Dr. DuSan And The Case Of The Walled Up Rat

This Week’s Prompt:68. Murder discovered—body located—by psychological detective who pretends he has made walls of room transparent. Works on fear of murderer.

The Research:Hold Fast!

The moment I heard the car pulling up to my small country house, I knew that Dr. DuSan had arrived at last. It had been sometime since a case of any sort had come to the pair of us—a time of quite on the eternal front, I thought. Surely, this was the sun rising to reveal the latest offense on common decency. I opened the door just before he knocked, pack ready and supplies on hand, face flush with excitement that comes with calamity.

Shall we be off?” I asked, smiling with my coat half on and my umbrella in hand. Dr. DuSan looked a tad startled behind his old glasses, but smiled almost reluctantly.

Well, if you are in such a hurry, I suppose we can get the necessary hospitality from our guests…” Dr. DuSan said, stepping back as I made my way to the familiar black car.

So, what have they found this time? A body with no finger prints? A stabbed man, in a locked room? Some ghastly butchery with a surgeon’s eye?” I asked, pen and pad ready to take note of any and all unusual behaviors or markings that had been discovered.

They? What they? Oh, the police. No, Mr. Leeman, this is not an official consultation.” Dr. DuSan said as we wound down the roads of the countryside off to London, the oldest hive and grandest of diabolical hives. “We are going to make a house call for a dear associate of mine, of no intreast to any member of law enforcement.”

A house call?” I asked, blinking at the page. I knew Dr. DuSan kept a private practice, knowledgable as he was on the many ills and maladies of the body and mind. Still, his clients were more often friends in the fields then those in town.

A friend, one who I have not heard from in some time.” Dr. DuSan said, with a nod. “Mister Cornelius Gorgian is of course not the most frequent of my correspondents, but I hope this meeting to be quite informative.”

Ah, and you came to my house because…?” I asked, resigned that there was no great marvel to be had on this excursion.

My dear Leeman, I took you as the curious and learned sort. Mr. Gorgian is quite the curiosity, the sort that is invaluable to the able and intelligent mind. You will find his company most enlightening I hope.” Dr. DuSan said.

London1-altered.png

Our conversation the rest of the drive avoided the topic of this ambiguous Mr. Gorgian. Instead, as we came into the city of London proper, politics and its many slanders and scandals occupied the discussion with a brief diverison into some strange notions regarding Puck in Midsummer’s Night Dream. In the end, we arrived at the relatively small house—for one Dr. DuSan’s friends anyway. Clattering the iron gate open, the good doctor hooked the brass knocker on his cane and rapped three times.

A young man came to the door, his office uniform partially unbuttoned and his tie loose. He smiled nervously, and extended a hand.

Hello, um, can I help? Morgan Mandrake at your service.”

Ah! Yes, yes, Mr. Mandrake. Mr. Gorgian spoke of you.” Dr DuSan said, returning the hand shake. “Quite the careful student, I hear. Or at least enough that the good sir sees you daily and nightly. Is he around?”

I’m afraid Mr. Gorgian is out for the day on business.” Morgan said, moving to close the door. “I can take a message–”

No, no, I believe I will wait for our meeting. It was quite important. Does he still have that green tea, in the blue tin?” Dr. DuSan said, putting his foot in the doorframe and moving past Morgan with a second step into the house.

Um, well, he has some yes, but like I said—” Morgan said raising his hand in objection.

Wondrous! A cup for me and for Leeman here.” Dr. DuSan said, looking around a bit. Confused, Morgan went to the kitchen, and Dr. DuSan gestured for me to take a seat. A wry look came over his face for a moment.

Ah, to the left—left—there you are sir.” Dr. DuSan said, hearing the shuffling of various items in the pantry.

I beg you pardon?” Morgan said, after starting the kettle.

Hm? Oh, it is a gift of mine—most useful, truly. It was the topic of our meeting today. You see, to me, the walls of a house are like rolling water—translucent and almost transparent. With a bit of focus, I can make out anything within or behind them.” Dr. DuSan said, smiling, before walking over to the north wall and tapping it’s top. “Here, for instance, you will find a poor rodent that was trapped and has died of starvation among the pipes.”

Truly?” Morgan said, tilting around the corner to get a better look at the sot to which Dr. DuSan pointed.

Get yourself a hammer, and you’ll find him back there. Or rather, forget the hammer. Come, Leeman, get a stool and take my cane. A good sharp blow should find us the poor soul.” Dr. DuSan said, gesturing over. I picked up a stool, confused as I took the cane in hand. It was weighty on the top—in more than one case, it’s shillelagh like construction had saved our skin. Standing atop an ottoman, I struck the wall hard and fast, the wood cracked and splitenerd.

Astounding…” I muttered as I removed the small dead rodent from the wall with the cane. “Truly astounding.”

Yes, testing the limits of my capacity was to be our subject today. And still will be, I hope, for he cannot be too far off.” Dr. DuSan said, taking his tea without sitting down. I stared down for a moment before hoping to the floor. It was a most peculair talent—I had no idea as of yet how Dr. DuSan had known the rat’s presence, or why he persisted with the ruse, but for now I played along.

Hm, well, that is a fascinating quirk. But as I said, Mr. Gorgian is out for the day, perhaps longer, and I can take his–” Morgan said, grimacing at the sight of the dead rat.

Nonsense, we’ll take our time. Don’t worry, my good friend, we won’t bash down anymore walls.” Dr. DuSan said nodding, along. “Just finishing our tea, and see if he returns.”

My good sir, please, I have studies to read and I cannot attend to both them and you today. If you wish, I will inform Mr. Gorgian of your visit.” Morgan said, more insistently this time.

Well, I know when hospitality has been retracted. Me and Mr. Leeman will finish our tea and take our leave…But please, I left some belongings here last time I visited. Allow me to collect them, and we shall be on our way.” Dr. DuSan said, gesturing up the stairs. Morgan took a sharp breath and a sigh, before gesturing in the affirmative, albiet with an implication of impatience.

Dr. DuSan gesutred me up the stairs, tapping the walls occasionally with his cane, whistling as he went. We collected a bag and some books he had left behind, Morgan watching us irritably. Every now and then. Dr. DuSan glanced over his shoulder to meet our former host’s gaze while walking about, in no hurry to accede to his demands that we leave the premise.

