This Weeks Prompt: 23. The man who would not sleep—dares not sleep—takes drugs to keep himself awake. Finally falls asleep—and something happens. Motto from Baudelaire p. 214.
This Week’s Story:Mr. Jared Jahpeth
This prompt is a strange one. Like last time, it refers to a text I do not have (that is the poetry of Baudelaire), and while certainly the poems are preserved (we will get to them shortly), there is the problem of determining a motto from the manifest works. Before that, we have insomnia for some dread reason.
Insomnia, especially self imposed insomnia, has echoes in other existing stories. In fact, I do believe this prompt to have been fulfilled in the story Hypnos written some five years after this prompt. That in mind, I will endeavor any way to see where this seed goes. My own mind is not, after all, that of Mr. Lovecraft.
The best beginnings of the plot are with Baudelaire. Baudelaire was a translator of Poe and a poet of no little skill in his own write. My research to narrow his wide catalog relied on letters between Mr. Lovecraft and a friend, bringing me to three of said friends translations: L’Ennemi,Au Lecteur,Remords posthume. Now, the prevailing theme of this poetry is a familiar Lovecraftian one. Decay, time, and the eventual destruction and ruin of things.
But where Baudelaire stands a part is in two precise areas. Unlike Mr. Lovecraft, Baudelaire presents the most important aspect of decay as it’s slowness. Gradual, barely noticeable changes culminate in the dead and desecrated world we now have. This is not unheard of in Lovecraft, but the subtle movements are hard to do in horror literature so focused on the current activities of the character.
The other area is more rich with lore and story. That is, there is in Baudelaire, an active agent of decay. An Enemy, a Devil. Mr. Lovecraft’s personal beliefs on such matters are complex, as while an avowed atheist, the role of devil is occasionally played by the ever valuable Nyrlanhotep. Yet, I think this raised corpse of Howard does it well.
I am intrigued then, in the notion of making a religious horror story from this seed. The motto in this case would be the simple one “The Devil’s in heaven, all is wrong with the world.” But what is the nature of the Enemy?
If there is any character who looms as large as God and Christ do over Western literature, it is the Devil. Even the irreligious can recognize his features at times. But the features are vary…variable. That is a topic of such vast consultation that I will only do in broad strokes, and only in western lore, what the nature of Evil may be. Needless to say, from a popular culture perspective, there are two major works that provide the template of the modern devil. Folkloric works vary greatly, however, and from region to region.
Modern conception, however, draws from elsewhere. Namely, from the works of Milton and Goethe. Here the Devil or at the least, his representative, are portrayed as wily rebels, tempters supreme, and as possessing good, or at least artistic, taste. Here we have the origin of the soul bargain and contract in blood from Faust, and the notion of a sympathetic devil from readings of Milton that were common in the Romantic period (Though, not universally agreed on). These traits, rebellion and temptation, were always to a degree present but both Faust and Paradise lost thrust them to the fore and burned them forever into certain forms.
Neither of which are conducive to a horror story. The deal with the devil perhaps is, especially unwittingly, but that hits many beats of earlier tales on this site, including the Damned Spot. But the devil plays into our themes of Baudelaire especially well. Yes, even better as a simple devil.
Tales of tricking the devil abound in Ireland and Irish influenced lands (such as the south), but the tale of Ysyr also invokes the devil as a trickster who leads to the destruction of a golden land. There in, he deceives a wicked noblewoman and her ogre helpers and leads to their sinking. Some say the key to the kingdom still sits in Ireland, under an unmarked grave.
Stories from Cambridgeshire tell of a man who met the devil on the road, and found his body turned into a burnt skeleton the next day. His hounds, large black canines the size of horses, occasionally hunt across the sky. In other regions, he arises as the source of local ills and dark powers. Salem I will leave untouched, until again witchcraft crosses our table. Needless to say, the great malicious spirit than maintains in folklore only that.
Folklore provides that ghost story aspect, a simpler character. And while in a longer tale, the monster may have many facets, many meanings, works as short as ours need something simpler. Something a bit baser. So folklore, in structure, might serve us better than lengthy novels and epic poems.
As I said, neither popular culture icon works well at the start. The tempter is a tad horrifying, but overdone. The rebel is an excellent hero for a war story, a fantasy epic even, but would be difficult in a horror tale (unless as in Hypnos, the rebel attempts to recruit the hero). But! The Rebel victorious? That has potential. Particularly if he is as petty as the devil of some folktales, an impure creature that delights in small suffering as well as lofty goals.
Keep in mind the nature of dreams. They are often where divine visions or ghostly apparitions emerge. The devil, as arch-divine rebel and bringer of discord to the realm cosmic, then works well in the disruption of dreams and the cause of nightmares. The devil is in Heaven after all, and thus all is wrong in the world.
I will not dwell long on the horrors a successful revolutionary can inflict on the world. History provides enough of that, and I wish to avoid politics. Oh, the fates of the Muses who once inspired. Oh the Graces who brought virtue. The heavens under hellish reign are never better off. The rebellious prince of sin, if victorious, would be a terror indeed. If such visions pursue a man, no wonder he doesn’t want to sleep.
But! But our story ends when our troubled sleeper rests. This is difficult, since a terrible fate that sudden is hard to betray from the first person. Perhaps, we might structure it to resemble an investigation. After all, the rapid and large number of drugs needed to stay awake for a long period of time might attract attention. This would push much of the above research into subtext, as our investigator (true to form) is unlikely to know the cause of the erratic behavior until the end.
Still, it keeps suspense longer. Odd nightly behaviors can be ascribed to numerous things, a number of strange phenomena. And investigation is one of those knowledge seeking professions that, most often, lends itself to horror.
We likely then will have a number of characters as the investigation proceeds, though perhaps backwards from what the prompt has proposed. We perhaps start from when he wakes and piece together what went wrong.
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