all the doors and windows but if there was even the tiniest crack—I’m talking infinitesimal—that squid could still squeeze out.

STAN

What! That’s amazing.

GUBBIN

And she wouldn’t even correct him. She was all like, “Oh, what a clever boy you are. Isn’t he clever? Blah blah blah!”

Bah. Squids! You can’t trust ’em!

NEV

Not any more!

GUBBIN

I swear, we should just ban ’em all from the premises. No pets, no wizards, no witches, no familiars, no nothing.

STAN

Aw, c’mon, Gub. You can’t let one poorly-raised squid spoil everything.

GUBBIN

Pah!

STAN

Look. I’ll take care of him. Unless either of you wants to?

BETULA

Well, I can’t exactly cook him. There’s no meat on him.

NEV

Not any more!

STAN

That’s not actually what I meant. I’ll keep him in my room or something.

BETULA

Oh, sorry.

So then… what does he eat, exactly?

STAN

Nothing, as far as I can tell.

BETULA

I mean, no stomach.

STAN

Yeah.

BETULA

So, did you find an address in Kal’s room, Uncle? Stan wants to reach out to his relatives.

GUBBIN

Nah. He’s got books and books and notebooks and books of notes, all written in code, or maybe some kinda demon language, maybe both? I don’t know.

STAN

Nev? Do you know where Kal’s family are?

NEV

Dawk! Not any more!

GUBBIN

Well, this is gonna be heaps of fun.

Music sting.

INT. BAR—DAY

Stan enters from the street.

STAN

Okay, so some good news. Grandville University of Thaumaturgical Elucidation still had Kal’s emergency contact info on file from when he was a student. They’re trying to contact his family now.

BETULA

Well, that’s good news.

STAN

Also, they want me to explain what happened and I’m not sure what to tell them.

BETULA

Well, his family knew he was going to the University, so they probably knew he was doing weird magic.

STAN

Yeah, I don’t think they approved.

BETULA

What makes you say that?

STAN

Kal told me his mother didn’t approve.

BETULA

Right.

Hey… his latest research and stuff, that probably belonged to your company, right?

STAN

Hmm? Oh, we never really discussed that. I guess we were just too excited about designing the product.

BETULA

But it’s not like anyone’s going to come looking for his prototype magical transportation boxes or anything.

STAN

Probably not. Why?

BETULA

Well, I’m just saying, we should probably keep those safe. Just in case Kal gets back and wants to continue working on them.

STAN

Sure. I guess.

BETULA

Cool. Cool cool cool.

STAN

Not like it matters. There really wasn’t anything new or groundbreaking about what we were doing. We were just a couple of clueless dudes messing around with magic and convincing ourselves we were doing something special.

BETULA

Aw, Stan. You never know. I thought you guys were really on to something.

NEV

Awk! Not any more!

STAN

Gee, thanks Nev.

Any luck finding a foster home for Mister Bone Bird over here?

BETULA

Not yet. I contacted a couple of sanctuaries, but they’re not taking in any new animals and/or skeletons. So no one at the university was interested?

STAN

No. I think they have some weird superstition about inheriting someone else’s familiar.

BETULA

Heh. What, like history might repeat itself and they might end up dragged away to a hell dimension like Kal?

STAN

Yeah, sure, that sort of thing.

BETULA

I don’t suppose we could release him back into the wild?

NEV

Not any more!

STAN

No, I don’t think so. Turns out he doesn’t eat, but he sure does like to drink, though. Speaking of, do you know where to get some formaldehyde? Kal had a bottle of it in his room, but—

NEV

(belches)

Not any more!

STAN

We pretty much toasted that.

BETULA

You could ask at Gurney’s Funeral Home? Or the alchemist’s over on Bridge Street.

Gubbin comes downstairs. Nev stalks over and flaps angrily.

NEV

Rawwk!

GUBBIN

Agh! Haven’t you got rid of that damn bird yet?

NEV

Rawwk!

STAN

Not yet.