LondonHouse-altered.png

After about an hour of touring the upper floor, in search of his remaining bags, Dr. DuSan at last left. We packed into the car, tipped our hats to Mr. Mandrake, and thanked him for the tea. As we drove down the city streets, a single question eventually came over me.

The point of all that, Leeman, was to confirm a suspicions. Now, with some accuracy, I can inform the authorities of Mr. Gorgian’s murder.” Dr. DuSan said.

Murder? What on earth has you say that?”

Listen, Leeman—Mr. Mandrake assured me that Cornelius Gorgian had left town for sometime. A fact I do not doubt. However, he did not contend with my claim that we had arranged a meeting—no doubt by then he was more focused on vacating our eyes from the premises. Further, he was greatly concerned at our topic matter—the discovery of a dead rat. Tell me, Leeman, who knows the inside of a house better than a rat?”

Well, no one I suppose.” I said, thinking for a moment.

Very likely no one. For a rat to die the way it did, it was not happenstance. No, rather, the walls had been altered lately, such that it’s preferred pathway was blocked. I had my suspicions when I noticed the wall thinner at it’s point of entrapment—there were small marks along the ceiling, as if some creature were struggling to get out.”

Of course…”

Now, then, determining were Cornelius’s body was, that required a bit more work. My first clue was his calmness in greeting us. He was convinced we would not locate it—so I reasoned the body was well hidden already. Now, in London, a burial at night would be difficult to hide and there is little room for such things. So, I tested a theory. The location of Cornelius’s teas are well known to me, as are the difficulties of his kitchen. Thus, I set the first test of my memory.

When he returned, I saw the nerves of Mr. Mandrake—he grew more insistent after a display of my ‘abilities’. So I made sure to check his expression at every turn. The face, and the eyes, my good Leeman, are in fact windows into the soul. And so, our Mr. Mandrake gave away his guilt. For I saw, as I approached the hallway wall, his eyes dilated like a doe caught by the huntsman. Now, I did deduce more of the case from the blows of my shillelagh. The wall resounded slightly off in a number of places. I concluded that the mangled body of Mr. Gorgian was in fact scattered through the walls—as the authorities will discover no doubt.”

Ah, so that was why you kept—”

Yes Leeman. A bit of psychology, biology, and wit can uncover even such a cunning mind.”

It did not occur to me, not until Dr. DuSan was explaining himself over the phone, that one questioned remained unanswered. How had he known to make the house call at all? Certainly, I reasoned, he might have noticed a lack of correspondence. But if this Cornelius Gorgian was gone long, so would have others. A creeping unease came over me, as Dr. DuSan returned, having left his anonymous tip with the constable.


 

This story I think veers more into something of a mystery more than a true horror story. There is something unsettling about it I hope, but it is more in the delivery then anything else. All in all, I enjoyed writing it, and think the ending question could be expanded in later works.

Next week, we join mad revelers and don terrible masks as we see to startle and reveal!

 

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Hold Fast!

This Week’s Prompt: 68. Murder discovered—body located—by psychological detective who pretends he has made walls of room transparent. Works on fear of murderer.
The Resulting Story:
Dr. SuSan and…

The prompt this week brings us to something of a genre these days: the detective with supernatural or near supernatural capabilities. Pysch, The Mentalist, Monk, the BBC’s Sherlock, and so on. All these shows feature uncanny detectives who pretend to have psychic or unnatural powers, or in the case of Monk, Columbo, and Sherlock they use less conventional modes of thinking to achieve similar ends. The detective in reality possesses only human faculties, but these faculties are exaggerated to the point of unfailing power.

From a literary perspective, this prompt reminds me of one particular story by Edgar Allen Poe: The Tell Tale Heart. Poe’s influence on Lovecraft as a horror author is indeed vast and in need of reconciliation. Here the fear of the murderer is the greater force. The noise of the imagined heart still beating in the floor boards drives the murderer to madness and compels him to confess his misdeeds to the officers of the law. This story likewise plays on the fear of discovery—of more than the murder, of course, since the body is located early on. The detective must suggest that he has seen more by making the walls transparent then merely the body.

From the perspective of folklore and other traditions, the detective has an intreasting lineage. A common capabillity of sorcery and magic is the location of the unseen or the lost. The abillity to find and retrieve missing objects or to ascertain unseen causes can be found in various places around the world, often as the cause of illness or despair. For instance, among the !Kung, shamans locate unseen arrow heads that cause illness among the living. Shamans of the Netsilik deal with invisible casues of illness as well, from extra souls sapping life force to the strange tupilaqs.

More elaborate attempts are also recorded. The Key of Solomon supplies one spell, which deploys the rope of a hanging and sieve to locate a thief that has made off with an object. The Lesser Key gives three demons who can find those things lost or hidden (Foras, Kimaris, and Vassago, pictured below). The Book Pow-Wows or Long Lost Friends is a grimoire of more recent origin in the United States which supplies ways to imoblize thieves and compel them to return stolen goods, as well as locating hidden treasures beneath the earth such as water and iron.

Demon Sigils.png

The detective interacts in a similar way here—despite the fact that his magic is a farce, he is playing off the world of the unseen. While fear has physical symptoms, feelings and experiences, they are rarely considered the root of the emotion. Like a shaman or magician, the detective plays off the hidden world to reveal things about this one. Psychology’s connection isn’t that far fetched—the term quite literally refers to the science of the soul after all—and so might be an intentional allusion here. Especially in the era Mr. Lovecraft was writing in, psychology’s exact meaning and fate were contested.

