a book

This Week’s Prompt:86. To find something horrible in a (perhaps familiar) book, and not to be able to find it again.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

This is going to be a different article then most. Normally, I try and connect the prompt to folklore in someway—both because it interests me, and because I’m aware that many people are invested in it. This week, while folklore will be mentioned, I’m going to be talking more about modern horror. In particular, this week I’m going to print a portion of an essay on The House of Leaves—given our prompt, this will be a section on the House of Leaves and Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s own work. The full essay, when complete, will be included on my Patreon—it is both too long and more in-depth then this site normally goes, and still progressing. That said, given the House’s own references, folklore and the like will probably still drift into the piece. For now, the below will be part of our work.

In His House Cthulhu Lies Dreaming1

From Witch House to Ryleh to Innsmouth

If there is a man who’s shadow has grown outside his form moreso then Mr. Lovecraft’s, it is probably limited to Tolkien—but the difference between what is meant by Tolkien-esque and what Tolkien actually wrote is for another occasion. Still, just as Tolkien has become the name for fantasy, Mr. Lovecraft has become synonymous with cosmic and existential horror. Talking about the House of Leaves in the context of Lovecraft quickly leads us into the murky place of definitions of what we mean by “Lovecraftian”. Certaintly, it is not a story Lovecraft could have written. It is a manuscript that employs a number of modern techniques and styles, playing with the distance between the viewer and the original, making use of dialouge and characters more realized then Lovecraft’s protagonists and work. No one reading the House can easily mistake it for some work out of the 1920s, let alone Lovecraft’s. While Johnny Truant has rambling sentences, they are not in the style of Lovecraftian purple prose—if anything, they remind me of noir pulp. Overly descriptive, yes, but to be frank–no protagonist of Lovecraft’s has that sort of appreciation for women, drugs, or weapons. We’ll come back to that.

Well, is it a Mythos story? The winding mass of work that was started by Lovecraft–arguably–and cultivated since then? This one can also be dismissed easily. While a truly determined reader can tie the Navidson Record into that mythology, it is an extraneous in the extereme2. There are no gibbering cultists, there are no tendrils. But yet! It is a very Lovecraft story, in a way. It hinges and touches very similar themes—some of which I have discussed in detail above. But for here, I’ll focus on some similar themes in both the Navidson Record—or at least, what we can guess from it’s echoes—and the House proper.

The very first layer to move through is the nature of the text. It is a found text, a tradition that is quite literally as old as the Gothic genre—which is certainly what I would call a large bulk of Lovecrafts work. We have here a text that we receive after multiple transmissions—just as we do in many of Lovecraft’s stories. While some of his work is in the third person omniscient, a number are presented by second hand accounts and witnesses–the most clear example being the Call of Cthulhu, which is centered on a mass of papers, letters, and journals. However, here attention is always called to the artifice. We are told by Editors, by Johnny, and sometimes by Zampano that there have been edits, omissions, lost information, and a creation of genuine distance from the truth. In Lovecraft, the transmission by a second person is sometimes a filter–but just as often, it is a means to reinforce the reality. To suggest that the author has something genuine on their hands.

The second area of blending is the notion of a cursed text. The nature of a cursed text to read—and of an alien world, which we will return to—is a theme in Lovecraft. But here, the texts infectious nature, which draws Johnny’s life into a downward spiral, is questionable. If there is a thing Johnny is confronting, it’s certainty not so dangerous as to infect the entire text—right? His symptoms at least at first appear unique but…well. We can consider that a number of viewings of the media produced effects on those who saw it, as reported towards the end of Zampano’s review. We can even consider how the text haunts us as readers—for we have been in the house, in a way, and I have been more on edge since. After all. I felt compelled to create this.

The notion of a secret room or doorway that leads to haunting revelations of the past is a Lovecraftian trope if there was one. It plays into a universal fear he has–the revelation, the remembering of the past that lets it loose again to devour and unmake the present. Like the found text trope, this isn’t unique to his writing. However, it is something of a stand by in his more racist stories. How many Lovecraftian protagonists find dark and monstrous things by following up there family tree and descending down into the basement? From cannibals to fornicating with apes to great rites to witch gods.  But the House is a different, primal unknown. What lurks in that house is…unsavory. It is a history—as I argued in the section on the Minotaur, there are terrifying implications there—but it is a more primal history.

And in fact, in that regard, it is a Lovecraft story—the house is a fearsome and alien place, that bends and shifts in impossible ways. It captures the impression that we received from a frozen Norwegian. The feeling that we have entered somewhere not made from human habitation, that is now awake and lurking after us. We shouldn’t forget—just as Johnny suspects there is something pursuing him after finding the old man’s notes, the Cult of Cthulhu is lurking just around the corner for those who know of he who lies dreaming in his house. It is a hungry place as well, devouring those who explore it. I said, I warned at the start. We must descend into the house with clear intentions–or else we will be lost in it’s labyrinth. 

One of which is Johnny.

Johnny’s nature is one that I  have spent an entire section on—he is a strange man, an odd creature. His guilts, regrets, lies, and losses shape much of the story. What struck me about Johnny, however, was a two fold concern. First, his family. Johnny, a consummate liar, reveals feelings of inhumanity in the text that to me bear more than a passing resemblance to the fears of Lovecraft. Not the miscegenation fears—those are rampant in Lovecraft, but lacking here. No, no we can consider instead the portions of the text where Johnny or his mother tell him of his inheritance, of feeling like a dark and monstrous creature. Johnny suspects, as I have said, that he is a beast. Or wishes to appear as a beast. While Lovecraft’s own fears might be less clear then this, there is a recurring theme in Lovecraft’s writing about discovering (with horror) the true monstrous nature of aristocracy and of the self.

The other connection is one of family. Both Lovecraft and Johnny lost their fathers early in life–Lovecraft’s was placed in a mental asylum, Johnny’s appears to have perished in an airplane crash. Both also had mothers that doted on them through out their lives–or in Johnny’s case attempted to. And both saw their mothers sent to an asylum for a pathological fear of the dark. This incident, coupled with the death of Susan Lovecraft, is suggested by some to be the cause of Mr. Lovecraft’s writing of the Call of Cthulhu–a story that has odd resemblances to the House as we will see. 

Johnny as a person is very different then the sex averse, drug averse, cloistered Lovecraft, but they share this fear of where they are from. And it is interesting to consider, his work consumed him into an isolated and fearful man—perhaps even going straight edge. Lovecraft, according to popular rumor, wrote the story of Shadows over Innsmouth after learning of his ancestry—notably, this is the last story he wrote that saw publication, and is the only one where the narrator is directly confronting the horror that is themselves. Most comparable stories, the hero’s companion finds the truth of their self. Shadows over Innsmouth centers on the narrator as the discoverer. On the revelation of his roots, on his dark  Johnny likewise wonders aloud—is he the victim of a monster, or is he the victim of his blood. We follow his search for origins, across the country. And we might find it…intriguing what he finds.

Perhaps most interesting to us is how both Lovecraft and Johnny presented works of fiction tied to their origins and their loss. We know that Johnny engaged with the work of Zampano as a creative endeavor—he edits, he elides, he repairs, he transalates3. He, in a very real way, creates and changes the narrative. And always, we are reminded of his loss, of his terrible childhood, of women who he never really knew. And he comes back to this house. This house that, in a very real way, is overtaking his house. As I discussed in my section on Johnny earlier, we can never be clear—how much of the House is Johnny’s sickness and how much is an actual haunting.

As I mentioned, a popular story suggests Lovecraft wrote Shadows Over Innsmouth due to discovering his own heritage. But that is not the principle Lovecraft story I would discuss. Instead, I would point to Ryleh. A story that has consumed and overshadowed it’s author’s intentions—Lovecraft was not fond of Cthulhu, and while he produced sketches, he was focused more ‘Yog-Sothery’. But that is not the mythos name, and if any force has become the face of Lovecraft’s brand, it is Cthulhu and Ryleh.

This is a story that is told to us by complied documents and fake citations, of a group of travelers entering into the sleeping place of an ancient evil. We can even look closely at how these men, who dig deep into an isle and meddle with it, perish. Several die at the hand claws of Cthulhu, while others are trapped by the strange architecture. One, upon reaching apparent safety, kills himself. And one is found, at last, adrift and freezing.

The story is related by a dangerous text, found abandoned. But not a singular text. Like Zampano, the manuscript is in pieces, and must be collected and restored to something readable–and the character travels the world even to reach all the pieces. As an aside. an interpretation of the Lovecraft canon as a series of found texts might be interesting—considering what edits were made to Innsmouth’s description, in order to back a government sponsored extermination, or the incident at Red Hook to play into fears of the local population. That sort of thing. I suspect it has been done.

Johnny’s fears of the text—that it is dangerous to hold, and that it opens to a dangerous place—resemble the fears of Rylehian scholar but enlarged. They also are akin to the symptoms of the Witch House. Johnny begins to have trouble working—his sense of hearing grows, he has distrubed dreams. He does not recall his dreams, a conceit around the indescribably of Mr. Gilman. Gilman and Truant both acquire knowledge through their work, in their own way—certainly, Truant visits libraries frequently to create his translations. Both engage in unknown behavior in their sleep—Johnny screams, Gilman walks, both attracting rumors and neighbors form their isolation. The strange sounds, the invading sights, many are present. Even the notion of the House that is larger or warped spatial is found here.

Johnny is not a Lovecraftian protagonist—he plays into his own machismo in ways that Lovecraft’s play into their academic knowledge, he womanizes when Lovecraft’s flee sexuality it seems, and he uses a cocktail of drugs when Lovecraft’s despise anything that addles their mind. Johnny is however, motivated by many of the same fears of a Lovecraft protagonist. He fears the unknown. He fears the places of domesticity. He fears the text he writes and works through. He fears the old. He is consumed by his work, in the way many a Lovecraft character is—and becomes convinced at its haunting power.

Unlike a Lovecraftian character, Johnny calls attention to his artifice. Lovecraft’s narrators present themselves as arbiters of truth—Johnny is a liar, and reminds us regularly that he is a liar. That he lies, edits and alters.

There is one more thing to discuss when dealing with Mr. Lovecraft and the house. We must discuss the fear of the elder. As I discussed in Twins, there is a strong theme in the house—fear and oppression of the old. Johnny calls attention to a feeling of an oppressive man weighing down on him. While his mother fears the ominous New Director, we can find this anomalous at best. The New Director, after all, is the Old Director—even when he is not. We have instances of pairs, in which the Older of the pair is considered with caution. The image of the father as danger—especially in Johnny’s narrative—is prominent. Among the two Navidson brothers, Navidson and Tom make a comparable pair—and here Navidson occupies a danger seeking and danger drawing roll. Holloway, the oldest of those to descend into the house, is the least stable and most dangerous man in the entirety of the cast. The swearing to commit infanticide that might escape a readers notice. And of course, there is the House—and the Book. The First Edition. The Old is dangerous. The Old is powerful, haunting, and consuming.

And that is what Lovecraft fears most—that the Old is not old. It is not dead, it is only dreaming. Yes, much ink has been spilt over this particular fear manifesting as fear of the unknown or fear of the other—and this is correct! Yes, Lovecraft’s fear of modernity seems backwards with a fear of the past. After all, how could a man who dreaded the ancients so seem to loath New York city?

