Realms Podcast


To see or not to see...

Hello and welcome to Realms: a monthly sci-fi and fantasy newsletter that lets you escape to new realms right from your inbox. 

My name is Zach and I’m the writer and reader of Realms. I am a freelance copywriter, fitness trainer, and tour guide living in Hanoi, Vietnam. 

This month’s story is short and sweet, so you can get right back to enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers if you’re in the States that is. 

Without further ado, here’s this month’s story… Awakening.

All Alannah wants is to see. In the spiritual sense. Her life is so clouded by calls and emails, sharing her life online, buying things she doesn’t need, and pretending to listen to her boyfriend. She desires clarity. She deserves clarity. 

So what does a suburban-living westerner do? She looks to buy perspective. Ah, and there it is, a gorgeous retreat in the jungle. Happy people from all over the world are wearing loose linens and smiling like Mother Earth is inside them. The staff are all people with blindness, hired to give them opportunities. 

“I’ll call you,” she lies to her boyfriend and parents at the airport. There’s no service where she’s going. They watch as she disappears into a sea of nameless, unknowable individuals. 

“Here on the plane, heading to Hawali Resort…I don’t even know which country it’s in! I shut up and gave them my money and just went!” she tells her followers. “Everyone should do this in their lives. It’s great for perspective.” 

Alannah wakes as the plane touches down, jolting her from an Ambien-fueled dream: People in white linen. Smiling. Surrounding her in love and affection. She thought she was prepared for her phone not to work…but she had an itch to share. 

“No. This is my time. Not anyone else’s.”

The courteous Hawali Resort picks up Alannah and her one suitcase, which was a sacrifice. She packed a book for God’s sake, but she’d rather have four more eye creams, another bottle of Retinol, and her comfy socks for the month-long stay.

The dense, mist-covered jungle disappears before a towering wall of bamboo. An open-air, white-stuccoed and terracotta-roofed complex greets her. As does the staff, all in white linen tunics and trousers. They’re a mix of Westerners and locals with every hue of skin color; there are more women than men. Alannah’s not the only one arriving. Many newcomers are deposited by private cars and guided into a line beside her.

“Welcome to Hawali,” says a small woman in glasses, one of the few with sight at the resort. She’s important, Alannah judges. She wears gold hoops around her neck, and the front of the tunic, where there should be buttons, are golden bells. As she speaks, she gestures, and they ring. “And now the two rules we have here. We do not shake hands. We bow and cover our eyes, to honor each others’ unseen spirits, like so.” In unison, the staff bows, covering their eyes as they do. “Second, we do not go out past midnight. Mother Hawali commands it.”

“That’s a joke, right?” says a bearded, shirtless man. Alannah eyes him.

Bells chime in the night. No one’s supposed to be out at night.

Alannah wakes. It’s past midnight. Everything’s been perfect so far. Perfect weather. Perfect people. Perfect meditations and smoothie bowls. Except for one thing: at this late hour, there’s always someone singing. Breaking a rule! Alannah hears it now. 

“Oh my God, that’s it.”

She marches down the path, holding herself against the chill. Past the bamboo shivering in the wind, making squeaks and hollow knocks. Past Evan’s room, where Alannah soon hopes to spend the night, and toward the beach. She finds what must be the entire staff, all in linens, all with milky, unseeing eyes. There’s a bonfire. A bonfire! Singing! And a barbecue! Her stomach growls. Alannah could eat. This vegetarian diet could use a cheeseburger supplement. 

“Ah, excuse me!” 

The chatter ceases. The heads turn. They endow the moment with a bow, their palms over their eyes. Alannah almost pisses herself. This is not loving and encouraging. This is terrifying. Not as terrifying as the human effigy at the center of it all: a gray-haired figure missing her eyes.

“I mean, I was trying to sleep and they were partying!” Alannah complains. “Like why didn’t they offer me some food?”

Evan shrugs. “You’re being selfish. Think of their light. Not yours.”

“I just get scared at night, you know? It’s lonely...”

Evan looks at her without an expression. He’s different than before. “Maybe it’s time for you to meet Mother Hawali. She’s very wise.”

Alannah scoffs. “Sure. I’ll give her a piece of my mind.”

The bells visit again. Again! And the singing…the singing is back.

Another night. Past midnight. There’s a knocking at Alannah’s door. 

What is it?” she hisses.

“Are you hungry?” It’s Evan.

“But, the rule!”

“It’s ok. It really is.”