For instance, the spiritualist movement we discussed before was a significant part of psychology for a period of time. The science of the soul for a time included things that now are frankly the occult—the sort of beliefs that are more akin to New Age than clinical psychology. We can include here the works of Sigmund Freud and his camp, who’s school of psychoanalysis may not be as credited now as it once was, as well as works such as Mesmerism which sought to use powers of the mind to affect the body—for instance to work healings. Mesmerism and other hypnotists engaged in occult experiments as well, in some cases attempted to glean information on other worlds or past lives from the hypnosis. These ideas often hinged on vitalist theories of life—that there was a cosmic and measurable life energy that permeates the cosmos. This energy is often associated with heat, electricity, and other phenom on. Other examples of vitalism include Odic forces, which produce bio-eletric fields and is referenced in dowsing(and were delightfully used in an Atomic Robo story here); elan vital, which contains the bedrock for consciousness and gives rise to evolutionary changes; and Orgone, which is past Lovecraft’s time, but which supposed that everything from illness to weather could be effected by these internal forces of the body.

Orgone Cloud Buster

Wilhem Reich’s Cloudbuster, a device based on Orgone to manipulate the weather.

Other works that blended the understanding of the body and the soul, to unfortunate results, was phrenology and race “science”. The discredited field tried to explain the nature of the soul by examining physiological differences in skull size. Given Mr. Lovecraft’s proclivities and racism, we can throw it on the heap of more bizarre uses of psychology.

I pursued this line of reasoning further, as the field of pseudo-science and strangeness is interesting to me. According to Wikipedia—a good resource for my cursory research—there are a number of pseudoscientific theories I was unaware of: graphology, the analysis of handwriting to determine the psyche of an individual; primal therapy, the idea the individuals are most effected by prenatal experiences; and the law of attraction, that by thinking on a thing we draw it closer. These various pseudosciences and discredited theories do place the idea of a psychological detective as essentially supernatural or magical detective as plausible or believable.

So, with all this in mind, how should our story proceed. The prompt has the detective deduce the murder, but drive the criminal to confession by pretending to be magical. We thus begin the first act with the discovery of the body. We would then go on to examining the house searching for evidence. Three instances, I think, of ‘finding’ hidden evidence and then the confrontation. Now, I think this particular drama could end one of two ways. Either it ends with the murderer and the police being lead to where the detective found the body, and thus the murderer confessing. Or, the murderer is driven by fear to lash out against the authorities and attempt to flee or kill them. Either ending could work, and I’m not sure which is better in this case.

I recently concluded that our psychologist might not be the best character to take as a point of view–rather, a more interesting character would be an associate of his. A Watson, a character who like the audience is unsure of what is coming and going, but nonetheless curious. As written, it seems our detective knows the murderer, and that seems far less entertaining of a story then one where the audience and one of the characters is partially in the dark as to the proceedings.


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The Ruins of Dimov

This Week’s Prompt: 67. An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. [“DISSIPATION?” by Dan McCoy]


The Prior Research:The Dread Horsemen

The days of clattering horseman outside the walls were the sort of days that cannot last forever. Raids either break upon the walls, or settle down as a moat of flesh before receding into the hills. Or so I had always thought, for the great hills of Dimov had never broken before. Now, I slipped through the streets, dressed in a stolen set of servant’s clothes as the smoke of the city settled away. Past the proud statue of Saint Alorium on his mighty steed and beneath the strong spear pointing at the setting sun with defiance I slipped, towards a small secret door at the side of the grand temple I had used in my younger years. While a more through army may have found it by now, I suspected that the city guard and the temple authorities employed greater scrutiny then the stragglers of hillmen on their red steeds.

St. Alorium.png

The door is still locked, but the familiar triage of serpents circle the knocking place. I rapped softly, hoping some member of our esteemed order still has survived. Clattering hooves went by, not far off, with none of the enthusiasm of the richer raiders. No, vultures now circled the city, the greatest of the host already sedate with it’s gluttonous feast. I was quiet, holding my breath, until at last the door opened and a pair of heavy hands pulled me inside.

My rescuer was, by account of his clothes, a smith. He had the heavy apron, the gloves, and the tired eyes. Not far into our hidden lodge was a younger man in tattered green and black robes, with a gold chain capped with an emerald, amulets and robes of the old scribes, who shut the door behind me and resealed it’s locks. Ah, to be back in a passage of celebration at the end of Dimov.

Were you seen?” My new host asks, looking over my shoulder as the last lock clicks.

No riders were outside, so beyond the unseen eye, our hiding hole is safe.” I said, nodding.

Safe? In this age? No, no we are not safe. We are merely alive.” The man of learning said, turning back around and looking about. “And maybe not long. One entrance of spies is sealed, but who knows what rats and roaches have snuck in through the windows and frames.”

I blinked a bit at the man of lore. The smith shrugged.

You must forgive Raam. A scholar does not outlive his university with his mind entirely intact.”The smith said, leading me along through the barricaded basement and past a table overturned. “But there is an enlightenment to his madness. We must secure ourselves, lest a spy of the hillsmen has slipped in. My name’s Dominic.”

Darius. What convinces you such spies are among us?” I asked, letting the false name roll off my tongue.

Walls do not fall to horses. Good walls do not fall to spears. Dimov’s walls did not fall to boulders. They did not fall. They had to be opened. And so there are spies, there are eyes of the hills among us, from those lost heaths.” Raam said, moving along after securing the door ahead.

The smith explained that, while they would simply hide in the lodge, the lodge lacked rations forever. Far greater stores were in the old offices above us. The three of us each took some lumber and tools of the smith—his old hammer and a few nails he had kept hand for repairs—in case we needed to board them up. The church kept stores frequently, and while the hillmen had yet to pierce them—being fearful of the great statues outside no doubt—we could make use of them with impunity. Not to mention oil to burn for warmth at night.

Three entrances, right?” I asked, pointing in the directions. “West, East, North.”

Should be. The glass is still there.” Dominic said, pointing at the gallivanting images of saints ascending from the depths and the glittering form of Saint Alorium with his serpent slaying spear. The three of us went to work. Raam’s garb belied his strength: he carried more than his share of the pew. It was while we were lifting one to the door that I noticed strange caluses on his hands.

But that aside, we got the three doors secured, piles of pews against their doors. The stores themselves were smaller than we hoped. Still, we made do with the bread we had, gathered beneath the stained glass in case the raiders looked within and spotted us.

Raam, I must admit, I’ve not seen a man with such might beneath their robes.” I said smiling. “Was the house of scrolls your second trade?”