We cannot forget that Lovecraft and several of his contemporaries positioned time and space differently. To view from the post of Lovecraft, there is no future. There is no movement forward, there is only decay. Backwards, forwards, you fall into the waiting jaws of ‘savagery’. Lovecraft presents and believes in no bright city on a hill—or if he does, it is the result of an endless fight with the forces of the Cosmos. He can join the author of the Golden Bough, in suspecting that in the depths of the world of humanity, so-called savagery is the true state. The Old World, that Modernity and the Enlightenment abhor, will consume the new.

The House asserts something similar—a fear of the assertion of the old over the new, the elder brother over the younger—but at the same time, it situates itself in the reverse. As I discussed in the section on Echoes and Ruins, there is a profound fear not only of the past over powering the present, but of the past being entirely lost. Lovecraft fears his origins will become him—that in truth, he is secretly some descendant of a monster and not of the Rhode Island pseudo-nobility. We can even compare his belief in his own heritage with the statements of Ms. Truant regarding her sons character. But the House is also afraid of being lost over time—repeatedly, images, ideas, themes, entire places are intentionally erased. Some deliberately, some by accident. Some without any explanation at all. The House itself is like the panther. To forget it is not to be saved from it.

Lovecraft is afraid of remembering, of the Old returning because we can see it—a fear that is perhaps reasonable in a time of Modernism, where a sharp break from the barbarous past was presented. Lovecraft fears that we will find the unknown, confront it, and be found wanting. But the house? The House knows—the panther will remain, forgotten or no. To forget the beast is not to leave it dreaming—it is to allow it to devour you.



 

So what does this mean, for creative works? For our writing next week? Well, this time I have evaded folklore—the horror of hidden places we’ve discussed here. The idea of a dangerous text we’ve discussed here. And while there is a history of labyrinths, I think a discussion of them wouldn’t be quite what we are looking for.

Instead, this rumination on the house has given me the notion of things be remembered. Things arising from the text itself. I toyed with the idea of playing with the text here—telling a story in the same meta way that the house did. But that notion seemed difficult to succeed at. We have something like the opposite of an earlier incident—where a memory was aroused by a book. Here we have lost a vital, but dreadful thing we can’t place. It might serve well to play with what connections this discovery has—we perhaps fear the book, but also the hill were the dreadful thing was described. We will have to see.

1With apologies to Filamena for including such a section, hastily hidden at the end of the essay.

2For what it is worth, the easiest way is to employ the most boring reading of the growls in the house, and then take hold of the Haunter of the Dark—but again. Extraneous. Like these foot notes.

3And to translate is fundamentally to change.

Sun and Snake on the Isle

This Week’s Prompt: 85. “For has not Nature, too, her grotesques—the rent rock, the distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?” Pater—Renaissance (da Vinci).

The Prior Research: She’s a Viper

Chasing Austin’s invitation to his new studio-home—several miles away from a small island town several hours away by boat from his well our old home—ended up costing me an third of my rent for the month. Perhaps it isn’t surprising, then, that I was in something of a bitter mood. Austin had been insistent I come out to see him. I had convinced myself that it was only to save on postage that I was visiting, but it had been almost a year without seeing him or sharing a coffee.

The boat ride was calming at least—the sea has that effect on me. It is too vast for concerns and anxieties to stand in it’s presence. Austin and I had tried with both our arts to capture that vastness, but it defies capture. It is too big for words and pigments, except in the hands of a master. Still, it was a nice image to wake to in the morning, enjoying coffee on the misty deck.

There was only one other companion out to greet the morning sun. He was an old man, Patrick Seoriseson, who would strum a guitar at the dawn and hum some song I’d never heard of. We didn’t talk much—not that he was bad company, but he was…well. Strange. He looked in his sixties, but his hair was bright blond, and his face and eyes looked young. Like someone grafted a twenty year old’s head, fresh before college, onto the body of their own aging grandfather. He had a beard, but it was blond too—not scraggly hay blond, folded and woven silk blond.

Apollo.png

As unnerving as he was, another presence on that chill morning, as the island rose from the fog, was a welcome one. We had, turning back to see the homeland, made it just in time. Behind our ship, dark clouds had formed. A storm was roiling, and I was suddenly glad to have no pressing business for several weeks.

It was getting dark when I finally set foot on the land—my sea legs taken three steps to return to their land-bound cousins. I bought a large bottle of water, and set my phones secondary charger—the house was a good five miles from town, a nice hour or so walk to gain my composure. Austin had been very clear about getting to his house as soon as I could—apparently whatever he had couldn’t wait. And while small coastal towns are welcoming to some, to me they are always a tad unearthly. They all feel drenched with age by the sea.

The road to Austin’s house was a somewhat paved, at least the first half. As the sun began to set into twilight, I was walking on more rocks and dirt. The shore had splits and crags, streams of salt water rolling inland. Eventually, I saw his house come into view—two luminous lights, shimmer on the horizon.

I thought it was his house, anyway. I didn’t check my phone, and well. I nearly walked into the tide and rocks.

And saw the lights in four different directions.

Whatever was going on in the atmosphere, my GPS hadn’t failed. And that I could follow, cold from the wind, back to the path. And at last, I found his house. A collection of lights from the house—square, instead of the lying spheres I’d seen on the way. It was a nice looking house. As I got closer, I saw the paint was peeling. There was something acrid in the air. As I walked up to the house, I saw someone shuffling inside—their back was bent pretty far but when I squinted they were walking fine.

I rang the door bell, but there was just a fizzle. Austin probably forgot to fix it. So instead, I gripped the knocker—an lion headed one, old iron—and rapped on the door. There was a bustle, papers unseen falling to the floor as Austin came to the door.

He was a bit thinner, still catching his breath as he held out his hand.

“Jeffery, come in, come in. Gods I thought you’d abandoned us.” He said, stepping out the way after a brief shake.

“It is a bit out of the way.” I said, looking around. The walls were nice—the wood floor was oddly smooth. “And there’s…some sort of rave outside…I think. Have you had problems with lights?”

“Lights? Oh, come now Jeffery. A will-o-wisp never hurt anyone who had their wits about them.” Austin said, laughing. I didn’t laugh as he lead me to his study up the stairs. The house creaked as it settled, and the steps spiraled at a bit of an incline.

“You have a cat out here, Austin? Seems more like dog country.” I said, looking down at the steps. “This groove to drain water or something?”

There was a foot long indent along the stairs, running down the middle. Perfectly even at a glance.

“Oh, no, no, old owners lived here a long time. I think they might have evenly spread it–”

There was a crash, first of thunder then of a dropped pans from the kitchen. Austin’s face went pale for a second.

“Its quite alright, I’m sure!” Austin shouted after me. I had already rounded into the source, the kitchen—door half open. I threw the door open and–

And she nearly put me through the wall. I felt claws on my shoulder and saw dozens of enraged and startled serpent eyes. As she held me on the floor, I heard the warning rattle from an unseen scaly tail. My eyes were distracted by her fangs bared at me.

“Its alright, it’s alright!” I heard Austin shout. “Dear, please, your both high strung! Storms do that.”

“Austin, I think you forgot somethings!” I shouted, eyes fixed in hers. Her face was hidden by a veil of snake skin.

“Did he now?” The woman said—with all twenty snake mouths that made up her head, her face unraveling and rem-emerging from the masses. It was when she moved that I realized my legs were trapped—feeling slowly returning to my feat, little bites marring my pants.

“Well, dear, how would you explain it.” Austin said defensively.

“…You better think of a quick way to explain it Austin.” I said, slowly pushing my self up into a chair.

MedusaHeadSwarm.png

Austin’s explanation was full of poetry and phantasms and whimsy. I will abbreviate it here, as I was not in a whimsical mood. He had acquired the house from a man in town, at first to rent but then bought outright. The house was the man’s great aunt, and something about it’s perpetual disrepair had spoken to Ausitn. Fallen age of man, decay of empires, Adam’s sin, artists of his type always seem to love decaying bodies.

Never seem to ask why the place is full of dead things, and maybe that dwelling on such things is dangerous.

Of course, Austin, the fop he is, found the notion of a haunted place alluring. He loved the idea of will-o-wisp, of changelings, of entertaining morbid faerie guests. I’ve never found a reason to want such things—stories rarely make them pleasant. Had I been Austin, the strange rustling outside, the flash of scales in the bed room, the sight of dozens of serpentine eyes down the hall? Those were signs to flee.

But fly he did. Into her arms. Well, not at first. There was some back and forth. She hadn’t had someone react quite like Austin did. Asking her name—Tengra Dudana They became friends the way most people did. Shared food.

Of course, she asked questions. Why was he here, what was he doing. The two became fast friends, once they started talking. She enjoyed his artistry, he enjoyed her singing and laughter—he insisted that a hundred serpents singing was a choir I’d have to here.

Austin had a knack for friends. His art improved also—her rippling serpents inspiring thoughts of the sea more perfectly realized then before. Austin elided if they had ever left the boundaries of friendship—but he grew sheepish enough for me to decide.

Thunder continued to boom outside as Austin talked. Thunder and storms put her on edge—she was suspicous of everything on dark nights like this.

“It was not a typical romance.” She said, encoiling her body around the chair. “But a pleasant one.”

I nodded, nervously sipping the tea.

“Well, I—I imagine.” I said slowly.

“Yes, well, I had…hoped to show you the gallery first.” Austin said. Tengra rolled her eyes.

“He thinks pictures are a good start. They are wonderful paintings, but…they are not good preparation.” Tengra said, unwinding herself and sinking to the floor, then reforming as a singular woman—a rather tall one, her skin only rippling slightly as coils found their place.

“I would not oppose seeing them.” I said, placing my tea down. My nerves were slowly waking up from their stunned silence.

The paintings were…good. Yes, good. The paintings were acceptable, they captured some of the motion of their subject mater that, without first hand experience, would have seemed unbelievable. Tengra seemed fond of many forms, but there was something in the shape of the cliffs and moors that carried her image as well. By day, I’d have to see the originals nature had carved—whether she had woven Tengra into the hills, or whether that was some inspiration of Austins I cannot say.

There was one picture, however, that I paused at.

PerseusandAndromeda.png

“Austin, who is this?” I said. I pointed behind the cross of interwoven snakes, to a man on the hill. There was something about his shape I recognized—his golden wave beard and hair.

“Oh, some vagrant I think.” Austin said, shaking his head. “Well, a rather well off one maybe. He’s been around once I think.”

“Did you talk to him much?” I asked. Austin frowned, and I noticed Tengra seemed to be paying more attention.

“I…don’t think I did. It’s strange I hadn’t considered him much, but I think I talked a decent amount with him. He’s some sort of musician I think? He’s from across the sea though, I didn’t think it much important.” Austin then paused again. “No…no, not across. He said the strangest thing. He’s from the ‘other side’ of the sea.”

Austin raised a finger upward, imitating the memory.

Tengra hissed a bit.

“He is a strange man. You should have pointed him out to me, he might have been squawking.”

“You mean gawking?”

“That as well.” Tengra said.

SnakeFrogSpider.png

The next morning, me and Austin had arranged to have coffee on the porch—Tengra was sunbathing somewhere, warming her scales.

