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Podcast / Old Gods of Appalachia

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Come for the tentacles; stay for the banjos.

I walk these hills, leave these dark valleys,
For I can't stay in the land unknown...

Old Gods of Appalachia is a horror anthology podcast telling stories from an alternate Appalachia never meant to be inhabited by humankind.

The show bills its setting as "an upside-down Appalachia": the stories it tells are based on real events in Appalachian history, and the locations where they take place based on real places in the region, but the names and details are changed, and events in the stories don't fit on a real-world timeline. The main difference of this world from our own is that the people who settled in the region were called there by Things imprisoned under the land, who reached out to miners and industrialists in hopes that they would be set free... and set free they were, and now Appalachia is filled with all manner of supernatural happenings straight out of folklore.

The show can be found on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Soundcloud, and Stitcher. Part of the Rusty Quill Network as of 2021.

This podcast contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Survivor: Being a little girl, the only things Sarah Avery can do against the monsters attacking her are run and hope that someone will come along to help. Fortunately, someone (or something) does.
  • Affably Evil: Horned Head in "The Witch Queen" never raises its voice above a soft whisper, and remains perfectly polite even while describing how it and its kind will wait however long they need to for the Dooley daughter and every other human being in Appalachia to die off, one way or another.
    • Skint Tom may be a Serial Killer who flays his victims skins from their bodies to wear as a suit, but he's still very polite and proper when meeting Marcy, Deelie, and Marigold. He even flirts with his fellow abomination, Miss Lavinia.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Or rather, eldritch beings in Appalachia.
  • Alternate History: The show's version of Appalachia has many of the names, dates, and locations changed from its real-world counterpart.
  • And I Must Scream: The Burned Things are still partially conscious, even capable of breaking out of the control temporarily. Being on fire eternally can't be fun.
  • Animalistic Abomination: The true form of Horned-Head: a massive stag with pitch-black fur, hooves covered in viscera, Glowing Eyes of Doom, and glowing antlers made of amber.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Several.
    • The Railroad Man is the personification of the railroad, specifically of the predatory, blood-fueled capitalism associated with 19th and 20th-century railroad expansion.
    • Bartholomew's human form is the personification of the Green itself.
  • Arc Villain: The Dead Queen is this for Season 2, being the one thread linking the arcs together and the one creature that is so dangerous it causes the forces of Inner Dark and the Green to unite together, being born of a collision between the two forces. Her true identity as Daughter Dooley makes her also a case of Fallen Hero.
    • The Wolf Sisters are this for the trilogy of the same name, wreaking vengeance across Appalachia.
    • The Railroad Man is this for the Walker Sisters arc of Season 2, being seemingly unrelated to the Dead Queen and the Inner Dark overall, but being deferred to by agents of the Inner Dark.
    • The Grey Ladies are this for The Holiest Days of Bone and Shadow, although their master Horned Head serves as a Greater-Scope Villain directing their actions.
    • Polly Barrow, acting as The Dragon to her father E.P. Barrow of Barrow And Locke, serves as this for almost all of Season 3.
  • Author Avatar: Though we don't know much about the character, the narrator seems to be one for the show's creator, Steve Shell.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Throughout the beginning of "Last Harbour", Dooley begins to exhibit symptoms suggesting she's pregnant, somehow, but the actual cause is revealed to be her aging in reverse, at a terrible cost.
  • Beary Friendly: Downplayed: a bear (or whatever it is in the shape of a bear) saves Sarah Avery from her possessed great-uncle, but it doesn't stick around much longer, only offering Sarah a "hrmph" before (literally) disappearing into the weeds. The same bear (in a later episode, but earlier in the show's timeline) helps Daughter Dooley/the Witch Queen save Timothy Vanover from freezing to death. She calls him Bartholomew. This is also the name he uses in his human form when recruiting the people and Things needed to re-bind the Dead Queen.
