Aaron’s Mahnke’s Grim & Mild is either a true cottage industry or one of the biggest names in independent podcasting, depending on who you ask – maybe they’re both! I listen to a bunch of their shows, and have tried a few others; they’re not all for me, but some of them one.
One of their projects since 2020 has been 13 Days of Halloween, which starts each year on October 19 and releases an episode a day through Halloween. I started listening in 2021 and went back to listen to the 2020 series after last year’s. This year’s series was the most ambitious – and longest – yet.
The basic framework is that the main character is thrust into an unusual environment, often with a guide of some sort, and they listen to the spookystories of the people they encounter along the way. The first season, “Hawthorne Manor”, in which the listener is guided by a caretaker (played by Keegan-Michael Key) who is searching for something in the manor, is a pure distillation of this form, in which the ongoing narrative is little more than a simple framing sequence.
The second season, “The Sea”, is about a woman who wakes up on the beach of a mysterious town and is guided by another woman through the town in a journey of discovery. (The credits on the web site do a poor job of explaining who plays who, but the two main characters are played by Kathy Najimy and Bethany Anne Lind.)
The third season, “Devil’s Night”, concerns a boy, Max (Carter Rockwood), who gets lost on Halloween night in his rural town (it’s implied this takes place in the first half of the 20th century) and is aided by a mysterious figure (Clancy Brown) as he tries to get back home through the surreal landscape.
This season, “Penance”, is about Sayuri (Natalie Morales), a young woman who is abducted and locked up in the Pendleton Rehabilitation Center without being told why. She makes friends, adjusts to life in the combination prison/institution, and over the course of many months tries to figure out how to escape.
This season breaks with the strict format of the first three seasons: Some episodes have more than one story from other characters, some have none, and some Sayuri is directly involved in. She has both higher stakes personally, and more agency, than protagonists in the previous seasons. Her personality reminded me a lot of Mallory in Greater Boston, if Mallory were placed in a scenario where she had little control over her day-to-day life. The season does have more implied violence and gore than past seasons, as far as I can recall.
Overall it was a really successful season, though I imagine the ending might be a bit divisive. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, it almost feels like it it wasn’t quite finished, but for a spooky Halloween tale maybe that was the point. It did leave me a little confused about the title of the season, though, as it’s not clear to me who was doing penance for what.
I’m not sure how they’ll top this one next year. Though I hope this is about where the length of the episodes peak; this was a lot to keep up with on a daily basis. (I’m still playing catch-up with my other regular podcasts that release episodes over the past two weeks!)
Anyway, if you are looking for some creepy, haunting tales around this time of year, keep this one in mind in the future.