GUBBIN

He’s freaking out all my patrons, and honestly, he’s freaking me out too.

BETULA

We’re working on it.

GUBBIN

Can’t you make a bone broth out of him or something?

NEV

Rawwwwwk!

BETULA

Uh, would you eat soup made from a formaldehyde-soaked undead bird?

GUBBIN

…I’m sure someone would.

STAN

Maybe the funeral home needs a mascot or something. “Welcome to Gurney’s! Raawk!”

NEV

Aawwwk!

GUBBIN

You know what, maybe call a taxidermist. Stick him up on the wall.

NEV

Awwk! Not any more!

GUBBIN

Come here, you!

He chases Nev around the room, chairs thud to the floor.

NEV

Not any more! Not any more!

GUBBIN

I swear to God.

STAN

Can you guys take it outside?

NEV

Awwk!

INT. BAR—NIGHT

The bar is empty. Betula is putting chairs up on tables while Stan sweeps the floor.

STAN

How you doing?

BETULA

(yawns)

All right. I’m gonna turn in or I’m gonna be useless for brunch tomorrow.

STAN

Sure, I got the rest. Night, Betula.

BETULA

Night, Stan.

She heads upstairs.

The outside door rattles, and creaks open.

STAN

Betula, I thought you said you locked up?

Footsteps slowly enter.

STAN

Uh… sorry, friend, we’re closed for the night.

The door creaks shut and slams.

YARTHA

(deep, sinister, hissing voice)

You… know… Kalzak.

Yartha stalks over to the bar, looking over Stan.

STAN

He was staying here for a little bit, yeah.

Uh, uh, hi, hello, can I help you?

YARTHA

You must be Stanway.

STAN

(backing away)

Oh! Well, yes. Yes I am. Stanway Gerrard. But how did you…

YARTHA

My son wrote to us a few times in the past months and he spoke of a young man he was working with, a Stanway Gerrard.

STAN

That would be me, yes. Stan is fine.

YARTHA

Stan, then.

STAN

So you’re Kal’s…?

YARTHA

I am his mother. You may call me Yartha.

STAN

Yartha! That is a nice name. Yeah, I can see a little of the family resemblance there—

YARTHA

Where did it happen?

STAN

Oh, right. “It”, yes. Um, “it” happened right over here. Where the… um…

YARTHA

Where the scorch marks are.

STAN

Yes, yes. And I found this note here.

He hands it to Yartha.

YARTHA

We knew it would come to this one day. And yet I find myself unprepared.

Silence.

STAN

If there’s anything that I can do…

YARTHA

Yes. I am here to collect my son’s worldly goods.

STAN

Oh. Sure. Sure. Sure. Well. Follow me. Right this way, I’ll show you to his room.

They ascend the stairs to the third floor.

STAN

So, uh, I don’t know much about you. He didn’t talk much about his family.

YARTHA

Of course not.

STAN

Are you in the… magic business as well? What is it that you do?

YARTHA

I am not in the magic business.

Stan unlocks the door, and they step inside.

STAN

Fair enough. So this is Kal’s room. Was Kal’s room. Is. Is Kal’s room. Still is, it’s completely his room, I guess, since he’s only gone away.

So, uh…

YARTHA

To answer your question, I specialize in early childhood education.

Silence.

STAN

You’re… really! I would not have guessed that.

YARTHA

You find my appearance atypical for a teacher.

STAN

Maybe a little?

YARTHA

Do I frighten you?

STAN

I’m terrified. I have to let you know, I am currently extremely terrified.

YARTHA

That is excellent.

STAN

Okay, that’s fine.

The hood thing. Arriving in the middle of the night. The claws.

YARTHA

Children today are too coddled. Their parents try to shield them from any fear, any pain, any tiny inconvenience—any experience that would teach them to live in the real world.

STAN

And so you, uh, frighten them?

YARTHA

My partner and I run a night camp in the Woeful Woods where children can safely become lost, be menaced by monsters and villains, and then escape, hungry but unharmed, back to their parent or guardian as wiser, more capable people.