  • Big Bad: Those Who Sleep Beneath, the ultimate source of the Things and the eldritch monsters plaguing Appalachia. Their servants will do anything necessary to release them from their prison so they can consume the universe.
  • Big Good: The Green, the natural/magical immune system of the planet and the power behind the gifted witches of Appalachia, stands against the Things, as can be seen when it saves Sarah Avery in the form of a bear.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Subverted. Pinky Avery is described as a kind man before his death and resurrection, but his moment of Fighting from the Inside has him begging Sarah to let him take her so that the thing controlling him will let him go. According to Word of God, Pinky was stalling in order to give his daughter time to run away.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "The Schoolhouse", bordering on a Downer Ending: Sarah is still alive, and the Burned Things have been laid to rest... but the town is completely destroyed save for the schoolhouse, Sarah's family and Miss Annie are all dead, and Sarah still needs to fulfill her promise to whatever Thing saved her.
  • Black Speech: When Horned Head tells the Dooley daughter its true name, the word is described as feeling more like a punch than actual language, actually knocking her back. Its normal speech, on the other hand, is a more mundane case of Evil Sounds Deep.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The narrator describes the Things as such.
    Narrator: They are not evil. They are not of Hell or the Christian Devil. They simply... are.
  • Body Horror: All over the place in "Barlo, KY 1917". Being centered around a mining disaster means there's a lot of discussion about burnt and broken bodies... especially once those bodies start getting back up.
  • Botanical Abomination: The Sentinel AKA the Broken Bough, a Thing in the form of an old tree near a KKK meeting place in Esau County.
  • Broken Masquerade: Heavily implied; in the prologue, the narrator explains that the opioid addiction and alcoholism so endemic to Appalachia are because people there know what's lurking around them.
  • Came Back Wrong: The 51 non-union miners who died in the Old Number Seven Disaster were resurrected by one of the Things under the earth; Sarah Avery calls them Burned Things. Their bodies are still burnt (and in some cases, still burning), which is slowly destroying them, and they've got an obvious weakness to water, but they're still extremely dangerous. It's also contagious, as Pinky and Ed were turned into them despite not being caught in the blast, and Miss Annie was turned into one when they began attacking the town in earnest.
  • Catchphrase: The Railroad Man has one of these: "Ever onward, ever forward."
  • Cliffhanger: The first part of "Barlo, KY 1917" ends with this, with the resurrected Pinky Avery lunging for his daughter.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Appalachia is right at the center of one. Ancient, powerful beings older than humanity? Check. These beings waking when humans Dug Too Deep? Yep. A general sense of futility in the face of such horrors? You bet.
  • Cool Old Lady: Any Green witch that lives long enough is this by default, with Glory Ann Boggs being one of the most notable examples.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Horned-Head's attempts to lure the Dooley daughter out of her protective circle only ever take place at night.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Some of the people of Barlo aren't too bothered in the first place by the Old Number Seven Disaster since many of the deceased were scabs, and they could care even less that many of them were African-Americans looking for work. Lampshaded by the narrator:
    Narrator: It's hard to believe you could segregate a place so small, but... there you are.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: A benign example: at the end of "The Schoolhouse", the narrator explains that the story doesn't end there, jokingly asking if the listeners really believed that an entire mining crew could rise from the dead all on their own.
  • Dug Too Deep: The cause of all the strangeness; see Eldritch Abomination below.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Mining activities in Appalachia unleashed the Deep Things, who are themselves the servants of the even darker beings that have been imprisoned deep beneath the region for eons. Several appear over the course of the main series and its Patreon-exclusive mini-series. They are, in no particular order, as follows:
    • Horned-Head, described by his peers as a "traveling salesman" for the Things. He takes the form of an enormous black stag with a crown of antlers that glow with a foul amber light, and he seeks to tempt those possessed of supernatural power into self-destructive contracts.
    • Granny White, who takes the form of a blind old albino woman, and who maintains a vast property full of restless spirits. Behind her rose-colored glasses, she conceals a pair of mouths where she would have eyes. She seeks to bind a great many people to her land and take them as sacrifices during grandiose "true harvest" festivals.