“So…so what do you think?” Austin asked, sipping his coffee slowly. I put down mine, steam still rising from it.

“The house needs work. The fence is rusty, I’d start there.” I said, flatly. Austin blinked.

“I meant about–”

“I know, I know. Uh. Well.” I said rubbing my head. “Your in love with a swarm of snakes. I…Look, I don’t have the tools to process this at the moment. Like, I’m assuming she’s not holding you hostage right? Not hypnotizing you with her eyes, like that Disney movie?”

“…the Jungle Book?”

“Yeah that one.” I said, scratching the back of my neck. Austin burst out laughing.

“No, no, she’s just a wonderful person.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Well. I, I guess there are worse things?” I said, sipping my coffee. “She’s not French or a fascist, so a plus all around there.”

“She can sing in Gaelic.” Austin piped up.

“Talented. Creepy, I’m not going to lie, but talented.” I said with a laugh. The storm hadn’t cleared yet, but in the distance I saw the sun rising—the ship back wouldn’t have a problem. I’d need to make my exit politely, this needed some thought.

It was while I was mulling this over and talking a bit on art with Austin that something caught my eye—like those will-o-wisps, a flash of light. But this was bright, metalic light. Turning my head, I saw a car rolling up the road. There was a boom of thunder, a flash of lighting in front of the sun as out walked the man with the golden beard.

Apollo and Python.png

“Hey is that…” I said nudging Austin—and then I saw it flash, briefly. A long backward curved blade, that he was examining beneath his coat. “Austin, we…we should get inside.”

Austin took a moment to register—maybe sleep still lingering on him, but he saw where I pointed. Across the way, Patrick waved. He was smiling, perfect white teeth catching the sunlight.

“Oh, yeah, its…that guy. Come on, Jeffery, lets get some more coffee. Ask him what’s happening.”

“Austin he has a–”

“Hello there, fine sailor and artist too.” Patrick said. He’d…moved fast while we where talking.

“Oh, well…Hello.” Austin said. Patrick laughed. His laugh was surprisingly deep—his slightly higher pitch giving way to a low rumbling laugh. “Can…Can I help you?”

“Serendipity says so, yes. I’m looking for something old among the cliffs—older then will-o-wisp and banshee and them.” He said, gesturing behind him to the road way. “Something with fangs and scales, an old something.”

“Well, there aren’t snakes on islands.” I said, standing up a bit.

“Adder, smooth snake, grass snake, corn snake, and viper all round the King of England’s crown.” He said, as if that explained anything. “Only emeralds really snake free, my friend. Only emerald, and that’s at least part from me. Now, have you seen it?”

“No.” Austin said, getting up. “I haven’t seen–”

The man held his hand to Austin’s face, tilting his head. He hissed behind his teeth.

“Nevermind that, never mind me.” The man said, turning now to the hills, hand reaching in his jacket. There he held that knife. “You stay here, I’ve got business. I think I can enjoy myself from here.”

I reached out to grab his arm—Austin reached for his back. The next moment I was against the wall—his fore arm was under my neck, while Austin had been tossed onto the roadway. His knife was drawn, blade facing away—it was was curved somewhat, with a straight edge on the inside, away from me.

“Friends, this seems unbecoming of men of art and wonder. Lying in the underbrush like savage hunters to catch the noble deer—very unbecoming.” He said, pushing back against my neck. I gripped his wrist—I couldn’t breath, and I felt the wall behind me cracking. My entire back was bruising—and then he dropped me on the floor. I slumped over, breathing heavy, eyes closed from sudden exhaustion. When I opened them, he was walking after a scrambling Austin—who, god bless him, was shouting a warning for Tengra.

I pulled myself up—my legs and back were not fond of the predicament. His hat flew off as the wind picked up, the storms weeping overhead. It was strange. I thought the man’s coat had looked pitch black before—now it seemed to be roiling gold and white and red. He had so many eyes. Why did his coat have so many eyes?

I threw the door open and stumbled inside, sitting behind the door frame. I heard thunder rolling, and hissing outside. I didn’t look, so this I cannot report on directly. The sun had risen only a finger when I was able to rise again— and see an empty roadway, no sign of Austin, Tengra, or the man. I hobbled out, calling Austin’s name along that cliffside road.

“Jeffery, Jeffery is that you?” a shout came from a large stone on the edge. I ran to it, and found him there—slumped against the back, holding a long snake skin to his face, sobbing.

“Austin, God in Heaven, your alive.” I said.

“Oh, not in heaven, and how alive? She is gone, Jeffery, she is gone!” He said, batting away my outstretched hand.

“Gone? As in gone or gone?” I asked, looking around. “And that man…is he gone with her? We need to leave Austin.”

“Gone, both gone! Oh the fire, the eyes, it was like Apollo wrestling Python! Oh it was dreadful–”

I decided that was enough and pulled Austin up. This time, he didn’t resist. He just kept up his mourning, about how she had vanished, how that strange man had seemed so much larger, how helpless he felt when he’d been thrown against the stone—thrown, yet lived! The man has no taste for practical miracles—how could he face the dawn without her, how could he paint without her and so on.

“Well, you have some of her scales.” I said, sighing as I lowered him on the porch. “So that’s something.”

It was apparently only a small consolation. Austin swore, swore as he lay there, holding to the skin tight, that he would find her somewhere—somewhere, in earth an heaven, or whatever was on the other side of heaven. I nodded politely—and reminded myself to never again agree to any of Austin’s wild adventures.




If there ever was a story that warranted more writing and expansion, it was probably this one. The central mystery needs more time, and the final confrontation with the Apolloian hunter needs more build up. I’ll file it away for next year.

Next week, however, we return fully to our horror roots. It’s time to go inside a book, into an old house



 

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She’s a Viper

This Week’s Prompt: 85. “For has not Nature, too, her grotesques—the rent rock, the distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?” Pater—Renaissance (da Vinci).

The Resulting Story:

The quote above is from an essay on Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Pater—not as I first thought, a saying by da Vinci as pater Renaissance. The essay is partly biographic, detailing da Vinci’s years as an artist and academic—his knowledge of nature that for his time took the form of divination, alchemy, and herbal ism. What caught Lovecraft’s attention in this quote, and what the essay points to, is that da Vinci’s mastery of nature and painting was from his in depth knowledge not only of its beauty but its grotesques—Pater points to a painting of the head of Medusa as exemplifying this. While this painting is not actually a da Vinci, it will give us a place to start in a moment.

We can first begin with some of the descriptions given by Pater of Nature’s grotesques. The rent rock is unfortunately a bit to opaque for me to refer to. The distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, however, are familiar to any student of folklore. Frequently called the Will-o-wisp, these strange lights are attested to in a number of places as leading travelers down roads unfamiliar or even to their deaths. Strange fireballs at night are also often taken as signs of witchcraft or devilry, as we discussed in our works on those topics. That such alluring sights are taken as grotesque is strange for me, but I suspect Pater is thinking of the bodies and broken corpses they leave more than the lights themselves.

This link with witches, however, brings us back to Medusa and the Gorgons. While not the exact portion of the essay quoted, the portrayal of the Gorgon as both the beauty and horror of nature isn’t without precedent as we will see. The serpentine women of the world are a varied group, and we can see traces of them in many places. And in many of them, they are beautiful and terrible.

Medusa Leonardo

Pater attributes this piece depicting Medusa to Leonardo–current research believes it to be a Flemish painting.

Beginning with the Gorgon sisters—Medusa, Stheno, Euryale—we have a group of three terrible monsters, with gazes that turn men to stone. Each is described as having serpents for hair, bronze claws, and cause terror among men. Early variations give them instead wings, boars tusks, and long tongues, with serpents for belts. The nature of these gorgons is varied. Hesiod says they are of the sea, with Medusa as their Queen. Homer attributes Athena and Agamenon as having the head of ‘the Gorgon’ on their shields, flanked by terror. Eurpidies says they were brought forth by Gaia to aid against the Olympians, and Athena killed this Gorgon and placed her on her shield. Another version says the gorgon, Gorgo Aix, was killed by Zeus in the titanomachy, skinned, and put on a shield (here her skin has snake like features). Both the Odyssey and the Aenied note the Gorgon’s are present beneath the world.

And then there is the story of Perseus and Medusa—a story I’ve taken time coming to, because the various forms the Gorgon and her sisters have taken often gets overshadowed by this tale. The story is most famously recounted by Ovid. Medusa, the lone mortal Gorgon and their Queen in some sources, was once a beautiful woman with many suitors. In time, she attracted the attention of Poseidon, who raped her in Athena’s temple. Athena, enraged by the transgression, turned Medusa’s most famed trait—her golden hair—into serpents as punishment. Medusa’s power here it should be noted is from her fearsome appearance—it is not from her mere gaze.

Medusa Ancient.png

Perseus enters the story, and we have discussed him before I believe, when a king sends him to kill Medusa in order to marry his mother without worry. Perseus receives various gifts before finding Medusa, and uses a mirrored shield to reach her and slay her—cutting off her head. Yes, a rather anti-climatic ending, but most quests that involve killing large reptiles end with either dead heroes or crafty ones. Medusa’s blood, like a number of monster’s blood, spills into the sea and creates Perseus and his less well known brother.

Medusa’s fate, as a victim of powers at be—ultimately of many powers at be, as not only is her transformation because of a patriarchial standard, but her death is ultimately because of another man trying to pursue an uninterested woman—has resulted in more sympathetic treatment of her as a character in later years. I do not feel qualified to discuss the full scope of feminist readings of the Medusa story, but they are many and worth consideration at the least. At least one scholar has suggested this is not a new reading—that Medusa was granted her powers and apperance to defend against the gods. While I haven’t included all of the analysis by Wilk here, some poritons are worth considering in the broader scope of folklore—for instance, in Ovid and other versions of Persesus, he is given an inordinate number of gifts, which might reflect a combining stories where only one gift was given.

One more note on the Gorgon that I found peculiar was it’s use as a repellent for the evil eye—yes, the one we discussed early that seemed to be exactly what Medusa possessed. The use of the Gorgon’s head on an image was said to keep it at bay, the opposite of what I expected. There is then even in the ancient context a duality to the character of the Gorgon.

Lamia.png

Especially as we go further down the line of serpentine women. The term Lamia is one I hesitate to suggest searching—it is a name that has become associated with any woman with the bottom half of a serpent. Lamia originally was a lover of Zeus who was, as per the norm in Greek myth, cursed by Hera. The nature of the curse is varied—sometimes Hera kills her children, sometimes Hera afflcits her with infantcidal maddness, as she did to Hercules. In at least one case, Lamia is cursed with sleeplessness by Hera, so she can never cease her grieving. Zeus, taking a rather strange route, blesses her with removable eyeballs so she can sleep somewhat. After this introduction, Lamia becomes a child devouring boogeyman. Over time, Lamia gained serpent like attributes and even a snake like lower body. She has also gained a reputation for vampiric traits, and in the first century AD a seducing side. With her, there is also the boogeyman Mormo—a creature defined only as terrifying, sadly.