STAN

That’s kind of amazing. So… Kal didn’t exactly follow in your footsteps.

YARTHA

We made many mistakes as parents. We did too much for him. He never learned to make his own way. We sent him off to Hazelbroke College, where he turned to begging favours from dark forces. At first it was help on a pop quiz here and there, but then it was a term paper, or a major research project.

STAN

Oh no.

YARTHA

Soon he was promising everything to his so-called “friends” below just to avoid his turn cleaning the common room. He dropped out of college, applied to that awful university, dropped out of university—I’m afraid that’s when he stopped talking to us. Until recently.

STAN

Oh. I’m sorry—that’s really sad.

YARTHA

And now the only sign of his presence is a heap of arcane diagrams and a scorched circle on the floor.

I’m sorry about that, by the way—can we help pay for some of the damage?

STAN

Oh, no, no, that’s awfully nice of you. You don’t have to—we deal with damage from our guests every day.

YARTHA

People are so inconsiderate.

STAN

I know.

YARTHA

No, allow me to offer you some recompense. Skies above, he could have burned down the building on his way out.

STAN

No, really—

YARTHA

Take the money, Stanway Gerrard.

STAN

Y‑yes, Ma’am. Yes. Thank you very much.

She gives him a bag of coins.

YARTHA

My son spoke quite highly of you, you know.

STAN

He did? Really?

YARTHA

You were colleagues, yes?

STAN

We were just working together. And not on any summoning type thing. Or I don’t think it was anything like that.

YARTHA

You gave him hope. He spoke of moving away from the darker arts. He said that you believed in him. Trusted him.

STAN

Well, yeah, I…

YARTHA

I fear that we stopped trusting, long ago.

STAN

I don’t know what to say.

YARTHA

Do not be troubled. We loved him. We still do. But there were so many times we wanted to believe that he was returning to us. Only to lose him further down the path he had chosen. And now, this is where we find ourselves.

STAN

I’m sorry things didn’t work out better.

YARTHA

Perhaps they will in the end. Who can say? Life is full of delight and disappointment, and not often in equal share. I am glad you were there for my Kalzak.

STAN

Thanks. Me too.

YARTHA

Your magic food delivery business gave him hope. And you gave him friendship.

STAN

I’d like to think so.

Yartha sifts through a few of the items.

YARTHA

I wish we had done more.

STAN

We always do. We always wish we’d done more for our friends and our family.

YARTHA

We failed him.

STAN

You don’t know that. Maybe if you’d done the “right” thing, quote unquote, he’d have turned out exactly the same. You can’t ever know for sure.

YARTHA

Perhaps. But it is the reason I now do what I do.

STAN

You mean, teaching kids by frightening them out of their wits.

YARTHA

Indeed.

STAN

Well, there you go—think of all those kids you’ve helped. It probably would have done me some good, I’ll tell you. I coulda used an experience like that to give me a little backbone. A little smarts.

YARTHA

That is kind of you to say.

STAN

So… do you want me to help you pack up all his stuff? I mean, these are all his notes from the business but I can’t read a word of them.

YARTHA

If you have a place to keep these notes, then keep them. I have no use for them. Ah! But look—he kept this lantern. This we gave him when he left home.

Perhaps—yes. I believe I will take this.

What is under this sheet?

STAN

Oh, no, don’t—

Yartha pulls a sheet from a cage.

NEV

Rark!

YARTHA

Oh! What a charming beast! Greetings!

STAN

This is Nev—Nev, this is Yartha.

NEV

Raaark!

YARTHA

I am delighted to meet you too, dear Nev—or, pardon me, Rark!

NEV

Raark raark caw!

STAN

You speak raven?

YARTHA

I speak a dialect. Nev is a coastal raven—

NEV

Not any more!

YARTHA

Oh, indeed, was a coastal raven, but I can understand most of what he says.

STAN

Would you be interested in taking home a… new skeletal bird friend?