    • The Swarm, the eldest of the Deep Things. He takes the form of a mining representative whose skin quivers with the presence of a thousand concealed insects. He is presently in a greatly weakened state, and is affiliated with B&L Mineral Resources.
    • The Sentinel, a half-slumbering and well-concealed Deep Thing who takes the form of a grotesque, rot-eaten tree. It draws its power from the dozens of people the Esau county Ku Klux Klan hang from its great, broken bough.
    • Old Copperhead, whose form is exactly what it sounds like. His peers regard him as an insignificant, pitiful creature, one who typically preys on the foolish and inexperienced. He traffics in arcane secrets of modest significance, luring in disaffected novices with the promise of forbidden knowledge.
    • Old Green Eyes, who takes the form of a black cloud with, you guessed it, green eyes. He is affiliated with the Locke family of B&L, who are known for their piercing green eyes and inhuman longevity.
    • Each of the Deep Things, in turn, are capable of creating their own abominable servants, from Horned-Head's lamprey-like hunters to Granny White's pale, silent envoys. Several Deep Things have demonstrated the ability to whip up a horde of weak, undead abominations in a pinch, as well.
  • Eldritch Location: Appalachia itself is this, what with the whole "prison for eldritch horrors" thing.
  • Eye Scream: After Miss Annie gets turned into a Burned Thing, her eyes get burned out and the skin over them cauterized, blinding her. That's not even getting into the description of the corpses of the miners.
  • Enemy Mine: Thus far, only one thing has proven dangerous enough to both the Inner Dark and the Green for them to work together to stop it: the rising of the Dead Queen.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Skint Tom, Miss Lavinia, and the Unnamed Woman introduced in the penultimate episode of season 2 are all abominations that gleefully prey on humans and their suffering, but all three are willing to work alongside witches of the Green to seal the Dead Queen back in her grave, with Tom even sacrificing himself so Marcy's work isn't interrupted.
  • Evil, Inc.: Barrow and Locke Mining and Rail Combine has deals in place with several Things, corporate heads and workers that are no longer fully human, and designs on the lands in Appalachia that are sacred to Green practitioners.
  • Fantasy Americana: A story of monsters and ancient beings set against the backdrop of the Appalachia region, both the good side and the bad.
  • Fighting Irish: The Dooley daughter has a strong Irish accent, and while she doesn't do any fighting, she's skilled in witchcraft and she doesn't take any shit from the Thing pretending to be her parents.
  • Gaia's Lament: The second interlude, "Let There Be Green", is an extended one where a sleepwalking Sarah Avery, still asleep from the end of "The Schoolhouse", transcribes a mysterious poem from her dreams into a composition book left in the schoolhouse by someone named Daniel Calloway. It talks about how mankind has tainted Appalachia with their industry, and wishes for it to once again be "whole, green, and blessedly empty".
  • Gorn: Oh so much of it in "Barlo, KY 1917". The phrase "viscous running of gelatinous tears" (which is used to refer to eyes) comes to mind.
    Narrator: If the Bible had had the Number Seven Disaster in it, Hell would been a lot more convincing.
  • Graceful Loser: Horned-Head is not happy about spending 140 years bound to a rotting human corpse, but still mentions upon his resurrection in 1935 that he has no plans to take revenge upon the Daughter Dooley for defeating him, stating that "she's earned it."
  • Happily Married: Edith and Kathryn Dooley were a well-adjusted couple, and other than the narration sarcastically calling them "sisters" as a nod to how they likely would have had to hide their sexuality back then, there's no indication of any strife, even as they were forced out of their hometown under suspicion of witchcraft.
  • Happy Rain: When it's a magically-induced rain meant to kill flaming undead, then yeah, it's a pretty happy occasion. Of course, Sarah Avery's in no fit state to celebrate.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The scream of the Burned Things as they're killed by the rain is... disturbing.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Daughter Dooley's mothers Edith and Kathryn are referred to as "sisters" by the narrator in a way that makes their actual relationship quite clear.