Hm? Scrolls? You want to know of scrolls? Scrolls are weighty, especially in gold. Work, hard work, can lift the burdens and chains invisible that wrap around the neck and anchor the arms.” Raam replied.

It is like apprentice fees at the forge. You have to work some time to pay them off, although I did not know hard labor was a good trade for earning a good deal of money.” Dominic said, taking a bite from the bread.

You’d be surprised. I’ve not known a footmen who knew so much of scribes, so small people, rummaging about around bloated corpse royal.” Raam said slowly. “Flies and maggots all of them.”

Well I never–” I began, standing with my voice raised, silenced by Dominic’s hand. He pointed to his ear. Outside, there was the clatter of hooves. Dominic removed his apron to smother the fire as I darted to peek out the window. There were five of them on horse back, quivers at their side and lances in hand as they road around the statue, searching with torches in the moon light.

Silent, silent.” Raam whispered, crouching behind a pew. I nodded, slumping beneath the window so as to be unseen.

How many?” Dominic asked from his hiding spot. I held up an open palm. The five horses circled again, the rotating torchlight flickering through the stained glass, illuminating each preserved scene in sequence, the wall opposite showing a silent play of saints, rising from birth and falling on the spears and swords of the hillmen of old.

At last the circling stopped, and a few clattered off. I peeked over the edge, and saw one of the hillmen in his leather armor. In his hand was a bucket, with a dark pitch inside. In his other hand was a torn standard of the guard, wrapped into a mop of many colors. With a word to the other rider that remained, he dipped the standard in the pitch. Then he rode about, and slammed the stained glass with his spear, coating the colors in darkness. The other rider did the same, and one by one the saints along the side were subsumed by the waves of darkness.

Stained Glass Pitch.png

Darkness, darkness gathered by eyes…” Raam whispered, crawling about. “We’ve been discovered. They’ve discovered us now, because of you, you treason!” He hissed pointing at me.

Me, treason? You’re the one pretending at being a scholar! How can we trust a man of letters who couldn’t make a summer living as a scrivener or scribe?” I hissed back, jabbing a finger.

I was within when the city was taken! Only you and Dominic without! One of you, one of you let them in! Lead them here!” He muttered standing up tall now as the pitch covered half the windows. We had boarded ourselves in, and the fire at the doors would be more than enough to smoke us out.

If I was the spy, would I have stayed with you! Why? To die in this house of God in paupers outfit?” I asked, almost shouting. We were doomed, we were doomed.

Spies betray for a hundred reasons! Perhaps you wanted death, or sought penance! Zealot or despair alike!”

It was then that we realized Dominic was gone. We stared across at each other, the embers dying low. Outside, we heard clearly now, a hundred horsemen or more. Even through the pitch we saw the low light of torches gathered.

The front door.” I said slowly, turning about. “We might be able to force our way through there.”

And die to their lances?”

We die in fire or we die to a hundred spears, which will be faster?” I ask, rushing over to the door and pulling a pew down. The west entrance begins to crackle as smoke flows in. The back two glass windows crack with heat before shattering, scattering downward like a rain of multi-colored arrows. As we pulled aside the pews to make room, the wind rushed in. While the wind was cooling, and bought us time from the smoke, me and Raam heard carried on it the cheers and shouting of thousands of horsemen, come for the final demolition.

And then, as the final window shattered, as the fire spread from the eastern and western doors down towards us, we heard great hoof beats and sudden panic. Shouting and roaring of battle as at last we pushed open the front door, to make our feverish escape.


St. Alorium2.pngSt. Alorium stood on his twenty-foot tall steed, his spear bright and bleeding. Around him the hillmen roared as he stared with his maned helm, his eyes like glimmering stars. Fire behind us, death before us, me and Raam stood trapped at the threshold transfixed. The saint raised his spear and the slaughter began in earnest.


 

This story was tricky to write–I almost started it over again a few times, but ran out of time.  The statue coming to life seemed obvious if effective. The paranoia needs I think more time to actually develop, and more leads. At the moment it’s a bit arbitrary. And I think this is about half the story. The opening is strong, but more middle tension between the survivors over fear of spies or the looters outside is necessary.

Next time, we go more explicitly psychological, and visit a concept as old as modern horror genre itself–the mind of a killer.

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The Dread Horsemen

This Week’s Prompt: 67. An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. [“DISSIPATION?” by Dan McCoy]
The Resulting Story: The Ruins of Dimov

Ah, a good long prompt with something like an arc already backed in. It feels like it’s been a while. We start with a brief scene of the city in peril, and then return after it’s destruction to a number of squabbling men in a small room near an equestrian statue. The statue it seems comes to life, and upon seeing this the story ends. Nice and simple.

Now, I think there are things to be expanded upon. I think the choice of a horse at the center of destroyed city is interesting. Horsemen in mythology and folklore, especially in non-chivalry contexts, have associations with destruction. There is the Wild Hunt, a host of fae or the dead, lead by one of power—the devil, Odin, Eric of Wales, or any other storm power—which pursues its quarry from the sky. The viewer often dies, and war and terror reign for some time after wards.

Horseman of the Apoclypse.png

Beyond this band, there are the horsemen of the end of time—four horses with five riders: Conquest(Not plague, don’t listen to modern authors!), War, Famine, Death, and Hades. These riders, atop multicolored steeds are the heralds of a quarter of the world dying by various means. Found in art and popular culture, these are ruiners of cities and men alike. The Book of Revelation also includes the host of destructive angels who ride out to cause misery on the world again. This locust horde of the abyss that resemble armed horses are terrors onto the world for the suffering.

And then there are the centaurs, Greek creatures that resemble horses but with the upper bodies of men, and who are known for their uproarious and provocative behavior with the sole exception of Chiron. Their most famed conflict was the abduction of the women of the Lapiths in a raid at a wedding—an incident that reminds me in passing of the Satyr’s tendency to cause terror at weddings. Variations include the centaurs of Dionysus, sent by Zeus to protect the wine god, and the centaurs of Cyprus who are horned.