Moving to more northern regions of Europe, we find the medieval Melusina. The stories here vary somewhat. Melusina is a watery spirit—she is associated with fountains and springs. In the most elaborate stories, she is the daughter of a fairy and a king. The fairy forbid the king to look upon her on certain days—and when the king failed in this task, she left with her three daughters. Melusina, the eldest daughter, asked the cause of the divorce, and with her sisters planned revenge against their father for his disloyalty. In at least one version,they employ their fairy magic to trap him under a mountain! Regardless, their mother does not approve of the schemes, and curses Melusina to die if she cannot find a man loyal to her in the way her father wasn’t. Every Saturday she will become a serpent—if her husband sees her as such, she will perish.

Melusina.png

Melusina, with some time, finds such a husband that will be loyal to her. Often, this is Count Raymond, who sires with her many children. However, because of her wickedness these children are often deformed. In time, the Count does as all husbands of fairies do, and spies on his wife. She cries out upon being seen and perishes—her faerie nature remaining around a nearby fountain.

In an important variant, Melusina marries Count Siegfried and has seven children with him. Here she maintains the Saturday prohibition—however, Melusina has been seen since in Luxembourg and is regarded as the mother of the city in some ways. She appears every seven years as a woman in white, asking to be redeemed. One traveler tried to redeem her, standing at midnight behind the church altar for eight of nine prescribed days. Had he completed the task, a nearby Roman ruin would have been restored! But alas, he failed to arrive on the ninth day.

Melusina still loves Luxembourg however—she weeps when it is in danger, circling overhead. If she is not redeemed, the city will collapse and be her grave stone.

Echidna.png

To finish our European serpent woman—but not finish all serpent women!–we can consider the form of Echidna. Here we find the most direct connection at the implications of nature featuring both grotesques and beauties, for Echidna is a beauty that is attractive to men far and near. She is at times described as immortal and deathless. Hesiod describes her as appearing partially beautiful nymph, partially terrible dragon. She was wife to Typhon the terrible, a monster that we discussed long ago—and should one day dredge up again—and bore a number of children by him. Aristophanes gives her as many heads as Typhon had—one hundred snake heads. Her children are many, almost as many as Tiamat: Orthus, the two headed dog; Cerberus the three headed hell hound; the Hydra, the many head snake; the Nemean Lion, invincible to moral weapons; the Caucasian Eagle, who tears out Prometheus’s liver; the Sphinx of Thebes, who only Theseus could outsmart; Ladon, the dragon who guarded the Herespedies; the harpies; a nameless venom spitting son who aided Cronus against Zeus; Scylla, who consumes the waves; the Gorgon, who we’ve discussed above; the Crommyion Sow, also slain by Theseus. In Scythia, according to Herodotus, there was a story of a similar half-snake woman that was the mother of the Scythians, with Heracles as the father.

The notion of snake like heads reminds me of an Aztec goddess—Coatlicue, the earth mother and serpent woman. Associated with both birth and death—the earth as fertile, and the earth as grave—Coatlicue is the mother of the sun god Huitzilopochtli and sometimes Quetzalcouatl, as well as the Moon goddess Coyolxāuhqui and the star gods Centzonhuītznāhua, who tried to slay the sun. She also has assoications with the god of women who died in childbirth, the Serpent Woman Cihuacóatl. While sometimes a young woman, the serpent woman often was depicted as a skull faced woman with a shield and weapon—among the Aztecs, childbirth was another form of war. With her attendants, woman who died in childbirth, she sometimes haunted cross roads looking for other children to make off with.

Aztec Earth.png

On the opposite end of these creatures, we have Nuwa—who almost resembles a cosmic Melusina. Nuwa appears or is depicted as a woman with a dragon’s coils as her lower body. During a time of chaos, in the aftermath of the destruction of the central pillar by giant headbutt, Nuwa set about re-ordering the world. She set about placing five elements and sapphires in the sky. She set four pillars made from a tortoise to hold it in place. In some accounts, she further made humanity out of yellow clay and ropes—her husband was the first of humanity, and invented arts of hunting, fishing, and farming. Nuwa enjoys popularity still, and sometimes acts as the arranger of marriages.

These various women show a common dichotomy—excluding perhaps Nuwa, they are both mothers and dangers. While there is a temptation to write this off as succubi—the fear of women’s sexuality, woman being a wicked tempter—it falls short in some stories. The Melusina is ultimately a victim, more so than her close cousin Medusa almost (depending on the version). Echinda to the Scythians is simply a mother of a people, as strong as she is. It reminds me, coming back to our very beginning, of the various dichotomies used to present and describe nature.

What sort of story can we make of these? I am tempted to avoid a literal serpent woman. However, the notion of appreciation for beauty coming only with understanding of natures horrors has some precedent in Lovecraft’s fiction (most tellingly, the work of Pickman). I think something about that, something with an artist and a muse perhaps, can be made. We will have to come around to it next week! I will see you then.

Bibliography:

Wilk, Stephen R. Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon. Oxford University Press, 2000.

This is the Story of a Pearl

This Week’s Prompt: 84. Hideous cracked discords of bass musick from (ruin’d) organ in (abandon’d) abbey or cathedral.

The Prior Research: Peacock and Serpent

Carol was dusting off the counter a bit, to make the place look nice, when the woman walked in. Bright blue skirt and sea foam green top, capped with a cyan scarf and hat. A pair of silver sea shells were around her ears, as she walked between shelves of turquoise jewelry and miniature mountains. She tapped a dull maroon umbrella—Carol wondered where she’d been to need it—on one of the displays.

“These pearls.” She said. “Are they genuine?”

“Well, of course.” Carol said, stepping out to make sure the display did in fact have real pearls along the mermaids finny tail. “Real pearl, torquis, and silver by a local artist. He also did the bird over there, with the emerald eyes.”
“And the pearls. Are they local?” The woman asked. Carol laughed a bit, but trailed off nervously when the woman kept eye contact.

“Uh, I don’t know? I think he gets them from a freshwater pearl producer?” Carol said, frowning. She didn’t ever really bother Dave about his art. The woman nodded.

“I see. Produced not procured. Well, thank you for your time. If you happen to meet the gentleman who made these, my card.” The woman said, producing a small blue business card, with white letters across the top. A bunch of triangles ran along the edges.

Mariam Thompson—Collector of the Fine and Exotic.

Blue Card 908.png

There were three unlabeled numbers, and what Carol took to be a phone number. Mariam left, the bell jingling as she walked out, before Carol could ask another word. Carol frowned and placed the card on the desk. Dave might know what was going on.

A little while, after a few of polo shirted khaki tourists and the occasional teenager looking for some new age enlightment, Carol was convinced that the strange woman was the worst for the day. Then two more visitors arrived. One was an older man, dressed in his business suit with, with a scruffy gray beard and big red cheeks. Three bands were on his hand—a green one, a gold one, and a silver one. There was some writing on one of them, but Carol didn’t get a good look at it. With his shades and earrings, he looked like if Santa had gotten into a rock band and then cleaned up to become a middle manager. Spent most of his time looking at postcards. Eventually, he came up to Carol with a sweet smile.

“Lots of nice jewelry you’ve got at this place—must cost a fortune.” He said, gesturing at a diamond of silver worked with designs Dave said were native. “I think I’ll take that one.”

When Carol returned, the man looked at the silver carefully, bending it to catch the light.

“Yes, nice work this is. They don’t make quality like this often—heh, well I suppose I shouldn’t be so sweet when buying it. Might change the price.” The man said, taking out two twenties and a ten. “I noticed your artist knows his way around pearls…does he work with any bigger ones?”

Carol raised an eyebrow as she rang him up.

“Pearls? No, think Dave mostly works with the smaller ones. Don’t know if his supplier has big ones.”

“Ah, that is a pity. I know a guy, if he wants to get in touch, who can supply him with some bigger materials if he likes.” the man said. “My card—give me a call, I’m in town for a week or so.”

The card was white, with a green, gold, and silver swirl along the edges.

Leonard Mell—Acquisitions, Supplies, and the Finer Things in life.

He’d printed his hotel number on it. For some reason.

Pearl Green Card business.png

The other visitor was…weird. Not as weird as the blue woman, not as monochromatic. He was wearing a heavy coat—and even in the mountains, the desert sun was too harsh for that to be reasonable. Blue jeans, and dull grey gloves. Construction gloves. He had a scarf on too. Tattoo on the bit of his neck that Carol could see—seemed to move for a moment.

Her eyes tracked him carefully—that much bulk was for hiding something, probably to grab something. She watched as he passed the jewelry and looked at the mermaid figurine—gave her out reached hand a high five with his finger. He smiled, placed it back after turning it over. He looked at some white bead necklaces for a bit…and she frowned as he slipped something beneath one of the novelty cactus mugs.

Taking it, she frowned. A…business card.

Albert Alphonso Adum—Experimental Pottery

There was a lion on the front, holding a snake in it’s mouth. No number, no address.

Carol was looking over her collection of strange cards that night, when there was a knock at the door. A man in a button up and sports jacket.

“Stores closed.” She said, tapping the sign.

The man sighed and held up a badge.

“Michael Lett.” He said through the glass. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

***

Michael had been out getting coffee when he got the call. The exchange had been brief—a package, at a train station, had gone missing in the last twenty-four hours. The person who had contacted the department had set the estimate of it’s worth—it was one of those numbers that Micahel was pretty sure was fake. However, they had provided a description.

A pearl, weighing one hundred pounds, in a specialized locked case. The client was supposed to purchase the pearl from someone—they weren’t co-operating on who, but had insisted that locating the pearl was of the utmost importance.

Train footage hadn’t been very helpful—yes, it was clear someone had taken the pearl, but they’d definitely cased the place before. He had gone into a crowd, hat and coat on, and then slipped beneath the blind spots in the camera. Michael had managed to get a bit of a better bead—a regular at the coffee shop had seen the stranger get in a taxi. The taxi driver had taken him to another cafe, and the barista there after some…green reminders, told Michael the guy got on a bus out of town.

The chain had run cold at times, but Michael had managed with a map and some thought, to get to Carol’s souvenir shop in the Rocky Mountains. Well. To be fair, as he explained to Carol, she was the third person he had talked to recently.

“But the first young man was a Mormon, and the second wouldn’t let me in.” Michael said, hanging up his coat.

“Well, a strange man walking around saying he’s with the authorities isn’t exactly comforting.” Carol muttered. “Third one today asking about pearls.”

Carol handed the business cards to Michael, which he flipped through. The felt…strange. Textured. Mariam’s felt smooth and grooved like sea shells, and Leonard’s was too smooth for paper. Albert’s had a faint feather print. Weird for someone so disheveled.

“Where does Dave do his work?” Michael said, looking over the cards. They were looking for the pearl—sounded like they expected Carol to get something. “At home, at a studio?”

“I think at his house, sometimes he does it down stairs.” Carol said. “I was going to get him the cards next time he came in—do you think their looking for this pearl with him?”

Michael stared at the business cards again, frowning as he flipped through them.

“I think they don’t know yet, either.” Michael said, frowning. “I might be back later, hopefully we get this sorted. Thank you for your time.”

***

It was dark out already—the mountains made the sunset a bit more sudden as shadows of giants fell on the town. The motel Micahel was at was one of those drive in ones, with conical rooms painted to look like tepees. As tempting as sleep was, Michael instead decided to take some time to get to know one of the witnesses.

