FRIDAY afternoon, I’m twelve, and I’m rushing back home with dreams of hot cocoa and after-school-snacks. In the living room, my brother is watching something on TV. The little old guy on the screen immediately catches my attention; he is crying his soul out as he sits around piles and piles of books on a deserted landscape, searching for his glasses. I’m watching the last couple of minutes of “Time Enough At Last,” one of the finest Twilight Zone episodes ever written.
I remember thinking to myself, “gee, this show is unlike nothing I’ve ever heard of! Who comes up with stuff like this?”
Even though the show was in black and white, and most of the actors were probably either in their eighties by then or maybe even dead, I simply couldn’t get enough Twilight Zone after seeing that scene.
The stories portrayed there left an everlasting impression on me, as I’m sure they did on millions of others worldwide. Fiction podcasts are doing precisely that for an entire generation of young listeners; they are the doorway to the world of fantasy and fiction.
Rivaling media giants like Netflix or Disney+ in imaginative storytelling and production quality, some of these small “radio” shows are quietly transcending their own medium’s boundaries.
That is the case for this latest original production from Free Bundle Magazine: “Through The Gates of Madness,” a story filled with gasp-worthy suspense and just the right amount of terror.
Campfire stories for grown-ups
The Cabrera Brothers did an outstanding job creating a unique kind of publication with their Free Bundle Magazine. When flipping through its virtual pages, one can’t hardly help feeling the thrill of the old pulps mixing with today’s fast-paced fiction — and they have just set the playing field to do the same with their podcasts.
This is how they introduce us to “Through The Gates of Madness.”
A strange door surfaces in the middle of the South Pole. Nobody knows how it got there. Nobody knows what’s behind. Walter Gibson, a seasoned war correspondent, will be joining a group of scientists from every nation to find out. Grab your gear and accompany Walter as he walks… Through The Gates of Madness.
Like stories throw around a campfire, the fiction podcast scene is slowly curating itself. Only the very best survive, and from those, only a handful grow into other properties, like live-action series on popular streaming services and even full-featured movies.
But some creators go beyond the latest trends and use the medium to transform the medium itself. It becomes a mixture of art and storytelling. It becomes exciting. Unique. That is the case for “Through the Gates of Madness.”
With over twenty-eight minutes of edited audio drama and an unprecedented amount of sounds captured in the South Pole that range from real-life snowstorms to footsteps over the arctic snow, the small team under the direction of the Cabrera Brothers Company created an enthralling audio drama for their digital magazine.
I recently had the chance to sit down with writer Javier Cabrera to discuss their magazine’s marketing campaign and couldn’t help learn more about the brothers’ approach to podcasts.
AH: Where did the idea of developing an original podcast series for the magazine originated?
JC: Well, we have always toyed with the idea of doing something related to radio. We grew up on the original War of the Worlds broadcast by Orson Wells, the Star Wars radio series, with Mark Hamill and some of the cast from the original trilogy. The Goosebumps audio dramas, the one from the Twilight Zone TV series — you name it, there were dozens of those back when we were growing up. Then, for some reason, blame it on the Internet or cable Television, they just disappeared.
So, when we first published the Free Bundle Magazine about two years ago, we thought, “Hey, look at all these wonderful stories we have. What if we can record some of those into a podcast format?”. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but that was kind of how it happened.
AH: Why the South Pole, of all places?
JC: Well, the idea was to actually go and do the recording there but —
JC: It didn’t work (laughs). We made the trip, though.
Yeah, it is a true story. We packed all our audio gear and went to this beautiful place called Tierra del Fuego, that’s in Argentina. Jules Verne wrote about it in his novel “Le phare du bout du monde” (The Lighthouse at the End of the World). We mixed some of the episode there and all the voice acting was done online by several fantastic voice talents we have been very fortunate to work with.
Still, we wanted to give the first episode a taste of the South Pole, so many of the sounds we ended up using come from real recordings. We have a few friends who happened to have recordings from researchers who actually flown there a couple of years ago.
AH: That’s amazing. I could hear the wind hitting the glass on the car window in my headphones.
JC: Many of the sounds you will probably never hear in your life unless you fly down there. When I wrote the story, I wanted to create the same feeling of despair I felt from some of Lovecraft’s early works, particularly in The Silver Key. I didn’t want to make it into a narrative episode, though, which would have been the more obvious choice for something like this looking back at how difficult it was to produce but, I wanted to experiment with the format.
AH: And it paid off, it sounds incredible.
JC: Thank you.
AH: You mentioned Lovecraft.
JC: Well, yes, having been a gamer all my life, I played the heck out of an adventure game called Prisoner of Ice by Infogrames. They are the same who created the Alone in the Dark games. No one talked about Lovecraft outside the literature circles before those guys made these games. All this Lovecraft revival craziness going on, that “Lovecraft Country” TV series and the plush toys, the South Park episodes, well, we need to start thanking Infogrames for that. They were the first ones to do it.
Anyway, I loved the game, and I love weird fiction in general, so I knew we had to launch with something that could tie the two together. I wrote a story about a door that appears out of nowhere in the middle of the South Pole, and no one knows what’s behind it.
AH: It is interesting that you brought up H. P. Lovecraft because he happens to be one of those short story writers I can’t seem to get enough from. Thanks to him I started reading Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Anton Chekhov… can you talk about what styles influenced you and your writing style?
JC: We actually featured one of Chekhov stories on the first issue of the Magazine, The Shoemaker and the Devil, one of my favorites. Lovecraft was a significant influence, of course.
I make sure to always carry around anything written by Harlan Ellison with me; you can’t leave home unarmed. You will find stacks of Ray Bradbury, Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Matheson, Robert E. Howard and Herman Melville on my desk. I try to read something by Robert Louis Stevenson, Frank Miller, Maurice Leblanc, or Lovecraft, at least once or twice a month, you know.
They have all influenced my writing style, in one way or another, consciously and subconsciously. I will never stop admiring and learning from them.
AH: I listened to Through The Gates of Madness for the fourth time now, and I still can’t imagine how you guys will do the second part after that ending. Will there be a second part, right?
JC: It sure will. We have planed at least two more episodes about the fate of Walter Gibson. His fate and what transpires during “Through The Gates of Madness” is inscrutably tied down to another intellectual property we are developing as a gaming studio (which is how Cabrera Brothers began).
Alessandra Horton is a freelance writer and editor. You can read her in places like Medium. She is currently taking an indefinite hiatus from Twitter.