Of course, the Greeks do not have a monopoly on dreadful horsemen. Akin to the centaur are the people of the Kinara Kingdom in India, who’s exact form varies from “horse necked” to hybrids like the centaurs. In the Philippines there’s the Tikbalang, a horse headed humanoid that can be found in the mountains that some reports suggest can be tamed with a piece of it’s own hair. While the Aswang project reports it as generally harmless and a trickster, others indicate that the Tikbalang is more malicious or even cannibalistic, at times resembling the Wild Men type we’ve discussed earlier.

Nuckaleeve.png

And then there is the Nuckelavee—a creature that resembles a man on a horse, with no skin. It’s head is three feet wide, or sometimes it has two, with a horses head that exudes toxic vapors. It is plague and famine, with it’s breath wilting crops and poisoning wells. It’s eyes are fiery. In some cases, the Nuckelavee is even blamed for the withholding of rain and water, causing massive droughts in addition to it’s personal harassing of those it meets.

Folklore about horses can have more various forms—to ride a horse backwards, for instance, causes illness. A trio of horses of the same color are signs of death, and a dead horse hoof buried beneath the stable secures them against enchantment. Horses that are startled have seen dead men, or the soon to be dead.

The Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas includes a number of creatures that take the form of the horses. There is the creature called which-lake on Mountain Hiddenabyss, which has a horses body, bird wings, a serpent’s tail, and a human face that enjoys giving humans a lift. On Mount Belt there is the ugly-coars, a creature which resembles a unicorn with a ‘hard grinding shell’, and that appears immune to fire. Twenty of the forty-three of the deities of the Western Mountains are horses with a human face. And on Mount Dam, there is an animal that resembles a horse with four horns, ram eyes, and an ox tails—the appearance of this creature, the far-far, causes a rapid increase in fraud. And so on.

The horse sacrifice is a kingship practice in Hinduism—a horse is sent around the kingdom, and if none dispute it, the horse is returned and sacrificed to secure the king’s undisputed rule. Needless to say many epics include sections of conflict disputing this—the Mahabhrata and the Ramayana both feature these sections for instance, before their climatic battles or wars.

Horses and kings are associated elsewhere. Mythical, many king gods have wondrous mounts—the seven headed horse of Indra, the eight legged horse of Odin, the taltos steed, the mythical horses born of the golden fishes. Poseidon, a god of the Greeks who was supreme for that lost Mycenean age, was lord of horses and earthquakes and islands. The epic hero King Gesar was a horse lord of great prominence, the most important throughout northern Asia. Horse numbers were also prestige markers among the various tribes of the Plains Indians of the American west.

Blucifer.png

A more modern equestrian statue, that perhaps was once possessed, is Blucifier. The large Blue Mustang statue outside the Denver airport has brilliant red eyes that give it a diabolic appearance was commissioned in 1993. Meant as a symbol of the wild old American West by it’s artist, Luis Jimenez, the horse’s eyes glow and During construction, the massive statue fell on the man who designed it, killing Jimenez. With it’s appearance and the legacy of a frankly disturbing death by its hand, outcry has grown around the statue. A demon horse indeed.

Within the stories of pulp, this reminds me most of one other story in particular: the Story of the Sword of Welleran by Dunsany, which features a number of equestrian statues saving a city in peril from devastation. You can read the full story here.

Now, as I said at the end of the last story, I feel I’ve drifted more into shock and …well, missed the power of horror in character focused dramas. And here, I think, we have an opportunity to work with character drama. We have a group in a small place, in a tense situation—the clattering of hooves outside could indicate rescuers, or it could indicate surviving looters. We have danger, a small place, and a group of survivors huddled together. We just need a cause of conflict and paranoia for the ball to get rolling.

And for that, I think the associations of ruin and desperation of war could work in our favor. We could infuse the story with some paranoia about survival, as the sounds of war are still heard not far off. I think some sort of set up might be needed: why are people suspicous in the wake of the calamity? Are our characters safe from the horde outside? From each other? Is one a looter, a spy, a traitor? Genuine paranoia is a hard thing for me to write, so this will be good practice. I think the most difficult part is forcing a reason for our characters to come together. If they are distrustful of each other, why not split apart? An outside danger might solve that particular problem, but I think some greater pressure is needed to compel a group of strangers inside then the lingering threat of raiders and pillagers in a dead city.

How about yourself. Do you know any devil horses, steeds of Diomedes, or terrors that lurk in desolate cities? What would you write?

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The Death of Mr. Donovan

This Weeks Prompt: 66. Catacombs discovered beneath a city (in America?).

The Recent Research: Networks of the Dead

It would be irresponsible to give my report in an itemized fashion. As shall be clear, this incident has left my memory no longer with me in its entirety.

I pulled up at the new dig site with some spelunking gear ready. Stepping over through the door frame, I slipped on my dust mask with a nod at Donovan. I was a bit later than expected, but our subject wasn’t going anywhere. We lugged both of our cases of supplies through the silent interior. The wooden skeleton of the house was stripped bare. I wove my way through the debris to the proper dig site—a room not marked on the floor plan, going back almost a century. The room was untouched by most of the machinery around it. The solitary desk, still coated in gray dust, was pushed against the back wall of the house. We followed the tracks with my equipment and hat with a flash light, stepping over to carefully open the central object of the room: A lone trap door, with a rusted chain wrapped around a lock. The chain had already been cut, left in case it became important later.

So, what do you think is down there?” Donovan asked, flicking his head light on.

Bodies, probably. What else do you bury under the floor board?” I said, turning on mine. “Or secret passages to some rally point.”

Smuggling maybe.” Donovan nodded, lifting the door open. There was the rotted remains of a ladder on one side, our own metal and modern one sliding beside it. Slowly we descended, into the cold and yawning tunnel. The flattened stone floor and walls, despite occasionally irregularities, were still evidence of some ancient architects hand and measure.

There were no protrusions for a time, no markers. There were faded colors on one part of the wall, no doubt some lost paint or signal. The darkness swallowed sound as we followed the path, a rope leading back to the surface. Should something unthinkable happen, the crew was a few tugs away, to get us back up.

Working my way in and across for hours according to the timer, I came across our first discovery—a set of heavy iron doors, with neatly interlocking teeth. There were a pair of handles to force it open, but the teeth were holding it in place and a large metal wheel. Turning it some, the doors rolled open with the girding sound of rusting iron. As it clattered apart, the other side was revealed as a collapsed cavern. A broken down exit.