“Coming coming. By God, who in the wide world want’s me at–” Leonard said, opening the door a jar to see Michael holding the badge up quietly. “Ah. Of course. The authorities would be so rude.”

Leonard opened the door in striped pajamas, rings still on. Without his suit, the small necklace around his neck of silver and brass links was more visible, ending with a small bronze plate. The plate had a…thing on it, Michael noticed. A weird bunch of circles and dots, and some liquid in a tiny bottle beneath it.

“Well, what is it at this hour? I’ve been in town not even a day, surely nothing terrible has–”

“Mr. Mell, I’m here to talk to you about pearls.” Michael said, gesturing for Leonard to sit…which Leonard did, slowly.

“Pearls? Strange thing to talk about in desert mountains.” Leonard said, frowning.

“You’d be surprised what can be found in freshwater—although the Colorado hasn’t made many big ones, there are some truly large river pearls.” Michael said, sitting on the hotel desk chair. “I’ve heard there’s been interest in pearls from the valley lately.”

Leonard nodded.

“They have something of a strange color.” Leonard said, nodding knowingly. “A bit, ah, a bit yellow you might say.”

“I admit, perhaps I lack the professional inclination.” Michael said, nodding.

“Well, it isn’t a hard business to enter, if law enforcement isn’t your fancy anymore.” Leonard said. “I know a numb–”

Glass cracks. Michael turns, as the window caves in. There’s a flash of light. Car alarms go off. And then it’s gone.

Turning around, Michael stood up in shock. Leonard was gone—clothes and all. Well, not all. There’s a shadow on the wall, moving still. Explaining as it goes through the motions, before slowly fading away.

***

Mariam Thompson’s hotel room was a quick drive. Leonard took stock of what he’d learned while he drove over. There had been a circle—about a foot in diameter. Salt along the edges, almost perfect—one crack. The cars weren’t damaged—well, one was. Next to the circle—a long depression on the top. Alright. No signs of Leonard. The phone number on the business card didn’t go anywhere. The address for his home office was an abandoned building in New York, which didn’t bode well for the rest of his business.

ParkingLotPearls2.png

It was half past eleven. Ten minutes after meeting Carol and then poof goes the suspect.The hotel Mariam was at was one of those towering ones, with a nice front for being dropped off by a taxi. Michael parked quickly, and slammed the door, looking around for anything unusual. His ears pricked up on something—a dull throbbing bass line coming from the road. Probably some late night party he was too old for.

Finding her room was easy, and the front desk was co-operative when Micahel mentioned he was here about a missing persons case and presented her business card. Over the phone, when they called her up, Michael was sure to make mentions of the pearls. That got things moving smoothly.

Mariam Thompson was still in all blue, although she’d taken off her jewlery. There was a bottle of wine on the table, and a glass half full. Michael’s eyes darted around. The room was plain, no suitcases insight. Mariam took a seat in a recliner, wrapping one leg beneath the other for comfort.

“Well Officer, what’s the prob–”

“Detective.” Michael said. He didn’t bother to sit. “Ms. Thompson, I’ve been informed you’ve come to town recently looking to purchase a pearl.”

“Straight to business aren’t we?” Mariam said, topping her glass. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink?”

“Ms. Thompson, did you or did you not intend to purchase a pearl from one Carol Yotes this morning?”

“I did, yes. She didn’t have any worth my trouble, I’m afraid.” Mariam said, taking another sip.

“Did you know three other individuals arrived and expressed similar interests?” Michael asked, twitching somewhat—the headlights of a passing car in the window. Nothing wrong.

“I did not. Seems rather odd, but not worth the involvement of law enforcement. Surely there are stranger purchases for you to be investigating?”

“Ms. Mariam, thirty hours ago, a world record sized pearl went missing from the station—less then twelve hours ago, it was reported to be nearby. Less than two hours ago, one of the other suspected buyers went missing.” Michael said, keeping his calm. “For your safety and mine, I suggest you co-operate.”

Mariam paused, tapping her glass twice and then placing it on the mantle. She stood up, opened a drawer and removed one of her earrings, looking at it closely.

“Which one went missing?” She asked, roating the earring.

“What?”

“Which of the two other buyers went missing, detective?” She said, emphasizing the last word. “I would assume you hadn’t forgotten already.”

“Mr. Leonard—”

“Not his name. No one uses their real names here. Not now.” Mariam said. “What did he wear? Grey robes? Arachnid headress? Silk robes?”

“Rings.” Micahel said, holding up his hand and touching his ring finger three times.

There was a flash. A crack. Outside, Micahel saw it more clearly this time—it was farther away. A bright, pearl white sphere unraveling into the air—encompassing a whole building not far away. Midnight.

SmallTownPearl2.png

“And then that, that happened.” Micahel said, pointing with his index and ring finger out the window. “Care to explain that?”

“…No, I do not care to.” Mariam said, staring out the window. “Detective, I’m afraid you have misjudged the situation, and your fellows at the station or pinkerton house or where ever you call home, have misjudged the timing. You are not hunting a pearl. You are hunting an egg. And it’s started to hatch.”

“…what lays an egg that looks like a pearl?” Michael asked slowly.

“Oh, many things. I am afraid we will have to cut this short. For your safety, detective, I suggest you let this case sort itself out. It is, how do you say it these days, above your pay grade.”

***

Michael was ready to take her advice—a missing witness, flashes of light, and cryptic nonsense was too much for him. Eventually, there was a point where normal police work had to at least find experts or help. Real help.

However, Micahel did want to inform Carol of what had happened—especially since her friend, the pearl guy, was probably caught up in this nonsense. What was his name again? Dave something. Her shop was on the way out of town anyway, and Michael wanted to get far away from her.

Well.

That’s where her shop was. Michael the cars outside caved in, the windows shattered, the door torn off it’s hinges. The cracks in the wall shimmered in the headlights as Michael turned them off, glittering like opals. At the front of the door, there was a circle. Exactly two feet across—three cracks in the edges.

Michael swallowed his dread and crossed into the building. The lights were still on, and excpet the broken glass all over the floor, nothing had been moved—although, he noticed, there wasn’t a single pearl in the old display. Just the mermaid, her entire body looking like cast coral without the stones.

He didn’t bother calling out for Carol.

The door in the back was missing—going down the steps, he found Dave’s workshop. Unfinished sculptures were lying on the floor. A small pile of pearls, and a pedestal. Michael walked slowly around until he spotted something more unusual—a dent in the wall, one foot across. The edges had that same opalescent quality to them—the same rainbow, multicolored sheen. It seemed to be moving—spreading almost.

Touching it, he felt a dim vibration. Whatever was making these, this was a recent one…but it was a smaller shape then upstairs. Two maybe? Or maybe…it started here, and went upstairs next. Feeling along the edge, he felt one…then two subtle shifts in the wall. Just two cracks. There was a clock above it, trapped in a thin finish, glittering pearls growing off of it’s cracks. It’s stuck at the eleventh hour. It’d happened during his interview with Carol—whatever it was.

Michael weighed his options. He could go after Alberto—that was the last lead. The last shot at finding out what happened. Or he could run, forget this whole thing. Forget the weird colors and lights. Probably sleep a bit easier not knowing.

Michael pulled out Alberto’s business card and dialed into the cellphone. He didn’t really need sleep, right?

***

Alberto was more co-operative. Especially when Michael said the last three had gone missing. Michael was past caring. The pearl wasn’t going to show up by poking around gently.

Alberto looked about as presentable as expected for a late night meeting in a parking lot, not far from an abandoned church. Apparently the road party hadn’t stopped—there was still thrumming bass music not far off. Almost sounded like it was coming from the church, but no one was in side the abandoned building.

“Wow, this is…you’ve got to know this is sketchy right?” Alberto said, walking down the road from his own parked car.

“I saw a man go missing in a flash of light, and another flash of light dissappear a bunch of pearls—I figure being shot in the dark on the road is too mundane to happen today.” Michael said, holding a box of cigarettes out to Alberto.

“Ah, no thanks.” Alberto said, waving his hand. “So….you already know about the other two?”

“Sure.” Micahel said, lighting his first. “Mariam talked in circles. Leo went missing before I could ask. So. It’s an egg?”

“…yeah, its an egg I guess.” Alberto said, breathing slowly. “Kind of anyway.”

“And it’s hatching, right?” Michael said, looking up at the sky. “It’s cracking, that’s hatching right?”

“Sure, close close.” Alberto said, nodding. “You’ve got the gist of it.”

“Right, so. What’s it doing? What’s with the flashes?”

“Its a baby. A big one. You wander around, and realize a things are going missing near a kid–”

“Eating them, got it.” Michael said, nodding again. “So, why you guys? Why not random folks? Why try and grab this thing?”

“…It’s a baby.” Alberto repeated, shaking his head. “Kid’s need parents. Especially cosmic kids, big kids. We’ve been waiting for…well, for a while for this kid. Had to make sure we got it right.”

Michael made a hum and exhaled, looking off in the distance towards the church. The bass sound was getting louder. Faster, vibrating his fingertips.

“So that’s it? Just a question and–” Alberto began.

“It recognizes you.” Michael said suddenly. “Somehow, you’ve seen it…and it’s seen you. So it goes looking for you, to make cracks.”

“I mean, that’s a thought.”

Michael looked at his watch.

“So how long until it comes for you?” Michael asked. Alberto froze. Michael stared at his watch—there was a flash, right at one o’clock. Which meant one for Mariam. Looking up, Michael saw it. Floating there, a great pearl with six cracks running along the edges. He could see faces in that pearl—places, even, forests and seas. It was swelling too—six feet wide, as big as a person, reflecting him perfectly.

PearlEgg2.png

Michael walked up to the pearl, as the cracks began to spiderweb. Out it burst,sending shards flying away—one nicked Michael’s cheek, living a long thin scar he’d explain for years.

Sitting at the epicenter of the explosion was a child—glowing faintly like the moon. It looked so helpless. So confused. Michael looked either way on the street, crossed over, and offered a hand to the five year old, and a coat. They got into the car.

The car drove off.



I think this story was strongest at the start–the scene at the shop was not only delightful to write, but reading it over for editing, it felt the best. As the story moved along further, the constraints of time and space became more of a problem–this turned into a mystery story, and I frankly only have so much space for a supernatural mystery. I think it’s enjoyable, and certainly a bit strange, but not finished by a long shot. The ending might lead into other stories. 

Next week, we’ll be going to another specific time and place: The Rebirth of Italy, the magics there in, the artistry. I hope to see you then!

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Peacock and Serpent

This Week’s Prompt: 84. Hideous cracked discords of bass musick from (ruin’d) organ in (abandon’d) abbey or cathedral.

The Resulting Story:This is the Story of a Pearl

Well. This is going to be quite an article. So, this prompt through something of a wrench in my normal mode of writing and making this blog—which is, to latch onto a part of the prompt and pick it apart in folklore, then build a story off the folklore as possible. The problem, however, with this one was that the obvious option—the ruined organ—wasn’t easily found. While there is some possible work around by focusing on the abandoned church or cathedral, that felt a bit well trodden. So I turned instead to finding out if there was a story this was from. This is a good fallback, if things are too repetitive, and generally I can extract something from Lovecraft’s original work, even if it’s distasteful. And then…there’s this one.

