This Week’s Prompt: 81. Marblehead—dream—burying hill—evening—unreality.
The Relevant Research:Marble Heads and Marblehead
Mr. Diamond held his hand out as the storm rolled over his dream. He was used to dreams of Marblehead’s coast, of its hills and the sea. It was a gift he had found useful, if unreliable at times. There were no ships coming in from sea—no great monsters indicating pirates. No, there was just a great inky black cloud, with flecks of green, as if a sickly mucus sun shone just behind it.
As Mr. Diamond resigned this to a warning of plague, it finally began to rain. The first drop fell and splattered on Mr. Diamonds hand—a bit thicker then water. Looking down, Mr. Diamond frowned at the purple stain…until more drops fell. Hundreds of thousands came down, and a few landed again in his hand. They didn’t splatter though. They wriggled in his hand, tadpoles squirming between his fingers. Small fingers sprouted. They looked now like infant hands, gripping his earnestly.
They were revolting.
Throwing them to the side, Mr. Diamond made his way along the shore of his dreamed of coast. The bay didn’t abet those, and soon the strange creatures were gripping at his feat—they coated the buildings like a squirming moss. Mr. Diamond frowned at the strange singing they made, the awful appearance of their slowly opening eyes. Eyes that bulbed up like mushrooms from the masses, blossoming open to reveal goat pupils. The entire town, covered with those strange eyes.
Mr. Diamond awoke and set about his day. He was used to dreaming such dreams, and his memory of them never faded. Practice had refined that skill into something more sublime such that his dreams sometimes seemed longer than his waking lifetime. Still, the stranger ones needed a second consultation. Mr. Diamond was familiar with a number of experts in the distance, but getting to them would take a great deal of time. And this seemed to require more…immediate consultation. Which he luckily had an abundance of.
Staff in hand, the moon still to his back, Mr. Diamond approached the burial hill, where small stone markers stuck out of the ground. While chiefly for the memory of the departed, Mr. Diamond was more thankful for this traditions expediency. A grave stone to him served the same purposes as a door did to the debt collector.
So he struck a number of graves with his staff, and intoned their names deeply. Not the ones on the graves precisely, but the ones he had learned over the years of living so close to the dead. Names change ever so slightly on death.
The ground rumbled at each blow, as his incantation grew on the wind. The sound of burrowing shapes could be heard—worms and other subterranean features parting for the dead to speak. As he stopped, he turned to see the cracks giving way in the ground—small cracks that looked shallow, but reached all the way down into the graves of their inhabitants.
The dust clouds formed vaguely human shapes, hunched over with centuries of weight. They gathered in a crowd, muttering and cursing to each other. The dead of Marblehead were not the largest poll to draw from. But the names of those who were here before weren’t in Mr. Diamond’s vocabulary.
“Good evening.” Mr. Diamond said, letting a small smile slip. “It has been some time, good captains and maidens.”
“Did your ships not arrive as promised?” The first ghost—Brown’s boy, new among the dead and still somewhat irksome—asked, his coat billowing in the wind. “We were having a delightful dream.”
“Ah, my ships my ships…well, my dear Captain has yet to send me word. But I trust your arms. No it is the matter of dreams which I have come to discuss.”
“A wise woman can tell you that, leave us–” the ghost began, before another rested a silencing hand on his shoulder. Julie Cotton stepped ahead of Brown and frowned with her fallow face.
“Dreams, Mr. Diamond? What did you dream of to call us so soon?” She said, as other ghosts murmured to one another. “Time escapes us—the reckoning of months and years is past me, honest. But it cannot have been too long.”
Mr. Diamond nodded and politely described the strange rain in his dream, and the shapes that had come from it. There was silence and then buzzing among the dead. They spoke to one another—spoke quickly as well, so they sounded like buzzing cicadas, long having lost the need for breath. Their enthusiasm for conversation was somewhat worrying to Mr. Diamond. At last, he grew impatient with the discourse, and tapped his staff on the brick to call attention. The dead turned at once, as if a church bell had rung beside their ear. Several hissed in irritation at Mr. Diamond, but he was beyond care.
“My kind guests, I only have so much time to speak. The sun may rise soon—and with it, you must return. What can you warn me of?” Mr Diamond said, holding his staff a bit higher to ensure a peace. He looked about at the silent specters for a time, before at last one of them spoke. The old minister, Cheevers—still in his garb—spoke slowly as if afraid his tongue wouldn’t be understood.