In the darkness I retraced my steps, echoing slightly for the length of the tunnel. Eventually my flashlight caught the flickering reflection of something else. A bit of glass buried in the mess and mass of the underground. Drawing cautiously closer, and stepping over some broken bricks, more light seemed to pour in.

There was a door of glass and some strange almost plastic material. The glass was shattered, broken shards catching the light and reflecting it back up. Within I saw the dim flicker of lights, abandoned in the dark. Holding back an exclamation I pulled at the rope three times, indicating a withdraw.

CatacombDoor edited.png

Lighting? A door? What, we found a bunker beneath this old house?” Donovan said, as I drew out my crude map on the black board we had set up.

Something like it, yes. A very sophisticated one—must have some sort of generator. Or the tunnels are newer than they seem—they could be siphoning power from the city’s generators. But still…our tunnel, it bypassed a sealed door. So, the trapdoor must be more recent then the door….especially since there was nothing obstructing our entrance down…”

So, what, someone built an iron door and lighting a hundred years ago and somehow kept it running, with no one noticing?”

Well…maybe. However, the other structure might also be more recent—the iron door having been navigated around, and the room refurnished in the mean time. Hell, they might have used this entrance to get things around the iron door and then walled it up.”

Alright, so we go back down, and what? What do–”

It’s got lights on still. It might have people in it. Hm. This…okay. We could alert authorities…”

But…?”

Well, I’m thinking who exactly builds strange bunkers beneath buildings and what sort of shit we’d be in for finding an abandoned one.”

Abandoned?”

Glass was broken, and I didn’t here anything back there. So probably. Must have left the lights on when they left. I think we could make some headway…at least know a bit more about what we’re getting into before diving in or running off to warn the authorities. Delve a bit deeper.”

We worked out a plan. As I had made the initial voyage down, Donovan would take the lead this time, moving forward with a twenty foot length of rope between us. I would remain stationary, until the rope was near taught. Two pulls then would indicate a safe approach, three need of assistance, and four a withdraw. Back down we went, with a longer length attached to the surface. We had conscripted a workman from a part of the construction, and informed him likewise of the signals. This way, should we both be incapacitated, we had a life line to the surface.

Outside the entrance was only some broken glass, smashed out from within. Pushing open the door, with some difficulty, we went into the blinding light of the interior. The lights were that dim pulsing blue of bio-luminesence. Small lines ran between them, and brown moss clung between the crystals. The ground was smooth and without breakage, like a single slab of limestone extending out from underneath. There were some veins where water had warn things down over the years, but not much else. Tracing these lines back, Donovan went ahead.

After a couple tugs, I followed and found the small pool, damaged slightly so that it overflowed onto the floor. It still gurgled around a translucent orb, rolling the orb over the fountain over and over. The room around it was more open, with benches along the wall. Some sort of communal area it seemed. Bits of plant life had made their way here as well, algae floating on the top of the water. Donovan moved along through one of the nearby rooms as I inspected the wall mosaics.

Geometric patterns ran along the wall, fractal triangles spreading across and colliding, interlocking into one another. Small waves ran along their bottoms, creating rivers pouring down into a sea below or sky above. I wondered if they were just artistry or if they had clues to the means that this fountain, made by unknown hands, was still functioning.

Catacomb Wall Drawing 1.png

I didn’t tell Donovan my suspicion before we descended, a suspicion that was growing as I examined the work in the fountain room. That we had found something truly impressive. A relic not only of an earlier age, but…perhaps of a different kind. Of strangers, of things long dead that had raised some civilization before us. Some antediluvian race had raised these tunnels. At Donovan’s two tugs I started to follow the rope—when another two came, I picked up speed.

Well, would you look at that…” Donovan said, gesturing at the glass panes before us. They were fogged with mist, but green shapes could be seen within. A greenhouse, separated by a star shaped wheel. A seal no doubt to keep the warm air in, keep the moisture in, keep the greenery in and healthy. It took both of us to turn the seal, but with some effort we got the door open. Donovan again took lead, as I examined the exterior panes.

They made curious colors, the two panes ever so slightly off grain from each other. On the outside was the carving, something like a star shape—but bent at the edges and points, so that it was more a spiral then a star. They repeated on the inner pane as well, if distorted more so to be a galaxy of glimmering glass. There was something about those stars, an overlay as it were. Something…unsettling about their arrangement. The angles seemed to be carefully placed to conceal some facet of the glass and the interior. It couldn’t be hiding anything bigger than a few feet on the other side. Not even that, no, it was only that big when I got close. No, if it was something that big I’d see it. It must be meant to hide something far smaller, maybe even between the glass—not the presence, not the color, but the details of something in the stars.

And then the rope tugged once—twice—and, as I felt the third, it went limp. There was no sound as I looked down into the green house of the abandoned bunker. Nothing but the dripping of water. I backed away slowly, pulling the rope back as I backed down the hall, refusing to look away from the depths. For a moment I saw motion in there. Something in there. I saw leaves rustle as I walked backwards. I looked down when I pulled the last rope up, to see a branch broken off.

I do not know yet what became of Donovan’s body. I have not ventured down there in the week since. But I worry, what things laid those long forgotten foundations. I wonder, if they have had their own revelation. That, the world they retreated from has now again become inhabited. Or perhaps, that whatever end of the world they feared has passed unobserved. I wonder if they too now are planning on going on an expedition to an unknown world. Or worse, if such ventures have passed unnoticed by our eyes. We must find that catacomb again, that passage in the depths—or we shall be found by it.


This story is a bit rushed. I have not much else to say. Mostly I just couldn’t get enough of a plan going, even with the fertile material. I latched onto the idea of layers of discovery—a new catacomb, a new bunker, and then at last the inhabitants. I don’t think that was the right idea. Maybe a more modern secret society hidden inside the unseen catacombs? Or more characters, and more dialouge in the venture to the dead? I think my writing needs to return to the roots of horror I’ve drifted away from in some of these stories—taking character conflicts and enhancing them with the supernatural. That will be for next time, when we go to an abandoned city and mysterious horses.

