Shaken is the third episode of the first season of The Penumbra Podcast, and the first one-shot episode of the season. It was released April 12, 2016.
WARNING: Shaken is a horror story with a focus on dark, unsettling situations and some descriptions and sound design that listeners may find disturbing.
Louise Serling is a talented young painter with a bright future and promising artistic career in front of her. But Louise’s family history holds a dreadful secret; can she conceal it from the world, or will the truth shake her life to its very foundations?
- Self harm
- Body horror
The narrator describes the changing of the seasons from summer to fall, explaining that fall can mark the the new beginnings. One such new beginning is happening for painter Louise Serling, age 22, who is out to dinner celebrating the arrival of a letter from the Gibson Gallery with her father and boyfriend, John. John bids her to read the letter again, which recounts how Louise had presented a portrait of her deceased mother to them the previous Saturday, and the Gibson Gallery found the concept of a series of portraits of her dead mother so "bold" they have offered her a spot to show more work in their gallery in six months during spring. Louise is humble, but John encourages her to feel proud of herself. John then suddenly notices an acquaintance in the restaurant and leaves the table to tell them about Louise's success.
While he is gone, Louise apologizes to her father, saying she knows it can't be easy for him to celebrate her work when it features her dead mother. Her father disagrees and says that the portrait is beautiful. He pours himself another glass, and Louise protests because he's already had several drinks, but he cuts her off, beginning to ramble about her mother. He tells Louise that her portrait really does capture her mother and that he's surprised she was able to recreate her through just photographs. Louise interjects that she does remembers her mother, but only a little. She says she hopes that the other portraits she plans to do won't "bother" him too much and that he doesn't need to look at them if they make her upset. Her father pours another drink, and despite Louise's protests he continues to drink and rant about her mother. He recalls how Louise's mother was an artist as well, but that she never gained recognition. She did amazing sculptures, and even got an offer of commission, but developed a strange affliction that caused her body to shake. The shaking made it impossible for her mother to sculpt, and eventually got worse and worse until eventually she died. Louise's father says it was a genetic condition that had affected Louise's maternal grandmother as well.
John returns and says he has two surprises. One is that he ordered food ahead of time, and it has already arrived. Louise asks what the other is, and John suggests they wait until they are in private. Louise insists that John tell her now, and he proposes marriage. Louise is thrilled and gives her his hand for him to place the engagement ring. The narrator cuts in, talking about the shaking winds of autumn and the endless cold of winter. As the narrator speaks, John notices that Louise's hand is shaking. Louise insists that she's just excited about the engagement and her gallery showing.
Time passes, and the narrator explains that winter is ending, and spring is beginning, along with promises that must be kept. A phone rings. Mr. Gibson of the Gibson Gallery is calling to remind Louise that her portraits are two days late. Louise begs for more time, telling Mr. Gibson that she is almost done and is just putting on the finishing touches, promising that they'll be ready by morning. Mr. Gibson warns her that reputations can break down easily in the art world and that failing to produce her work for a gallery could destroy her budding art career. He gives Louise until 7am the following day to deliver her work. The narrator tells us that six months have passed quickly. Louise has spent most of her time in her mother's workshop. The workshop contains her mother's sculptures she completed before she died, but Louise finds them unnerving and has turned them all the face the wall. The original portrait of her mother hangs behind four canvases. Despite what Louise has told Mr. Gibson, all four canvases are still blank.
John knocks on the door. He tells Louise that a chef has brought by samples of wedding cake to try. Louise refuses to join him and eat, citing that she has to stay skinny for her gallery showing tomorrow and for their eventual wedding. She apologizes to John, saying it's a bad time. John apologizes as well, but Louise snaps at him, telling him to stop apologizing. John tells her he's been talking to her father and tries to ask about her hands. Louise quickly cuts him off, telling him to close the door. When he continues anyway, Louise pushes on the door herself, and John is injured. She apologizes, and John begs her not to tire itself. She promises she'll leave the studio as soon as she finishes.