So this prompt was used for a Lovecraft story—specifically Red Hook, name sake I assume of Red Hook Studios. The story is, to be entirely honest, a shocking cavalcade of terrible writing that aligns with the worst aspects of humanity at the moment. I have never denied that Lovecraft had troubling works—the man was by all accounts a racist of the highest caliber. What makes this particular story difficult is that the elements of the story are almost identical to the confluence of conspiracies that exist to this day—a secret satanic cult, primarily attended by middle eastern immigrants, that kidnaps children (to Lovecraft’s ‘credit’, the children kidnappings get the police attention only after stealing Swedish children, but that is the smallest of credits), and ends with a mass deportation before a vision of hell is—and I am not going to try and indulge in rehabilitating such a story as I might say for…Innsmouth, where the basic building blocks can be recovered somewhat.

That last prompt that operated this way I responded to with a brief overview of the community that Mr. Lovecraft seemed to be slandering—and in the instance of Red Hook there is even less speculation needed. I will get to the exact issues I ran into researching the matter. I did endevaor to do more indepth and modern research on the Yazidi(Yezidi? Sources used both names), but that has resulted in it’s own difficulties.

Bear with me, I promise, we’ll get to the stories of Peacock Angel and the various saints in a moment. I wanted to first show at least some self awareness on where this is going. As you may know, I primarily rely on public domain texts. There are a few reasons for that—partly, it’s cost. I don’t have the personal funds to acquire the latest research, and the amount of folklore research in the public domain is astoundingly vast. While not comprehensive, my access to public domain works has covered a wide number of topics, and allowed me to avoid losing funds. It also means you, my readers, can hopefully track down the texts for yourself to read if you want to. The other reason, however, is that such folklore tends to be of such an age that I feel drawing on it as a source of inspiration is…uncomplicated. That is not the case with the Yezidi.

Why? Well, let’s discuss the Yezidi. The Yezidi are a small Kurdish religious minority who are known for a distinct belief system compared to the rest of the Near East—one that has repeatedly attracted attention and derision from nearby communities. We only need look at the most comprehensive book availble in Lovecraft’s time to see why—Devil Worshipers and their Rituals. This book was published in 1912, but the accusation of devil worship among the Yezidi is much older than that.

With that context in mind, I had initially planned to dismiss the original book as a footnote and focus on more modern research—and mostly, I have. Modern research on the topic has hit a number of further walls however. As is unsurprising for a community of believers who have suffered repeated persecution for centuries, the Yezidi are not exactly open about their religious beliefs. The book that was recorded in 1912 was not a Yezidi original, but a synopsis of beliefs from neighbors—and again may be rife with errors. On the other hand, the Yezidi themselves have cultivated a habit about misleading officials and investigators about their beliefs.

But what are those beliefs, now that I’ve spent more than half the usual length of an article with all this preamble? Well, lets begin…with the beginning.

Maluk Tawus

In the beginning, God (Xwade) created a pearl of His pure essence and placed it on the back of a dove named Anfar. The essence stayed there for forty thousand years. After that, God created on the first day Maluk Tawus, the Peacock Angel and lord of all. On each successive day, he creates another angel: Dardail, Sheikh Hasan; Israfil, Sheikh Shams; Mikail, Sheikh Abu Bakr; Jabrail or Gabriel, who is Sidjaddin; Shamnail, who is Nasraddin; and Turail. We’ll discuss more of these as time goes on—especially, of course, Maluk Tawus, lord of all.

God then finishes creation from the great pearl—one story records that He does so by shouting at the pearl, shattering it into four pieces. He then dwelled in a vessel for thirty thousand years on the oceans, before shouting again to make sea solid as he dwelt on Mount Lalis. Eventually he informs the angels that he will create Adam and Eve—and from Adam alone will the Yezidi people come, who are the people of Maluk Tawus.

An interlude, attested to in a few versions, occurs as God dwells on the Black Mountain and shouts thirty thousand angels into existence. They worship him for thirty thousand years and are sent to heaven with Maluk Tawus.

Adam is then made from the four elements brought by Jabrail, and Jabrail is told to take him to paradise and allow him any food but wheat. And so it is for over a hundred years.

Maluk Tawus then asks how Adam is meant to multiply in this state—And God gives him, Maluk, power over the issue. Maluk then asks Adam if has tried wheat, and offers him some. Adam’s belly swells with the wheat and he is cast out—and in a moment of comedy to me, he is eventually given a rear end so that his belly unswells.

Briefly, a variation of this story says that the soul was out of Adam for seven hundred years—entering only when promised paradise. While Adam was in paradise, he was like an angel with a great light of his forehead, until expelled. His expulsion here was more trickery, although still with divine approval—here Maluk Tawus tosses the wheat into Adam’s mouth while he yawns.

After a hundred years of being alone from the garden, Jabrial is sent out to provide him a companion—Eve. Adam and Eve produce the first child, but a dispute emerges as to who is the primary parent. To determine who’s seed was responsible for human kind, they took a pair of jars and put their seed in separate containers. After nine months, they opened the jars. Eve’s jar emerged with maggots, worms, serpents, and scorpions—where as Adam’s has a child with a face like the moon, Shahid bin Jarr. Shahid marries either a houri from Paradise, or his own sister born from the Jarr. And from here comes the Yezidi. In an aside, one version says men’s nipples were made to suckle Shahid bin Jarr.

Seth, Noah, and Enoch are descendants of Shahid bin Jarr, where as the other peoples of the world come from Adam and Eve’s progeny.

Moving forward, there was another flood for the Yezidi, who further trace themselves from Ham. At the time of this second flood, they were ruled by Melek Miran. As before, a great vessel was made to sustain themselves—however, unlike the more traditional ark, this ark ran into Mount Shinraj. A hole was made in the ark, and a great serpent offered to fill it in exchange for the right to eat human flesh. Melek Miran—or, in another version, Noah—agrees with consternation. Afterwards, the serpents numbers multiply, such that he threatens to eat all mankind. But a man of honor cannot break his vow, so Melek Miran asks for help. Jabrial instructs Melek Miran to toss the serpent into the fire—there it becomes fleas which feed on human kind to this day.

Temple Lalish.png

There are further stories in the Black Book, but I will bring into focus a few more that I found confirmed in modern texts, before moving on to the stories of saintly figures and members of the folk pantheon. One is the division of Maluk Tawus into the other angels, to make a group of seven chiefs. These seven meet every year to determine the fate of the next year on the holy day. Further, the angels are said to incarnate among the Yezidi and have granted to Solomon seven standards or sanjaq that display Maluk Tawus atop them. Each is ascribed to an archangel—and supposedly designed very differently, but topped with Maluk Tawus none the less. These eventually were given to the Yezidi by their most recent founder when Solomon passed away.

These images sometimes display traits comparable to the icons we have discussed elsewhere—in one village, a sanjaq appeared after following an angels dream instructions. When war threatened, a number of these images were taken far away, and have since emerged elsewhere. The stories around the sanjaq introduce the interesting notion that blue is a color Maluk Tawus finds offensive—a trait I recall but cannot confirm at the moment being true in Kabbalistic texts on dreams.

We can discuss some of these characters in more detail, however. Sheykh Shams, the angel made early on, is traced to a historical figure—son of ‘Adi II, third leader of the Adawiyya—and has since become a celestial patron of the sun. Sheykh Shams is sometimes associated with traits of the broadhead—light eyes, Isa, and even the essence of religion. Shams has also been called the bearer of the seal, the torch bearer for the community, the holder of spiritual knowledge, and having command over Hell itself. He has twelve children—nine sons, three daughters, each a representative for the month.

Yezidi belief also attributes reverence for Sheykh to Jews and Christians, but not Muslims. The source of this assertion is unclear, as is the association with the Tartars.

Sheykh Shams’s brother, Malak Faxradin, is the moon associated being of the same sort. He is far more enigmatic, and his association is less clear. A few liturgies refer to his roll as a lord of the disk, and he is known for his capacity to cure lunacy, and to have created the role of reciter in his day. The moon has powers over floods and earthquakes as well—and in some cases is in fact the Sun’s sister that he pursues until the eclipse (the Yezidi also suggest that a great serpent is eathing the sun during an eclipse). The change of the moon is said to be from Brother-Moon’s one way love withering him away until he is reborn.

Earthquakes also are caused by the shifting of the red bull that is holding up creation. The source of this movement is sometimes idleness, other times a fly that buzzes around the bulls head constantly—the blinking the bull does when the fly gets close is the cause of the quakes.

Other heavenly bodies have their own traits. Stars are tied to the lives of men—a man’s star winks out when dies, and appears when he is born. The rainbow is said to be Solomon’s belt, and by standing under it a wish can be granted. Walking beneath and across it can change a person’s gender.

Thunder and storms however bring us to another new entity: Mamarasan, the darting Mohammed, is the common lord of wind and thunder. There are two others, Aba-brisuk and Malak Ba-ras, who’s disputes create hurricanes—their individual breath is the wind, so when it swirls and clatters, it isn’t supring that a storm emerges. Mama-rasan rides a lion frequently, and holds a snake as a whip—however, in one origin story, he proves his holiness not by mounting a lion but by riding a stone. This is a common motif in saints tales of the region, ranging from riding stones to riding broken portions of wall to meet lesser saints.

Another ariel power is Sex Muse-Sor, or the Red Sheikh Moses. Families that trace their origins to this spirit are said to have the power to cure diseases in lungs and joints, including rheumatism. This extends to his home, a shrine around which the ground is holy. His color, red, is emphasized to mark him as holy and at times he has held the title of lord of the pen and tablet—although that has passed on to others.

There is one more cosmological force we have not discussed—mainly because my research on him separated him from the rest of the godhead. We can consider Dweres Erd, lord of the Earth. Dweres is primary invoked in a funerary prayer and in later toasts, where he is viewed as the lord of the dead. In addition to protecting the dead, Dweres Erd protects the any abandoned objects that are expected to be found again nearby. For the dead, Dweres Erd guards both body and soul from predation while the angels of heaven come to judge the departed.

Black Serpent Door.png

Moving out of the land of the supreme gods, I would like to discuss some of the more local characters found with the Yezidi—particularly stories of saints and their manifestations. We can consider, for instance, Sheikh Mend, who had associations with serpents. His descendants cannot be bitten by them, and they can cure, and the Sheikh himself turned into a great black snake to drive away invading enemies. A similar snake tale tells of how two Christians , Henna and Mar Henna, turned into snakes to kill Sheikh Adi—only for Sheikh Adi to turn into one of his older incarnations, their old teacher, and be recognized as holy.

We have fragments of other mythological characters. We have references to the book of the serpents laughter, a tome of knowledge and wisdom that snakes are in possession of. Bits of the myth of Pira Fat remain, a daughter of the moon and patroness of women in labor. Pira Fat was notable for preserving the seed of the Yazidi people for seven hundred or seven thousand years. We have the king of the djinn, Jinn Tayar or the flying djinn. His descendants can heal ailments of the soul, and has many beings.

This all brings me to my second process memo like portion. How do I make this into a story? This question is what severely damaged the Court story—while I found many Romani folktales, relating them to the prompt directly proved almost impossible. In retrospect, there were certainly ways to relate specific aspects, but there was a sharp disconnect between the story I wrote and the research I did. Not a surprising disconnect—the research was a response to the prompt, but a wholly negative one.