NEV

Caw! Caw?

YARTHA

He would be a terrifying addition to our staff. Yes! I will certainly take you, if you like. Will you come with us, Nev?

NEV

Damn right! Finally!

STAN

Woo hoo!

NEV

Caw!

INT. BAR—EARLY MORNING

Betula, Gubbin and Stan are setting up the tables for brunch service.

STAN

Tablecloths and placemats are done. How we coming on the silverware?

BETULA

(yawning)

Slow down there, bronco. I’m on it. There’s plenty of time before the brunch crowd arrives.

GUBBIN

You can help me with the plates.

STAN

Okay.

GUBBIN

Thank the gods that bird is gone.

STAN

Yeah. He and Kalzak’s mom took to each other pretty fast.

GUBBIN

Well… she was probably right. You were good for Kalzak.

STAN

Aw, thanks, Gubbin.

BETULA

Yeah, the last couple weeks, before he went away, I think I actually saw him in a fresh robe once or twice.

A magical whoosh.

STAN

I wish I had done more. I didn’t realize how important this business was to him.

GUBBIN

Sometimes what you can do is what you can do.

BETULA

(sniffs)

Does anyone else smell something burning?

A soft crackling noise, slowly growing into a substantial fire.

STAN

There’s no food on yet, right?

GUBBIN

Stan! Table three on fire!

STAN

It’s the tablecloth! I got it. Ow! Ow! Water! We need water!

Betula heaves a bucket of sand, and the flames go out instantly.

BETULA

Sand is better. There we go. Everything’s fine.

GUBBIN

Everything is NOT fine! No more candles at brunch!

STAN

The candles weren’t lit.

GUBBIN

No candles, no flambé, no burning anything! I got half a mind to get rid of the stove too!

BETULA

No, no, it’s that circle in the corner again.

STAN

The circle?!

BETULA

The one that took Kal away! That one.

GUBBIN

It’s back?! Goddammit, we just cleaned that up.

STAN

But nobody disappeared this time… right?

BETULA

No—something appeared.

STAN

What?

BETULA

A postcard?

STAN

Let me see!

GUBBIN

That’s it. How the hell do we get rid of a pentagram?

STAN

(reading with difficulty)

“Dear Stan. Sorry had to bail. Big rush, no time. Working…” Here, hold on, does that say “desk job”?

BETULA

I think so.

STAN

“Working desk job, so much paperwork, but I’ll live, ha ha. Sorry about food biz. Talk soon. Peace—Kal.”

BETULA

Wow. He’s alive. And at a desk job?

GUBBIN

Yup, he’s in hell for sure.

STAN

I’m thinking we shouldn’t seat anyone at Table 3 for a while.

GUBBIN

Good idea. Put a cloth over it. A big one.

CREDITS

Theme music plays.

ANNOUNCER

The Axe and Crown!

Starring Hugo Jones, Art Carlson and Marisa King.

Written and directed by Eli McIlveen and Sean Howard.

Sound design by Eli McIlveen. Produced by Sean Howard.

If you enjoy the show, check out our Patreon. You can get early access to episodes, plus all-new bonus stories and an invite to our wonderful fan community on Discord. Look for the Patreon link at AlbaSalix.com.

OUTTAKE: COMEDY

STAN (ART CARLSON)

(deep announcer voice)

What is the deal with cart food?

Laughter.

STAN (ART CARLSON)

You know what I’m saying? Every time you’re on a cart between villages, you just get the same food over and over again. And it’s terrible! Like for example, every time I’m on a cart, they bring you a little piece of meat and it has grill marks on it. What am I supposed to imagine? That they have an open flame grill at the front of the cart that I…? It makes no sense. Anyway! I’m gonna be here all week. G’night!

Laughter.

MARISA KING

It’s Stan doing—it’s Stan-d-up!

ART CARLSON

It’s Stannnn-d-up comedy!

Laughter.

Music sting.

ANNOUNCER

A Fable and Folly Production.