  • Historical Domain Character: Due to being an Alternate History, several of them appear throughout the podcast, usually those whose life was wrapped in legends.
    • The Walker clan is based on the Walker sisters, five spinster sisters living in the Great Smoky Mountains and who became legendary due to their continuation of a 19th century lifestyle well into the 20th century, and their refusal to move out of their ancestral home around which a national park was built.
    • Glory Ann Boggs seems to have been inspired by the case of Annie Boggs, also known as Lacy Ann Boggs, an old woman believed to have been a witch and who was murdered in 1901 in the town of Booger Hole. Her unsolved case led to local ghost stories.
    • Miss Lavinia might be a reference to Lavinia Fisher, a historical figure heralded by legends as the first female American serial-killer.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Burned Things, resurrected humans killed by a mining explosion. One Burned Thing, Sasha's great-uncle Ed, gets one of his eyes replaced by an ember, and whatever's controlling them can punish them severely for Fighting from the Inside: some force like an invisible hand grinds Pinky Avery into the road, and Ed's consciousness is simply wiped from his body.
    • There's something unsettling and inhuman about Ignatious Combs, or rather, a whole lot of things.
    • Horned Head as Elder Henry, as well as his servants the Grey Ladies.
    • Granny White appears outwardly human but is really a Deep Thing known as the Hungry Mother.
    • The Railroad Man at first seems to be a suave businessman in an impeccable suit, but he quickly demonstrates power and perspective that marks him as inhuman.
    • Whatever Jack of the Woods really is, he's far too old to be a person.
  • Immortality: Offered to the Dooley daughter by Horned-Head in the Gainax Ending of "The Witch Queen".
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Young Sarah Avery manages to survive the events of "Barlo, KY 1917", even when the entire rest of the town does not. Granted, she was protected by The Green, but still.
    • Averted multiple times over the course of The Boys, though they don't exactly stay dead. Cletus' children are no exception either.
  • Insignificant Blue Planet: After nearly destroying the universe, the Things were imprisoned on a "backwater planet" so that no one could ever find them. That didn't work out.
  • Invisible Monsters: Sarah Avery is chased by a pack of invisible bear-sized things that ransacked her house. Oddly enough, they're implied to have no connection to whatever created the Burned Things.
  • Kill It with Water: The Burned Things, as their name suggests, are quite vulnerable to water. When Sarah begs the forest to "take it back", a massive rainstorm suddenly breaks that wipes them all out.
  • Laughably Evil: Skint Tom is a sadist who murders innocents and wears their skin for kicks, as well as a servant of Those Who Sleep Beneath. He also manages to be disarmingly funny.
  • Lovecraft Country: Further to the Southwest than the usual New England, but this version of Appalachia may as well be an outsize version of Dunwich and its environs.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When the narrator is describing the ruins of the Barlo schoolhouse, he says that "the roof is... not", by which he means that it's more holes than roof by now.
  • Nerves of Steel: Lightly deconstructed with Sarah Avery, who is all but stated to be running purely on adrenaline for much of the episode in which she stars. Invisible monsters are one thing, but the burning, animate corpses of her family are something entirely other, and by the time her great-uncle attacks her, she's lost all strength and simply stands there, not knowing where else to go. When the bear saves her, she just faints.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Old women in Appalachia tend to have a lot more steel in them than can be seen at first glance. Sheila Walker, Glory Ann Boggs, Marigold Underwood and Granny White are just a few examples.
  • Noodle Incident: The first couple dozen episodes frequently mention one that took place in Baker's Gap, referred to simply as "that business with the Railroad Man and the local magistrate." Episode 22 onward begins to fill us in on exactly what happened.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Dooley daughter has one in "The Witch Queen" when she realizes that not only is Horned-Head telling the truth about how long it can wait for her to die, but it's not going to wait that long.