This research presents the same problem that is frequent in folktales, but especially religious or mythic ones. The essence can be a bit bare on the bones, and takes time to be turned into something that feels inspired by the research as opposed to merely retelling it. And sometimes I just retell it—the Bacchae story and the Bluebeard story are both retelling. So what to do with this living religion? What concepts can I use?

I think immediately, with a cosmogony like many of these stories, there is a temptation to include them as factoids or to retell them in more detail. Alternatively, to make the discovery of such a story part of the plot—finding the pots that Adam and Eve used, or the mountain where maybe God’s laughter and shouting can be found carved into the world. These are…acceptable, but I feel like as plot elements they are too high minded.

So what notions did I find fascinating in this research? The creation of fleas by burnt serpent was interesting, but I want to hold that in reserve—I’ve come across a number of similar stories in the world, for both fleas and mosquitoes, that I’d like to compare it to. The other recurring aspect I found interesting was the pearl—or rather, the notion of cultivated and stored essence, to create a greater than normal birth.

The idea of a carefully cultivated essence—in the form of a pearl, often enough, but also a seed—hatching or breaking to reveal a greater cosmic power has potential in a story, modern or otherwise. It gives us an event—when the pearl cracks—and the image is not so tied to a mythic past that it is impossible (although a literal version of the Adam and Eve story would be). We can build a story around this—around the people who are carefully nourishing this cosmic egg, around what emerges from it. We can even include the strange music from a broken organ, as an omen or related to the process.

Bibliography

Astarian, Garnik and Arakelova, Victoria, “The Yezidi Pantheon” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2004), pp. 231-279

Astarian, Garnik and Arakelova, Victoria, “Malak-Tāwūs: The Peacock Angel of the Yezidis” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (2003), pp. 1-36

Arakelova, Victoria, “Three Figures from the Yezidi Folk Pantheon” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 6, No. 1/2 (2002), pp. 57-73

Joseph, Isaya. Devil Worship. Richard G. Badger, Boston 1919

Nicolaus, Peter “The Serpent Symbolism in the Yezidi Religious Tradition and the Snake in Yerevan” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 15, No. 1/2, Jubilee Volume (2011), pp. 49-72

Spat, Eszter “Shahid bin Jarr, Forefather of the Yezidis and the Gnostic Seed of Seth” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 6, No. 1/2 (2002), pp. 27-56

Voskanian, Vardan, “Dewrēš E’rd: The Yezidi Lord of the Earth” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 3/4 (1999/2000), pp. 159-166

Digital Sources:

http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/yazidis-i-general-1

The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

This Week’s Prompt: 83. Quotation “. . . a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one, to be gotten rid of as it might.”—Hawthorne

The Prior Research:The Eye

Part 1:The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

The palace of King Morgan was adorned with thin metal chains—each link held a small carving, word, or gem. They fanned outward, along wires across the city of Lanmoth. Mothers told their sons that the net caught the nightmares of the world, and forced the strange things of the world to pay proper homage when they entered. As Lawerence and the stranger came through the great doors, they reached the growing spindles and thick knotted chords of metal. It caused the stranger no small discomfort, Lawerence noticed, to see that central triumph of the court.

The pillar rose like a tree in the center of the room, a column of woven metals and gems that shown like thunder’s net. Fires were set all around it, so auspicious shadows were cast upon the veils of the court. Each magistrate and lord sat hidden in their own parlor, sequestered from the world. The royal chamber, which occupied the man entrance, was covered by a great purple and white curtain. Three sets of eyes in bright red were painted on it—one for the king, one for the queen, and one for the princess.

King Morgan's Veil.png

Lawerence bowed to these painted eyes, and introduced the stranger as a son of the River Liliu, a worker of wonders. There was silence at first, but a steady music played from King Morgan’s chamber.

“What feat will you will work for us first?” The King’s voice said, muffled somewhat. The stranger smiled at the familiar tone.

“First, if it please the king, I will do a humble and simple spell. It is tiring, however, so it will be all I can for today—I have worked many wonders in the market, and my powers are taxed. However, bring me a bird—I will send the bird unto the realm of the dead and call her back again!”

There was a shuffling from the court, gasps behind heavy cloth where only the outlines could be seen. At last the King let out a call for a spectacular song bird—one as large as a man. It was brought forth, and slipped from it’s handlers hand! There was a shout of surprise, as it threatened to run amok with it’s talons and fierce beak! And then the many colored eyes of the stranger fell upon it.

“Sh, sh there’s no need for that…” the stranger coaxed, extending his free hand and gesturing for the bird to draw close. Slowly the bird stepped forward, one claw at a time.

“There we go, there we go, that’s better. Now, the act.” The stranger said, turning to the king’s chamber, a hand under the bird’s beak. “My wise king, surely you will fear that my act is merely some mesmerism—that I have done this through a commanding eye, and thus faked my wonders. I ask only that my friend, this fine subject of yours, confirm my wonder at each step. For with such a veil, could my eyes harm him?”

There was a general assent.

The stranger then turned to the bird, and held out his hand—and the bird grew stiff. The stranger spoke few words, in a language unknown to most there—and the one who might have understood could not, for the veil muffled those drolling words. The bird stretched its neck up, its feathers flattening until, at last, it fell on it’s side. The stranger, unbreaking from his stance, gestured for Lawerence to examine the bird. Lawerence, bewildered, rushed to the bird’s side, and proclaimed not a sound or motion was coming from the body—it was as cold as ice!

The stranger raised his staff up. A sudden whistling sound filled the are and the bird sprung upright again, it’s beak nearly sheering Lawrence’s veil.

“If this is you exhausted, friend, you may stay as long as you produce such wonders. Go, Lawerence, and take him to chambers to rest.”

When Lawerence left, Bartholomew was summoned to the King’s side—and entered the veils to the royal family. King Morgan alone was there, his wife and daughter not having come to court today. The King drummed his fingers on his secret throne.

“Bartholomew, this man we must keep under careful guard. He knows magics unseen—be ready at my word to strike him down, for he seems familiar to me.”

“As you wish, my king.” Bartholomew said, nodding.

“And take this, to guard you from his gaze. It is stronger then most—I fear it would rend your veil asunder.” the King said, handing him a charm—carved of coral, with each hole filled with a small pearl. “Our guest has come with higher purpose—and I will not allow it to be fufilled.”

The stranger was taken to the highest quarters, nestled not far from the veiled halls of the king and queen. His room had many fine things, most from lands far from Lanmoth, but that had been offered as gifts or tributes to it’s royal family. The stranger of course had little need for the finery, even as he admired them. As the King suspected, he had a higher cause.

He called to him, in that room when none were about, his many half-brothers. They were gray things, more mist then men, that were unused to these homes. They preferred the ruins of their old lives, but answered their half-brothers soft conch call. The stranger set them about to touch the great pillar, the shifting and shimmering heart of the city wide talisman.

The brothers slipped beneath the door as mists, slinking on barely seen hands and feet in the moonlight, until at last they reached the pillar with it’s many layered chains. As they reached, the chain’s light took hardened form and pricked their fingers. The gold stung like scorpions and bit like snakes. The many small gems shone like Argus’s hungry eyes, and the brothers retreated.

They had thought as much. The trip from their father’s house had been long, but entry into the city had been hard going on them. Their half-brother, with his flesh and blood and breath, found it easy. But they were afforded no-such protections. Working wonders for him on birds and buildings they could do. But not tear down the pillar.

The stranger thanked them in the customary way, with an offering and some incense. He then set about planning his mischief.

That night, the stranger lay to sleep in his special way—stepping outside of himself, as he began to dwell as one with the world. For beneath the world, below the laws of men and gods, there are great sleeping things. Their minds are the bedrock of the world we see.

So the stranger dreamed as they dreamed, as he dreamed on Mount Moni. He walked in the waking world as little more than a breeze. The great talisman in the court shone through the walls at him, glowering as the enraged sun. He made no effort to hide from it, even as it corroded on his skin. The mists of Mount Moni were not here to aid him.

Still, he stalked down the halls, flickering with each step—in but three steps he covered the entire palace, to find the room of the King and Queen. He reached to go through the door, but felt the singe of the many golden chains and tailsmans, as they gently rang at his attempt. Within, he saw the king stir. So the stranger took to the ceilings, working his way in the upper air of the building, eyes wandering and marking where he could.

As the wind, the stranger felt another presence. Another person breathing in the halls. With a single motion, he arrived at where she was—the princess of Lanmoth, looking out the window at the pale-veiled moon.

The stranger moved as a wind around the moonlight, and listened quietly. He stared down at the girl, her face a mirror of the moon. The stranger found her eyes like his—in them where a dozen dancing colors, even if they lacked his training in the arts. His gaze was lost navigating hers at times, as he tried now to complete his higher cause—but his eyes barely took root, when she stared back at him.

Magi and King 2 Midnight Chat.png

They frightened him.

The stranger knew how to guide and protect his own gaze, even as he stood nought but the sigh of sleep in front of her. The stranger was schooled in many ways of magic from his adoptive father. But the stranger was now locked in eyes that were as gifted as his.

The stranger explained his intent, even as he struggled at being held still. She gave hers. The two were locked in wits—an observer the next day would note the room smelled of burnt flesh from the confrontation, and one passerby saw ripples of colors between the two. They talked as the old dreaming things talked.

The next day, the whole royal family was behind the veils of the court. The song birds in their cages watched and waited. The brilliant eyed stranger, the only face that could be seen, prepared another preformance. This time, there was no need for his staff—he had shown it’s greatest power already, and instead chose a more terrible feat. The king had asked more pressingly for something less unnatural then another raising or convulsion.

And the stranger was ready to oblige. He had, after all, a test to preform.

So, setting his staff of bone to the side, the stranger breathed in deeply—his own breath, mixed with the toxic breath of dreams that his family had. And he stared ahead, his eyes glittering. He reached out a hand, to one of the lesser veils. A pale one, not the best kept, lacking the red eyes of the kings. He turned his thousand facet gem eyes to the veil—driving deeper and deeper in. The court waited on baited breath.

The veil parted.

The lord and lady crawled like new born kittens. With a flick of the stranger’s wrist, they rose. Smoke rose from their eyes like temple candles as he compeled the lord and lady to dance. Their feet moved to an unheard rhythm, as they embraced and parted, spun and sprang. At last they finished with a bow. The stranger closes his eyes three times and the pair awoke from their bewitchment.

As the embarassed pair smiled and returned to their veil, pulling it a bit tighter. Alas, the stranger mused. For standing outside the veils, he saw the singe marks still on their covers. Only the king’s was guarded against his vision—and even that only for now.

That night he again dreamed as old ones dream, and set about his goal. He came to the great pillar, as unbareable as it’s heat was. And there he closed his eyes—and opened the ones he had left nearby. He opened the eyes of the great song birds. He opened the eyes of the lesser nobles. He opened the eyes of Lawerence.

But Bartholomew’s eyes would not open. The great giant of Lanmoth awoke, the charm he was given cracking at the weight of such a presence. Sword in hand, still in his night gown, he ran and beat on the door to wake the king. As his fist thudded on the door, the squawking of other birds became clear—dozens of them, who had gazed into the eyes of the first fellow, were descending through the halls. Running like ostriches, they joined the nobillity with their torn veils in a mass towards the court hall. This commotion woke Morgan, who joined Bartholomew with his blade.