They take the path down to the beach. The staff are there, same as the night before. They stop partying. They bow, eyes covered. And welcome the pair in. They enjoy good food. Good conversations. Alannah learns that many were like her, lost in the world. They found themselves at Hawali. 

“Were you all blind?” she asks. 

“Yes, of course,” they reply, with wide grins.

“You know, I think I’m going to bed.” Alannah returns to her room. “This is too weird. I’ve got leave.”

Bells and voices. Voices and bells. A final summoning from sleep.

The next night, Evan returns. He has many Hawali staff behind him, adorned in gold jewelry and headdresses woven from palm leaves and fern fronds. They hold torches and talk excitedly in the indigenous language. Alannah doesn’t even know what it’s called. 

“She’s agreed to meet you.”


“Mother Hawali. You are ready.”

“Ready for?” 

They all but steal her away. She fights, at first, but calms when she finds them laughing and singing. This must be normal. They take her down a path she isn’t sure she noticed before. Bamboo shakes loudly with the midnight wind.

A small wooden house waits. The staff created a funnel for Evan and Alannah to approach. There is no door, but an indigo curtain. The pair enter. It’s not a home inside, it’s a descent. An old crumbling staircase with no rails leads to a pool, illuminated by a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. 

There is a white film strung along the walls, the staircase, and hanging from a cocoon-shaped thing. No, it is a cocoon, pulsating, hanging from the threads. A milky white substance bleeds onto the ground.

Alannah turns back too quickly and slips on the stairs, tumbling, sliding down into that short abyss, coming to rest on the strands that are sticky and soft. She screams on the way down and screams in disgust upon landing. 

Evan is there shortly, helping her up gently.

“There’s nothing to fear—”

She nails him in the jaw with a right hook that she should be quite proud of. Looking to make her escape, she sees there is none. The villagers or cultists or whatever they are stand at the top, torches flickering, smiles flickering.

“Oh, Jesus,” she says.

A crack. A creaking. A tearing from behind. A thing emerging.

“The Mother will see you, now,” Evan says through a busted lip. “Bow with me.” He covers his eyes and hinges at his hips as low as he can. Quite flexible, really. He took those yoga seminars seriously. 

“No. No, no, no,” Alannah utters. 

The cocoon is split up in the middle, with two hands prying it apart from the inside. A head emerges. An old woman with silver hair pulls herself free with a sucking sound like pulling a foot from the muck, her back to Alannah and Evan. She covers her face with her hands and turns, stepping forward, standing completely naked before all. She is not human. Or she was. She has no belly button at all. No nipples. No wrinkles. But she gives off the scent of ancient paper and rust and insect carcasses.

“So, you are both ready to see,” she says, her voice withered and dry.

“Is this because I broke the rules? I’m sorry. I really am.”

“No, child. This is because you must see.”

“But, why this? Whatever this is? Isn’t there another way?”

Alannah tries to back away, but she is stopped by the weight of many, many hands. The followers have descended. She squeaks and frantically looks for another way out, but there is no escape. There are only pale orbs drilling into her. There is only the ancient woman, the Matriarch of something evil and vast like a desert in a forgotten corner of the world. An unstoppable fear grows in her groin, blooming into something sharp and painful. Hawali resort really had been a bargain, hadn’t it? 

“Can’t I have more time?” Alannah protests, some part of her accepting this ending. “I…I’m not sure I’m ready.”

“You will never see with your waking eyes.”

Mother Hawali bows to Evan and Alannah, then peels her palms from her face. Beneath them: two gaping wells of darkness that suck away the light, distorting the old face around them. It’s the last thing Alannah sees while her mind races to home, her work, her old life. Her vision blurs. Her perspective tilts. She’s feeling quite detached from all those things and people. What were they but mortal trappings? What need of she to leave? She can’t remember. She has the Mother now. She has found her people. 

She has everything she needs, and it was always right before her very eyes.

Thank you for reading and listening to Awakening.

A bit of an author’s note here…this story was inspired by a Vietnamese commune I’ve visited for my tour guide work. The people there do bow, they wear the same clothes, and they all live in a shared space. There are some culty vibes, but I doubt their leader emerges from a cocoon. I haven’t seen her do so, at least…

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Until next time, Realm Walkers, I’m Zach and you’re listening to Realms.

Realms Podcast
Escape the real world for a better one. Realms produces original sci-fi and fantasy short stories and reviews - releasing once a month. Follow this podcast to get updates or subscribe at to get episodes directly in your inbox.