  • Only One Name: There aren't any records of the name of Edith and Katherine Dooley's daughter.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Reanimated flaming corpses killed in a mining disaster with something of their consciousness remaining is pretty different.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Dooley's immortality comes at the cost of the lives of those around her.
  • Papa Wolf: When Sarah's great-uncle Ed briefly regains control from whatever turned him into a Burned Thing, he orders Sarah to run, finally yelling "I SAID RUN, GIRL!" before he completely loses himself and attacks her. Contrast that with Pinky's reaction detailed above.
  • Public Domain Character: Plenty, as the series is based on the folklore and legends of Appalachia.
    • Skint Tom is based on the Tennessee bogeyman Skinned Tom, at the heart of his own urban legend.
    • As it turns out, J.T. Fields is Jack. Jack, the folk-hero of the Jack tales. While the show mentions his most famous British tales, from the Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale to the Jack jumped over the candlestick nursery rhyme, the "Jack tales" are an integral part of Appalachian folklore, carrying on from the English tradition.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Inverted: when Horned-Head tries to trick the Dooley daughter into coming out of her protective circle by impersonating her dead parents, the daughter catches on and manages each time to trick the creature into saying something her parents would never say.
  • Special Edition Title: None of the interludes have an intro song, and, rather than using "I Cannot Escape The Darkness" by Those Poor Bastards as their outro, use "God's Dark Heaven" by the same band.
  • Title Drop: A rather terrifying one in the prologue, as the narrator rants about how the rest of the world only sees Appalachia's destitution and failure and knows not why, while the residents know how grim things truly are in their home...
    Narrator: For generations, the outside world has looked at us and wondered why we never really climbed out of these hollers, wondered why we do reject outsiders, why we bind ourselves to industries that destroy us, why we drown ourselves in pills and the bliss of ignorance. They see us feed ourselves to the earth like martyrs, they see us dig into the mines, watch our fortunes rise and fall, cave in and burn. They don't understand how short the days are here, how these mountains swaddle us in an early darkness. They don't see how little sunlight we actually get, and they don't see the shadows stir, don't hear the lost hymns that haunt these hillsides, don't hear the prayers that rise up in the night, prayers raised to a god on high... and fall back down to feed the old gods of Appalachia that sleep below. Which is fitting. First come, first served.
  • Time Abyss: The Things are older than humanity itself, and at least as old as Appalachia.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: Appalachia is full of these after humanity Dug Too Deep.
  • Trickster God: Jack of the Woods is impossibly old and while he's not evil as such, he's endlessly self-interested and capricious. He's also implied to be both Anansi and Coyote.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Appalachia. Doesn't get much darker than a full complement of Eldritch Abominations.
  • Undead Abomination: The Burned Things double as both Humanoid Abomination and this.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: In the intro to "The Path To The World of Men", the narrator talks about "the Low Things and the Deep Things" that were awoken by coal mining, but remarks that those are for later.
  • Verbal Tic: The Railroad Man frequently ends his sentences with one of these, mmyes?
  • The Virus: The Burned Things can turn anyone they kill into another one of themselves.
  • Wild Wilderness: Appalachia is depicted as this: sprawling miles of deep dark forests filled with things and places mankind was never meant to find.
  • Wise Serpent: Old Copperhead is a Deep Thing that takes the form of a huge snake and is renowned for its promises of sharing its vast knowledge of all things (even the future) for a price. Whilst derided by its fellow Deep Things as weak and unimpressive, it is never the less a charming, dangerous, and manipulative predator with it leading many unassuming victims along with its teases of hidden knowledge until they unwittingly walk into its trap. In the special Build Mama A Coffin he expertly seduces the mentally handicapper Daniel Boggs with promises of power, respect, and knowledge the boy desires and comes within a hairs width of devouring Glory Anne Bogs body.
  • The Worm That Walks: The Swarm taking the form of Ignatious Combs.