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Networks of the Dead

This Weeks Prompt: 66. Catacombs discovered beneath a city (in America?).

The Resulting Story: The Death of Mr. Donovan

We delve deeper now, from the cemetery and undertaker to the ossuaries and catacombs of the dead. A catacomb is an underground tomb, constructed for resting the dead. Generally these forms in cities, often in cases where graveyards simply will not due anymore. The famous catacombs of Paris were made after the cities cemeteries were flooded by rain, pushing bodies and skeletons to the surface and onto city streets. The catacombs of Rome likewise began due to overcrowding and land shortage, the grim reality that there were to many dead and not enough tombs. And then there are American catacombs that imitate these sites, strange tourist attractions. But we will return to the strangeness of the subterranean landscape of America in a moment.

Catacombs Rome.png

For now, let us focus on the old world. Beginning in Rome, catacombs were constructed by members of the Jewish community as well early Christians, both who preferred burial to the more common method of cremation. The tombs thus give artistic insights into traditions of the era, and have an air of mystery about them. A number of saints are buried there—who are by definition holy individuals and beings—and at least one fringe archaeologist has suggested the grail might be buried there. As the catacombs are under Vatican control, the possibilities have not been fully explored.

The catacombs of Paris have a more infamous reputation. Built out of an old mine, the catacombs here are full of bones from the 1800s. Only partly open to the public, the catacombs have attracted rumor of conspiracy as long as they have been around. The mines they were built out of are rumored to have been the location of black masses in 1348. Bandits and revolutionaries hid in the sprawling labyrinth, as did in more recent years Nazi bunkers and French Resistance members. Even more recently, daredevils and thrill seekers have built an underground art society around the catacombs and mines. Secret pools, murals, and even a cinema have all been found by authorities beneath the city of lights.

CAtacombFrance.png

With walls lined with skulls and bones, the catacombs of Paris certainty have an atmosphere of horror and the macabre, yet somehow still alive and changing and reshaping. It is here that the Phantom of the Opera lived, that Jean Val Jean made his escape, where monarchists and fascists were killed, where black mass and plagues were born.

So, are there any such catacombs in the American cities, locales and lacuna of horror waiting beneath our feet?

The short answer is…not exactly, but something similar. There are catacombs in the United States(Which is likely what Lovecraft means by America, as opposed to Americas). One is a replica of the Roman catacombs in DC. Another is the catacombs near New York, in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and other churches. Another underground locale, that I have little knowledge of, is found in Waterbury, Connecticut documents the life of Jesus Christ. So there are some overt underground burials. But more interesting are those sorts of places that resemble the catacombs in life. Abandoned routes and work ways under a large living city, still mysterious and without exploration being complete.

AbandonedNewYork.png

In New York City, there are large abandoned subways that are not immediately accessible. While trains sometimes run down here, and there are inhabitants, they resemble the catacombs in many ways, with continuous habitation and dangers around every corner, from trains to small spaces. The danger of police and others down in the depths are a continuous problem for those urban explorers who go down there. Images can be found here.

Another set of abandoned works exists in LA, the remains of the trolley system that was shut down in the 1950s, which later on was host to disaster shelters during the Cold War. Since then, development has divided up its remains.

Cincinati.png
The biggest of these abandoned networks of tunnels is beneath Cincinnati. These tunnels run two miles in length and are mostly intact, if sealed. The construction began in 1920, abandoned in 1925, and at last closed in 1950s after being considered for a bomb shelter. The tunnels have some rumors around them still—hauntings, mainly. A connection to catacombs thats more direct than most, as the catacomb is often just that. A realm of the dead that exists in a material form. Its a small demesne of Hades.

A more mythic connection is the sorcererous lair of Afrasiab. While not obvious comparison, it is Afrasiab is a destructive force who holds an advanced and luxurious underground bunker with layers of steel several men thick. It is host to an artificial sky, and four rivers—one of wine, one of milk, one of sour milk, and one of water. Like many of the other catacombs, the abandoned remains of such ruins could be come

Lovecraft, for his part, presents something like those above. The Vaults of Zin—a connection between the Dreamlands and the waking world—are likewise underground remains of a great civilization that connects to the ultimate fate of the dead, and inhabited by the monstrous and cannibalistic ghasts. These tunnels, that make the world between the here and the bizarre less clear, are a place of possibility and disruption. They mark a boundary that we can traverse to a strange and secretive realm, where societies of the living transgress among the dead. More importantly, the catacombs are a from an earlier and abandoned age. Yes, at some point someone was digging the ones in Rome, those in Paris are the remains of old mines, those in the United States re abandoned subways, and even in Rome these catacombs are out of use by now. Catacombs are re-purposed remains of a long lost civilization or time.

I bring this up because, if I were to speculate on the catacombs here, the surprise of their discovery is important. The catacombs are discovered recently, and therefore are previously unknown. This means, unlike the ones we’ve discussed so far, the catacombs are not connected to the current inhabitants. This lays into the United States twice over: Not only is the United States a young country—relatively seeking, of course,–and thus any catacombs would be something of a surprise but it is…how was it once put….built entirely on an Indian burial ground. While catacombs may not be widespread, there are discoveries in the last few decades that indicate intense burial sites at the least.

Building on this, as some archaeologist discovering the remains of a long lost nation and catacomb is…well, a start. Where it goes I’m not sure. There are themes to explore but I’m not sure what to do with a meeting of a forgotten past and the modern present. A lost history might be found, in the images of the catacomb, that belies some history that the modern world denies. But …I must think on what sort of discovery that would be.

What about you? What horrors or wonder discoveries in an abandoned underworld might you find?

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A Strange Estate

This Weeks Prompt: 65. Riley’s fear of undertakers—door locked on inside after death.

The Relevant Research: A Buried Feast

Our estate sat on a hill not far outside of town. I’d been there only once, when I was a young man. It had been my great uncle’s fiftieth birthday, and in celebration ever branch of our esteemed family had arrived, packing the rooms with laughter and dance. Now with a lonely trunk I stood at the doorway, fumbling for my new keys.