“My king, something magical is afoot.” Bartholomew said. The two took to follow the crowd, and found them at the great pillar, hands and claws tearing at the chains, hacking with beaks and clubs. Bartholomew rushed to push them aside—but the King stared down more clearly. For he had learned to see the dreams of elder things, even if he could not walk them.

And seeing the shape there, that child of the sea-goat, directing the vast host, the King understood.

In the Chambers.png

With a bellow, now, he runs to the strangers room. He gives no head to the sleep walking fools and birds, instead smashing aside the door. He draws his sword, edged with saphire—and sees that host of brothers guarding his guests. The ala stand, faceless and ready, battering off him as struggles through. Almost—his sword is almost in reach! One more blow, good king! One more blow, king! And then–

There is a crack, and chains collapse. A great sigh, far away, as the golden cloud of Mount Moni descends, and sweeps up all Lanmoth.

The breath of dreams takes the place of the breath of air—and both the stranger and the princess leave for the temple atop Mount Moni.

 


 

This story was…tricky. Honestly, I cut out over a thousand words and am still not entirely happy with how fast it moves or how many characters it has. I think there are too many names for such a short story–while making it a third part would have been intolerable. I think the idea, broadly speaking, isn’t that bad. I tried making my own illustrations, which, ah. Was not a wise idea on this time table.

With that in mind, next week we continue on our road of the occult and mysterious, albeit with a more sympathetic view. See you then!

 

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The Eye

This Week’s Prompt: 83. Quotation “. . . a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one, to be gotten rid of as it might.”—Hawthorne

The Resulting story: The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

This weeks quote is from the novel, the House of Seven Gables. The novel follows a number of themes—contrasting old, aristocratic and isolated living with more fashionable and mercantile living. The dangers of superstition, particularly of witch hunts. The futility of the past, the nature of architecture as a haunting, family feuds both within and without, fears of mesmerism, corruption of government authorities. It is a Gothic book in all but name. So, what are we to start with today, with such a wide text?

I am loath to continue with the nightmares and witches. While, yes, certainly there are creatures that I haven’t touched upon regarding dreams and nightmares—Lilith and the lilitu, for instance, or the use of dreams to take on animal forms and combat evil—I suspect those particular topics will be reached anyway. No, I’d rather focus on a different portion of the book and of Gothic literature obsession. The gaze.

In House of Seven Gables, we are introduced to two families. The Pyncheon’s and the Maule’s, a rich and poor family. The Maule’s land is robbed, by means of a witchcraft accusation. This accusation, which carries down the generations, lays at the feet of the Maule’s many supernatural capacities, not the least of which is the evil eye, which we will get to shortly. However, Hawthorne connects the power of the eye to the then modern practice of mesmerism, a science dealing in animal magnetism and hypnosis. The gaze to Hawthorne has the potential to harm—it isn’t merely a passive action, but rather a potentially malicous one.

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This notion of the importance of sight can be found in a number of other foundation Gothic texts. We can consider Vathek, a story that focuses on a wicked Caliph. Among the Caliph’s powers is his gazed which—when enraged—can kill a man with hatred. The Caliph’s story, including as it does demons, magical swords, and a quest to hell, is worth a read for a fan of the Gothic. We can also consider importance of vision in Frankenstien—here the eyes of the monster are what gives away it’s character to the more mortal participants and are the source of horror. Dracula like wise has a commanding stare, as do most vampires in Gothic tales—the Count of Monte Cristo is noted for his eyes, and Dorian Grey’s painting suffers when veiwed at all. The power to see and be seen are dangerous in these stories, to the last. Even the other Great American Horror Author, Edgar Allen Poe, included a fear of vision—the tell tale heart after all stars a most terrible, vulture like eye.

Where does all this fear of vision come from? Well, it is not without precedent. One of the most fearsome folklore ailments is the evil eye. Under various names, the evil eye stretches from Scotland across Europe and into parts of South Africa and Middle East. The evil eye’s effects are almost universal: a person with the evil eye can afflict another with a curse—either misfortune or ill health—with nothing more than a stare and evil intent. Particularly fearsome examples refer to mummifying their targets Often the effect is most feared among children, and so numerous precautions are taken to avoid it.

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In Macedonia, clothes were worn inside out to avoid the evil eye. In Palestine, blue glass was used to ward it off. Various charms are described by Etruscan witches to keep it at bay. In Greece, at various times, blue beads and blue string have been used to ward it off from animals and other human beings a like. In Persia, rugs were sometimes woven with complex designs to avoid the evil eye, and for this purpose one author speculated Celtic notes were made to confuse the witches eye.

Who is liable to use the evil eye varies from location to location. In Ethiopia, it was often ironworking artisans who made use of it—particularly against clients who failed to pay or who were more successful then they were. Among the Suk people, one possessor of the evil eye was a rather rich rancher—however, do to his capabilities, he was avoided at all costs.

The evil eye’s spread in the states, and in New England in particular, is documented with the case of one John Godfrey. John Godfrey, as a renowned witch, was accused during one of his law suits of speaking freely of witchcraft in order to shock victims. He would say that the witches merely reported to the devil who had displeased them, and then stare at whatever they wanted dead—cattle, man, child, what have you.

That a New Englander would bring such beliefs is not surprising. In every part of England, the evil eye can be found. We have talked before, at length, of the power witches in Shropeshire had. There we have witches who nearly waste away a yougn woman by “overlooking” them, cases of a horse being used to dectet the witch in the case of Kitty Williams, and our man who fixes his enemies in place with a glance. In Lanchshire, there were stories of the evil eye again used on cattle—but frequently tied to other interactions. Outsiders couldn’t use the evil eye if they were avoided, and excessive admiration was thought to also bring on the evil eye through envy.

But the evil eye is not the deadliest or oldest concern with gaze. We can find a more fearsome sort in Ireland, for example. There the evil eye was known as Balor’s eye for sometime—and perhaps was it’s lesser cousin. Balor was a great lord of giants who inhabited Ireland, and had an eye so vast that it took seven men to lift it’s lid (or it possessed seven lids, and each took a great effort to raise). It was said when Balor gazed upon a field it withered, men died, and stone suffered. It is said sometimes that when Balor was slain—and he was of course in time slain—that his eye burned a lake into the ground where it rests to this day.

The other famed European example is the Basilisk or Cockatrice, a pair of related creatures that appear to be either a snake or a rooster. The gaze of these creatures was said to be murderous and paralytic, naturally leading them inhabit vast deserts in Northern Africa.

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They shared this prowess with a less well known, but equally frightening creature: the Crocotta. This creature was accounted for living in Ethiopia or India, and was believed to have a number of qualities. When it’s shadow touches a dog, the dog is struck dumb. When it gazed on a person or animal three times, it froze them in place. It was also capable of imitating the voices of victims, and was invulenerable to steal weapons. Later additions in Medieval bestiaries added gem-eyes that, if held under someones tongue, could provide visions of the future.

Moving to the Americas, we find a number of comparable creatures. Here we enter a difficult space—I did contact a modern member of the Cherokee to confirm these stories, but my abillity to find linkable sources was hamstrung. The one I’ll focus on is the Uktena, a horned serpent—the description I found said it was as wide as a trunk, with deer antlers, and a fire jewel in it’s eye. This jewel has a number of traits: it is magical, oracular, and if a hunter looks at this jewel, they are blinded and run into the serpents mouth. Other traits include that the Uktena can only be slain by firing an arrow at it’s seventh stripe—beneath which sits its heart and life. And impressive for our discussions, looking at the Uktena will kill not the hunter, but his entire family. Combined with the creatures poisonous breath, and the Uktena is a terrifying creature to find in the woods. Nonetheless, there are stories of a man managing to slay one, and making off with the jewel.

From the Cherokee to the Lakota, we have a very distinct water creature with deadly vision. The Unk Cekula is one of a pair with Unk Tehi. The two creatures came from the north, and proved hazardous—if they reproduced, they would endanger the entire world (an origin that resembles some stories of Leviathan). So one was slain. The creatures properties are notable: She has eyes of fire, skin of stone, and claws of iron—this last trait a post-colonial addition I think—and to look upon her was death. First a victim would go blind, then mad, and finally die. Like Uktena, her weakness relates to the number seven (the seventh spot instead of stripe) and she has a magical crystal within her. A pair of brothers slew her, one blind, with the help of a medicine arrow.

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Bear Butte, which was created after a fight between Unk Cekula and a great bear.

The Hero Twins of the Dine leave a number of dead monsters behind them, but one that is worth our attention is Binaye Ahani, who slays people with their eyes. These monsters dwell in a cavern shaped like a house, with a great family. When the Monster Slayer arrives, they attempt to kill him with their gaze—the text refering to it as “lighting” shooting from their eyes. The Monster Slayer’s armor, however, protects him. Perhaps it uses the same techniques as mirror armor. Their eyes eventually stretch out with effort, and burn on their own fire. All but two are killed, and the spared youngest become birds of fortune and beauty.

We could go on—the dangers of sight on statues and icons were discussed before, and the dangers of seeing a god’s true form in some mythologies are known. But I’d like to step out of folklore and ask what it is exactly that people fear. Why is staring or being seen dangerous? Why is it assumed envy should have power here?

I think a sincere part of this is that a gaze, a glance, is a connection. To make eye contact with someone or something is to connect with them, to reach out in an unspoken way and show understanding—and that this understanding isn’t always wanted, mutual, or equal. To see something is to interact with it, and by interacting with it, be changed by it. That change can be dangerous, lethal even! Especially with wicked intent.

Our follow up story will incorporate some of this of course—we can easily weave the work of dreams and gaze together, slumber with the trance of mesmerism. The creation of illusions by the wizard and the power of a gaze by his heir seem appropriate to bring together.

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Biblography:

Abbot Richard. Macedonian Folklore Cambridge, England; Cambridge University Press. 1903

Beech, Mervyn Worchester Howard. The Suk; Their Language and Folklore. Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1911.

Bowen, Barbra M. The Folklore of Palestine. Grand Rapids , Michigan; Wm B. Eerdmans publishing co. 1940

Coote Lake, Evelyn F. “Some  Notes  on the Evil Eye Round the Medterrianian Basin”. Folklore Vol 44, No 1, March 1933, pp 93-98

Demos, John. “John Godfrey and His Neighbors: Witchcraft and the Social Web in Colonial Massachusets”. The William and Mary Quarterly. Vol 33, No 2 April  1976, pp 242-265.

Finneran, Nial “Ethiopian Evil Eye Belief and The Magical Symbolism of Iron Working”. Folklore, Vol 114 , No 3. Dec. 2003 pp 427-433

G.H.K. “Stray Donegal Folklore”. The Folk-lore Journal,Vol 5 No 1, 1887, pp 66-68

Jackson, Georgina F. Shropshire Folklore. Edited by Charlotte Sophia. Burne, 1883.

Leland, Charles Godfrey.  Etruscan Magic and Occult Remedies. New Hyde Park, New York. University Books. 1963

Vulkanovic, T.P. “Obscene Objects in Balkan Religion and Magic”. Folklore, Vol 92, 1981. pp 43-53