“We haven’t much time regardless, Mr. Diamond. Time is strange to us, we had thought this concern farther away. Something strange slipped through our parts—it passed without incident, but your dream is warning that it will wash ashore soon. Stay to your self for three days—do not go into town, no matter the need, do not approach the coast line no matter the temptation. After three days, you may see for yourself what has come ashore. We cannot say percisely what it is, but something fearsome. Something we forgot.”
Mr. Diamond frowned, and raises his staff for a more straight forward answer—but the sun’s warmth came up behind him. As it’s orange rays arrived, the dead retreated—like a fog pushed away. Mr. Diamond grimaced and resolved to call them back the next evening. The answers he had received were far from adequate. But their advice was…palatable. He had no particular reason to go to the coast today, and staying to himself suited him fine.
And so he went about his day, investigating affairs abroad and reviewing the requests that other more civic minded members of the colony had made. He made sure his crops would come in well, and finished another small carved figure to harvest them in the night. As he set the small figurine with rest, he paused. The foul smell of rotting fish came over the air, and Mr. Diamond turned towards the source—the sea. The sea’s dark blue stained wine red, purple ink spreading over the canvas. The boats…the boats were close together. They had caught something.
Mr. Diamond idly took one of the eyes from the statue—a preserved eagle eye—and whispered a word to it. Staring more carefully out, he saw the nets pulling something large and heavy up from the depths. Two pale arms of marble reaching skyward, out of a bubbling milky mass. Something stared back as Mr. Diamond recoiled.
So that is what the dead were on about. Something fished up from the sea. Mr. Diamond considered his options carefully. The dead’s warning was no doubt wise—or rather, it was well attuned to Mr. Diamond not joining them. The dead dreaded the arrival of a sorcerer among their ranks. But, on the other hand, Mr. Diamond was aware that the statue—now being brought ashore, like a strange mermaid with hands raised to heaven—was a danger. One he could not abide preying on his fellows. But for now, he chose prudence. It might be that this was a passing danger—one that his interference would only make worse.
Still, he kept his eye on the town. And grew worried. The statue, once raised on the shore, was of a towering and lithe figure, hands raised up to the heavens, head covered in a veil. A fog seemed to hold around her, a constant spray of water. The townsfolk had for the most part merely let her be—left her standing not to far from the dock, her hands raised as if blessing their boats. That was acceptable, if unusually for a Puritan sect. She seemed deeply…Catholic or even pagan to Mr. Diamond.
But it was not unheard of for colony to find something new and novel, and hold it dear. Especially if it was well made. No, what started to alarm Mr. Diamond more was the gradual movement of the statue—gently drawn closer and closer to the town and up the shore. At first he thought it was of its own power, but as he steadied his vision, he caught them—the occasionally child or fisherman or wife would take a moment or two to push the statue up closer. To a more sturdy position, or to a more clear view of the town.
That children were making, from wet sand, small simulacra of the statue was not unusual either. Children, when they had the opportunity free of their parents to alter their surroundings, mimicked them. And the older gentlemen, those who’s age had worn them down beyond most work, carved wooden toys as well. That those resembled the statue was more concerning. AS the day went on, a small crowd of the statues began to form around the large marble one, wooden echoes rippling out.
By that point, Mr. Diamond had observed the statue move to near the center of town, on small waves of human labor. It was painful to see, through the eagle eye, even as birds rested on it’s shoulder. He avoided the statue’s upward gaze, rolling the eye in the bowl to glimpse around more generally. It was nightfall, and the sailors were coming in again—this time with a bounty of fish. They set home with their catches and all seemed normal.
Mr. Diamond retired up to the burying hill again, as night fell. He took his staff and spoke his summons, striking the stones and the occasional burial.
Mr. Diamond frowned as he paced again, striking the ground directly as to batter on the homes of the dead, swearing and invoking the oldest tongues he knew—reminding them of the jurisdiction of the living, swearing to beat them with his thorn staff when he found them, promising the flames of perdition. Had a man or woman stood there, they would have witnessed a sermon full of hellfire and brimstone upon the dead.
The night was clear as day, the moon revealing a placid and calm earth. Mr. Diamond turned now towards the sea, where a vast fog had settled. He resolved then to go down to town at noon. And see what sorcery this statue had wrought from the sea.