I spent the day familiarizing myself with the rooms. The paintings had almost all been auctioned off after a season of funerals. It was amazing that it had taken so long for it to reach the roots of the tree—it cut away at the branches first, seeping up the blood lines until at last it made roost in the this hall. At the base and atop the entryways at angels, granite cherubs my ancestors had acquired on their Italian tours from grave stones. They always flanked a stone shield, our jackal headed crest long decayed away to the point of vanishing.

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The view from the windows were of a rather ugly sort. The family cemetery sat not far off. While head stones did rise occasionally, most of the coffins were tucked into the face of a hill. Small carvings had been placed in front of their resting places, with engraved names and faces marking each of the dead. They rose in rows on the side of the hills, a crowd waiting for something.

Such ominous shelter would not be anyone’s first choice. Nor was it mine. In fact, had I any other place to call home, I would have sold such an isolated and abandoned abode. But I was not fortunate in business, and as such had little recourse. My disgruntlement was limited, however, as it was later explained to me that the will stipulated I hold it for a decades time before attempting a sale.

I’d met the undertaker and the grounds keeper shortly after agreeing to take up my family estate. The undertaker was an old man, thin and bent with age. He had been rather polite about the whole matter of the will. As the plauge seemed at last to have passed, he joked his buisness was in decline. I didn’t laugh.

The grounds keeper was a large man, of a jolly dispotion, who showed me around my estate. The woods not far off had once been good for hunting. Of course now he was not sure. Others had chipped away at it over the years. Still, he was proud to show me the gardens he had tended. The gardens he assured me were food for the soul.

The house was the sort that would take a decades salary to bring to proper state. It creaks wherever I step, servants having long abandoned its care when my great uncle was in the last days of his life. After eight hours, I feel I have scarcely begun to explore it. The last survey had been done a decade ago, before the last rooms had been built. Still, I had plenty of time for a full survey later on. For now I unpacked and got ready to relax for the evening. I lugged my trunk up the stairs to the guests bedroom.

The bed was in good, if dusty condition. In fact, of all the rooms of the house, it was the least disturbed. Laying on my own sheets and blankets, I took to sleep quickly.

A tapping came down through the hall in the middle of the night. At first it barely stirred me, but the insistence of this noise at last drew me out of my repose. Candle in hand, I set out to find it. The house groaned as my foot steps moved along. Down the stairs I went, looking for the tapping.

I first found a culprit in a loose door that the wind moved back and forth ever so slightly to make the clicking sound. I closed the door and fixed a chair in front of it, but the noise continued. Th tapping had another source. A window open ever so slightly that I thought closed, rapping on in the wind. I fastened this close too.

A strange sight was on the periphery of my vision—a shadow on the grass in the grave hills shadow. It moved fast and low to the ground, peering back for only a moment. A pair of eyes flashed in the night, and were gone in a moment. Squinting after them, I determined I had mistaken the men of the grave yard making their rounds for something more sinister. The evening fog obscuring them and the glint of the candle on the window glass had no doubt played on my sleeping mind as some sort of strange creature.

I returned to slumber after that, convinced that the noise was stopped. The next morning, however, I made a point of retracing my rounds. The paintings, those that survived, were still intact: The strange pale serpents, the portraits of family patriarchs and matriarchs in their neat rows around the dining hall, the great mountainous landscape of some lost travel. The shields, the stone cherubs.

Snake Painting.png

My inspection, however, made one new discovery. One of the walls had strange marks along the floor, scrapes. Vermin, perhaps, or some stray cat. These thoughts however subsided as I examined the scratches more closely. No. No, they had been made coming from the wall. Curious.

Passages in this home were not that unusal. Servants passages ran through this place like unseen arteries, once full of food and tea and the young blood of society when they wanted some privacy. The latch that was hidden long a column of the wall was thus easy to find. It opened with ease, into a stone passage that wound down. A cool breeze came through that smelled of grass and soil.

Captivated, I followed it downward. This was a differnet make then the rest of the house. It was carved lime stone, the erosion of years making it smooth an pourous. The inner skin of some vast creatures jaw or the teeth of a great maw as I descended. The breeze was a relief in an otherwise warm room. As I walked, I could make out faint carvings along the walls. But their meaning was lost to me.

What was not lost on me was the strange crypt I entered. There was a fire on the side, with a mechanism that kept it constantly fed long burning logs. In the center of the room was a raised rectangular platform, flanked on either side by two statues. The statues were strange winged creatures, armed with swords and axes, two in each crudely fashioned arm. The avian heads had expressions of sadistic menace and eyes that bore a strange likenesses to living hawks. I wondered, briefly, if the foundation of their form was not in fact a dead eagle. But that was not the most pressing matter.

The rectangle was a sarcophagus, even from afar. I had no doubt of who’s it was, for their identiy was carved into the rock itself. But how my great uncle had been buried here, in this elaborate mauselum was beyond me. But it was his face, perfectly carved and staring up to me with painted eyes. Surely. Surely, I thought, this was a farce. An elaborate ruse, laid to give future generations a false sense of importance. I found the seem of the lid and followed it, puling at the handle…

And it wouldn’t budge. I heard locks click inside, holding it fast. I bent over and saw no keyhole or mechanism for locking the sarcophagus. No way to opn it fast without damaging the facade. I headed up stairs, certain that a crowbar would do the job and that the affair would be settled. Whatever inheritance had been done away with in this joke would be resolved swiftly and surely. Lost in such thoughts, and of old aquaintances used to breaking into secure voltage, I returned to the room…to find it in ruin.

MAnorHallWriting.png

Something had come through and over turned the furniture and left claw marks along the walls. In broken red letters was carved, along the seats and beneath the crest “Promised to Us”. It was at this moment that two thoughts occurred to me. One: I had yet to ascertain how a cool breeze was coming up and out of the tomb. And two: If the lock could only be sealed from within…what unmentionable horror did it intend to keep out?


This weeks story is not one of my favorites. I considered delaying it a few days, in order to rework and rewrite sections of it, but I simply ran out of time. I think this is about halfway through the narrative proper. The story should divulge more I think of who the uncle is, and what these creatures are, more than just allude to them. In all, a story that could be greatly improved on with more work. If I had more time, I would probably cut back on the descriptions and add another voice to the narration.

Next week! Catacombs! Hidden cities!

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