The narrator cuts in, saying that she has said she will "finish" time and time again, but that her hands won't stop shaking. Louise tries to reason with herself, saying that she has plenty of time to paint and that she can paint despite the shaking. The narrator reveals that Louise's shaking has gotten worse every night. In her desperation to fix her hands, Louise has been warming water in the studio to warm her hands. After soaking her hands in hot water, Louise begins to think of her mother and starts to sketch. She recalls her mother's passion for art and grieves the idea of losing her own art. Before she can get too far, her wrists and arms begin to shake. Louise agonizes and wishes there was a way to keep herself still long enough to paint a portrait. Glancing around the studio, Louise notices the vice her mother kept with her tools. Louise moves her paints and canvas over to the vice. She tries to reason that the vice won't hurt too bad if she's careful. A bell rings, and Louise realizes she only has 10 hours to finish her painting. Placing herself in the vice, Louise begins to work. She begins to ramble to herself as she paints, talking about how she can overcome the shaking and that her mother only died because she gave up her art to recuperate. She criticizes her parents for seeking medical treatment and says she'll overcome this, but as she talks, her arms begin to shake again.
The narrator voices her determination to make this work. Louise tightens the vice, breaking bones until her arms stops shaking. Despite the pain Louise is triumphant, but then agonizes as the shaking starts again anyway. She cries out and draws John's attention. He begins banging on the door, asking if she's alright. Louise insists that she's fine. John begs her to unlock the door, but Louise refuses. He leaves, but Louise knows he'll come back and take her to a doctor. She believes that she'll end up confined to a bed and never paint again if he sees her shake. As she muses to herself, she hears the whistling of the kettle. Louise had set it to be warmed in the fireplace, but the bowl falls and breaks. Without a bowl, Louise has no container to let the water cool. John begins to pound on the door again, and Louise says to herself that she is running out of time. Desperate to stop John from seeing her shake, she plunges her hands into the boiling water.
John uses a key to come into the studio. He is horrified to see the state Louise is in, but holds her close and assures her that he'll help her fix this. Louise begs him to leave and says she'll finish her paintings. John, shocked, forces her to look at her hands, and Louise realizes that the skin is severely burned, and that she has broken her hand in the vice. John says he'll take her to a doctor, cancel the gallery, and postpone the wedding. Louise claws at his face and yells at him, saying that he doesn't care about her art and that taking her to the doctor will kill her. John tells her that he loves her, but Louise throws a canvas at him and he leaves reluctantly. Louise begins to thrash around the studio, breaking all her mother's sculptures one-by-one. She then stares up at the smiling portrait of her mother. She imagines people admiring the painting and commenting on how "tragic" it is that Louise was never able to create other works of art. Ranting about how she won't let herself lose her art career, she takes a knife to the portrait and slashes at it relentlessly. Eventually, the canvas comes loose from the wall and crashes onto Louise as she screams.
John answers a knock at the door. A Dr. Collins comes in and greets John and Louise's father. Dr. Collins says he has Louise's results, but questions why John asked for them in the first place, as he describes Louise's case as "open and shut". Mr. Sterling cuts in, saying that John is a "damn fool" who can't accept that Louise inherited her mother's condition and that there is nothing he could have done. He speaks knowingly about the idea of waking up everyday and blaming himself and says that he paid Dr. Collins to do an examination to spare John of that. Dr. Collins apologizes and begins reading the results of his post-mortem exam.
Dr. Collins recounts that Louise Serling died of blood loss caused by the severing of arteries in her neck. Mr. Serling cuts him off, telling him to skip to the part where he found evidence of Louise's genetic condition that would have caused her to shake. Dr. Collins reluctantly reveals that Louise Serling had no such illness and was in perfect health. He found no evidence or basis for what might have caused her psychotic break. When pressed, Dr. Collins admits that the shaking could have been caused by low blood sugar due to lack of eating.
The narrator concludes by revealing that the tattered remains of Louise's portrait of her mother is still hung in a gallery in tribute to Louise. Despite its age as the seasons pass, her mother's smile is still intact. The narrator describes the viewers whispering their lament of how "tragic" the painting is and that Louise could have done so much more if she lived.
Cast and Crew
- Kate Jones as The Narrator
- Sophie Kaner as Louise Serling
- Noah Simes as John
- Joshua Ilon as Mr. Serling
- Dan Squizzero as Mr. Gibson and Dr. Collins