His dreams were inky black—falling into a bottomless sea. Diamond saw the sun fading away above him, and felt the dim light of stars behind him—as if he was falling into the darkness of the night. Hands wrapped around his arms and gripped his mouth. Pulling him down, down among broken ships and dead sailors illuminated by glimmering stars and flickering candles in fish mouths. And he felt the blood seeping out of his mouth.
He awoke, coughing up water. Stumbling, Mr. Diamond stared shaking at his hands. Color slowly returned. As he stepped outside, a drop of water fell on the top of his head. The sky had been completely covered in clouds while he sleep—and looking down from the hill, Mr. Diamond saw that the fog of morning was preserved by the great storm.
Wandering along the rocky shore, Mr. Diamond encountered some of the sailing boys, watching the ships. The idols hands were visible around the youngest’s chest—he was holding the wood like he was protecting an infant. Mr. Diamond paused.
“That’s a strange toy you have there, Phillip.” Mr. Diamond said, eyeing the shape. The boy looked up, as if he had been struck before speaking up.
“It’s not a toy! Da says it’s good luck!” Phillip said, shaking his head. “I’m supposed to keep one, and he’ll keep the other, to keep things safe.”
“Really now.” Mr. Diamond said, his eye scanning the rest of the young faces. They where looking back at him with usual suspicion. “Well, best of luck then, Phillip. You’re starting to look pale.” Mr. Diamond said, moving deeper into town.
Phillip wasn’t the only one—there were small statues everywhere Mr. Diamond looked. Beside door frames, or perched on top of them. Others littered around fields, even a few that had fallen over into heaps. The nightly ran and the thin mist that hung in the air gave many a mildew smell—and moss was growing over others, rendering their features indistinct. No one gave Mr. Diamond trouble as he observed the town. It wasn’t unusual for the old witch of the hills to come down to look around. Most people kept to themselves.
Better to leave him to his work, and not risk attracting his ire.
As he walked, however, he nonetheless felt the pressure of a thousand eyes coming down upon him. The veils, crudely carved in the statues, flowed together. Something lurked behind them—even the small crowd of uplifted hands near the mayor’s house seemed to be reaching out to grab him. Mr. Diamond, however, finally made his survey, before arriving at the great statue at the center of town.
Her veil had fallen, ever so slightly. An eye stared out. Fixed on him.
Mr. Diamond felt fingers running on his back—small, infantile things. Curious even. He was gone before the rain started to fall. Heavy and thick on the mist covered streets. Mud covering up stones.
Mr. Diamond did not need to descend to the grave hill. He knew they would not come. He had barred his door and consulted his books. He had taken down his mirrors and—in rooms unlit, as thunder croaked over head—consulted visions unseen. He had spoken words in tongues most forgot. He had felt, in that muddy rain, the squirming shapes that came down with them.
Mr. Diamond strew the old book on the floor. He spoke into the mirror old names—ones that had deep, droning tones that would be unknown to most Englishmen. Names that had rough, ill used letters, guttural sounds, whistling tones, and rattles. They wore masks in European lands, of Saints and spirits. Some resembled thunder-spitting dragons; some great bulls of the Euphrates, but without faces; some men and women on airy forms.
Mr. Diamond was unused to this magic—it was a higher art then the mere calling of the dead from their tombs. It was more taxing as well, as his limbs felt aged from every incantation. But the dead would no heed his call. He reached out then to the others. He made many bargains then—many signed parchments and sworn libations, many swears and banishment. Those who know much of Mr. Diamond may find the place around his house marked in strange ways by so many invocations.
And then the orange fingers of dawn, dampened by the now breaking clouds came. And Mr. Diamond, exhausted, his body feeling older than a century, stepped outside. And saw the mist recede—he saw the places where the ground had shook, the marks of battle between those forces he had sent down in darkness and an unseen lot. He saw, towering near the entrance of town, a new sharp needle of stone along the shore.
Rolling down the stone where small striations, like cloth flowing in the wind. Near it’s top, a bird perched and pecked at a small hole—one of dozens running down the coral outburst. The waves and mist hung about it. Splinters of wood shot out of the statues feet. There was a noise from the nest of broken images—and Mr. Diamond saw a pitiful hand, skin sloughing off the bone, rise out of the broken shells of images. The fishermen went out to see, ignoring the strange shapes as they went with their nets back out onto the sea.
I think this story works well. A few more passes would make it great. If I expanded it, Diamond’s ritual at the end would have failed and we would have some more gradual introduction to the statue and its effects.
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